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.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2004.
This is the twenty-second story in the Falling into College series.
Claire Defoe sipped from her morning carrot juice and rubbed her temples. Looking around the office, she thought in disbelief. My office. That still sounds so strange. A month ago, this was Ms. Li's office.
Claire looked back down at her desk to finish reading a letter before signing it. Li arrested, Coach Gibson fired, Coach Morris turning state's evidence against Li. Disciplinary actions against several of the faculty. Claire neatly folded the letter and put it in an envelope. And I get stuck as principal because I've behaved myself over the years. No good deed goes unpunished. She sealed the envelope and dropped it in a basket on her desk. They better find a replacement over the summer.
She read through another sheet of paper before moving a microphone in front of her. "Good morning. I only have a couple of announcements on this last day of class. Seniors who've not picked up their caps and gowns should do so before leaving campus today. All textbooks must be returned to the issuing faculty or your grades or diplomas will be withheld until the book is turned in or paid for. All students are asked to empty their lockers and leave the doors open when they leave. Good luck on your remaining finals and have a happy summer."
Setting the announcements aside, she picked up a calligraphy pen and set four certificates in front of her. As she signed the first two in a beautiful, flowing script, she said, "Things like this make the job almost worth keeping." She smiled as she signed the third. "It'll be good to see Jane again when she hands this one out." Reading the final one, Claire giggled like a small child.
"Okay, Amiga, call it." Jane Lane flipped the quarter into the air. She and Daria Morgendorffer stood near the door of their Boston apartment.
With a sigh, Daria said, "Heads."
Jane caught the coin and slapped it onto the back of her hand. "Tails. We take my car."
"Are you happy now?"
"Yes, I get to show off the new paint job."
"All you had to do was ask."
"But, the coin toss was more fun."
"You're the one taking theater this semester."
Daria shook her head. "It was the only humanities elective I could get in an afternoon time slot."
"But you're still in the play."
"Just because there are only four women in the class, and I'm one of the only two that can speak French."
Jane mischievously raised one eyebrow. "It's fun imagining you as Katherine in Henry V."
"I can barely imagine it myself. Let alone actually doing it. At least Dr. Paine is doing a traditional production. I couldn't handle one of those oddball settings."
"I'm still offering to help play techie."
"We might take you up on that, though you'll probably have too much fun."
"That's the idea."
"And then I'll have to take you to the cast party."
"I can only hope."
"We better get going, with that six hour drive ahead of us."
Jane shook her head and looked at Daria more seriously. "Are we really going to do this?"
"We don't have a choice. We might have made up the Lawndale High School Student Leaders Honor Society to rescue Jodie from being overworked by her parents, but part of the deal to get Ms. Murphey as sponsor was to pass it on as a real entity. We have to put that into action tomorrow."
"But, I barely sat through our graduation. Now I have to sit through another?"
"Yep, and we get to sit up front as honored guests."
"And, we get to make speeches."
"Too bad we won't get to see Ms. Li squirm at our repeat appearance."
"I suppose giving Claire a little moral support would be worth the effort."
"Hey, would you like to have tried to pick up the mess Li left behind?"
"Ouch. That was low. Okay, my minimal conscience says we should be nice to her."
"But at least we won't be alone; Jodie and Mack get to share the misery."
Daria grinned. "It'll be nice to see them again, too."
Jane picked up a round suitcase with a skull on one face. "Don't forget, we're also going to hit Lindy's graduation tonight."
"I'm not forgetting."
"Okay, pack it up and move it out."
Daria grabbed a black travel bag and followed Jane. "Yah."
After locking up, both young women went down the external stairs to where two almost identical black sedans were parked. They tossed their luggage into one decorated with a phoenix rising in multicolored glory on the hood. Each feather was carefully detailed, and the flames slipped over the edge of the hood and flowed back along the sides. Jane moved to the driver's side as Daria got in the passenger door. Jane said over the roof. "The offer's still open to do a mural on yours."
Daria looked over the hood. "Maybe...if I can decide on something. I never have been one for showing off."
"You won't be showing off, the car will. Let it have a little attention."
Daria shook her head as she got in and closed the door. "I'm going to hear this all the way to Lawndale."
Jodie Landon took a deep breath as she opened the front door to her parents' home. "Mom, Dad? I'm home."
Michelle and Andrew Landon rushed to the door to greet their daughter. Andrew said, "Welcome home," and hugged Jodie before he retreated to the den. Michelle kissed Jodie on the cheek and hugged her, also. "It's good to have you back. After you say hello to your brother and sister, meet us in the den." Michelle nodded to her younger children as she also walked away.
Jodie's little sister, Rachael, waved and smiled. Her brother, Evan, toddled toward her with arms outstretched and said, "'Odie!" Jodie squatted down and hugged the small boy. "You have grown since Christmas." After releasing him, she went over to her sister. "Ready to start high school next year?"
Rachael produced a weak smile. "Mainly because it'll be a year closer to escaping this place. Thank God you're home for the summer."
"I wouldn't completely abandon my little sister."
"It's been nuts around here. Mom's trying to work from the home office; Dad still doesn't want to put Evan into daycare. Half the time, I get stuck watching him."
Jodie placed a hand on her sister's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I'll do what I can to get you time off for good behavior."
Rachael gave a grim laugh. "Like you're going to have any time. They have just as much crap planned for you this summer as last."
Jodie grinned. "But this year, I'm prepared and I have a plan."
Rachael grinned at her sister. "Go on."
Jodie grinned wider. "Listen." Jodie walked toward the Den, motioning Rachael to follow and stay out of sight near the door. When she entered the den, she said, "You two wanted to see me?"
Andrew turned his attention away from his computer. "I have some incredible opportunities set up for you this summer. Besides interning with my firm, the congressman wants you to help with his Senate campaign..."
Jodie raised her hand. "Mom, Dad. I can't."
Michelle rose from her chair. "What! This little rebelliousness of yours is getting to be enough."
Andrew's eyes flashed. "We are not going to have our star daughter miss out on making the most of her time."
Jodie allowed a brief, predatory smile. "It's nothing like that. I've accepted a summer internship at a consulting firm. I'm committed to that full-time. Since I want to eventually run a consulting business geared toward minority startups, this will be valuable experience."
Andrew stopped short. "That's more like my go-getter. You're no longer relying on the old man and setting things up on your own. Great!"
Michelle relaxed. "That's good news. After some of the things you've done this last year at college, we've been worried. So, where will you be working?"
Releasing a surprised sigh, Quinn Morgendorffer set her pencil down and eased back in her desk. It really is over. My last high school test is complete. She looked around at her closest friends, all busy with their tests. Stacy Rowe chewed on her pencil and had the nervous expression she always wore during exams. Tiffany Blum-Deckler's almost unblinking, blank gaze never left the exam page; the mix of apparent emptiness and concentration was unsettling. At intervals, she would slowly move the pencil to mark the page. Sandi Griffin scowled at the page and made abrupt marks with frustrated intensity. Quinn turned her test over and closed her eyes to await the final bell.
Anthony DeMartino picked up the exams just before the end of class. "For those of you on the...borderline...you may wish to stay around for a few minutes while I grade your exams. That way...you will know whether or not to bother showing up for tomorrow's ceremony." His voice was cut off by the bell and a roar from the departing seniors.
As the four young women left the classroom, Quinn told the rest, "I'll catch up with you later. There's something I need to check up on."
Sandi nodded and said, "Okay, but don't be late. This is our last chance to get our student discounts at Cashman's."
Quinn waved. "I'll be there."
Quinn went to Mr. O'Neill's classroom and waited outside for a few minutes. She was startled to hear former QB, Kevin Thompson's voice echo out of the room, "Aw right!"
Quinn smiled to herself. "He did it."
Kevin rushed out of the room. Quinn called, "Kevin! Over here."
He ran over, grabbed her in a hug, and spun her around. "I did it! I'm going to graduate!"
Quinn tapped both his shoulders with her hands. "That's wonderful. Now put me down, please."
"Oh, yeah." He set her down with a little clumsiness. "Quinn. Thanks. I wouldn't have made it without your help."
He jumped up and down again. "Yeah! I'm graduating."
Quinn shook her head. "I heard."
Mr. O'Neill exited his room. "Quinn, I've been very impressed with the work you've done helping Kevin and Tiffany. Have you ever considered a career in teaching?"
Quinn turned in shock. "What? Um..." She looked at her watch. "That late already? Gotta go. Bye." She sprinted down the hall toward the parking lot.
Theresa completed the transaction with Tiffany. "There you go. Your last student discount at Cashman's. How does it feel to be going out into the world?"
Tiffany looked at her. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm modeling for a local agency."
Stacy smiled at her friend. "Actually, I'm going to be staying nearby, too. I'm going to Lawndale Community College for a business AA and going to try to go professional with racing."
Sandi straightened her back. "I'll be going to North Coastal State for a degree in Human Resources."
Theresa looked at Quinn. "I remember when you got into Pepperhill. Have you decided on a major?"
"Marketing. Why follow trends when I can make them?"
Sandi looked at her. "But, isn't your dad a marketing consultant?"
Quinn grinned. "He is. If nothing else is available, it'll be nice to have a ready-made position when I graduate."
Stacy asked, "Your father's cool with it?"
"He doesn't know, yet. But, I'm sure I can convince him."
It was early evening, but still light, when Jane and Daria parked near the Lawndale State University auditorium. Jane checked her watch as both got out of the car. "Five minutes to spare."
Recovering, Daria said, "Great, and we're still in one piece."
Jane tugged on Daria to pull her a little faster toward the building. "Okay, so I was a little rushed."
"That's an understatement."
"Lindy's been real good for Trent. I want to be here for her."
"I understand. We should have left Boston a little earlier, or not taken so long to find a place for lunch."
"Hey, we made it."
"Barely. I think my fingerprints are permanently impressed into the armrest."
People of all ages were seated in the auditorium. Jane and Daria managed to find a seat near the back of the room. They could faintly see Trent in the row behind the graduating students. After a few moments, it was clear that he was behind his girlfriend, Lindy Weaver. Jane pointed at them. "There they are. Not a chance we can get close to them now."
Daria shaded her eyes and saw them. "We'll have to track them down afterward. Though in this crowd, it's going to be a pain."
"Nah, we'll just wait for the crowd to clear. I bet you Trent doesn't make it all the way through without falling asleep."
"He made it through ours."
"That was because I slipped a little extra caffeine into his coffee before we drove over."
"Okay, a lot."
"I'm sure Lindy thought of something similar."
"Or, she uses other motivations not available to you."
"Other...um...yeah. Let's not go there."
Lindy and Trent were still at their seats talking when Jane and Daria walked up. Jane plopped down beside her brother. "Hey kids, what's up?"
Trent one-arm hugged his sister. "Janey! Daria! You made it."
Lindy turned and smiled. "Jane, Daria. Thanks for coming."
Jane leaned over and hugged Lindy. "Congratulations."
Daria squeezed past Jane to hug Trent. "How're things going?"
"Pretty good, I think. Now that Lindy's graduated, she can take a little time off to relax."
Lindy said, "Relax? I need to find a real job, now."
Trent smiled. "Just a week, okay? You deserve it." He gave her a quick kiss. "You've been working way too hard lately. Keep your part-time job and get some rest. You can look later."
Jane said past her smirk, "Thus, the master slacker speaks."
Daria patted Trent's shoulder. "He has a point. Get a little rest."
Jane squinted at Daria. "Did you just say that?"
"Yes. I know how tired I am after one year of college; four must be even worse. I'm not the best example of following such advice, but take a little time off."
Lindy nodded her head. "Maybe, I will."
Daria added, "It might be the last chance you get."
Approaching eleven o'clock, Jane pulled into the Morgendorffer driveway. She yawned and said, "As much as I'd like to say hi to your parents, I'm really tired. I'll see them tomorrow."
Daria covered her mouth as she also yawned. "You're being contagious. I'll let them know." She reached over the seat and pulled her bag forward. It caught on the edge and tipped.
A flat container fell out of a side pocket and landed on the seat next to Jane. She picked it up and flipped the lid open. "Hmm. Twenty-eight little pills." With a wicked grin and raised eyebrows, she said, "Has there been some important news you've been holding out on telling me?"
Daria flushed a bright red. "No!"
Jane closed the lid and waved the container. "Okay...so there's no particular reason for these, then?"
With more blushing, Daria said, "When Michael and I were here alone last month...things got very...um...tempting. I figured I'd better get started as a precaution, in case."
Jane grinned and slipped the container back into the pocket and pulled the zipper tight. "Showing more signs of being human all the time. So, you do more than chaste kisses and hand holding?"
"You're not going to let me get away until I answer, are you?"
"You know I can outrun you."
Sighing, Daria acquiesced. "Yes, we do more."
"Come on girl, at least a couple details. How am I going to live vicariously if you won't give me anything to go on?"
Folding in shyness with hands clasped in her lap, Daria said, "Nothing more than touching, and...um...I can't believe I'm saying this...some...passionate kissing. We haven't removed any clothes. But..." Daria blushed again. "...he found some unexpected places that...I enjoy being touched."
"And that ever-present Morgendorffer pragmatism said to get started well before you get close."
"So, you haven't been on them for long."
"That's the first pack."
"Why try to hide it?"
"Because I knew you'd give me a hard time about them."
Jane giggled, "Now I get to try to imagine where..."
Daria shook her head and left the car. "Argh!"
Jane called after her, "I'll try to keep it clean. I'll pick you up tomorrow to go over to the Landon's." She backed the car out the driveway and thought. That dream I overheard a couple weeks ago...
Daria didn't bother to knock and entered her old home. Quinn's voice traveled from the living room, "Sandi...Yes, I knew she was going to be giving a speech....They only announced it during that school assembly at the beginning of the year...No, Sandi...They're brains; they like getting recognized for stuff like that...It's not like she's the only one, Jodie, Mack and Ms. Lane will also be there."
Daria noticed the living room was otherwise empty. I'm not up to that. She went upstairs to her room and dropped the bag on the floor as she sat on the bed for a few moments to calm down. Feeling more secure, she said, "I better go check-in with the parental units."
She went down the hall to her parents' room. After a knock, Helen's voice said, "Yes?"
Daria opened the door. "Hi, Mom. I made it."
Helen carefully got out of bed to avoid waking Jake and hugged Daria. "Welcome home. We were getting worried."
Daria smirked at her sleeping father. "I can tell. We ended up talking with Trent and Lindy for a long time."
"That's nice. How are they doing?"
"Okay. We convinced Lindy to take a little time off before job hunting. With more reliable transportation, Trent's band might be getting more out of town gigs."
"And, how're you doing?"
"Work's good, school's good."
"And other things?"
Daria was saddened. "I miss Michael. Besides bailing him out in Boulder, did you ever have to spend a lot of time separated from Dad?"
"Only a couple weeks in December of that same year. He went to California to do some volunteer work and had his big adventure at Altamont. Plus, those two weeks he stayed behind to finish up work in Virginia when we moved to Highland."
"So, no great motherly advice on how to get through the summer?"
Helen hugged her daughter. "I'm sorry, but that's something I never experienced. But, you'll do fine."
Daria stared at Helen. "How can you be so sure?"
Helen smiled. "I might know you a little better than you think."
Confused by the light under the door of her sister's old room, Quinn hesitantly knocked. "Daria, are you in there?"
"Yeah, Quinn. You were on the phone with Sandi and I didn't want to interrupt." Daria finished pulling a blue t-shirt on and opened the door. "I talked with Mom a bit and was waiting for you to pull yourself free."
Quinn smirked a little. "I wish you'd said something. I could have escaped quicker."
"Did I just hear right? Escape from one of the fashion foursome?"
Quinn avoided Daria's eyes. "She was complaining about you giving that presentation at graduation tomorrow."
"Big deal, I say a few words and hand out a certificate. I'm being punished for doing a good job in high school by having to participate in a second graduation ceremony."
"Sandi...kind of blames you for her losing her job."
"How could I do that?"
Way to put your foot in it, Quinn. "Um...you remember that award dinner Mom made us go to last summer?"
"Sandi's mom works at that TV station and brought a tape home of it to ask Sandi who you were. Mrs. Griffin hadn't recognized you."
Daria briefly laughed at Linda Griffin not recognizing her in a formal gown, and then she mentally added things up. In a barely controlled voice, she barked, "Then how in the hell did Upchuck get a copy?"
Quinn stepped back in surprise. "Uh...Sandi's little brother gave it to Upchuck to copy some...uh...movies onto. When your picture from the tape showed up on one of Upchuck's websites, the network got mad and Mrs. Griffin made sure Sandi got the blame. Wait, how did you know Upchuck had gotten it?"
Daria's temper dropped off and she quietly said, "Damn. I did cost Sandi her job."
In confusion, Quinn asked, "You did?"
"I discovered Upchuck's website. It wasn't just one picture. It had a bunch of different pictures of me through high school, which was very unsettling. I arranged for an anonymous tip to go to the network. I just wanted to get Upchuck's website taken down. It was, within a day of having that tip sent in. I must be responsible."
"Mrs. Griffin really dropped the blame on Sandi even though she took the tape home?"
"I couldn't believe it, but she did."
"I suspected she was ruthless...but..."
"It was either blame Sandi or take the blame herself."
Jane yawned and scratched her ribs as she entered the kitchen of Casa Lane the next morning. She followed her nose to the smell of coffee. Good morning greetings from her mother, Amanda, and Lindy gave Jane a slight start. She cautiously said, "Mom?"
Amanda got up and held both Jane's hands. "It's good to see you home. How's college been?"
"Well, I pulled a 2.7 GPA my first term, so I guess I'm doing okay. I didn't know you were going to be home this weekend."
"I got in this morning. I was hoping to see Lindy's graduation. Since it seemed so important to you, I thought I would try with hers. But, my flight was delayed."
Feeling a little jealousy, Jane said, "Too bad you were held up. I'm sure Lindy appreciates the gesture."
"Considering my mom wasn't there, I did. Amanda's plane was grounded by fog. My mom was probably just drunk. At least you and Daria showed up."
After Jane prepared her coffee, Amanda motioned her to sit at the table. "I'm still sorry about your graduation. If I had known..."
"It's okay, Mom."
Lindy asked, "Are you and Daria doing okay as roommates?"
"We had a few rough spots to start with, but I think we got them worked out."
"Do you like your new job?"
"The kids so far have been real sweet. They have so much on their minds for being children, and get so into creating, just as a release."
Lindy smirked a little. "I guess since I took over looking after Trent, you needed to find another outlet."
Jane grinned at Lindy. "I think I got the better end of the deal."
Lindy smiled back, "All depends on your perspective."
"Daria! You have got to be kidding!" Quinn wailed as Daria left her room, tucking a white dress shirt into a black skirt.
Daria stopped in the hall and look into Quinn's room. "What is your problem?"
"God, Daria. If you're not going to wear a tie or a scarf, ditch the white shirt. With your pale skin, you just wash out into it, plus that necklace just doesn't show up well enough. Do you have a dark dress shirt with?"
"Um...yeah. I brought one as a spare."
"Go get it. You're not going up on stage at my graduation looking that geeky."
"Quinn, I..." Daria stopped and thought for a moment. "Oh, hell. I'll go change. This is your graduation. I'll try not to embarrass you, too much." She went back into her room, removing the white shirt.
Quinn shook her head as she looked at her blue graduation gown on a hanger. "I should be talking; we have to wear these hideous sacks?" She held the cap. "And what is with the flat-top look?"
Daria came back out of her room buttoning a dark blue dress shirt. Quinn rolled her eyes again. "God, you're still wearing those horrible sports bras?"
"Quinn, they're comfortable, which is a trait I much prefer to have in that particular garment."
Quinn held up her hands. "Okay, I'll back off."
Daria finished buttoning the shirt and pulled a gold necklace with a green stone out from under it. Quinn went back into her room and returned with a hand mirror, which she held up in front of Daria. "See? The necklace shows up better, and your face doesn't get washed out."
Daria looked at the mirror and sighed. "Okay, you're right. Happy?"
Quinn put the mirror back and said, "Very. I don't often get to hear that from you."
Daria mumbled as she walked toward the stairs.
Quinn finished adjusting the sleek cut mid-length dress she wore. "Those robes may be geeky, but you can still look good under them."
Helen opened the door to find Jane in a black slacks and red dress shirt combination. "Jane, please come in. It's good to see you."
"Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer," Jane said as she came in. "You and Mr. Morgendorffer doing well?"
"About the usual."
"Working too hard?"
Helen let out a slight moan.
"I'll take that as a yes."
Quinn and her friends were gathered in the living room, comparing their clothes and making final preparations. Tiffany looked over at the front door and said, "It's that teacher we had for study hall before Christmas."
Stacy smiled. "Hi, Ms. Lane."
Jane chuckled. "My days as LHS faculty are over. You can call me Jane."
Sandi asked, "Um...Ms. L...Jane. Are you, like, going to be giving a speech, too?"
"As short of one as possible."
"Oh...well...break an arm or leg, or whatever it is."
In mild surprise, Jane said, "Thanks."
Quinn pointed. "Daria's in the kitchen."
Jane made a quick move in that direction. "Later, everyone."
Rounding the corner, she found Daria at the table, nursing a cup of coffee. Jane said, "Hey, ready for the big show?"
Daria stood up. "Raring." As she reached the living room, Daria hesitated as she looked at the four, and then stopped. "Sandi...I'm sorry about you losing your job at the TV station."
"Um...thanks. My Mom can be such a..."
Daria held up hand to interrupt. "I arranged for the network to get the tip."
"I caused you to lose your job."
"I wanted to get rid of Upchuck's creepy website and didn't consider what kind of other repercussions it could have."
"Was he, like, stalking you or something?"
Daria shuffled uncomfortably. "In a way, I think so."
Tiffany and Stacy chorused, "Eww."
Sandi shivered. "Okay, that would be too gross to deal with. Your actions were justified."
Daria sighed. "If there's anything I can do..."
Sandi's eye glinted with cold calculation. "I might take you up on that...later this summer."
Daria looked on in concern. What did I get myself into?
Jane pulled her car into the Landons' driveway and parked behind a rich blue four-door luxury sedan with a Turner College parking decal on the rear bumper. As they exited the car, Daria remarked, "Must be Jodie's"
Jane smirked. "Must be nice."
A subtle rumble could be heard approaching. It grew as a motorcycle turned into the driveway. The street racer was mostly silver, with alternating red and yellow bands around the headlight, and a red slash covering the tail fairing and extending along the side covers to just under the middle of the seat. It rolled to a stop and the black leather-clad rider removed a red helmet. Michael Mackenzie, better known as Mack, smiled at the surprised expressions on Daria and Jane's faces. "Good to see you, too."
Daria recovered first. "That...is a different look for you."
Jane shook her head. "Whoa. Talk about shaking up your image."
"Jodie and I had to be so straight-laced when we lived here. I had to do something to unwind. It's fun to ride, gets great gas mileage, and it's a lot easier to park on campus."
Jane smiled more. "Still...wow."
Mack gazed at the phoenix painted on the car hood. "Jane, that looks like your handiwork."
She brushed her knuckles on her shirt. "Yep."
Daria said, "No ego problem there."
Jane grinned back. "None at all."
Mack chuckled and leaned his head toward the house door. "We should probably head inside," he said as he started walking over.
Daria looked toward the approaching door. "What kind of reaction did you get out of Jodie's parents with that?"
Mack rang the doorbell. "We're about to find out."
Andrew opened the door and looked in surprise at the riding gear and motorcycle parked behind. "Mack? What happened to you?"
Mack looked around. "Nothing, at least that I'm aware of."
"You're wearing...you have a...you parked a..."
"Oh, the motorcycle. It's cost efficient and reliable transportation, Mr. Landon."
"You're not going to drive Jodie to the ceremony on that thing?"
Daria waved. "Hi, Mr. Landon. Jane and I are going with. I think the four of us would get a little crowded on that small seat."
Jane piped in, "Not to mention how nasty the fight would get about who rides on the handlebars."
Andrew glared at Daria. "Ah, more of your influences. I should've known."
Jodie tapped on her father's shoulder. "We're planning on going in my car. It has the most room for everyone. The honor society includes all four of us, and Daria is the president."
Andrew turned to Jodie. "Very well, everyone's going in your car. Did you know about that thing Mack has out there?"
She shrugged. "Sure. He's had it for a couple of months and rode it to Turner when he would visit."
"You haven't been riding on that?"
"I don't...you could get killed on that thing."
Jodie looked up at her father in mild annoyance. "I could get killed driving my own car. Mack is a very safe driver, and we both wear proper gear. Why do you think I came home with a leather jacket?"
Jane raised an eyebrow and looked at Mack. He leaned over and whispered, "She also looks damn good in it."
Andrew was sputtering, "But, they are..."
Jodie calmly said, "Perfectly acceptable vehicles in all manner of good society. Dad, we are old enough to make informed decisions. It's about time you started to accept that."
Andrew reared his head back and inflated his chest. "You've passed up more opportunities this year than I can count. You connived with your friend Daria to avoid what I had for you this summer, and now this. You may..." It suddenly struck him that he was in front of four intelligent, confident and well-dressed young adults who were standing up for each other. Furthermore, they were calm and he was throwing a tantrum like a spoiled teenager. Andrew deflated. "...be right," he finished saying, and stepped back inside the house with a hand motion for all to follow. "Where are my manners? Please, come in. All of you are welcome."
Daria and Jane shared the back seat of Jodie's car on the way to Lawndale High while Mack sat up front as Jodie drove. Jodie was saying, "Thanks for putting in a word with your father about doing an internship with him."
"You're going to be unpaid labor for the summer; it wasn't that hard to talk him into it. I just hope you're ready to deal with him."
"Daria, I'd rather hear one of your father's rants about military school then hear mine talk about that freakin' big bell. And if I had to work for that congressman again..." She shook her head. "I really hope he doesn't make it into the Senate."
"I guess it's all a matter of perspective. It sounds like your father originally wasn't too happy about the internship."
"You think that was bad, you should've heard my mother. The roofers should be in next week to fix the ceiling from her bouncing off it. At least he apologized for today's outburst."
Daria smiled at the image. "Dad's actually excited about your idea. He's wanted to try to get into some different business markets."
"I figured it would be great for both of us: he gets new clients, I get some great experience separate from my Dad and unwind some over the summer. Although, part of the time will be spent giving Rachael a break from babysitting Evan."
"And I thought my family was dysfunctional."
"If I were you, I'd still try to avoid Mom. You saw that Dad's been more accepting, but she still wants your head on a pike for corrupting me last summer. I think she also suspects your mother's involved."
Jane leaned over the seat. "Sometimes, I guess absentee parents are a good thing. But now let's change the subject. Mack, what're your plans for the summer?"
"Working for that ice cream company again, only this year, I'll be in charge of stock and inventory on the trucks instead of driving them."
Jane smirked. "Going to hire Kevin as a driver?"
"Are you kidding? I'm free of him and never want to hear 'Mack Daddy' again. Besides, he's a legend around there. He and Brittany cost the company over four hundred dollars in one day because they couldn't count change properly."
Jane laughed. "They were that bad?"
Mack nodded. "No kidding. I'm glad they forgot I told Kevin and Brittany about the opening."
Daria said, "Didn't anyone tell you? Kevin's graduating today."
Mack buried his face in his hands.
Jodie looked in the mirror toward Jane. "I want pictures of Daria in that play next month. After you two avoided dressing up for that medieval fair, I want to see it catch up with her."
Daria lightly growled. "I hate you."
Daria and company worked their way toward the stage set up on the football field. Jodie had a dark grey suit dress on, while Mack combined a white dress shirt and tie with the black leather jacket for an effectively formal and slightly rebellious combination.
Families and friends were filtering into the stadium seats. The students were milling around in their caps and gowns, awaiting the final call to line up for their entrance. Standing alone, Kevin Thompson waited along with the others. He was excited about finally graduating, and worried about what was to come next. He turned in response to a tap on his arm to face a well endowed young woman twirling a lock of blond hair around a finger. "Kevie. It is you."
Surprised at the sudden appearance of his old girlfriend, Brittany Taylor, he could only utter, "Britt?"
"I'm back home from Great Prairie State for the summer and thought it would be fun to get together with you again."
Kevin remembered his confusion early last summer, when she stopped returning his calls and started avoiding him. Finally, she told him "It's over Kevie. You're going to stay here and I'm going to a big football school where the quarterbacks are real manly."
Kevin stared at Brittany. He also remembered how she felt in his arms.
Brittany planted her feet and put hands on hips. "Well, are you going to answer?"
"Um...Hi...How have you been?"
"I've been good. How about we go to your jeep when this is over?"
The temptation was strong. His mind also went back a month to his prom date with Quinn. She had been tough in getting him ready, but nothing like what Coach Gibson used to do to get the team ready. But, he had one of the most enjoyable evenings of his life, and she was right: they didn't need to make out to have a good time.
"I'm...I don't think that's a good idea."
"What? Are you seeing somebody? I was told you haven't been dating anyone."
"No...I'm not dating anyone."
"Then, we can go out." She twirled her hair again and batted her eyes.
He remembered one of his first tutoring sessions with Quinn. They had read The Glass Menagerie and he'd escaped to the back yard after one of his father's tantrums and thought, I can't go back to the way I was.
"Britt, you dumped me."
"Kevie, that was only because I was going away. But, I'm back now."
"What...what are you going to do at the end of this summer?"
More hair twirling. "Uh...I don't know."
Kevin looked at the ground sadly. "You'll dump me again."
Kevin looked up with a determination he hadn't felt since he last played football. "No. We broke up."
"You're turning me down?"
Kevin scratched his neck. "Yeah. You dumped me. You said it was over."
Furious, Brittany strode away with a murderous glare. "Oooooh."
Kevin turned away in frustration to see four more familiar faces walking near. He hurried over to them. "Hey! Jodie, Daria, Jane, Mack Da....Mack."
Mack stopped. "He didn't say it." With two steps, he went to Kevin and extended his hand. "Kevin. Congratulations."
"Yeah, man. Fourteen years of school is finally over."
Daria looked over. "Hi, Kevin."
"Whoa, Daria. You look, kind of like...pretty...now."
Daria said, "You still know exactly what to say."
Jane nodded at Kevin. "Howdy."
Jodie approached. "Nice to see you again, Kevin."
"Hey Jodie, Jane. What brings you here? I thought you guys graduated last year."
Daria said, "We're giving out some awards. Punishment for being brains."
"Aww, man. That was mean of them to do that."
"We'll live." Daria closed her eyes in disbelief.
"You know, your sister is pretty smart. Do you think it runs in the family?"
"It might, but I'll have to get back to you on that."
Mr. DeMartino's voiced carried over the background noise. "Okay, students. Time for you to at least try to behave one more time before you leave here. Everybody, line up like we went over during practice."
Kevin grinned. "Gotta go. Been great seeing everybody."
He jogged back to the rest of the graduates lining up. Daria shrugged. "I guess we better go get seated." They walked toward the stage and found four seats prepared for them on it.
Jane eyed the stage with suspicion. "I thought we were getting seats on the ground with our backs to the audience."
Jodie smiled. "Jane, it is customary for the 'honored' guests to be on stage for everyone to see."
Mack lightly chuckled as he started up the steps. "Oh, well. Jodie and I are used to being on display. Now you get to feel a little of what we had to put up with."
Daria gave him a grim smile. "If you two survived four years without killing someone, I suppose we can last an hour."
Ms. Defoe greeted each of them warmly as they approached their seats. "Welcome back. Thank you so much for being here."
Daria, Jodie and Mack greeted her in return. Jane stayed a little extra after the others sat. "Claire, I hope you're still holding up through this."
"I'm really glad to see you again. Congratulations on the new position."
"Now that we've found most of the little surprises that Angela had left, the last week has gone much smoother."
"Good to hear."
"The faculty and students have been very supportive."
"That could be relief that Ms. Li is gone."
"Could be. But...I think they also like the way I've been handling things."
"You mean treating everyone like a person instead of an inmate?"
"I'm starting to think about applying to stay principal."
Shocked, Jane asked, "Have you gone mad?"
"I've been able to do a lot of good this last month. It hasn't been easy, but it was rewarding."
"I'm having a hard time picturing you outside a classroom."
"I know." After a quick look around, she said, "Better take your seat, we're about to start."
Ms. Defoe walked over and stood at the podium. "Welcome, family and friends to the graduation of the Lawndale High School class of 2000."
Quinn and her friends sat together in the middle of the student seating. Stacy leaned over toward Quinn and whispered, "Wow, your sister and her friends get to sit up on stage. That must be so exciting."
Quinn could see Daria's stiff pose. I don't think exciting is the word she would use. She turned to Stacy, "I know I'd be nervous."
"Yeah, me too. But, it's still also exciting."
Tiffany stared at Daria and Jane and said, "Hey, this reminds me of that assembly right after you got here. Did your sister and that teacher go through the esteem class again?"
Sandi shook her head. "Tiffany, they're here to give out awards."
Tiffany's eyes brightened. "Awards...Do you think we will get one for how good we look?"
Putting a hand on Tiffany's shoulder, Sandi said, "Dear, they're not that kind of award."
Ms. Defoe waved her hand toward the seated college students. "Our final awards tonight will be for the Lawndale High School Student Leaders Honor Society. The inaugural president and Academic Achievement recipient, Ms. Daria Morgendorffer."
Daria inhaled deeply to steady her nerves and went to the podium. She looked out over a graduating class that was little larger than the 85 in hers. "Thank you, Ms. Defoe. From every graduating class, four students are chosen by the faculty who best represent Student Leadership, Artistic Achievement, Athletic Leadership, and Academic Achievement. To use the words of our charter: This society will provide a venue to recognize a high school career of hard work, and to provide an atmosphere for these student leaders to network together in preparation for their future." She turned slightly toward her friends. "Please let me introduce Ms. Jodie Landon for Student Leadership, Ms. Jane Lane for Artistic Achievement, and Mr. Michael MacKenzie for Athletic Leadership."
Jodie approached the podium and opened the envelope she held. "I'm pleased to announce the Student Leadership nomination goes to...Ms. Rhiannon Jenkins." Jodie smiled as the young woman with long, flowing blond hair approached from her seat behind the podium. Jodie stepped aside and smiled. "Valedictorian, Diane Fossy Award and now this. Well deserved honors for a talented and dedicated young woman."
Sandi looked up with some jealousy. "God, what doesn't that girl get? I would've thought Prom Queen was enough."
Quinn eyed Sandi. "Sandi, she did do a lot of stuff. Nobody noticed much while Jodie was here."
"Still, I would think that they'd spread these things around a bit more."
"I know she didn't do any art or music, so she can't get that one."
Stacy added, "She was on the girl's volleyball team, but didn't do that much. I don't think that she'll get the athletic award."
Sandi shrugged. "I guess, but I bet she gets the academic award, just like all the others."
Jane approached the podium. "I'm sure some of you never thought you'd see me again. Don't worry, study hall is finally over." A few laughs rose from the students. "This year, the Artistic Achievement goes to a gifted musician and singer, Ms. Kathy Sullivan." The brunette girl quickly accepted the certificate and gave a brief thank you.
Stacy asked, "Wasn't that the girl they always got to sing at the football games?"
Tiffany said, "Yeah, she does have a pretty voice."
Mack walked to the podium with a practiced formality. "The Athletic Leadership award goes to the captain of the track team, Mr. Benjamin Needham." The muscled young man sprinted up the stage and simply said, "Cool, thanks everyone," before sprinting back down.
Sandi said, "I remember going out with him. All he could talk about was running."
Tiffany observed, "He does have cute legs."
Sandi turned her head. "Tiffany, you can't see his legs."
"But...I saw them before."
Daria looked out over the restless students. "Last one folks, and then you can get your diplomas and escape." She opened the envelope and allowed a brief chuckle. Looking up with one of her small smiles, she said, "The faculty has decided to do something a little different this year. They wish to recognize the student who has best shown that Academic Achievement is not only learning, but sharing your knowledge with others. Ms. Quinn Morgendorffer."
Kevin yelled from his seat, "All right!"
Quinn looked at Daria as if she were seeing a giant cockroach. As the silence continued, Daria said, "Come on up, Sis."
Sandi looked at Quinn in shock; Stacy clapped her hands and said, "Oh! What a surprise."
Quinn looked at her with eyes still wide. "Yeah, surprise."
Tiffany gave her a wide, happy smile. "Way to go, Quinn."
Drawn forward like an automaton, Quinn walked up onto the stage. Daria spoke as she approached. "Ms. Morgendorffer has devoted many hours of her time this year tutoring some at-risk seniors in all subjects, assuring their graduation."
Daria handed over the certificate to Quinn and whispered, "I honestly had nothing to do with it, but I'm proud to pass this on to you." Into the microphone, she said, "Congratulations."
Quinn held the certificate in front of her. "I...what a surprise. Something like this doesn't happen without the support of friends...." She smiled a Daria. "...and family. I really want to thank my sister, Daria. She's forgotten more than I'll ever know, and leaves some big boots to fill. Thanks, Sis."
They shook hands and turned to go to their seats. Daria briefly turned with a proud smile at her sister. From the back of the bleachers, a freckled, curly red haired young man lowered a camera with a telephoto lens. "Feisty."
The ceremony proceeded as expected, with the graduates and families dissolving into a chaotic mob on the field. Jane moved next to Claire again. "Thinking of staying on as principal?"
Claire clasped her hands. "I'm as surprised as you are."
"You're not the same person who had her college roommates squatting in her apartment a couple years ago."
Claire shrugged one shoulder in a good imitation of Jane. "You may have rubbed off."
"You're not trying to blame me for this?"
"Not blame. Thank."
Kevin approached Quinn, who was surrounded by her family members. "Hey, Quinn."
She turned. "Hi, Kevin."
Jake extended his hand. "Kev, my man. Long time."
He shook the offered hand. "Hey, Mr. M." Nodding toward Helen, he added, "Mrs. M," and finally, "Daria." Releasing Jake's hand, he shook Quinn's hand. "Thanks, Quinn."
Quinn looked at the handshake in surprise, and then blushed lightly. "You're welcome, Kevin."
He suddenly waved his hand at someone in the crowd. "Hi, Mom! Over here!"
Charlene Thompson approached the group and extended her hand to Helen and Jake. "You have a wonderful daughter. I appreciate everything she's done for my son."
Helen shook her hand. "We are proud of her. Charlene, how're you holding up from the divorce?"
"We finalized things a couple weeks ago. I think the worst is over. Now, I have to make a new life."
Quinn asked Kevin, "What're your plans, now?"
He shrugged. "Find a job and help Mom."
Charlene gently pulled on Kevin's arm. "We need to go now. Thanks again for everything."
"Good luck, Kevin." Quinn watched them leave with a smile on her face.
Daria moved up next to her. "You done good, kid."
Quinn turned to her sister. "Daria, I never would have survived without your advice. I lost track of how many times I called or emailed you."
"I'm still impressed."
"Do you realize that your graduating class is going to remember you as a brain because of that award?"
Quinn's eyes slowly opened wide.
Two groups of friends independently made their way to Pizza Prince. Quinn, Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany split a cheeseless pizza while Daria, Jane, Jodie and Mack split a Carnivore Special.
Quinn looked past Tiffany and Sandi to watch the other four at their booth. Daria had one of her minimalist smiles, Jane was grinning and gesticulating with her hands, Jodie had her hand over her mouth in amused shock, and Mack grinned as he shook his head in apparent disbelief.
Quinn pointed to the booth. "Guys, we need to make sure we can do that."
Sandi looked over. "Do what?"
Stacy looked over, and back at Quinn. "Quinn's right. We need to be able to come back here a year from now and still be friends."
"Yeah, friends," Tiffany slowly added.
Sandi shrunk down in her seat. Quinn really is the leader now. But, they want to stay together, and include me...as friends. Mom was wrong. Friends are better than followers. "Um...yeah. You're right."
Quinn put her hand out over the table. "Why don't we agree to it right now?"
Stacy quickly grabbed Quinn's hand. "I'm in."
Tiffany and Sandi's hands reached out at the same time. Tiffany said, "Agreed," and Sandi added, "Next year, still as friends."
Thanks to the ever-present denizens of PPMB for comments, Lawndale Stalker, Steven Galloway, Greystar, Decelaraptor, Kristen Bealer, Mike Nassour, Sleepless, Ranger Thorne, Staren, Steven Galloway, The Angst Guy, Mr Orange, ipswichfan, and Isa Yo-Jo.
Thanks to Ipswichfan and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.
Revised February 2005