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This is the second John Lane story
Can I Just Have The Coffee?
Mr. O'Neill addressed his second period Language Arts students. "Class, I thought we'd take a break from the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and discuss the real-life tragedy that happened here in Lawndale. Let's share our feelings of violation following the loss of Lawndale's cybercafé: alt-dot-Lawndale-dot-com. Who would like to start? Charles? Charles, did you hear me?"
Lawndale High's Star quarterback and poster child for cranial trauma Kevin Thompson looked at him in moderate confusion. "You mean, Kevin?"
John Lane inwardly smirked. That is so sad, when Kevin has to correct you.
Mr. O'Neill shuffled his seating charts. "Kevin, I'm sorry. You, uh, look like somebody else. What do you have to say about last night's horrible event?"
"I was home all night. You can ask my parents. Besides, I already have a computer."
For a door stop.
"No Kevin, I mean how did it make you feel?"
How do you think the computer feels?
"Are you asking me or telling me?" asked Mr. O'Neill.
O'Neill turned to a girl in the front row. "Hmmm...Jodie, how about you?"
Jodie Landon politely responded, "I think the cybercafé served one very particular segment of the community. But it still pisses me off when people take what isn't theirs."
Kevin lit up. "That's how I feel!"
Mr. O'Neill wearily said, "Thank you, Kevin." In a normal voice, he continued, "About that word, community. Isn't that the whole idea of a cybercafé? To jack us in to the global community? What's most disturbing about this crime is the symbolism involved. Don't you agree, John?"
John cocked one eyebrow. "No."
Mr. O'Neill spoke with increasing excitement. "Suddenly we're cut off. We can't hail our friends across the globe and say, 'It's a beautiful day in the cyberhood.' They didn't just take a few computers. They took a symbol of our virtual community. To visit alt-dot-Lawndale-dot-com was to come together with the planet!"
To John's left, Daria Morgendorffer said in mild disgust, "Oh, come on."
And, we're off…
"Come together with the planet? By staring at a screen for hours? Sitting in a room full of people you never say a word to?"
Mr. O'Neill gazed at one of his charts before saying, "Interesting point, Dorian."
Mr. O'Neill slapped a spider on the chart, splattering it over the document and obscuring several names as he wiped the remains off on the paper. "Damn spiders. Daria. You believe that while connecting Lawndale citizens with global neighbors, the cafe was alienating us from each other."
Her exasperation increasing, Daria said, "I'm saying if you really miss the place, put a Mr. Coffee in the computer lab."
"So, in your opinion, what we really need is a return to the traditional coffee house of yore, where you'd watch some performers and share a cup with your friends face to face."
John leaned left. "Are you having visions again?"
Mr. O'Neill beamed at the entire class and gestured toward Daria. "Right here and now, let's pledge to make Daria's dream a reality."
Daria sarcastically said, "You mean the one where people walking down the street burst into flames?"
"The coffee house! We'll plan it, locate it, raise money for it, and open it!"
"Would this qualify as an extracurricular activity?"
Daria sighed. "I have an excuse. I'm already in one."
That evening, Jake Morgendorffer sat at the kitchen table, reading the paper while Daria sat to his right, also reading, and John sat to the left, sketching.
Helen Morgendorffer walked past from the sliding glass door toward the living room and the stairs. "Hi! Gotta change: dinner meeting."
Jake leaned toward Daria. "Did something happen?"
Daria said, "Hmm...depends on your perspective."
John added, "Or lack thereof."
Daria's sister Quinn also quickly walked by. "Hi! No dinner for me! Emergency meeting of the Fashion Club!"
Daria briefly looked up and said, "I'll make up a nice plate for you and cover it up with cling wrap."
"That was Quinn," Jake observed.
"Yes, but you still haven't identified our first mystery guest."
Helen returned. "Dammit. I just called Eric for directions and he said the dinner's canceled. Well, that just gives us a chance for a family dinner."
Daria nodded. "I'll throw another steak on the grill."
John said, "Don't you think you should kill it first?"
"Where's the challenge in that?"
Quinn rushed by on her way back out of the house. Helen looked at her receding form and asked, "Where's she going?"
Daria replied, "Emergency meeting of the Fashion Club. Someone woke up with frosted hair."
John set his sketchbook down. "Or was that hairy frost?"
Helen sat next to her daughter. "Which reminds me: how's your work with the school paper going?"
"Can't talk now, I'm reporting on a meeting of the Rusting Quietly Club."
"You should be taking this more seriously. When you apply to college, they'll be looking for your extracurricular accomplishments. Right Jake?"
Daria shook her head. "They're going to be looking to see whether we can pay for school. This might be a good time to talk about setting up a couple trusts. You do have somebody else around who may want to go to college."
John couldn't resist. "Yeah, studying in France could get expensive. And those art schools never care what kind of volunteer work you do; they only want to see your portfolio and your checkbook."
Helen noticed John. "Oh…oh. But, that doesn't apply across the board." She turned back to Daria. "Liberal arts colleges like to see well-rounded students with a good extracurricular record."
Daria sighed. "Mom, I write a column each week. Somebody gets offended and writes a letter. A tiny spark of interest is shown by the student body before it is snuffed out by the stifling indifference of everyone else. I certainly hope I don't have to make a living at this."
"Oh, Daria." Giving up, Helen turned to John. "So, how is your after-school activity going?"
"I run, I sweat, I shower."
Daria said, "I wonder what that would sound like in Latin?"
"No competitions yet?"
"Not until spring. Fall is just training."
"Oh. Well, then. I better start on dinner."
Helen walked into the kitchen and John leaned across the table and whispered, "I was hoping you were serious about putting a steak on the grill. How much lasagna are we expected to eat?"
Daria looked carefully to see both parents were distracted, and squeezed his hand. "Sorry about that. It's the Curse of the House of Morgendorffer."
He squeezed her hand in return before releasing. "At least it's an improvement over ramen noodles, dry."
Jake looked around. "Where's Quinn?"
John and Daria sat on his bed, watching Sick, Sad World. She turned and said, "I'm starting to see an advantage to having one extracurricular."
"Mom was about to charge into one of her 'you need to get more involved to get into a good college' rants. Those can be scary, and normally result in me forced into something I'd rather not do."
John looked incredulous. "You? Forced?"
"She's good. When she puts her mind to it, she's very good."
"Oh, I suppose that does come with being a lawyer."
"Yeah. Anyway, having one activity to talk about derailed the whole process. If I play this right, I could save myself a lot of grief over the next three years."
"Okay, good for you. You're not sweating like a pig for Ms. Morris. Or having to listen to her bitching."
"I could try to see if the Lowdown needs a new cartoonist."
John shook his head. "You know your Mom will never go for us being in the same extracurricular activity."
Daria sighed. "You're right; with her paranoia about other extracurricular activities, she'd never go for it."
John looked at the fully open door. "I have to admit, she does have a good reason."
"Yeah. Having a live-in boyfriend at fifteen does present some…interesting temptations."
She smiled. "Okay, almost sixteen."
"While I still have to wait until next March." He briefly leaned against her. "I guess I have a thing for older women."
As English class was letting out a couple days later, Mr. O'Neill stopped Daria. "I hope you're going to help with the coffee house project."
"Why would I do that?"
"It was your idea."
"No. It was your deluded misinterpretation."
"So, you're not interested?"
"But, I thought a reading or two of your writings would go over well. Maybe the one about being a big misfit whom everybody hates? I bet the other students would really get into that. I know I did."
"That one compares the sophomore class, by name, to barnyard animals. That would make me hated even more."
Daria looked at him harder. "Mr. O'Neill: no."
"Okay, okay. Would you be interested in the fundraising end?"
"I'm not prostituting chocolate bars for the school, either."
"But, Daria. I think you…"
"How about if I tell Ms. Barch that you wouldn't take 'no' for an answer?"
John joined her as she left the room. "I like a woman who can stand up for herself. But, don't you think threatening him with Barch was a bit excessive?" John shivered.
"She would squash him like a bug."
"That's what I'm afraid of. Can you imagine what Li would find to replace him?"
"It could only be an improvement."
"You haven't seen much of the substitute pool around here."
Helen looked up from the sofa as Quinn entered the house. "Young lady, where have you been? You were supposed to come straight home after you finished babysitting for the Guptys."
"Mo-om. You wanted me to get more involved in school. I was selling phone cards for the new student coffee house."
"Some stupid idea of Daria's that Mr. O'Neill picked up on."
"Daria didn't mention anything about it."
"Like she ever tells you anything?"
"Like you do?"
"Tell me about this coffee house."
"It's supposed to be where that nasty old cybercafé was at."
"Oh, that's just a couple buildings down from the office."
Quinn's mouth formed a sly smile. "From what I understand, Daria's going to be reading some of her stuff on opening night."
Helen's eyes brightened. "You don't say! Jake and I will have to be there to see it." Helen looked off in the distance. "I remember the old Middleton coffee shop."
"Mom, you're not…"
Helen became dreamy-eyed. "They had some of the most talented poets reading there. And the essays…oh, the essays. Those people held to the core of the movement. They inspired so many."
"Mom?" Quinn waved her hand in front of Helen.
Helen didn't respond, but said, "The folk singers, I miss them so much."
Quinn quietly stepped to the side. When it was clear Helen wasn't tracking her, Quinn made a hasty retreat up the stairs. She noticed Daria reclining on John's bed, writing, while he painted at his easel. She smirked and rushed past to her room.
Daria entered the kitchen in time to see John stagger out of the downstairs bathroom. He looked at her and said, "Mornings. Who the hell thought they were a good idea?"
She shook her head. "I wasn't in on it."
Jake, Helen and Quinn were sitting at the table. John began pouring coffee for himself while Daria buttered some toast that Helen had prepared. Daria poured a glass of milk and looked between the crowded table and the open counter top. She nodded at the stools and John took a seat at the counter.
Helen finished her breakfast and came over. "Daria, I'm so happy to hear about you and that coffee house."
Daria looked up. "What?"
"Helping that Mr. O'Neill set up a student coffee house and performing for opening night."
Daria registered momentary confusion before she looked at Quinn, who was conveniently looking out the window. "Um…yeah."
"I'm going to make sure we're both there to see it."
"But, why didn't you tell me? You know how much I want to see you participate. I had to hear about this from Quinn."
Daria noticed a wince from her sister at that. "Mom, I wanted it to be a surprise."
Helen hugged Daria. "Oh, Sweetie!" She noticed the clock and grabbed her briefcase. "Oh, my! I'm running late. I'll get the details from you tonight. I'm so proud of you."
As Helen raced out the door, Daria's head dropped to the table. "Dammit."
Over lunch, Daria said to John, "Thanks for restraining me on the way to school this morning."
"Hey, no problem. Your sister really isn't worth the jail time."
"That's true. But I still have to deal with the immediate problem."
"Hey, how bad can it be? Stand up, read something, and bail afterward."
"Well, there's the whole standing up in front of everyone part. Then there's the reading part. The bailing afterward I think I'd rather handle first."
"Okay, Quinn maneuvered to get you into this; we just need to get even."
"For that, I blame you."
"If I wasn't…distracted, I could have prevented it."
"Excuse me for getting pulled out of my childhood home and forced to live with the most fascinating girl I've ever met."
After a sigh, she said, "Okay, blame isn't getting us anywhere. I need to figure out a way to use this to our advantage."
"Too bad you can't just combine this with the paper duty."
Daria produced a small smile. "But, I think I can. 'A Performer's View of the New Student Coffee House.' How's that sound for my next column?"
He smiled. "Therefore effectively keeping you at exactly one extracurricular activity for the week."
Immediately after school, Daria stopped by Mr. O'Neill's room. The teacher looked up and said, "Yes, Daria."
"Mr. O'Neill, do you mind if I reconsider performing at the coffee house?"
He clapped his hands together in elation. "Of course not! I'm so happy that you decided to come out of your shell a little."
"Well, um. Okay."
"If you don't mind my asking, why the change of heart?"
"Oh, my sister, Quinn, talked me into it."
"Quinn…Quinn. Oh, Quinn Morgendorffer? I suppose that she would be your sister, what with the same last name and all."
"That might be a clue. It would mean a lot if you could thank her in class."
"Oh, I'll make sure of it."
Daria briefly smiled. "Thanks."
"See you tomorrow at seven!"
She went straight to the newspaper room and said to Jodie Landon, "I changed my mind. I'll be doing something on the coffee house opening for my next column."
"I thought you were trying to avoid that place."
"It's a long story."
Daria sat on the floor of her room, sorting through notebooks while John lay prone on the bed.
Daria looked at one book. "How about, 'The Bleakness that Lies Ahead?'"
John shook his head. "Too sunshiny."
Daria flipped through the book more. "No Life, No Hope, No Future?"
After looking in another book, she asked, "Mommy's Little Hypocrite?"
"Sounds like a public service announcement."
"I wish I were dead."
John sat up. "Now that sounds promising. Listen, you gotta give them something they'll really appreciate. Picture Kevin and Brittany soaking up your words like a sponge. Heady, potent, provocative."
"And watch their heads explode? That has possibilities, but I'm going to have to write something new for the occasion."
Mr. O'Neill checked the clock and knew he had only a few moments before the bell. His freshman English class was already packing and preparing to bolt for the door. "Don't forget the coffee house opening tonight. Some of our finest student creators and performers will be pouring their hearts out for you."
A few non-committal comments rose from the students.
"Oh, yes. I want to personally thank Quinn Morgendorffer for convincing her sister, Daria, to be one of tonight's star performers. A big hand for Quinn and her sister."
Scattered clapping was the general response. Sandi Griffin leaned forward to speak to Quinn. "A sister? What sister?"
Quinn looked around in panic. "I…um…er…"
Sandi looked at Tiffany Blum-Deckler and Stacy Rowe. "I think someone with a sister as cute as Quinn deserves strong consideration for membership in the Fashion Club. What do you say?"
Tiffany said, "Sure."
Stacy nodded. "Of course. This could be so much fun."
Quinn dropped her head onto her desk. "Yeah, fun."
Daria looked at the empty driveway and said to John. "Is it too much to ask that they forgot?"
Walking beside her, he said, "Or are still at work."
"Okay, that is the more likely scenario."
They went inside and Daria checked the answering machine.
Helen's voice said, "Daria, I'm so sorry I can't make it tonight. Eric arranged a business dinner with a major new client and forgot to tell anyone until this afternoon. Have fun. Bye."
Jake's voice said, "Hey, Kiddo. Got a lead on a great prospect and will be with him tonight. Tell your Mom I won't be home for dinner. There was something else for tonight I was supposed to remember, what was it? Hmm. Don't tell me, I know this one. Wait! I really do, I know it's important. Okay, just give me a…"
Daria's gaze went upward. "There are times you can almost believe in divine intervention."
"Or that your parents are workaholics."
Daria shrugged. "Or that." She picked up the phone and hit a speed-dial button. "How does pepperoni and sausage sound for toppings?"
"A lot better than lasagna. I'm in."
After hearing Kevin and Brittany's botched Shakespeare, a singer that made Mystik Spiral sound like the Doors, and Andrea's poetry, the crowd listened, enraptured, as Daria finished her story.
"As Melody sun-bathed on the Rio beach, she looked back over the last few days with a certain quiet satisfaction: twelve dead Russians, five dead Chinese, and three or four dead Cubans. The world was once again safe for democracy, she reflected, while watching Tonio's exquisite chest rise and fall with his light snoring. Safe for democracy, or almost safe.
Melody brushed some errant grains of sand from her fingers, tied her top back on and reached into her beach bag. Tonio heard nothing and that was a pity, because he would never hear anything again. So long Tonio, she thought as she calmly stood up. I could have loved you if you weren't as red as the blood stain now spreading across the sand.
Melody walked calmly away to the hotel. There would be a message there from HQ, no doubt. She hoped she had time to shower."
Much of the football team jumped up, pumping their fists and shouting. Kevin yelled above the din, "We need to get them Russians!"
Louder affirmative shouts rose from the players as they charged out the door. John followed at a modest distance and watched the team's increased animation. From within the team came shouts of "Kill the commies!" "Get the bastards!" "Let's stone the embassy!"
At the latter comment, the team stopped for a second as they all looked at each other. Their eyes brightened and they screamed, "Hell yeah!"
John looked down North Street and grinned evilly. He jumped up and down before pointing down the road. "Go! Go! Go!"
The group of football players yelled, "Go!" in unison and stormed away.
John leaned against the building wall and chuckled. "Sometimes, that is just too easy."
Daria looked down the road at the departed group. "I wonder how long before they figure out that there isn't a Russian embassy in town."
John shrugged. "Who cares?"
"What is down that way?"
"Mr. O'Neill's apartment. I looked it up in the phone book one time when I considered painting a dead body on the sidewalk in front as a 'daydream I'd like to come true' during one of my runs through self-esteem class."
She gave him a brief kiss. "I like the way you think."
The next morning, Jake and Daria were reading the paper. John sat nearby, sketching, and Quinn quietly ate her breakfast.
Jake read from the paper, "'Cafe Lawndale closed until further notice.' Isn't that the coffee house you were working for?"
Jake read further. "'School officials decided to close their new young adult coffeehouse after their opening night somehow turned into an anti-communist rally. "Some unscheduled propaganda went on and some students reacted too favorably," explained coffee house director Timothy O'Neill, a teacher at Lawndale High.'"
Helen breezed past the group on her way out of the house. "Breakfast meeting at the Royalton's."
Daria watched her head away. "But you haven't even tasted my soufflé."
Still reading, Jake said, "'Following the reading of some right-wing literature, several members of the football team marched down North Street, intending to stone the Russian Embassy. Of course, there are no Embassies in Lawndale.' Wow, kids, did you know anything about this?"
Quinn looked up in displeasure. "I wasn't there; I had a real date."
"'"Teens are impressionable," O'Neill said, "and the last thing we need is to build a base of operations for political extremists."' Daria, did you have any idea there were these kinds of radicals here in town?"
Daria looked at Quinn. "No, but we gotta maintain constant vigilance against those who manipulate us into taking actions we'd never do alone."
Jake grinned. "I'll say!"
Everyone looked toward the living room when the doorbell rang. John shrugged. "I'll get it."
He shuffled to the door and opened it. Sandi, Tiffany and Stacy were waiting outside. Sandi spoke. "Hi…um…guy. We're like, looking for Quinn's sister."
John leaned back and yelled, "Daria, it's for you!"
Daria looked up. Quinn looked at her in terror and whispered, "You can't go out there. I'll go tell them you're sick or something."
"But Quinn, I feel fine."
"Daria, you can't."
She raised an eyebrow.
Quinn grabbed her purse. "Ten."
Quinn quickly went out front. "I'm sorry, but she's not feeling well today. Why don't I catch up with everyone at school?"
John shuffled back to the kitchen to see Daria sliding the bills into her wallet. "I'm seeing a trend here. If Quinn is going to continue pretending you're not her sister…"
Daria slipped the wallet into her jacket pocket. "…She'll have to keep paying for it."
Dialog from Café Disaffecto by Glenn Eichler.
Based on the transcript at Outpost Daria.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and The Angst Guy for beta reading.