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 twentieth John Lane story
Hear No Beauty, See No Beauty
Answering the persistent knocking at his door, John peeked out from under a sheet and said, "It can't be Monday yet. I'm not ready for school to start."
On the other side of the door, Helen said, "Doesn't your brother's band drive around in a black van that's, um, seen better days?"
"It's a piece of junk that's held together with duct tape and baling wire."
"It's parked in the middle of the driveway and blocking both cars. Can you please ask them to move so Jake can get out?"
John rolled and fell from the bed onto his hands and knees. Staggering up, he pulled the top t-shirt from an open dresser drawer and pulled it over his head. Stopping before the door, he looked down to check that he was wearing shorts before opening it. "Sure."
The Tank was parked crookedly in the Morgendorffer driveway with the windows open. John looked into the driver's window and saw Max asleep. Nick was curled into a fetal position on the passenger seat and John hoped that Trent and Jesse were somewhere in the darkness behind. "Max," John said while shaking the bald drummer's shoulder. "Max!"
"Wuh?" Max mumbled as his eyes opened and he looked around in confusion. "Where?"
"Why are you here?"
"Uh…Trent wanted something."
"Hey, you'll have to ask him."
"Is he in the back?"
"I better check." John stepped over and opened the sliding side door of the van. Jesse was sprawled against a stack of amplifiers and Trent was curled up around his guitar case. John pushed on Trent and said, "Hey, Trent! Wake up!"
"Really Monique, it's nothing like that," Trent mumbled as he almost woke up.
John quickly said, "Not another word, Trent! I don't want to know!"
"Mmm. Oh, hey Johnny. How'd you get here?"
"I live here. You're parked in the driveway. Max said you needed something?"
"Yeah. Can I borrow your key to my place?"
"You lost yours?"
"Um, no. I forgot it. Might be on the kitchen table."
"Give me a minute to run upstairs for my keys. I'll also check to see if Helen can give me a ride back from your apartment."
"You don't have to bother her, you can just loan me your keys."
"Trent…why are you borrowing my keys?"
Riding in the passenger seat of her red SUV, Helen said, "Thank God that wretched exploding ketchup suit is finally over."
Cautiously driving the truck, Daria said, "I thought you lost."
"We should've won, but I'm still glad it's over."
"Oh, so you can spend some mother/daughter bonding time with me, right?" From time to time as Daria drove, she turned her head slightly to the left or right to clear the peripheral blind spots caused by her glasses. She noticed a bulldog trotting across the road and braked early to avoid it.
Helen said, "Exactly. I mean, look at you. The last time I gave you a driving lesson, you, um…"
"I scared you half to death."
"I didn't mean…"
"No, but it's the truth."
Slightly embarrassed, Helen said, "Well, yes. But look at how much you've improved."
"Monique's a very hardy driving teacher."
"I really need to find a way to thank her."
Daria half-smiled. "A gift certificate to Axel's would probably work."
"You're not thinking…"
"No, Mom. One piercing is enough for me."
"Please don't be offended that I'm still relieved to hear that."
"No offense taken."
Turning to look out of the side window, Helen asked, "Daria, what do you and Monique talk about during your driving lessons?"
"She talks about Trent a lot."
"One and the same. Monique and Trent break up and get back together more often than Quinn buys shoes."
"And she warns John that if he ever acts the same toward me, she's breaking his legs. If…she's in a good mood. Otherwise, she'll get ugly."
"Sounds like an older sister."
"In a way. But I think the lessons also give her a chance to blow off steam to people that won't tell her friends."
Daria stopped the truck and then made a turn into a narrow side street to drive behind Axel's Piercing Parlor, bumping the curb with a tire in the process. "Oops."
"Do you talk about anything else?" Helen said, letting the small error pass unmentioned.
"She talks about the Harpies, her band. From what I can tell, they're a little better than Mystik Spiral, but not by much."
"That's interesting, but what do you talk about?"
Daria sighed and said, "Sometimes it sucks to have a lawyer for a mother. You're hard to sidetrack."
"And you're still evading my question."
Hesitant, Daria said, "I talk about John some, and also about you and Dad and Quinn."
Helen kept her eyes focused to the side and avoided looking at Daria. "Things I'd hoped you would talk with me about."
Sensing her mother's mood, Daria said, "Some, maybe, but also no. Be honest: you didn't talk to Grandma about everything when you were my age."
Helen felt a smile form and she turned back to Daria. "No, I didn't. But, I know what I didn't want to tell Mother and that makes me even more curious about what you don't want to tell me."
Daria stopped the SUV behind the Tank and turned off the engine. "Which makes me curious about what you didn't want to tell Grandma. Why don't we call it even?"
"Okay, for now." Helen winked at Daria and added, "Sometimes, it stinks to have a daughter that learns from you too quickly."
Mother and daughter left the truck and walked past the van and Trent's car to his apartment. Since the door was already open, Helen knocked on the frame instead.
"Hey, Mrs. M.," Trent called from inside. Wiping his hands on his pants, he stepped out of the small bedroom and said, "Uh, sorry 'bout the mess. Been on the road."
Helen looked around the disorganized apartment and said, "I find it hard to find time to do housework myself."
John followed his brother out of the room. "Thanks for coming to my rescue."
Daria said, "Damn, and I forgot my shining armor."
Trent stopped and rubbed his chin. "Hmm," He sat down on an old sofa and grabbed a notebook and pencil, scribbling while muttering, "Damsel in shining armor…"
John grabbed Daria and Helen's arms, pulling them out of the apartment. "You don't want to be around when he's writing. There's a reason Jesse and the rest of Mystik Spiral ended up the way they are."
Walking down a corridor of Lawndale High with John, Daria said, "Wow, only 359 school days left until graduation."
"Now that's a cheerful thought," John replied.
"Doing my part to prepare you for reality."
"I'm hoping that you can get me on the newspaper staff so I don't have to go digging for some other extracurricular activity."
With a droll tease, Daria said, "Yearbook not your cup of tea?"
"Working with Stacy Rowe's living Ken doll would be way too freaky…even for a Lane."
"That's it…don't take responsibility for the consequences of your actions."
"Hey, all I did was point Ted toward her during that stupid medieval fair. The rest is their fault."
"Throwing an innocent at the Fashion Lions."
"Eh, they needed an alpha male to sit around and do nothing while they went out to do all the work."
"Ms. Barch is going to love hearing you say something like that."
"Do I look that stupid?"
"Hmm. I suppose not." Daria opened a door and they stepped into the workroom of the Lawndale Lowdown.
Jodie Landon immediately looked up and smiled with open relief. "You are coming back, good."
Daria answered, "Mom still wants to make sure that we have enough after school activity to keep our hands off each other."
"I'm still glad you're here."
"Jodie, do you have room for a cartoonist?"
Looking at John, Jodie said, "Don't make it a political cartoon. It's hard enough work keeping Daria's columns in the paper at times."
He quickly said, "Deal."
"That was easy."
"Considering my alternatives for everyday after school activities are sports or yearbook, I won't look a gift horse in the mouth."
"Great. Think you can have a 'welcome back' cartoon ready by Friday?"
"Sure. Oh, by the way, are you okay with abstracts?"
Placing her fork on top of the emptied dinner plate, Quinn said, "After Sandi brought it up, all of us agreed immediately. A bunch of boys are going to make the Fashion Advice booth and we'll have it up by next week."
Daria doubtfully said, "Sandi's idea?"
Quinn smirked at Daria. "With a little help."
Helen cut her meatloaf with a fork and said, "I want to see how well this booth works out. If it fizzles, you still have to find an after school activity."
"Trust me, Mom. I'm not going to let it fizzle."
"I'd say the prospect of another year babysitting the Gupty kids would be good incentive," John said.
"And what did you find, John?" Helen asked in return.
"I'm the new cartoonist for the Lowdown."
"Cartoons?" Jake said, perking up.
"John's going to do a comic for the school paper," Daria explained.
Jake rested his chin on his hand. "I miss Calvin and Hobbes."
"Hmm," John said while thinking. "A football player and his…"
Daria warned, "Don't make me hurt you."
"You're still writing that column, right Daria?" Helen asked.
She answered, "Yes. Jodie still doesn't think I'm safe to send out as a reporter, and I agree."
John tapped Daria's arm. "The Down Side could also work…"
Jake shook his head. "I don't know. Those talking cows were creepy."
Daria glared at John.
He grinned and said, "Doom County?"
Mack MacKenzie trotted ahead of Jodie to catch up with Daria and John, tapping him on the shoulder. "Your latest Lawndale Cynema strip is great. Darius and Jane crack me up. But if Ms. Barch ever figures out what their comments about The Island of Dr. Moreau really mean…"
"They might need DNA to identify me," John said, finishing the sentence. "But it's worth it."
Jodie caught up with the group and said, "It's only been a few weeks and I swear that you two are going to give me gray hair before I'm a senior."
"Come on, Jodie," Daria said. "You're enjoying it; that's why you haven't shut us down."
"Besides, she knows we can't go too far. The alternative activities are far worse," John said.
"I have to admit, the paper isn't as dull as it used to be," Jodie said.
Mr. DeMartino leaned forward on his desk and addressed the class. "And so, the Democratic Party came to be associated with the 'welfare state,' and the Republican Party with a more Darwinian approach. Which do you favor? Kevin!"
Kevin Thompson quickly said, "Darwin's the monkey guy, right? I like monkeys."
Mr. DeMartino shouted in frustration, "A statement no doubt once also made by your mother!"
"No. She's more into kitties," was Kevin's clueless response.
Brittany Taylor said, "I love kitties!"
Daria quietly said to John, "That was way too much information."
Losing patience, Mr. DeMartino said, "That's terrific, Brittany, and really adds an extra dimension to today's lesson!" Seeing the principal walk into the room, he said, "Uh, Ms. Li, I wonder if I might…"
She sharply replied, "Forget it! I've already told you: no staff resignations while class is in session."
He grumbled behind Ms. Li as she announced to the class, "Students, aren't we a bunch of lucky so-and-sos? With all that this great land has given us, shouldn't we think about giving back just a little?"
Daria said, "She's right. I'm going to renounce my citizenship."
Ms. Li paid no attention to Daria and went on, "So, as part of the school district's first annual Awareness of Others Week, I'm asking each Lawndale High student to sign up for an extracurricular activity to make the world a better place."
John asked, "What if we already have extracurricular activities?"
"This is on top of anything you may already be doing for Lawndale High. I want you to get out there and give back to the community."
"For everything that they've given us," Daria said.
"Exactly," Ms. Li said. "100% participation will earn me, um, us special recognition from the superintendent of schools. Now, I want all of you to go out there and make me…make the school look good. Resume learning!"
Not allowing time for any more comments, Ms. Li turned on a heel and made a fast exit from the room.
Trying to salvage class after the interruption, Mr. DeMartino said, "Class, dare I ask whether anyone can relate this appeal for volunteerism to the political philosophies we've been discussing today? Kevin."
The QB said, "You know what's cool about that Darwin guy? When Curious George gets in trouble, he always lets him slide."
Mr. DeMartino shuddered and ran from the room, calling, "Ms. Li, wait! Hear a desperate man's plea!"
Leaving the newspaper work room, Jodie said, "Have you guys signed up for one of the new extracurriculars yet?"
Next out of the door, Daria shook her head. "No. Figured we'd stop by on the way out."
"Um, the good slots were filling up fast. I hope you find something fun."
John closed the room door and said, "It's one of Li's brilliant plans. You know it's not going to be fun."
"Besides," Daria said. "Shouldn't volunteerism actually be voluntary?"
Jodie said, "Mack should be out of football practice. I'll see you tomorrow."
John and Daria said, "Bye," as they parted ways with Jodie.
A short distance down the hall, they stopped in front of the signup sheets and saw that almost all of them were full.
John read one, "Teaching arts and crafts at the children's hospital. Too bad it's full."
"Ooh, picking up trash along the Lawndale Freeway," Daria read. "That sounds like a ton of fun."
"Reading to senior citizens?" John asked.
"You like reading."
"I think road kill would be more interesting."
"Wouldn't you rather put your people skills to use?"
"How about avoiding physical labor?"
"Okay, sign us up."
Holding a green jacket with two fingers, Quinn pushed it into Daria's room and said, "I found the one that got away."
Daria and John sat on the floor in front of Daria's bookshelf with several piles of books between them. Daria asked, "Where was it?"
"In my closet."
John said, "Any particular reason it was there?"
"How should I know? Mom must've hung it there by mistake."
"And you haven't noticed it until now?" Daria asked with disbelief.
Quinn shrugged. "It was all the way back into that hard to reach side part."
"Digging for buried treasure?" John said.
"The Fashion Club is collecting clothes for the homeless, so we're checking our old stuff for anything that might help."
Pulling at her khaki shirt and open, green vest, Daria said, "I don't need all of those jackets anymore. Why don't you go ahead and add that to the donations?"
John said, "I have some stuff that I could also toss in."
Daria and John were amused by the different ideas and emotions that crossed Quinn's face as she said, "Oh, we want to…um…we'd be glad to take your donations."
Walking up to the entrance of the Better Days Retirement Home, John said to Daria, "Nervous?"
"Why? Look at how well your reading went over at the coffee house."
"The football team rioted in the street trying to find the Russian Embassy."
"Okay. But, I don't think the residents here are going to riot. Or be that much of a threat if they do."
"Thanks, that helps a lot," was Daria's unenthused reply.
A nurse answered the door after they knocked and said, "Hello. Oh, you must be from the high school. Come on in. We can always use a couple rays of sunshine around here. Some of your classmates have already arrived."
Brittany called from the other side of the room, "Hey, Kevvy, look who's here."
Kevin hurried over and tried, unsuccessfully, to be keep his voice quiet as he said, "Daria, John, did you know there aren't any high school seniors here? They're old people and we have to read to them."
Daria put her hands on her hips and said, "Talk about bait and switch."
Kevin tilted his head and said, "Daria, we're supposed to read to them, not go fishing."
John yawned and said to the elderly gentleman in a hospital bed next to where he was seated, "I'm sorry, Mr. Alden. I thought this book was going to be more interesting."
The man's eyelids opened and he said, "I've read worse. What's the other book?"
"Sorry, that's my sketchpad. Nothing to read in there."
"Has to be better than the crappy art they put up around here."
"The paint-by-number kits my grandma used to send me are better than the art they put up around here."
Seeing Daria's scowl, John said, "That bad?" as the two left the retirement home for the walk home.
"One lady wanted to pummel me with her walker and some guy unplugged his respirator to get the nurse's attention for me to leave. All in all, a very, very bad experience. You don't seem to be too bad."
"My book went over like a dead rat."
"Maybe you should've given it to Kevin for his Adventures of Ratboy marathon."
"But Mr. Alden liked my sketchbook. I think I'll just bring it tomorrow and skip the reading part."
"At least you have an alternative."
"Maybe you just had a couple of cranky inmates."
"Didn't you notice how they were falling all over Kevin and Brittany? It's just like high school. What's popular there is popular here."
"Got a point. Guess I was lucky finding somebody with taste in art."
"I think I'd rather pick up road kill."
"We should see plenty on the walk home. You can get in some practice."
Daria sighed and said, "Walking home on top of that humiliation just takes the cake."
"I wish we could drive."
"Need a car first."
"Trent hardly uses his car."
"We'd need to get our licenses."
John stopped and put a hand on Daria's arm to stop her. "Great idea."
Daria turned her head. "I don't know if I'm ready yet."
"Only one way to find out; let's hit up your parents when we get home."
"I don't know."
John pointed to a rancid, unidentifiable smear on the road. "Do you really prefer road kill?"
"Not when the bones have already been pulped."
"Look at the other options that will be open when we can drive. I think we're ready."
Daria held his hand and squeezed. "Now the truth comes out. You just want to drive out to the old quarry and have your way with me. These boots still say, 'I can kick you where it hurts.'"
"And I believe them. But admit it; driving will make our lives easier."
"I just don't know if I'm ready."
"We've been practicing all summer. You're ready."
"I don't feel ready."
"Trust me. Please?"
Daria leaned against his arm. "I trust you. Sometimes, I don't think I trust myself."
Helen sat back in her seat at the dinner table and said, "Having both of you available to run errands has some distinct advantages. For one thing, it will save me or your father from having to make so many trips to the mall with Quinn."
John apologetically shrugged and said to Daria, "You knew there'd be a price."
"That's right," Helen said. There's a lot of trust and responsibility involved and I, uh, we expect some consideration in return. Right, Jake?"
"Sure, honey," Jake said. "What time?"
"What time for what?"
Jake suddenly put his watch to his ear. "What time is it? I think my watch stopped."
Helen gave him an exasperated, "Jake," before saying, "Don't you think we should expect a little consideration from Daria and John in return for their driver's licenses?"
"They have their licenses? Dammit, why doesn't anybody tell me these things? What about our insurance? It's going to skyrocket with two teenage drivers! And a car. You know they're going to want a car. Can't drive around in the parents' car. No…" Jake looked up and his voice rose to a scream. "I don't want to drive your piece of junk, Old Man! I'm going to get something made after the Second World War!"
"Dad," Daria explained, "We're going to borrow Trent's car."
"Huh? Oh, um, yeah, sure. But when did you get your licenses?"
"We haven't yet, Dad."
John said, "Jake, why don't you run us up to the DMV after school tomorrow?"
"What about the school newspaper?" Helen asked.
"I've finished my column for the week and I've been helping Jodie copy-edit other stuff. I can miss a day," Daria said. "And, John's doing okay on his comic."
"Okay," Helen said. "You have a deal. And, I'll have Marianne call tomorrow about adding you to our insurance."
Leaving Mr. DeMartino's class the next day, Brittany fell into step next to Daria. "I'm so sorry you're not popular at the nursing home. I mean, you've been making so much progress at school."
Daria said, "We can't all be as gifted as you are, Brittany."
Kevin laughed and said, "Yeah, but maybe you'll have a late growth spurt."
His laugh was cut short by "Oof!" when Brittany elbowed him before saying, "I don't want you to lose your confidence. Kevin…" She paused and gave him an angry glare. "…and I were talking, and we think it's your voice. It's, like, a total bummer!"
Still trying to be helpful, Kevin said, "Hey, I know what might help you. I got kicked once during practice and my voice..."
John cut him off, "I wouldn't make that suggestion if I were you."
While John was saving Kevin, Daria said, "Well Brittany, we can't all have your rich, soothing voice."
Brittany brightened, "Wait! I can help you!"
"Yes! Daria, come to my house after school and we'll see what we can do. We're supposed to be helping the unfortunate, and this way, I can help everyone!"
"Sorry Brittany. John and I will be at the DMV office after school."
"Man, I hate having to go to those driving classes to keep the points off my license," Kevin complained. "Hey, I have all the answers if you need them."
John said, "Um, we're going to get our licenses."
"Aw, man. You must've really messed up to be grounded this long."
Brittany met Daria's gaze and shook her head.
Jake drummed one foot on the floor and stared at the windowless wall of the Department of Motor Vehicles office. "What could be taking them so long? Something must've happened!"
Flipping his new license between his fingers, John said, "They haven't been gone any longer than I was." No wonder they don't allow parents in the car when a kid takes their test.
"Are you sure?"
Jake squirmed and rubbed his hands together. John tried to assure him. "Daria's not going to wreck your car."
"But what about all the maniacs on the road? Speeders, tailgaters, running red lights, psychos with road rage? It's a jungle out there."
"She's been practicing, remember?"
"But…she's still so…"
John half-smiled at realizing the core of Jake's worry, but became a little more serious when he said, "It must be hard watching your children grow up."
"Yeah. Why can't they stay your little girls forever?"
"I don't know."
"It doesn't seem that long ago she learned to ride a bicycle."
John turned his head. "I've never pictured Daria on a bicycle."
"She was, um, always a little clumsy and stopped riding it when she was eight or so. After that, she just walked."
"A few scraped knees and such. I remember those."
"Not really. She always wore knee pads and a helmet."
"That, I can see."
"Daria was always smart about things and didn't like to be hurt." Jake patted John's shoulder and said, "Which says something about you."
A balding man entered the office with Daria a pace behind. He said, "Exactly at the cutoff. You passed."
Daria looked surprised. "I did?"
The test supervisor removed a form from his clipboard and handed it over the front counter to a clerk as he told Daria, "I wouldn't suggest doing a lot of parallel parking, but yes, you passed."
The clerk spent a couple seconds reading the test form and entering data into a computer. He pointed at a small cubicle and said, "Please have a seat for your photo."
Daria barely had time to sit down before a digital camera flashed and the clerk said, "Thank you. Your license will be ready in a couple minutes."
Blinking, Daria stepped over to John and Jake. "I always thought you were supposed to feel something other than temporary blindness when you passed one of life's milestones."
John said, "Doesn't knowing that you're permanently in the government's database make you feel wanted?"
Daria pointed her thumb at the camera booth. "Only if they use that photo on the poster."
His attention seemingly focused in the distance, Jake whispered, "No more training wheels."
Daria asked John, "Do you know what he's talking about?"
He simply shrugged his shoulders.
Trent patted his pockets and said, "I know the key's around here somewhere."
John held up his key-ring. "You gave me a copy last year so I wouldn't have to dig through your pockets when you were too far gone to drive."
"Oh, yeah. Good thinking."
Daria said, "We appreciate it, Trent."
"It's okay, don't drive it much since I moved here," Trent said, indicating his apartment.
Monique stepped up behind Trent and said, "That's because you hardly ever have gas money and get around in my car or Max's Tank. Daria, John, congrats. Now I'll have to find something else to do Saturday mornings."
Trent said, "Come on, Johnny. I need to get some stuff before you borrow the car."
After the brothers went outside to the car, Monique said, "Gonna miss having you to talk to."
"Contrary to appearances, I am capable of talking on the phone. That is, if Quinn doesn't have it tied up."
"I get the hint. But, that also goes both ways."
Daria nodded. "Um, yeah. I suppose it does."
Outside, John looked at the box Trent lifted from the truck and said, "Yeah, driving around with a case of beer in the trunk would be a really bad idea."
"Besides, the band gets really thirsty during practice."
John inspected the trunk for anything else that might cause trouble and was pleased to only find a bald spare tire with a 4-way lug wrench and hydraulic jack held down by bungee cords. I have a feeling we're going to be dipping into our cash reserves to keep this thing on the road.
Watching Trent take the beer to his refrigerator, Monique quietly said to Daria, "I'll make the first call."
Seeing John stepping out of the passenger side of Trent's car, Kevin said as he parked his Jeep, "Whoa, Daria's driving?"
Daria stepped out, closed the door and asked, "Do you have a problem with that?"
"Yeah, Kevvy," Brittany said, narrowing her eyes in anger.
"Um…" Kevin sensed something was wrong and tried to get out of it by saying, "It's okay, John. I'm sure you'll pass the test next time."
John pulled a quarter from his pocket as he walked toward the building. "Daria won the coin toss."
"Oh! Uh, yeah, cool, dude," Kevin said, though thoroughly confused.
Daria met John behind the car and took his hand, saying, "I think they need some time alone."
"I think we need to get out of splatter range."
John took a seat next to the woman with long, silver hair, gazed at the dark glasses over her eyes and back down at his art books. "Um, hi Mrs. Eliopoulos."
She moved her head to keep one ear facing toward him. "Good afternoon, young man. John, wasn't it?"
"So, what did you bring?"
"Well, um, I wasn't that good at reading stories last time, so…I brought a couple of my art books and my sketch pad."
"Oh, really? What kind?"
"A book on the Impressionists, one on the Renaissance painters and one on mid-century experimental forms."
"You must be interested in art."
"Yeah. I kind of hope to be an artist when I get out of high school."
"I so miss seeing art. Damn macular degeneration." She reached out and felt around, locating the top book. Slowly, she opened it and said, "Would you mind telling me about what's there?"
"Um, you mean the artwork shown on the page?"
"Please. You're an artist, I'm sure you can figure out how to describe it."
Daria said, "Good night, Mrs. Blaine. I'll see you next time."
When Daria stood up, Mrs. Blaine said, "Thank you, dear."
When he walked up, John said, "Hey, looks like you found an appreciative audience. I just had the oddest experience."
"John," Daria said, "So did I. Mrs. Blaine is deaf."
He stopped and asked, "Are you sure?"
"Positive. What was odd about your experience?"
"Mrs. Eliopoulos is blind."
Daria started walking again, at a faster pace. "They certainly set us up, didn't they?"
"Looks like it."
Silent, they walked out to the car. As they neared it, John said, "Remember, I get to drive back."
"Don't worry; you'll get your turn."
After they were both buckled in and John started the car, he said, "Let's get out of here."
"Owww, my feet," Quinn moaned as John and Daria came in the house. Her head was tilted over the back of a sofa and her recently coiffed hair limply dangled down.
"Looks like somebody else's day sucked," Daria said.
Quinn rolled her head to see them. "We walked around all afternoon and only got a pair of boots and a belly chain to add to your stuff."
John asked, "Why didn't Sandi drive you around in her car?"
"Um, she's kind of not allowed to drive for a while. It's not something we talk about."
Daria said, "Okay, you had to walk. But, it looks like you found time to have your hair done."
"Marketing," Quinn answered. "We had to look good if we wanted people to donate."
"Doesn't sound like it worked," Daria said.
Quinn sighed and looked back up at the ceiling. "Oh, it did. We were too picky."
"Too picky?" John asked.
"We didn't want to give the homeless anything unfashionable. You know, so that they'd feel good about themselves."
"Quinn," Daria said. "I'm sure that the recipients would be happy with anything that's clean and in good shape. Knowing that someone was willing to spend time to help them would add more to their self-esteem then the latest fashion."
Quinn said, "Yeah. But, it's kind of too late now."
Daria turned to John. "Only if you're just after recognition from school."
"But why…" Seeing John's eyes meeting Daria's, Quinn said, "Uh-oh, you two are going into couple mode again. I'll ask later."
Ms. Li stood at the auditorium podium and addressed the assembled student body. "I'd like to congratulate everyone on a very successful Awareness of Others Week. Our 100% participation has earned us a special commendation from the superintendent of schools." She started to read from a commendation letter, "'Dear Ms. Li, congratulations to all the students...' Oh, blah, blah. Ah! 'Rarely does one encounter an administrator with your unique blend of drive and compassion. You are one very special educator, and a very special lady.'" She girlishly giggled at the last comment before catching herself and finishing with, "Oh. 'Of course, the students also...' Et cetera, I won't bore you."
Slumped back in her seat, Daria opened one eye and said, "Promises, promises…"
Also opening one eye, John said, "She must be practicing to run for public office."
Ms. Li held up a medallion. "Now, let's acknowledge our most outstanding volunteers: Mr. Thompson and Ms. Taylor."
Amid loud applause from the audience, Kevin and Brittany stepped out on stage and Brittany accepted the medal. "I'd like to dedicate this award to the senior citizens at the Better Days Nursing Home, who taught me a very valuable lesson: always wear your sunscreen."
Kevin waved his fist in the air and yelled, "Yeah! Ratboy rocks!"
Almost lost in the sound of cheers, Daria said, "Where are the big blue bolts from heaven when you need them?"
John asked, "For them or us?"
"Either one will end our suffering."
After Brittany and Kevin stepped off stage, Ms. Li announced, "Now, let us welcome Lawndale High's Fashion Club, here to present a generous donation of clothes for the needy."
The four girls walked out on stage with Quinn carrying a box. Ms. Li looked inside the box and said, "That's all?" Without missing a beat in an attempt to spin things in her favor, Ms. Li held up a Lawndale High track suit from the box and said, "At least they'll know where the donations came from."
John said to Daria, "It's not like I'm ever going to wear that again."
Sandi said, "We were careful. Just because they're poor doesn't mean that they should be unfash…"
Ms. Li held up Daria's donated jacket.
Sandi stammered and said, "Um…that they, uh, shouldn't have sturdy clothes. To last a long time."
"Sturdy," Daria mused. "That's one I haven't heard before."
Ms. Li set the box behind her and said, "Well then, thank you, the Lawndale High Fashion Club, for such a thoughtful donation."
On the telephone, Daria said, "Weird thinking of Ms. Li as a math teacher, but she had to have done something before becoming a principal."
Monique said, "When we heard she wasn't going to teach math any more, we were thrilled, and then the superintendent dropped the bomb that she'd be principal for our senior year."
"That's just cruel."
"Really. But, we escaped."
Quinn knocked on the door and said, "Daria, time to leave."
"Okay, Quinn," Daria said, and then told Monique, "We're ready to go. Talk to you later."
Daria switched off the phone, grabbed a notebook, and joined John and Quinn waiting in the hall. Going downstairs, Quinn said, "Look, you can just drop me off at the edge of the mall parking lot and I'll walk from there."
"You'll accept a ride, but can't be seen in my brother's car," John said.
Quinn said, "It looks like something from that Hazard Ducks TV show."
"Nonsense," John said, amused at the name confusion. "It would never make it through the first five minutes without falling apart."
"And you want me to ride in it?"
Daria said, "Do you want to ride the bus?"
Quinn sighed. "The things we must endure."
Picking up a box from the back seat, John asked, "What'd you bring?"
"My latest Melody Powers story," Daria said, holding up her notebook. "What in the world is in the box?"
"I decided to bring a couple of sculptures along."
Daria nodded to the entrance of Better Days Retirement Home. "Let's go."
Theresa at the Junior 5 department of Cashman's said, "Quinn, this is really nice. I was a bit disappointed when everyone turned down the stuff from the half-off rack for that clothes-for-the-homeless drive. But this…" She indicated the box she'd just sealed. "…is wonderful. And don't worry about delivery to the shelter. We'll cover it."
"Thanks. Look, can you do me a favor and not say anything? To anyone?"
Theresa said, "Sure. In that case, what do you want me to write on the donor card?"
Finger to her chin, Quinn thought for several seconds and said, "Melody Powers."
"You've got it." Theresa wrote on a card and taped it to the box. After a quick glance out into the store, she said, "Better get this under cover."
Moments later, Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany walked into the department. Sandi said, "Hi, Quinn. Trying to get to the newest releases before the rest of us?"
Quinn waved her hand. "Oh no, Sandi. My ride got here early and I was just waiting for you."
John and Daria crossed the main common room of the retirement home, overhearing bits of conversation.
"Brittany? Who was that again?"
"I never listened to a word she said, if you know what I mean."
"Forget Kevin, my granddaughter's visiting today."
"Just like kids today. Here one day, gone the next."
The duty nurse kept her head lowered as she glanced at Daria and John walking past, pretending to concentrate on paperwork. Once they had gone by, she gazed down the hall at where the teens sat with Mrs. Blaine and Mrs. Eliopoulos. The nurse smiled at the two real volunteers and thought, Damn, I'm good.
Dialog from The Old and the Beautiful by Rachelle Romberg
Thanks to Angelboy for ideas that led to Lawndale Cynema
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.