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 forty-seventh John Lane story
"Ouch," John Lane said as he paid the technician at 24 Hour Photo.
"Sorry, dude, I don't set the prices," the guy said.
John picked up the bag of mounted photographic slides and page holders. "How often do you develop this many, anyway?"
The technician handed John his change. "Never, since I've been here. What's up?"
"Art portfolios for my college applications."
"Ah, I get it. But man, that's expensive."
"Tell me about it."
"Good luck, dude."
Daria was waiting in their blue car as he came out of the photo store. She started it and said, "Success?"
"Yeah. Now to sort them and get them into the pages. Be glad that all you had to do was print out writing samples."
Daria checked over her shoulder for approaching traffic before pulling out into the street. "I'll take it."
"With a little luck, we can get this done tonight and in the mail tomorrow so that your mom will get off of our case."
"And Dad will stop dropping hints about Middleton."
John dropped a slide page into the large envelope, sealed it and placed it onto the large pile on the dining table. "Last one."
"The post office is going to like seeing us tomorrow," she said.
"I hope this works."
"With how many applications we're sending out, the odds are good that we'll be accepted to colleges in the same city, or maybe even the same college."
Tom followed Quinn into the kitchen. She took a can of regular and a can of diet soda from the refrigerator for them while he said, "College applications. Got mine off last week."
Watching them while slicing vegetables for dinner, Helen said, "Where are you applying, Tom?"
"Bromwell. It's a family tradition. Or sentence. I'm not sure which."
"Bromwell's an excellent school. Daria, is it on your application list?"
"I hadn't planned on it," Daria said. "Currently, Raft is my top choice."
"And Boston Fine Arts College is at the top of my list," John said.
"Which only improves our odds of being in the same town," Daria said. "I won't mind Boston."
Helen said, "It's good to see you planning ahead."
"Purely out of selfish reasons," Daria said.
Helen smiled and nodded. "You want to stay close."
"Well, yeah," John said. "You'd asked us a while back about our plans. We're planning on going to college in the same town so that we can see each other."
Helen set the knife down on the cutting board. "What are your plans for living arrangements?"
Daria said, "Most schools require freshmen to live on campus. I guess that's one way to boost dorm occupancy."
Carefully choosing her words, Helen said, "You've grown comfortable living together. Being apart, even if just across campus, will be a big change for the two of you."
John said, "I was kind of expecting that you would be for us living in the dorms."
"I'm for you being happy," Helen said.
"Thanks, Mom," Daria said.
"So, you would be okay if we got our own apartment?" John asked.
Helen held her breath for a moment before answering. "You've earned my confidence that you will make a good decision."
The cordless phone rang and Helen said, "I'll get it," as she picked it up. "Hello? Oh, hello, Mom."
John quickly stood and went behind Helen to move the kitchen knife away from her hand.
Helen listened and then said, "What? Erin and Brian are getting divorced?"
"Ugh, and I spent all day in that bridesmaid dress," Quinn said.
Daria said, "John, you can relax. That means your garter is null and void."
Tom said, "Garter?"
Quinn said, "He caught the garter at Erin's wedding. Well, more like, it hit the ground closest to his feet."
"Why does the phrase 'flowing down hill' come to mind?" John said.
Helen said, "There's an associate in the office that specializes in divorce law, I can…Mom, divorces are not simple."
Keeping his face toward Helen, John shuffled back to the table and started to pick up the applications. "Let's get these out of here before autodetonation occurs. I don't want to redo all of this."
"Agreed," Daria said, joining him.
Quinn elbowed Tom and whispered, "Time to make a graceful exit."
"Mom, I'm not even a full partner yet," Helen said.
Tom whispered back to Quinn, "Gotcha."
With pleased surprise, Helen said, "You really heard that? Oh, my. Of course I want Erin to get the best legal advice possible. I'll handle it. Don't worry."
John, along with Daria, hurried past Tom and Quinn.
They saw Jake in the living room, walking toward the kitchen. John shook his head and said, "Run, Jake, run."
"Here she comes," Quinn warned Tom and the rest of her family, all seated in the living room.
On the TV, the announcer said, "In this canine go-go bar, the specialty of the house is Hot Dog! Lap dancing lap dogs next, on Sick, Sad World."
Helen set the cordless phone on the end of the kitchen counter before she went to the others. "I'm sure that you heard the news. Erin and Brian are getting divorced."
"And it sounds like you're on the case," Daria said.
"Mother – made a convincing argument. Erin's going to be here on Saturday."
Jake groaned, "Oh, lord. Does that mean Rita's coming over?"
Helen said, "For once, I'm glad Mom is spending money on my sister. Rita will be at a spa in Switzerland, calming Erin's nerves."
"Wait a minute," John said. "How does – oh."
"You're learning Barksdale logic," Daria said.
"Now this is going to be a difficult time for Erin," Helen said. "I want all of you to be supportive. She's family."
Tom whispered to Quinn, "Just go along, right?"
She whispered back, "It's safer that way."
Almost ready for bed, John took a t-shirt from his dresser and pulled it over his head. As his head cleared the shirt, he noticed the dusty garter sitting on his shelf. Curious, he picked it up, blew the dust away and stared at the small elastic band.
That means your garter is null and void. Daria's comment came to mind. He thought back to that evening two years before and felt a twinge of dismay.
With Jake, Daria, John and Quinn seated on the sofas, Helen addressed the family. "Erin will be here soon. This is a difficult time and she's going to need all the help and support we can give her."
"Meaning that we can expect much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth," John said. When Helen gave him a cross look, he said, "Between Wind and Summer, I've watched the whole divorce thing go down before."
Helen nodded, her expression changing. "So, you have. Then you're familiar with the need to be understanding."
"I've usually wanted to throttle them before I got to that point, but I'll give it a try this time," John said. "Your family's not quite as screwed up as the Lanes."
"I…" Helen started to say something, but then stopped. "I'm sure we'll appreciate your experience."
"Then I suggest that we hide all of the breakables."
"I don't think it will come to that," Helen said, then turned away to whisper, "I hope."
"Aunt Helen, thank you so very much," Erin said as she hugged Helen at the door. She was certainly not the cheerful bride they had last seen. Her hair was dull and lifeless while her eyes were dark and tired.
Helen brought her in and closed the door. "I'm so sorry that all of this is necessary, but I'm going to do everything in my power to help you."
"I just want out."
"Understandable, but I'm also going to make sure you're protected."
"Thanks." Erin looked around the room and saw the rest of the family. "All of you look good. I'm sorry that all you went through at the wedding was for nothing."
Quinn thought of what she'd learned about Daria's storytelling that weekend. "Not entirely for nothing. I learned to appreciate something about Daria."
Erin faintly smiled. "At least it wasn't a total waste."
Quinn waved her hand at Daria and John. "And I think you gave those two ideas."
Erin's shoulders slumped. "I hope I'm not ruining them with my divorce."
Helen guided Erin to the sofa and sat her down. She lifted a bowl from among several on the coffee table and said, "I made some snacks. Why don't you relax for a few minutes before we start?"
"Okay," Erin meekly said.
With Helen and Erin earnestly at work in the kitchen, Quinn herded Daria and John up the stairs to the hallway between their rooms. "I really feel bad for Erin. She looks so lonely."
"Even I would say that she looks worse for wear," Daria replied.
John said, "That's about what Summer looked like when she came home. I hope that doesn't mean that Erin's going to have a psycho meltdown before the weekend is over."
"How bad?" Daria said.
"Do you remember what I said about breakables?"
"My mother makes pottery."
"Took me and Trent a week to pick up."
"Hey, kids," Jake said as he sneaked up the stairs. "Can I join you?"
"Um, okay, Dad," Quinn said.
"Helen's got that lawyer look on her face…" Jake said.
Daria said, "You mean the one that could be used for a Shark Week ad?"
John went to the railing and looked down. "Not that I have any sympathy for him, but Brian is so screwed."
Daria joined him. "Don't you know it."
I hope I never really do, he thought.
Carrying a stack of magazines, Quinn came down the stairs and looked around. Daria and John were watching television and she walked over to them while taking a quick glance at her mother and Erin still working in the kitchen. "How's it going?" she asked.
"No explosions, yet," Daria said. "But they've only been at it for an hour since lunch."
Quinn said, "Only an hour?"
"I think they were doing some of that female bonding I've heard about," John said.
"You mean Erin was bitching about Brian," Quinn said.
Daria said, "Good call."
Quinn sat down and placed her magazines on the table. "I should know better than to ask, but what kind of makeover do you think I should give Erin?"
Daria lifted one eyebrow and said, "The 'I'm me and not somebody else' makeover?"
Quinn sighed. "You know, Daria, sometimes it helps to be somebody else for a little while. And you know I'm right because you do it, too."
"What do you mean?" Daria said. "I'm always me."
"Not when you write. Then, you become somebody else. You're an action hero, or a spy, or the heroine of some historical plot. It's the same thing. We just do it in different ways."
"She's got a point," John said.
John shrugged. "Just like me creating new realities in my mind when I paint."
Daria sat back, accepting John's comparison. "Quinn, then how about something about starting over?"
Quinn shuffled through the magazines. "Newly single and sizzling."
John said, "How about single and wiser?"
Quinn looked at him. "I don't have anything like that."
"Sure you do," Daria said and then tapped a finger on Quinn's temple. "Inside there."
Confused, Quinn said, "What?"
"You've got all the makeup and makeover information you need in your head already," Daria said. "You just have to put it together."
"It's like doing a painting. Lay out your composition and then choose the right media to make it," John said.
Daria continued the thought, "Only instead of paint, you use makeup."
"It's almost the same thing," John said. "Pigment in a carrier applied with a brush."
Quinn said, "You two are weird."
"But right," Daria said.
Quinn sat back in exactly the same way Daria had seconds before. "How do you two do that?"
"Why didn't you mention a pre-nup before now?" Helen suddenly yelled, causing everyone to jump.
Daria stood and grabbed John and Quinn's hands. "Time to go."
"Where?" Quinn asked.
"Anywhere," John said as Daria pulled them toward the front door.
"What about Dad?"
"I'm sorry, Quinn. But he's on his own."
As soon as Tom arrived at the Pizza Prince, he saw Quinn, Daria and John at a booth. He went over and sat down next to Quinn. "Got here as soon as I could. Do you think this is far enough away from the blast zone?"
"Oh, Mom's probably calmed down by now," Quinn said. "But…"
"It's safer here," Daria said.
John said, "Not to mention that there's pizza."
Jake entered and, after looking around, saw them. "Hey, kids!"
Daria said, "Hi, Dad. What brings you here?"
Jake pulled a chair over from an empty table. "You don't think I was staying home alone with Helen and Erin, do you?"
"Now that you mention it…" Daria said.
"We could hang out together," Jake said, excited. "How about a movie? My treat."
"I could see a movie," John said.
"Your nickel," Daria said.
Quinn said, "Tom?"
He shrugged. "What could be the harm?"
As the hero and heroine of the cheesy science fiction movie kissed while the end credits rolled, Quinn leaned over and whispered to Tom, "'What could be the harm?'"
Tom whispered back, "Okay, we killed some brain cells. But, only the weak ones."
John said, "It was no Plan Nine From Outer Space, but it had its moments."
"I don't know," Daria said. "But I think the ghost of Bela Lugosi would've helped it."
"What movie wouldn't be improved?" John said.
Grinning, Jake said, "Wasn't that movie great?"
Daria said, "I can't wait for the sequel."
After everyone had parked, the Morgendorffer driveway was filled with cars and everyone had gathered at the front door, hesitating to enter. John set his hand on the door knob and said, "Why do I have to go in first?"
"Because you can run the fastest," Quinn said.
"Oh, yeah," John said. "Remind me to become more of a couch potato before your mother does any more at-home legal work."
"Don't worry, John. We're right behind you," Jake said.
"Unless I come running out at full speed," John said.
"Oh, um, well, yes," Jake said.
Tom said, "And in that case, we scatter. At least some of us will survive."
"Hmm, he's got functional brain cells, Quinn. I approve," Daria said.
"Here goes," John said and opened the door. Inside was quiet, so he cautiously stepped inside and listened further.
He could hear Helen say, "Okay, with what you've given me, I'm sure that we can get him to agree to a modest settlement."
"Oh, thank you, Aunt Helen," Erin said.
John turned and gave a thumb's up sign. "Clear."
Jake allowed the teens to enter first and he followed, looking over his shoulder while closing the door. "Nothing ever goes this easy with Helen's family."
Tom watched while Jake and John finished making dinner. At the table, Quinn sat with Erin as she spoke on the telephone. Erin said, "Grandma, Aunt Helen was great. Really, I think we have this worked out the best way possible."
In the living room, Helen and Daria watched television. Daria said, "No grumbling about how much money you saved Aunt Rita?"
"I probably should say something," Helen replied. "But without her here, it just wouldn't be the same."
"I'm not certain if that was a positive or a negative comment."
Helen gave her daughter a sad look. "Both."
"I feel used, but I'm happy that I was able to help Erin," Helen said. "As hard as it may be to believe, helping others was a big part of why I became a lawyer. It feels good when I really get the chance."
There was a loud knock at the door. Daria looked at it and said, "Sounds like someone is too clueless to see the doorbell."
"Probably a delivery man," Helen said. "Can you get it, sweetie?"
"My leg's not broken, so I guess I can."
There was another loud knock before Daria reached the door. "Hold on," she said, opening it. "Uh, oh."
Brian stood in the doorway. "Where's Erin?" he said.
Daria could smell the alcohol on his breath. "Um, I don't think she wants to see you."
"I didn't ask if she wanted to see me," Brian said and pushed his way past Daria. "I asked if she was here."
Helen rose and quickly got in front of him. "You are not welcome and you will leave my house this instant!"
"Or what?" Brian said.
"I will have you arrested."
"Yeah, right. You sound just like old Granny Barky."
Helen took her cell phone from her pocket. "Don't push me."
Brian did exactly that and started toward the kitchen as Helen fell to the ground. He glanced back and said, "Don't boss me around."
When he turned back, he found Jake and John right in front of him. Jake's fists were clenched at his side as his anger wrestled with memories of humiliations when he tried to fight at Buxton Ridge Military Academy.
John said, "Brian, it's time to leave."
"Screw you," Brian said. "Erin! Are you back there, you bitch!"
John's eyes switched from Helen, dialing the phone where she sat, to Jake, whose anger was winning over fear. The change in Jake's countenance from wild-eyed to grimly determined caused John to shout, "Brian, it's really time to leave."
"Or what?" Brian said, this time pushing John.
Even if someone was never particularly good at a skill, they never fully lose it. Though he had been pummeled in every boxing match he had to endure in military school, not to mention the after-hours beatings or what his father had done on the rare visits home, Jake knew how to put power into his punch as his fist hit Brian's jaw in a rising, right cross.
The unexpected blow knocked Brian to the side and he staggered. "You bastard!"
Crap! Jake does not need to get into a fistfight. John thought and then dove straight at Brian. That surprised him as much as the punch and he fell to the floor with John's weight falling onto his chest, knocking his breath away.
"We have an intruder and he just assaulted my husband and son!" Helen yelled into the phone. "We need a car here now!"
John drew his fist back and Brian smiled at him, saying, "Go for it, brat. I'm going to sue you and your parents' asses off."
"Thank you," Helen said, into the phone. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at Brian. "Try me," she growled. "You assaulted me and my daughter. My husband is in his home and could reasonably assume you meant further harm. The same for my son. Go ahead and try. Punk."
John had the brief image of Helen holding a .44 Magnum.
Brian looked at her, then John and then Jake, who stood above him, glaring a lifetime's worth of anger. Gulping, he said, "Maybe we could talk this over."
Erin stood behind Jake and said, "No. No more talk. It's over, Brian."
Back to the phone, Helen said, "Sorry, distracted for a moment. We have the intruder subdued. Yes, we still need an officer. Thank you."
From the kitchen, Quinn said, "Dad? That was…wow."
A short time later, a police officer led Brian out of the house in handcuffs. His partner closed a notebook and said, "We'll take care of everything, Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer."
"Make sure you do everything strictly by the book," Helen said. "I don't want to give him the slightest out."
"By the book, ma'am. If you think of anything else, please let us know."
"I will," Helen said.
"Good night," the officer said before he departed.
Helen turned to Jake and said, "What do you think you were doing?"
"I, uh," Jake stammered. "I didn't think, Helen. He just…I couldn't…and it just…"
Helen immediately softened and put her hand to his cheek. "Oh, Jakey."
Daria said to John, "Are you planning on trying out for the football team?"
"Only thing I could think of since I can't punch worth a damn," he said.
Daria gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you."
Watching from the kitchen, Tom said, "Quinn. You can rest assured that I will always be on my best behavior."
Erin, still feeling overwhelmed, said, "Aunt Helen, Uncle Jake, I'm so sorry."
Helen was focused on Jake and didn't notice.
Daria and Quinn grabbed their boyfriends' hands and pulled them toward the door. As they passed on either side of Erin, the sisters grabbed her hands to bring her along. Daria said, "We saw a great movie this afternoon. I really think we need to see it again."
Quinn said, "Yeah, again. Before Mom and Dad get too distracted."
Erin said, "What about dinner?"
"We'll grab some pizza," John said. "Now, let's go."
Erin was glad that the booths at the pizza place were the wider versions that seated six instead of the usual four. She was seated next to Daria, with John against the wall while across the table were Quinn and Tom. They had finished their pizza and were still working on sodas when she said, "I'm sorry, everybody. I didn't think that Brian would follow me."
Daria said, "I really don't think you planned for him to show up, get into a fight with Dad and John and get arrested."
John teased, "That's what she wants you to think. I'm sure it was all part of her grand design."
Tom nodded and said, "I believe you."
"I wish we had this kind of humor around home," Erin said. "Mom and Grandma are just so serious about everything."
"It's the only way to survive," Daria said.
"That kind of sounds like the way Mom describes Aunt Amy."
Daria pointed at each of the young women at the table and said, "We all share certain genetic traits."
Erin laughed. "That, we do. But I can see the difference between you and Quinn, Daria. You get along a lot better than our moms."
Quinn said, "Blame that on John. I think he diluted all the estrogen from me, Daria and Mom."
"Oooh, estrogen dilution. My life's complete," John said.
"Either that, or Daria just mellowed out after finally getting kissed."
Daria said, "I should thank Tom for doing the same to you."
Tom said to John, "Are you also starting to feel used?"
"Like that's a problem?" John replied.
"Hmm, maybe not."
Erin leaned across the table and touched both boys' hands. "You two are so much better than Brian ever was. I don't think I need to worry about my cousins."
"We've been complimented," Tom said.
John said, "We're in trouble now."
"You know I normally don't condone violence," Helen cooed with her head resting on Jake's chest as both snuggled under the sheets on their bed. "But this time – you did the right thing, you big lug."
"Anything for you, honey." With a calm smile, Jake said, "I did. I did the right thing. And you know what? They're gone, Helen. They're gone."
"The ghosts. My dad – Corporal Ellenbogen – the cadets. I'm not afraid of them. They can't beat me up anymore. I can stand up and fight!"
"Jake, I hope you're not planning on making a habit of punching people."
"No, Helen. No. But if I really need to, I know I can. I can."
"Thank you, honey."
Helen smiled and said, "I can make sure it's your pleasure."
Holding her empty soda cup, Quinn asked, "Do you think it's safe to go home, now?"
Daria checked her watch and said, "Better give them another hour, to be on the safe side."
"Yeah, give them some time," Erin said. "Your parents are kind of cute like that. Not like Mom and her string of boyfriends."
Quinn said, "I don't want to hear about Aunt Rita and her boyfriends."
"Don't worry, I wouldn't do that to my worst enemy," Erin said. Actually, they weren't that bad. They, well, didn't have that cute spark your parents have."
"Cute," Daria said. "Or embarrassing. Depends on your point of view."
Erin said, "Oh, really? I can tell that you and John have taken lessons from them."
Quinn giggled. "She's got you there, Daria."
Daria raised one eyebrow at her sister. "Mirror, Quinn. Mirror."
Erin said, "You're going to be okay. I'm glad that somebody's going to get out of this family without being messed up in some way."
John said, "If we're not considered messed up, I don't want to know what is."
"Trust me," Daria replied. "We are well over toward the sane side of the Barksdale Scale."
Erin said, "So, John, you consider yourself part of the family…"
Quinn said, "He is. Yeah, he is."
John thought of the garter still on his dresser and smiled.
The next morning, Erin held the leather briefcase filled with the divorce papers close to her chest while she stood by the front door. "Thank you so much, Aunt Helen. And I'm so sorry about Brian. I really had no idea that he would try to follow me."
"You are so welcome, Erin, and it's not your fault that Brian…well, don't worry about him. He'll be taken care of."
"In more ways than one," Daria said.
Erin waved to the teenagers. "Daria, Quinn, John. Thank you, too. I wish I'd have spent more time with you years ago."
"Trust me, it wouldn't have been the same," Quinn said. "But we're better now. And give us a call anytime."
"I will. I see a lot more bad movies and pizza in my future. Goodbye, everyone!"
"Goodbye," the Morgendorffers all said, somewhat out of synch.
After she closed the door, Helen said to her family, "Well, that was an adventure."
"And we didn't even have to set foot outside our door. Well, except for pizza," John said.
Serious, Helen said, "I know all of this could be disturbing to you kids."
Quinn said, "Mom, there were some things that I really don't want to ever think about, but I think we'll be okay."
Daria said, "Mom, I think we saw the best and the worst this weekend." She reached over and grabbed John's hand. "I think we ended up with the best."
Helen smiled and took Jake's hand. "You're right, sweetie."
Some dialog from: Aunt Nauseam by Jacquelyn Reingold
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.
July - August 2010