SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED

Copyright 2001 RICK HENNIGAN

 

Daria is property of MTV/VIACOM, Iím just borrowing Ďem for a while.

Authorís note- This is my first attempt at actually posting any of my writing anywhere. Please bear with my Slightly Saline Dariaverse. By my best guess, Iíd say this hovers between PG- 13 and NC-17. Adult situations, language.

 

PART ONE

As Daria lay on her bed, contentedly immobile, the telephone rang. Even though the cordless lay inches away, she instinctively called out, "Quinn! Quinn? That IS the phone. Quinn? Mom? Dad?"

With a sigh, she picked it up, "Hello?" she said, deadpan.

"Well! You sound like your usual chipper self, amiga,So, are you gonna tell me what really happened back there, or will I have to beat it out of you?" Jane said mischievously.

Suppressing a groan, she replied, "Iím not sure I want to talk about it, Jane. Iím still not sure myself what actually happened."

"Come on, Daria! Iím dying to find out how you ended up there! Did your mom find out?" Jane asked cautiously, remembering the tendency of a certain sibling to eavesdrop.

"Donít worry, I think she bought my story, and Quinnís. And after another weekend with my dad, I doubt sheíd believe it anyway."

After a short pause, Jane asked, cautiously, "SooÖ Did you talk to Tom yet?"

Daria paused before replying, "Yeah, we talked. I apologized, and he said he understands. And no, I didnít tell him either."

"Dammit, woman! I have to know!" Jane mock pleaded, before asking, "How about meeting for pizza later?"

"Okay, but I need to do something first. Iíll call you." Setting down the phone, she sighed as she opened her diary and began to write.

Last Friday had started the same way it always did in the Morgendorffer household, with Helen bolting breakfast while talking nonstop on the phone, Jake babbling about another new client, and Quinn commenting about another fashion whatever to no one in particular, and Daria sitting there quietly eating, trying to ignore as much as possible.

It was her father that started the landslide, as he poked through the mail and came upon the credit card bill. In the past, Quinn had made some hefty charges, but this one apparently took the cake. Normally, Jake would immediately fly into a rage when he saw Quinnís credit card bill, but this time, his jaw dropped, he turned white, and made a strangled sound.

Alarmed, Daria asked fearfully, "Dad? Are you Okay?"

Helen turned, threw her phone down and cried "Jake!! Whatís wrong? Is it your heart? Oh my God! Answer me!" Jake could only shake his head as he handed his wife the bill.

Taking it from his trembling hand, she scanned it quickly. Eyes wide and pale herself, she turned to face Quinn, who was already half way out of the kitchen.

"QUINN!! Get back here this instant! young lady, what do you have to say about this?" she demanded furiously, waving the bill in the air.

"How many times have we told you that card is for emergencies only! A thousand dollars, in one store alone?" Meanwhile, Daria sat, casually eating her cereal, with the faintest smirk on her face.

Helen whirled and barked, "Donít start, Daria!" before returning her attention to Quinn.

"Mu-om!" Quinn whined plaintively, "You donít understand! I needed to update my summer wardrobe and Cashmanís had just added the new line from Argentina! Youíve always said for me to broaden my knowledge about other places and stuff, so I figured since Iíve only focused on European and Ö"

"QUINN!! I meant educationally! Not by subsidizing their economy!" She paused to take a breath. "Quinn, I donít know what Iím going to do with you. Weíve tried to get through to you the value of money time and time again, but you just donít seem to get it. Iím afraid this time weíre going to have to take drastic measures."

It was too much for Daria to resist. " Sounds great, Mom. Iíll go dust off the Iron Maiden while Dad whips up a steaming vat of boiling oil."

Jake, now having recovered from his shock, brightened that he was included in the conversation and added, happily, "Sounds great! Iíll get started now!" Exasperated, Helen growled, "Dammit Jake, When are you ever going to figure outÖ Oh, never mind! Daria! I donít need any smart comments right now. This is serious!"

The look in Helenís eye was all Daria needed to know that this might be a good time to hide. Getting up and placing her bowl in the sink as Helen returned to berating Quinn, she left the kitchen and went upstairs where she sat by a heater vent to listen to the carnage unfold.

The telephone interrupted Daria as she sat perusing what sheíd wrote. It was Jane, who asked, testily, "Hey, are we gonna do the pizza thing or not? Iíve got Trentís car and I can pick you up. Are you still coming?"

Pausing, Daria finally answered. "Yes, Jane. I think youíre going to love what you hear. Iíll meet you out front."

Hanging up the phone, she grabbed her jacket and headed out. Stopping in the kitchen for a drink of water, she spotted a new note on the refrigerator. It said simply, "We have to talk when I get back, Mom." Daria grimaced, thinking, "God, I hope Quinn didnít tell themÖ"

The sound of a car horn outside ended that thought as she hurriedly drained the glass and left.

Pulling away from the house in Trentís battered car, Daria said, "Iím still not sure if I want to talk about in publicÖ"

"Talk about what, Daria? All I know is one day Iím asking you what youíre doing for the weekend, you say itís going to be the normal vegetable routine, and the next day me and the band find you working behind the bar in a college town two hundred miles from home, and you still donít remember how you got there?" Jane asked, incredulous.

"I hope this doesnít change how you think about me, Jane." Daria added cautiously.

"Hell, no! Iíd love to be able to pull off something like that! Let me know the next time, and weíll do it Thelma and Louise style!"

Daria smirked as she replied, "I didnít rob a bank, or drive off a cliff. To be honest, Iíve never been more terrified, especially when I woke up in that roomÖ."

The first thing she noticed when she woke was the smell. Dusty, old, stale. Then she became aware of the warmth and her head hurt in a way sheíd never felt before. Blinking, she looked around, and thought her vision had worsened overnight.

Nothing looked like it belonged in her room. Closing her eyes, she fumbled for her nightstand to find her glasses. Her head began to throb in earnest now, and she felt nauseous. The smell was starting to annoy her and it seemed to come from the blanket, which was curiously stiff and heavy.

Throwing it off brought welcome coolness, but it made her aware she was still clothed.

"God, I need an aspirin," she thought, "When did this headache start?" She tried to think back, but the pain made it hard to think. With a groan she tried to sit up, but found the effort difficult. As she did, her hand brushed one of her boots, knocking it over.

"Thatís odd," she thought, " How did these get in bed with me?"

Reluctantly, she opened her eyes again to locate her glasses and do something about her headache. By now more awake, she was startled to discover she wasnít in her room. Even with her poor vision, it was apparent this wasnít her bedroom or any other room in her house, or anywhere else she could remember.

Looking around dazedly, she made out the fuzzy shape of her glasses and picked them up. Now able to see clearly, she was even more puzzled at the fact she couldnít remember when or how she got here.

Then she realized the last thing she could recall was Tom picking her up after dinner.

A fresh wave of pain and nausea kept her from dwelling on that thought as she fought to keep her gorge from rising. Off to her right was a plastic bucket, and she automatically grabbed it and held it under her face. After a few minutes, weak and breathing heavily, she pushed the container away and took a deep breath.

"Okay, now that thatís over, Iíve got to get the hell out of here. Then figure out how this happened, and why. Then again, maybe I donít want to know."

Now in addition to a pounding headache, Daria began to feel various other aches and pains as well as that her clothes were damp. Seeing her boots, she donned them quickly, only lacing them partway. Finished, with her head pounding, she stood up and took a step before the room spun and she collapsed gracelessly back down.

"Wow! Sounds like you had quite the evening. Waking up wet, sick, and alone? And you couldnít remember a thing? Daria! You never told me what a wild party girl you are when Iím not around. All this time we thought you were just a brain who never has fun!" Jane said teasingly.

Daria gave her a dirty look before replying, " Hey! No smart comments if you want to hear the rest. You do know youíre going the wrong way if weíre getting pizza, donít you?"

"Weíre not going there just yet," replied Jane, "You said you didnít want to talk about it in public, right? I figure High Hills will be private enough for us."

"Then why didnít we go to your house then? Iíd be more comfortable there than at the park." Daria asked, irritably.

"No can do. When Trent and I got home, Wind was there, as well as two of Summerís kids. Casa Lane is not the place either of us wants to be right now." Jane said, chuckling grimly before saying, "Now finish the story, dammit! You havenít told me about the whips and chains yet!"

Daria rolled her eyes and smirked as she continued, "In your dreams, Lane. Though I will admit, for a minute or so, I thought something like that might happen. So anyway, there I was, sick as hell, lying on the floorÖ"

PART TWO

Scared, confused, and hurting, she lay there for a few minutes in an uncomfortable heap, until finally the soreness forced her to adjust her position. While she waited for her head to clear enough to try again, she studied the room for clues as to her situation.

The room was unimpressive, with faded and peeling paint, an assortment of ancient cardboard boxes stacked haphazardly along the walls. Two small windows, very dirty, admitted shafts of sunlight through the dust that hung in the air. At the far end, was a door, standing ajar, with a path leading to it between more boxes scattered about the floor. The bed where sheíd awoken was merely an old mattress, and the blanket was in actuality a canvas tarp.

An "Ewww" escaped her lips involuntarily and she felt her skin crawl. "This is not happening," she said aloud, "This is just a great big, wet smelly nightmare and Iím gonna wake up and none of this will be real."

The sound of heavy footsteps startled her, and when the door swung open, she let out an involuntary "EEP!"

A large bearded man peered around the door with a quizzical look on his face. In a concerned tone, he inquired, "Are you alright? Do you need help?" Daria was too frightened to answer, scrabbling back and away from him and almost knocking over the bucket.

Holding his hands up in a non-threatening gesture, he entered the room, saying gently, "Please donít be afraid. Iím not going to hurt you. Is there anything you need? Miss? Can you talk?"

Daria was too sick and frightened to do more than stare at him wide-eyed, as she came to the wall and was forced to stop.

Perplexed, the burly man scratched his head and thought for a moment. With a brightening look, he said, "Wait here, Iíll be back," as he turned and left. Terrified, Daria had retreated to the wall, and as she sat there, her mind raced.

"Oh God! This really isnít happening, this is just another nightmare, Iíve gotta wake up! Come on! Now! Please?" she pleaded to herself.

Heavy footsteps returned and there was a knock on the open door before the man peeked in again. "Hey, Iíve got something here for you," he said.

All Daria could say was a weak "Please. No. Please, donítÖ" as a single tear ran down her cheek.

Carefully picking his way toward her through the boxes, he stopped at an arms length from her and extended a wallet towards her.

"Go on, take it. Itís yours, right? Dar-eye-ah? Is that how you say it? It was in my safe, everythingís there. Here. Hereís your watch, too," he dangled it before her.

Too stunned to answer, Daria took the items and clutched them clumsily, not taking her gaze of the man.

He stepped back with a worried look on his face, as Daria studied him intently. Tall, heavy-set, with a full beard and long graying hair pulled back in a ponytail, everything about him screamed biker even if he wasnít dressed in jeans, heavy boots and a black T-shirt.

Admonishing herself for her fear, Daria looked up at him and uttered a shaky "Th-thanks," indicating her wallet and watch.

He smiled broadly as he extended his hand to her and said, "My nameís John, and Iíve been checking up on you all morning. Heather said for you to call her when you woke up. Come on, Iím making breakfast. Are you hungry?" Speechless, she took his hand as he easily pulled her up and helped her negotiate the cluttered room.

 

"Oooh la la! Daria Morgendorffer, biker girl! Iíve never pictured you on the back of a Hog. Can I see your tattoo?" Jane asked impishly.

Daria shot her a look of disgust as she stood up. Both girls were sitting on a picnic table set away from the path that crossed High Hills Park. They had stopped at the drive through before coming and were just finishing their meals.

"Youíve been warned Jane, save the cracks until Iím done, alright? This is hard enough as it is." She tossed her wrappers in the trashcan and stretched. Jane sat there with a dizzy grin as she took another bite of her burger. Seeing an older couple approaching, both girls fell silent until theyíd passed.

"Yes, he was a biker. And no, he didnít make me his Ďold ladyí or any of that crap. He owns the bar and he probably saved my life, in more ways than one." Jane didnít respond, but just stared at her in amazement.

"I donít believe Iím hearing this! You, of all people, acknowledging the kindness of others? This is even better than whips and chains!" She giggled when she thought this and got a crusty look from Daria, who continuedÖ

Sheíd never have been able to descend the stairs in her present condition, she realized, as her skull pounded along with her heartbeat. Halfway down, she stumbled and he scooped her up and carried her like an infant the rest of the way.

Too startled to complain, she closed her eyes and held on.

Shortly, he set her down on the padded surface of what turned out to be a booth. Looking around, Daria realized this was a bar or restaurant of some kind, with a wild assortment of items on the walls and behind the bar.

Trophies, posters and signs were scattered on every wall and the aroma of stale tobacco and beer competed with the smell of bacon frying. Seeing her turn pale, the biker pointed to an open door a few feet from where she sat.

"Thatís the can. Try not to yak on the floor, I just mopped. Can you make it on your own?" Daria nodded weakly. "Good! Iíll go and dig up some something bland for your stomach, and then Iíll fill you in on why youíre here."

Moving very slowly, Daria made it from the booth to the ladies room without falling. "Pretty good so far, but I donít know about walking home fromÖ wait! I remember something!" she said to herself, " Quinn, somethingÖ."

Then her face fell. "Aw, hell. Maybe amnesia was better. I think blind terror preferable to imminent death." Ten minutes later, she staggered to the sink and got a good look at herself.

Hair wild, smudged face, and a faint bruise on her neck that looked like aÖ "Oh great, a hickey. Just what I needed, a souvenir."

She cleaned herself up as best she could, combing her hair with her fingers into an acceptable mess, and slowly made her way back to the booth.

 

The Large Man was back, setting a small bowl on the table as she came out of the washroom. He smiled as she approached.

"Do you do this often?" asked Daria, as he gently guided her to her seat. "Do what?" he replied.

"This. You donít know me. Why are you helping me?"

For a moment he had a hurt look before asking her gently, "Howís your head?"

From the look she gave him, he laid a bottle of aspirin down and went to get her water. After delivering that and a cup of coffee, he retired to a seat behind the bar where he turned on a TV, leaving her to eat in silence.

She couldnít see the screen from where she sat but listened, for no other reason that it drowned out her anxiety a little. Looking down at what heíd given her, it appeared and proved to be instant oatmeal. Though still queasy, common sense prevailed, and she slowly began to eat.

"You and projectile emesis, Daria. Seems to be your theme, eh?" Jane said, laughing. "So you built up this big story just to tell me a big friendly biker gave you oatmeal? I thought you wanted to be a real writer. Thatís so, how should I put it, after school special?"

"I hate to tell you this Jane, but this is where it REALLY starts. If you recall, you didnít see me until ten, right?" Daria replied. "The next thing I had to do was figure out a way to get home and exert influence over Quinn from a distance. Without calling in air strikes, that is,"

The sun was setting and it was time to depart before the devil-worshippers came to claim the picnic area in the name of Baal for another night. Turning on to the street, Daria looked at Jane and said "Hey, letís go to that truck stop for coffee or something. I donít really feel like going home yet."

Jane raised her eyebrows in surprise, "Daria? Are you feeling OK? Doing something spontaneous? Theyíve done something to you, something evil," she said sarcastically.

"Donít laugh, Lane. I donít think youíre gonna like what Iím about to tell you," she said in a weary deadpan, as they drove on.

PART THREE

While Daria was eating, the Large Man was reading a newspaper as the TV droned on, periodically gazing at it, before returning to his reading, and occasionally stealing a glance at her.

Peering at his wristwatch, he looked at her again and got up and picked up a cell phone and dialed while walking out of Dariaís view. A sleepy voice answered, "Yílo? Ooizit?"

"Nance, itís me, John. Listen hon, that girl you asked me to baby sit for Heather is up and around," he said quietly.

"Who? John, I had a hard nightÖ" she whined.

"Nancy, The kid Heather knows? Glasses, unconscious?" John said matter-of-factly.

"Oh God! I canít believe I forgot! John, Iím so sorry, but Heather begged me to help. Sheíd have taken her back to the dorms but the kidís not a student, and Heather said sheíd get her in the morning."

"Nance, itís two oíclock now, and Iím opening in two hours. I canít have an eighteen year old hanging around my bar all day," he replied, with a touch of annoyance. "You handed me this problem, you take care of it. Fair?" he added, in a gruff voice.

"John, Iíd pick her up and drive her home, but my carís still in the shop. Iíll get a hold of Heather right now. And for your information, mister, I used to Ďhang aroundí your bar when I was eighteen and you didnít seem to mind then!" she said, giggling.

"Different times, baby. Alright, Iíll let her stay, if she wants to," he said, gruffly. "By the way, Nance, do ya think you could scare up some clothes for the kid? Hers are trashed, and she looks like she could use a shower, too."

"Sure Johnny, thatíd be no problem at all. Kathyís a clotheshorse. You wouldnít know her size, would you?" she replied.

"How the hell would I? I say sheís about Kathyís height, maybe a little shorter. Just bring something. Look, Iíve got to go. Weíll talk later."

He finished hurriedly as he noticed Daria standing at the bar looking at him. "Oh! Hey! How was it? Sorry I couldnít make ya anything real, but I keep loads of that stuff on hand. Feeling better?" he asked, wondering how much of the conversation sheíd overheard.

"Yes. Iím feeling well enough to get out of here, as soon as I can. Was that ĎHeatherí? I want to know who brought me here, and why."

He smiled, relieved that sheíd recovered so quickly. Pausing long enough to light a cigarette and refill his coffee cup, he motioned for Daria to take a seat at the bar.

Refilling her cup, he began to explain, "Alright, kiddo," he began, when she said,

"Itís Daria, sir," she interrupted, annoyed at the epithet.

"Sorry. Daria, and by the way, Iím John, not sir. Anyway, to make a long story short, this is all I know," as he say down.

"Last night was our all ages rave-crap-dance and sweat night. I have Nance work it Ďcause I canít stand that noise. All-ages, so no, youíre not in trouble being here, at least then. Last night I get a call from my bartender Nancy, who informs me of a problem. You. She had the bouncers rescue you from some guys who mightíve dosed ya."

Daria was perplexed by now. Last night her and Tom had a date. And it didnít include industrial dance/rave at a bar anywhere in Lawndale. ĎSome guys,í had stirred up a few memories, pictures of guys she knew, Tom, Trent, Ted.

None of them would do anything to hurt her. Who else? There was Mack, the Three Jís, and Kevin. Mack would never, and the Three Jís and Kevin were harmless in their own way. That only leftÖ

"Upchuck." The way Daria said it made Jane turn and look at her friend intently. "What? Are you saying Upchuck slipped you aÖaÖ"

"Yeah, thatís exactly what Iím saying. The only problem is, I donít have proof." Daria added, with a grim look on her face. Jane drove on silently, angry and embarrassed at herself for all the wisecracks she made earlier. A cold, hard look fell over her face as she thought of what her friend had just said.

"That little bastard. Listen, Daria, I can get Trent and Jesse toÖ"

"Donít bother. Nothing happened, except for me being shanghaied two hundred miles." Daria said offhandedly. "Besides, Iíve got no proof, just a vague description from a barmaid whoíd never seen him before."

She turned to look out the car window, sighing, "Remember those cousins of his? The ones we met at the dance?" Jane nodded and said, "Yeah, I canít remember their names, though."

"Brad and Brett. The ones we thought were sort of normal, except for the Ruttheimer gene," Daria explained, still gazing at the landscape going by. "We made a smart call then, running away. If I only hadnít been so pissed off and lazyÖ" she trailed off.

The coffee and food had the desired effect on Dariaís jangled brain cells, as more and more of the previous evening came back to her.

Taking another sip of coffee, she looked up at John and continued, " Last night me and my, uh, boyfriend went out for dinner and some foreign films. Another one of our usual, dull, safe dates. And then we made the mistake of talking about our future. I have a hard enough time with our present, but it went like thisÖ"

Tom had arrived while Helen was still fuming about Quinn. Jake answered the door, nervously saying "Hey Tom! Come on in! Daria! Tomís here!"

Helen was still lecturing Quinn in the kitchen at full volume and Tom saw the frazzled look on Jakes face.

"Uh-oh," Tom thought to himself, "This doesnít look good." Jake just pointed to the stairs and gave him a weak smile. Tom took the hint and quickly went up. Knocking on her door brought a "Go away."

To which he replied, "What, and not rescue you from your latest family crisis. Her door opened and she hauled him in. She kissed and hugged him before saying, "We leave now. To make along story short, Momís mad at Quinn and the faster weíre out of here, the better."

No sooner had the words come out of her mouth than her mother bellowed, "Daria! Get down here now!"

Tom winced at her tone and looked at Daria, saying, "Hey, If you want to, we can do this tomorrow, when itís calmer around here."

She looked disgusted as she replied, "Believe me Tom, anywhere is better than here. I donít want to be around when my momís head starts to spin. Come on," she said, as she opened the door.

Helen was waiting for them at the foot of the steps, arms crossed, and a stern look on her face.

"Hello, Tom, I need to talk to Daria before you two go. Sheíll be out in a minute, OK? Thanks Tom!" she said in her nice but no-nonsense tone of voice. He took the hint and gave Daria a supportive look as he headed to his car.

"Honey?" said Helen, calmly. "I want to apologize for yelling at you. And for sending you off to your room, Iím sorry. You understand, right?"

Daria just shrugged, as her mother continued, " Now you know that your father and I really have to attend this seminar. I canít get out of it and your dad needs a little break too. Iím not going to order you to keep an eye on your sister while weíre away. Iím asking you. Please?"

Daria was surprised. Sheíd expected her mother to make a production over her to oversee her sister. Now it was going to be that much harder to extract the bribe.

"Mom, as much as I love to torment Quinn, tonight I want to spend with Tom. He leaves for the cove tomorrow and this will be the last time we can spend together this month. Please?" she added.

Helen paused, considering what her daughter said, then sighed and said, "I wasnít going to stop you, honey. I just want you to keep tabs on Quinn this weekend, thatís all. Iím just going to have to trust her until you come back. Then you watch her like a hawk."

"And whatís my motivation again?" Daria ventured nonchalantly. Helen smiled thinly and replied, "You do want co-signers on your loan applications, right sweetie?"

"Check and mate, Mom. Iíll be back by twelve. I can lock Quinn in the cellar Ďtil then, right?" Daria smirked as Helen rolled her eyes.

"Hey." "Hey, yourself." Daria slipped next to Tom and kissed him. He smiled and asked, "Looks like youíre off guard duty for the night, huh?"

She smirked wickedly, "Until tomorrow, then I get to be Colonel Klink, no big deal. Letís go."

The blow-up had occurred as they sat in a coffee shop near the theatre, when Tom had, during a lull in their dissection of an obscure action comedy called "Straight to Hell", after Daria had compared the student body of Lawndale with the McMahon clan, excepting the fact her peers werenít as good at sing-a-long.

"Daria?" he asked carefully, looking directly at her. "Iím still curious about one thing,"

"Is it really possible to suck a bullet out? Probably. Brittany would be my best guess for that one."

He laughed and said, "No, not about the movie. Us. Remember what happened after I fell asleep at your house and your mom freaked?"

"Yes. And I thought weíd been over that. You know how I feel. Iím still not ready, if thatís your next question. Even if it is neon."

Daria frowned, suddenly uncomfortable, "Tom, Itís hard enough for me to deal with what we have now. I mean, I still feel bad about what we did to JaneÖ"

"God Daria!" Tom spluttered, "How many times do we have to go over this? Stop analyzing our relationship based on what we did to Jane! Itís over! She said it herself sheís OK with it, what more do you need, a sworn statement? When are you going to let that all go? Or is this going to be something weíll fight about forever?"

Daria stared daggers as she snapped, "Excuse me? In case you havenít noticed, you were the one who started this. And not just this," she emphasized, "This! All of it! Jane is my best friend and if I want to feel bad about what Iíve done, I will! You come off like sheís some bimbo who doesnít care about being hurt. Or that I can just blink and forget that I hurt her. Iím not like you, Tom."

"And whatís that supposed to mean? Iíve got to spend the rest of my life dwelling over Janeís hurt feelings? What do you want me to do, carry a sign that says Ď Iím a jerk for breaking up with a girl because I liked her friend?í Get a grip Daria! Sometimes I wonder if we really belong together after all."

"Get a grip? Go to hell, Tom. Youíre the one who has the problem, not me. How can you sit there and tell me what she really feels, and then tell ME how I should feel! And now you want to sleep with me? Why? To make me miss you while youíre away at your familyís private resort? Ď I know whatíll make you forget about stabbing your best friend in the back Daria, Letís go screw and everything will be better.í Is that what you do when you feel bad about hurting someone? Is that what you really want from me?" she said angrily as she stormed away, leaving Tom sitting with a stunned look.

PART FOUR

Jane looked over the table at Daria with a curious look on her face. "I hate to say it, but Tom was right about one thing. I really am over it, and maybe you shouldnít have taken the sex thing so far. Tomís a guy, yeah, but as they go heís not so bad."

Daria looked up from her coffee and said, " I realized that after I stormed out of there before he finished. I still donít know why that night still bothers me. He never really pressured me, now that I think about it."

"He never pressured me either," added Jane. "But, there was that timeÖ" "Jane, pleaseÖ" she begged, " I donít think it was the only reason I blew up. There were a lot of things on my mind that night. For one thing, I still havenít found a school, or a way to pay for it. My parents have been driving me nuts about finding a job, and as if that werenít enough, I still had to deal with Quinn when I got home."

Grateful that the conversation had moved away from Tom, Jane asked slyly, "So how did you manage to keep Quinn under control without using brute force?"

"Jane, youíre really not going to believe this butÖ"

Sheíd finally managed to get through on the phone, hearing Quinn say cautiously, "Hello? Daria? Is that you?"

"No, itís Santa Claus, and my crystal ball is on the fritz. Have you been a good girl?"

Daria could hear Quinn make her frustrated noise before saying, "Like you would know! Where have you been? I havenít been able to leave all day, Momís called four times and I canít keep making things up. What did you and Tom do last night? Wait! I donít wanna know! Hurry up and get here so I can still make my ĎBí list before she calls again. Oh yeah, Tom called a little while ago. Thatís funny, why would he do that if you two are, bleah, you know. Daria?"

"Quinn, Iíve got something to tell you. Tom and I didnítÖyou knowÖ last night. And thereís something else, tooÖ"

"Youíre where? Middleton? God Daria, Momís gonna freak when she finds out!" Quinn said, stunned.

"Daria? Are you all right?" she asked in a scared voice. "I mean, youíre not like in any trouble or anything, are you?"

Daria answered, "No Quinn, at least not yet. God, Iím gonna regret this, but, do you think you could get someone to come get me? Janeís not home and I donít think TomÖ Iíll explain later. We can make a deal later, I need to get out of here as soon as I can. Will you help me? Please?"

Begging was not easy for her, but under the circumstances it would have to do. Besides, if it came to it, she still had the video from Quinnís last kegger when their folks went to that marriage retreat last spring.

Quinn answered after a brief pause, "OK Daria, Iíll do what I can to get a ride for you. Just remember, you owe me big time for this. Whatís the address?"

"So Quinn was almost worried about you? Thatís so sweet!" Jane laughed. "Yeah, that and the irresistible thought of what she could use with that information. Fortunately, you showed up before her sycophants and foiled her plans."

Jane laughed again before asking Daria another question, "Oh, yeah, one more thing thatís been bugging me. Just when did you realize you werenít in Lawndale?"

Daria rolled her eyes before replying, "About the same time I figured out who Heather wasÖ"

"So your saying that you just walked out on him? Iím confused. Then how did you get here?" John asked, scratching his head. "I probably walked. Itís how I usually get around. Oh, and by the way, just where am I precisely? If I want to get home before my Mom calls Iíd better get going." Daria replied.

He just gave her a funny look then. "What? If youíre worried about me being spotted leaving here, I think I can manage it now without attracting any attention. Trust me, I sure as hell donít want to be seen by anybody I know leaving here."

He just shook his head, smiled and got up. Handing her the morning paper, she read the title.

"Middleton? Iím in Middleton? Youíve got to be kidding." she exclaimed.

"Nope. Take a good look at the walls, and all the crap hanging down. Welcome to Middleton Collegeís favorite off-campus recreational facility, the world famous Carusoís Bar and Grill! Catering to the eclectic tastes of Middleton scholars since 1955! Actually, weíre about two miles from the campus, right in the heart of the Village of Middleton. The kids like it here because itís far enough away from school to not worry about the campus police, but close enough to make it back on foot. If you donít believe me, go up to my office, you can see the main buildings from there."

Daria sat back stunned, still too woozy to take his offer, as she just sat and stared at the paper. "Oh great," she thought, "If my mom doesnít kill me for ending up here, sheíll make me attend. And knowing her, itíll probably be both. Think, Daria, think!"

John sat down again with a smile, and handed her a cell phone. "Itís for you," he said. She held it to her ear and cautiously said, "Hello?" The voice on the other end was vaguely familiar.

"Hey kid, howíre you feeling?" the female voice asked.

"OK, I guess, uhÖ" Daria stammered, trying to place where sheíd heard it before.

"You donít remember do you?" the mystery voice continued. "No, I really canít remember right now," Daria replied helplessly.

"Do you remember taking a tour of Middleton about three years ago?" came the reply.

Then it all came back to her. Heather, watching Quinn scrub steps with a toothbrush, and being escorted off campus. "Heather, the tour guide?"

"Give the girl a prize! Didnít know you could party like that, though. Howís the head?" Heather asked, laughing.

"Iím fine now, but Iíve got a question for you." "Shoot!" Heather replied.

"How did I get here?" Daria asked weakly.

"Youíre serious, arenít you?" the voice on the phone asked. "As a heart attack," Daria replied. "OK, then. About eleven or so we were out at Carusoís celebrating the fact we were out at Carusoís when there was this problem at the door. The bouncers stopped three guys who were trying to drag you in, twins, and some Howdy Doody looking guy,"

"Upchuck," thought Daria, wondering how she would ever be seen with him.

"Anyway, they didnít want to leave, but the bouncer didnít like the way you looked, I mean, how you looked. Weíve had some creeps who use rufies to get laid around here and you looked like a prime contender."

Nancy was gonna call the cops, but they always get the wrong idea around here. Then I recognized you and begged Nance to let you stay Ďtil your head was clear. I thought you were here for the summer program and I didnít want you to get in trouble. They booted those losers and you passed out. I told her Iíd come get you this morning, but I got called in to sub for the program. Sorry!"

Though Daria felt relieved that someone had looked out for her, she began to get angry that there were so many assumptions made on her behalf.

"Heather? Listen. Itís really important that I get the hell out of here and back home before my folks find out. Do you have a car?"

"Sorry, kid. The only way I can afford this dump is to work summers as an assistant. I havenít had wheels since my first year, but after seven I may be able to borrow my boyfriendís truck. Thatís the best I can do. Donít you know anybody who can come get you?"

Daria slapped her forehead in frustration. The only people she knew and trusted were Jane and Tom, and one was driving Trent and the band for a mini tour and the other probably hated her guts. That left only one option.

"Damn!" she said aloud. Heather responded with a meek "Sorry, itís the best I can do. If worse come to worse, Iíll see if I can sneak you into the dorm tonight."

"Thanks, but if Iím not back in Lawndale by sundown, Iím dead," replied Daria, in a defeated tone.

"Hey, listen, if your Ďrents give you a hard time I can help you out. Weíll just say you had an opportunity to check out some summer classes or something. Donít worry, itíll all work out in the end. Look, I gotta go, if you still havenít found a way out of here by six or so, Iíll meet you there and weíll figure something out. Bye!"

"Yeah, thanks. Later." She hung up the phone and held her head in her hands.

John came over to retrieve his phone and he patted her on the shoulder. "Hey, kiddo. Sorry about the way I was talking about you back there. If you have to, Iíll let you stay here until you get a ride. All I ask is that you keep a low profile until then, OK?"

She nodded dejectedly, and asked, "Do I have to stay in that room? Not that I mind the mess, but the smell is something else."

He thought for a moment, frowning, before saying, " I really donít like doing this, but since this is unusual, Iíll let you stay in my room upstairs. Itís sort of a cross between an office and a bedroom, and thereís a bathroom too. Thereís a TV and a phone, but you can only make local calls."

"Thank you, Mister uh, John. I didnít know you lived here," she replied.

He laughed and said, "Naw, I just use it when Iím too drunk to ride home, or when my olí lady is on theÖ never mind. Come on, Iíll show you." She got up and followed him.

He led her to the door marked "Keep Out" and unlocked it. Inside were a desk and chair, filing cabinet, and a metal army cot. To one side was another door, which Daria assumed was the washroom.

John went behind the desk and stooped down. She heard the sound of a metal door being slammed shut, then he stood.

"Not that you look like the criminal type, butÖ"

She shrugged, understanding, then asked, "Can I open the window? Itís kind of stuffy in here."

He chuckled and replied, "You mean it smells like an armpit. Yeah, but try not to be seen, OK? Bathroomís over here, kiddo. It even has a shower, too. I asked Nancy to loan you some threads so you wonít look like a vagrant. Iíll get her to bring some soap and shampoo too. I got to open now, so kick back, relax, and donít worry. This whole mess will straighten itself out, youíll see."

She merely shrugged and said, "Thanks, I really appreciate this."

John smiled and left, leaving her with a scrap of paper with Heatherís phone number.

PART FIVE

It was dark as they pulled into Janeís driveway. The muffled sounds of the band could be heard from the basement as the two girls sat talking.

"So he let you crash in his love nest, huh? Sounds like this guy was going to an awful lot of trouble for you, you know. You still havenít told me how you ended up bartending, Daria. That really impressed the guys, especially Trent. By the way, you make a killer Sex on the Beach, did you know that?" said Jane, as they got out.

Daria said, "Thanks. And how, pray tell, do you know what a good Sex on the Beach is? I thought you didnít like alcohol."

Jane shrugged before answering, "Normally I donít, but since you were making Ďem, I figured, what the hell." They walked into the backyard and sat down on one of Amandaís larger sculptures and continued talking.

"OK, Jane, you wanted to know how I ended up bartending? It started when that Nancy came in with that outfit I had onÖ"

Daria inspected the cot, finding it at least marginally better than the mattress in the storeroom, and lay back down to think and let her head clear some more. She had fallen back asleep when there was a knock on the door.

Startled awake, she was momentarily surprised again by her surroundings, but quickly recovered and called out, "Who is it?" as she sat up. The door opened and an attractive woman came in.

She was of average height with dirty blond hair in loose pigtails, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Her face was oval, with full lips and light blue eyes, and she appeared to be about her aunt Amyís age.

Smiling, she asked, "Hey you, how are you feeling? Last time I seen you, you didnít look so hot."

Daria just shrugged and said, "I feel better, thanks. You must be Nancy. John said youíd be coming. I guess I should thank you for helping me last night, huh?"

Nancy giggled and said, "Youíre welcome! I suppose John told you what happened?"

"A little, but my head and stomach were still doing loops. He said youíd give me the details when you came in." Daria replied, deadpan.

Nancy had a shopping bag in her hand and extended it towards Daria. "After you get cleaned up. Here, thereís soap and shampoo, and brought you some clothes, too. I borrowed them from my daughter, and sheís about your size."

"I canítÖ" Daria began to protest, but Nancy cut her off.

"Donít worry! Sheís got too many as it is. This way, you can get yours washed. Now I have to get started, so you get washed up and come down when youíre finished."

"But he said for me to keep out of sight until I got a ride home," she protested. Nancy laughed and said, "You donít have to worry about that, honey. He just didnít want the day crowd seeing you, and having someone tell his girlfriend heís seeing another woman. Weíll just say youíre a new barmaid, all right?"

"Thatíd be fine, except I wouldnít know what to do. I donít drink and the only time Iíve been in a bar before last night was to see my friendís band," Daria replied honestly.

"Donít worry, Iíll show you what you need to know. Look, Iíve got to get started before John has kittens, so Iíll see you in a bit, OK? Just come right behind the bar. Bye!"

She turned and left, leaving Daria standing there confused and worried. "Donít these people care I shouldnít even be here? I should just get out of here now, before something even more insane happens," she said to herself

"Like standing here talking to myself, for instance."

For a moment she considered just that, but remembered what she looked like this morning. "Aw, what the hell. I need a shower anyway, and my clothes are trashed. It would be all I need to be picked up for vagrancy," she thought, as she poked through the bag.

Sighing, she went in the tiny bathroom and shut the door.

After showering she inspected the clothes Nancy had provided. "Oh God," she muttered, "Looks like her daughter and Quinn share the fashion gene," as she examined the bell bottomed jeans and tiny shirt.

She considered putting her clothes back on, but picking them up, she realized just how filthy they were. "Well, itíll only be until mine are clean," she thought, as she began to dress.

The jeans were a little tight, but the shirt was just a little too small. Black, new looking, she wondered why the woman had given it to her until she noticed the word "Bitch" elegantly lettered on the front.

"Too bad I donít have a pierced belly button any more," she thought.

Nancy had also provided her with a large pocket comb and she made her hair look more or less normal. She discovered the pants were too snug for her to insert her wallet, so she tucked it into her boots.

Up against the wall of the office leaned a good size mirror, apparently a spare pane for the bar and she took a look. "Quinn would just love to see me right now," she thought glumly. The image was very similar, except for the glasses.

"All I need is a vacant look and itíd be complete," she added as she put her dirty clothes in the bag and headed downstairs. She could hear music and voices as she slipped into the kitchen and headed toward the door leading behind the bar. "I donít believe Iím about to do this," she muttered as she opened the door and stepped through.

She looked around nervously, as the patrons turned to look at her. Nancy was at the far end setting up drinks for a group of college age men, and Daria heard a few comments as she walked towards her.

"WHOO!" "Hey, Baby!" "Fresh Meat!"

When she heard that one, she turned and gave him a savage look, and he mock-cowered as he laughed. Rolling her eyes, she turned and fled for the safety of Nancy.

"Well, look at you, honey! Didnít know there was such a pretty girl hidden under there. Feel better now?" she asked, as she finished collecting money. The college men were giving Daria funny looks, and she felt uncomfortable.

"Whereís that laundry?" she asked, "I want to get my stuff washed as quickly as possible. Do you really let your daughter wear this?" she said, indicating the shirt. Nancy laughed and replied, "No, thatís why you got it. I didnít realize it was so short though, but you look good anyway. Hold on," she said, as another customer called for a drink.

There were about fifteen people in the bar, and Daria noticed that except for herself and Nancy, they were all men.

A skinny guy wearing a Middleton jersey asked her, "So youíre the new bartender, huh? Whatís your name?" in a come hither voice, winking.

She fixed him with a steely glare and said,

"Excuse me? Iím notÖ" before remembering the cover story Nancy made up. "Oh, what the hell," she thought before doing her best Quinn imitation.

"Iím Daria! Tee-hee! Whatís yours?" she said, mentally cursing for using her real name. The skinny dude grinned and replied, "Iím Fred, and I have a little problem."

"Whatís the problem?" she asked. He grinned even wider and said, "I seem to have lost my phone number. Can I have yours?"

She rolled her eyes, thinking, "Great. I havenít been behind the bar two minutes and already I get a lame pick up line."

Fighting the urge to shove his drink up his nose, she flashed him a dizzy smile a la Quinn, and fled to Nancyís side.

"Hey. Whereís that damn laundry? I want to get these washed and back on before Heather or my sisterís friends get here."

Nancy closed the register and replied, "Itís about a half block up the street, that way," she indicated with her finger.

"Good luck, though. Saturday night means that place will be packed. Oh, while you were sleeping, you had a couple of calls. Heather canít make it, something about her boyfriend, his truck and a ditch. And another, from a Quinn, who said she couldnít get anybody on such short notice. She said to call her as soon as you could."

Nancy turned away to refill another glass as Daria stood there in shock.

 

"Well thatís what you get for thinking Quinn was going to be able to handle such a complex task. What was her excuse?" asked Jane as she peeled an orange and offered a slice to Daria.

Accepting it, Daria continued, "As far as I could make out, when I finally managed to get through, that is, the three Jís got into a fistfight over who would do it, and managed to knock themselves out again, that guy who drove us back from the mall didnít want to go unless Quinn came with him, and the rest of her ĎAí list were otherwise unavailable."

"Wow, I thought all she had to do was sneeze and half of Lawndale would be there to wipe her nose," said Jane, surprised.

"If it was for Quinn, yeah. But when she told them who really needed the ride, they all found other excuses. She mumbled something about the brain thing. Funny, for a change, I believe her." Daria finished, before popping the orange slice in her mouth.

"So what happened with that Heather girl you know?" asked Jane.

"Never really found out. Nancy told me something about her boyfriend stealing some nitrous oxide to make his truck faster, and a leak resulting in him laughing himself off the road. She never came in that night." Daria shrugged.

The music had stopped and Jane said, "Come on, we can actually hear each other in my room now. Letís go before the boys ask you twenty questions" They went into the Laneís kitchen to find Trent and Jesse sitting at the table talking.

"Hey Janie, Hey Daria. Glad youíre back. Jesse and me have to, uh, take that amp back, so we can pay you. Oh, and Daria? Has anybody told you that you make a killer Sex on the Beach?"

Daria blushed and replied, "Thanks, and thanks for the ride home too." Jane looked at Trent and said brusquely, "Now you are going to remember to pay me this time? I do seem to recall that not happening the last time we did this."

Trent coughed before replying, "Sure Janie, but it might be awhile, though. I think we left it at that bar Daria works at, or somewhere. Whatever. Letís go Jess."

Daria blushed again and started to say something before Jane pulled her along. As they were climbing the stairs, Trent called up, "Hey Daria! McGrundyís is looking for another bartender. Do you want me to tell him youíre interested?"

She made a strangled noise as she fled after Jane.

Lying on the bed watching "Sick, Sad, World" as Jane painted, Daria continued. "As I was saying, after Quinn and that Heather bombed out getting me a ride, I had to do something. I only had five bucks, so I figured when in RomeÖ"

"Whatís wrong, honey? You donít look so good." Nancy asked, as she returned to the cash register.

"Well, letís see. First, I break up with my boyfriend over something he didnít do. Next, Iím drugged, shanghaied, and wake up two hundred miles from home. Then, not once but twice, I get shafted on getting a ride out of here. On top of all that, I was roped into keeping an eye on my idiot little sister while my folks are out of town. Iím broke, alone, and no offense, dressed like some teen pop singer. What do you think?" Daria challenged, hands on hips.

Nancy looked at her and smiled knowingly as she said, "Daria, Putting it that way, youíve got a point. Youíve had a raw deal handed to you, no doubt. But bitching about isnít going to help one bit. Yeah, Iíll admit the being drugged and shanghaied part is bad, but at least thatís all that happened, right? And Iím a mom, and I can appreciate how your folks are gonna feel if they find out, but you are eighteen, I know that, so they really canít hold that against you."

"As for being broke? I think we can fix that right now, remember? Youíre supposed to be the new barmaid, right? You seem pretty smart, and it doesnít take a rocket scientist to open a beer bottle. And I donít know how you feel about the clothes, but I think theyíre just fine. Daria, When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."

Daria gave her a dirty look and said, "I donít like clichés, I hate lemonade, and I donít think I can handle doing this, either."

Nancy gave her a warm smile and added, "Hon, Look at it this way. Life is all about turning liabilities into assets. All those things you said are beyond your control now. Take what you know and turn those things around. You can start by pretending youíre a barmaid, and who knows? Maybe something will come up and solve your problem. Until then, just roll with it and see where it takes you, Ok? Besides, tonight is going to be great. Weíre having a couple bands and itíll be fun, trust me! Come on, Iíll get you started."

Daria considered what sheíd said and realized she had a point. "What the hell," she said and followed her.

Nancy was pleased at how quickly Daria had picked up her instruction. She already knew how to work a register and though reluctant at first, was able to handle the customers pretty well.

Daria had seemed surprised to learn that it was legal for her to serve alcohol before being old enough to be served. Her dry wit helped too, as she deftly handled the lame come-ons and cracks from the mostly male crowd. Sheíd kept busy and was picking up some good tips already.

Two hours after she started, Nancy called her over. "Hey, Want to take a break?" Daria nodded eagerly and asked, "Is there any way I can make a call?"

Nancy said, "Thereís a phone in the office." Daria shook her head and replied, "I need to make a long distance call." Nancy handed her a cell phone saying, "Keep it short, youíve got fifteen."

Daria thanked her and went in back in the kitchen, where it was quieter and dialed her house. To her surprise, Quinn answered right away.

"Daria! Where are you! I thought you told me someone there was giving you a ride. When are you coming home and whatís that noise?"

For a moment Daria thought Quinn sounded worried, before replying, "Change of plans, Quinn. Iím stuck here until I make enough for cab fare. How many times did Mom call?"

"Only about a dozen times! Youíd better get here soon, because Iím running out of excuses. The last time she called, she said her and dad were gonna be taking the first flight out and theyíll be home tomorrow afternoon. Oh, and Tom called twice. He wants you to call him."

"Is he home?" Daria asked, trying not to sound anxious.

"He didnít say. He said youíd know where. Woops! Thatís my other line! So when do you think youíll be back?" asked Quinn.

"I donít know. Listen, if you need some good excuses, on my bookshelf is a red notebook. Use those, I got to go, Bye Quinn."

"OK, Daria. Thanks! Oh, and Daria? Take care of yourself, OK? Bye now!"

Now that surprised her. ĎTake care of yourself?í She dialed again, shaking her head, smiling.

The phone rang in the Sloaneís summer cottage. Elsie bounded over to answer it. "Hello? Who is it? Daria! Look, I heard what happened last night andÖ"

"Yes Elsie, Can I talk to Tom, please?" she said quickly, not wanting to waste time.

"Hold on, Iíll get him. Where are you, and whatís that noise?" Elsie asked, hearing the background noise.

"Itís a long story and I donít have much time. Cold you hurry?"

"Oh, all right." Elsie pouted, setting the phone down and walking away. Daria heard her yell and then Tom picked up the phone.

"Daria? Is that you, and what is that noise?"

"Listen Tom, I only have a couple of minutes and I want to tell you Iím sorry. I shouldnít have said the things I did or storm out. I acted like an idiot. Please forgive me." There was a long pause before he answered.

"Itís all right, Daria. I acted like a jerk too. And I should have gone after you when you left. I was worried if you were all right. I tried calling your house, but your sister said you were out. Where ARE you?" he repeated, sounding concerned.

"Itís a really long story, and I donít have time. Iím using someoneís cell phone and I canít talk for long," she replied, checking her wristwatch.

At that moment, Nancy stuck her head in and said loudly, "Come on Daria! Iím getting swamped! Letís get back to work!"

Tom heard this and asked, confusedly, "Work? You donít have a job, Daria. And who was that? Where are you?"

Daria replied quickly, " I do now, and I gotta go. I love you, Bye!" and hung up.

At the other end Tom stood looking at the phone incredulously. Daria working? And where was that? It sounded like a bar, but that was impossible.

What really unnerved and confused him was the last thing she said.

The three words sheíd never uttered before.

"This is too much. I have to find out whatís going on"

He attempted to call the number back, but all he got was a recorded message telling him a "Nancy" was unavailable.

"Now this is odd," he thought, a little fearfully.

After a minute he called Dariaís house again, and amazingly, her sister answered. "Quinn? This is Tom. I just talked to Daria. Do you know whatís going on?"

There was a long silence on the other end, and he thought he heard pages being turned. Finally she replied, stiffly, "Dariaís not here right now, becauseÖ. Uh, sheís doing a special, project for uhÖ uhÖ"

"Quinn, stop trying to read Dariaís excuse book. I want to know where she is, right now!" he demanded. Quinn sounded miserable but defiant as she replied, "Tom, I promised not to tell! Sheíll kill me and then Mom will too."

"Dammit Quinn! This is important! I need to know where she is. Is she all right? She said she was working. She never told me she got a job, where is it?" Now he was confused.

There was another long pause as Quinn digested this piece of information. She thought, "But Daria said she was stranded at that bar in Middleton, whatís she doingÖ"

And then it dawned on her. She barely suppressed a giggle as she told Tom, "Yeah! Itís sort of a surprise. She didnít want anyone to know she got a job, you know Daria. Do her a favor, and donít tell, OK? Woops, thatís my other line, gotta go! Iíll have her call you when she makes it back, er, gets home. Bye now!" she said, hanging up quickly.

This is so cool! Her brainy sister, a barmaid! This could be very profitable, in more ways than one, she decided.

 

 

 

 

PART SIX

 

"So, does Young Thomas know his beloved secretly laid down whiskey for complete strangers while dressed like Brittany Spears yet?" Jane prodded mischievously.

Daria merely cast her an icy look but softened, thinking back. "No, not yet. Iíll surprise him someday with that outfit and my new skill. You know, once you get past the terror and the disgusting losers you have to put up with, itís not a bad gig. Besides, the tips were pretty good and I learned a few good jokes too."

Jane was putting the finishing touches on her painting. It showed Daria surrounded by a group of vaguely bestial men set against the hazy backdrop of a tavern. In it she was portrayed quite prominently.

Looking at it, she commented, "Jane, I know that top was a little tight, but it wasnít THAT tight. And I donít have such, uh, large, you knowÖ" she blushed. Jane laughed. "But Daria, I wanted to portray you bursting out of the picture plane."

"If I burst out anymore, my picture will fall off, but thanks for the thought. Pretty damn good, though, considering itís from memory." Daria said, impressed. "It IS from memory, right?" she asked, with a touch of dread. Jane just gave her a wicked smile. "All right Lane, hand it over."

"Hand what over?" came the innocent response.

"Dammit. If anyone sees thatÖ"

"Donít worry! Itís safe. Trust me!" Jane said, giving an angelic look.

"I see. Blackmail, huh? Name your price, Jane." Daria said, deadpan.

"Easy. The rest of the story."

"Sounds fair, OK. Where was I? Oh yeah, thatís when you showed upÖ"

Jane couldnít decide whether she was disgusted or amused. Driving the Tank was a chore under the best of circumstances but she was starting to get tired trying to keep the fat bastard in the same lane. For the umpteenth time she checked the fuel gauge and was starting to get a little concerned.

"Maybe a few more miles," she thought. "That is, unless this thing is broken too."

That did it. She felt like company, so she aimed for some of the larger chuckholes that littered the rural highway.

It was amazing how soundly the members of Mystik Spiral could sleep. It wasnít until she had almost torn off the front end that one of them stirred.

Trent groggily disentangled himself from his bandmates and made his way to the passenger seat to stare slackly ahead.

"Hey sunshine!" Jane chirped sarcastically, "What brings you out of your self-induced stupor?"

"Mmm, you know, had to happen sooner or later. Are we there yet?" he slurred. Jane replied, "No. Last highway sign said sixty miles to Middleton. Trent, we need gas."

He peered over at the needle and said, "Itíll be cool. It says we have ten gallons. Thatíll be plenty."

"Trent, you idiot, thatís the speedometer! The gas gauge is this little needle thatís pointing at the letter "E", as in ĎEmptyí. Weíve got to stop soon." Hearing no reply, Jane stole a glance at her brother. He had fallen sound asleep again.

 

It had taken more bone jarring impacts before he roused again. "Janie, you really should watch those," he counseled drowsily, "You know we gotta rest up for tonight."

Jane replied acidly, "Look Trent, If we donít get gas, weíre not going to get there at all."

"So stop and get some," he replied sleepily.

"Iíd love to, but we need cash for that, remember? Besides, Iíve gassed this pig the last time. Itís your turn now."

Trent didnít answer for a moment and Jane thought heíd fallen asleep again, when he mumbled, "Canít. We had to blow the rest of our roll to replace Jesseís amp, remember? Youíre gonna have to again, sorry."

That was it. Jane snapped and yelled angrily at her brother, "Dammit! Every time we do this the same thing happens! Itís either an amp, or you clowns drink what you earn, or whatever else that happens. Do you remember when you got paid in Green Stamps?"

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Do you think we can get gas with those?" he asked.

Jane counted to ten before explaining, "Trent, we are stopping at the next station. You are waking those deadbeats and collecting all of their cash and giving it to me. I will then insure weíre not stranded, again, or starve, or have to call friends to get us out of jail, again, this time. Understand?"

"Itís cool Janie, so how much are you chipping in?"

She just looked at him savagely.

A few miles down the road they pulled into a gas station and Trent climbed in back to wake the band. Jane went in and used the washroom bought a few snacks before Trent had collected the money and put gas in the Tank.

Sheíd made the mistake in the past of being last in the store and getting stuck with the bill.

"Not this time, guys," she thought as she made her way back. Unable to wake anyone else but Max, Trent had resorted to rifling through their pockets.

He handed Jane a wad of paper. Not all of it was money she noted, asking, "What the hell is this, Trent?"

He casually replied, "All I could find on these guys was nine bucks, some pennies, an IOU from Mike at the Horn Dog, a couple of guitar picks, and those Green Stamps. Hey, did they say if they took those?"

Jane looked like she was ready to cry.

 

Meanwhile, at an upscale restaurant a hundred miles away, Jake and Helen Morgendorffer were dancing. The seminar had ended early and they had decided to take advantage of the unexpected free time to unwind before heading home.

Jake had hated every minute his wife and himself spent listening to those damn touchy-feely crybabies telling HIM how he should feel.

"Bad enough I was controlled and manipulated by that soulless bastard before, but now I have to PAY for that crap!" he thought, momentarily forgetting where he was. He stepped on Helenís foot, making her stumble.

"Jake! Watch it! Whatís the matter with you?" she whispered fiercely.

"Sorry, hon, I was thinking about something."

"Your father or Corporal Ellenbogen?" she asked vehemently. He hemmed and hawed before admitting.

"My Dad," he said, sheepishly.

Helenís look softened as she said, "Jakey, youíve got to learn to let go. Theyíre gone and you need to move on. Weíre having such a nice time for a change, why ruin it by thinking about the past? Come on, letís go back to the room. I feel like Ďrelaxingí again," she said, seductively. Jake perked up and grinned lecherously at the offer.

A short time later, they were lounging in their bathrobes looking at each other lovingly. Helen said, "You know Jake, when we get away like this I feel just like when we first met." Jake looked confused then, as he asked, "But Helen, I thought we werenít supposed to talk about the past?"

She rolled her eyes as she said," Jake, I meant about your father. Iím talking about when we first met. At school, remember?" Jake heeded her advice and thought back. Middleton. Hanging out in the dorms, peace protests, love-ins, and free thought. Yelling obscene suggestions to passing co-eds, pranks, and flipping off the professors. Riot police, tear gas, night sticks, the FASCIST BASTARDS!

"Jake! Stop that!"

He was suddenly back, realizing he was gripping the armrests tightly. He took a deep breath and really tried to think of something that didnít upset him.

"Wait, I remember, Helen, what was the name of that little tavern in town? You know, the opera guy."

She looked at him oddly, and then her face brightened. "I remember it too! Let me think, it started with a C, I know thatÖ" she wrinkled her forehead in concentration before exclaiming, "Carusoís! Thatís it!"

Jake replied ecstatically, "Yeah! Do you remember the food? Tofu burgers and brown rice!"

"Jake, you hate tofu and brown rice," Helen said acidly, shaking her head. "Doesnít matter! Hey! Iíve got an idea! Why donít we go down there?"

Helen thought about for a moment before replying, "Jakey, thatís a wonderful idea, but it might be a while before we get a chance again."

"Then letís do it right now!" he said excitedly, "Why not? Itís only a hundred miles, we could take a cruise just like we used to, before the girls. Come on, itíll be like old times! The GOOD old times," he emphasized.

At first Helen thought heíd gone crazy, as usual, but then his enthusiasm started to infect her.

"Heís right, we did used to do things like that, before the girls. And letís face it, his nuttiness is part of why I love him." She looked at him and could almost see the intense, exciting young man so long ago.

"What about the hotel, Jake? I thought you liked it here." There was a spark in his eyes as he exclaimed, "This dump? All it does is remind me of all the things that tick me off Oh sure, itís nice, but at itís heart it stands for everything we used to protest! I bet they exploit their workers, trampling on the dreams of the downtroddenÖ" he stopped, waiting for Helen to yell at him for getting carried away again.

She just sat there, gazing at him with that little smile that melted his heart.

"Oh Jake, What am I going to do with you? Here we are, at a four star hotel, with room service and a Jacuzzi, and youíre thinking about a seedy little tavern we used to go to thirty years ago."

He looked crestfallen as he said, "So, does that mean you donít want to go?"

She laughed as she rose from her seat and approached him, "Jake, Letís go. We havenít done anything this spontaneous since we had the girls, besides, another dinner here and Iíll never fit into any of my clothes."

"All right!" Jake exclaimed, fist in the air. "Letís blow this dump and get back to nature!" as he headed to the closet to retrieve their suitcases.

Helen picked up the phone to call the front desk, when she suddenly remembered something. "The girls!" she exclaimed, loudly.

Jake stopped and turned, with a curious look on his face. "What about them, honey?" he asked.

"Donít you remember? We grounded Quinn this weekend?" she replied. Jake shrugged, "Yeah, so? Isnít Daria keeping an eye on her?"

Helen responded, "Yes, but the last six times Iíve called, Quinn says Daria canít talk. And Quinn sounds like sheís hiding something."

Jake guffawed, "Aw címon Helen! You know Daria is responsible, or else we wouldnít be here, right?" he watched as she slowly nodded.

"And Quinn? When isnít she trying to hide something from us? Right?"

She nodded again. "And every time you called, Quinn answered, right? Now I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed but it sounds like sheís remained grounded to me."

Helen marveled at how sometimes Jake could display such elegant logic, when he sometimes couldnít be trusted with sharp objects.

 

Daria was too busy to think about asking Nancy to tell her how she had arrived at the bar. Like sheíd said, it didnít take a rocket scientist to jerk a beer tap or open a bottle. She noticed the crowd was an eclectic mix, with college kids on one hand, some biker types, blue- collar locals, with a few weirdoes thrown in.

Finally, there was a lull in the action and her and Nancy were able to talk.

Daria asked, "So, are you gonna tell me what happened her last night?"

Nancy smiled as she replied, "Well, it happened this wayÖ"

Carusoís had been in business for almost fifty years by catering to the whims of itís clientele. In the course of its history it had seen everything from bobbysoxers to Goths, and had adjusted accordingly.

Being a bar in a college town meant that a certain degree of flexibility in what it offered was a necessity, and the present was no exception.

Flexibility was the keyword in the quest to deflate the wallets of all who stepped across its threshold, especially the college kids. A loophole in the state law allowed the bar to sponsor all ages events, providing certain conditions were met.

John Caruso, the current proprietor, took full advantage of this. By using some of his good friends, paid under the table, and a fairly efficient system of hand stamps, wrist bands, and good old fashioned insight, he was able to pack the kids in, keep the regulars happy, and turn a healthy profit.

Every night of the week he had a different attraction, ranging from hippie folk music, to exotic dancers, all the way to rave and metal. During the day, his tavern was a workingmanís haven, with cold beer and simple food.

But once the night fell, it became a different place altogether, with college kids rubbing shoulders with bikers and bankers. John himself was a member of a motorcycle club and recruited his brothers as bouncers.

Friday night was no exception as the theme of the evening was rave, and the place was packed with suspiciously happy kids bouncing and swaying to the pounding beat of recorded industrial dance music. John himself couldnít stand it, and had left Nancy in charge while he partied elsewhere.

Nancy Owens was a thirty five year old divorcee whoíd been coming to Carusoís since she was a teen. A single mother, sheíd been bartending since her divorce and had it down to an art form.

Sheíd just turned away a Middleton freshman with a fake I. D. when she spotted a commotion at the door. As Bar Goddess, she was obligated to be aware of anything that might endanger the barís liquor license. She alerted her assistant for the evening, a coed named Chelle, that she was going to find out what was happening at the door, and she dove into the throng of humanity and made her way there.

The doormen had four teens stopped at the entrance, three boys and a girl. All were obviously underage and disheveled. Two of the boys looked like twins while the other one was Howdy Doody come to life.

The girl was petite, with dark red hair, glasses, and a drab outfit. The boys looked and acted slightly intoxicated, with Howdy arguing with the bouncers while the twins supported the girl.

Nancy ran a practiced eye over her, and didnít like what she saw. Her complexion was pale white and her eyes mere slits. The two holding her were doing so in a way that allowed them to periodically fondle her Ďnicerí parts.

Howdy was alternating between cajoling the doormen and admonishing his companions to "Wait until weíre inside! Grrr!" as the girl looked like she was trying to speak.

One of the coeds Nancy knew had gravitated over to the scene and was looking at the girl curiously.

Heather Nowell was a graduate student at Middleton, and a regular patron. Seeing Nancy, she came closer and yelled over the music, "I think I know that girl!" Nancy nodded, then she yelled again at the top of her lungs, "She looks like sheís wasted! In a bad way!"

Nancy grimaced, knowing full well what Heather was saying. The girl looked drugged, and the guys she was with just had that creepiness about them that made her shudder. She smelled trouble, and though legally she could just tell the kids to beat it, the girl looked like she needed help.

Howdy Doody was flashing some bills and a cheap smile as she muscled her way to the doormen. The two were pledges in the club John belonged to and looked contemptuously at the guy before them.

She grabbed the nearer oneís arm and said firmly, "Get the girl in, send the guys packing. Now!" He looked at her, and grinned evilly as he tapped his companion and nodded. The other man looked over at Nancy questioningly as she nodded again.

They stepped out and grabbed the young woman and pulled her in, where Nancy and Heather took her by the arms. She looked up dazedly, then sagged limply, unconscious.

The three boys looked surprised at what just happened, the twins almost falling over by the bouncers. Howdy Doody stepped back, dropping his cash and exclaiming loudly, "Whatís the big deal? Give her back!" One of the twins tried to slip around the bouncers and enter but was savagely punched for his trouble.

After the doormen finished, the three boys were sprawled out on the sidewalk, holding various parts of anatomy. Howdy Doodyís nose was bleeding freely, while the twins were doubled over, obviously in great pain.

One of the doormen bent down and grabbed Howdyís shirt and pulled him up.

In a menacing tone, he said, "The three of you have one minute to haul your asses away before we call the cops, understand?"

Howdy mumbled a "yessir", as he quivered in terror. A large wet spot appeared at his crotch. The biker pushed him away in disgust, and watched as Howdy helped his companions to their feet and stumbled away. Returning to the door, both of the bouncers shooed the gawkers who had spilled out back inside.

Nancy and Heather had dragged the unconscious girl into the kitchen where they laid her on the floor. While Heather felt for a pulse, Nancy dialed a number on her cell phone.

Heather looked up and asked, "Did you call 911? Sheís got a good pulse, and sheís breathing OK."

"No, I called Johnny. You said you know her?" replied Nancy as she squatted next to the prone figure.

"I met her a couple years ago, when her family took her on a tour of the school. I remember her because her parents were so bizarre, even though she was pretty cool," explained Heather, as she held the girlís hand.

"So whatís her name?" asked Nancy, as she picked up the girlís glasses and set them on a counter.

"I donít remember, I only talked to her the one time, and she wrote some papers for me afterward. We never stayed in touch."

"So sheís a coed, then?" asked Nancy as she lifted the girl into a sitting position.

"No, when I met her she was still in high school. She might be here for the summer program, though." Heather added.

"Letís see if she has any I.D., give me a hand, we got to take her jacket off."

The women took the girlís coat and rifled through the pockets. The only thing they found was a slim wallet with a driverís license, library card, and a student I.D.

"Dar-eye-ah Morgen-dorffer," Nancy read off of the license, "1111 Glen Oaks Lane, Lawndale. Long way to go for a party, Iíll say."

She looked down at the girl again, and noticed her clothes were torn and dirty and her face was smudged. Her cell phone rang, and she answered it.

"Nance, itís John. Whatís up?" he demanded.

She replied, "Weíve got a problem, Johnny."

"Iím on my way!" he said, as the line went dead.

"Whatíre you going to do," asked Heather. She thought for a moment before replying, "What I should do is call the cops, but thatíll mean more trouble for me and John. And for her, too." Nancy added.

Heather looked up again and asked, "Do you think sheís been, uh, you knowÖ"

She considered that for a moment, before saying, "I donít know. It looks like she just fell or something. And although the bozoís that brought her here look like scumbags, I doubt theyíd take their victim out dancing afterward."

"Here, let me take a peekÖ" she flipped the skirt up momentarily and then let it drop.

"Ewwww! How can you tell?" demanded Heather.

"You canít, really. But sheís still got her panties, and thatís a good sign. Come on, help me get her upstairs."

Shortly after the women had carried Daria up to the storeroom and laid her on an old mattress, the sound of motorcycle engines competed with the dance music. The doormen made way, and a phalanx of bikers cut through the crowd led by a large bearded man with an angry look on his face.

He stormed to the bar where the young barmaid indicated where Nancy was. She met him at the head of the stairs with a serious look on her face and related the events to him.

"Fuck!" he bellowed, "Where is she?" as she pointed to the storeroom. Inside, Heather sat by the unconscious girl.

"Nancy, in the office. Now."

He closed the door and asked her, "Why didnít you get an ambulance? If that kid dies, itís my ass. Oh, and please tell me you didnít serve her," he added caustically.

"I didnít call 911 because I was thinking about your ass. And no, she wasnít served, either. As a matter of fact, she came here like that. Ask those two youíve got working the door. Three punks showed up with her, looking like that, and I had her rescued. Sheís a mess, but otherwise OK. I didnít want to involve the cops for your sake," she replied firmly.

He sat back and remembered the last scrape he had involving an underage kid. It was after a football game and heíd come up with a very good fake I.D.

Heíd then proceeded to nearly drink himself to death, and John had come very close to losing the bar. The lawyer was still dealing with the parentís lawsuit, and just didnít need this right now.

"And whatís Heather got to do with her?" he growled. "She knows her, and she says if they take that kid to the hospital, it might screw up her student loans or something." Nancy explained.

"Thatís not my problem, hon. Tell Heather to haul her carcass back on campus and out of my hair," he said gruffly.

Nancy chose her words carefully as she replied, "Thatís the problem, Johnny. Sheís not a student there. Heather canít take her back with her, I already asked."

She handed him Dariaís wallet and watched as he flipped through it.

"Damn," was all he said as he handed it back. "Whereíre the people she came here with? You said she showed up with some guys," he asked.

"Those two you have watching the door knocked Ďem around and sent them packing," she said.

"Johnny, please. I didnít like what I saw and I made a decision. If you had seen the losers she was with youíd have done the same thing and you know it. Iíve got a daughter about her age, and so do you. How would you feel if somebody just let her get screwed over just because it might be inconvenient for them?" she begged.

"You win, Nancy," he said, "On one condition. That either you or Heather gets her out of here as soon as sheís able to move, is that clear?"

Nancy gave him a big smile and a hug as she said, "I promise, Johnny. You big softie, you."

He sighed and asked, "I suppose Iím gonna have to keep an eye on her then, wonít I?"

She replied, "Well, you were a medic in the Army, so yeah, I guess."

They went out of the office and went into the storeroom to inspect their foundling. John took her pulse and respiration and peeled back an eyelid. After a cursory check, he stood up and said to the women,

"Well, you were right. Other than whatever knocked her out, sheís pretty healthy. Looks like she was rolling around in the dirt though. Did those dudes do that?" he added. They both shrugged, and he felt the point was moot anyway.

"All right you two vixens, youíve convinced me. Now Nance, get back down there and help that poor kid behind the bar, and you," he said, indicating Heather. "Try to get hold of her folks or someone and get her home."

PART SEVEN

"So thatís how it happened, huh? Thanks, Nancy, that cleared up a lot of things." Daria said, nodding her head. "Upchuck and his cousins are going to die slowly for this."

"Upchuck?" Nancy asked, not sure sheíd heard correctly.

"The one you called Howdy-Doody. Heís this jerk in school who thinks heís Austin Powers. And the twins sound like his cousins." Daria added with a grim look.

The bar began to fill up as the first band began to play. After the rush for drinks subsided she had a little time to watch them and listen. They werenít unlike Spiral, inasmuch they were a four piece fronted by a skinny white guy with long hair and tattoos, played too loud and waved suburban angst like a flag.

Curious as to their name she asked Nancy, who was chatting with one of the bikers. She merely pointed to a flier taped to the wall. Daria read, "Saturday at Carusoís: Alternative Rock, Three Bands, Ladies drink half price with proper I.D. All ages welcome."

Below the blurb, the bands names were listed. Projectile Emesis, Force of Habit, and the last name made her eyes go wide.

There, poorly reproduced on the flier, was the unmistakable Gothic lettering of Mystik Spiral.

She then did a curious thing. She jumped up and down and made whooping noises. "YESSSSSSSSS!!!!" she screamed. Nancy came over, smiling, "Like Ďem, huh? Personally, Iím not too fond of this angry white boy stuff, but that last one sounds interesting."

"I know them! They can get me home, Nancy!" she exclaimed.

 

Nancy looked at her oddly. Up until now Daria had been doing everything with a more or less neutral expression, but now she was grinning idiotically.

Daria realizing Nancy was staring at her and why, returned to her normal expression and explained, "The last band thatís playing here tonight is headed by my friend Janeís brother Trent. Iíll be able to ride home with them, and make it back before my parentís do. This is too good to be true," she finished happily.

"Well, sugar, theyíre the last band tonight, so I hope this means I still have a helper. The girl that was supposed to come in tonight for this called in, otherwise, poor little old me will have to do this." Nancy said, with a little smirk. "And I guess I better warn you know, Johnny will flip when he sees you back here," she added, cautiously.

Daria grimaced, and asked, "Do you think thereíll be a problem? I mean, he did sort of stick his neck out for me, and he doesnít even know me. Iíd rather not have him think Iím not grateful, or something."

Nancy giggled as she put her hand on Dariaís shoulder as she said, " Iíll take care of him. He thinks heís such a tough guy, but deep down heís just a big olí teddy bear. Come on, thereís thirsty people waiting while we gossip!"

As they had been talking, the room had begun to fill. Daria returned to her end of the bar and started to refill drinks.

"She was right. This isnít too hard, and I like how full that tip jar is getting," she thought, as she glanced over at the glass bowl by the register.

 

If it would have been anybody else driving, the trip from the city to Middleton should have taken over two hours. Jake Morgendorffer was not anybody else, and he proved it, pushing the rental car hard. He loved driving, and he loved driving fast.

"The only speed limit there should be, is the one the car can do!" heíd often quote, as he weaved in and out of traffic.

Helen wondered if theyíd have to pay to get her hand prints removed from the dashboard as she clutched it in terror.

"Dammit Jake! Slow down! Youíll get us both killed this way!"

He grumbled but slowed a little. "Aw Helen, you know I hate to poke along. Besides, I have to any way. Weíre almost there!" he said, pointing at a road sign that read "Middleton, next exit."

As they exited the highway and traveled down the road towards town, they were passed by a battered black van moving at breakneck speed.

"Watch it! Damn idiot drivers!" Jake bellowed, blithely ignoring the hypocrisy. Helen asked, "Didnít that van look familiar somehow? I could have sworn Iíd seen it before."

"Never mind that Helen, Look! Thereís the old motel we used to go to! Hey! Letís stay there tonight, just like we used to!"

Helen made a face as she replied, "Jake, that place is a dump where cheating businessmen and horny college kids go. And that creepy old man that ran the place! Ughh! Why donít we find some place nice, hmm?"

"Aw Helen, it wasnít that bad! And I recall you didnít seem to mind. Besides, it was thirty years ago, that old fart canít possibly still be there!"

Half an hour later, as Helen was distastefully eyeing the toilet, Jake was happily lying on the bed as it buzzed and jiggled.

"Just like I remember! Hey hon, isnít that amazing heís still alive? He must be nearly a hundred now! Wonder what his secret isÖ" he trailed off, thinking.

Helen returned, scowling. "And itís just like I remember too, Jakey? Letís find a restaurant before we go to Carusoís. Iíd like to spend as little time as possible here." "Good idea, honey! But letís get out of these Establishment threads first. Wouldnít want to blow the scene!" he said, in his "hip" voice.

"Jake, itís been thirty years. Anyone we might possibly know wouldnít care what we looked like now." Seeing his face fall, "But itís good idea anyway, weíre here to relax, right?" she added, gently.

Shortly thereafter, they strolled up the main street to the bar. Along the way, Jake had made Helen blush when he asked, "Do you remember that one time, after the rally? When we went to the bar and snuck upstairs to that little storeroom?" Helen replied, "Yes, I do. Remember how the old man who owned the place caught us too?"

Jake leered, "Want to try it again?"

They both laughed as the came up to the front door. The sound of loud rock music echoed itís thud and blunder from the open door, where two burly men were collecting the cover charge and checking I.D.ís.

Hearing the music, Helen asked Jake, "Honey, are you sure about this? You know how much you hate this new music."

Before he could answer, one of the bouncers said, "Hey, donít worry! I think the last band is a Doors tribute. Thatíll be six bucks."

Jake shrugged and paid, as he said, "Itíll be all right, Helen! So it wonít exactly be like old times, so what? Weíre here to have fun, right?" She was pensive, but it was too late to back out now as he led her in.

PART EIGHT

"You didnít tell me your parents where there! Why didnít I see them?" Jane asked, after she picked her jaw up off of the floor.

Daria just sat there with her Mona Lisa smile as she picked up a slice of pizza and took a bite. "Didnít want to spoil the surprise. Talk about a shock, when I saw them walk in I almost peed my pants," she said, after swallowing.

"Lucky for me, they headed towards Nancyís end and that gave me enough time to disguise myself."

"Oh ho! So thatís why you were painted like a harlot when we got there!" snickered Jane, as she took another bite.

"Either that or wear a bag over my head. Iím just glad my dad was the one who got the drinks, because she wouldíve known right away." Daria explained, "Anyway, when Nancy saw me runÖ"

Out of the corner of her eye, Nancy caught Dariaís horrified look before she turned and ran into the kitchen. Going down the bar, she told the waiting crowd to hold it a minute as she followed.

"Whatís the matter? Are you all right?" she demanded. Daria shook her head and said, "Youíre not going to believe this, but that couple that just walked in?" Nancy nodded. They had both looked a little out of place, but in a college town, you never knew when teachers or alumni where going to go slumming.

"Those are my parents."

Nancy peered through the window at them as they stood at the bar, waiting.

"Wow. That is a problem, but I canít do this alone. Youíre going to have to figure something out," she said as they stood at the bar waiting. "Johnny wonít be in for another hour, and thereís too many people here," she added, testily.

Daria thought for a moment, then sighed as she asked, "Can I borrow some makeup?" as she removed her glasses. Nancy reached up on top of a cooler where sheíd left her purse and rummaged through it.

Handing her a small case, she said "Just hurry! I can cover it for a little while. Do you really think thatíll work?"

Daria answered as she selected the items sheíd need. "I donít know. Theyíve never seen me in it, and I can see well enough without my glasses to work. As long as my mom doesnít get too close, we can only hope."

Nancy was busy and didnít see Daria when she came out of the kitchen. It wasnít until she heard some wolf calls from that end did she turn and look. The effect was amazing. Not that she was unattractive before, but sheíd done wonders with a little foundation, eyeliner, and lipstick. The young bucks at her end noticed as well, by the hoots and whistles.

Daria approached her and asked, "What do you think? Oh, by the way, you wouldnít have any horrible eye or lip diseases, do you?" as she grabbed a bottle of liquor.

"It looks good! And no, I donít." Nancy replied, "Are you going to cope without your glasses? Iím only asking, because one of Johnnyís rules are, you drink your mistakes," she added, jokingly. The second band was finishing their first set and it began to get busy again.

One of the doormen came to the bar and asked, "Hey Nance! The last bandís here! I need the back door key, so they can get their stuff in. She handed her key ring to him and stole a glance at Daria.

She had been a little hesitant at first as she went through the motions, but as the night wore on sheíd grown more confident. Nancy was amazed that she was able to memorize the drink recipes from the book after reading them once.

Of course it helped that most of the men were drinking beer, but the women tonight were ordering cocktails. Sheíd also noticed Daria had been getting some strange looks from some of them, especially since the girl had been getting some attention from the guys.

She was also keeping an eye on her parents, after Daria had pointed them out. They had been able to commandeer a table in back and were sitting there, looking uncomfortable. When the band ended their first set, the man came up to her and asked, "Hey, hey! Whassup! Say, you wouldnít know if the ownerís around, would you?"

Nancy went pale. Johnny would freak out when he found out she hadnít got her out of here, but her parents had somehow found out and there she was, tending bar.

Heíd let her slide before, but this could wipe him out.

"Uh, no sir. Heís out for the evening. I donít know when heíll be back," she lied, knowing full well he was going to be there in an hour. Normally, he could care less about the music that was performed, but when heíd heard the name ĎMystik Spiralí he assumed it was a Doors cover band. "Iíd really love to hear ĎL.A. Womaní done live," heíd said.

"Aw, thatís too bad! I was looking forward to seeing Olí Joe again. Howís he doing? He must be getting up there in years, huh?" he said cheerfully.

"Old Joe?" she repeated, "The ownerís name isÖ" and then she realized he was talking about Johnís dad.

"Sir, Iím sorry. Joe Caruso passed away ten years ago, I thought you meant his son. Excuse me," she said as another person raised their glass for service.

Jake went back and sat next to his wife and said, "Helen, I found out the ownerís dead. I bet we could sneak up there when those maniacs start that godawful racket again!" he added excitedly.

"Jake, weíre not sneaking off to a store room to have sex. Iím seriously questioning why we came here in the first place, after hearing that awful music. Besides, weíre adults now, and I refuse to do something as foolish as that. I have a reputation to uphold, you know." Helen replied, annoyed.

Jake looked chastened for a moment, but then he scowled and said, "Dammit, Helen! We keep going to these stupid marriage retreats, seminars, and specialists because you want to know whatís wrong with our marriage! Iíll tell you whatís wrong! We are bored! B, O, R, E, D, bored! You keep saying you want some spice back in our marriage? Well here it is! Something exciting and fun and that we didnít have to pay some Ďexpertí to tell us what to do. Iím tired of being told what to do, you hear me, old man, tired!" he said, shaking his fist at the sky.

Helen didnít know when he started ranting at his father, but he did make a good point. "Heíll probably get the creeps when he sees that room again, and it would be nice to see where we first made love," she thought, "Besides, if I let him carry on like this, weíll probably get thrown out."

Her mind made up, she fixed him with her Ďknock-it-offí glare, then smiled as she said, "Jake, we came all this way just to see this horrible little place again. Letís at least go up and take a look at it, since it is where we first made love."

"It is?" he asked, nervously. "Yes! Donít tell me you donít remember?" she barked. "Yeah! I remember now, heh, donít know how I couldíve forgotten. Letís go!" he said with nervous enthusiasm.

"Oh, Jake," was all she could say as they forced their way through the crowd.

Nancy was too busy to see them get up and move in Dariaís direction, and by the time sheíd noticed, it was too late. They had finished their drinks and Jake asked, "Helen, do you want a couple of wine coolers while we go up there?" she nodded, and Jake squeezed up to the bar. Seeing the blonde was busy, he signaled the younger one for service.

Without her glasses Daria could see well enough to move around without stumbling, and she hadnít made too many mistakes. Sheíd even picked up the signals customers used to get service, so when she saw the blurry hand waving, she went over without thinking.

"Gimme two peach wine coolers, please!" came her fathers voice.

Dariaís heart stopped for a moment as he looked at her, grinning.

"Did you hear? A couple of wine coolers, peach?" he repeated loudly.

She nodded and quickly ducked into the cooler to search for them.

"He looked right at me and didnít notice! I donít know whether to be happy or sad, thank God heís got rotten eyesight and wonít admit it."

Finally she found the right ones and returned. Trying to keep her face hidden as much as possible, she set them down and said quickly, "Five dollars, please."

He tossed a twenty down and said loudly, "Keep the change!" as he turned to give Helen her bottle.

"Wow, normally I have to either con them into bribing me or wait for my allowance and he gives complete strangers fifteen dollar tips. Maybe Iíll have to start making his martinis from now on," she thought as they moved away.

Helen glanced over at her for a moment as Jake handed her the bottle. By this time Daria had turned around to grab a bottle from the rack.

She stared at her hard for a moment, and Jake asked, "What is it, honey?" as he noticed the odd look on her face.

"Itís the strangest thing. That girl looks familiar for some reason, but I donít know why," she said, as she tried to see around the customers lining the bar.

"Aw Helen, donít worry about it, the lighting stinks in here! Come on, letís go before someone else gets the same idea!" he said, as was urging her along. As they slipped through the kitchen door, she looked again.

"Jakeís right, the lighting is terrible in here, but if I didnít know better, I could swear that girl was Dariaís twin." Helen said to herself.

 

Meanwhile, back in Lawndale, Quinn was furious. "Saturday freakiní night and where am I? Stuck here! God Stacy, itís not fair! I canít believe I couldnít get one freaking guy to go and get her, can you? I mean sure, it is just my sister and all, but do you realize what I couldíve made her do to keep that a secret?" she practically screamed into the phone.

At the other end Stacy winced and said "Oh Quinn, Iím so sorry for you! If Iíd have known it was that important, Iíd never have asked Corey out tonight!" she squeaked breathlessly.

"What! Corey took YOU out tonight? I donít believe it!" she exclaimed, "Stacy, stop crying, I didnít mean it that way. So whereíd he take you?" she added sweetly.

On the other end Stacy stopped whimpering and replied, "Ch-chez Pierre, Quinn, why?" "Chez Pierre? That cheapÖ never mind. Listen Stacy, I need a favor from youÖhold on, thereís someone at the door. Iíll call you later, OK? Bye!" she said as the doorbell rang. Quinn raced to the door and opened it, hoping it was someone with a car who still liked her.

Her face fell when she saw who it was, saying, "Ewwww! What are you doing here, Upchuck, and how did you get my address? Are you lost or something?"

He stammered, "N-no, Iím not. I-is Daria h-home?" he asked, like a small child. "No sheís not! And, for your information, she already has a boyfriend. Not that sheíd ever go out with you, even if you didnít have those black eyes, so get lost," she said, closing the door.

"Quinn, wait! Itís important! I need to explain something to her before itís too late!" he begged.

She gave him a dirty look, and then, after checking to make sure no one popular was around, let him in.

"Donít get any funny ideas, buster. What is it you have to explain to Daria, hmm?" she said.

"Look, it would be better if I talked to her alone. Is she here?"

Quinn was curious as to why Upchuck was acting so weird, even for him. And his face! "I wonder if Daria did that too him?" she thought.

"Sheís not here Upchuck, but if you tell ME, Iíll make sure she gets the message, all right?"

He stood there thinking, before he said, "Last night, uh, here was a little, how you say it, misunderstanding. It seems she, uh, might have, you know, uhhh,"

"Spit it out!" she commanded.

"My cousins and I were out driving last night and uh, we sort of ran into DariaÖ"

"So what? I run into people all the time. Whatís the big deal?" her patience was running out and he was creeping her out with his swollen face.

"Well, when I said we ran into her, I mean we RAN into her," he explained. You see, it happened like thisÖ

PART NINE

It was a beautiful Friday night, and Chuck Ruttheimer was on the prowl. The Love Machine was purring like a contented cat, and he was dressed to kill. Or at least stun, he hoped. Tonight he and his cousins were going out tomcatting, and it was going to be great.

Brett had told him heíd have a little surprise waiting, and Upchuck was eager to find out what it was. He pulled up next to a small car with four luscious young ladies, and he looked over and gave them all a personal invitation to indulge in the wonder of himself. The thrown milkshake would have been dead on, if he hadnít of had his finger on the window button.

"Your loss, ladies!" he yelled as they smoked their tires, running the red light. Mentally congratulating himself on having the high power motors installed in his power windows, he continued on his way to pick up his cousins.

Brad and Brett were waiting out front when he pulled up, and they hopped in Upchuckís convertible. He looked over at Brett and asked, "So, pray tell, what is this surprise you have for me?" Brett grinned as he reached into his pants pocket and withdrew a small pill bottle, which he proudly displayed to his cousin.

"Pardon my ignorance, but thatís just a pill bottle, Brett. Thatís the surprise?" Upchuck asked, confused.

"Itís not the bottle, you idiot. Itís whatís inside!" For a moment, Upchuck was concerned, for though he was a ladies man, he wasnít a partier, and drugs didnít appeal to him.

"Hey guys, I didnít know you were into that stuff," he replied nervously. His cousins both laughed and Brad said, "Relax, Chuck. Itís not for us, itís for the ladies!" Seeing he was still confused, Brett continued. "See, weíve realized that even though we know what the ladies want, some of them are too shy about it."

"So the other day, I was on the web and I discovered a rather interesting article on how we can help them overcome their Ďshynessí, so to speak. Something to help them relax and enjoy themselves more," he concluded.

"So what is this Ďrelaxantí you speak of?" Upchuck asked, uneasily. Brett laughed again, a little unpleasantly, as he said, "Knock-out drops. We downloaded the formula, and whipped up a batch in our basement. Letís face it, we need all the help we can get, and now we have it!" Brad gave him a high-five and said to Upchuck, "Now all we need are a few Ďtest subjectsí! Itís a sure thing!"

Upchuck wasnít as enthused as his cousins were. He had considered something like that before, but heíd never had the gumption to actually try anything like that.

He gulped and said, "Hold on guys! Isnít that illegal? And wouldnít it be, well, dangerous to test on someone?"

Brett snorted and replied, "Well, duh, we know itís illegal! Who cares? If we do this the right way, weíll never have to worry about getting caught. Now listen. Me and Brad have a plan, and we need you and the Love Machine to carry it out."

"Now wait a minute fellas. We canít just be slipping some untested drug to a lady! We could kill someone that way!" he whined, fearfully.

Brett scoffed, "I didnít say it was untested, stupid. We tried it out on our neighborís dog last night, and he was fine this morning. All we have to do is slip one of these in her drink, and weíre on top of the mountain!"

Somewhere in the back of Upchucks mind, in a dusty little corner hidden behind all the dirty pictures and pick up lines, his conscience woke up from itís nap.

"As enticing as the idea sounds, guys, I still wouldnít feel right about making love to a, shall I say, corpse? Iím going to say no on this one fellas," he concluded, as he concentrated on driving.

"Charles, before you say no, just listen to the rest of our plan, OK?" asked Brad. Upchuck nodded, and Brad continued, "Now you know of a couple of hookers who work near the theatre district in Lawndale, right?"

Upchuck nodded slowly, not terribly proud that his cousins knew heíd had to pay before.

"OK, Now how would you like to be able to get that for free? Interested?" Brad teased, before continuing, "Now this isnít supposed to totally knock someone out, just make them unable to resist and it wipes their memory. Think of a local anesthetic for the head," he concluded with a smirk.

"Interesting," purred Upchuck, as he reconsidered. "When you put it that way, it might prove useful indeed, especially with some of the Ďworking womení Iíve had the dubious pleasure of meeting."

He recalled some of his encounters with the tough, mean women who made their living the old fashioned way. "You say they donít remember anything at all?" he asked.

"Not enough to make a complaint, from what I hear. Plus, since theyíre prostitutes, the cops wouldnít believe them anyway! Itís perfect, and all we need now is for you to hook us up with one you know."

His conscience was overwhelmed by the possibilities and went back to bed. "Ok, Iím in! What do I have to do?" he asked. They finished explaining their plan as they headed back into Lawndale. He pulled over at a convenience store and made a phone call while Brad and Brett got the supplies.

Hopping back into the car, Upchuck said, "Itís all set up. Weíll meet her down by the Playhouse in an hour. I told her you guys are just some friends from school, and she said itíll be two hundred, up front." They all laughed as they pooled their cash together.

Brett said, "Wonít she be surprised tomorrow morning, when she wakes up in Middleton!"

"If you donít mind my asking, why are we taking her there?" asked Upchuck.

"I thought you understood, first we get one here, dope her and do her, take her there and leave her somewhere safe. Then, we cruise to this college bar we know, party a little, hook up with another chick, and do the same thing, only in reverse."

Bradís explanation seemed logical enough, so Upchuck started to get excited as they drove on. Brett finished explaining the plan as they parked in the shadows. "Ok, Charles, hereís how weíll do it. While youíre making the connection, weíll slip the stuff into this soda," he said, indicating a bottle.

"We offer her a shot off of the bottle here and let her take that for a chaser." Brad finished with, "After weíre done, and taken back our two-hundred, we drop her off near Middleton. Then we go to this all ages rave at a college bar, and if weíre lucky, we can repeat it in reverse!"

"I am impressed!" said Upchuck, "I get it now, while we have a perfect alibi, they wonít be able to explain what happened. Complex, but doable, I think."

As the three made their plans, the woman in question stepped out of a doorway and walked towards the car. Upchuck greeted her, and Brett hopped in the back with his brother.

She said, "All right, you little freak, letís see the cash before we talk," she said in a voice leathered by years of drinking and smoking. "So whoíre your friends?" she inquired after he handed her a wad of bills.

"Iím John," said Brad. "And Iím Jim," added Brett, smirking.

"Right. So whatís your pleasure tonight boys?" she asked sweetly, "And where? I donít do back seats anymore, and Iíd like to get a drink too, if you donít mind," she added.

Brett produced a fifth of bourbon and took a swig before passing it to her. She took a long pull before passing it to Upchuck, who declined. Brett accepted the bottle as he handed her the soda. She took it and twisted the top.

Their plan had been perfect, except for one thing. When she opened the full bottle of soda, it didnít sound right. The woman had been turning tricks for too long to be unaware of the little games johns could play.

Suspicious, she offered the bottle back to Brett, who declined.

"Ok, boys, what gives? I know youíre up to something," she challenged. All three looked nervous and she set the bottle down in the center console and opened the door.

She peeled off a couple of bills from the wad and threw the rest back at them. "For my time," was all she said before whistling loudly.

Upchuck barely got the car in gear as the huge man slammed a pipe across his door. All the cash sheíd thrown back flew away as he turned the corner at high speed.

"Slow down!" the twins screamed in unison as he fled. He headed for a side street near the park and slowed.

"Dammit! I knew something would go wrong!" Upchuck howled as he beat the steering wheel in frustration. In the back, his cousins had managed to snatch a few bills as they whirled around the open car.

Meanwhile, as they had been fleeing from an angry pimp, Daria and Tomí argument had climaxed. Tom had said loudly "Daria, knock it off! People are watching!"

"I donít care who the hellís watching! Or listening! Donít tell me to shut up, you jerk. Thatís it, Iím leaving!" she said, getting up and storming out.

He sat there, furious as he thought, "Fine, you want to play these little games, I can play too!" Out loud he muttered, "Waiting for me to run out and apologize? Two can play this game."

Outside, Daria waited for him to come out, and apologize. When he didnít, she shrugged and said, "OK, so youíre waiting for me to come in and apologize? Two can play this game." She turned and started walking, headed for home.

She was walking past a construction site when she heard the sound of tires squealing behind her.

Turning, Daria screamed as Upchucks car barreled straight at her, having jumped the curb after whipping around the corner. Instinctively, she stepped back and fell into a large ditch by the sidewalk.

Upchuck didnít see her as he fought for control, but his cousins did. Screaming, "Look out!" they watched in horror as they saw her fall. Finally, Upchuck managed to stop, and as he did, Brett and Brad jumped out and ran back to the ditch. Upchuck remained frozen in his seat, his hands in a death grip on the wheel.

His cousins peered cautiously over the edge of the ditch, expecting to see a dead body. Instead, Daria lay flat on her back in a puddle of muddy water, dazed. They both hopped down and went to either side of her, asking, "Oh my God, are you all right?" together.

She blinked a couple of times, not sure if her vision was right before she answered.

"What the hell is wrong with you!" she yelled furiously, "You almost killed me! Get me out of here now!" she demanded.

The twins were pulling her up when Upchuck stumbled out of his car in shock. Heíd seen who it was just as he was about to hit her, when she fell. Numbly, he went to where Brad and Brett were, and almost had a heart attack as her head appeared over the edge. Recovering, he reached down to help them get her out, only to get punched in the face.

Once out, she stared at Upchuck fiercely before saying, "Upchuck, you moron! What the hell were you doing? A few more inches and you idiots would have killed me!"

No sooner than she said those words, she started shaking. Never before had she come so close to dying. Brad and Brett grabbed her shoulders and hustled her to Upchuckís car and sat her down, as he stumbled after them.

"Are you all right Daria?" he begged, "Daria, say something!" as he gently slapped her face.

"Do that again and youíll be breathing through a tube, asshole," she replied in a faraway voice and started coughing.

Upchuck yelled to Brett, "Get her something to drink!" as he held her head up.

Brett raced to the car and without thinking, grabbed the bottle they had spiked. Returning, he gave it to Upchuck who held it to her lips, "Here, Daria. This is all weíve got, unless you want bourbon."

At the mention of that, she gave him a dirty look, but drank anyway, to moisten her suddenly dry mouth. After several sips, she pushed it away and took a deep breath before saying, " As soon as I get up, you three are so dead. Bourbon, huh? Wait until I find a copÖ" She took the soda from him and drained it, before slapping them away and standing up.

"Daria, I can explain!" Upchuck wailed, " I didnít have any, I swear! We were just trying to get away from someone, please, donít call the police! Weíll do anything! Just name it, and itís yours!" Daria glared at them for a minute as she collected her thoughts.

"Well," she thought, "This is the perfect ending to my day, Iím stuck baby sitting Quinn this weekend, break up with Tom, and then Iím forced to jump in a muddy hole to avoid being killed by Upchuck. What more could I possibly need?"

Wiping mud off of her sleeve, she looked at him and said, "Ok, Upchuck, hereís what I want. One, you take me home safely, Two, never ever say I was in this car and Three, stay away from me the rest of your miserable life. Deal?"

The look on his face was unreadable as he muttered, "Deal," and walking around to the driverís side. Daria sat back down and began scraped a large clump of mud off her leg and let it fall.

"Hey! Watch it! I just had this cleaned, Daria!" he sniveled.

She sneered at him and said, "Deal with it."

They drove away and Daria sank as low into the seat as she could so she wouldnít be seen. Brett said, "You know, that seat goes back all the way. Wouldnít that be more comfortable?" She adjusted it and he was right. Turning to thank him, she recognized him from the school dance.

"Hey! I know you two. From that dance awhile back. Youíre his cousins, arenít you?" as she hooked a thumb at Upchuck.

"Guilty as charged, my dear." Brad said. "Sorry you never got the trophy, though. Whereís your friend?"

Daria, yawning, answered, "Thatís none of your business." She yawned again, and began to feel light headed. The lights going by began to blur and dim. She tried to speak, but only a soft strangled sound came out.

"Daria?" Upchuck asked, as he heard the sound. "Whatís wrong? Hey guys, did she hit her head or something?"

Brett leaned over the seat and looked at her, then started laughing. "Whatíre you laughing at, Brett? Come on, this could be serious!" Upchuck demanded, as he drove on.

"Charles, do you remember that soda we tried to give to the hooker?" he chuckled, as his brother began to laugh too.

"No, I donít. Why?" He showed him the two unopened bottles that were in the back seat, as Upchuckís jaw dropped.

PART TEN

"So they didnít intentionally give that to you?" asked Jane as she cleaned her brushes. "Not as far as I can tell," Daria said, as she selected another CD from Janeís collection.

"So how did you find this out? I canít believe heíd admit to that, at least not to your face, anyway." Jane asked, as she tried to make sense of the twists and turns the story had made.

"Quinn," she replied. Finding a CD, she placed it in the player and pushed it in.

Not hearing Jane reply, she turned to look at her, and continued, "He came to my house to apologize, and try to make some kind of a deal to buy my silence. When Quinn heard what he was saying, she went to my room and got my tape recorder."

Daria reached in her pocket and extracted a small tape, and handed it to Jane.

"On that, you can hear him admit to everything that happened. After I passed out, they panicked and took off for Middleton, to establish their alibi."

"So why donít you give that to the police, and send all three of them away? I donít get it." Jane asked, confused.

"First of all, if I do that, my mom will find out, and even though Iím eighteen, Iím still dependent on them for college, and I donít want to rock the boat. Second, they didnít do anything to me, except maybe the kidnapping and abandonment part, and third, Upchuck may be a vile pervert, but heís a rich, vile pervert. Something like this may come in handy someday," she grinned evilly, as she put the tape back.

"Well, itís nice to know youíve still managed to keep a wit or two about you. Now tell me how your folks never realized it was you bartending, and why I didnít see them when the band got there?" Jane asked as she sat down next to her friend.

"Well, my dad didnít recognize me because his vision is terrible, but heís too stubborn to admit it, and apparently they had an ulterior motive for being there."

"After Iíd served them, they both disappeared in backÖ"

They muscled their way through the crowd and slipped into the kitchen. Jake, trying to be sneaky, peeked around the corner to the stairway. Seeing no one, he waved Helen on and they crept up the stairs.

"Oh my goodness!" whispered Helen, "I feel like a teenager doing this! Jake, are you sure this is such a good idea? What if we get caught?"

"Donít worry honey! Itís not like weíre thieves or something. Whoís it gonna hurt?" he scoffed loudly. She shushed him, and he made a face as he said, "Besides, with that racket going on, I doubt anyone will hear us! Hey! There it is," as he indicated the storeroom door.

Pushing it open, he felt blindly for the light switch as Helen wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Jake! This place smells awful! You canít seriously expect toÖ"

"Found it!" he exclaimed, cutting her off in mid-sentence, as the lights came on. He stepped back and draped his arm across Helenís shoulders as they surveyed the room. "Looks almost the same as Iíd remembered it!" he said happily, as Helen recoiled at the sight.

She could see boxes upon boxes stacked everywhere, with odd bits of furniture scattered among them. At the far end, was a tattered mattress lying on even more boxes, with a ratty blanket on it.

"Our love nest awaits!" Jake said enthusiastically, not noticing Helenís expression. "This is gonna be great! Come on honey, letís get comfortable," his said seductively.

Helen sighed as she thought of the four star hotel theyíd abandoned forÖthis.

"Are you out of your mind, Jake? Thereís no way on Earth Iím going toÖon thatÖin here," she snapped as she pushed him away. "Jake, weíve had our little adventure and while itís special that weíre here, we are not, repeat not going to make love in this, this, trash bin!" she finished, crossing her arms.

Jake sat down on a large box, dejected. "But Helen! I was looking forward to this all the way down here. What you said back at the hotel made me want to remember all the good times weíve had and forget the bad ones," he said, hanging his head like a small child. She felt bad for speaking as she did, and sat down next to him.

"Oh honey, Iím sorry it sounded that way, really. What I meant was, we donít have to replicate the past, only remember it. Weíre here now, so letís just enjoy it for a while and then weíll go, OK?" she said sweetly, as she hugged him.

He smiled and gave her a hug and kiss back. "Youíre right Helen, it is kind of a stupid idea anyway. And this room is a dump, too. Hey! Look!" he exclaimed, pointing at one of the boxes.

Labeled "Photos 69-72" it sat atop of a stack of other decaying boxes. Curious, they both went over to it and looked in. Inside were stacks of photographs of all sizes, from snapshots to large group photos.

"Oh my, look at all of these!" Helen exclaimed. "I wonder if weíre in any of them?" she mused as she removed a handful and started flipping through them.

"You know, I seem to recall posing with a bunch of the guys here once!" Jake bubbled happily, as he did the same. "Hey look! Itís Willow and Coyote!" he held up a snapshot as Helen looked.

"Oh my! They look soÖ young. Oh! Hereís one I think we were in! Remember that protest march our junior year in the rain. We both had colds for a week!"

"Oh how do I remember that, freezing my damn ass off in cutoffs and sandals in that lousy park until some damn pig tosses tear gas and then I lost you and had to walk back in that maelstromÖ" he ranted until Helen cut him off.

"Jake! It was in November and it was your own fault, dressing that way. And it wasnít tear gas, either. Someone threw a nylon bra on the fire and you panicked."

She chuckled at the memory, "And when you bolted, the rest of the people started to freak out and run away. Coyote grabbed me and Willow and we split in his van.

Did you know we spent hours looking for you?" She took his hand, looking at him lovingly.

"Really? Wow, Iíd thought you were all being busted, and I jumped in that creek to hide! Helen, I searched all over for you after I got out, thinking youíd been hauled off to the gulag or something!" he replied, as she started kissing him.

"As a matter of fact IÖ" "Shut up, and come here," she cut him off as she tossed her stack of pictures down. "Oh yeah!" Jake exclaimed.

Below in the barroom, it was getting crowded as the second band was taking their equipment off the stage. As they were, Mystik Spiral was hauling their stuff out of the Tank.

Jane stood and watched impassively as her brother and his friends moved their gear in and set it up. Trent, arms full of cables, asked, "Hey Janie, how about giving us a hand here?" Without missing a beat, she began to clap loudly and threw in a "Woo-Hoo!" for good measure. "Funny, I meant could you grab something and bring it in," he continued.

"No problem, Trent. Iím already on it," she said as she sauntered over and poked through the pile of stuff. She turned around and showed him his songbook, as she said, "Iíll get this. Donít want you to hurt yourself now," as she walked in the back door.

"Help you move stuff, hah!" she chuckled as she tossed it on one of the amps Jesse and Max had already brought in. Jesse, seeing her, asked, "Hey Jane, can you get us a pitcher of beer? This is, like, hard work."

"And how am I supposed to get you a pitcher when Iím not twenty-one yet?" she replied, as she sat on a speaker.

"Just tell them itís for the band, Janie. Like you always do," countered Trent as he dropped the cables. She grumbled and headed towards the crowded bar area, dreading the inevitable crowd surfing, pick up lines and roaming hands.

She surveyed the bar, to find the easiest place to get in and out, noticing the blonde had a larger crowd than the short red head. Heading for her end, she thought she looked familiar somehow.

After finally forcing her way to the rail, she hollered at her "Yo, Barkeep! Need a pitcher of suds for the band!" The barmaid turned to look at her, and with her hands on her hips, hollered back, "Make Ďem get their own Jane!" as she smirked evilly.

Startled, Jane took a good look at her in the darkened room. "Daria? Is that you?" she gasped. Daria reached back and retrieved her glasses, taking them on and off again quickly.

"What the hell are you doing back there?" Jane cried in disbelief, as Daria set a couple of beers on the bar. "What does it look like? Backgammon? Hold on a minute!" she said, as she made change and grabbed some empty glasses.

Jane stood transfixed as she watched her friend, who had elevated ceiling watching to an art form, deftly assemble a cocktail and serve it, even giving the customer a little smile.

Returning, Daria asked, "So, what do the ambassadors of angst want? Hello? Earth to Jane! Come on, I donít have all day. By the way, itís great to see you and give me a ride home please." She said this so fast Jane could barely under stand.

"Huh? Daria, I think Iím having a very strange dream here. I could have sworn that I just drove Trent and the band to a bar two hundred miles from home, only to find you here, bartending, and dressed allÖ like that!" said Jane, shakily.

Daria rolled her eyes and said, "Look, we donít have time to talk. What does the band want now, and we can talk when they start, OK?" A skinny guy yelled an obscene comment at her and she flipped him off.

Jane stammered, "A-a pitcher of beer, and four glasses and a coke, I guess." As she really wasnít sure she was really seeing this. "This is too weird, even for me. Maybe I got some hallucinogenic beef jerky at that truck stop, or Iíve suffered a major head injury or something." Her speculation came to an end when Daria returned with the beer and glasses and held them out to her.

"Come back for the coke!" Daria hollered as Jane pushed back toward the stage. She turned and nodded vigorously and went to set the beer down.

Trent came up and grabbed a glass, filled it, and took a sip, before asking, "So, did you have any problems getting it?" he motioned to he pitcher.

"No, no. I didnít, Trent, have you ever played here before?" she asked, as she kept looking back at the bar.

"A couple of times, why?" he asked.

"Do you know any of the people who work here?" she added, with a quizzical expression on her face.

"No, and whatís the matter with you? Youíre acting all weird and stuff, Janie. What is it?"

She pointed towards the bar and asked him, "Trent, does that short girl behind the bar remind you of someone?" Squinting in the half-dark, he replied, "Yeah. Kind of looks like Daria, why?"

"Take a real good look, Trent." Jane said.

He stepped down and got a little closer. "Yep, sure does look like her, all right."

Then he realized what Jane meant, and his eyes widened, "Damn, it is her! Whoaa!" he hopped back up on the stage and said to Jane, "You never told me she could bartend, Jane. Thatís pretty cool! How long has she been doing this?"

"I donít know, Daria hates anything approaching real work, Trent. And do you see what sheís wearing?" she asked, as Daria glanced over at them and waved curtly.

"She looks pretty hot, now that you mention it, Janie. Wonder where Tom is?" he replied, as he scratched his chin.

"Beats me, Trent. I couldnít imagine him putting up with something like this, at least not from Daria." Jane observed, as Trent resumed getting set up. She wouldnít be able to talk with her until the band started, so she pitched in, helping Max and Nick with the banner.

Periodically, sheíd take a peek at Daria, as she bustled around behind the bar. She thought, "I havenít seen her move this much in all the time Iíve known her! And that get up! I have got to get a picture of that, for sure." As the guys were finishing up, she grabbed Trent and told him, "Hey, I almost forgot. She wants to know if weíll give her a ride home tonight"

"Sure, If she wants to, but I donít know about the guys though," he said.

"Why wouldnít they want her riding back with us, Trent. I thought they liked her?" Jane looked angry.

"Itís not that, itís the way she looks tonight. They might get the wrong ideas, at least Max." he replied, laughing until he coughed. "Whatever. Tell her itíll be cool, OK?"

"Oh Iíll do that Trent. This story I gotta hear!"

PART ELEVEN

The clock in Janeís bedroom read eleven forty five as the two girls sat talking on the bed. Daria yawned, and said, "Jane, Iím beat. Can we finish this tomorrow, after school? I still havenít totally recovered from whatever-it-was and my forced labor at that meat market."

"Forced labor huh? I watched you for a couple of hours and Ií m almost convinced you were having a good time back there," snorted Jane, derisively.

"Daria, why wonít you admit that you enjoyed yourself, even for a little while? If my damn camcorder didnít have a dead battery, I could show you what you were doing. Dammit, woman, I saw you dancing back there!" she sniggered as Daria stood and stretched. The telephone rang, and Jane answered.

It was Helen, "Hello, Jane! Is my daughter there?" she asked in her usual cheery voice. Daria held her hand out, and Jane replied, "Yeah, Mrs. Morgendorffer, here she is,"

She took the handset and spoke. "Hi, mom. Whatís up?"

"Well, I was looking at the clock, and since youíve still got a few weeks left at school, shouldnít you be home?" she answered in a tired voice. " I know youíre eighteen now, but that doesnít mean you should be out all night, either."

Too tired for sarcasm, Daria replied, "All right, mom. I just have to finish one thing here, and Iíll be home. OK?"

There was a pause, "All right, dear. Try not to make it too long, OK? See you when you get here. Oh, and Jane? You have a good night too, dear," she said as she hung up.

Jane set down the other phone, and exclaimed, "Guess my heavy breathing gave me away, huh," she said as she put down the phone.

"I guess being a lawyer and living in my house does that to person." Daria said as she laid back down.

"Well, you canít go until you tell me what happened with your parents, and how you kept Quinn in line and her silence without being a boot kick away," demanded Jane, as she sat down next to her.

"Well, as I said before, youíd be surprised. Quinn isnít as stupid as she appears, you can blame that on me, I guess. Sheís actually thinking ahead, and not about fashion, either," she replied noncommittally.

"She knows that after this summer, I wonít be here to deflect parental attention from her. In her own twisted way, her and I are alike, as sick as that sounds,"

"So Quinn pretty much resisted exploiting your misfortune because she can actually think ahead to the future? Wow! All it took was that tutor dude to de-program the popular virus?" Jane quipped, as she got up and stretched again.

"Hey, she didnít exploit it because she suddenly became responsible. She just couldnít resist digging up dirt on me. Itís genetic."

"As for my parents, that John was the one whoÖ."

Mystik Spyral had just taken the stage when John came back, with about a half dozen of his club members. By now, Daria was more or less forced to wear her glasses again, parents or no, and he noticed as soon as he stepped up to the bar.

"Nancy! What the hell is she doing back there? I thought I told you to get her the hell out of here!" he fumed.

She gave him one of her guaranteed- to-make you-say-yes looks as she explained, "Take it easy, John. That other girl called in, and Chelle wasnít able to, tonight. Besides, itís not like sheís the first eighteen year old youíve had working here, right?"

He watched Daria for a minute or so, and grunted, "Humph, well, it looks like she knows what sheís doing. But still, I told you what to do, and I expected it done!"

"Johnny, neither me nor Heather could get her home. Sheís broke, and couldnít get anyone from her hometown up to get her, butÖ"

"But what? Nancy, I hate when you play these little games with me. OK, I can see letting her work here, especially since whatís her name blew you off. But, thereís no way in hell Iím gonna let her flop here again." He glared at her, menacingly.

"Johnny, she isnít going to have to," as she pointed towards the stage. "Behold! Her way home!"

He raised an eyebrow, as he glanced at Daria, then the band. A wicked smile drew itself across his face as he replied, "And just how did this come about, my dear?"

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Johnny. It just so happens that her girlfriendís brother is the lead singer of the band, and sheís leaving with them after their set, so both of our problems are solved."

Nancy deliberately avoided informing him about her parents showing up, thinking there was no need to worry him unnecessarily. She noticed his gaze had fallen on the girlís outfit and his lecherous grin had remained.

"Oh, Johnny, before you get any ideas about making her a Ďfull-timeí employee, you might want to remember she is still only eighteen, and she made up with her boyfriend. Or so she says."

"You sure can spoil a wet dream, you know that, Nance." He changed the subject, as he asked, "So, did these guys play any ĎDoorsí yet?" as he listened to them grinding out ĎIcebox Womaní."

"I almost hate to tell you this, but, despite their name, they donít do covers," Nancy replied with a smirk.

Johnís face fell, but then he shrugged and returned to watching Daria as she worked. As he did, he was mildly impressed that the cringing little girl he saw that morning was not a half-bad bartender.

He asked Nancy, "Hey, did she tell you where she learned this? I could use someone like her, at least on kiddie nights like this."

"Johnny, youíre not going to believe this, but, until tonight, sheís never mixed a drink in her life. I had her go through the book, and she damn near memorized it since the shift began."

"Hmmm, not bad, not bad at all. Tell her to get over here, I want to talk to her," he said, scratching his chin. Nancy went down and whispered in Dariaís ear, and he could see her blush when she looked at him.

She came down, and he said, "Nancy said youíve picked up the hang of this pretty well."

"Thanks, I guess," she stammered, nervously.

"She also said youíve got a ride out of here, too."

At that she nodded, and he could see the relief on her face. "Well, before you leave us, Iíve been informed that youíve memorized the ĎBartenderís Bibleí and before you go, I have a little test, as it were."

He indicated the half-dozen of his friends around him. "We all want ĎSex on the Beachí."

"Excuse me?" as she blushed again.

"The drink, woman. Do Ďem up as shots. I can teach a chimpanzee to open a beer bottle or jerk a tap, but a pretty girl who knows how to mix drinks is a blessing for a humble barkeep such as myself. All around," he concluded as Dariaís cheeks burned.

For the rest of Mystik Spyralís set she mixed as many off the wall shots and drinks as John and his cronies could think of, and kept the rest of the patrons supplied as well. Finally, he raised his hand and said,

"Enough! You passed the test, with flying colors, I might add," he slurred happily.

One of his friends nudged him drunkenly and asked, "Can we keep her?" jokingly.

"Nahh, We wouldnít want to create another Nancy, now would we? Well, Daria, I guess we can say you worked off your stay here." John remarked, as he tossed the rest of his drink down.

"Thank God! Well, uh, the bandís almost done with their last set, Iím so exhausted I feel like sleeping for the next week, and these damn pants have probably left permanent marks."

Trent was making the usual ĎThanks-weíre-Mystik-Spiral-see-us-atÖí spiel all bands have to endure, and the guys started breaking down the set. Nancy waved her over, and they split the tips, and paid Daria out of the till.

"Wow! A hundred fifty bucks, and all I had to do was get a bunch of guys drunk while wearing clothes two sizes too small for six hours. And all this time I thought Iíd need brains to get ahead," she quipped, as she counted out her cash.

Nancy laughed, and said, "If you didnít have those brains, these clowns wouldíve eaten you alive. John should be saying this, but heís probably cheesed that heís gonna have to close again, as well as not hearing ĎL.A. Womaní, but if by any strange chance you find yourself needing a jobÖ"

She let the thought hang as she went to take care of some of the diehards who remained while Daria collected her things to toss in the Tank.

As she did, John grudgingly got up and headed upstairs to his office before helping Nancy finish the night.

Climbing the stairs, he noticed a light on in the storeroom, and he grumbled as he went to turn it off. When he opened the door, he was shocked to discover two naked people sitting on the mattress looking very surprised.

"What the hell are you doing in here? Goddammit! Get your asses out, this ainít no damn pay & lay!" as they hurriedly grabbed their clothes and tried to leave while putting them on.

Helen and Jake had been having a pretty enjoyable evening, as they caroused in the dingy room. Theyíd strewn quite a few of the photos about and were taking a breather as the music below stopped.

"Jake, I think weíd better go. Itís late, and Iíd hate to be stuck here all night," she said in a tone that suggested otherwise.

"Yeah, itíd be a real shame if something like that happened, wouldnít it? Donít know what weíd GAHHH!" as the door opened, and a large biker walked in.

They were all thumbs as they tried to simultaneously dress, apologize, and explain themselves to the by now very irate man, who stood there and kept yelling at them until Nancy came up to see what the commotion was.

"Nancy! Did you tell these two they could come up here?" he screamed, as she recognized who it was. "First it was that girl, now this! Iíve got half a mind toÖ"

"Johnny, Iíve never seen these two until tonight, and I didnít let Ďem up here!" she cried, as she was trying to keep from laughing.

He turned to Jake and Helen, by now somewhat decently covered, both blushing like schoolchildren and demanded, "All right, the both of you have exactly one minute to get out of my bar, and never let me see you again. Now!" he shushed Helen as she was about to say something.

Nancy whispered in his ear, "Johnny! Maybe youíd better run them out front, you know, embarrass them a little?" when she was really thinking that Daria was out back, helping load the van, and probably didnít want to see her folks like this and vice versa.

"Jake! I told you this was an awful idea!" Helen wailed, as she tried to pull her jeans on.

"Hey fella, we didnít mean any harm! We were just, uh, taking a look at the old place!" while trying to put his head and arm through the same opening. "We used to come here when we were students! Heh heh, No harm done right?"

Downstairs, Daria had heard the exchange and peeked around the corner just as John and Nancy herded her parents, half dressed, down the stairs and out through the kitchen.

Jane, over by the van, hollered, "Hey, Daria! Is that a brawl I hear? Hold on while I grab my camera!"

Thinking fast, Daria hollered back, loud enough for Trent and the others to hear, "I think the cops are coming! Letís get out of here!"

That was enough for Trent and especially for Max, and they tossed what they could in and peeled out of the parking lot as John came out to pay them. He watched the Tank as it roared away, scratching his head. He shrugged his shoulders, and just chalked it up as just another weird weekend.

EPILOGUE

"You know, Tent still hasnít gotten the nerve up to go and collect yet? By the way, when he does, Iíll remind him to pay you back." Jane laughed, sleepily.

 

"Oh, thatís all right, it was worth it to get out of there. I was so tired, my hair hurt. And it was definitely worth it to see the look on Quinnís face when I walked in dressed that way." Daria grudgingly got up, and they both headed downstairs.

"And Tom?" Jane asked casually.

"Hopefully, will never know. Youíre sure that picture is in a safe place?"

"Oh definitely. Never fear! Young Thomas shall never lay eyes on it, trust me!"

Jane walked her to the door and they said their goodbyes.

A few days later, John was going through the mail, when he noticed a small envelope addressed to the bar with only the words "Lawndale" for a return address.

Inside, there was a photo of a short girl in tight jeans and a tiny black T-shirt.

He smiled as he stuck it up behind the cash register, and returned to his newspaper.

The End