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 sixteenth John Lane story
Left to the Heart
Carrying a school book, Daria Morgendorffer walked into the kitchen to see her father Jake and boyfriend John Lane working around a large, steaming stew pot.
Jake said, "Hey, Kiddo! Bet you're wondering what the two of us are up to?"
Daria saw John carefully hoarding some ingredients away from Jake's sight. She said, "I'm sure that there's a good story behind it."
"Daria, I woke up in the middle of the night with a hankering for the old kitchen sink stew they used to serve us at the military academy!" Jake grinned.
Daria looked over the counter. "I see you haven't added the kitchen sink yet."
"Good one, Kiddo!" Still paying attention to Daria, he stirred the pot and gave directions to John, "Hmm. Put in a cup of soup stock, a handful of peppercorns…"
John's eyes widened and he added only a couple peppercorns instead.
Jake went on, "…pinch of oregano, two dozen chilies..."
Behind Jake, John shook his head and carefully put one in the pot.
Jake stirred for a couple seconds and tasted it. "Mmm. Just like I remember." He put his hands on hips and puffed out his chest. "Ole Jake's still got it."
Daria and John exchanged glances as she went to the table and sat down to read.
Helen came into the room and gave the stew pot a cautious glance as John tasted it. Satisfied he wasn't going to keel over, Helen sat next to Daria. "May I ask what's so fascinating?"
Daria set the book down, but still open. "I wouldn't exactly call it fascinating. It's a school book about how fiction should be more than just entertaining."
Trying to keep the conversation going, Helen said, "It still sounds interesting, don't you think?"
"No. It's a writer writing a book about how writers should write books. I bet five or six copies have sold outside of the captive academic market."
"You two have the same English class. Is John reading it?"
"He read the chapter during his extra study hall while waiting for me to get out of the school newspaper."
John prevented Jake from adding the contents of a small bottle to the stew and suggested, "Why don't we just go with this tonight? We can experiment on the next batch."
Jake grinned. "Great idea!"
Helen nervously watched the two males and then asked Daria, "Speaking of the paper, anything interesting there?
"Well, people are still writing letters blaming me for John refusing his letter for track. I was told to re-edit my column about 'grade adjustments' for star athletes, and…never mind. Overall, just a great week."
Helen sighed. "Oh, Daria...do you have to look at everything in such a negative light?"
Daria answered, "Could you possibly be referring to the harsh light of reality?"
Leaving Mr. O'Neill's English class the next day, Daria stepped to the side as she exited the door and dropped heavily back against the wall. "Dammit."
Waiting for her, John asked, "What's wrong? He didn't let you find another book to read?"
"Of course not. Because I've insolently read all the books on his list, he's giving me a 'special' assignment. I get to write a story with moral dimensions."
"No good deed goes unpunished. Hey! How about the moral imperative of Melody Powers to gun down communists? That should get him."
"Can't. I have to use people I know in the story."
"It could be argued that Melody is a self-insertion character."
Daria's eyes turned cold. "I know where you live."
Sitting cross-legged on John's bed, Daria ripped a page from the notebook she'd been writing in and wadded it up. "Argh!" In frustration, she threw it at the trash can next to the partially open door and watched it bounce back into the room.
From his easel, John said, "That didn't sound good."
"I keep coming up with a blank for this stupid story."
"What's so hard? You hold people's lives in the palm of your hand." John rubbed his hands together and laughed evilly. "I'd make them squirm. Angst! Angst for the Angst God!"
"You know what would be scary? If Barch ever hogties O'Neill."
"We need to get you away from the paint thinner for a while."
"Admit it. Wouldn't that be a scene to behold?"
Daria started writing.
Fr. DeMartino asked, adding a special inflection to choice words, "And do you, Timothy, take this human mantis as your lawfully wedded pred…wife?"
Mr. O'Neill nervously looked around. Ms. Barch gave his leash a sharp yank and said, "Answer him, Skinny!"
Fr. DeMartino asked, "I said, do you…I can't do this! Timothy! Can't you see she's going to devour you like a bag of Doritos? Run man! Run!"
Mr. O'Neill tried to run, but was stopped short by the leash. Ms. Barch said, "Let's forget the formalities. It's dinnertime."
Daria frowned, tore the sheet away, crumpled it and threw it at the can. The paper bounced off the rim and out into the hallway.
"Wouldn't that be a scary sight?" John asked.
Daria looked ahead. "Too scary. Don't ever bring that up again."
"Now that you think about it, yeah. Why don't you take a break and we can start plotting our summer. It's coming up fast."
Helen saw the paper bounce out of the room and come to rest. Curious, she went to the door.
Daria said, "Mom always found some kind of summer activity for Quinn and me. You can bet she'll find something this time."
"You know, last year I took that life drawing class over at the community college. Ms. DeFoe sponsored me through the school so I didn't have to pay."
"That's an idea, but I'd have to get Mr. O'Neill to sponsor me."
"Think of it as payback for this assignment."
Daria gently laughed. "I like your thinking." She went over and kissed John. "And I can't see Mom objecting to us getting more school."
Outside, Helen nodded and smiled in appreciation. "No, I wouldn't."
John added, "Being only one hour a day, we could have the rest of the time to ourselves. That'd be nice."
Helen's eyes opened wide.
Daria shook her head. "Mom's a college veteran. She'll figure that out and find something extra for us."
"It was worth a try."
Helen walked away and went to her bedroom. "But it's still summer. Shorts, swim suits, and long days with many temptations."
She left the room and hurried downstairs to where Jake was watching a baseball game on television.
He stayed focused on the game.
He abruptly turned around. "Huh?"
"Jake, it's time we did more than hope that Daria and John stay responsible."
Annoyed and angry, Daria told Jodie, "Look. Just use the 'Why Trimesters?' column I've had lying around. I know Ms. Li has the final say on what we publish and I'm not going to change my column on grade fixing to say what she wants. So, use the backup plan if you don't want empty space."
Jodie stared down at the school desk, unable to look at her friend. "Daria, I'm sorry. I did everything I could. But I'm not going to let you go out on a limb like that when we know Ms. Li is already shredding evidence."
Daria shook her head. "And because John and Mack never used byes, we don't have any evidence in our possession. Ms. Li won this round. Dammit."
"Since I already have a column for you, why don't you get out of here early?"
Daria slipped into the study hall room and saw John reading his book for Mr. O'Neill's class, Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. She walked up behind him and saw the one of the author's felt pen drawings, an asterisk-like design. She quietly said to John, "That pretty much sums up my opinion of the school administration."
"You're early," John said as he faced her.
"We're using an old backup column for the paper this week. I'm done for the day."
"Might as well head home then."
Mr. DeMartino stood in front of them. "That would be an excellent idea, Mr. Lane. Your conversation is disturbing the precious beauty sleep the other students are getting."
With her back propped against her pillows, Daria rested her head back against the wall and thought. Her knees were drawn up and her writing notebook rested against them. Acting quickly on an idea, she started writing.
Kevin woke up that morning thinking something was odd. Maybe it was when he crawled out of bed and all six of his feet touched the floor. Or possibly, it was when he stretched his wings as he yawned. But most likely, it was when he tried to put on his shoulder pads and found that they wouldn't fit over his pronotum.
"That's awful," Daria groaned. The now-familiar process of tear, wad and throw resulted in the page landing squarely in the trash can. "At least I'm getting good at something."
In response to a knock at her door, she set the notebook aside and slid over to the edge of the bed. "Come in. I'm not getting anything done."
Helen stepped inside and quietly closed the door. "Now Sweetie, I don't want you to take what I'm about to say as an invitation or encouragement to do anything."
"That's good. Being trapped in my room by you usually encourages me to do something."
"Daria. Your father and I are a little concerned about you and John. So, I made an appointment for you to see the gynecologist."
Shocked, Daria exclaimed, "What? We haven't done anything. You don't need to get medical confirmation."
Helen stepped closer to where Daria sat on the bed. "That's not the reason. This is a pre-screening to get you a prescription for birth control."
"Mom, aren't you listening? We are not doing anything and we're not planning on it anytime soon." Daria emphasized each word, "When are you going to learn to trust us?"
Helen sat down and took Daria's hand. "I believe you. And I know you're being completely sincere when you say you don't plan on anything."
"Sometimes, hormones can reach the boiling point…"
"Mom, my hormones barely get lukewarm."
Helen looked squarely at Daria. "Really?"
Daria squirmed, but didn't say anything.
"I think I have a little more experience in this than you do. Don't you agree?"
"Good. Daria, no matter what their intentions or plans are, people can get carried away with emotion. Trust me." Helen mumbled, "Like that damn stunt car driver."
"Stunt car driver?"
Embarrassed, Helen admitted, "Yes, a stunt car driver." Back on target, she said, "And you have an even stronger temptation to worry about. You're falling in love with an admittedly very nice young man who lives in the same house. I'm realistic enough to know that something might happen, in spite of all your intentions and plans. Can you see the cold light of reality enough to admit that?"
Daria squirmed in silence again.
Helen asked again, "Can you?"
Quietly, Daria said, "Yes."
"Now do you understand why I'm taking you to the doctor?"
The young woman slowly nodded. "I should be glad you don't want him to leave. Seems like that would solve your worries."
Helen sighed and caringly stroked her daughter's hair. "That would be one of the worst things I could do."
Daria turned, her eyes inquiring.
Helen explained, "You're an intelligent and resourceful young woman that would find a way to see John. Right?"
"Yes, I would."
"In that case, the emotions and frustrations of when you could see him would be greater, meaning that you would be more likely do something. And be less prepared if you do."
Daria silently nodded.
"Sweetie, we're not punishing you and John. I trust you two to do your best and I hope you succeed. I want you to succeed. The pills are for…just in case."
Daria said, "We've really been worrying you, haven't we?"
"It's part of the job."
Helen stood and smiled back at Daria. "You're worth it. Both of you."
"Uh…thanks. Are you going to talk to John?"
"Your father is taking care of that."
Both women looked at each other and then at the wall separating Daria and John's rooms. Helen said, "I better go check."
"I'm right behind you."
Helen and Daria quickly walked to John's door, where they stopped and listened. Daria said, "I don't hear anything."
Helen said, "I hope that's a good sign. After some of the ideas he came up with…"
"He didn't try to find a chastity belt, did he?"
Helen ignored the question and raised her hand to knock on the door.
Not that surprised, Daria said, "He did."
Helen admitted, "Several ideas were proposed and discarded."
"Mom…please…never tell me what any of the other ideas were. Never."
Helen knocked on the door and opened it.
John and Jake's laughter followed the faint "thwap" of something hitting Helen's forehead. John said, "You're right. They do stretch."
After Jake and Helen left the room, John and Daria sat on his bed, talking. John said, "After your father explained that if you ever got pregnant…" He held up a condom package. "…what would be left of me would barely fill one of these, things ran a little smoother."
"I'm glad Mom went with the more reasoned approach."
"Oh, I understood your Dad's reasons very clearly. No ambiguity there. I swear he was channeling his father for a moment."
"Mom used her lawyer psychology on me. Damn, she's good, even got me to admit that I am sometimes tempted."
"Must be a guy thing. Jake knew I was tempted and he clearly explained the consequences to me if I did anything. Very clearly."
A hint of fear in her voice, Daria said, "But, we're still planning on not doing anything, right?"
John took Daria's hand reassuringly. "Even though I was a kid, I still remember what Summer went through as a teenage mom. I don't want you to go through it."
Daria relaxed a bit and joked, "And I thought going through the first 'talk' was embarrassing."
"At least you had one with your parents. I found out when I asked Trent what all the noise in his room was one night. The girlfriend he had before Monique was, um, vocal."
"That was way too much information."
Outside, Quinn tiptoed back to her room. I better be careful or Mom's going to be targeting me next.
Through the pounding rain, the gleaming light beckoned Sir Jake. He knew his quest was almost at an end and the Holy Grail was in the keep just ahead. Exhausted and weary, he fought his way to the door, pounding on it.
Without warning, the door opened and he fell inside. Raising his head, he saw a dozen beautiful women in white.
Sister Helen said, "Welcome, gentle, good sir knight. Welcome to Castle Anthrax."
"Yes. It's not a very good name, really. But, we are here to attend to your every, every need."
Daria pulled the sheet of paper loose and began tearing it into tiny pieces. "If I'm going to come up with stuff like that, I need to get a shredder."
Staring up at the ceiling of his room, John complained, "Big downside of a good imagination and knowledge of human proportions. I can realistically imagine what she looks like." He sat up on the edge of the bed and looked to Daria's room. "I think you're beautiful. You're so smart you scare me and your sarcasm's always good to keep the world in a skewed perspective. I'm glad the rest of the guys at Lawndale can't see you for who you are."
Smiling, he laid back down with his hands behind his head. "You make me feel…I'm not sure what, but it's great."
Daria dropped the notebook on the floor. "I'm not getting anywhere." She crossed the room to her desk and sat down, looking at a small photo of John.
"Boy, is life a lot different than Highland," Daria said to the picture. "Lawndale's also populated by idiots, the school's more corrupt and my parents are still overworking themselves. But, there's one thing that makes a difference. You."
Daria looked over at her closet and walked over, opening the door. She took off her green jacket and put it on a hanger before stepping back from the small mirror inside the door.
She ran hands down each side, following the curves of her body. "To my surprise, you find me attractive enough to be desirable. And oddly enough…I feel the same about you. That's something I never really thought I'd feel about a guy."
She wrapped her arms around herself and kept looking in the mirror. "But, there's more. I feel something other than base desire."
The memory of her mother's talk came back.
"You're falling in love with an admittedly very nice young man…"
Daria felt a slight shiver and she held herself tighter. "Is she right?"
On the way to school the next day, Daria said to Quinn, "Okay, we're out of sight of the house. Why are you still with us?"
"Can't I enjoy a nice morning walk with my sister and foster brother?" Quinn innocently asked.
John said, "If we believed that, you could sell us the Brooklyn Bridge."
Daria said, "Out with it, Quinn. What gives?"
"Daria, I overheard yesterday."
Daria stopped and crossed her arms. "Overheard? You mean you listened at my door."
"Um, yeah. Mom had that 'We have to talk' look and…and, I couldn't resist."
The older girl's shoulders dropped. "Great."
Quinn stepped closer and spoke in a low tone. "Please don't say a word of it to anyone. I mean nobody."
Caught off-guard, Daria said, "I thought I was going to be asking you that, and negotiating how much it was going to cost me."
Quinn focused on her sister. "Look, if word gets out that you're on the pill, guys are going to assume that I'm on it, too."
Daria filled in the rest. "Making them think that there's a reason for you to be on the pill."
"Exactly! Guys are always after one thing and…um…" Quinn remembered who else was present. "…sorry."
John smirked. "No, you're right, Quinn. That is what guys are basically after."
Quinn's jaw dropped in shock.
He added, "But, some of us know we have to wait, and will if someone is important to them."
"Good save," Daria told him. To both, she said, "Out of mutual self-interest, I think we all agree to stay quiet about this at school."
John said, "Agreed."
"Deal," Quinn affirmed. "Now that we understand each other, bye."
Daria shook her head as Quinn hurried ahead of them.
John grasped Daria's hand. "So, how badly has this latest distraction disturbed your writing?"
Daria watched the sidewalk. "I can't write. I can't produce a simple story. I know life's going to throw me bigger distractions than this. My whole idea of being a writer is a sham if I can't handle a little parental paranoia."
"I think I would've called it a lot of parental paranoia. But, I never figured you for a lack of imagination."
Daria explained, "Oh, believe me, I have imagination. I've come up with all sorts of ideas, but there's no way I'd ever hand them in."
"That warped? You've got to let me see them."
"I could, but then I'd have to kill you."
"I want to stick around for a while longer. What kind of story do you want to turn in?"
Daria thought for moment and said, "Something that says something."
"No, something. About something."
John carefully said, "Let me get this straight: you want to write something, not just anything, that says something about something.
"Maybe we need to work on this communication thing, too."
Her arms and legs held down against the table by leather restraints, Quinn, clad only in a short hospital gown, watched wide-eyed as the white-coated doctor entered the room. The doctor evilly grinned as she watched her patient. She said, "We have ways of making you talk."
"I'll talk!" Quinn cried.
"Oh, not so soon." The doctor picked up a gleaming, stainless steel implement from a rolling table. "We don't like people who talk too soon."
"Please! I'll say anything you like!"
"Oh, don't worry. You will."
A woman with graying, medium brown hair who wore a lab coat entered the examine room. "Good, you're dressed."
Daria looked up from her perch on the examine table and closed the notebook she'd just been writing in. "I figure the faster I cooperate, the faster I can escape from here."
The doctor chuckled and sat down on a rolling examine chair to face Daria. "I'm not too fond of being at the receiving end of an exam either."
"Meaning that this little humiliating ritual will be a regular part of my life from now on?"
"Sorry. Life isn't fair, but I get the idea you've already figured that out."
"And I keep getting it confirmed every day."
The older woman looked at the notebook. "Do you like to write? I normally have patients reading my horrible old magazines."
"It's a creative writing assignment for school."
"Sounds interesting. When I was in high school, we mostly only got book reports."
"Oh, that's what everyone else is doing. Since I'd read all the stories on the list, I was given a 'special' assignment, instead of simply being allowed to choose another book. Probably because I might pick something the teacher doesn't have the Jiff's Notes for."
"Oh." The doctor skimmed over her notes on a clipboard. "Back to why we're here. You're in excellent health and I see no problem with prescribing oral contraceptives for you. However, since you're not currently sexually active, I'd like to ask a couple more questions before I do."
Daria held up her hand and ticked off fingers as she talked. "Let me guess. 'Do I have a boyfriend?' Yes. 'Do I plan on becoming sexually active soon?' No. 'Is my mother paranoid that we will anyway?' Yes."
"That about covers it. I'm glad you don't have plans on having sex at your age. I've seen too many teenage girls for the other half of my practice." The doctor leaned forward. "As an added incentive, if you thought the GYN exam was embarrassing, an OB exam is worse."
Daria nodded. "That's certainly a good incentive to me."
"Still, I'm glad you and your mother are taking precautions." The doctor took a small plastic case from her coat pocket and handed it to Daria. "First off, you'll need to decide on what is the best time of the day for you to remember to take them. Consistency is important in their effectiveness. You'll want a time that makes it easy to remember, as well as convenient."
"That means mornings are right out."
As he jogged home from school alone, John rubbed his head in anticipation of a headache when he saw Kevin's Jeep stop next to him, with Brittany Taylor in the passenger seat.
She asked through the open window, "Is Daria mad at you?"
John asked in reply, "Why would she be mad?"
Brittany twirled her blond hair around one finger. "You're walking home alone." She shot Kevin a fast, angry look and back at John. "Did you do something stupid?"
John shook his head. "Daria's mom picked her up from school today. They went off for some kind of 'mother-daughter' bonding trip. I didn't even ask about the details. I find it's best just to stay away and make sure Jake doesn't catch the kitchen on fire."
Kevin stood up and looked over the cloth top of the vehicle. "Brittany said she got the idea for her belly ring from Daria. It's really hot. I didn't think brains were allowed to do things like that."
"They have to get special permission," John said, working to keep a straight face.
Kevin nodded. "Oh."
John could swear he almost saw smoke coming from Kevin's brain.
Making mental connections only Kevin could make, the football player asked, "Hey! Can she get special permission to let you back on the track team and get your letter?"
John felt the headache start. "Kevin, that was my decision, not hers."
"But dude, you were a track star! How are you going to run now?"
"The same way I ran before I joined the team."
"But man, nobody sees that."
"All the better."
"I don't get it. You're a jock so people will like you."
"Kevin, you're a jock so people will like you. I was a jock because I like to run. I don't need Ms. Morris or the team for that."
Brittany sat back in her seat. "Kevie, John was running when we drove up."
"Oh, yeah." He looked at John. "Cool."
The TV showed a room full of chimpanzees at typewriters. An announcer's voiceover said, "Forget Shakespeare; these monkeys are all about love! The publishing secret of Heart-Throb Romances, next on Sick, Sad World."
When she and Daria got home, Helen was surprised to see John already there, watching television. She said, "You're early."
John shrugged. "I didn't see a real need to stay for extra study-hall, so I ran home."
Daria looked at her watch. "You didn't walk, that's for sure."
"So, um…everything go according to plan?" John asked.
Daria's cheeks turned pink.
Helen answered, "Yes." She carefully reminded him, "Remember, it's a precaution, not an invitation."
Unmistakable in her red jacket and black skirt, Jane hopped out of the car and trotted inside the house.
Darius looked over from where he was seated on the sofa. "What was the verdict?"
Still feeling embarrassed, Jane replied, "Everything's in working order, but not working yet. And I'd love to switch places so you have to go through that."
"Like anyone would believe me as a guy or John as a girl. On top of that, I don't even want to imagine what Ms. Manson would think if she saw it," Daria said as she tore the last page from the notebook and dropped yet another perfect shot into the trash can.
"Crap." Daria tossed the old cover into the trash can as she went by it on the way to John's room. He was inside attempting to study math when she asked, "Can I steal one of your notebooks? I just killed mine."
"You trashed almost an entire notebook on failed stories?"
Daria rested her shoulder against the wall, followed by her head. "I suck. With the pressure on, I can't write a story."
"I don't get it. You don't have any trouble with deadlines for the school newspaper."
"That's not creating, that's churning out essays with my opinions spattered all over them. I can almost do that in my sleep."
"I'd suggest you take a break, but you only have a couple days left to finish it."
"I'll still talk to Mr. O'Neill tomorrow. Hopefully, I can get him to let me write about a new book. Speaking of which, how is your report coming?"
"I'm so excited about it, I'm doing my math homework instead."
"Wow. And I thought I was procrastinating."
While Daria talked to Mr. O'Neill the next day, John leaned against the wall outside the door.
Mack MacKenzie walked up to him. "Hey, John."
John nodded and said, "What's up?"
"Did you talk to Kevin yesterday?"
"Yeah, after school." John rested his head on one hand. "I'm sorry. What did he do?"
"He wants to head over to Oakwood for a football game. He says you told him we don't need Coach Gibson or the rest of the team."
"I told him that I don't need Ms. Morris or the track team to be able to run."
Mack laughed. "Okay, that explains it."
Daria came out of Mr. O'Neill's room and leaned against the wall next to John. "He hates me. Hi, Mack."
John said, "He didn't let you change the assignment?"
"Oh, he changed it. Now I have to write about people I know and include a card game."
"You could write a story about a strip poker game that humiliates everyone involved," John suggested.
"Oh, thanks a lot."
Jodie stepped up beside Mack. "What are you grinning about?"
John gently kissed Daria's cheek and said, "Sorry. You can find me in my room later."
He stood and left Daria sitting on one of the sofas, staring at the blank screen of the TV.
Helen carefully entered from the kitchen. "Daria, what's going on?"
Daria motioned to the TV. "Shh! I'm watching this."
Helen took a seat next to Daria. "You just drove John off. Something's been bothering you for several days now, ever since you went to the doctor. When do you begin taking the pills?"
"My cycle starts again in a little over a week."
"And it takes a full month to be effective. John's not…"
"No. Mom, outside of being a very big distraction, whether or not I have sex is not the problem."
"Then, what is?"
Daria shifted her gaze to the carpet. "That assignment for Mr. O'Neill. All of my stories suck."
"Well, honey, I'm sure if you just give it another day or two..."
"I don't have that long. I wanted to write something meaningful, but it's all been done and done better. I can't write anything at all."
"Maybe you need a change of direction. Don't try to write something meaningful, just something honest."
Daria looked up to Helen. "I can do that. I just look around and describe what I see."
"How about describing what you'd like to see or feel?" Helen then added with emphasis, "Honestly."
"I don't get it."
"Daria, it's the easiest thing in the world for you to be honest about what you see."
"That's almost a given."
Helen sighed at her daughter's stubbornness. So much like me at her age. She said, "What's hard for you is to be honest about your wishes and feelings. About the way you think things should be, not the way they are. You write things off with a cynical joke or sarcastic comment and nobody sees what you really want or believe in."
"Everyone should be good at something."
"See what I mean? If you want a real challenge, write about what you'd like to happen. And be honest with yourself about it."
Daria nodded and said, "Sometimes, it feels like you skipped out on "Parenting 101", but at times like this, I wonder how you know so much about me."
Helen opened the door and said, "Oh, hi, sweetie," to her thirty-four year old daughter.
Stepping inside, Daria gave her mother a brief embrace and said, "How are you, Mom?"
"Pretty good. You know, every morning it's a little harder to get out of bed."
Daria's reply of, "For me, too," caused both of them to laugh as they went toward the kitchen.
"Ever since your father retired, he's developed such a wonderful perspective and seems to be getting younger every day. I should be jealous."
Daria shrugged. "Well, triple bypass surgery will do that, but we don't need you getting that kind of incentive."
Hearing the door, Helen looked back at the man entering with a bag of groceries in his arms. "Hi, John."
"You're not planning on cooking? You're our guest."
John laughed and said, "What kind of family get-together would it be if Jake and I didn't barely avert a disaster in the kitchen?"
While John started unpacking the bag, Helen poured coffee for Daria and herself. "I enjoyed your column this week."
Daria added milk to her coffee and said, "Some things haven't changed since high school. I get outraged, the readers get outraged, and nothing happens. But, at least I'm getting paid for saying the same things that got me threatened with suspension and ostracized from everyone else back then."
"Not to mention a few awards." Sitting down at the dining table, Helen gently laughed and said, "You're never going to change your attitude about some things, are you?"
"Are you kidding?" Daria replied as she joined Helen.
Helen asked her son-in-law, "John, how's your work going?"
He said, "I'm almost finished with the library mural and will start hitting the spring art show circuit in a couple weeks."
"Are you going with this year, Daria?"
"Of course I am." Daria cast a faux-distrustful eye at John. "You can't let this guy out of your sight."
John jokingly fired back, "You can't leave her to prowl around town alone, either."
Helen carefully asked, "Has there been any further discussion about starting a family?"
Daria sighed. "Mom...you know we're not ready for kids and we're taking all necessary precautions to avoid them."
"And I think you know why," John said as Quinn entered with her newborn in its carrier and two older children already running at warp speed.
While the two children bickered, Quinn directed them to the living room. "You know where Grandma's TV is. Go watch something educational." She sat down at the table with Helen and Daria. "Hi, I'm exhausted."
The Sick, Sad World announcer on TV said, "Breast implants for chickens..."
Quinn, Daria and John yelled in unison, "Not that!"
Helen asked, "How are you, Quinn?"
Quinn caringly looked down at her newborn. "Oh, you know, another day, another baby."
After waiting for everyone's chuckles to stop, Quinn added, "Daria, when are you going to join the club?"
"Why have my own when I can spoil yours?" Daria said.
"Because I think you secretly would like it." Quinn saw her father coming around the corner from the living room and said, "Hi, Dad. How are you?"
Jake grinned and made a face at the baby and waved his fingers. "Goo-goo."
The baby started crying immediately, forcing Quinn to pull the child close and gently stroke her hair. "Shh. It's only Grandpa."
Contrite, Jake said, "Sorry. I'm okay, Quinn. You know, kids, I was watching my old home movies…"
Daria faced her mother. "You said you burned those."
Helen sighed. "He made copies."
Jake slyly said, "And I have more hidden. Anyway, I was watching them and thinking that all three of you came out like your mother and I hoped."
John said, "Get out of here."
Jake was unfazed. "Daria's our crusader, trying to show the truth with her column every week. Quinn's bringing up her kids with all the enthusiasm she used to put into clothes. And you, John. Artist extraordinaire and my cooking partner."
Daria said, "Okay, we didn't make disasters out of our lives. But I still don't understand why we're all here."
Jake explained, "All that reminiscing made me think, 'Why don't we get together for a family card game, just like we used to?'"
Incredulous, Helen said, " Family card game?"
John asked, "What's that?"
"We never played a family card game in our lives," Daria noted. "Though you did use board games as punishment."
Quinn added, "Daria's right."
His temper rising, Jake growled, "Oh yeah, I remember asking my father to play 'go fish'…!" He slammed one fist onto to table. "No! He thought I should play 'war'…!"
Quinn half-rose and put her hand on Jake's upper arm. "Dad! Triple bypass!"
Jake instantly calmed. "Oh, um, sorry. I still get carried away. So we never played a family card game, we can play one now. Spades?"
Quinn suggested, "Gin."
"Poker?" was John's idea.
Helen came up with, "Hearts."
Quinn nodded, "Done."
Jake pulled a deck of cards from his pocket and started shuffling them. "Okay. I'm going to play a game of hearts with my beautiful wife and my three great kids."
He looked at Daria, questioning.
Daria tapped the deck. "Deal."
John came up the stairs and poked his head in Daria's door. "Your mother's still drying her eyes down there. What did you write?"
"Something that made her happy."
"Run that by me again?"
"She sees it as evidence I'm more optimistic about the future than I appear."
"That could take years to correct. What do you think it'll do to Mr. O'Neill?"
"With luck, it'll be fatal. Our papers are due tomorrow, so I don't have a choice." Daria tapped the sheaf of papers against her hand a couple times as she tried to think of a way to say something. "Um…I'd like you to read it, too. It's not my usual style and I, uh…just read it."
John accepted the story and sat down on Daria's bed to read. She sat next to him and carefully watched his reactions.
Finally, he finished reading and set the paper down in his lap. "Um, yeah. Not your usual style." He looked at Daria hopefully. "You seem to think that we have a future together."
Daria looked back at him with equal hope. After a long pause, she used one hand to finish turning his face toward hers and kissed him. "That's because I love you."
Caught by surprise, John took several moments before realizing that he understood. He kissed her back and said, "I love you."
Some dialog from:
Write Where it Hurts
by Glenn Eichler
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin
Thanks to Steven Galloway and Lawndale Stalker for some quick ideas.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.