Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2006.
This is the forty-fifth story in the Falling into College series.
Watching the ancient rubber tires disintegrate and fall away from the rims of the old tractor as he winched it onto the tow truck, the driver asked Trent Lane, "How long has that thing been sitting here?"
Standing in the backyard of his childhood home, the young man scratched his goatee and said, "Dunno. Been here as long as I can remember."
Trent's bandmates Jesse and Nick picked up the rubber fragments and tossed them into a rental trailer hitched to Trent's black SUV. Jesse picked up a rusty disk from where one of the rear tires of the tractor had rested. After brushing away dirt from the face, he managed to read the faded printing and asked Nick, "Who's McGovern?"
Nick shrugged and said, "Beats me." He yelled at the fourth band member, "Max! Who's McGovern?"
Max dropped an armload of loose debris into the trailer and said, "Wasn't she the chick that sang Jane's favorite song? You know, from the shipwreck movie?"
Jesse guessed, "Titanic?"
Nick said, "I thought that was the Canadian chick."
"No, you idiots," Max said. "The old shipwreck movie."
Quinn Morgendorffer looked out of kitchen window and saw the discussion starting. "Uh-oh Lindy, they're distracted again."
Lindy Weaver joined Quinn at the window, saying, "The tractor's gone. I feel a lot better now." She put her arm around Quinn's shoulder. "You have to deal with Mystic Spiral on their own terms. We still have a week to go."
"It's going to be so cute to say your vows in the gazebo. But, are you sure it's safe?"
Lindy laughed and said, "It's probably the safest thing out there. Trent says that it fell down a couple years ago and Janey paid to have it rebuilt."
"She thought she was doing Wind a favor. Turned out to be a misunderstanding and Jane wanted to kill him afterward."
"That sounds like Jane."
The ringing telephone drew Lindy across the kitchen to answer it. "Hello? Hi, Mom…They're working on it now…It'll be ready…" Lindy sighed and listened, making occasional, noncommittal sounds to indicate she was still awake. Finally, she had a chance to speak again. "Because it will be our house, it seems right to be married at it…Then think of all the money you're saving not having to rent a hall somewhere…Besides, where would we get one this close?…I should've known you had one in mind before asking. No, we're not changing. The wedding is going to be here…That's not negotiable…Good, glad you agree…Look, Quinn and Amanda are helping me get the decorations up; I need to get going. Okay, bye."
Lindy slammed the phone down and rested her head on the counter. "I'm going to kill her. I swear I'm going to kill her."
"Your mom's really getting flaky about this, isn't she?"
Lindy looked up. "I'm her only daughter and the only chance for her to do the fantasy wedding she never had."
"I'm figuring Daria will get married first, so Mom will get it out of her system. I hope."
Lindy's laugh relieved some of her worry. "That's mean. But, if I had an older sister, I'd wish the same thing."
Amanda Lane led her guest around the side of the house to the back yard. The woman following was slightly taller and generally heavier. Mrs. Weaver had pale blond hair trimmed to ride just above her shoulders.
A path of pale red paving stones went from the back door of the house to the gazebo, freshly cleaned and sealed. Decades of accumulated debris was gone from the yard and fresh sod covered what had been bare ground only a couple days before.
Amanda held her hands together. "Isn't it wonderful?"
"That's it?" Mrs. Weaver asked.
Not noticing the disappointment in the other woman's voice, Amanda said, "Yes. I can't wait to see all the butterflies."
"And I can't believe that they're releasing a bunch of bugs for a wedding."
Amanda said, "They understand that if you hold a butterfly in your hand, it will die."
"Oh, spare me."
Amanda smiled and said, "Oh, then you understand, too."
At an old work table in the basement, Lindy cleaned up the last of three mirrors held in stained-glass frames. "There. The gifts for my attendants are done. Nothing like pushing a deadline." She carefully put each in a silver and gold gift box and sealed them shut.
Gifts stacked together and carried with both arms, Lindy climbed up to her and Trent's room. At the door, she stopped and leaned against the frame, watching her fiancé softly snore. "My head's about to explode and you're able to sleep."
She set the boxes down on the dresser and went to him, kissing his cheek. "One of the things I love about you. No matter how bad things feel, I know you'll be there as an anchor of calm."
Lindy opened her closet, and then the garment bag hanging inside. The soft, white fabric and fine lace brought a glad tear to her eye. "One more day."
Jane looked at Daria loading her laptop computer into the car. "I can't believe you have to do that."
Daria shrugged. "If I finish proofreading the manuscript, I'll get a full day's pay and Dr. Findlay won't gripe about me not being there."
"The man's a slave-driver."
Daria sat down in Jane's car and said, "No, slaves get health care. Besides, it'll distract me from your driving."
Jane sat down and started the car. "I'd have thought Michael would be a preferable distraction."
"We're not giving you a free show."
"Dammit," Jane said with a friendly laugh as she put the car in gear. Pulling out onto the street, she added, "Trent getting hitched. Don't get me wrong, Lindy's cool, but it still feels so weird."
"I know what you mean." Daria watched the houses go by her window. "But, not the same way."
"He was my big high school crush, remember?"
Jane snickered. "You used to imagine…?"
"So it feels a little strange to picture him marrying someone else."
"Are you going to make a big statement during the 'does anyone have good reason' bit?"
"Yeah, to warn Lindy that she's getting you as a sister-in-law."
"The entire Lane clan is expected. I'm going to be the least of her worries."
After riding another block in silence, Daria said, "I hope they're going to be happy."
Jane nodded in agreement. "Yeah. Lindy is pretty cool, I think they will." Jane quickly looked at Daria. "Does this make you think about you and Michael?"
Daria shot back, "Does it make you think about you and Mack?"
"We have a great time together, but are nowhere near the 'M' word. You can't distract me that easily, Morgendorffer. What about it?"
"Yes, it makes me think."
Daria thought of Michael and softly smiled. "Shh, I'm thinking."
"Not bad. I'm done in less than six hours and I'm getting paid for ten. I wish I could do this more often," Daria said as she closed her laptop computer and placed it into its case.
"And no comment about my choice of radio stations the whole trip. I could do this, too," Jane teased. She looked down the street at the cars parked in the Morgendorffer driveway. "I see Quinn's car; I guess the yellow one must be Sandi's." She looked at Daria. "I just thought of something. If Sandi's in the guest room, where's Michael going to stay?"
Daria zipped the case for her laptop closed and answered, "My room. Mom was a little uncomfortable, but couldn't argue when I mentioned that she and Dad were living together at my age."
Jane said, "Michael, I bet you're happy about that."
Not hearing a response, Daria looked over her shoulder to a young man who was snoozing in the back seat. "Great."
Jane pulled into the driveway, looked back and laughed. She said, "Must be Trent's aura."
"Wake up," Daria said as she shook Michael's shoulder.
"Hunh?" he said, sleepily opening his eyes.
"End of the line."
He sat up and said, "Oh. Wow. That was fast."
Jane said, "Time sure flies when you're asleep."
"Don't know what came over me," Michael explained.
Jane said to Daria, "Yup. Trent's aura."
Daria looked back at Michael with a smirk. "Let's hope Michael's aura hasn't gotten to Trent. Lindy might freak out if he starts digging up the back yard."
Michael opened the door. "I was nine."
Jane opened her door, laughing. "Trent reverting to a nine-year old would freak Lindy out."
"Daria!" Quinn squealed and grabbed her sister.
"Hi, Quinn," Daria replied in a normal tone of voice that still showed warmth.
Quinn worked her way around to the others, saying, "Jane, Michael," as she gave each a fast hug in turn.
"Hi, Daria," Sandi Griffin said as she came down the stairs.
Thrown off by the former brunette's bottle-blond curls and added pounds, Daria took a moment to recognize Quinn's friend. "Hi. How are you doing?"
Sandi shrugged. "Okay."
Time awkwardly crawled by as everyone wondered what to say next. Jane broke the silence by asking, "Quinn, do you know if my alleged brother and sisters have shown up?"
"Last time I talked to Lindy, Penny was there."
"Did she bring the parrot?"
"Lindy said it was going into a cage or into the garage."
Jane rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, this is going to be so much fun. It might even match your cousin Erin's wedding."
Daria said, "If it does, I think that will be conclusive proof that nobody should have me as a bridesmaid."
Jane rolled her car to a stop behind a red two-door car parked in the driveway of a modest, single story house. She opened the car door and took a deep breath. "Oh boy. I sure know when to pick a good time." Pushing herself, Jane marched to the house door and pressed the doorbell.
A stocky man with short, gray hair answered the door. He had Mack's unmistakable jaw line and smile. "You must be Jane. I'm Colin."
Jane carefully said, "Glad to meet you."
Colin MacKenzie grabbed Jane's hand and hastily pulled her inside. "Where I grew up, you being here would've been a lynching offense."
Caught by surprise, Jane stumbled into the house.
Mack MacKenzie stood nearby and rubbed his forehead. "Dad."
Colin lost his serious expression and started laughing.
Jane went to Mack and they embraced. "You warned me he had an odd sense of humor."
"I'm not the only one," Colin said. "Did he ever use the 'my dad went to a Chicago Bulls game and changed my name' line on you?"
Jane glowered at Mack. "Not directly. But I heard it."
Mack was confused. "When did you hear it?"
"When Tommy Sherman…" A bright grin spread on Jane's face. "You mean you've successfully pulled one over on Daria for over four years?"
Mack's jaw dropped. "No. You mean she fell for it?"
Jane pushed him. "We both did, you oaf."
"Daria's gonna kick her self when she finds out. And then kick you."
"She still has those boots?"
"She got a new pair a couple months ago. She'd love to break them in on you."
"Maybe we better keep this secret a little while longer."
Jane nodded, but put her hands on her hips. "Okay, so how did you end up with a name like Michael Jordan MacKenzie?"
Colin answered, "He was named after his grandfathers."
"The rest is coincidence," Mack added.
Jane looked at both. "A coincidence you couldn't resist using."
Colin shrugged. "Why should we?"
Jane laughed with them. "Mack, I'm not worried about you meeting my family any more."
A loud squawk greeted Jane as she entered the Lane residence. In the corner to her right, a green parrot grumpily sat in a large cage. "Good, I won't have to check the chair backs for surprises."
"You made it!" Lindy called and rushed down the stairs to greet Jane.
"Yeah. I kind of said I would." Jane looked at Penny's bird. "Thanks for getting that thing caged."
"I did not want to pick feathers and who knows what out of food at the dinner tonight or at the reception tomorrow."
Jane headed to the kitchen. "I'm almost afraid to ask what Mom and Dad are doing for the rehearsal dinner. Mom never was very big into the whole 'keeping food in the house' routine."
"She did require a little motivation."
"You hired a caterer and used Mom's name."
Lindy laughed and nodded. "You got me."
"Who'd you get?"
"Tokyo Toby's. Don't worry; I'm getting the Japanese steak and not the sushi."
"Hey, what are a few parasites among friends?"
Seated at the kitchen table Penny brushed her red hair aside and said, "Hi, Jane."
"How's the market south of the border these days?"
"I'm living in Puerto Rico, now."
"Decided on a little island life?"
"Working with rural farmers to make home crafts to sell to the American tourists to supplement their income."
"It's always something."
Lindy said, "I think it's cool that she's been working at things so long. Jane, you have to admire her dedication."
Jane thought for a moment. They had often joked about Penny's numerous plans, but Jane had to admit that all of them really were about helping others. "I guess you're right. It is neat."
Penny said, "Thanks."
Jane teased her sister by saying, "Not something you normally find in a Lane. With your red hair, I wonder even more where Mom and Dad found you."
Penny folded her arms. "You're what…just finished your sophomore year of college?" She grinned. "Sounds like dedication to me."
Lindy said, "She got ya."
Jane looked at the door leading to the garage and asked her oldest sister, "Summer, are you sure it's safe to put your kids in the garage? We don't know what may have evolved in there."
Summer shrugged. "It's there or the basement. I don't want to think of how much havoc they could create with Mom's pottery, the band's instruments and Lindy's glass."
"I see. Look, just make sure they don't wander too deep inside."
"Jane!" Wind exclaimed and rushed into the room to hug his sister.
Caught by surprise, Jane was able to say, "Hi."
"Isn't it great for everyone to be home again?"
"I hope it goes better than last time."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Trent and I fled to my friend Daria's house. Might be a little awkward if that happened this weekend."
"So that's what happened to you two. I thought Trent was staying in a tent in the back yard."
"That was several years earlier."
"Is…um…uh…what's her name, here?"
"Tasha? No, she left me as soon as she got her green card." Wind suddenly started crying and ran off.
Summer noted, "Okay, I missed that one."
Jane said, "She was the Russian internet-order bride."
Summer nodded. "Oh. I think I remember hearing about her."
"He's going to make a scene tomorrow, isn't he?"
"You can bet on it."
"Who's running the pool?"
As the rehearsal dinner was winding down, Lindy leaned against Trent and let him put his arm around her. She watched her intoxicated mother and sighed. "At least Dad decided not to show up. I don't think I could deal with both of them ripped out of their minds."
"Glad I didn't invite Uncle Max."
"She's going to be like that tomorrow."
"Bummer. Look, we'll just have to treat her like a loud drunk when the band's playing."
"Trent, you can't have a bouncer throw my mother out. No matter how much we might enjoy it."
"I meant play louder."
"I don't think Father Marvin can talk any louder than he does."
Scooping food from a plate into his mouth, Jesse came over to Trent and Lindy. He set the empty plate down and said, "Come on, Trent. Time to party."
Max stood on a chair and yelled, "All right, you guys! We have to remind Trent of what he's walking away from!"
Lindy whispered to Trent, "Please make sure you keep a designated driver. Please."
Trent said back, "Don't worry. Janey and Daria's boyfriends are coming with. They're underage and can drive us home."
Trent gave Lindy a kiss and said, "See you later. Don't let Quinn get you in too much trouble."
As soon as Trent was led off by Jesse, Quinn tugged on Lindy's sleeve. "Our turn. The boys are not going out to have a good time and leave us sitting around sewing. We're going out, too."
Pulled along by Quinn, Lindy asked, "What do you have planned?"
"Oh, you'll see." They stopped next to Daria and Jane. "Your attendance is required."
Daria asked, "Is this some kind of bachelorette party?"
"Duh. Earth to Daria. What else would it be?"
Jane grabbed Daria's arm. "I've actually given you a lot of slack on my promise to drag you to more parties. I'm dragging tonight."
Daria pulled her arm away. "Allow me a little dignity at least." Starting to follow the other women she added, "Just don't expect me to tip any of the male strippers."
"I told you. I'm not going to tip them," Daria said to Jane. "If they don't have the sense to put out a jar, that's their problem."
"Daria, that's not the idea."
Daria looked up at Penny, who was drunkenly dancing beside the stripper and taking several tries to place his tip. "Oh, I understand the idea. I'm trying to give them an alternative if they even want a chance of getting a tip out of me."
Jane smirked. "So, you'd give them a tip if it didn't have to be so…personal?"
"Like I'm going to admit anything."
Also sitting at the large table, Lindy asked Quinn, "How did you find out about this place?"
"When I was in high school," Quinn answered, "A card for this place fell out of my Mom's appointment book. It had 'Lawndale Businesswomen's Association meeting' written on the back of it."
Laughing, Lindy said, "I can just picture a bunch of women 'suits' figuring how to put this place on their expense accounts."
"Mom really turned red when I gave the card back to her. But, I did get her gold card for a weekend."
Penny fell, more than stepped, off of the stage. Apparently not noticing, she climbed back onto her chair and flagged down the server. "Another tequila!"
Shawna, one of Lindy and Quinn's friends from when they worked at Governor's Park, called to the server and pointed at a dancer, "I'd like one to go, please."
"I'll take one right here," Summer said over her drink.
"I get the idea that this is supposed to get us all excited and stuff," Daria observed. "And then they leave everyone frustrated. I'm trying to figure out what is supposed to be 'fun' about that."
"I'm sure Michael will have some fun when you get back and work out your frustration on him."
"Jane!" Daria said in surprise. "My sister's room is right across the hall and Sandi's is right next to mine. The padding's gone, remember?"
"Being in the same place with me or Karen hasn't stopped you," Jane said, gently pushing on Daria's shoulder.
"Oh, so we're a select audience?"
"You two already know enough secrets about me; so what's another? But giving any ammunition to Quinn…"
"True." Jane grinned. "I'm sure our two Michaels will be just as frustrated."
One of the dancers tossed his g-string to the table, causing Shawna and Penny to collide trying to grab it. Summer calmly picked up the garment and stood up, twirling it on her finger.
Daria's head sunk to the table. "I'm almost afraid to find out what the band's up to right now."
The pole dancer expertly placed one foot on Nick's butt and pushed him off of the stage while yelling, "Next time, I'm turning the bouncers loose on you!"
Mack laughed and said to Michael, "Drunk watching. One of my favorite pastimes."
"From what I've seen of them," Michael replied, "The band doesn't need to be drunk."
Max slurred, "Waitress! Gimme 'nother."
Jesse stood and waved both arms. "Cool!"
Mack pounded hard on the table with his fist. "This sucks. Michael, do I have 'responsible sucker' written on my forehead or something?"
"Dammit! This is just as bad as watching over the stupid assholes on my old high school football team. They get tanked and have fun, knowing that 'Mack will be responsible' and keep an eye on them. Screw it!"
He intercepted the waitress leaving Max. "A draft beer."
"Make that two," Michael added.
A battered, primer gray car pulled up to the Morgendorffer house and parked in the driveway. Inside, Trent's old friend Axl read the note and double checked the house address. "Okay, you belong here."
"Are we there?" Michael slowly asked.
"Yeah, mate." Axl went around the car and helped Michael to stand up. "Can you make it from here?"
Michael took a couple seconds to focus on the front door. "That's it, right?"
"I can make…it." Michael staggered successfully to the door, turning to see Axl driving away. "Um, thanks?"
Inside, Daria came over to the door when she heard it open. "Hi. How'd things go?"
"We had a great time!"
Shocked, Daria said, "Michael, you're drunk."
"Um. Uh, yeah. Mack and I decided we were tired of getting stuck with being resbonsip…responsible."
"How did you get home?"
"A bartender called some friend of Trent's. Tire? Wheel? Axl? Yeah. That's it. Axl."
"From the piercing parlor?"
Weaving in place, Michael dug a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. Reading he said, "Um. Axl's Piercing Parlor. Redeemedable for the two for one special. Not balid for any paired 'ody parts."
Daria took the paper from him and wadded it up. "What the hell's wrong with you? You two were just going to keep an eye on the band. You're underage anyway."
"We got borded. Drinking soda and watching…" He grinned at Daria. "You're a lot prettier than they are."
"I should hope I'm better looking to you than Mystic Spiral."
Daria started leading him up the stairs. "That just kept you off the sofa."
In the morning, Sandi looked at the bathroom door. "Uh…all my stuff's in there."
Daria shook her head. "You don't want to go in there now. I really suggest using the downstairs bathroom for the time being and getting everything else done later."
"Is your boyfriend sick or something?"
A loud groan reverberated from the bathroom. Sandi's eyes opened wide and she said. "Why don't I use the downstairs bathroom?"
Quinn stepped up next. "Is he going to be all right for the wedding?"
"He's going to feel like crap all day," Helen said as she came over and put an arm around Daria. "Nursing your boyfriend through a hangover. You're about to make another important step to womanhood."
"Why are all these 'important steps' so unpleasant?"
"So you're hardened enough to deal with your own kids."
Michael slowly opened the door. He didn't have his glasses on and his normally bright green eyes were dull and unfocused. His hair was matted and his face was haggard. "Ugh."
Helen asked, "Do you remember how much you had to drink last night?"
He carefully counted on his fingers. "Uh…five beers?"
Quinn said, "Damn, Michael. You sure can't hold…um."
Helen looked at Quinn.
She replied, "Mo-om? I've been away to college for a year. I've seen people drink."
Michael winced and held his head. "Can you keep it down?"
Helen started escorting Quinn away. "Michael, take some aspirin, drink some water and take a shower."
"Will that make me feel better?"
"Enough to function. Daria, you might need to help him find everything."
"Yeah. I'll look for his common sense."
Penny's red, uncombed hair looked like a small fire on top of her head. She stood at the kitchen counter, adding various ingredients to a large glass filled with a thick, red liquid.
Jane asked as she entered, "Bloody Mary?"
"Gory Mary." Penny tipped the glass and drained it in one go. Her body tensed and face contorted in apparent agony. She gasped, "Same thing, with a lot more attitude."
"You really tied one on last night. I'm surprised you're awake."
Penny coughed and explained, "It takes something like car radiator mezcal to put me out of commission."
"The worm tries to eat you."
Hearing the doorbell, Jane said, "I'll get it."
Penny nodded. "Good. Wouldn't want me to scare anyone away."
At the door, Quinn waited, holding a garment bag and a small suitcase. "Hi, Jane. How's everyone here?"
"Hey, come on in. Lindy's a bundle of nerves. Trent's still asleep. Penny's beating down her hangover with a vengeance. I'm assuming Summer's still out of it, and Mom's out communing with the gazebo."
Quinn stepped inside. "Speaking of hangovers, you should've seen Michael this morning."
"Michael? As in, Daria's boyfriend?"
"The one and only. Daria was not a happy camper."
"He was going to help Mack keep an eye on everyone. What happened?"
"From what I gather, they got tired of that and…you know."
Jane said, "I'm going to give Mack a call. Lindy's in her and Trent's room. Don't worry, Trent's still dressed from last night."
"Don't worry. We can work around him," Quinn said as she went up the stairs.
Jane went back into the kitchen, where Penny was looking out of the window. "What is Mom talking to in the cages?"
Jane walked over next to Penny. "I think those are the butterflies."
"You've got to be kidding."
"Lindy's idea. But you can guess that Mom latched onto it real quick."
Penny turned away. "Why am I surprised? Lindy's crazy enough to marry our brother. Why not have a bunch of butterflies?"
"You could look at it that way."
"And people wonder why I never got married. Could you imagine someone crazy enough to put up with me?"
"Um...I never really thought about it. Look, I came in here to give Mack a call."
"Have to admit, you know how to pick 'em. Have fun. I better go feed Chiquito before he gets all pissed off."
Left alone, Jane dialed Mack's number and waited.
Colin answered the phone. "Hello."
"Hi, Mr. MacKenzie. It's Jane. Can I talk to Mack?"
The older man looked at his son, sprawled on the couch with a pillow over his head. "You can try, but I'm not sure you'll get much out of him."
Wary, Jane asked, "Hangover?"
"He has all the symptoms. I'm going to let him wallow around in agony for a little while longer and then make him get dressed for your brother's wedding."
"Um...is he in trouble?"
"Mike was raised to live with the consequences of his actions, and he's feeling the consequences right now."
"Well, can I still speak to him?"
"Sure." Colin rather loudly said to his son, "It's Jane, she wants to talk to you."
Mack moaned and moved the pillow away. "Can you tell her I'm temporarily dead?"
"No dodging the bullet, son."
Mack muttered as he reached for the phone, "She's going to enjoy this way too much."
Annoyed, Lindy shook Trent. "Wake up!"
"Huh?" Trent slowly said. "Oh, hey. Time to get dressed?"
"In a minute."
"Then I can grab a little more sleep."
"Oh. Um, what's up?"
"I found out that Michael and Mack got wasted last night. How'd that happen?"
Trent scratched his jaw. "Uh, yeah. I was kinda busy keeping Max and Nick outta trouble. I looked over, and they were already at it."
"And you let them keep going?"
"They weren't causing trouble. I had my hands full with the band."
"How'd they get home?"
"When the bouncers asked us to leave, I called Axl and asked him." Trent sat up in bed. "Sorry. Guess I should've stopped them."
Quinn asked, "Trent…why don't you have a hangover?"
He shrugged. "I gave the bartender a twenty to serve me NA beer all night."
Lindy sat down on the bed. "So long as everyone is safe. I have to admit that we had our hands full with Penny and Summer. I can see where you'd be busy with the band."
"Been a minute. Want me to get dressed?"
"I suppose you can."
Trent slowly pushed himself off the bed. "I'll be in Mom and Dad's room."
Sandi watched Daria, ready for the wedding, come down the stairs. The sleeveless, pale yellow bridesmaid dress fit cleanly. The lace neckline brought a touch of additional grace to the outfit. "You look nice in that," Sandi observed.
Daria stopped at the base of the stairs. "Thanks, Sandi."
Sandi looked at the two-year old family portrait of the Morgendorffers, and back at Daria. "You know, if you and Quinn had teamed up, you could've taken over the old Fashion Club."
"Now that's a scary thought," Daria replied.
Sandi tapped both thighs. "And now, you can really show me up."
Daria sat down beside Sandi. After a moment to compose herself, she said, "I went through a weight and self-image crisis as a freshman. With the bulky clothes I wore in high school, you probably haven't noticed the weight I've put on since then."
Sandi quietly said, "Um…yes, I have. I didn't want to say anything."
"I can't fit into that right now," Daria said, indicating the formal gown in the portrait. "School, work, uneven eating. I know I should watch things better."
Sandi oddly laughed. "Who would've thought we had something in common?"
Daria joined the laugh. "Yeah, who?" She noticed a couple fine, black hairs on the dress. Picking them off, Daria said, "Bump, how do you get hair everywhere?"
"My cat. Even after being sealed in the bag, I just pulled a couple of her hairs off."
"I miss Fluffy."
Daria faintly remembered a conversation from years before. "That's your cat? What happened?"
"I couldn't take her with to school. He's still at my folks' place."
"You can't get him back?"
"They won't talk to me."
"Do you know for certain that he's still there?"
"I've driven by my old house and seen him in the window."
"Hmm. Maybe you can go through your brothers."
"Why would they do that?"
"Did they like him?"
"I'm willing to bet they're the ones having to take care of Fluffy and wouldn't mind having that chore go away…"
He does look good in a suit, Daria thought as Michael got into her father's car. Noticing Michael was silent as he settled in, she asked, "Are you okay?"
Michael said, "What I did last night was stupid and you were right to be upset, but there was nothing aimed at you."
"You took it way too personal."
Beginning to be irritated, Daria asked, "What do you mean?"
"You acted like I was trying to hurt you."
"You said you weren't going to drink."
"After everyone made their plans assuming we'd babysit all the drunks. Nobody bothered to ask if we wanted that job, they just volunteered us."
"Well, that's what Jane and I did last night."
"But, you weren't alone. From what you've told me, Lindy doesn't drink at all and Quinn doesn't drink because of what it might do to her complexion. So there were four of you to keep an eye on what? Three?"
"Daria, there were two of us trying to watch four. I was stuck with things like that in high school and it sounds like Mack was, too. We were bored and frustrated and decided to rebel a little."
"You promised me!"
"No, I didn't. Everyone else decided and assigned us our job. We didn't agree to it."
"You could've been killed. It's a good thing Axl drove you home."
"That just saved us some money. I asked the doorman to call us a cab if we tried to leave drunk."
"Oh? So you've made contingency plans for those things?"
Michael angrily retorted, "Stop doing that, too!"
"Asking leading questions."
"What you just asked. 'So you've made contingency plans for those things?' No, I hadn't, but you make it sound like I had, just because I tried to make sure I got back safely."
"Don't get mad at me because I want to know where I stand with you."
"Where do you stand? I love you! I wouldn't try anything that I'd think would hurt you. I know I've made mistakes that have, but nothing was ever meant to hurt you and I've always tried to make things up. Maybe I should ask you the same question…since you don't seem to trust me. Where do I stand?"
Daria angrily glared at Michael, but couldn't find the words to say.
He pointedly asked, "Well?"
She stayed silent and started the car, backing down the driveway. Just as quiet, Michael watched her as she drove down the street toward the Lane house.
Stopping at an intersection a couple blocks from their destination, Daria turned away from Michael and sunk down in the seat. Daria tightly held the bottom of the steering wheel and focused on the airbag. "Damn, I'm doing it again."
"Doing what?" Michael asked, calming down and concerned.
"Being clingy and jealous." With effort, she faced Michael. "I was taking it personally. You and Mack had a good time, didn't you?"
Michael shyly nodded. "After we quit playing caretaker, we laughed at the other drunks and snarked about the dancers. We were probably a source of amusement ourselves."
"I know it's childish, but something deep inside is afraid that if you have fun away from me…you won't come back."
"I know it's wrong. It's caused problems for me before, boy can Jane tell you about that. And then I did try to provoke you." Daria's voice became a whisper, "It's easier to run away when I'm mad."
"Even after our breakup, it didn't sink in. If things don't go the way I want them…"
"I get the picture."
"It's like part of me doesn't believe that someone else would want to be with me."
Michael scooted over in the seat and gently put his arms around Daria. "I want to. I sometimes pinch myself to see if I'm not dreaming that you'd be interested in me."
She leaned her head against him and closed her eyes. "Perhaps we're so screwed up that nobody else will want us and we're stuck with each other."
"Works for me."
Looking at Jane's matching gown, Daria said, "And the worst part is, there's going to be plenty of photographic evidence lying around after."
Jane shrugged. "It's not like these are hideous or anything."
"You know how I get."
"Just remember that Michael's out there to appreciate how you look."
"I should be glad he wants to look at me."
"You still mad at him?"
Daria glanced at the floor. "No."
"Something's bothering you, Morgendorffer. Spill."
"I screwed up this morning. Michael explained that they were basically rebelling against getting stuck as babysitters."
"Mack said the same thing. I can see their point, even if their response was less than brilliant."
"But I acted…no, I took it, personal."
"You have a tendency to do that."
"Yeah, but this time, it came back to bite me."
"I never pictured you two getting into that kind of kink."
"Jane, you can just as easily be buried in that dress."
"Ariel's so cute," Jane said, diverting her friend's attention by pointing to a six-year old girl, also in a matching dress.
Squatting next to the girl was her father, Nick. "How're you doing, sweetheart?"
"I'm fine, Daddy," Ariel replied. "I get to go in front, right?"
"And I'll be right behind you with Daria."
Seeing Daria's slight frown, Jane looked up and said, "So a couple inches of height made a difference."
Faintly trembling and her hand tightly gripping Trent's, Lindy entered the room.
Quinn said, "Nobody looks better than a bride at her wedding."
Seeing her brother in a tuxedo, Jane said, "Even Trent cleans up pretty well."
Quinn lightly clapped her hands, taking control. "Okay everybody, places."
Ariel grinned, picked up a flower-adorned pillow holding the rings and stepped in front of the door leading to the back yard. "I'm ready."
Allowing Nick to take her arm, Daria stepped into line, with Jane and Max dropping in behind them.
Quinn placed Jesse in the line and double-checked Trent and Lindy. Taking her place next to Jesse, she said, "We're ready."
Ariel opened the door and stepped out.
Sandi stopped her car outside the video arcade. Looking carefully at the patrons, she entered and started searching for her younger brothers. She found Sam at a shooter game, blasting away at legions of undead aliens.
"Hey, Sam," she said, tapping him on the shoulder.
"Whaddaya want?" he replied with a quick look over his shoulder before returning to the game. After a second, he stopped and turned again. "Sandi?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"Crap, are you trying to get us in trouble?"
"Mom's not around, is she?"
"No…but you know she doesn't want you anywhere near us. Sandi, she's been psycho since…you know."
"No kidding. Look, I only want to get Fluffy back."
"I was hoping you wanted to blow up the house."
"Is Fluffy all right?"
"How did you ever stand that cat puking up hairballs all the time?"
"He has to be combed every day. Is he all right?"
"Yeah, he's fine." Sam looked around. His brother Chris was in the virtual reality game with a couple friends. "Mom only wants to keep him around to use against you when she sues Ms. Li and Mr. Lamm for getting her involved."
"Like they twisted her arm. She got them together."
"Mom's gonna lose it when she finds the cat is gone." An evil grin grew on Sam's lips. "She changed the locks; you'll need me to get you in."
"What about Chris?"
Sam pointed his thumb at the game. "He ain't coming out of there until they kick him out."
As soon as Trent and Lindy stepped out of the house and onto the paving stones, Wind started crying loudly. Penny checked her watch and clenched her fist, whispering, "Yes!"
We know who won the pool. Assuming her place on the gazebo, Daria turned to look at the small gathering. Amanda had her peaceful smile. Vincent held his wife's hand and watched her. Wind continued crying into his hands while Penny looked to be about to strangle him. Summer switched her attention from the wedding to her children, all four squirming impatiently to be free of the ceremony. Sitting still and proper was an elderly couple that Jane had briefly introduced as her maternal grandparents, Pete and Renee.
Mrs. Weaver sat with a group of similarly aged women, all personal friends or coworkers. Shawna and several of Lindy's college friends giggled together. Near the back were Michael and Mack.
Jane stepped into place next to Daria and whispered, "Nothing like being on display, eh?"
Seeing Michael and Mack whispering, she said to Jane, "Leaving our boyfriends to plot together."
"Shh," Quinn whispered in admonition after standing next to Jane. "You two are worse than a couple kids."
Father Marvin had a fringe of silver-white hair around his head and a round belly that made most think of Friar Tuck. He watched the party with warm fondness. Now that everyone was ready, he softly cleared his throat before saying, "Welcome, everyone."
Except for the chirp of a cardinal in one of the trees, silence followed the priest's voice. Fr. Marvin looked at the couple and said, "I've known Lindy ever since I baptized her and it brings me great joy to join her and Trent in the Sacrament of Marriage."
"Give me a couple minutes," Sam said as he got out of Sandi's car.
Constantly looking around and expecting her mother to appear at any moment, Sandi waited while Sam ran into her old home. From the outside, it looked unchanged from when she left it to go to college. On the way there, Sam had described the changes inside. All evidence of Sandi's existence had been thrown out. The contents of her old room had been placed on the sidewalk with a "free to a good home" sign. The room had been transformed into a home office, from which Linda Griffin had unsuccessfully tried to restart a career.
Sam reappeared, carrying Fluffy's carrier in both hands. The empty litter box balanced on top, along with a box of litter. Gripped in one hand was her food and water bowls stacked together, and from the other was a plastic bag containing food cans. He stopped at her car door and said, "Give me a dollar."
"That way, I won't lie to Mom when I say I sold the cat back to you."
The white cat meowed a greeting from within the carrier.
"Oh, Fluffy!" Sandi fished a dollar bill from her pocket and gave it to her younger brother.
He placed his burden in the back seat and took the money. "The fireworks are gonna be great tonight."
Sandi ignored him and opened the crate, bringing the cat out and hugging it. "I missed you."
The cat relaxed and reveled in Sandi's attention. She asked, "Where's his brush?"
Sam shrugged. "Dunno. Guess we thought it was one of yours and it got tossed out."
Scratching the cat's nose, she told it, "I'll just have to get you a new one on the way home."
"Speaking of 'on the way.' I want to get back to the arcade."
"Oh, um, yeah. Right." Sandi gently put her cat back into the carrier and closed the door. Backing the car down the driveway, she said, "Thanks, Sam."
Fr. Marvin spoke the reading from long memory:
Love is always patient and kind; it is
never jealous; love is never boastful or
conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it
does not take offense, and is not resentful.
Love takes no pleasure in other people's
sins but delights in the truth; it is always
ready to excuse; to trust; to hope, and to
endure whatever comes.
Love does not come to an end.
"This is the Word of the Lord," he said in completion. He addressed Trent and Lindy, "This passage says so much of what gives love and marriage their strength. Each statement, each clause, each part comes together in love to make strength greater than the whole. That strength will give you the means to overcome whatever difficulties may come before you as a couple."
…it is always ready to excuse; to trust; to hope…Resonated in Daria's mind as the reading made her think of earlier.
Michael shuffled his feet as the words sunk in, …it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful.
Helen was in the living room, reading a magazine, when Sandi arrived. The young woman stopped at the door and said, "Um…Mrs. Morgendorffer?"
Looking up, Helen said, "Yes, Sandi?"
"Uh…this is probably something I should've checked with you before, but, uh, well…"
"What is it, Sandi?"
She reached back and brought the carrier into view. "Uh…can Fluffy stay?"
"Can who stay?" Jake asked as he entered from the kitchen, drying his hands on a towel.
Sandi held the carrier higher. "My cat, Fluffy."
"What a cute kitty," Jake said. "You know, my father wouldn't let me have a cat. That it wasn't…"
Talking fast, Helen quickly looked at Jake and said, "Yes, Sandi. It can stay. But remember, you're responsible for it."
"I understand. Thanks."
Seeing Jake's outburst cut short, Helen rested her head back against the sofa.
By then, Jake was at the door of the carrier and looking inside. "Hiya, Fluffy. I think you're gonna like your new home."
Daria blinked her eyes to recover from the flash. Beside her, Jane breathed out in relief. "Last one."
"Thank goodness," Daria said. Stepping down from the gazebo and walking back to the house, she added, "You know, this is the first time I think I've seen your Dad actually use a camera."
"He was never big on taking pictures around the house with me and Trent. Guess between work and all the ones he took of Wind, Summer and Penny, he wasn't as motivated."
"One advantage of being fifth in line. My parents were camera happy and photographed almost everything about my early years."
"I kind of wish there were more for me. Grass is always greener, right?"
"Maybe because the fertilizer is always deeper across the fence."
"Or they have a bigger septic tank."
At the door, Daria said, "Jane, I want to go talk to Michael a bit. Catch up with you later."
"Yeah, I better go track down Mack."
Michael was already on his way over. By unspoken agreement, they stepped away from the others. At the same time, both said, "I need to say something…"
Inside an enclosed, air-conditioned pavilion in the side yard, the reception was underway. Daria partially leaned across the table and told Quinn, "Despite how badly they mangle French on their menu, this really is good."
Quinn laughed and said, "Well, duh. Why do you think I kept getting guys to take me to Chez Pierre? After Dad's cooking and Mom's frozen lasagna, I really needed a break."
Mack looked around and whistled. "The caterers and the tent must've cost a bundle."
"Never underestimate how much a mother will spend on her daughter's wedding," Quinn explained. "If Mrs. Weaver had her way, there would've been a lot more people here."
Jane pointed and said, "It looks like it's her turn to tie one on."
"We were afraid of that," Quinn said. "She....has a drinking problem."
Jane said, "I get the idea that she wasn't entirely happy with the wedding plans."
"She had something a lot bigger in mind."
"Like something you'd plan?" Daria said with a gentle poke.
"Even I have my limits," Quinn shot back. "Though this does have me curious about what kind of wedding you might come up with."
Daria slowly took a drink from her glass and set it down. Conversationally, she said, "From what Michael described, an ancient Roman style wedding could be interesting."
Daria gently shrugged. "But, getting everyone to participate in the orgy is going to be a problem."
Eyes huge, Quinn sat straight up as her jaw dropped.
Michael barely got his hand over his mouth to prevent spraying his drink across the table.
Jane chuckled and leaned against Mack, who gazed up at the ceiling.
"That..." Quinn angrily started a reply, but stopped and jointed the laughter. "Got me."
Lindy tapped on a water glass with a spoon. When everyone's attention was on her, she took Trent's hand and stood up. "Okay, here's the part I know a lot of you were waiting for. Trent's going to dance."
Trent shyly grinned in response to the scattered laughter and applause. "If this works, we might add it into Mystic Spiral's act."
"Over your dead body," Lindy told him.
Nick started some music and the couple started to dance. Despite Trent and Lindy's comments, their dance was graceful and close.
Jane gave out a low whistle and asked Quinn, "Okay, where'd she get the pod person? That is not my brother dancing."
"Beats me. Maybe Lindy's a good teacher."
Mack said, "Depending on what kind of rewards she uses…"
Jane playfully slapped his shoulder. "You already know how to dance."
He snapped his fingers. "Dammit."
Later, as Daria was herded together with the other single women, she said, "Moo."
"Yeah," Jane agreed. "I feel like a cow on display at an auction."
"I hate this," Daria complained. "Lindy's going to throw the bouquet and several of the women will try to tear each other to pieces trying to get to it."
Quinn stopped next to Daria. "Yeah, the girls at Erin's wedding did get a little rough."
"At least we won't have Aunt Amy using us as human shields this time."
Quinn laughed and then took a half-step back, while holding back on a grin.
"Ready?" Lindy asked. Hearing several assents, she turned around and tossed the bouquet over her shoulder.
Quinn watched the flowers and moved her hand to the center of Daria's back, took a fast step behind her sister, and gave a quick push.
"Ah!" Daria's forward momentum knocked Shawna aside and Daria put her hands up to grab something hitting her face.
Daria spun around and pointed with the bouquet. "What was that for?"
Quinn was bent forward, resting her hands on her knees and laughing. "Tag, you're it."
Also laughing hard, Jane put her arm around Daria's shoulder. "Damn, wish I'd thought of doing that."
Daria looked over to Max, who was wearing the garter around his bald head. "I'm just glad the superstition doesn't have the people that catch the crap marrying each other."
George, Trent's black SUV, covered with numerous well wishes and suggestive comments written in soap, as well as tissue paper streamers from the door handles, was parked along the street. Daria walked carefully as she joined the line for the final activity of the reception.
"I'm glad they're not in heels, but my feet are killing me," she quietly said to Michael.
"I could massage your feet when we get back," he suggested.
"Your risk, but I won't turn you down."
After saying a couple quiet words to each cage, Amanda opened them to allow the Monarch butterflies within to fly free. Many fluttered around the gathered people. Daria gently laughed at one that landed on Michael's head, and then he pointed to one resting on her shoulder.
Lindy and Trent came out of the door and started their exit walk to the SUV. Amid the dancing cloud of butterflies, the guests tossed rice over the couple.
"Argh!" Mrs. Weaver screamed and swatted at the butterflies around her, stumbling forward and bouncing off of Summer.
"Watch it," Summer said, pushing the other woman away.
Regaining some footing, Mrs. Weaver slurred, "Damn freaking bugs!"
Clearly not remembering anything else, she swatted and chased the butterflies. Fortunately for the insects, her alcohol-dulled coordination spared any from being hit.
"Mom!" Lindy screamed. "What's gotten into you?"
"I'm sorry, Lindy. All these bugs are ruining your wedding. I knew we shouldn't have used this wretched place." She slapped at another butterfly and careened past Daria. "I'll get rid of them."
Amanda gazed in shock at her counterpart for several seconds. For the first time that day, her smile faded as she watched the continued attack. Spying the garden hose coiled nearby, she turned on the water and dragged it over.
"Elaine," Amanda said as she aimed the spray nozzle at Mrs. Weaver. "Step away from the butterflies."
Feet on Michael's lap being massaged and her head draped off the end of the armless sofa, Daria moaned with pleasure, saying, "If you're trying to seduce me, it's working."
He moved one hand up her calf and started working on the tense muscles there. "That wasn't my intention, but…"
"…you won't object."
Closing her eyes, Daria let herself relax after the ups and downs of the day. Her reverie was interrupted by a small, furry nose tapping against hers. Daria opened her eyes to see a white cat sniffing around. "Hello."
"What was that?" Michael asked.
"Saying hello to the new resident."
Michael leaned over to see the feline. "I never pictured your mother getting a cat."
"This must be Sandi's cat, Fluffy."
"Hi, Fluffy. Yep, you're a cat. You can't stand to see anyone else getting attention."
Feeling his hands massaging the muscle just below her knee, Daria softly said, "Ohh. Don't stop."
Catching her sister's comment as she came in the front door, Quinn said, "Will you two get a room? Sheesh, I guess weddings do get couples in the mood for stuff."
Finally home after the long drive, Michael dropped his suitcase on the floor next to the sofa in his apartment.
Standing up after searching for some leftovers in the refrigerator, his roommate Lewis said, "Well, did you catch the bouquet?"
"Funny. Actually, Daria did."
"You're in trouble now."
"Not yet. But, a little closer."
Hurrying to her room, Jane waved her sketchpad. "Thanks for driving. I can't wait to get started painting this."
Daria took her time going to hers. "Your mom soaking Mrs. Weaver really got your imagination in gear."
"That is the first time I've ever seen Mom even approach aggressive. It was amazing."
"I have to admit it was a surprise ending."
Jane lifted a canvas and set it on her easel. "So…was this a big enough disaster to make you call off being a bridesmaid again?"
Daria placed her suitcase on the bed and opened it. "I've changed my mind. If my presence brings chaos to a wedding, who am I to deny others the chance to experience it?"
Starting to sketch the painting composition with a pencil, Jane said, "Makes me wonder what kind of chaos you would generate as a bride."
Daria gently lifted the silk-flower bouquet from her suitcase and set it on the shelf over her computer, next to a small blue vase holding a dozen miniature silk roses. She looked at the gift from Michael and said, "Somehow, I don't think I'll even notice."
Quote from the Jerusalem Bible, New Testament, I Corinthians 13: 4-8.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.