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 twenty-first John Lane story
Seated at the Morgendorffer kitchen table, Trent hungrily tore through leftover lasagna while Daria and John looked on. Trent said, "This is good, thanks."
John asked, "Trent…is the money situation still a little tight?"
Around a mouthful of food, he mumbled, "It's okay."
Daria said, "Your music distracts you from little things, like eating."
"Cool, Daria. You understand."
"Um, sure." Daria eased John over to the kitchen counter while Trent continued eating. "Only a desperate man, or one with absolutely no active taste buds, would eat that stuff cold."
"Lanes can eat anything." John explained, "Several years ago, Trent lived in a tent in the back yard for six months and ate the sandwiches I brought out to him. My sister Summer survived on only Pez for a year. You don't want to know some of the stuff Penny's claimed to have eaten in Central America, or that she's brought home."
"Can't be any worse than Dad's 'survival training' stories from military school."
Trent scraped the bottom of the lasagna pan and said, "Got any more?"
Daria asked, "You're still hungry?"
"Nah, but the Tank has some holes in the roof."
John warned his brother, "Don't let Helen hear that."
In Ms. Defoe's art classroom, John stared at his canvas in mild frustration. He and the rest of the students were arrayed in a circle around a classic still life of vases, flowers and fruit. The subjects in his painting were oversized and crushed against the edge of the canvas. The side of one vase was broken off to seemingly fit within the border and the shards scattered below. The flower stems were bent over at the top edge and the flowers themselves drooped below. Dammit. All that reading about Pollack and Michelangelo makes me want something big. Really big.
From behind her easel, Brittany leaned over to look at John's work. "I don't think you're supposed to make them fit like that. Couldn't you just paint the stuff smaller?"
"Eh, I paint 'em as I see 'em."
"Ohhh." Brittany looked at the subjects and then back at the painting before whispering, "Maybe Daria's glasses will help."
The school principal abruptly entered the room. After a brief look around the room, Ms. Li said, "Good morning, students. Where is your instructor?"
Brittany twirled her hair and replied, "She went to the ladies' room."
Ms. Li quickly spoke into a small recorder, "10:25, Defoe leaves post without clearance for personal business. Initiate investigation." After pocketing the recorder, she addressed the students, saying, "Anyway, I just dropped in to caution you that the school dance is in two weeks, and security is going to be especially tight. So, if anyone is thinking of rigging a bucket of pig's blood to the rafters, well, they can just forget it."
After Ms. Li made a fast exit, Daria said, "Damn, now what am I going to do with four quarts of blood?"
Kevin Thompson said, "I know. You can put it in a bucket to fall on someone's head during the dance, like in that old movie. Dairy, or uh, something."
"Gee, Kevin. Why didn't I think of that?"
He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I dunno. Maybe John needs to take you out to dances more. Hey! You two can come to the dance with Brittany and me. It'll be cool."
"I don't know…" Daria started to answer.
Brittany quickly glanced at Daria and John as she slipped beside Kevin to say, "What a great idea! We can show them around…together." The last word was sternly accented.
"Oh, um, sure babe."
"Wow, this will be fun," Brittany cheerfully said, but with a hint of triumph in her voice.
Standing at his locker exchanging books, John said to Daria, "Please tell me I was hallucinating in art class."
Resigned, Daria leaned her head against another locker. "I'm afraid not. We're officially Brittany and Kevin's guests at the school dance."
"Maybe we can think of some way out of it."
Walking up to them, Mack MacKenzie said, "Thank you, so very, very much."
Beside him, Jodie said, "We really appreciate it."
Mack grinned at Jodie. "A whole night without keeping an eye on Kevin and Brittany."
Jodie smiled back. "I don't know what we'll do."
"I'm sure we'll think of something."
Mack quickly hugged Jodie with one arm and said to Daria and John, "We owe you."
John smiled half-heartedly and said, "Um, no problem."
At the dinner table with the rest of the family, Quinn explained, "So I said maybe we should get a velvet rope and hire a bouncer to keep out, you know, the undesirable elements, like, um…you know, the people that cause trouble by dumping blood on girls and stuff."
"Heading up the dance committee is a big responsibility, Quinn," Helen said.
Beginning to slice open a baked potato, Jake mused, "I remember dances in high school…" His voice suddenly became a shout as he added, "…and the humiliation! My one date stood me up for Mr. Big Stuff On Campus. But, I went anyway! Boy, did that show her, the little…"
Helen quickly asked, "Daria, are you and John going to the dance?"
Quinn nervously looked on as Daria said, "Um, yeah. We're…double dating with Kevin and Brittany."
Jake suddenly looked up. "Kevin? I haven't seen him in ages. How's he doing?"
John said, "Just as sharp as ever."
"It's nice to see you participating more with your fellow students. I'm proud of you for making a step like this without prompting," Helen said.
When the doorbell rang, Jake said, "Damn charities! Don't they know it's dinner time?"
Quinn stood and said, "Daddy, it should be the Fashion Club."
"Oh, in that case, we better set out some more plates," Jake said, trying to be helpful.
Daria said, "Don't bother. Their mutual brilliance is enough to sustain them photosynthetically."
Quinn rolled her eyes at Daria and said, "Anyway, please remain seated. We'll be in my room planning the dance."
After Quinn left, Jake asked, "We never see her friends. Are they real?"
Faintly Sandi could be heard saying, "Thanks Quinn, for keeping your sister and that guy that lives with you busy so we can get to your room without incident."
Tiffany said, "Yeah, they are so…weird."
After a nervous laugh, Stacy said, "But, it's because of them that Ted and I got together."
Sandi reprimanded, "Stacy."
"Sorry," Stacy meekly replied.
John said to Jake, "They're real; we only wish somebody made them up."
Studying a fold-out page of a book, John sat on his bed and said, "Why do you have to already be a famous artist before someone will let you use their walls as a giant canvas?"
Beside him and looking at the same image of the Sistine Chapel ceiling on the page, Daria said, "Any other guy your age looking at a fold-out would be doing something I…um…"
John kissed her cheek and said, "Not with your parents downstairs…"
She blushed and said, "Damn. Did I really start to say that?"
"Considering that this has more nudes than your average, uh, magazine, and how close we are…"
"That's not helping."
"How about picturing Summer crouched over a toilet, ralphing from morning sickness? Very loudly."
Daria lightly chuckled and hugged his arm. "Okay, that helped to spoil the moment. Thanks."
Folding the page back and closing the book, John laid his cheek against hers. I so wish we didn't have to spoil the moment.
Daria said, "Somewhere, Nietzsche's ghost is laughing his ass off while we try to figure out how escorting Kevin and Brittany will make us stronger."
"We could just let them wander away on their own."
"I don't think Brittany's going to let that happen. In the locker room, she hinted about keeping an eye on Kevin."
"I wonder what he did this time?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"On second thought, scratch that."
"If Jodie and Mack weren't so relieved…"
"We wouldn't get within a mile of that dance."
Daria noticed rapid motion in the hallway through the partially open door. "Hmm. Looks like the Dance Fashion Committee adjourned early."
John looked over in time to see Quinn standing, forlorn, in the hall. "They couldn't have gotten past coordinating their shoes with the velvet-covered ropes."
Quinn paused momentarily to look toward John's room before going back to hers.
Daria said, "Looks like trouble in Fashionland."
"Those velvet ropes will get you every time."
After school the next day, Quinn quickly closed the Fashion Club's advice booth and hurried after John and Daria. She held out a stack of cash and said, "Hey, can I get a ride home with you?"
Daria slowed and said, "You want a ride in the Big Blue Bomb?"
John saw the money and said, "And she's willing to bribe us for the privilege."
Trying to convince them to speed up, Quinn said, "I want to talk to you, okay?"
"I'm game," John said. "My curiosity's getting to me."
"Well then, anything for my dear sister," Daria said.
Minutes later, Daria started Trent's old car and pulled away from the school parking lot. She looked in the rearview mirror and said, "Okay Quinn. Spill."
"I need a dance committee," Quinn said.
John said, "So, the Fashion Club's departure last night…"
Quinn said, "I'd rather not talk about it. A hundred dollars, all yours."
Carefully trying to concentrate on the road, Daria said, "The school paper is pushing my extracurricular tolerance to the limit."
"Daria, please?" Quinn pleaded.
Resting his head back against the seat, John asked, "What's the budget for food, music and decorations?"
Daria took her eyes off the road to look at him. "What?"
Quinn said, "A thousand dollars…minus this discretionary fund."
John smiled. "That'll buy a lot of paint."
"You're not." Daria said. Seeing his grin just before turning back to face the road, she moaned, "You are."
Quinn said, "What?"
"Be prepared for grand scale decorations," Daria explained.
"Great!" Seeing Pizza Prince ahead, Quinn said, "Can you drop me off here?"
"Okay." Daria said and drove into the parking lot.
Quinn got out and turned, handing John a clipboard. "Oh yeah, here's the other stuff you'll need to take care of. Thanks, bye."
After her sister had entered the eatery, Daria said, "You can't spend all that on paint. You will need bread and circuses to keep the unruly masses at bay."
John sat up and said, "I'm sure Mystik Spiral could use a gig."
"What about food?"
He pulled out a twenty. "Eh, buy some chips and dip." He thought a moment and pulled out a second bill. "And some soda."
"What about the rest of that list?"
John tossed the clipboard over his shoulder to the back floorboard. "What list?"
Daria leaned back on a sofa with her sock-covered feet propped on the coffee table, watching television. On the screen, a nervous woman shook with fear while looking at a toilet. An announcer's voiceover said, "What deadly new diseases can you pick up by sitting down? Toilet seat terror! Next, on Sick, Sad World."
Stirring a pot of something that Daria hoped would be edible for dinner, Jake called out, "Hey, Kiddo, where's John?"
She turned to lean over the sofa back. "Up in his room."
"You, uh, haven't had a fight or anything, have you?"
"No, Dad, inspiration took over his brain, like when I'm seriously writing. He won't even notice me in the room."
"Know anything about the big project, or is it a surprise?"
"I've got a feeling it's going to a big surprise for the whole school, and I mean big in more ways than one."
Jake carefully asked, "It's not another poster contest, is it?"
"He's decorating the gym for the school dance."
"Oh, streamers and banners and stuff like that?" Jake said as he lifted his spoon from the pot.
"This is John we're talking about."
"And his creative inspiration has gone into overdrive."
"With a large budget."
"Ulp." Jake stopped, frozen, with the spoon just below his lips.
Concerned, Daria asked, "Dad, is dinner supposed to be that shade of purple?"
Sitting on a duct tape-patched beanbag chair in Trent's apartment, Jesse complained, "Ah man, Lawndale High?"
"It's a paying gig," John said. "Better than what you've been getting from McGrundy's Pub, too."
Perched on a barstool "borrowed" from McGrundy's, Nick said, "We'll still have time to pack up and do a late set at the Zon. I like it."
"Cool," Trent said, standing in what passed for his kitchen. "We're there."
Max, perched on a milk crate, said, "I remember old General Li. Better stash our weed before we head over."
"That would be a good idea," John said.
"No kidding," Max agreed. "She can smell it faster than a bloodhound."
Nick asked, "What are you doing for music between our sets?"
"I figure a stack of tapes and a loud boombox will work."
"You ought to get a real DJ."
"Angling for a little extra work?"
"Now that you mention it," Nick became serious and a little nervous, "I have a child support payment coming up."
Trent said, "You're starting to sound like a businessman, Johnny."
After a light-hearted laugh, John said, "Actually, sounding more like a Morgendorffer."
Max said, "That girl's got you whipped, man."
John turned away for a second to keep from saying something rash. He turned back and said, "Oh yeah, can I get a favor from you, Max?"
"What in the world?" Helen asked as she approached home. The Tank had just pulled away from the driveway with the bald member of Trent's band driving. Jake's car and the rustbucket that John and Daria were borrowing from Trent were parked on the lawn, while John stood in the open garage next to a pile of cloth rolls.
"Helen?" her boss's voice came from the cell phone in her hand.
She replied, "Oh, sorry Eric. Just a little surprised by something."
"Is it something serious?"
"Oh no, just…odd."
"Good. We don't need anything distracting you from this case."
She pulled into the driveway and stopped. "Of course, Eric. No need to worry. Bye."
John walked over as Helen prepared to get out of her SUV. He said, "I hope you don't mind, they'll only be there for a few days."
She asked, "John, what on the Earth is all that fabric for?"
"Decorations to hang from the ceiling for the school dance."
Helen folded her arms and said, "Somehow, I don't think you're making banners that say, 'Go Lawndale.'"
"That would be pretty lame."
"Uh-huh." Her patient stare made it clear she wanted answers.
"Let me keep a little surprise. I'm combining these to make a large mural for the gym ceiling…based on some classical works."
"Okay…but the surprise better not be unpleasant."
"I'm not planning on it. Oh, one more thing. Can you park on the grass for a few days? The driveway is the largest flat area around for me to work on."
Helen rubbed her eyes. "I'm glad we don't have a homeowner's association."
Hearing Daria say, "Abandon all entrance to those that hope here," Quinn gently opened to door and replied, "Um, yeah, whatever. Are you and your boyfriend trying to out-weird each other or something?"
Sitting on her bed, Daria lowered her book and said, "Is John still down at the driveway?"
"Well, duh. He's making a public spectacle of his weirdness."
"He's only doing what you paid him to do."
"I didn't pay him anything, lately."
"True, you were more of the middle-manager passing on the school's money."
Quinn staggered back. "That's for the dance!"
"I've got to talk to him."
"I wouldn't get within splash distance right now, unless you want paint on those clothes."
"But Daria, have you seen what he's doing?"
"No, but I know that look in his eye. He has inspiration and you gave him the means."
"But Daria, this is a school dance. Everyone is going to see it and everyone knows I'm head of the dance committee."
Daria shrugged. "Then, you should've been a little more involved in planning. If you're in charge and don't supervise, don't expect to get what you want, expect to get what the people doing the work want."
"Daria, something like this could drive even more people to Sandi's party!"
Quinn walked over to sit on the bed. "Sandi's throwing a snit because I didn't like her decoration ideas."
"Was that when your committee abandoned you?"
"Yes. Anyway, now she's planning a big party at her house the same night as the dance. Football on a big screen TV, new jets in the hot tub, and so on."
"New jets in the Jacuzzi? That should make Brittany jealous. But don't worry, John and I are still stuck double dating with them to the dance. The gym won't be completely empty."
"But, what am I going to do? Sandi's party could ruin the dance."
Daria set her book aside and rose, beckoning Quinn to follow. They crossed the hall and walked through Quinn's room to a window overlooking the driveway. Daria pointed down at John, still eagerly working and totally focused on the unrolled fabric. "Don't you think that's going to generate a lot of curiosity when John takes them to school?"
"I guess so."
"Play up the mystery so that people will show up just to see what's going on."
"But what then? I don't want them to run away because of some really weird decorations."
"People are lazy and tend to stay put once they arrive. After they start dancing or doing all the stuff that Ms. Li has the cameras installed to catch, they're not going to notice what the gym looks like. Curiosity about John's artwork will get them in the door. I'm sure you can use your popularity to keep them there."
Quinn slowly turned and said, "You seem awfully eager for people to see John's work."
"He's very excited and is putting a lot of effort into it."
Quinn looked back down at John as she recognized familiar motivations. "Because he wants people to see and like his art, just like you want people to like your writing."
"Um, yeah, something like that."
Quinn turned back to Daria. "Deal. I'll try to get as many people as I can in to see his stuff. But please tell me, it's not really going to be too weird, is it?"
"Define, 'too weird'."
Rubbing a sore shoulder, John grumbled as he exited the gym, "Nothing like using PE as an extra football practice…with the non-team students as tackling dummies."
Kevin jogged up beside John. "Hey, um, you heard about Sandi's party Saturday?"
Dreading the headache that inevitably comes from any extended conversation with the QB, John said, "You mean the one that's on at the same time as the dance?"
"Yeah. Look, I heard that they'll have the Green Bay/Denver game on big screen. Cool, huh?"
John inwardly smiled. "Sounds like you'll have a wonderful time there with Brittany."
"And you and Daria, right?" Kevin asked, expectantly. When John didn't answer immediately, he added, "If you two ain't going to Sandi's, Brittany will go all freakazoid on me when I bring it up."
"That sounds like something for you and Brittany to work out."
"But, Brittany's gonna wanna dance if we go to the dance!"
Slowly, John said, "Isn't that the idea of going?"
"Ah man, you mean you and Daria's gonna dance?"
Dance? John quickly changed the subject, saying, "Um, look. I'm doing the decorations for the gym. I kinda have to show up."
"I thought Quinn was doing that."
"Ah, gotcha. Like the guys my dad hires for stuff. He's a contractor, you know."
"I think you've mentioned that before."
"Oh, yeah. So, are you painting a bunch of Lawndale Lions? That'll be cool."
"No lions, sorry."
"It's a surprise."
"What kind of surprise?"
"Can't tell you."
"Aw, man. When can you tell me?"
"Saturday, at the dance."
Kevin pumped his fist, "Yeah, Saturday!"
Dammit! John thought of the lost opportunity.
Jodie entered the school paper workroom and saw John sprawled, face-first, on a table. Nearby, Daria typed on a computer keyboard, apparently unconcerned. Jodie asked, "Is he all right?"
Daria stopped and turned. "Just catching some sleep."
"Busy with the dance decorations?"
"Just a little, tiny bit."
"The whole school's talking about some big surprise for the dance."
"It's going to be that."
"We're not going to regret this, are we?"
"Let's put it this way, it's something you could hang in a chapel, but with a few stylistic differences."
"Knowing you two, that's supposed to make me feel better?"
John mumbled and shifted slightly while a smile formed on his face. Jodie said, "Looks like a good dream."
"Almost like one of the cats dreaming about hunting," Daria said while also watching.
Awestruck by Daria's green, strapless evening gown, John straightened his evening jacket and gently took her hand. "Dance?"
Silent, Daria's shadowy smile said, "Yes," as she stepped closer, resting her other hand on his shoulder.
With a hand on the side of her waist, John stepped forward to start the waltz.
"I wonder what he's dreaming about," Jodie mused.
"He's a guy and he's smiling; what do you think?"
"Either a rare steak or you."
"I hope the two images are not interchangeable."
"Man, what are all those kids doing, staring at us?" Max said, holding one end of a cloth roll while John carried the other. Behind them, Nick and Trent carried a second roll.
As they went inside the gym on Friday afternoon, John said, "Quinn's been building up the mystery about what I painted. Give her a PR job, and damn, she's good."
"She's Daria's cute little sister, right?"
John sharply responded, "Touch her, and you really will be a criminale. Underage."
Max yelled back to Nick, "You owe me five!"
"Dammit!" Nick yelled in return.
"Okay, what was that about?" John asked.
Grinning, Trent said, "You've turned into a big brother, Johnny."
"You're looking out for her like a little sister."
Coming up belatedly with a box of touchup paints, Jesse said, "Hey! That could make a cool song."
"I was…oh, never mind," John said. He stopped near a wall and started to lower the roll, saying, "This is good."
After everyone deposited their burdens, Trent said, "Man, this place hasn't changed."
Max said, "Yeah, still smells like Coach Gibson's rank cologne."
Nick asked, "Where are we setting up?"
John pointed to one wall. "We'll set up the portable deck under the scoreboard. Don't worry, it'll be covered."
"Will there be enough room for the band and the DJ gear?"
"Plenty. It's big enough for the entire football team to jump up and down on."
Trent asked, "Want us to play anything special? You know, for you and Daria?"
John shrugged. "Don't know. We'll probably spend the night just hanging out."
"Mmm." Trent replied.
Quinn softly knocked on her sister's door and entered after Daria said, "Please ignore the man behind the curtain."
"Hi, Daria. That whole mystery thing was a good idea, thanks."
Daria looked up from her book and said, "You're welcome."
"Everybody's waiting to see what John's doing to the gym."
"If they're not careful, they might learn something."
Suddenly worried, Quinn said, "He's not doing something educational, is he?"
"At Lawndale High?"
"At least, nothing obviously educational."
"Most of the students will totally miss it."
"Good. So, um, why aren't you helping John set things up?"
"He has Mystik Spiral helping. Stuff involving the school's maintenance lift and ladders. You know that it's bad to combine me with ladders."
"Um, good point. So, any special plans for tomorrow? Dinner? Dancing? Romance?"
"I promised to help with the final, ground level stuff tomorrow. We'll probably have pizza delivered for dinner, and dancing…have you totally lost your mind?"
"Daria, it's a dance. What else are you supposed to do?"
"I'm planning on drinking punch and watching people make fools of themselves."
"Come on, Daria. You have to at least try. It's fun."
"Do you really want to see me flailing and shaking like some kind of out-of-control robot?"
Quinn shivered and said, "Okay, that was a visual I didn't need."
"I rest my case."
"But you won't have to do that if you slow dance with John."
"I was under the impression that you didn't slow dance."
"Not until after the fifth date. I think you and John are way past that, so you're safe."
"Think about it. Please?"
Daria continued glaring.
"Okay. Just…thought I'd make the suggestion. Bye."
Quinn closed the door and Daria shrugged, picking up her book. About a page into her reading, she started to hum By the Beautiful Blue Danube.
"Oh, Daria, I didn't know you were helping, too," Mr. O'Neill said as she and John approached the gym.
She whispered to John, "What's he doing here?"
"You don't think Li trusted me with a key, did you? He's the faculty sponsor."
"This is going to cost you." In a normal voice, she said, "Hi, Mr. O'Neill."
"Did John pass on my idea about a dramatic reading or two?"
Daria walked past him and said, "I'm sure a good Melody Powers story would liven things up."
Mr. O'Neill fell back against the door frame and stammered, "M…maybe we can skip the readings. You have a good DJ, right?"
Inside, Daria looked up at the panels stretched across the ceiling to form one mural, and another set of panels hanging on the far wall, behind the portable stage. "Mixing Michelangelo, Picasso and Pollack, not too many people could pull that off."
"Well, using the Pollack-style elements between the scenes instead of faux masonry did speed things up a bit."
"And the scenes in Picasso's style to create a Sistine Chapel for the late twentieth century." She looked up and added, "Too bad you didn't have time for more detail."
"More detail would probably get me expelled," John explained.
"Not that kind of detail."
Daria turned her attention to the Last Judgment panels on the wall. After a second look, she chuckled at the various celebrity faces gracing the damned on their way to Hell. "A little social and political commentary?"
"Could you resist?"
"Is that an angel carrying a pitchfork that's waiting for them in Hell?"
"I thought it made a nice touch."
"There's something vaguely disturbing about her. Like, she's trying to tell me something I don't want to hear."
"Eep!" Mr. O'Neill's shrill expression surprised Daria and John.
John said, "Is something wrong?"
"Don't you think that's a little…shocking?"
"Hey, the end of the millennium's coming up, why not be prepared?"
"You're not stocking up on canned food like Mr. DeMartino, are you?"
"That was a bit of information I don't think I wanted to know," Daria said.
"Oh! Oh, sorry. Forget I mentioned it."
Tired and sweaty, Daria slumped against a wall and slid down to sit. "It's a good thing I like you."
Finishing up the last of the edging around the bandstand, John said, "I'd say so. Thanks for helping."
"Was it worth it?"
John came over and sat beside her. "Yeah. Even if nobody notices but us, I've still got the photos."
"What about the real thing?"
"Um…storage is going to be a problem."
"It all went in the garage before. It's not like Mom and Dad ever use it for their cars, anyway."
"I wasn't sure."
"All the garage is going to do is collect stuff. You might as well stake out a claim while you can."
"I like it."
Daria looked at her watch. "If we leave for home now, we can both get showers before Kevin and Brittany show up."
"I'll remind Mr. O'Neill to let the band in for setup. Ugh, I'm not looking forward to riding in Kevin's Jeep."
"You think I am?"
"How do we keep getting into these situations?"
Daria sighed. "Because we're not the cold-hearted bastards we pretend to be."
Jake opened the front door, but Quinn rushed in front. "Bye, Daddy, my date's…"
"Hi!" Brittany said
Quinn stepped back. "Brittany?"
While Jake looked on, completely confused, Brittany said, "Are John and Daria ready?"
"Oh yeah, you're double dating." Quinn turned to her father and said, "John and Daria's ride."
"Oh." When he prepared to yell for them, he saw John and Daria coming down the stairs. "Hey, your ride is here."
"Thanks, Dad," Daria said. "Hi, Brittany."
"Oh, this is going to be so much fun!"
"I can hardly wait."
Walking behind Kevin and Brittany, going toward the gym, Daria was wide-eyed as she quietly said to John, "I'll never complain about Dad's driving again."
Equally shell-shocked, John said, "And Jake's Lexus has working seat belts. We've got to find an excuse to walk home."
The music coming from within told Daria and John that Nick was on duty as DJ, leaving John to say, "I hope Trent's awake."
"Will it make much of a difference?"
"If Trent's asleep on the guitar, Jesse will sing."
"Like I asked…"
"Sure, if death by hammer to the head is different from death by rock to the head."
"Whoa, that's like, some really freaky cool stuff," Kevin said after they passed into the gym.
"Wow," Brittany said, staring up. "That's like, really big. How'd you do that on the ceiling?"
"Anti-gravity boots," John said, with a calm, straight face.
With an odd look of inward concentration, Brittany asked, "Really?"
"Nah, I used the maintenance lift."
Kevin said, "Be back, gotta go to the can," and rushed away.
Several seconds later, Brittany said, "Hey, the restrooms are the other way!" and followed after him.
Daria briefly glanced at Brittany pushing through a crowd and said, "I'm not following."
John said, "We can watch from here."
Quinn appeared with two boys at her side. Daria exhaled tiredly and said, "And now we have Quinn's version of a double date."
One of the boys said, "Cool decorations, Quinn."
Quinn waved at John and said, "The secret's in knowing who to get to do the job right."
Daria leaned her head over onto John's shoulder and sarcastically said, "Little Quinn's growing up and taking managerial credit. Isn't that sweet?"
The second boy gave John a thumb's up sign. "Dude!"
"At least she's acknowledging the little people," John said while nodding in recognition.
"Come to think of it, she has grown up." Daria noted, "A year ago, she'd have taken all the credit without a second thought."
"Dammit, who's been a good influence?"
"We have met the influence peddlers, and they are us."
John laughed and said, "How are we going to maintain our reputations that way?"
"That's interesting," Daria said, pointing to Stacy and Ted at the entrance. "Another Fashion Club defection."
Trent coughed and spoke into a microphone. "Hey, we're Mystik Spiral, but we might call ourselves something else later. It's um, something, to be here at Lawndale High."
After a couple test strums on his guitar, he nodded to the band and counted, "One, two…" before starting to play and sing, "You're an angel in black…"
John said, "Hmm, they decided to start with a classic."
"Doesn't Trent realize that Monique doesn't care much for that song?"
"Oh, she's let him know."
"Must not have been very clear."
"No, she was very clear. Trent's just…clueless."
Brittany reappeared with Kevin in tow. "Hi. John, the singer in your brother's band sure looks a lot like you."
"Um…that's my brother."
Kevin said, "Whoa, you mean you have two brothers in the band? Cool."
"Kevin, no…oh, never mind."
Brittany pulled on Kevin's hand. "Kevie, let's dance."
"Come on, Kevin." She beamed at Daria and John. "You too!"
Daria held up a drink cup. "I need to finish this."
"Okay! Don't take too long," Brittany said and pulled Kevin onto the dance floor.
"One humiliating experience postponed," Daria said. "But, you know she's going to keep trying."
John agreed, saying, "Brittany is persistent."
"I just can't see myself gyrating around like that in private, let alone in public."
Moving his arm around Daria's waist, he asked, "Uh…do you think you can tolerate something slower…and closer?"
Daria looked straight down at her feet. "You had to ask."
"If you don't want…"
"I want to, just, not so public."
"Plus, I'd have to admit that Quinn was right."
"She…planted the idea."
"You know, she seems to really want us to be together. Kind of weird when you consider Quinn's ability to juggle two dates a night."
Daria placed her hand around John's waist. "I think it comforts her. Quinn's afraid to get too close to somebody. She hides it behind her popularity, the way I used to hide behind my sarcasm and sharp remarks."
"But, you let me get close."
Daria gently smiled. "That's what comforts her. Quinn knows that if I can, so can she."
Bouncing and happy, Brittany came back to John and Daria. "Oh, you're not done with that drink yet?"
Daria took a sip and said, "Sorry, Brittany. I don't want to rush it."
"But, you're missing all the fun."
John said, "Where's Kevin?"
"He's…" Brittany turned around and saw that Kevin was still on the dance floor. She stormed toward him, warning, "Kevin, you better not be eyeing Zoe again!"
"Thanks for the save," Daria told John.
"We could have a seat instead of standing around."
"Hmm. Good thinking."
Slightly winded but clearly having a good time after Mystik Spiral finished the first set, Jodie and Mack left the dance floor and walked over to the bleachers where John and Daria sat. Jodie said, "We're having a great time tonight. Thanks, you guys."
"Almost nonstop dancing. I could get used to this," Mack said. "Not having to keep an eye on Kevin and Brittany is great."
John said, "You know, we really could just turn them loose. After all, this is Lawndale. How much real damage can they do?"
Abruptly worried, Mack asked, "You didn't really say that, did you?"
"It's a risk we'll have to take," Daria answered. "I think we're done chaperoning the two lovebirds, and we're certainly not riding home with them."
Before Jodie could say something, John said, "You can't watch over them forever. There comes a time when you have to let them go out on their own."
Daria swung her booted foot. "Sometimes, they need a little nudge of encouragement."
Jodie held Mack's arm and said, "You two are really sick, you know that?"
John and Daria looked at each other and nodded. "Yes."
Jodie started to lead Mack away. "Thanks. We'll see you later."
Mack looked over his shoulder. "But, not tonight."
Spotting Upchuck, John said, "At least he didn't hold a grudge."
"Upchuck asked about playing DJ, but I'd already recruited Nick. I didn't think that they'd work well together."
Involuntarily flinching after watching one of the cheerleaders slap Upchuck, Daria said, "But, it would've kept him out of circulation."
"Damn, I should've thought of that."
Mystik Spiral was almost ready for their second set when Quinn said to Daria, "At least you haven't run away."
"Watching our fellow students has been amusing," she replied.
The door opened to allow Jamie, Jeffy and Joey to enter, along with a puff of wind-carried, early season snow.
Jeffy said, "Hi, Quinn."
"Hey, Quinn," Jamie said.
"Cool dance, Quinn," Joey added.
Miffed, Quinn said, "I thought you three went to Sandi's party."
"It, um…" Jamie started to answer.
"…sucked," Joey finished.
Jeffy said for emphasis, "Big time."
One of the boys that had arrived with Quinn loudly said, "Hey everybody, it's snowing outside. First snow of the year!"
The word spread quickly through the mob and the students migrated from the gym and out into the parking lot, carrying Quinn and company along with them.
Almost alone on the floor, Kevin said, "Snow! We gotta check it out." He tugged on Brittany's hand to coax her along. "You love snuggling together in the cold."
"Oh, Kevie!" Brittany said with pleasure and followed him closely.
Trent looked up and said, "Hey, what happened?"
Max said, "We didn't suck that bad."
John stood up and turned to Daria. "While we have a little privacy…"
She stood and took his hand. "You're…hard to resist."
They walked hand in hand to the bandstand and John asked, "Trent, can you play something slow?"
Trent playfully laughed and said, "We have one thing." He nodded off a rhythm count and they started on a slower, softer tune, but that still had a bit of the band's grunge feel.
The teen lovers embraced and started an uncertain, halted dance. To them, they glided smoothly along the floor in beat to the music in a magical moment of joy that seemed perfect.
Quickly tired of the chill air outside, Quinn stepped back into the gym with all five boys following close behind. Spotting her sister and John, she stopped and happily sighed.
Corey stepped over next to Quinn and said, "Wanna slow dance?"
Joey approached from her other side. "How about me?"
Jeffy nudged Corey out of the way and said, "No, me."
Jamie brusquely pushed Joey and said, "Me, Quinn."
Joey pushed him back, "Back off, monkey breath."
"You back off. I'm going to dance with Quinn."
Corey crossed in front of Quinn to face Jamie. "I asked first."
Jeffy pulled him back. "So what?"
The fifth boy backed away and went outside. "Get me out of here."
Quinn started to smile, but noticed John and Daria, still dancing. The smile faded and she said, "Guys…"
Jamie pushed Jeffy. "Don't worry, Quinn."
Corey shouldered Jamie out of the way. "Don't pay attention to these losers."
Joey got in front of Corey, who started to pull back his arm. Quinn raised her hand and put it in front of his. Stern, but quiet, she said, "No fighting."
"Huh?" the boys said together.
The commotion had attracted the attention of more students, who entered the gym to watch. Their attention soon shifted to the dancing couple and they started to spread out, silently watching.
Still in a world defined only by the soft warmth of Daria in his embrace and the music, John continued the dance and savored the relaxed pleasure on Daria's face.
Another layer of defense set aside, Daria felt herself closer than ever to John and emotionally bonded tighter than before. Hearing the music draw to a close, she kissed him and said, "Thank you."
Wishing to say the same, John returned the kiss. But, before he could speak, they were enveloped in a bright flash and Ted said, "Wow. That's going to make a great couple shot for the yearbook."
Still temporarily blinded by the flash, the couple didn't realize at first that the clapping they heard was for them.
Just inside the front door, Daria and John took a moment to warm up after the walk home. Rubbing her arms, Daria crossed the dimly-lit living room to the entertainment center. After a short search of CDs, she put one on and set the track. As By the Beautiful Blue Danube started playing, she and John wordlessly moved into another embrace to dance.
Lying in bed and listening for the children to return home, Helen's interest was raised by the music. Pulling a robe over her nightgown, she tiptoed down the stairs to investigate.
Their motion carried Daria and John to the large, corner window of the room. Looking out at the falling snow, Daria whispered, "Oh well, I can't use, 'When it's a cold day in Hell,' anymore."
John whispered back, "And it's not the end of the world."
Seeing the dancers, Helen politely turned and went back upstairs.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.
Dialog from Daria Dance Party by Peggy Nicoll