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-sixth John Lane story
Neptune et Fortuna
In the Lawndale Lowdown workroom, Jodie approached Daria and John sitting at a table and said, "Let's get the rejection out of the way early. Casino Night is going to be on the Princess Fairy luxury liner this weekend. Is there even a tiny little chance that you two will buy tickets?"
Looking up from his drawing, John said, "A field trip to learn gambling; that's impressive."
Daria said, "John, you need to think of it as school sponsored opportunity to gain real-world knowledge of probability and chance."
"Oh, in that case, it makes me feel proud to attend such a forward-looking school," John added.
Jodie shook her head. "You guys."
Daria said, "There's a Sick, Sad World marathon Friday night. We're probably going to be too wiped-out on Saturday to do much more than sleep."
John tapped his pencil on the table for a couple seconds while thinking. He then asked, "Does this 'luxury liner' have those comfy deck chairs?"
Jodie looked at a pamphlet in her hand. "Um…the promo photos have them, why?"
John turned to Daria. "We can catch some z's on the deck chairs while everyone else is inside."
"I'd rather sleep in my bed," Daria said. "Why go to the effort of leaving home?"
"Because we can score some major points with your parents by giving them a night alone…"
Daria faintly smiled. "…without them having to worry about us since we'll be under the so-called adult supervision of a school event. I like the way you think."
Jodie looked hopeful. "So, you are interested?"
Daria took a small wallet from her pocket. "Give us two."
Jodie quickly took the money before Daria could change her mind. "Thanks."
John said, "Just remember, if anyone wakes us up, they're going overboard."
Walking away, Jodie said, "Please toss them a life preserver, okay?"
Feet propped up on the coffee table, Daria and John sat side by side relaxing after school. On the television were crowds fleeing from some old monster movie while an announcer said, "Run for your lives! The sickest, saddest twelve hours on television are coming to you this Friday! The Sick, Sad World Marathon, starting at 8:00 PM Eastern and 7:00 Central."
Jake came in through the front door and saw them. "Hey, kiddo! Hey, John! What's up?"
Daria held up the event tickets and waved them. "We're going to the school's Casino Night this Saturday. For your information, Section 34-C, Paragraph 12 of the Fashion Club Bylaws requires Quinn's attendance. Therefore, it looks like you and Mom will have a nice, quiet evening to yourselves."
John said, "All of the school faculty will be there, plus some parents, so you don't need to worry about supervision."
A silly grin formed on Jake's face. "That's great, kids! Your Mom and I will really appreciate it. If you need a big favor, just let us know!"
Jake changed course and headed up the stairs instead of the kitchen. Daria looked to John and said, "Now we have a nice marker to call in, but do me one favor."
"Make sure we don't get home too early…"
Without pausing, Quinn pushed John's door open and walked in to find Daria prone on the bed reading a book and John at his easel, painting a group of penguins jumping off of a sinking iceberg while the Titanic steamed away in the background. Quinn said, "You already told Mom and Dad about the cruise? They're not going to be chaperones, are they? I would just die if they are."
"Don't worry, Quinn," Daria said. "Our position on parental chaperones at school events has not changed. They're staying home for some…private time."
"Eww, Daria, how can you encourage them?" Quinn said.
Daria replied, "So that they wouldn't be tempted to chaperone, especially when they find out that Casino Night is on that alleged cruise ship."
Quinn snapped back, "It's a luxury liner."
John said, "Daria looked the ship's registry up online. It's a converted fishing trawler."
"I'm sure that they hosed it off before adding the casino," Daria said. "Seriously, it probably has a fancy veneer, but you wouldn't want to look too far below the surface."
"Oh, well, that's not a problem," Quinn said. "So, other than Ms. Li making it mandatory earlier today, why are you going?"
John said, "Like Daria said, it'll give your parents a worry-free night to themselves."
Quinn's face twisted in disgust. "Ewww, John! Do you know what they'll do if you leave them alone?"
"I have a basic idea and dearly hope I never learn the details, but they'll appreciate it."
The disgust on Quinn's face turned to surprise and respect. "Oh, oh, that's good. I see what you're up to. Like in that game, Monopoly, a get out of jail free card."
"That's the idea," Daria said.
"Are you two planning something?"
Daria emphatically said, "No. But it never hurts to have a backup."
Quinn nodded her head as she processed the information. She looked from Daria to John and back again. "Okay, now I know why, but you don't dress up, you don't dance and I don't think you'll play the games. What do you plan to do all night?"
John said, "Find some deck chairs and sleep."
"Come on, you've got to do something! Everyone's getting chips to play with, at least do something with them."
"I'll put it all on one number at the roulette wheel. Odds are I'll lose it all right away, or even in the slim chance I win the first, will lose the second spin." Daria shrugged and said, "Gambling over."
Quinn said, "What about poker? You have a great poker face, and I'm sure you know all the odds and ends thingies about the hands."
"Yeah, but poker requires me to sit at the same table as the other players…not a situation I want to pursue," Daria said while slowly shaking her head. "Nor would anybody who knows me well."
Quinn decided to try one more tactic. "You can use it for your writing. Isn't playing cards one of those spy skills that the Bond-girl you write about, Melody, supposed to have?"
Daria glared at Quinn and said, "Melody is NOT a Bond girl."
"Whatever. Look, she's a spy; aren't spies supposed to be good card players?"
"Quinn, I don't need to use "Method Writing;" I can research what I need to know and work from that. I don't need to play cards to write about it."
"Quinn, I seriously suggest you make a hasty retreat before you dig yourself in any deeper," John said.
Quinn noticed the look on Daria's face and started backing away. "Um, okay. Look, just think about it and have a little fun, okay?"
Daria said, "I'll take it under advisement."
The TV announcer said, "Her amputee boyfriend was cheating so she stole his prosthesis, but he kept right on hopping into strange beds. The one-legged lothario! Next, on Sick, Sad World."
Daria pointed the remote at the TV to mute the coming commercial. "Wouldn't it make more sense to wear the stupid thing instead of putting it on display like a hunting trophy?"
Lounging on the sofa with Daria, John said, "With one leg, maybe it's the only thing he could catch."
"He seems to be catching plenty of bimbos."
"Eh, I think it's more like baiting than chasing."
"From the sounds of it, bait and switch."
Helen walked into the living room and sat on one of the other sofa sections. "Are you two planning to stay up all night watching that show?"
"All night, or until our brains crawl out of our ears to flee," Daria said.
Helen faintly smiled and shook her head at Daria's imagery. "You won't have much energy for the cruise tomorrow night."
John said, "We'll have enough to get onboard and find some nice lounge chairs."
Sighing, Helen said, "I should've known, but I was hoping that you were going to indulge in a little more active participation with your classmates."
"Mom, you know that the odds are stacked against the gambler. We don't need the lesson, but we'll gladly lie around and watch our classmates learn."
"It's more than just the odds, Daria. It's also about reading people. That'll bring you more success than just calculating the odds."
Daria raised her eyebrow. "A little previously unspoken personal background you're willing to share?"
"Let's just say that the same skills work very well for a lawyer."
John said, "That explains a lot about our legal system."
Helen glanced at him. "Yes, it does." To both, she then said, "I know you have plans for yourselves. However, an evening cruise is a nice opportunity to be romantic; I hope you don't miss the chance entirely."
"As long as we don't get too romantic…" Daria was cut off by Jake saying, "A cruise? They're going on a cruise?"
Helen turned to the kitchen. "Yes, dear."
"I thought that they were going to Casino Night at the school."
"They are, but it's not at the school; it's on the Princess Fairy.
Jake's eyes lit up. "The Princess Fairy? I heard that they're looking for a new advertising campaign. Hey kids, are you sure that they don't need extra chaperones?"
"No!" Daria and John said together.
Jake's face dropped. "Aww. I was hoping to slip a pitch by the owner."
Helen went to him. "Jake, we have a special evening planned, remember?"
"No buts, Jake." Helen's voice became a little stern. "We have a special night planned."
John whispered to Daria, "We better do something before this blows up and we lose that marker."
Daria swallowed and whispered back, "Forgive me." Out loud, she said to Jake, "Dad, I'll see what I can do about dropping a few hints to the owner. He'll never expect that he's being pitched by a high school student."
"Kiddo!" Jake rushed over and hugged Daria. "You're the greatest!"
A woman being interviewed on Sick, Sad World said, "I didn't mean to hurt him."
Sleepily, John said, "I was only trying to kill a mosquito…"
"…with a butcher knife," Daria said, also groggy.
Robe pulled over her nightgown, Helen walked behind the teens. "Still at it I see."
"It's almost more fun than we can stand," Daria said.
Helen placed a blanket on the sofa back. "In case you fall asleep anyway."
John asked, "If we fall asleep, how will we use the blanket?"
Helen patted it and said, "I'm sure you won't fall asleep at the same time."
"Isn't a blanket being awfully trusting?" Daria said.
"You'll be more comfortable, sweetie, and I seriously doubt if you'll do anything out here where one of us could walk in on you. Good night."
Daria said, "Thanks. Good night."
"Night," John said.
After they heard Helen close the bedroom door, John picked up the blanket and unfolded it. "Now that I think about it, this might be comfortable."
Daria pulled one side over her and said, "Hmm, I think you're right."
The living room was lit only by the TV when Quinn came home and heard, "Braised in a little rosewater, a heart is one of the best ways to tell someone that you love them."
Quinn looked closely at the TV and said, "Ewww, how can you watch that?"
When John and Daria didn't reply, Quinn quietly went to the sofa where they were peacefully asleep in each other's arms. "You are such late-night lightweights." Quinn lifted Daria's glasses from her face, folded them and placed them on the coffee table. She then straightened the blanket over the couple and stepped back with a smile. "It's a good thing people don't see you like this, Daria, or my status as the cute sister would be in trouble."
"Hrmmm?" Daria murmured.
"Sleep tight," Quinn said before heading for the stairs. "Your secret's safe with me."
Eyes closed, John let the last of his dream linger, that of holding Daria close. He even felt the light tickle of her hair against his nose.
A voice on the TV said, "Fergit black choppers, them's just decoys. The ones ya gotta worry 'bout look like all them others…like the sheriff or the TV news."
John opened his eyes to look at the television. A man with a buzz cut, wearing mirrored shades and a camouflage tank top was being interviewed. The reporter asked, "And what is their nefarious plan?"
"They's snoopin' on us and sprayin' us wit' mind-control chemicals, saying it's bug control. Once everthin's ready, they's gonna take over. Only a few of us is ready to fight."
Daria faintly sighed and shifted her position against him, making John realize that he hadn't been entirely dreaming.
He turned and brushed hair away from her face. "Good morning."
Daria jerked back momentarily. "Huh?"
"Oh, um, yeah. Sorry, you startled me."
"Hmm, now that we've slept together, does that mean that our relationship has moved onto another level?"
Daria groaned, "Smartass. Now, where are my glasses?"
"On the table," John said, leaning forward for them.
"Thanks. I don't remember taking them off."
Handing the glasses to Daria, he said, "I didn't; you must've."
She put the glasses on. "Are you sure, because I don't remember."
John shrugged. "Eh, it had to be one of us."
"I guess you're right."
John swept the blanket to one side. "I'm a little hungry. Do you want some breakfast while we finish up the last hour?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Wrecks?" John teasingly said to Quinn. "I hope that isn't a good description of how he drives a car."
"His name is Rex. R - E - X," Quinn corrected.
Daria said, "Oh, like in Tyrannosaurus. In that case, he may have a chance to survive the evening."
"Like in king. God, Daria, I thought you knew that," Quinn replied in mild surprise.
Daria allowed a brief smirk. Teasing her sister about the ornate gown she was wearing she said, "It certainly looks like you dressed up to impress one."
"Thanks Daria, I didn't think you'd notice."
"Forget princes," John said, "Kings are the ones with real money and power."
Quinn beamed. "That's right! Always set your sights high." Commenting on the everyday clothes Daria and John were wearing, she said, "You know, it wouldn't hurt you two to dress up a bit. Not too much, mind you; you don't have the experience to pull it off all night, but just a little."
Daria yawned and John said, "We don't like to sleep in our good clothes. I hope you can understand."
"You are sooo hopeless."
Daria said, "Yes, and we're the best at what we do."
Helen and Jake stood in the front door, waving. Helen said, "Have fun, kids."
Going to the old blue car, Daria said, "Um, you too."
"Thanks, Daria, we will," Jake excitedly said.
John asked, "When do you want us home?"
Helen said, "The cruise lasts until 11:00, so make it midnight."
"Maybe a little after, don't hurry," Jake added.
Getting into the car, Daria said, "Midnight at the earliest, gotcha."
Daria backed the car down the driveway. As she drove away from the house, John said, "I hope that they remember midnight. I don't want any surprises."
Parking the car, Daria looked through the window at the Princess Fairy docked along the bay front. "Doesn't look like the Titanic, but it does have an Andrea Doria feel."
"Both of those hit something. I was hoping for more along the lines of the Lusitania: torpedoes and allegations of illegal munitions exploding, who could ask for more?"
"I wonder if we can get a ride on the U-boat instead," Daria said as she stepped out and closed the car door. Walking away, she said to John as he fell into step and took her hand, "Your Lane philosophy is rubbing off on me."
"I didn't think twice about locking the car because I know nobody will steal it."
"Ah, such progress."
Mrs. Bennett was at the base of the gangway collecting tickets. She cheerfully said, "Daria and John, it's so nice to see you tonight."
John gave her the tickets and scanned the deck, spotting two lounge chairs. "And we're looking for the best seats on board."
"I hear the poker tables get the most action," Mrs. Bennett replied. "I'm sure you'll be good at that, Daria."
"Why does everyone seem to think I would be good at poker?" Daria locked her gaze on Mrs. Bennett. "Don't even say that it's because I have such a good poker face."
Mrs. Bennett stammered and said, "Oh, um, it's…because…"
Daria didn't let her finish. "I'm not sitting around a table looking at a bunch of people trying to play amateur psychologist while trying to keep a straight face."
"Well, maybe you'll enjoy something else," Mrs. Bennett lamely suggested.
John said, "Don't worry, we've got an angle."
Watching the two go up the gangway, Mrs. Bennett muttered, "I worry when I hear them say something like that."
After Ms. Manson dropped a pile of chips into their hands, John and Daria stepped into the casino room and looked around. John asked, "Now what?"
"We need some grand, fast way to get rid of our chips. Like…a roulette wheel. We can bet it all and the odds are crap."
Mr. DeMartino rushed up to them, looking almost panicked. "Here, Daria, take my chips, please."
"Excuse me?" she said.
He quickly said, "You know, as a thank you for making me want to kill myself a little less than the processed sausages who call themselves your classmates."
"I don't know if I can handle that much extra fun, but tell you what; I'll split them with John."
John shrugged. "Sure, we can lose your money just as fast as ours."
Mr. DeMartino split the chips in his hands and gave one stack to each. "Thank you, Ms. Morgendorffer, Mr. Lane. You almost make me think that there might be some hope for young people."
"Don't be deluded," Daria said. "There isn't."
Mr. DeMartino made a fast escape to the ship's bar, which was oddly serving alcohol despite the predominance of teens on board and adults allegedly there to supervise.
John held his extra stack of chips up in front of Daria. "What was that about?"
"I think Mr. DeMartino may have run short on his meds this week," Daria suggested. "Now, let's lose the money and get some shuteye."
At the roulette table, Daria placed her chips on 13 and John on 23. When the operator spun the wheel, John said, "Damn, should've placed my chips on the same number; it would've halved our odds."
Daria tilted her head and looked at him. "Did you just make a comment on probability that also used fractions at the same time?"
John rubbed his forehead. "Man, I really need to get some sleep."
They watched the ball roll around and bounce into the number 4 slot, looked at each other and Daria said, "Mission accomplished."
"And now, our final, greatest challenge," John said pseudo-dramatically.
Daria looked at the exits to the main deck. "Hmm, forward we have to deal with more wind and to the back, engine noise and possible smoke."
"Among these morons, you know someone is going to try that stupid 'standing on the bow' bit."
"Good point; then aft we go."
"Daria, John, I was hoping to see you," Mr. O'Neill said, coming up from John's side.
John said, "Considering that Ms. Li made this mandatory, I don't see why you're so surprised."
"Isn't it great for students and teachers to get together in a more relaxed, informal setting?"
Looking around at the suits and fancy dresses of the other students, Daria said, "Informal?"
"Yes! No classes, no titles, just one-on-one conversation and a little fun on the side."
John said, "Oh, that kind of informal."
"I knew you'd get it," Mr. O'Neill said, totally missing the point. "So, what's your game tonight?"
Daria said, "Calvinball."
"I've never heard of that. Is it something to do with roulette?"
Straight-faced, Daria said, "It's a specialty version of poker…not for beginners."
"Oh my, sounds like something I should avoid. I hear that there are some card sharps on board."
"Yeah, it would be best for you to stay away."
"Well, be careful, Daria."
"I promise, Mr. O'Neill."
Looking over his shoulder as they walked away, John said, "They're going to eat him alive, aren't they?"
Without looking, Daria said, "Yep."
"Just a sec," John said, making a side-step to the buffet table. "I just want to grab a few munchies before we go."
"The bottomless pit."
"Do you want my stomach growling to keep us awake?"
"Better grab your fill."
John loaded a plastic plate and then joined Daria on the deck, where they found a couple of isolated chairs that they pushed together to make themselves comfortable. John offered the plate to Daria. "Fried cheese stick?"
She took one from the plate and leaned against him, slowly munching on the snack. "I could get used to this."
John settled in, popping a fried jalapeño into his mouth. "Can't complain."
Focusing on the sound of water splashing against the ship's hull, John could ignore the competing voices and music from the casino deck. Eyes closed and holding Daria's hand, he was almost asleep when he heard Kevin say, "Aw man, nobody in there was playing Go Fish."
Brittany wiggled her chest back and forth, showing her low-cut dress. "But wasn't it so nice of the guys at the poker table to let their cards drop so I could see their hands? It made winning so easy."
"Um, sure babe, and I know how to treat a winner," Kevin replied, pulling her close, groping and kissing.
John cleared his throat and said, "You might want to find someplace a little more private for that."
"Eep!" Brittany squeaked.
Kevin said, "Hey, you shouldn't be so nosey!"
Daria said, "We were here first, Kevin. If I didn't know better, I'd think that you and Brittany were spying on us. You wouldn't do that, would you?"
"Eww!" Kevin said, flustered. "That's gross."
Brittany gave Kevin an angry look and pulled him away. Seeing that they were heading aft, John said, "Why don't you go to the bow; you can do that Titanic thing."
Brittany made a u-turn and pulled Kevin forward. As they left, he said, "We get to see an iceberg?"
Daria turned her head to face John. "Good one. Maybe they'll fall overboard."
"Hmm, didn't we promise Jodie to throw them life preservers?" John asked.
"That was only if we threw them off."
"Blurghk!" came from a handsome boy in a tuxedo as he became sick over the railing. John opened one eye and said, "He must've eaten the complimentary sushi."
Eyes still closed, Daria said, "Of all the railings on the ship, why did he have to pick this one?"
The boy groaned loudly and leaned further over the rail.
"Ow, that must've hurt," John said.
Daria reached down and picked up a cheddar fry from their plate. "You know that if he falls overboard, we'll get blamed for it."
"Rex! Are you there?" Quinn called from somewhere forward. The boy looked in her direction and then fled in a panic toward the stern.
Several seconds later, Quinn stopped by Daria's chair. "Have you seen my date? I thought I saw him go this way."
Daria said, "Scare him off?"
"I don't know what happened. We were playing baccarat and he suddenly got all pale and kinda greenish and ran out of the casino. How rude is that?"
John asked, "Did he eat the sushi?"
Exasperated, Quinn said, "God, John. I only let my dates eat fresh sushi. I mean, I don't even think Dad would eat the stuff they had out on the buffet table. Why did you ask?"
Daria said, "He just gave Davy Jones a hearty hello and fled that way when he heard you. Maybe he was being sensitive and didn't want you to see him puking all over the deck."
"Eww! He was sick?"
John said, "If it wasn't the sushi, he's probably just seasick."
"Hmm, the boat has been going from side to side a bit. I thought it was supposed to do that."
Daria shrugged, "Now that you mention it, we do seem to be weaving a lot."
John said, "Maybe it's their way to make it seem like they went out to sea farther than they actually do."
"Who cares?" Daria said. "Quinn, once he's feeling better, I'm sure your date will appreciate your presence."
"We'll tell him you're worried and looking for him," John said.
"Don't say I'm worried: he might get the wrong idea. Look, if you see him, just let me know which way he goes, okay?"
"Sure," Daria said.
John sighed. "Whatever."
Quinn headed toward the stern like a cat stalking prey.
They had barely started nodding off when the rest of the Fashion Club arrived. Sandi said, "Uh, hello? Have you like, seen Quinn and her date?"
John pointed. "They went thataway."
Stacy said, "We heard that Quinn's date got sick."
"Stacy…eww," Tiffany admonished.
Sandi said, "It would be, like, really embarrassing if he did. We hope it won't look bad on Quinn."
Becoming annoyed, John said, "It didn't look like he was in top shape." He started swaying his body to exaggerate the light rocking of the ship. "But sometimes, even the toughest guys can get motion sickness."
Daria joined in, matching John's motion. "Did you know that even with all their training, about a third of all astronauts get spacesick? I bet that gets messy if they miss the little baggy."
All three girls started to look uneasy.
"They say that at Normandy, the decks of the landing craft were coated with stuff from soldiers getting sick. I mean, it could happen to anyone," John said.
Sandi gulped hard. "Um, we've gotta go."
Stacy held her stomach. "Yeah, I'm not feeling that good."
"I'm not, either," Tiffany said. "Where's the bathroom?"
Sandi said, "I think it was this way."
After they left, John said, "I don't think we're going to get any sleep."
"I think you're right," Daria said. After the ship lunged to the side more, she added, "There is something wrong with the way the ship's moving."
"Maybe a group of jewel thieves are taking over the ship and there's a big fight in the bridge. We should go check it out."
"Might as well."
John stood and grabbed the almost empty plate. "Besides, we need a refill."
Daria said, "You and your stomach."
Swinging through the casino deck, they were ignored by everyone intent on the gaming tables or the dance floor. John looked at the bare remains of the buffet table and tossed his plate in the trash. "So much for that idea."
"And we had to face our fellow students to do it," Daria said.
Jodie and Mack saw them and approached. She said, "Hey guys, decided to come in anyway?"
John nodded to the table. "Only for a refill and it looks like we were too late."
"Yeah, the defensive line was hungry," Mack explained. "Someone told them that there was free food, so none of them ate dinner."
"So, you're not staying?" Jodie asked.
"No, we're on our way to the bridge to see why the ship is weaving so much," John said.
Daria picked up a pair of plastic butter knives and handed one to John. "We better arm ourselves if we're going to face those jewel thieves."
Jodie laughed and said, "Have fun guys, whatever you're up to. Just one favor, please."
"What's that?" Daria asked.
"Don't do something that we have to write about in the school paper."
John said, "We'll remain strictly anonymous."
After they left, Mack said to Jodie, "The ship does seem to be weaving a bit. Maybe they're trying to get people seasick so that they don't have to restock the buffet table."
Jodie lightly tugged on his arm. "You've been hanging around Daria and John too much. Let's dance."
Daria and John quickly found the stairs leading to the pilot house. Halfway up, the cause of the weaving became clear when they heard a bad duet singing:
What do you do with a drunken sailor,
What do you do with a drunken sailor,
What do you do with a drunken sailor,
Early in the morning?
John said, "One of those sounds like Mr. DeMartino."
"Yeah, I wonder who the other voice could be?" Daria asked.
At the top of the stairs, the looked in to see the ship captain slouched on a bench set against the forward bulkhead with a bottle in his hand while Mr. DeMartino weaved back and forth against the ship's wheel.
Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Way hay and up she rises
Early in the morning
John turned to Daria. "Do you have any idea of how many verses there are to that song?"
When she stepped through the door, Daria thought the bridge deck looked like it still belonged on a fishing trawler - except most fishermen would refuse to sign on to a ship in such disrepair. She said, "Excuse me."
The two men stopped singing and looked at the newcomers. The captain belched loudly and said, "Guh, tasted just as good the second time, damn fine rum."
Daria made a face at him and said, "I don't suppose you're going to be much help."
John said, "Mr. DeMartino, how are you doing?"
The teacher took a moment to focus. "Mr. Lane, just in time for the next watch."
The captain pushed himself off of the bench. "Watch change? Excellment, excelltent, um, excellent. Keep…keep her on 120 true until waypoint…uh, something 'er other and them, then…do a receptacle, um recycle, or bicycle, or, something like that. I'll be in my cabin." He saluted and stumbled to the exit.
Mr. DeMartino started to follow the captain, but stopped in front of Daria. "Ms. Morgendorffer. I leave the ship in good hands."
Daria warily replied, "Okayyy."
John looked at the wheel, the minimal bridge instruments and tattered charts spread on the bulkhead bench. "Mr. DeMartino, do you have any idea of where we are?"
"Or how to get back to the dock?" Daria said.
The teacher unevenly pointed to a handheld GPS unit hanging by a wrist strap from a hook on the wheel pedestal. "Just follow the arrow."
John held the unit and saw that the arrow pointing to the left and back. "Great."
Mr. DeMartino stumbled down the stairs after the captain.
"This is not good," Daria said. "We need to get the owner up here."
John looked at the GPS display and said, "I can't tell yet if we've gone past the waypoint and turned, or just turned around early, just not all the way around. It might be a good idea for us to stop this thing while we find the owner."
"Good thinking. No sense in continuing the wrong way and as much as we joked about it, I'm not real big on experiencing a real collision."
John looked at two levers on the starboard bulkhead. "Those look like the throttles." He pulled them back to the center, neutral position. John and Daria breathed in relief to hear the engines slow down, but it changed to concern when they sputtered and stopped.
Daria said, "That can't be good, either. Try to keep the ship from hitting anything while I look for the anchor release."
John took a firm grip on the wheel and scanned the moonlit water ahead. "Wouldn't that be up front by the anchor?"
"Maybe, but I've got the feeling that the owner tried to get away with as small a crew as possible, so it might be up here."
Experimentally pushing buttons on the GPS unit, John managed to change the tiny display to a simple map. "It looks like we've moved closer to the south side of the bay instead of heading toward the ocean."
"I suppose the wrong side of the bay is better than open sea." Daria tapped a lever on a port bulkhead panel. "Found it."
"This thing isn't slowing down that fast; maybe you can drop it to stop us."
"I don't think it would be a good idea. If the anchor caught hard on something, it could really jerk the ship around. I don't have that much faith in how well she's built."
John looked back out at the water. "This is going to take a while."
Looking down at the students milling around the bow, curious after the loud clanking of the anchor dropping, John said, "Some of them noticed. I'm impressed."
Daria peeked out also. "The noise probably disturbed their making out sessions." Turning to the door, she said, "Let's find the owner."
A man with close-cropped gray hair wearing a blue blazer entered. "You idiot! What have you…?" Seeing Daria and John, he was suddenly confused and said, "Who are you and where's the captain?"
John said, "In his cabin."
"Are you the owner?" Daria asked.
"Yes, I'm the owner, Lee." He sniffed the air. "Hmm, in his cabin drunk, I bet. You can't miss the stench of that cheap rot-gut he guzzles. What are you kids doing here?"
John said, "We, um, saw him leave. We didn't know what else to do, so we stopped the ship so we could look for you."
"Good thinking, kids; you probably saved me a buttload of money if we'd hit anything. But why did you shut the engines off? You could've left them in neutral."
John said, "Actually, they stalled out when I did that."
Lee nodded. "They've been acting up lately."
Daria asked, "Can you pilot this thing back?"
"Yes, I can. Excuse me, son." Lee stepped behind the wheel and John moved aside. He looked at the GPS unit and grumbled, "Aw, damn. We're way off-course. It's going to take at least an hour longer to get back to dock. We better get started."
He pushed two power buttons below the throttles and listened to the engines sputter and clank, but not start. After four attempts, he pounded the bulkhead with his fist. "Dammit! Those stupid mechanics said they had it fixed!"
"It's going to take more than an extra hour to get back, isn't it?" Daria said.
Lee nodded. He took a microphone from the radio attached to the aft bulkhead and turned a knob to activate the ship's speakers. "May I have your attention, please? We are experiencing mechanical difficulties that will delay our return to dock." Looking pained, he said, "For your convenience, all of our facilities will remain open and a second serving at the buffet table will be prepared. For your convenience, extra deck chairs will be set out for use if you wish to rest. Thank you for your patience."
Lee slammed the mike back onto its rest. "That's it; the captain is history. Do you kids mind staying up here a bit longer to keep an eye on things? I need to run below to get everything set up…and to find out what bozo my wife is trying to hit on, this time."
John looked at Daria, who shrugged. He said, "Why not? It's better than mingling with our peers."
"Great, kids, I appreciate it. I'll be back as soon as I can."
After Lee jogged down the stairs, Daria looked at the radio. "Don't you think it's odd that he didn't try to contact the Coast Guard?"
John settled onto the bench. "He's probably throwing the evidence overboard."
"You mean the captain."
A couple hours later, Daria yawned and looked at her watch. "What's taking him so long?"
John looked around at the visible sections of deck populated with people on deck chairs. Some used suit jackets as makeshift blankets while others appeared to have commandeered tablecloths. "It looks like all the seats are filling up."
Daria snorted. "No good deed goes unpunished."
Tired and irritated, Lee reappeared and entered the bridge, stopping to pour several large aspirin tablets into his hand before popping them into his mouth and washing them down with bottled water. "Thanks, kids, sorry it took so long. This is going to cost me a fortune in overtime and food; I hope the drink sales can make up for some of it."
John sleepily asked, "Are there any deck chairs left? We're kinda beat."
"Don't think so." Lee dug into his pocket and removed a key. "I'm going to be stuck here all night; use my stateroom. Go back to the stern and take the aft stairs by the lifeboat down to B deck. My stateroom will be directly to port. Don't worry about my wife; she has the starboard stateroom."
John took the keys. "Uh, thanks."
"There's a tug on the way, but we'll be lucky to be back by sunrise. Go get some sleep. Raid the fridge if you're hungry. It's the least I can do."
Daria said, "Has anyone called our parents?"
"Ms. Li said that she'd take care of that. God only knows why she has a satellite phone."
"Are you sure about the stateroom?" Daria asked.
Lee made shooing motions with his hands. "I'm sure."
Taking the hint, Daria and John left the pilothouse and walked to the stern. John said, "He seemed in a hurry to get us out of there."
"Probably doesn't want anyone around when the Coast Guard arrives, assuming he's even contacted them."
John shrugged. "The room and board's probably an attempt to buy our silence."
"Right now, I don't care. I want to sleep."
They found the stateroom without incident and went inside. Well appointed with wood paneling and fine fixtures, it was a luxurious contrast to the rest of the ship. Daria said, "I guess he wasn't cheap about everything."
John went directly to the refrigerator and looked inside. "Wow. He definitely believes in good eating." John reemerged with a plate of jumbo coconut shrimp. "Check this…"
As John turned, he saw Daria sitting on the queen-sized bed. Knotting her fingers together, she said, "Did you notice that there's only one bed in here?"
John looked around the stateroom. Besides the bed, there were two chairs, a small table, a desk, a dresser and a door to a restroom. He gazed down at the plate and tried to sound hopeful. "It'll be just like last night when we fell asleep next to each other on the sofa."
Daria looked back at the moonlight streaming through windows that looked out from the ship's stern. "Except this is a lot more romantic and we're not in the living room where Mom and Dad could walk in at any moment."
No longer hungry, John set the plate down on the dresser. "Yeah. It is very romantic."
Cheeks pink, Daria looked at the floor. "You know that guys don't have a monopoly on thinking about…that."
That caused John to blush. "Uh…"
When Daria lifted her head, the loving warmth in her eyes was like a siren's song to John.
Loud pounding on the door was followed by a shrill woman's voice. "You cheap bastard! I want my Champagne back!"
Both of the teens jumped at the sudden outburst.
More pounding. "Don't you dare ignore me!"
The mood completely spoiled, Daria said, "That must be the owner's wife."
Relieved, yet deeply disappointed, John said, "Um…there's a bottle of Champagne in the fridge. That must be what she's talking about."
"Open the door, right this minute!" the woman outside yelled.
John shrugged and went to the door. "If I answer, maybe she'll shut up." Opening it, he faced a middle-aged woman with bleached blond hair. He asked, "Can I help you?"
The woman recoiled at seeing him. "Ewww, I didn't know he was into that. On second thought, I don't want the Champagne."
Irritated, Daria said, "It's not what you think."
"Ewww. I don't know if seeing you in there is worse or better," the woman said, looking past John at Daria as she backed away from the door. "I'm going back to the bar for a stiff drink."
John stepped out in front of her. "Ma'am, it is not what you think. Please listen. I'm assuming that you're Lee's wife, right?"
"Yes, I'm DeeDee."
Daria stepped into the corridor with them. "We saw the captain leave the bridge and stopped the boat so it wouldn't hit anything."
"I told Lee to fire that drunken idiot, but no, his buddy needed a job," DeeDee complained.
John said, "The engines wouldn't restart, so we agreed to watch the bridge while he went around getting things in order for the long wait. Since all the deck chairs were claimed by the time he got back, he offered us his room since he had to stay up to deal with towing the ship back to port."
DeeDee looked mildly embarrassed. "Oh, so you're not…"
"No!" Daria and John emphatically said.
"Oh. Sorry." DeeDee looked into the room. "Look kids, could you still grab my Champagne? I know my husband has it in there somewhere."
Daria shrugged. "Lee didn't say not to give anything to his wife, so why not?"
"I'll get it," John said, going back into the stateroom.
DeeDee leaned close to Daria, winked the subtlety of the Titanic hitting an iceberg, and said, "He's a cutie, hope you have fun tonight."
Daria blinked in surprise at her suggestion, followed by a blush. "We…uh…decided we weren't ready for that. We're hoping to just get some sleep tonight."
Catching the tone in Daria's voice, DeeDee said, "Aw, that's so sweet."
John returned with the bottle. "Here you go."
DeeDee took it. "Thank you, young man. I'm sorry I disturbed you. Sweet dreams."
John said, "Thanks."
DeeDee hurried down the corridor to her cabin door, opening it and saying to the waiting Mr. Gibson, "Okay, Coach, it's time to have some fun!"
John nudged Daria back into their room and closed the door. "Gouge my eyes out, please."
Polite knocking woke Daria the next morning. She carefully moved her hand from where it rested on John's chest and rose from the bed. Looking down at her clothes, Daria couldn't resist a short laugh at the wrinkles caused by sleeping in them, as well as the contrast of her sock-covered feet. She opened the door and saw Lee.
"Good morning, miss," he said. "We're about forty-five minutes from the dock and I thought that I'd wake you two early so you won't be seen by your classmates leaving a stateroom."
"Oh! Thanks," Daria said, thinking about the rumor potential if that happened. "We'll be out in a minute."
"I'll wait here."
Daria closed the door and hurried to the other side of the bed, shaking John. "Wake up."
"Hmm?" he mumbled.
Daria shook him harder. "Wake up."
Suddenly worried, he sat up straight. "Daria?"
"We were so tired last night that we didn't think of being seen leaving the stateroom. We need to get going."
"Oh, crap!" John cried, jumping up and looking for his boots. "There's no telling what kind of stories our beloved classmates would come up with."
"Lee woke us up early to avoid that, but I don't want to risk a delay," Daria said as she went around the bed to sit down and put on her boots.
Less than a minute later, they opened the door and at Lee's nod, stepped out. John said, "Thanks."
"Thanks in return," Lee said. "Kids, can I ask a favor?"
Cautiously, Daria said, "What kind of favor?"
"Things will go a lot smoother for all of us if the reporters waiting at the dock don't find out that you discovered the captain drunk and then spent the night in my cabin."
"Uh-huh," John said, catching Lee's intent.
Daria reached into her pocket and took out her father's business card. "You know, having to get towed back to port probably isn't going to be good for business. If I'm not mistaken, you're probably going to need a whole new marketing campaign."
Lee took the card. "Hmm, Morgendorffer Consulting. Are they any good?"
"We worked there last summer."
Taking advantage of their head start, John and Daria were waiting at the buffet table as the caterer placed some reheated leftovers for a quick breakfast while Lee and the ship's bartender went around waking students. They were able to serve themselves before anyone else got to the buffet and made off with some of the choicest items. Sitting at a poker table to eat their breakfast, they were interrupted by Quinn, who looked as fresh as she was the night before. Quinn said to them, "There you are! What did you do, sleep on the deck? You look horrible."
John waved his hand at the rumpled teenagers populating the room and said, "Look around; everyone looks like they slept in their clothes…because they slept in their clothes."
Daria asked, "Except you, Quinn. How did you pull off not looking like the rest of us?"
Cheerful, Quinn explained, "Oh, it's a gift."
Looking wilted, the rest of the Fashion Club arrived. Sandi said, "Quinn, where were you able to find a decent mirror?"
"Tell us, please," Stacy begged.
Tiffany said, "Yeah, before anyone recognizes us."
She pointed. "Behind the bar. There's plenty of room."
After the three girls left, Quinn turned back to Daria and John, smirking. She said, "Okay, I have a radar for these things. Come on, I couldn't let myself be seen in public looking like them, or you."
John started to laugh, causing Daria and Quinn to stare at him. Finally, he was able to say, "Daria, I don't think we have to worry about getting home too early."
That caused Daria to lightly chuckle. "No chance of that."
Quinn tilted her head, still not picking up on the joke.
John said, "Jake and Helen, home alone? By now, they should have it out of their system."
Quinn's face dropped in shock. "John! Do you have to remind me that they do that stuff?"
"It's a gift."
Looking over the ship's rail at the cluster of reporters, cameras and worried parents waiting at the dock, Jodie said, "Well Daria, it looks like the whole school ended up doing something that'll have to go in the Lowdown."
Standing beside Jodie, Daria said, "Our own adventure at sea."
"Too bad you slept through most of it. Everyone got a little freaky when the owner told them that the engines had broken down."
On Jodie's other side, Mack said, "You probably would've been amused, Daria."
On the opposite side of Daria, John said, "Yeah, we missed all the fun."
"Let me guess," Jodie said, "You're going to evade the media and make a break for it."
Daria said, "Jodie, you're a better public speaker than I am."
John said, "We wouldn't have much to say."
"Besides," Daria said, seemingly off the cuff, "Who wants to hear about us sleeping next to the only lifeboat on board?"
"Okay," Jodie agreed before giving Daria a look that also said, "You're not telling me everything, but I'll go along."
John stopped the car in the driveway behind Jake's car and turned to Daria. "I'm worried. Do you think that Jodie mentioning the only lifeboat was enough?"
Staying in her seat, Daria said, "With all that press coverage back there, either the Coast Guard or some reporter will investigate and find all the problems aboard the Fairy Princess. She'll never go to sea again unless Lee cleans up his act."
John nodded in understanding. "With Jodie mentioning something that anyone really could've noticed, we look uninvolved."
"In the end, we got what we wanted, a good night's sleep. The deathtrap cruise ship will get put into proper shape, and nobody will have a hint that we shared that room, avoiding any unpleasant rumors."
John slid across the seat and kissed Daria. "You're brilliant. That's why I love you."
She gently pushed him back slightly. "John, I really don't want anyone knowing about that and making any assumptions."
"If DeeDee hadn't shown up when she did…John…" Daria swallowed hard, forcing herself to say, "I know I wasn't ready, but I wanted to."
"Oh," John said, remembering the overwhelming temptation of that moment.
"If people started talking, it would be that much harder to resist. Please don't take this the wrong way, because I find you very appealing and part of me very much wants to. But…an important part of me still isn't ready."
"I think I know what you mean. It would've changed things in ways that…that we're not prepared for."
She clutched both of his hands tightly in hers. "I'm so relieved that you understand."
"I think we just got a little closer."
"I think you're right." Daria nodded toward the door. "We better head in before Mom and Dad get weird. They're probably on edge, waiting for us to get home after everything."
"Yeah, you're right. Let's go."
Coming around the car, Daria stopped suddenly with her eyes locked on the large corner window of the house. "Did I just see what I think I did?"
John followed her gaze and caught a glimpse of a caped figure moving behind the drawn curtain. "We got home too early."
Some dialog from Just Add Water by Peggy Nicoll
Drunken Sailor, traditional sea chantey
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.