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 nineteenth John Lane story
"Gahh! What do you mean, cancel?" Jake Morgendorffer yelled as he jumped up from one of the living room sofas.
Near the front door of their home, his wife Helen said, "I'm sorry, Jake. The settlement for the exploding ketchup case fell through. There's simply no way I can miss a week of trial preparation."
"But, we've already made reservations for the Caribbean cruise and everything."
"We'll have to cancel, I'm sorry. This is a very important case for me."
Folding his arms over his chest, Jake dropped back down onto the sofa, pouting. "Good thing we didn't waste our time on those SCUBA lessons we've talked about."
Helen stepped behind Jake and rubbed a hand over his shoulder. "I'll make it up to everyone, I promise."
Still sulking, Jake mumbled, "Okay."
Helen gazed up toward the stairs. "I'll tell the kids. I'm sure they're going to be so disappointed."
Quinn spun around and said, "Mo-om! I spent days looking for just the right swimsuit, and now we're not going? Can we at least make it to the beach?"
"I don't know, maybe," Helen answered, while standing in the doorway of her daughter's room.
"Mom, I can't let all the cuteness of that suit go to waste."
"We'll see, dear. Like I said, I am sorry about canceling the trip. I'll make it up to you, somehow."
"I could use just a couple extra outfits for school…it's only a couple weeks away…"
"You just went shopping for school clothes."
"Just a few things, you know, for the unexpected."
"I'll figure out some way to make it up to you, but not clothes. Give me a little while; I still have to break the news to Daria and John."
After completing the sentence she was typing on the computer, Helen's older daughter Daria turned to John Lane, who was sitting on the floor of her room, polishing a hand-sized stone sculpture. "My procrastination worked, I didn't have to experience the time-wasting humiliation of buying a swimsuit."
Helen noticed the suppressed look of disappointment on John's face and said, "Quinn suggested that we could go to the beach instead. John, doesn't that sound like fun?"
Daria turned and answered, "You don't have to go to all that trouble for us."
"I've only been to the beach a couple times, and not in several years," John said.
Daria looked back at him through the upper edge of her glasses. John shrugged and said, "I wouldn't mind going."
"I'll see what I can do to make it a fun trip for everybody," Helen said before exiting the room.
After a wait to make sure Helen was gone, Daria said, "You're not cooperating."
"Daria, I would like to go."
"Oh yeah, sunburn, sandwiches with real sand, jellyfish, all kinds of attractions."
"Playing in the surf, sand sculpting, watching stupid people pose."
"John, I know you're trying, but I really don't like going to the beach."
"Getting out of Lawndale for the day would be nice."
"I'd love to get away from here, but not the beach."
"Um, okay. We can work on going somewhere else."
Daria rested one arm on her chair back and leaned against it. "You were hoping to see me in a swimsuit, weren't you?"
After sitting silently for a while, she sighed and said, "It would only be natural for you. I have to admit that I'm curious about what you'd look like."
"Bikinis don't do a thing for me."
Daria lightly chuckled and said, "I hope not." Returning to a serious voice, she added, "John, I haven't worn a swimsuit since I last went to summer camp. The experience didn't leave good memories of swimming or swimsuits. Someday, I'll feel comfortable enough to wear one again, but not yet."
"I can wait…and imagine."
"I'm sure you're very good at that."
John's blush confirmed to Daria that she was right.
Later that evening, Jake was stretched out on the sofa, watching a baseball game. Somewhat shaking his head, he rose from the sofa to answer the doorbell. Nearing the stairs, he yelled up them, "Quinn! Your date is here!"
Curious, since Quinn had left for her date almost on hour earlier, John and Daria went to the stair landing. Jake stood in the open doorway, looking outside at a black-haired man holding a pipe. After a moment, Jake said, "Vincent?"
"Dad?" John said, taking a couple steps down.
Vincent Lane said, "Good evening, Jake. Hi, John. It's good to see you."
John asked, "What brings you here?"
"I'm returning to Ashfield after a photo shoot in Egypt and decided to see how you were doing."
Jake suddenly snapped out of his surprise and said, "Come in."
Vincent entered the house as Daria and John completed the trip downstairs. Vincent said, "Hello, son."
Jake and Daria could feel the tension between father and son as all four went to the living room. Jake asked, "Would you like something to drink?"
"Water, please," Vincent replied.
It's been over eight months since we moved out of our old house and the last time I'd heard from him. Dammit, some things don't change. John said, "So, what have you been up to?"
"I just finished three months in Egypt, and before that, I visited Ceylonese tea plantations for four months."
Running away again.
John bitterly said, "And you've never bothered to call."
"You know how difficult it can be to communicate…"
"Dad, I was hoping that things would've changed a little. I understand that your job makes you travel…but, I haven't heard a word from you since I started living here. That's over eight months, Dad."
Jake entered the room and presented a glass to Vincent. "Here."
"Oh, thank you," he said, taking a small drink.
Reading John's mood, Daria grasped one of his hands and held it lightly. The touch eased back his rising anger.
Vincent set his glass on the coffee table and said, "I'm sorry and I'll try to do better. Today, I was hoping to invite you to stay with your mother and me for a week or so."
"At the art colony?" John said.
"That's right. Your mother's looking forward to seeing you."
John feelings worked at cross purposes in his mind. He wanted to visit with them. Despite how well things were with the Morgendorffers, he missed his parents. But, the offer also felt like, once again, he was being fitted into their schedules.
"Well?" Vincent asked.
But if I don't try, I'm no different. John came out of his thoughts to see the others waiting for an answer. "I'm in."
In no particular order, John packed his black suitcase while Daria sat on the bed next to it. She said, "At least you didn't have to choose between your parents and a cruise."
"True. Hey, I'm sorry you get stuck alone with your dad all day at his office while I'm gone."
"It'll give me a chance to sharpen my skills at solitaire."
"Don't let Quinn give you any makeovers."
Folding her arms and giving John a fake frown, Daria said, "Are you under the delusion that I'll completely take leave of my senses if you're gone for a week?"
"Wishful thinking?" John said and grinned.
John dropped a couple shirts in the suitcase and closed it, leaning forward, close to Daria's face. "I'm going to miss you."
"I might enjoy the week of peace and quiet. Well, comparative peace and quiet; Quinn will still be across the hall."
"Gee, make me feel special."
She gave him a kiss and said, "Like that?"
"That was pretty special."
"John! Your father's here!" Jake yelled from downstairs.
John grabbed the suitcase and then said, "We better head down before your mother comes looking for us."
Daria nodded to an easel standing in one corner. "You're not taking that? I thought you had some kind of symbiotic link with it."
"I'm going to an art colony. I think they'll have some."
"Let's hope it doesn't get too jealous."
John stepped over to the window, where two cats were lounging on the sunlit sill. John scratched each between the ears and said, "Zachary, Taylor, try to stay out of trouble."
Unconcerned, the cats accepted the brief attention and then returned to their slumber as the two teenagers exited the room.
Helen was partway up the stairs when Daria and John reached the landing to go down. She said, "There you are."
"Sorry for the delay, Mom," Daria said. She feigned adjusting her shirt and added, "We got a little carried away."
Helen's eyes widened momentarily until she saw John cover his mouth. She glared at Daria and said, "Funny."
As Daria walked by her mother, she said, "Couldn't resist."
Helen fell in behind the teens. "Someday, you're going to have a kid do the same thing to you."
"I don't believe in curses, Mom."
"Neither did I, until you and Quinn came along…"
John said, "Then that means that you teased your mother."
"It's a never-ending cycle," Helen said with a wink.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they saw Vincent waiting just outside the door with Jake and Quinn. A blue compact car was parked in the driveway. Walking to the car, John asked, "Hi Dad, new wheels?"
"Rental," Vincent said.
"Ah." John put his suitcase in the back seat.
Going to the driver's door, Vincent asked, "About ready to go?"
"In a minute." John walked over to Daria and held both her hands, saying, "I've, uh, never done something like this before."
"First for me, too."
The gazed upon each other while everyone watched. Without a thought to the others, John slowly let go of Daria's hands and wrapped his arms around her. She raised her arms and put them around his shoulders as they lovingly kissed.
Quinn giggled and said, "I guess they're out in the open now."
Jake stood up straight, clenched his fists and took a step forward. Before Helen could reach him, Jake stopped and his grim face softened into a smile. Helen put her hands around one of Jake's arms.
Vincent puffed on his pipe and looked at his watch.
"That gives me a reason to come back," John whispered as he and Daria separated.
"And me a reason to wait," she whispered back.
"I love you."
After a second, short kiss, Daria answered, "I love you."
Following a brief pause, John stepped back and then went to the passenger seat of the rental car. He paused and looked back at Daria. After exchanging smiles with her, he got in.
Vincent entered the car and said to the Morgendorffers, "He'll be back next Saturday. Jake, Helen, thanks for everything."
Jake and Helen waved and said, "Goodbye."
Backing out of the driveway, Vincent said, "You and Daria appear to be more than friends."
Wondering where the question would lead, John answered, "Yeah, you can say that."
"Interesting. Jake and Helen looked supportive."
"It's taken some adjustment for them, but they've been pretty good about it."
Vincent shifted the car into drive and proceeded down the street. "What kind of art does she do?"
"She's a writer."
"Hmm. That would be a new one in the family."
"You seem to be pretty accepting, considering."
"Who you have a relationship with is your choice."
"I was a little worried, considering how she was involved with, you know. How are you dealing with…me living with the Morgendorffers?"
"It was hard, realizing what we'd done. But, from the looks of you, I think it was for the best."
"Then why didn't you call?"
Eyes locked onto the road to avoid looking at his son, Vincent took a second to reply, "Have you ever been too ashamed of yourself to face something?"
Jake and Helen continued waving as Vincent and John drove away. Quinn moved over next to Daria, who was watching with hands folded.
"Damn, Daria. That was some kiss," Quinn said.
"Hmm?" Daria replied, not really hearing.
"That was some kiss."
"It was…" Daria suddenly realized what was going on and her cheeks flushed pink. Without looking back, she asked, "Are Mom and Dad freaking out?"
"In a way," Quinn said. "They've got that 'here's a fifty, go to the mall for a couple hours' look."
"Oh, God. What did we look like?"
"Cute, and very romantic. I think that got to Mom and Dad, and you know how they act when they start feeling romantic."
Helen approached and said, "Daria, that was very sweet. I know you're going to miss John a lot this week."
"Here's a fifty, Kiddo. Why don't you go to the bookstore and buy some books? You know, get something to read while John's away," Jake said, giving Daria the indicated cash. He took another fifty from his wallet and said, "Quinn, why don't you go to the mall? Both of you, take your time. Come back around dinner time."
Quinn took her money and said, "Thanks. Give me a minute to find a ride." She disappeared inside the house, leaving Daria with her parents.
"Mom, Dad, thanks for not freaking out," Daria said. "I, we didn't plan on anything so…obvious."
Helen put her arm around Daria's shoulder and said, "Your dad and I were a little surprised. But Sweetie, you acted like two people in love saying goodbye."
Daria relaxed and said, "Thanks."
"And at least you had the good taste not to use any tongue."
Shocked, Daria said, "Mom!"
"As you can imagine, I'll be spending a lot of time developing film, but things go faster with a proper darkroom," Vincent explained as they drove through the rural countryside.
"And a lot easier on everyone's bladder than the bathroom."
"So, um, what am I going to do in the meantime?"
"There's always some kind of class going on and there's several studios to work in. The idea is for everyone to explore their creativity."
John said, "Could be interesting, though I'll probably skip the sculpture studio. I just finished a class in that at Lawndale CC."
"That's good to hear. Did Daria take any classes?"
Vincent nodded and continued driving as the conversation dropped away. John adjusted the radio to find a station reasonably static-free. Eventually, he found an oldies station that was tolerable and John settled back in his seat to watch the scenery pass by.
Thinking about their destination and seeing his mother again, John decided to take a chance. "Dad, can I ask you a question?"
"Well, for as long as I can remember, Mom's always been a little out of it. Did something happen to her?"
Vincent's eyes stayed fixed on the road ahead.
The older man drove until he reached a small side road and pulled off, parking on the shoulder. "I've known your mother since we were children. She was always creative, but in some ways, slow. Her parents said something about a lack of air when she was born."
"Thanks. I was always afraid to ask."
"The other kids would try to take advantage of her and when we were about nine, I started stepping in on her side. We grew closer and married right out of high school. We couldn't afford much, so we joined a commune. That's where Summer, Wind and Penny were born."
"While Trent and I were born at the old house in Howard Drive."
"Uh-huh. The commune folded and we found the old house."
"Dad, I remember you and Mom being mostly home up until a few years ago. What happened?"
"Simply put, with five children and four grandchildren scattered around the world to support, we ran out of money. The international assignments pay a lot better than the domestic ones. Your mother didn't go on those trips only to learn; she also made and sold pottery at the same time. Let's be honest, you can't sell much pottery in Lawndale."
"Wait a minute. What do you mean, five kids to support? Only Trent and I were at home. Well, except for Wind and Summer's visits while waiting to find a new place to live."
"Child support payments from Summer's ex have been a lot more miss than hit. Everything Wind earns goes to alimony, and you don't really think that Penny's living off of the stuff she sells."
"You mean you've been paying for them all this time?"
"They're family. We couldn't say no."
"Dad, do you know how often Trent and I had to live off of what he makes playing with Mystic Spiral?"
Head resting on arms wrapped around the steering wheel, Vincent said, "John, we did the best we could and I'm sorry you were the one hurt the most. There wasn't enough money to go around."
"I babysat Summer's brats for free while she was taking your money. I listened to Wind's bitching while he took your money. My opinion of them just sank a lot lower."
"Don't be too hard on them."
"Dad, they were using you and Mom."
"We never really told them how hard things were for us. They thought everything was fine."
John's head banged against the side window. "Could our family possibly be messed up any more?"
A rustic wood sign saying "Ashfield Community for the Arts" stood over the entrance as Vincent and John drove under it. They went past several wooden cabins before stopping at a smaller one.
"Not very big, but it's home," Vincent said.
John stepped out of the car and said, "Definitely a change from suburbia," as he looked at the tree-filled spaces and winding paths.
"If your mother's not inside, she'll probably be at the pottery studio."
"Some things don't change."
"The kiln's ventilated better."
"Oh, good. No more risk of carbon monoxide poisoning."
John picked up his suitcase from the back seat and Vincent his two from the car trunk. With Vincent in the lead, they went inside the cabin. They entered a common room that included a small kitchen and dining table. A short hall was opposite the front door, one door was visible on the right side and two on the left. John's father said, "First door on the left is the bathroom, your room is the second door."
"Navigation should be easy." As John entered the hall, the third door opened and Amanda stepped out.
She smiled and hugged her son. "Our butterfly's come home."
Despite the frustration of what he'd learned on the drive, John felt a warm happiness at seeing his mother. "Hi, Mom."
Amanda held John for several more seconds before going over to Vincent. "Hi honey."
After kissing her husband, Amanda asked, "How was the trip?"
"We got a few things out in the open," Vincent said.
"That's nice." She turned back to John. "You seem taller."
John shrugged. "I've grown a little bit."
"How's Daria? You talk about her every time you call."
"She sounds like a nice girl. Did she come with?"
Amanda frowned. "I'd like to see her."
"Maybe next time."
Amanda cheered up immediately. "Wonderful."
Holding his suitcase up, John said, "I'm going to check out my room and dump this."
"Last door on the…" Amanda held up her hand and looked at it for a second. "…left."
Already walking down the hall, he said, "Thanks, Mom."
After he unpacked, his parents led John on a quick tour of the community. They pointed out the different studios, such as pottery and photography, the cafeteria, the group cabins for the session attendees, and the private cabins of the staff members.
Back outside their cabin, John said, "Your students sure seem to like you, Mom."
"It's the unity of clay. It brings us all together."
"You might have something to do with it, too."
"I try to be supportive."
"As long as their projects don't detonate inside the kiln."
Amanda made a face and said, "It's so rude when something blows up and hurts the other students' work."
"I'm going to start separating my film canisters and prep them for developing," Vincent said. "John, why don't you wander around and meet the natives while your mother and I tend to our business. We can meet up for dinner at six."
John shrugged and said, "Sure Dad, I want to get a little more feel for the place."
"See you later, son."
John walked away from the cabin after his parents went in. I don't want to know all of the business that they have to tend to.
Overall, many of the people around were older high school students or college students attending the summer program, which was nearing its end. The campus atmosphere was relaxed and the rural surroundings soothing. Several of the residents had found shady spots to work on their art, whether drawing, painting or photography.
John found a bench and sat down, stretching his legs out and spreading his arms across the back. "Wish I'd grabbed a sketchpad before leaving the cabin."
A voice behind him said, "We share a lot around here; you can borrow mine."
John turned to see a shapely, black-haired young woman in tight blue jeans and an equally tight, red sleeveless t-shirt.
The woman walked around and sat beside John, offering the sketchpad. "You're here a little late for the summer session."
"Oh, I'm not here for that. I'm visiting my parents for the week. Very long story."
"Amanda and Vincent Lane."
"Hi, I'm Alison."
Oh good, there are dead animal products here, John thought as he looked over the entrée selections in the cafeteria. With the whole commune feel of the place, I was worried.
"I'll try the chops," he told the attendant. "Plus the mashed potatoes, broccoli and the carrots."
After the attendant plopped the selections on his plate, John carried his tray over to a soda dispenser and filled a glass before going over to the table where his parents were seated side-by-side. He looked at the vaguely gray pork chop with some distrust. I'm beginning to wonder if it's real. I hope so.
"How was your afternoon?" Vincent inquired as John sat down on the opposite side of the table.
"Not too bad. It's kind of a cool place to wander around."
Amanda said, "Did you meet any of the other students?"
"I met someone named Alison. She's a senior at Upstate University and she let me borrow a couple pages from her sketchpad. She introduced me to some of the other students. Um, let's see, it was Connie, Biff, Luther and Lori."
"It's great to be able to sit down with you for dinner. Seems like a long time," Vincent said.
John started to cut into his pork chop. "About a one and a half or two years."
"Oh, that long."
John shook his head. "Dad, I didn't mean it quite that way. I have missed you and I'm glad to see you. I wouldn't have been so hurt about you not calling if I didn't care."
"Of course you do," Amanda said.
"That's okay, Jake. I'll use the other bathroom," Helen said to her husband as she put on her robe the next morning. Once outside the bedroom, she muttered, "You and your fifteen bean chili. It'll take all day for the air to clear in there."
Helen walked around the stairwell toward the other upstairs bathroom and noticed the light in John's room. "He must've left it on in the rush to leave yesterday." She pushed the door open and reached for the light switch.
"Oh!" Daria said, startled by Helen's sudden presence.
"Um, hi Mom."
Helen smiled at her daughter and put one arm around Daria's shoulder. "You can feel that he's not here."
Daria replied with a nod.
"I'm sure he feels the same."
Running her hand across John's easel, Daria said, "It's a little unsettling. I've always tried to be self-reliant, but now I feel like a part of me is missing."
"That's because a part of you is missing."
"Do you feel like this when Dad goes on a business trip?"
"I never thought a relationship would get so complicated."
"Trust me, Sweetie, you've barely scratched the surface."
John checked the photo tacked to an easel with poster putty before fine-tuning a highlight on the sleeve of a portrait of Daria. Against an indistinct gray background and with arms crossed, she looked out while wearing one of her slender smiles. A sunrise was faintly reflected in Daria's glasses, but not enough to obscure her dark brown eyes.
Unnoticed by John, Alison leaned against the studio wall behind him and watched. After a while she said, "Must be your girlfriend."
He turned and said, "Hey, Alison. Yeah, that's Daria."
"She's got an interesting look, and you've got real talent to bring it out."
"Doesn't she? And, thanks."
"No problem. Hey, why don't I drop by your place later and show you some of my stuff?"
"Sure. That would be cool."
Alison levered herself away from the wall and stretched. "I'm off to take care of some stuff, see you later."
John focused his attention back on Daria's photo, then carefully added a little more to the painting. Alison walked toward the door, pausing to look over her shoulder while wearing a pleased smile.
"Maybe that's Daria," John said as he rolled off of the sofa upon hearing the telephone ring. He jogged to the kitchen where an old phone was attached to the wall. He picked up the corded handset and said, "Hello."
A woman's voice replied, "Uh, hi? Did I get a wrong number? Is this the Lanes?"
"Summer? It's John."
"John? How are you?"
"I thought you were in Lawndale."
"I'm visiting Mom and Dad for the week."
"Ah. Are they home?"
"Not right now. Dad's locked in the photography studio's darkroom and Mom's somewhere."
"Oh. Well then, can you leave them a message?"
"Sure, let me find something to write it down." John stretched the phone cord and reached to the kitchen counter to grab a notepad and pen. "Go ahead."
"Okay. Tell them that things are running a little tight after paying the private detectives to track down Courtney and Adrian. A couple hundred would really help out."
John's mood instantly soured. "You're calling to hit them up for money?"
"Yeah, just to tide me over."
"Look, things are a little tight for them right now. You better look somewhere else."
"What's gotten into you? They're always good for it."
"More like, they haven't been able to say no. How the hell do you think they ended up here?"
"Don't shout at me."
"I'll damn well shout! You, Wind and Penny have been sucking off of them long enough! Dammit, always shelling out money to you three idiots is what ended up costing them the house!"
"I thought they forgot to leave the mortgage checks."
"Well, yeah, they did. But they had to take jobs all over just to keep up, leaving me and Trent to try to get by on maybe ten bucks a week at times. You got the cash and I got the shaft."
"No, I'm not! You don't have a clue about what happened! Tell you what, forget the message and go find somebody else to mooch off of for a while!" John slammed the phone back on the wall set. "Bitch!"
Seething, he went back to the sofa and fell back onto it, staring up at the ceiling. "Dammit!" Unable to calm down, he stayed that way while fuming at Summer for the call.
His missed the first knock on the door and barely noticed the second. "Maybe if I'm grumpy enough, they'll go away."
He slung the door open and was surprised at Alison standing outside, wearing cut-off jeans and a tube top. One hand held a stack of sketchbooks against her hip while the other was behind her back. She raised an eyebrow and asked, "Did I come at a bad time?"
He stepped back and shook his head. "Family crap that you really don't want to hear about."
"Are you going to invite me in?"
That struck John as oddly funny and he chuckled. "Why, are you a vampire?"
"Come in, please. Want something to drink? We've got water and more varieties of fruit juice than you can imagine."
Alison raised her second hand, which held a bottle of wine. "I brought my own."
"I haven't played with pastels much, but these are really cool," John said, looking at a book resting on the sofa between him and Alison, both sitting cross-legged on the sofa. Alison's delicately shaded and detailed drawings had distracted him away from family frustrations.
"My profs like them, but I haven't been able to get any galleries to pick them up." She took a drink from her wine bottle. "I guess it takes time."
"I suppose. Right now, I'll be happy to get out of high school and into college. Then, I can worry about galleries."
"I'm starting to think that I should've gotten an earlier start on the gallery thing. Something you might want to keep in mind."
John drained a bottle of kiwi juice and placed the empty on the floor. "I will; thanks."
Following another drink, Alison said, "You know, I started college thinking that the art world was this big fellowship of creators. Now…" She laughed bitterly. "…now, I'm starting to see it as a bunch of posers and users."
"Kind of what my brother's finding the music business to be like. His band is on a so-called tour. Mostly, they sleep in a van and pick up whatever gigs they can, hoping that they get paid."
"I guess life sucks all the way around."
"At least when it comes to family." John turned a page in the sketchbook. "Oh, wow. You know, my girlfriend would love to see this one."
"Really? It's rather dark."
"She has a poster of Kafka in her room. Yeah, she'll like it."
"Give me a quarter."
"A quarter. I'm selling it to you."
"Are you serious?"
John dug a quarter from his pants pocket and handed it to Alison. "Thanks. Daria's gonna really like this."
"That means it'll have a good home." She laughed briefly and said, "You really like that girl."
John nodded. "I guess it shows."
Alison spread her arms wide and looked down at her chest. "I've been here for a couple hours and you haven't even noticed these. I know my art isn't that good. So, yeah, it shows."
Embarrassed and confused, John stammered, "Gee, I, uh…sorry?"
"Oh jeez, don't apologize, kid. It was a compliment."
Alison chuckled and shook her head. "Look, we're in your place and you're not drinking."
"I told you that I got into some of the band's stuff one time and…eww. Not a pretty sight."
"And I feel safe enough to drink and relax a bit."
"Oh…oh!" John said as said as what she said sunk in.
She finished off the bottle and then carefully removed the page from her sketchpad. "I hope she likes it."
"I'm sure Daria will."
Alison stood unsteadily and braced one hand against the sofa. "Your folks will probably be back soon and I bet explaining me in this condition will be a little difficult. I'm going to head over to my cabin and crash. See you later."
She picked up her books and the bottle before going to the front door.
John stood and followed her. "Be careful."
"I plan on it." Alison then spun quickly and kissed him on the cheek. "Tell that girl that she better hang on to you. You're a keeper and there's a lot of other girls that'll jump on you given half the chance."
John watched in numb shock as she walked away, eventually closing the door. He sat back down on the sofa and looked at the drawing. "Can somebody please tell me what just happened?"
Alison followed the footpath around a bend and out of sight of the Lane's cabin. She dropped the empty bottle in a trash can and sat down on a nearby bench. Clutching the books to her chest, Alison leaned back to stare up at the sky. Slowly, the young woman closed her eyes and sighed.
Vincent barged into the cabin and slammed the door closed behind him. "John!"
I've got a bad feeling that I don't need to tell him about Summer's call. John set aside the book he was reading and opened his bedroom door. "Yes?"
Vincent entered the hall, saying, "How could you say that to your sister? She called the main office in a panic!"
"How could I say it? Dad, I told her the truth."
"The truth? What do you mean, the truth?"
"That everyone's mooching off you and Mom cost you the house and left me half on my own. That it was time for her to find another way to make ends meet!"
"And what gave you the right to say that?"
"I lived through it, remember?"
"You shouldn't have said anything. Summer wasn't ready."
John couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Wasn't ready?" he shouted. "She's almost thirty. When did you think she was going to be ready?"
"Someday, and she would've let us know."
"Oh, that's great. Let her decide. Have you noticed how well she makes decisions?"
Vincent's voice rose again. "Do you think you could do any better?"
"You mean, like having unprotected sex at sixteen? Yes!"
"I learned from Summer's mistake, but she certainly didn't."
"It's not your place to say when anybody should have children!"
"As if any of Summer's kids were planned."
"Well, mister high and mighty, do you think you know all there is to know about parenting?"
"Hell no, but Dad, don't you see? You haven't let Summer grow up. The same goes for Wind and Penny. They're overgrown kids not making it in the adult world."
"They're trying to find their way."
"Don't you think it's about time they did more than try?"
"You can't rush these things."
"Rush? They're not moving and they won't unless they get a push start. That has to come from you and Mom."
Vincent shook his head and put his hands in his pockets. "Okay, maybe your mother and I have been a little lax, but it's hard to make your children grow up too fast."
John glared. "What do you think you did to me? Oh, Summer needs a couple hundred bucks to tide her over until the end of the month? No problem. Crap, I had to learn how to make twenty bucks last that long! I've already grown up more than those three have."
"You're just being jealous."
"Dad, forget about me! I'm going to be all right. You and your oldest children are the ones getting screwed over. They're all still dependent, and at the slightest problem, they come running back. What are they going to do when you can't help them?"
At the door, Amanda quietly said, "We have to let them go."
"Amanda?" Vincent said, startled. He stepped back and turned to face his wife.
She looked on the edge of tears. "They're dying. We have to let them go."
Mom and her butterflies, but at least she's getting it. John stepped to the side of his father. "Hi, Mom."
Amanda gave John a smile that struck him as particularly poignant. "You understand."
"But, we can't just cut them off," Vincent said.
"I guess not," John agreed. "But, they need to know…soon."
"So, Daria, what do you have planned?" Quinn asked, sticking her head into her sister's room unannounced.
Daria, lying propped up with pillows on her bed, looked up from her book and said, "For what, world domination?"
"For John coming home tomorrow."
"I'm just looking forward to seeing him."
"It's your first big welcome back-type deal as a couple. You have to do something special."
Daria closed the book. "I…know that holding each other will feel special. Otherwise, I can't think of anything."
"You can at least give him a kiss like you did when he left."
"You know, I think I can handle that."
"That's good, John," Amanda said after John stepped aside from Daria's portrait on the wall. He stepped back and mentally agreed that it was hanging level.
Vincent took his pipe from his mouth and said, "John, the bus into town is about to leave."
John nodded to his packed suitcase. "I'm ready." He hugged Amanda and said, "Goodbye, Mom. I'm going to miss you."
"Bye, John. I love you."
"I love you too, Mom."
John stepped over to his father, shuffled his feet and said, "I didn't come here to make a big confrontation."
His father nodded wordlessly.
"I know it wasn't easy, but I'm glad everyone knows."
Vincent said, "I shouldn't have put things off for so long."
"I'll ask Helen about finding Wind some legal help to get his divorces cleared up and Summer help in collecting back child support."
Vincent pointed his pipe at the portrait, which was near a photo of John. "Are you sure you want to leave that with us?"
"Yeah. So you can have a small connection with Daria. She's important to me."
"Son, I promise to do a better job of keeping in touch. It would be nice if we could learn to get along better."
John nodded. "Especially if I'm going to apply for the summer program next year."
"Do you think you can stand being away from Daria that long?"
"I'm going to ask her to come along. I think this place could inspire some good writing."
Amanda said, "I hope she can come here with you. I'd like that."
Vincent looked at his watch. "Time."
After a moment's uncertainty, father and son quickly embraced and then separated. John said, "Bye, Dad."
John picked up his suitcase and opened the door. He turned and waved to his parents before walking the short distance to the waiting bus. The last of the summer program students were boarding as he reached it, so he kept his suitcase as a carryon and got on board. He walked down the narrow aisle until he found a seat near the back. John placed his luggage on the overhead rack and sat down, looking out the window at his parents outside. Soon, the bus started and he gave them a final wave as the bus pulled away.
"It's been cool meeting you," Alison said, popping her head up from the seat behind him.
"Nice meeting you," he replied.
She came around and sat next to John. "Any chance I'll see you here next year?"
"I'm going to apply for the regular program."
"Hey, that's great. What about your girl?"
"Hopefully, she'll be here, too."
"Cool. I bet we can have a lot of fun."
"I hope so."
"Good luck surviving another year of high school."
"Good luck with the galleries."
After the transfer to a long-haul bus and the long, lonely drive with stops in numerous small towns before reaching Lawndale, John was exhausted when he finally stepped off of it.
His weary eyes opened when he felt soft arms around his chest and a warm kiss on his lips.
"Welcome back," Daria softly said.
"That was some welcome. I feel whole again."
After a quick look back at Helen, Daria rested her head against John and said, "Me too."
Unpacking, John tossed his dirty clothes into a pile and separated out everything else. Finally, he removed the wrapped pastel drawing and presented it to Daria. "Hey, I even picked up a souvenir for you."
She said, "That doesn't look like a lousy t-shirt."
John laughed. "Nah, it's some artwork from one of the other students. I think you'll like it."
Daria unwrapped the drawing and said, "Wow, you're right." Looking closer, she read the name and playfully said, "Alison? Should I be worried?"
Daria looked again at the drawing and then kissed him. "Thank you."
"My pleasure." John then said, "If Helen's working this weekend, it looks like all bets are off for making up the lost cruise."
Daria smiled. "Therefore, sparing me having to look for anything like a swimsuit. Sometimes, procrastination is still the best policy."
John shook his head. "And sometimes, the worst."
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.