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.
This is the fourteenth John Lane story
Feeling wrung-out by the previous weekend, Jodie Landon set her lunch tray down across the table from Daria Morgendorffer and John Lane. The attractive and overworked black teen looked straight into Daria's brown eyes. "You should be on your knees thanking your father."
Daria asked, "Grove Hills was that bad?"
"The student guides wore their smugness and arrogance like merit badges. You probably would've killed one, I almost did."
"I wouldn't do that," Daria said. "I'd leave them maimed so they could suffer longer."
John whistled. "You lost it on a one-day visit? That's scary."
"Being saved by Dad ranting about his father and swearing not to send any of us away to school, that's scary," Daria added.
"You should still thank him," Jodie said. "And you owe me. Nobody should face that place alone."
"Your parents shouldn't have taken you there without a bodyguard," Daria returned.
"Daria, you also better walk softly around Ms. Li. She's annoyed that you snubbed the visit and that I told Grove Hills where they could stuff it. She's looking for excuses; some of your columns haven't gone down too well. Maybe if you diversified a bit."
Daria stared back at Jodie. "I'm not joining yearbook. Being on the newspaper staff is already more extracurriculars than I want."
Jodie tried again. "We really need another photographer. John, what about you?"
"No way. With how my father used to develop prints in the bathroom, I figure I've been exposed to enough chemicals already."
Sighing, Jodie nodded. "If you reconsider, let me know."
Seated with her family around the dinner table, Helen said, "That's just horrible about the library roof. I understand that there were a couple students in there when it happened. Are they all right?"
Daria said, "It was Kevin and Brittany. They were making out off to one side and didn't notice until the rescue crew came up to look for them."
"At least they weren't hurt."
"They weren't even embarrassed," Daria said with a shake of her head.
"There goes one of your last retreats on campus," John said.
"But, it did give me material for my next column in the Lowdown.
John asked, "Ignoring Jodie's advice?"
"Not letting it affect my decision. The roof of the library fell in. How can I not say something about that? I'm sure the money Ms. Li's been spending on security could have been put to good use for building maintenance."
Helen cautiously said, "Maybe you should have considered Grove Hills a little more."
Daria saw Jake starting to bristle and said, "If the place could make somebody like Jodie tell them off, what do you think would happen to me?"
"Oh my," Helen said. "Jodie?"
"See," Jake said in triumph. "I was right! I told you those boarding schools were no good! Maybe we should make sure the kids stay here for college. Some of those…"
Daria cut in with, "Dad, let's not go too far."
"But look at all the advantages you'll have! No dorm room…no dirty, stinking, lousy, tobacco chewing roommates…"
Daria raised an eyebrow. "Dad, I don't…"
"No cafeteria food…"
"Okay, that's probably a plus."
"When you can have my cooking!"
Helen reached over to Jake. "Honey, we don't need to think about that right now. We have a little time to consider."
"No out-of-state tuition. Just think of…"
"Jake!" Helen grabbed his wrist. "Not now."
"Oh!" Jake's excitement cooled. "Oh, yeah, sure. We can talk about it later."
At the front of his English class a couple days later, Mr. O'Neill asked, "Now, why do you think it is that Tolstoy felt he had to make War and Peace so darned...unpleasant? Daria?"
Daria answered, "So no one would pester him to do a sequel?"
While Mr. O'Neill was trying to digest the answer, Ms. Li marched in unannounced.
She said, "Good morning, young people. I have a very sad announcement. The library will be closed until further notice."
Daria quietly said, "After all, it was the least used building in the school."
Ms. Li went on to say, "To raise money for repairs, the school will be presenting a medieval fair, simulating life in the middle ages."
Kevin grinned and said, "Cool."
Ms. Li leaned on Daria's desk. "Volunteers are desperately needed. Those who refuse to volunteer must voluntarily purchase a ticket for ten dollars or voluntarily face suspension." She looked directly at Daria. "There are special options open to some students." Ms. Li stood up straight, said, "Have a nice day," and left just as quickly as she entered.
John said, "Boy, is she mad."
"No kidding. That has got to be one of the stupidest things I've heard of, and now I have to be in the middle of it."
"Wow, John-O, this stuff is really good," Jake mumbled around a mouthful of dinner.
"Um, thanks Mr. Morgendorffer," John said. "Just trying to help."
Daria raised her right eyebrow at him.
He whispered back, "By keeping your Dad from cooking."
Talking to her mother, Quinn said, "So I thought, if I have to volunteer anyway, I might as well do something that challenges me as a teen and maybe bring some joy into the drab lives of others who are less popular. So, they'll have this dinner theater with a play by this guy, Ken Barry, and I'm going to audition for 'Emily,' the really cute sister." She attempted a faux-stage voice, saying "Preserve me from the vengeance..."
Helen smiled widely and said, "That's great, honey. Daria, what will you be doing at the fair?"
Silent, Daria stated at her dinner plate.
Helen glared at her daughter. "Daria…I asked you a question."
Through gritted teeth, Daria said, "Selling authentic reproduction manuscript pages and scrolls."
"That sounds fascinating. John, what are you doing?"
"Who do you think is making the 'authentic reproduction manuscript pages and scrolls'?"
"It's so nice to see all of you getting involved."
Quinn leaned on Daria's doorframe. "What are you up to?"
Seated next to John and watching TV on her bed, Daria said, "Nothing."
"Come on, Daria. You…and John…volunteered to help with the medieval fair? You've got to be planning something. If you don't want to tell me, that's fine, just please don't do it near the play. Okay?"
Daria rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Quinn, we didn't volunteer, we were volunteered."
John said, "Drafted."
Daria said, "Li gave me the choice of 'volunteering' or being transferred from the newspaper to the yearbook staff. Since the newspaper is a bit overstaffed with me on it and Jodie's been desperately looking for a photographer for yearbook, Li can get away with it."
"Quinn asked, "So what's wrong with yearbook?"
"I don't know, but Jodie's been desperate for a photographer for a couple weeks. Something's scaring kids off and I don't want to find out first-hand."
Quinn nodded, understanding Ms. Li's machinations. She grinned at John. "So, stepping in to be with your lady fair?"
He lightly blushed.
John said, "I didn't really try to resist, but I was….close enough…to Daria to also be volunteered."
Sitting in the back seat of Jake's Lexus, Quinn practiced her lines. "I will make a dainty garland for my head and sing. I will make a dainty garland for my head and sing. I will make a dainty garland for my head and sing."
Tired of hearing the repeated phrase, Daria said, "With a hey-nonny-nonny, tra-la, tra-la. Would you give it a rest?"
Quinn pouted. "I have to rehearse."
"You should've done that already."
In the passenger seat, Helen asked, "Daria, John, you can't go dressed like that. Is the school providing you costumes like they are for Quinn?"
John said, "Yeah. Ms. Li got a local re-enactor group to loan us a bunch of stuff."
"That was nice of them."
Daria said, "Though some of the fragrances the clothes had before washing would make you wonder about the nice part."
"Oh, well, I'm sure it was the thought that counts." Helen looked to her other daughter. "Quinn, I hope the other girls weren't too disappointed that you got the part over them."
Quinn said, "Well, let's see. Sandi was really nice about it. She said she's too mature to get upset at somebody else's incredible, unbelievable, undeserved luck. And Brittany just kind of made noises."
"Just make sure she's not targeting you; she's still leery of the 'Morgendorffer temptresses'," John warned. "Trying to teach Kevin to be more attentive is a lost cause."
"He must be doing something better," Quinn replied. "Brittany volunteered to drive him so he could work on his lines."
Daria asked, "Did she volunteer to get him a dainty transplant for his head so he could remember them?"
Jake jerked the car to one side to avoid a red sports car making too close of a pass. He shouted, "Damn kids!"
John looked at the offending vehicle and said, "Wasn't that Brittany's car?"
Quinn said, "Can't be; it went right past the turn to school."
Quinn, Daria and John entered the corner of the gymnasium and saw a blonde girl, early twenties, seated behind a long table holding folded costumes. She brightly said, "Hi there. What costumes do you need?"
Quinn said, "Hi, I'm doing Emily in the play."
"Oh, yes. It's such a pretty dress." The woman handed Quinn a pink costume with appliqué roses and white fur trim.
"Thanks," Quinn said and rushed to the auditorium dressing room.
John said, "Um, I'm making the fake manuscripts and stuff."
The woman handed him a drab brown robe and a rope belt.
He asked, "What's this?"
"It's a monk's robe. They were the ones that did the calligraphy and stuff back then."
Leaving his regular clothes in place, John pulled the robe over his shoulders and shrugged. "Hmm. Hides everything else, looks like I'm good to go."
Daria said, "I'm doing the sales with him."
She was handed a pile of black and white fabric that included a wimple. Daria asked, "And what's this?"
"A nun's habit. Seems to make sense to go with a monk." The woman winked. "If you know what I mean."
Daria stared back. "You're kidding. Me? In a nun's habit?"
"You'll look so cute. Besides, we don't have anything left that'll fit you. You can change in the locker room."
"Just add insult to injury, why don't you?"
Without difficulty, John found the pop-up pavilion that was to be his and Daria's booth. The yellow canvas cover had faux dagging along the lower edge created by painting a red trim outline and the apparent voids between dags black. The aluminum support posts were painted tan with a weak attempt at simulated wood grain on them.
He set up his wooden drawing table and stacked supplies on a shorter table next to his chair. He removed a handful of colored marker pens with the bodies painted black from a box. He fitted a feather into a hole in the back of each and placed the markers aside. Next, he took a modified calligraphy pen and fitted a feather onto it, setting it in a pot of ink on the flat top of the desk just above the angled drawing surface.
Daria arrived carrying a wooden cash box. "Wow, doesn't this place just look authentic."
John grinned and said, "I guess if you stand ten paces away and squint, it looks okay."
"And I take my glasses off."
"Then don't look too closely at what I'm doing."
Daria looked at the stack of pages also on the side table. "Are those photocopies?"
"I had enough time to toss five plates from a book on calligraphy and illumination on an opaque projector and trace the outlines. I photocopied those onto fake parchment and I'll add color with markers."
"Do you really think people will buy them?"
"Never underestimate the public's lack of taste."
"What about the scrolls?"
"I pre-lined some blank parchment paper and I can do those by hand real quick. I taught myself calligraphy during…" John scratched his head, trying to remember. "…my third time through self-esteem class."
"Where'd you get the feathers?"
"Ms. DeFoe picked them up at a craft store. They're dyed chicken feathers."
A faint snicker came from the next booth. Daria and John looked to see Jodie, dressed in blue and hiding her laugh with her hand.
Daria said, "I suppose I deserve that."
Jodie said, "I must say, I've never pictured you dressed like that."
John said, "And I never pictured you wearing an oversized dunce cap."
Jodie shook her head. "You got me."
"Let me guess," Daria said. "You were the only one Ms. Li trusted with the information booth."
Nodding, Jodie said, "Yes."
"I'm almost afraid of what Mack got stuck with," John said.
Jodie pointed across the grounds to a fake cave, where Mack, in a poorly-fitting dragon suit, was being pummeled by a bunch of children swinging padded swords. "It was Ms. Barch's idea."
"Ouch," John said as Mack recoiled from some the blows of a pair of older boys. "Aren't those two a little old?"
Jodie said, "They're Sandi Griffin's little brothers. They make her look like an angel."
John flinched and looked away. "I hope he's got a cup on under that suit."
Mrs. Johansson looked at one of the reproduction pages. "Can I get this framed?"
John shrugged and said, "Sure."
"Will it fit in a standard frame like they sell at S-Mart?"
"Make sure it's a document frame and not for photo sizes."
"Okay, I'll buy it." The portly woman removed money from her purse and handed it to Daria.
"Thank you, ma'am," Daria said as she accepted the money and placed it in her cash box. After the woman left, she told John, "I never would've thought we'd sell so many."
"Like I said, never underestimate the public's taste."
Dressed as a jester and carrying a lute, Upchuck appeared and said, "Hmm. Now I know how 'Get thee to a nunnery' can be so appealing."
John looked up from his drawing table. Daria had stood and was leaning toward Upchuck with a smoldering glare in her eyes.
The red-headed boy blinked and stepped back. The motion of another student caught his eye and he turned to say, "Hey! Andrea! Do you like madrigals?" before he ran after the girl in a grey shirt and long black skirt.
Andrea cocked her arm back and said, "Don't touch me, you Howdy-Doody-looking creep."
John said to Daria, "I hope you never look at me like that."
"Don't give me a reason to."
A flash of light startled both of them. While they were trying to recover their eyesight, a blond boy with glasses said, "Wow, that's going to make a great shot for the yearbook. Hi, I'm Ted."
John set his pen down. "I'm not gonna get anything done until that giant purple spot's gone."
"Do you normally greet people by blinding them?" Daria said while blinking.
Confused, Ted said, "What do you mean? Oh, the flash. That's so I can get good pictures."
"And here I thought it was your tribe's ritual greeting."
"Tribe's ritual greeting? Oh, no, I live right here…Oh wow, you were using hyperbole."
John quipped, "Damn, that boy's quick."
Jodie called over, "Daria, John, that's Ted DeWitt-Clinton. He's the photo-editor for the yearbook."
Ted's eye's brightened. "Daria? Morgendorffer?"
Hesitant, Daria said, "Yes."
"Wow. I love your columns in the Lowdown."
"Well, um, thanks."
"The way you write about the dark and disreputable parts of school."
"They're not hard to find."
"Gosh, they almost make me wish I'd stayed home-schooled."
"Yeah. My parents were real worried about sending me here, but I convinced them I should get to experience a normal school for a little while. So I can understand what everyone else has gone through."
John raised an eyebrow. "Normal school?"
A brunette woman leading a young girl walked up to the booth. "Excuse me, I understand you do hand-written scrolls?"
Daria told Ted, "Excuse me." She faced the woman. "Yes, we do."
"Could I have one done that says, 'I name thee: world's greatest daughter?"
The little girl smiled up at her mother.
John rubbed his eyes. "I can have it ready in about fifteen minutes, plus another five for the ink to dry."
The woman looked at a watch and said, "I'll take one, then. I'll be back in twenty minutes. We just have time to dunk the witch in the pool."
After the customer walked away, Ted said, "Daria, your writing made me realize that there were other people at Lawndale that sometimes felt as out of place as I am."
John pulled out a blank parchment paper and started writing, while listening to Ted. It must be my imagination.
Daria shuffled back a step. "Um, yeah. You could say I feel a little alienated around here."
Ted stepped up to the edge of the booth. "That's what's so amazing. It's like you knew how outcast I felt."
John looked over with one eye. Is he trying to come on to Daria?
Daria nervously toyed with the cash box. "I was really only saying what I felt and observed."
"It's the same way I feel!" He laughed and said, "Isn't that kind of funny? Kind of like we were two of a kind or something."
Okay, that's it. John stood, stretched and stepped behind Daria, placing one hand around her waist.
Daria quickly whispered to him, "What are you doing?"
John said, "Ted, I bet you could get some neat shots of guys jousting with the Black Knight."
Distracted, Ted looked around. "Where?"
John pointed to a raised platform, where Mr. DeMartino stood, tapping a padded-tip lance against his black-armored hand.
"Neat! Those aren't very good representations of real weapons, but I could get some nice action shots. Hey, do you think they'll let me try?"
Catching John's idea, Daria said, "If you pay the fee, I'm sure Ms. Li will."
Ted grinned in return and rushed toward the platform. "I can try out my techniques from the sixteenth century manual!"
Daria looked around and gave John a quick kiss. "Thank you."
"Just don't make a habit of it."
"He was starting to get creepy."
"He was creepy, but I didn't need you butting antlers like a deer during mating season to deal with him."
"Might I remind you that you aren't exactly the best one at dealing with jealousy, either?"
"Oh, um…maybe we need to work on this jealously thing a bit more."
"Might be a good idea."
Daria looked at Jodie. "No wonder you haven't been able to keep photographers."
Jodie sheepishly smiled. "Well…yeah. He's really a nice guy, just kind of…different."
"And as oblivious as my brother," John added. "He was making moves on Daria right in front of me."
"I don't think that he's ever been on a date. He probably didn't realize you were Daria's boyfriend, and he may not have realized how he sounded. Uh, oh. Daria, it looks like your folks are coming over."
John released Daria and she took a step forward.
"Hi Daria, hi John. I brought you some lunch," Helen said, carrying two plates. Each held a wad of hamburger roasted on a stick and decorated with two raisins placed like eyes. "Hi, Jodie. How was the trip to Grove Hills?"
"It was an interesting place," Jodie said with a forced smile. "But I think I fit better here, at Lawndale."
"Oh, that's too bad. I still hope Daria's not missing out on anything."
"Trust me, Mrs. Morgendorffer, Daria didn't miss a thing."
Chewing on one of the food objects himself, Jake said, "This rat-on-a-stick is really good. Think I should try some at home?"
Daria looked at her plate. "What an appealing name. I think you should buy a couple for Quinn."
John held his up. "Hmm. Looks like what you get when you cross a corndog with a hamburger and leave out the bread." He bit into it. "Protein, grease and salt. Three of the four food groups."
Jake noticed Daria's garb. "You look just like the teachers in Dad's old elementary school photos."
Daria tilted her head toward Jake. "Elementary school?"
Jake chuckled. "Bet you could scare the tar out of him, too. He hated that place almost as much as I hated military school."
All the more reason I'm glad Daria didn't get sent to that gifted school, John thought, realizing how much he and Daria had dodged a potentially explosive bullet.
Jake raised his fist. "Come on, old man! Face your granddaughter now!"
Helen shook his arm, hard. "Jake! Calm down. You're making a scene."
"It's not like I could be humiliated any more than I already am," Daria said.
Helen said, "Well, kids. Have a good time. I'm going to meet Linda Griffin over at the archery range for a little friendly competition. After that, we'll go to see Quinn's show."
"Bye," Daria said. "Try to sit real close so she can see you."
"Oh, Daria. You are being supportive of your sister. Thank you."
After Helen and Jake left, John started laughing. "Quinn's gonna try to kill you if she finds out you said that."
"She can try…"
The brunette woman paid Daria and said, "That is so pretty. Thank you." She gave the page to the little girl. "Here you go, darling."
The girl grabbed the parchment and skipped away, happy. Her mother trotted to follow.
Crying loudly, Quinn's Fashion Club friend Stacy came up. She dropped a handkerchief from her face, showing streaked and runny mascara. "Please, can you let me stay behind your booth? I don't want anyone to see my eyes. They're this really weird shade of red."
Daria said, "Stacy, we don't have anyplace you can hide. Perhaps you can…"
Stacy bawled again. "I even wore my crushed velvet top with the scooped neck for Brett. He said he'd call back and now he won't even look at me! If only you were popular enough to understand."
Limping and dragging his padded lance, Mr. DeMartino walked past, loudly grumbling. "Stupid miserable ringer! Growf!"
Puzzled, John said, "I wonder what happened to him?"
"Who cares what happened to a teacher!" Stacy screeched. "I'm having a dating crisis here!"
Grinning widely, Ted bounced over. "That was so much fun! I really got to try out those medieval lance techniques. I almost felt like a knight. I hope Mr. DeMartino wasn't hurt too badly. I'd like to try that again."
Still in her own world, Stacy cried, "Was it something I said? Did I wear the wrong thing?"
A brief, faint smile crossed Daria's face and she said, "Ted, you said you almost felt like a knight?"
Daria gestured a hand toward Stacy. "There's a lady in distress. Don't you think you should do something? Maybe she can be your inspiration the next time you joust."
Ted stood confused for a second. He then pulled a clean, white handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to Stacy. "Will this help?"
Stacy saw Brett walking along across the fair ground. She smiled at Ted. "Why, thank you. What's your name?"
"Um, I'm Ted."
"Hi, I'm Stacy."
She took Ted's hand and led him away.
John crossed his arms and gazed proudly at Daria. "That was evil."
"But, a necessary one," Daria said, another brief smile on her lips.
"Hmm. The crowd's thinned out," Daria observed. "Either the play's started or the heat's getting to everyone."
"I'll take either," John said, pushing back from his table. "Being an art slave sucks."
Daria rattled the cash box. "I can't believe those guys paid with Susie B dollars."
"You've got to admit that they're less out-of-place than paper money."
"Yeah, but a five's a lot easier to handle."
"But not a fifty, huh?'
Daria rolled her eyes. "I wish he'd shown up after the coin guys. Wiping me out of smaller bills would have been a good excuse to unload the coins on him."
"Rrrowrr." Upchuck loathsomely purred as he came around the corner of the pavilion. "Perhaps you'd like to show this Galahad your grail-shaped lantern?"
Daria picked up one of John's portable drawing boards and waved it toward Upchuck. "How'd you like to finish this quote?" She imitated a monastic chant, saying, "Pia, Jesu Domine...dona eis requiem…"
Upchuck turned, said, "Run away!" and sprinted across the grounds.
John laughed. "That got rid of him."
"Only temporarily. I'd like to bury Upchuck in this dress."
Costume tail dragging on the ground behind him, Mack wandered over to the information booth. "Hey."
Jodie smiled and hugged him across the counter. "Holding up?"
Mack grumbled, "Barely. Little monsters."
"I've got bruises in places I didn't know I had."
"Just keep telling yourself it's for a good cause."
"I have been." Mack turned to Daria. "How would you like to write about the dragon's view of knights coming to kill him?"
Daria answered, "That should give Mr. O'Neill a shudder or two. Thanks."
Gesturing to the other side of the information booth, Jodie said, "Why don't you try it now? I just saw him stop to get his fortune told by Ms. Barch."
All four peered over and saw that Ms. Barch's booth was closed and muffled sounds came from it. Eyes wide, they looked at each other and shivered.
John said, "Let's not do that again."
"Agreed," Jodie replied and moved her stool away from the offending sounds.
Mack half-leaned against the counter. "I saw the strangest thing a while ago. The photographer guy from the yearbook, Ted, with Stacy Rowe."
Jodie pointed to Daria. "You can thank the twisted yenta next door for that."
Surprised, Mack said, "That's like throwing a lamb into a pack of wolves."
"He left Mr. DeMartino limping," John said. "He's tougher than he looks."
"Would you want to be thrown to the Fashion Club?" Mack pointedly asked.
John exhaled roughly and admitted, "Uh…no."
Mack rubbed his side. "I don't care what Ms. Barch says, I'm getting out of this stupid suit before one of those little brats really kills me."
Mack waved and walked to the gymnasium locker rooms. "I'll be back later."
The sounds inside the fortune teller's booth stopped. Looking rumpled, Mr. O'Neill snuck out of the back and made a straight path for the auditorium. He was followed by an equally rumpled Ms. Barch, who left her booth after an obvious pause to make it look like they were not together.
Daria shivered again at the sight. Jodie nodded in understanding while saying, "Talk about effective."
Soon after, two of Quinn's regular followers, Joey and Jamie, walked by. Jamie snickered and said, "The Pardoner. Quinn's gonna kill Jeffy."
Daria watched the two and quietly said, "I wonder…John, how certain are you about seeing Brittany's car?"
"I was pretty certain, but like Quinn said, it drove right by the school entrance."
Daria asked, "Jodie, have you seen Brittany or Kevin today?"
She said, "No."
Daria said, "John, can you watch things for a couple minutes?"
Jodie's eyes opened wide. "No. Jamie's not that smart."
Daria said, "I'd agree. But, if somehow he found out, I could see Jamie looking for the 'juicy parts' of the Canterbury Tales."
Jodie said, "So, if Kevin's not here…"
John said, "And Mr. O'Neill grabbed someone for a stand-in..."
Daria said, "I better go," pulled up the edge of her dress a couple inches so she could move better, and headed toward the auditorium.
A couple minutes later, a girl named Jennifer rushed from the auditorium to Jodie and said, "There's a riot in there!"
"Oh, no! I better find Ms. Li," Jodie said, clearly worried.
Jennifer ran away, leaving Jodie looking around. She spotted Andrea walking nearby and called, "Andrea!"
Half-bored, Andrea swerved over to the booth. "What's up?"
"Can you watch the booth for a while? There's a riot or something in the auditorium. I need to find Ms. Li."
"Got a chair in there?"
"Thanks." Jodie stepped out of the booth and rushed toward Mr. DeMartino's Black Knight platform, where she remembered seeing Ms. Li announcing.
Andrea sat down and put her hands behind her head. "Wow. Nobody's ever left me in charge of anything before."
John asked, "Care to watch two booths?"
"Why not? Expand my empire."
"Thanks!" John said and he ran for the auditorium entrance that Daria had used.
A pair of children stopped and one asked Andrea, "Why aren't you wearing a costume?"
"I hocked it to pay off my bookie."
"Don't worry, Skinny," John could hear Ms. Barch say. "I'll go calm those Neanderthals down."
Closer to the stage wing, he saw Mr. O'Neill standing and sobbing into his hands. A loud roar came from the audience and John could see the set littered with thrown turkey drumsticks.
He spun around, trying to locate Daria in the darkened backstage area.
Ms. Barch's voice carried from out front, "Hii-yah!" A rapid series of wet thumps followed her war cry.
John moved toward the dressing rooms and heard Quinn say, "Oooh! I'm not going out with that Jesse for at least a month!"
He followed the sound and he heard Daria say, "That's Jamie."
John found them in the hall outside the girl's dressing room. He said, "Sounds pretty bad out there. I hope your folks had the sense to get out of it."
Quinn gulped and quietly said, "Dad kind of…started it."
Daria's head dropped back and she looked up. "I'm not breaking into the Montana Cabin Fund to bail him out."
"I'm going to try to find them," John said. "Hopefully, your mother's been able to point him toward an exit. Before you say anything, I'm going to do my damnedest not to get pummeled in the riot. I don't like pain."
At the stage wing door, John found Ms. Barch slumped against the wall amid a pile of drumsticks. Mr. O'Neill knelt beside her, wiping turkey grease off of her face.
Many people were still scattered among the auditorium seats, throwing food and other loose items, as well as the occasional fist or kick. From his vantage point, John saw where Helen and Jake hunkered down on the edge of a side aisle, unnoticed by the other rioters. Not far away, he saw Ted swinging two drumsticks like short swords, brushing people out of the way while Stacy nervously followed him. That just might work.
John jumped down the wing stairs and used his running speed to avoid the melee. He squatted next to Helen and said, "Follow me."
"What do you mean?"
"Trust me, please. I saw a way to get us out of here."
Jake asked, "Where's the girls?"
"Backstage. Come on!"
Pushing them, he nudged Helen and Jake along the aisle until they fell into position behind Stacy. John said, "Follow the girl with pigtails."
Helen said, "Isn't that Quinn's friend?"
"Yeah, just follow."
Taking advantage of Ted's skills to clear a path, they followed him out of the auditorium. Near the exit, Helen paused and grinned. She snatched a loose drumstick from the floor and threw it quickly.
"There, Linda. Now you don't look so smug," Helen quipped and slipped out of the building.
John extended his hand to Ted. "We took advantage of the path you cleared to get out. I want to thank you."
"John, right? I saw you back there. No problem. Hey, will you see Daria?"
"Tell her, 'thank you.' I've had a great time today with Stacy."
Stacy looked down. "Um, yeah. Could you thank her for me, too?"
John nodded and quickly said, "Sure, I'll tell her."
Ted and Stacy each said, "Bye," and wandered off into the crowd.
John noticed that a group of police officers were gathering outside the auditorium, with Ms. Li shrieking at them.
John said to Jake and Helen, "The backstage entrance is around this way. Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer, if you ask me, it's time to call it a day and get out of here."
As they walked along the sidewalk, Helen put a hand on John's shoulder. "John, thank you for getting us out. I doubt if you'll ever be comfortable calling us Mom and Dad, but please, call us Jake and Helen."
John got into the back seat of the car and sat down next to Daria with a sigh. "Finally dropped the cash box off with Ms. Li. A lot of parents are taking their kids home. The Landons had already taken Jodie home, so Ms. Li didn't say anything about us leaving."
Helen said, "She better not."
John scratched his neck and said, "I'm glad to get out of that itchy robe."
Daria nudged his rib and whispered, "You're glad? You had clothes on under that. I'm itching in a lot more places."
Jake said, "Too bad about your play, Quinn." His voice changed to a shout, "Lousy, stinking flop-hatted…"
Helen snapped, "Jake! Enough."
"But, he threw the first leg."
Quieter, Helen said, "You stood up for your daughter. Just think about that."
"Oh, um, okay."
"And our son got us out of that awful building."
Daria and Quinn looked at Helen, and then at John.
He blushed and said, "It was enlightened self-interest."
Hopeful, Daria said, "Mom? Do you mean that?"
"Yes, Sweetie. John's just as much family as you are."
Still getting used to it, John said, "Thanks, Helen."
Some dialog from Fair Enough by Peggy Nicoll
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.