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 thirty-first John Lane story
View from a Parade
Mr. O'Neill finished writing, "Lessons from the Success of Failure," on the board and turned to his English class. "Okay, class. It's time to hear about how you failed and what you learned from it."
Low, bored grumbling came from the class while the teacher expectantly waited for someone to volunteer. When no comments were forthcoming, he arbitrarily pointed and said, "John, what did you fail to do?"
Slightly slouching in his chair and visibly bored, the black-haired, blue-eyed boy shook his head and said, "I failed to wake my brother up before noon on Saturday."
Mr. O'Neill slightly frowned and said, "That doesn't sound like you tried very hard."
"Well, I hooked up his stereo speakers to a stage amp and played some death metal music at max volume."
"Hmm…how long did you play it?"
"Until Axl came over from the piercing parlor next door to say the music was too loud and scaring his customers away."
"Oh, dear. Well, okay, who's next? Daria."
As disgruntled as her boyfriend, she said, "I was unable to talk my sister out of going to the Teen Fashion Extravaganza at the mall, despite attempting logic, ethics and finally, bribery."
"And what did you learn from that?"
"That some things in life simply cannot be changed."
Mr. O'Neill smiled wide. "Very good, Daria. That's a wonderful lesson. Okay, Brittany, what did you fail to do?"
The bubbly cheerleader said, "Daria said maybe I could talk to Congressman Sacks about more cheerleader summer schools. He said he'd look into it and maybe that I should help, but then his, um, secretary or something gave him a really ugly look and he said he was sorry, but he couldn't do anything."
A little worried, Mr. O'Neill said, "Well, that's how things go in politics. What did you learn?"
"You can't trust a congressman to keep his word."
Daria smirked. "A lesson in real-life politics."
Mr. O'Neill said, "Mack?"
He sat upright and said, "I wasn't able to replace Kevin as the quarterback."
Kevin grinned and said, "Because I'm the QB."
Mr. O'Neill said, "Yes, Kevin. Mack, what did you learn?"
"That you can't beat an idiot savant at his own game."
"Okay. Kevin, what about you?"
"Um," he said, "I'm still the QB."
Mr. O'Neill sighed. "You said that, Kevin. What did you try to do and fail?"
Kevin looked confused and said, "I tried not to be the QB and couldn't."
"Uh, okay, I think I see."
"Hey, it's like, nature's orders."
"Yes. Jodie, how about you?"
Jodie shuffled her feet, wrung her hands together and looked at Daria and John. "I didn't exactly complete the assignment. Since Mack and I are the Homecoming King and Queen, I asked Ms. Li if John and Daria could be our court. She agreed."
"Oh, well, so you intended to fail to have them assigned, but they were assigned anyway. You failed at your assignment, which meant you still succeeded. You showed us a whole other dimension to this subject. Thank you, Jodie."
Daria grumbled, "Yeah, thanks, Jodie."
Over her lunch, Jodie tried to explain, "Daria, I honestly never thought Ms. Li would go along with it. I'd ask, she'd say 'no,' end of assignment. The alternative was asking my parents to let me have some free time this summer. The answer to that is too depressing to think about."
Seated across the table, Daria said, "Okay, I'll have to admit that I didn't think she'd go along with it, either. I figured she'd consider John and me loose cannons that couldn't be exposed to the public."
John asked, "Do you think I could get away with bringing my Polaroid to photograph the crowd?"
Jodie glanced over at him and said, "That's one of the reasons I thought Ms. Li would say, 'no.'"
"I guess she's still a little annoyed we got close to something with that stolen test that John turned in for Kevin."
Mack said, "I have to ask; have your brains started leaking out yet from tutoring Kevin and Brittany?"
Daria closed her eyes. "I don't know how those two have gone this long without some teacher trying to kill them."
Jodie said, "Anyway, I'm sorry I got you into this. I know you're not big on being put on display, especially in formal wear."
Daria frowned. "I wonder if I could get out of it if I broke my neck."
John said, "Knowing Ms. Li, I doubt it. She'd try to find a designer neck brace."
Daria looked over at him. "Just remember, you're going on display, too."
Helen worriedly looked over the residues, wrappers and empty containers on the kitchen counter, picking up two and asked, "Jake, what could you possibly be making with chili powder and chocolate?"
Jake opened a covered pot and inhaled deeply. "Chicken in mole sauce with black beans, tomatoes and tortillas on the side."
"You didn't add too many spices this time, did you?"
"John and Daria, uh, doubled checked for me."
Getting up from the dining table, Daria went to her mother and said, "I don't want third-degree chemical burns with dinner. Really spoils my appetite."
Following Daria, John said, "He only did that once, well, twice. The third time was my fault."
Helen said, "As long as we don't have to go through that again tonight."
"I might as well get this over with," Daria said while she took a folded sheet of paper from her pocket. "This is from school, Mom."
Helen sighed and said, "What did you do this time?"
"We can honestly say that it wasn't our fault this time. This is all Jodie's doing."
"Oh?" Helen said, opening the letter. After reading, she hugged Daria and said, "Sweetie, part of the homecoming court in the parade, I'm so proud of you."
"Mom, we're not part of the court, we are the court. It'll just be Jodie, Mack, John and myself on that float and then at the football game." Daria's shoulders sank. "Damn, the game. We have to go to a game, too."
Helen said, "Daria, this is wonderful. People will get a chance to see what an interesting young woman you are, and what a handsome young man John is."
Still at the table, Quinn said, "Daria! That's great. What kind of dress are you thinking about wearing?"
The elder sister turned and said, "I hadn't really thought about it. This is all kind of a shock. But before you start plotting, no, you're not taking me out to Cashman's to use me as a dress-up doll."
"Daria, you have to get something. That black dress is okay, but it's a little too casual. The only real formal dress you have is that bridesmaid dress from Erin's wedding."
Daria smiled and said, "Thank you, Quinn. That makes things easy."
"You can't!" Quinn cried in disbelief.
Helen said, "Daria, this would be a good chance for you to pick up something nice."
"Mom," Daria said. "You paid a lot of money for that dress, which I've worn exactly once. By wearing it again, I've doubled the utility of your investment. Besides, it's only fair, since I know John will get away with wearing the same suit we bought for him."
Helen said, "Are you sure, sweetie?"
"Mom, I'm going to hate whatever I wear. I might as well hate something I already know."
"Just let me know if you change your mind," Helen said as she walked to the table.
As he picked up a serving platter with the side dishes, Jake leaned over the counter and whispered to Daria, "Thanks, kiddo. Make a run by the bookstore when you get a chance, on me."
Daria faintly smiled and said, "Thanks, Dad."
Quinn stood in Daria's door with hands on hips. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Excuse me?" Daria said, looking up from her writing.
"You've got a choice spot in the parade and you want to wear that bridesmaid dress?"
"It looks okay and I've only worn it once. Might as well get a little more mileage out of it."
"That's not the idea, Daria. This is a chance to get something new and exciting."
"That I'll wear once?"
Quinn shook her head. "Make it something that you don't have to wear just once."
Biting, Daria said, "Oh, like an evening out at Chez Pierre?
"Exactly," Quinn answered.
"Quinn, I don't know where your gentleman callers get their money, but John and I have better uses for ours than an overpriced pseudo-French restaurant."
"You don't have to go all the time like I do, but something special every now and then would be good for you."
"We do have special evenings, just not like that…or like that, either," Daria said, adding the quick correction that made Quinn giggle.
"Okay, Daria," the younger sister said. "But if you change your mind, let me know. I have some great ideas for you."
"Don't hold your breath."
"I saw some great stuff while shopping for my dress for the Fashion Club's float in the parade."
Daria asked, "You're in the parade?"
"That's what I just said."
Daria shook her head. "Great, Mom's really going to go overboard on the family togetherness thing. I hope you're ready for Dad with the camcorder."
"Daria, I like having my picture taken."
"Quinn, I said Dad with the camcorder."
The redhead's smile faded. "Oh. Hmm…maybe I can hire somebody," she said as she wandered away in thought.
Annoyed, Daria went down the hall to John's room. "Hey."
He turned from his easel and said, "Hey, back. What's up? I thought you were trying to get Melody out of an exploding missile silo."
Daria said, "I was graced by Quinn's presence. What is it about me that makes people want to dress me up like some doll? First Jodie after school, then Mom, and now Quinn."
He went to her and held her hands, saying, "You know what it is, though you don't like to admit it."
She looked down and grumbled, "Or like it."
"My opinion's biased, but I think you'll look good in that bridesmaid dress. If I have to wear the penguin suit…fair's fair."
Daria hugged him and said, "Thanks."
In a side room of the school's library, Daria and John sat at a textbook covered round table with Kevin and Brittany. Brittany squinted at her notebook and said, "Um…ax + b = y?
Daria said, "That's right, Brittany."
"Babe, you're turning into a math whiz!" Kevin said.
Still working with some of the concepts himself, John said, "Okay, Kevin. What letter is the slope of the line?"
Kevin scratched his head. "Slope? That's like a hill, right?"
Daria closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "A little." She sketched a quick diagram of a line on a XY graph. "It looks like the line is going uphill, can you see that?"
"Um, uh…oh yeah, there it is!"
"Good. Now, are all hills the same? Are some harder to walk up than others?"
"That's because they have different slopes." She drew a second, shallower line. "This line isn't as steep as the first one."
"I see," Kevin said.
"Okay. The variable that shows the steepness of the line is in the equation. It tells you how much the line goes up for each unit on the x-axis."
Kevin squinted at the diagram. "That's the flat line, right?"
The bell rang and Kevin looked relieved. John said, "Kevin, why don't you think about it overnight and tell us tomorrow morning?"
"You mean, like homework?"
"A little bit."
"Man, you two are tough."
"We have homework, too."
Gathering books, Brittany said, "Isn't it great that we're all going to be in the Homecoming Parade?"
Daria said, "I'm overwhelmed with excitement."
"I'm a little jealous, Daria. I have to wear my cheerleader uniform and you get to really dress up."
"Yeah, dress up."
"I can't wait to see what you plan to wear!" Brittany chirped as she left the room with Kevin.
Daria dropped her head onto the table and said, "Please, shoot me."
When John saw Jodie and Mack already waiting in Ms. Li's office after school, he knew something was amiss. "Any idea of what Ms. Li wants?"
Jodie shook her head. "No. Just a generic summons."
Daria said, "I have the feeling that it's something to do with homecoming. She agreed with you too easily, so she must have an ulterior motive."
"Doesn't she always?" Mack said.
"Good point," John agreed.
"Ah, good. Everyone's here. Come inside," Ms. Li instructed from her office door. When the four teens had entered, she closed it and went back to desk. "Be seated."
After everyone was in a chair, Daria asked, "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Always to the point, Ms. Morgendorffer," Ms. Li said. She picked up some catalogs from her desk and handed one to each. "Star Teen Formalwear has agreed to sponsor certain school functions, such as the upcoming prom. In exchange for their generous donations…"
"We get to model their clothes in the parade,." John finished, flipping through a glossy catalogue.
"Very good, Mr. Lane, though it would be appreciated if you did not interrupt me again," Ms Li said, giving John a stern glare. "There is a direct benefit for each of you. You get to choose your outfit from the catalog and keep it, free of charge."
Daria matter-of-factly said, "And in exchange, the school will conveniently steer students to Star Teen for their prom purchases."
"Exactly, Ms. Morgendorffer. I'm glad you're such a good student of our free enterprise system."
Mack asked, "Doesn't the Prom Committee normally sell magazine subscriptions as a fundraiser?"
Ms. Li growled, "After Mr. Ruttheimer cancelled his son's 127 subscriptions to Beach Babe Bonanza last year, the magazine company refuses to do business with Lawndale High. We needed a new revenue stream."
"And if we refuse to participate in this rolling advertisement?" Daria asked.
"Ms. Morgendorffer, you consider your word important. You gave Ms. Landon permission to ask about your inclusion in the activity, meaning you gave your consent to participate if chosen. Do you really want to go against your promise?"
Daria sighed and looked at Jodie. "No, Ms. Li."
"Excellent. Please let me know your decisions tomorrow morning. Dismissed."
"Elvis or Bigfoot? The paternity test, next on Sick, Sad World!" blared from the television as Daria and John sat on one of the sofas. They tried to look through their catalogs while John's cats, Zachary and Taylor, nosed the paper aside, demanding attention.
"Why can't we be like you?" Daria asked, scratching Taylor's head. "Permanent fur coat, no need to decide what to wear."
Giving attention to Zachary, John pointed out to Daria, "But the cats are also running around naked. I don't think you want that kind of attention."
Daria used one hand to try to look more through the catalog. "Li must be up to something more than what she said. Okay, she's using the homecoming parade for a fund-raising sponsorship; no surprise there, but why did she include us?"
"Jodie gave her an opening," John surmised. "Instead of two students on display, she could have four. I bet that sounded good to the company rep."
"But why us? Why not get some of the fashion conscious students? I'm sure they'd be happy to get free clothes and a ride in the parade."
"Still trying to get us to be normal?"
Daria stopped and considered John's words for a moment. "Maybe, or at least to get us to look normal. Dammit, she knows I won't go back on my word to Jodie. I hate having honesty used against me."
"Of course, your mom thinks it's great."
"Yeah, getting me involved again. You know, once I'm in college, I'm going to enjoy not being involved with a single damn extracurricular activity."
"Hmm, that's starting to sound good."
Daria rested her head on John's shoulder. "But it doesn't help us now. I have no ideas of what kind of dress to get, and I'm not giving Mom or Quinn the satisfaction of helping."
"So it's up to me, huh?"
"Choosing a tux isn't exactly brain surgery."
Still trying to work around the two cats' demands for attention, Daria and John looked through the catalog more. Finally, John pointed to one outfit and said, "How about that?"
"I've never been much for purple."
"But it's a deep, rich tone and the cut hints more than shows. I see it having the least embarrassment value."
"Good point, though I still wonder if they'll have it in green."
"Now we just have one more obstacle."
Daria sighed. "Telling Mom. I'd better do this one myself."
"Daria, that's beautiful," Helen said as she looked at the catalog photo. She and her daughter were standing alone in Helen's bedroom. "Even though it is a bit pricey, you're worth the treat."
"Mom, you won't have to pay for it."
"Ms. Li cut a deal with the company," Daria explained. "We're basically advertising models and the school gets a grant to pay for things like the prom."
Helen let out a jaded sigh. "I suppose schools have to be creative for funding these days."
"Mom, you do realize that we're being used."
"Yes, sweetie, and it's a regrettable part of life."
"It's honest. But that doesn't stop you from getting what you can from the situation."
"What do you mean?"
"You take bribes from your father and me for things you ordinarily wouldn't do. This is the same thing. You use the money you get from us to buy what you want. After the parade, you can keep or sell the dress." Helen knowingly smiled. "However, you did say that John helped to pick it out."
"Yes, he did."
"I'm sure he thought you would look very attractive in it."
Daria blushed and said, "Yeah."
Helen rested one hand on her daughter's shoulder. "You want people to know you for more than your looks, and that's commendable. You're an intelligent and insightful young woman."
"John knows you for that, and cares for you."
Daria let herself smile in agreement.
Helen then said, "You're also an attractive young woman and you're allowed to let it show through, if you want to be honest about yourself."
Daria reluctantly said, "I suppose."
"You have the Junior Prom coming up. I think you'll be lovely in that dress and I think you and John will be a cute couple."
"You're trying to get me to participate again."
"Yes, but not for me…for you and John. Think about it."
"I will, but no promises," Daria said, slowly walking out of the room.
Helen looked back down at the catalog in her hand and whispered, "You're growing up, sweetie."
The next afternoon, Daria wrapped a cloth tape measure around Jodie's waist and recorded the number. "I feel more like we're measuring each other for our own coffins."
Jodie said, "Hey, this way, the dresses might just fit properly. How would you like to be in the parade with something that keeps trying to slide off of your shoulder?"
"About as embarrassed as I'll be anyway."
Jodie smirked. "But will you be as embarrassed as the guys doing this in the other room?"
Daria smirked back. "Jodie, am I starting to rub off on you?"
"What did your parents think about this advertising gimmick?"
"My dad grumbled something about not thinking about something like that for his business and mom reminded him that little things like this are the fringe benefits of power."
"Jodie, sometimes your parents make mine look almost rational."
"Now you know why I didn't go with my first idea for that failure project."
Daria measured Jodie's hips and asked, "How do you stand being on display all the time?"
"Practice, and I guess, the feeling that I'm being a good example," Jodie weakly said. "Still, I'm glad Mack and I won't be alone this time. Thanks for not bailing out on me."
At a small apartment on the east side of town near the railroad tracks, Daria knocked on the door. After a moment, Monique answered and said, "Hi, Daria. What brings you around?"
"Hi, Monique. I thought I'd come by and pick your brains for a little advice."
"Sure, come on in. Want a soda?"
"That would be good, thanks," Daria replied, sitting on the sofa.
The lean and tall black-haired woman went to her small kitchen and came back with a can. "Here you go. Now, what's on your mind? Johnny hasn't done something stupid, has he?"
"Outside of try to wake his brother before noon, no."
"Why would he try to do that?"
"Stupid school assignment. We had to try to do something that we knew would fail."
"That was a sure bet. Nobody's getting Trent up before noon unless they…never mind."
Daria said, "Thank you for not sharing too much information. Anyway, I came here to ask about how you handle people watching you on stage."
"In what way? It's part of being a performer. Are you expecting to be on stage for something?"
"A float, in the school's homecoming parade."
Monique sat next to her young friend. "You?"
"Homecoming court. I told Jodie it was okay if she asked, but I didn't expect Ms. Li to approve."
"Another failure project?"
"One that bit you on the ass. Okay, so you have to wear some fancy frou-frou in front of the other students and the beasts that spawned them."
"Correct. Oh, and the dress is being provided by a sponsor," Daria said. "We're also advertising."
"That old bitch Li never gives up."
"You have to give her credit for persistence."
Monique leaned forward with arms on knees, rolling her soda can between her palms. "Don't do the 'picture the audience in their underwear' thing; it'll only make you want to hurl."
"Thanks for the warning."
"You won't have the advantage of bright stage lights and a darkened audience, and I assume that they'll want you to do something silly like wave to the crowd."
Daria waved her hand in carefully practiced motion. "I've watched video clips of the British royal family."
"Any time you're on stage, you're basically putting on some kind of act. Remember that is what the crowd will see. The act, not you. Hold onto yourself and know that who you really are will stay safe inside."'
"I think I follow."
"One more thing. When you can, hold onto someone's hand. It helps more than you think."
Pacing the floor of the living room, Helen pointedly spoke into her phone, "No, Eric, I can't attend the meeting. I told you earlier this week that I'd absolutely have to take this afternoon off. No, I can't ask the high school to reschedule homecoming. Yes, both of my daughters are in the parade. No, I'm not trying to get out of a little hard work. I suppose a conference call to my cell will work. I don't think it will be a good idea for me to carry confidential briefs to the parade; I'll have to work from my notes. Okay Eric, I'll hear from you then. Bye."
She turned off the phone and dropped it into her pocket. "That man, I don't know why I put up with him."
Jake poked his head out from the kitchen. "Did you say something, honey?"
"Well, I have the old camcorder ready with fresh batteries and backups. No running out of power this time," he proudly said, patting the instrument.
"Don't forget to take off the lens cap."
Upstairs, in the hallway, Quinn fussed over John's tie. "I swear; you can be almost as bad as Daria."
"Hey, it's not like I've had a lot of practice with these things."
"It should be, like, a basic skill all guys learn." She stepped back. "There, now it looks presentable."
"Thanks. I suppose I should say that you look presentable, also."
Quinn spun around in her shimmering, pink sleeveless gown. "I try."
"Yes, you are trying," Daria said, stepping out from her room. The short-sleeved dress elegantly and smoothly flowed down from her shoulders, gently showing the curves underneath without calling excess attention. Emerging from the lower hem were the tips of matching flat shoes.
Knowing to downplay her reaction, Quinn said, "Daria, the purple works, and I didn't have to finish dressing you."
"You look wonderful," John said.
Daria stepped over to him. "You'd say that if I were wearing a burlap sack."
"You look better than a burlap sack."
"Okay, I can live with that."
Quinn pointed to the airy tiara on her brow. "Don't you have one?"
Daria shook her head. "Queen Jodie and King Mack get the headwear, which is fine by me."
"Now I kind of feel funny wearing it."
"As the Princess of Fashion, I suppose one makes sense for you."
Quinn said, "We better go downstairs before Mom's head explodes from waiting."
"That would almost be worth it," Daria said as they started toward the stairs, "Except we'd have to clean it up."
John said, "Oops, let me grab something." He ducked inside his room and came back with his camera and stuffed a pack of film into the inner pocket of his coat while hurrying to catch up.
Quinn held back a couple paces and whispered to John, "Daria looks great."
"Almost…as good as me."
John silently laughed in response.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Helen said, "Stop right there."
"Mom?" Daria asked.
She said, "I want some pictures. The chances of something like this happening again are next to none."
Jake pointed the camcorder and recorded the teens on the stairs while Helen took a couple of shots with a still camera. She then said, "Thank you for indulging your parents."
Walking through the parade staging areas, Daria asked John, "Did Mom and Dad say which pharmacy they were going to find a spot to watch?"
"I think it was Drugs-N-Stuff," John said. "Don't worry; I'm sure they'll be hard to miss."
He then nodded to the side and said, "Ah, Quinn located the Fashion Club. Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?"
"Four girls in overpriced, cheaply made dresses?"
"No, I meant Jamie, Joey and Jeffy dressed in togas and ready to pull the float."
Daria shook her head and said, "And they sent us to self-esteem class."
Across the street, Stacy said, "Quinn, is that your sister? She looks really cute."
"Yeah, that's Daria. She cleans up pretty well."
"She's almost as cute as you are, Quinn," Tiffany drawled.
"This is going to increase her popularity, Quinn," Sandi said. "How does she rate in the parade?"
"She's part of the Homecoming Court. It was Jodie's idea."
Sandi nodded. "I see. Jodie's craftier than I thought, planting someone that'll make her look good."
"Um, uh, never mind," Quinn said.
Jodie and Mack were already waiting at the float when John and Daria arrived. Along the side of the float was written, "Homecoming King and Queen and their court," with "Brought to you by Star Teen Formalwear," in smaller letters underneath. Mack's tuxedo was virtually identical to John's, while Jodie wore a white gown with a full, flowing skirt and sleeves. "You look really good, Daria," she said.
"Uh, thanks," Daria answered. Looking at the float and then at her long dress, she added, "I hope there's a ladder or steps to get on that thing."
"Jodie, I owe you five," Mack said. "John brought his camera."
John held it up with a light laugh, "Yep. How could I not bring it?"
"That's what I thought," Jodie said. "And Daria, there's a step-ladder on the other side."
Ted appeared with a camera hanging from a strap around his neck and said, "Hi, everybody. Can I get some photos for the yearbook?"
Jodie said to Mack, John and Daria, "Okay, it's show time. Put on a happy face and act like you give a damn."
"I don't have a happy face," Daria said. Looking slightly at John, she went on to say, "Well, not one for public display."
Walking around to the step-ladder, Jodie gently poked, "Then just try not to scare the children."
"I think I can do that."
Once they were on the float, John looked around and said, "Nothing to hold on to; I hope we have a good driver."
Ted waved and pointed. "Move together, Mack and Jodie in the middle. That's it." He took several photos and let the camera rest on its strap while he directed again. "Okay, now just Jodie and Mack." He pointed, focused and took three shots before saying, "Daria and John, you two. Daria, can you smile a little? Please?"
Jodie said, "Don't push your luck, Ted."
Daria said, "Take the picture before I decide to scare the children."
"Oh!" Ted immediately took several photos of the two and said, "That's it. Thanks," before rushing to photograph the next float.
Smiling like two puppies, Kevin and Brittany walked along the parade floats, looking at each like fascinated children. When they reached the King and Queen's float, Kevin called up, "Hey, Mack Daddy. Hey, John."
Mack briefly considered how to use his crown as a garrote before saying, "Don't call me that."
Brittany said, "Oooh, I wish I could dress up like that for the parade."
"Ordinarily, I'd offer to trade, but in this case, I'll pass," Daria said. "Cheerleader uniforms don't do a thing for me."
Kevin said, "Daria, you look pretty good. Kinda that Cat's Heartburn chick from the old movies."
Daria tilted her head and said, "Thank you, Kevin."
"Where have you kept her hidden all this time?" he asked.
Daria sighed and said, "In my closet. I only let her out on special occasions."
Brittany looked a little embarrassed for not acknowledging her friend earlier and said, "Hi, Jodie."
"Hi, Brittany," Jodie said. "Not to be rude, but shouldn't you be getting into position? It's almost time to start."
"Oh, yeah. That's where we were going. Come on, Kevvie, we don't want to hold up the parade."
"Okay, babe," he said.
John leaned over the edge of the float and grabbed Kevin's sleeve. "You said the other night that you're on a float with Angie, right?"
"Yeah, she's the Homecoming Sweetheart. She's really hot."
Recognizing the glint in Kevin's eye, John said, "Trust me; don't do anything up there."
"But, we're like…"
"Trust me," John warned.
Suddenly uncertain about why, but certain that he should, Kevin said, "Sure, um, John."
"Kevvie!" Brittany called.
"Coming, babe!" he replied and ran to her.
Daria stepped over to John and said, "What was that?"
"Just a little favor for what he said to you."
"He was being nice, for him."
"I know...that's why I hope I just saved him from a lot of grief."
Holding onto one of the chair backs as the float lurched along the street, Daria said, "I'm glad I don't get motion sickness. Does this thing have oval tires?"
"Or a bent axle," Mack suggested.
Jodie said, "After a while, the heat and noise get to you and you won't notice."
"Oh, that sounds reassuring," Daria said. "At least the Lawndale Marching Lions are at the other end of the parade."
"And thank the Deity of your Choice that there are no horses," John said.
Daria looked over the top of her glasses at him as she endured a childhood memory. "Or cows."
Managing to continue waving to the crowd and appear to pay attention to them, Jodie said to Daria, "There's a story behind that."
"Where I used to live in Texas," Daria explained. "The Future Cattlemen of Texas was one of the largest clubs. Each member brought their county fair cow…and the principal didn't have the good sense to put them at the back of the parade."
"Ewww," Jodie said. "I hope they had a cleanup squad."
Daria shook her head. "Jodie, as scary as it sounds, most of them didn't see a need. When you spend that much time running around in cow pastures, avoiding them becomes second nature."
John squinted at the strange object on the side of the street, shook his head, and said, "I think the lack of air is getting to me. That looks like a penguin head."
Daria looked and said, "A robot penguin head."
"I think that was from the Metal Shop float," Mack said. "It must've fallen off."
Jodie said, "Wasn't that the one with the giant football player holding the penguin head?"
"That's it," Mack replied.
"That was quite a fall. Good thing nobody was hurt."
John lifted his camera and took a picture of the float fragment. "Unless some poor guy is under the penguin remains."
"Death by Penguin, maybe Trent could use it for a band name," Daria said.
"Don't give him ideas."
Seeing a stocky black man with short, gray hair, along with a jovial, full-figured woman next to a trim, impeccably dressed couple, John said, "Mack, it looks like your parents are watching with the Landons. To the right, about half a block up."
"That's them," Mack answered. "Jodie, do you see them?"
"Yes, and so far, it looks like everything is going well."
Daria looked at both men. Andrew Landon had a top-of-the-line video camera, while Colin MacKenzie held a basic 35mm camera. Daria said, "What is it about fathers and cameras?"
John said, "Beats me," as he took a developing photo from his camera.
Mack suggested, "Contractual obligation?"
"No visual memory," Jodie said. "You should see all of the photo albums and videos my Dad's collected of me. As if he'll forget what I look like the moment I leave home."
"Smile, everyone!" Colin said loudly while framing all four teens in his viewfinder.
Jodie and Mack gave him picture-perfect smiles, Daria assented to a minimal one, and John jokingly grinned like an idiot. After snapping the shutter, Colin laughed, causing his wife Leesha to join in. Michelle Landon looked askance at them and faintly frowned. Andrew let his eyes shift over toward the MacKenzies and half-smirked.
Jodie muttered, "Mom, get over yourself."
Once they were safely past her parents, Jodie sat down and said, "I hate this. Mom and Dad are so proud that we're, once again, King and Queen, but fail to see the hypocrisy that the 'enlightened' school has us up here as tokens."
Daria leaned over the chair back. "Correction: advertising tokens. You and Mack are tokens for your skin color; John and I are here to show even outcasts are included, and we all are wearing the latest teen fashions."
Mack shook his head and sat next to his girlfriend. "Why do we put up with this?"
"Future college applications," Jodie said, and then started to mimic her mother, "Only the finest schools are good enough for our daughter. Jodie, you have to be twice as good as anyone else to get in…and we fully expect you to have your choice of schools."
"Oh, yeah´ Mack grumbled. "Damned well-rounded interests."
John sat on one of the chairs behind Jodie and Mack, scooting it forward. "You two are starting to sound like me and Daria."
"Maybe it's about time," Jodie said. "Pedestals get damn tiring after a while."
John pulled the other seat forward for Daria. "Might as well join the rest of us sitting on our butts," he said.
Daria accepted the seat and said, "Too bad we can't abandon this thing."
"We could always jump," John suggested.
"You can," Daria replied. "I'd break my neck in this thing."
"I won't even consider it in my heels," Jodie said. "We're stuck for the duration."
John shrugged and asked, "Isn't that what high school is all about?"
"Hey, Daria. Isn't that your parents?" Jodie asked, pointing to the front of Drugs-N-Stuff.
Daria looked and said, "Oh God, they're with the Guptys."
"Who?" Mack said.
"Former babysitting job. They have a different viewpoint on life. From what I hear about Ted's parents, they'd probably get along. Kids would probably be okay if they weren't so sheltered." Watching her mother reading notes from a briefcase braced on a mailbox while talking on the phone as her father desperately fiddled with the video camera, she went on to say, "Mom and Dad probably won't notice us going by."
"However, Tad and Tricia seem excited; they're pointing this way," John said. He stood and gently touched Daria's shoulder. "Might as well give them a little bit of a show. Maybe they'll get your parents' attention."
Noticing something in Tad's hand, Jodie said, "What's the little boy holding?"
"It looks like a toy windmill," Mack said.
Daria snorted a subdued laugh and stood. "Somehow, I can see Tad tilting at them when he grows up…even if his parents don't approve. So, I guess I can't give up completely."
"Yeah, it would be better to rise above it than to fall victim to it," Jodie said, rising. Mack followed suit and all four started to wave at the crowd again.
"Just a moment, Eric, it's right here," they could hear Helen saying into her cell phone, while looking through her papers. Jake looked up from the camera and saw the float.
"Helen, there they are!" he said excitedly, nudging her shoulder while bringing the camera up. Helen's briefcase slid off the sloped top of the mailbox to scatter paper across the pavement.
Helen dropped the cell phone and dove to grab the loose sheets, yelling, "Jake!"
Trying to keep the camera pointed in the right direction, Jake looked down and yelled, "You're missing them!"
"What?!" Helen looked up and saw the float drawing close. "Dammit!" she cried as she tried to smile, wave and still gather the tumbling papers.
John lifted his camera and said, "Ah, another Morgendorffer moment."
Jake looked back into the viewfinder and said, "Don't worry, honey, I'm getting every bit of it!"
"I could use some help down here," Helen said.
Tricia bent down and picked up the fallen cell phone. "Hello?...Mrs. Morgendorffer's a little busy right now…Yes, she's right beside me." The girl held the phone away from her mouth and said, "Mrs. Morgendorffer, Mr. Eric wants to know if you think five hundred thousand dollars is a good first offer."
Flustered, Helen grabbed more paper and said, "Yes!"
"She said, 'Yes.'" Tricia repeated into the phone.
Helping to gather papers, Tad read one and said, "I didn't think you could do that with a foot."
Daria elbowed John and said, "And we thought I was a bad influence on those kids."
Random, panicked shouts from somewhere forward in the parade grabbed everyone's attention. Within a few moments, parade floats started making desperate swerves away from the center of the street while those on foot ran wildly into the crowd. Coming down the street in reverse was a pink convertible with "Love Machine" painted on the doors and "Lawndale Swingers" on a banner snapping in the wind above. Eyes wide with fear, Upchuck alternated between looking between the inflatable girls in the back seat to see where he was going and the source of his fear: Ms. Barch stampeding along the street, following him.
Eyes burning with hate, she growled, "You can't run away forever, you perverted….man!"
Behind Lawndale High's science teacher, two women police officers gave chase, each wielding a baton, with no firm indication of which one they were pursuing.
"What the…" Jodie called as the driver of their float jerked the vehicle to the left, slinging the passengers to the side. Away from a handhold, she started to fall face-first, only to be half-caught by Mack before they both thumped onto the deck of the float with Jodie sprawled on top.
John managed to catch himself on one of the handholds and Daria grabbed him around the waist, almost causing both to tumble over as she spun around him.
"Get out of the way! She's gone mad!" Upchuck screamed as he zoomed past and then succeeded in hooking a turn into to a side street as the crowd ran away.
Running along the sidewalk, someone in a lion costume yelled, "Janet!" as he tried to get past a group of freshmen painting a storefront.
Unaware of the mascot, one of the boys turned quickly with a bucket of paint and was hit by the lion. The paint splattered across the mascot's chest as he tried to stop and failed, resulting in him falling backward with a grunt.
"Cool!" one of the other students said as they gathered around the splattered lion.
Ms. Barch saw the fall at the edge of her vision and turned away from her chase. "Skinny!" she yelled as she reached him, pulling off the costume head to show Mr. O'Neill's face. "Are you hurt?"
"I, uh, think I bumped my head," he said.
Ms. Barch nodded and said, "You'll live." She stood and started to march on the paint-wielding students. "You will pay for that," she said, menacingly.
As the younger students fell back, a slight figure in an earth-tone dress stepped between them and the furious Ms. Barch. "Not another step, Janet," Ms. Defoe said.
"Get out of my way, Claire. That testosterone wasteland is going to get what he deserves."
Ms. Defoe stood firm and glared at Ms. Barch. "It was an accident. Mr. O'Neill shouldn't have been running through the crowd."
"Are you defending that…"
Ms. Defoe took a step forward. "You will not abuse my students the way you abuse yours."
Ms. Barch started to ball her fists, but then saw something in Ms. Defoe's eyes that made her suddenly think that was a bad idea. "Fine!" she spat. "I'll get Mr. O'Neill some medical attention."
As Ms. Barch turned and stepped back to Mr. O'Neill, Ms. Defoe said, "Please, not in public. You'll scare the children."
Trying to rise with what dignity she could muster, Jodie said, "Did Ms. Defoe just stare down Ms. Barch?"
"Wow," Mack said as he stood, helping Jodie. "Guess you can never tell what's inside someone."
"Ms. Defoe is a little protective of her students," John said.
"A little?" Daria said. "I didn't think that a rampaging Tyrannosaurus would make Ms. Barch flinch like that."
Stepping out into the street, the two police officers started to reorganize the parade, saying, "Okay, nothing left to see here, move along…"
"I've gotta get a shot of this," John said, grabbing his camera and snapping photos of the chaos.
Daria looked at him, shook her head and then said to Jodie and Mack, "We've lost him until he runs out of film."
Tired and glad the parade was finally over, the four walked to the public parking lot set aside for parade participants to be picked up by their parents. "I thought you said these things were dull," Daria said to Jodie. "I can't say that I liked being on display, but the show was good, in a train wreck kind of way."
Shuffling through pictures, John said, "Really. I've got stuff to keep me busy for weeks. What an amazing display of human insanity."
"Or pod people," a voice said behind them. John and Daria turned to see Tom, who observed, "I must say that this makes my school look stuffy. Does this happen all the time?"
"Only on special occasions," Daria said.
"Hi," Jodie said. "Do you know Daria and John?"
"Yeah, through her sister, Quinn. I'm Tom Sloane."
"One of the Sloanes?" Jodie asked.
Tom frowned and said, "Yes."
"Don't let my father see you," Jodie pleaded. "He's been talking about applying to Winged Tree Country Club, and if he thinks he can meet your father…"
Glad not to hear what he feared, Tom held up his hands. "Say no more. Just give the word and I'll disappear."
Jodie gratefully said, "Thanks." She then offered her hand to shake. "Oh, I'm Jodie and this is Mack."
"Pleased to meet you." Tom looked around more and said, "Has anyone seen Quinn? I was going to say 'hi' to her after the parade."
"Just look for the gaggle of fashion geese," John said. "She's in the middle of them."
"From the way all of you are dressed, I thought that she was here," Tom said. "Daria, John, that's not exactly your regular styles."
Daria said, "Jodie and Mack are the Homecoming Queen and King. We were conscripted into being their court."
"So you had a box seat view of the chaos," Tom said.
Jodie replied, "For the main event, I wouldn't exactly call it a seat." She glanced at Mack, "Though it was a comfortable spot."
"For you," he said.
Jodie tapped Tom and said, "Sorry, but I just saw my mother. I'd better intercept her before she sees us. Nice meeting you, Tom."
"Yeah, Tom," Mack said. "Good luck finding anyone in this mess."
After they departed, Tom asked, "Are you heading in any particular direction?"
"Mom and Dad said that they'd pick us up over there," Daria said, pointing. "Probably is the best place to look for Quinn."
"Mind if I follow you?"
John shrugged. "Nope. But be warned: Quinn's with the Fashion Club and probably her puppy pack."
"I've met them," Tom said. "They're mostly harmless." Daria gave him a slight smirk, to which Tom said, "I wondered if either of you would get that."
They filed through the crowded lot, weaving between cars and people, toward the entrance that Helen had indicated as the pickup point. When they arrived, Daria and John were surprised to see Monique waving at them. Daria approached and said, "What brought you out into this madness?"
The slender woman said, "I wanted to see you all dressed up."
"Hey, you look good." Monique playfully pushed John's shoulder and said, "Daria, you really should trade up." Seeing Tom, she teased, "Or are you already looking?"
"Monique, this is Quinn's friend, Tom," Daria said while linking her arm with John's. "I don't think I'm going to be trading anytime soon."
"So you're after the red-headed princess, huh?" she asked Tom.
Tom shrugged. "Not really 'after.' We're friends and her friends are…entertaining."
"I bet," Monique said, laughing.
John said, "You looked like you were waiting for us."
"Oh, I was," she replied. "I ran into Daria's folks. Helen's briefcase had papers sticking out of it in all kinds of weird ways and she was in a panic to get to the office and away from a really freaky, in a Kewpie doll kind of way couple. Jake asked me to give you a ride home."
"I can see wanting to escape the Guptys," Daria said. "I guess we have to wait for Quinn, though I really want to change back into some regular clothes."
"There she is," Tom said.
Quinn appeared, along with her friends and followers. "Oh, hi Tom. I'm glad you could make it."
John said, "Your mom and dad had to leave. Monique's going to give us a ride home."
Quinn looked briefly back at her friends. "Um, Tom, I wanted to hang around here a little while longer. Fashion Club business. Could you please give me a ride home?"
"Uh, sure, Quinn. But you do remember what I drive, don't you?"
"I'll be fine," Quinn said, dismissing the concern. "I need a little adventure in my life."
"That car's more than a little adventure," John said. "I should know; look at what Daria and I drive."
"Exactly," Quinn said. She slipped between Daria and John and whispered, "You look really nice. Have some time alone without your little sister underfoot."
Daria faintly blushed, but said, "Thanks, Quinn. See you later."
"Bye, Quinn. Later, Tom," John said.
"Bye," Quinn said. "Come on, Tom."
"Okay, bye everyone," Tom said as Quinn started leading him away. After a couple steps, he looked back over his shoulder at Daria and John following Monique to her car, and silently mouthed, "Lucky bastard."
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan, Mr. Orange and Martin Pollard for beta reading.