Forest Primeval Part 2

Author: Deref

Category: Romance

Gentle reader, this is a chapter in a series. It will make much more sense if you read what has gone before, starting with "My Afternoon at Tom's". If you haven't the time or the inclination to read the whole series, you'll find Bird on the Wire, Quinntessence Parts 1 and 2, Tie Died, My Darling, and Forest Primeval worthwhile background to the events that follow.

Rating: R


"Mrs. Morgendorffer, Mr. Lane, thank you for coming. Please take a seat," said Angela Li as she ushered the unlikely pair of  Helen Morgendorffer and Trent Lane into her office, closing the door behind her.

"Are we in trouble?" Trent asked.

"No, Mr. Lane, you're not in trouble," Ms. Li sighed. "In the absence of your parents you're, unfortunately, the senior available adult member of your household, which is why I've asked you here."

"Oh," Trent said, sitting in an uncomfortably upholstered visitor's chair facing the principal's desk, and feeling a distinct sense of deja vu. "I thought it might be something to do with that library book."

"Ms Li, can we get to the point, please?" Helen interjected. "I have a very important deposition that I should be working on. I hope this is important."

"Yes, Mrs. Morgendorffer, of course. Mrs. Morgendorrfer, Mr. Lane, this is a rather delicate matter. I have some news that may come as something of a shock to you. More importantly, it is something that may reflect badly on Laaaaawndale High."

"Well, we wouldn't want that, would we?" Helen muttered, an edge to her voice.

"Indeed we wouldn't, Mrs. Morgendorffer, particularly since the school is in the running this year for the State High School Principals' Assocation's Excellence in High School Management award."

"It must have fallen down behind my bed."

Ms. Li glanced at Trent. "Mr. Lane?"

"I only found it last weekend when I was looking for a pick."

"Yes, yes, I'm sure you'll return it in good time," Ms. Li said, also feeling an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

"Ms. Li--please..." Helen said, looking at her watch.

"Yes, of course. On Saturday afternoon I happened to glance out my window when I saw your daughter, Mrs. Morgendorffer, and your sister, Mr. Lane, sitting on the swings in the park opposite."

"Is that the park on Elm Street or the park on Walnut?" Trent asked.

"Walnut, Mr. Lane. Why?"

"I thought you lived on Elm Street."

"Elm Street backs onto Walnut, Mr. Lane."

"So it does," observed Trent.. "That's odd."

"What's odd, Mr. Lane?"

"Janey usually goes down Elm Street when she goes running. She said that she doesn't like going down Walnut because the sidewalk's cracked and she's afraid of tripping. I mean falling over."

Helen stifled a chuckle.

"Your sister and Ms. Morgendorffer weren't running, Mr. Lane. If they had been I wouldn't have observed what I did and this meeting wouldn't have been necessary."

"Perhaps you'll tell us why this meeting is necessary, then, Ms. Li. As far as I'm aware sitting on swings in a park isn't against the law or the school rules," Helen interjected, adding "yet" under her voice.

"Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Morgendorffer. After a brief time, Mr. Lane's sister stood up and approached your daughter, Mrs. Morgendorffer, and...uh..."

"Yes, Ms. Li?"

"I find this a little difficult. She kissed her, Mrs Morgendorffer."

"Whoa!" Trent exclaimed, sitting forward with a surprised expression on his face. "That's weird!"

"Weird, Mr. Lane?"

"Yeah!" Trent said. "You've been calling me Mr. Lane. I just realised. I mean...Mr. Lane is my father!"

The principal paused, unsure how to respond, as Helen stifled another chuckle. "Mr. Lane...Trent...did you hear what I said?"

"Oh. About Janey kissing Quinn? Sure. What's the problem? I mean Quinn's Janey's girlfriend."

"Mr. Lane. I'm not sure you appreciate the situation. Your sister and Ms Morgendorffer are both girls!"

"Oh? I thought you knew that," said Trent, looking surprised.

"I do know that, Mr. Lane. That's precisely my point!"

"It's cool. I mean it's not like when Daria kissed Tom or anything. It's okay with Daria. In fact I think Daria actually had something to do with it."

Helen glanced across at Trent, then turned back to Ms. Li, starting to enjoy herself despite the waiting deposition.

The principal took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Mr. Lane, you don't seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation."

"No, it's serious alright."

"Good," said Ms. Li with relief on her face. "I'm glad you understand."

"Oh, yeah! Janey's had boyfriends before, but I've never seen her as serious as this."

"Mr. Lane," Ms. Li began, raising her voice in exasperation, "I'm trying to tell you that your sister, not to mention Ms. Morgendorffer, has all the outward signs of being a lesbian." She half-breathed the last word.

Trent paused again, looking puzzled. "Why would she kiss Quinn if she wasn't a lesbian? That wouldn't make any sense."

Ms. Li started to look angry. "Mr. Lane! Do I have to remind you there are people who consider this kind of thing to be a very significant matter of morality? If it were to get into the press...just think of the scandal..."

Maybe, Trent continued, oblivious, "if she was just very happy or something. Girls do that, but I wouldn't kiss Jesse no matter how happy I was."

Mr. Lane! Ms. Li exclaimed.

"Wait a minute," said Trent. "You said this was Saturday, right?"

"Yes. Saturday. That is correct."

"So Janey and Quinn kissed each other on Saturday."

"Yes."

"What's that got to do with school?"

In exasperation Ms. Li turned to Helen. "Mrs. Morgendorffer--surely you must have something to say about this situation?"

"Yes," Helen replied, "I have. Exactly what has this got to do with you? Or with Lawndale High?"

"So you're...aware of this...situation between your daughter and Ms. Lane?"

"Yes, and to be quite honest, Ms. Li, I still fail to see what concern it is of yours."

"Well...I...that is...:

"Tell me, Ms. Li," Helen asked. "This award; what exactly does Lawndale High receive if it wins?"

"Lawndale High? Receive?"

"Yes. How exactly does Lawndale High stand to benefit? Does it get a cash award, for instance? I'm sure that it must be substantial for you to be so concerned about what is, after all, a strictly personal matter between Quinn and Jane."

"Ah. Yes. Well, the award is actually given to the administrator, but the prestige for Lawndale High would be significant. And you can't put a price on that."

"I see," said Helen acerbically. "Your concern is that the press might run a story on lesbian immorality at Lawndale High, and that this could jeopordise your chances--I mean, Lawndale High's chances--of gaining an award for the quality of your administration."

"Mrs. Morgendorffer! You're not suggesting that I had anything except the interests of Laaaawndale High at heart?"

"I wouldn't dare suggest such a thing, Ms. Li. But have you considered how much damage a story about discrimination, prejudice, and homophobia at Lawndale High could do? I'd imagine that such a story could well become a national cause celebre, particularly if, heaven forbid, a student, or students, should bring an anti-discrimination suit against the school."

An expression of panic crossed  Li's face. "Oh! Of course! That would be intolerable. Um, what would you suggest, Mrs. Morgendorffer?"

"I would suggest that Lawndale High keep its nose out of the personal affairs of its students. Of course you need to have rules about how students behave in school, and parents have a responsibility to see that their children abide by reasonable expectations. But any suggestion of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation would be...shall we say...a potentially litigious one. Purely from a hypothetical viewpoint, you understand."

Principal Li mopped her brow with a handkerchief. "Of course, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Purely hypothetical. You can rely on Laaaaawndale High to uphold the very highest standards of tolerance and equality."

Helen stood. "I'm pleased to hear it. Now if you haven't anything further..."

"Of course. Sorry to have kept you." Ms. Li stood and ushered Helen and Trent out of her office, mopping her brow as they left.

As they walked to their respective cars, Helen turned to Trent and smiled. "You did very well, Trent."

"I did?" Trent sounded puzzled.

"Certainly. You threw her completely off her stroke."

"Mrs. Morgendorffer?"

"Helen."

"Helen, will you take the case if they...you know...?"

"Will I take it?" Helen said enthusiastically. "Nothing would give me more pleasure than to sue the pants off that self-aggrandising busybody. If she utters one word to either Quinn or Jane about this, I'll..."

"No, I meant about the overdue library book."




"Yo, Trent," Jane called from upstairs, "would you get the door? It's probably Daria."

"Sure," Trent called back, walking from the kitchen to the front door and opening it. "Hey, Daria. How's it going?"

"Pretty good. You?" Daria glanced down at the empty pizza carton in Trent's hand.

"Okay I guess." Trent thought for a moment. "I'm a little worried about a library book, but I think your mother's got it under control."

Daria considered asking an obvious question, such as "What the hell are you talking about?" but instantly realised that it was against her better judgement. "Jane called. She said she needed a favour."

"She's in her room I think."

"Thanks." Daria walked in and started towards the stairs.

"Daria?"

She turned back to Trent. "Uh huh?"

"I'd knock if I were you."

"Oh. Is Quinn...?" Daria flicked a glance towards Jane's room at the top of the stairs.

"No, but I'd still knock. I didn't, but I probably should have."

Consigning Trent's advice to the same file as the comment about the library book, Daria walked up the stairs and, pausing outside Jane's closed door, knocked.

"Daria?" Jane's voice came from inside.

"One and the same."

"Is anybody else with you?"

"No. Why...?"

"Come in."

Daria opened the door and stood, staring, turning a warm shade of scarlet.

"Close the door, would you?" Jane said. "I don't particularly care, but Trent's easily embarrassed and, besides, I think the band's coming over for a rehearsal."

Jane was standing between a full-length mirror on one side and her easel on the other. In her right hand she held a charcoal stick. Her left hand was raised and held on top of her head, and she strained to look in the mirror out of the corner of her eye, paused for a second, then turned back to the easel, adding a few lines. "Do you know it's impossible to see your face side-on in a mirror?"

"Um," Daria answered after a second or two. "I guess you could use another mirror."

"Hey," Jane answered, "that could work. Go down to the bathroom would you? There's a hand mirror in the top left-hand drawer. I would, but..."

"Jane..."

"Can't talk. Concentrating." Jane carefully added a few lines to what she was drawing. Daria sighed and walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. Jane lowered the pencil and breathed out a long sigh, slumping as she did so. "Round one," she whispered to herself.

As the door opened, Jane immediately straightened up again and went back to the drawing.

"So what the hell is this all about, Lane?" Daria asked as she came into the room holding a green plastic-handled mirror, blushing a little and studiously avoiding looking straight at Jane.

"My portfolio. The BFAC application handbook stated at least three figure studies. I figured this was the best place to start." She put the pencil down again. "What do you think?"

Daria walked over and stood beside her, staring at the sketch. "It's...brilliant. Best thing you've done since that bulimia poster for O'Neill."

"Thanks," said Jane, "though I'd prefer not to have been reminded about that sordid little episode. You've always been a sucker for my realistic work. I'm pretty happy with it myself. But tell me..."

"What?" Daria asked.

Jane turned, looked back over her shoulder, and asked in a concerned tone. "Does it make my butt look big?"

Daria turned to look straight at Jane. Her lip trembled and, despite herself, she grinned. "Yes, but at least you have cute pores."

"That's one thing I don't need to worry about, then," she said, thinking round two, and relaxing a little. "Okay, so let's try the mirror thing, shall we?" she said, resuming the pose as Daria held the mirror up in front of her. "Turn it a little...a little more...up a little...there! Hold it right there!" She stared at it intensely then turned back to the easel.

As Jane concentrated Daria allowed herself a quick visual appraisal, admitting that, while she was no expert, Jane had a spectacular body; taut and lean, where her own was rounder and softer. When Jane moved her breasts moved with her, while Daria's, though they were about the same size, lagged and, when she stopped, they kept going a little. Jane turned back to the mirror just in time to see Daria quickly glance away. She suppressed a smile and kept working.

Daria broke the silence. "You said you wanted a favour? I assume you didn't mean holding the mirror. Or watching you draw yourself naked if it comes to that."

"Ah, yes," Jane replied, putting the pencil down and turning to Daria, thinking two, actually, but let's deal with one at a time.

"Spill."

"Well, you remember I said the BFAC application said that I had to submit three life studies...?"

Daria started backing away, her eyes wide. "Oh no..."

"Come on, Daria. It's no big deal."

"It is for me! It may be alright for you arty types, but I don't make a habit of taking my clothes off in public. I don't even take my clothes off to shower."

"I'm hardly public. And what about when you and young Thomas...?"

"We do it with our clothes on," Daria deadpanned.

"Oh," Jane smiled. "You were always such a shy little thing. I remember you blushed the first time you showed me your boobs. And they were made of silicone and kept in a box in your locker."

"Yes. I was shy. I still am. And that's just the way I like it."

"Come on, Daria," Jane pleaded. "I thought you were over all that stuff."

"Okay, I admit it, Tom has seen me naked. More than once if memory serves. But that's not the same as pointing my pussy at your pencil."

"Daria, I hate to do this, but you leave me no alternative. Who was it who convinced me to apply to BFAC?"

"I did," Daria replied, backing up farther. "But I don't remember saying anything about taking my clothes off. That was definitely not part of the deal."

"It's in the application, Daria. Three life studies."

"You can draw yourself three times."

"That doesn't count. And I only know two people I could even think of asking."

"How about Trent?"

"Eew. Trent's my brother, Daria. That's icky. Besides, I'm no good at drawing...you know..."

"So I assume that Quinn's in on this too?"

"Of course. Not that she knows it yet. Daria - please!" Jane begged. "You have to do this for me. If you won't do this for me there's no chance at all. I won't meet the requirements. I'll end up on the streets, selling my body for crusts of bread, dying in the gutter at the tender age of eighteen, calling your name - 'Daria, Daria,' I'll cry...'Why did you let this happen to me? Whyyyyyyy?'"

Daria stopped backing up, and she sighed, giving Jane the hairy eye. "Damn you, Lane! When did you get so good at blackmail?"

"What can I say?" Jane said, grinning. "I had the best teacher." Round three.

Daria glared at her. "No...you know...funny stuff."

"Daria. This is art, not pornography. That comes later, after I've been accepted and I need to earn money to support myself through college. I promise. Boobs only."

"I'll leave that to you and Quinn," Daria muttered. "So when do you want to...do it?"

"No time like the present," Jane said, smiling sheepishly.

"What? Now?" Daria's eyes widened behind her glasses.

"Sure. Why not?"

"I'll take that as a rhetorical question." Daria sighed again and looked despondent. She took off her green jacket and walked over to the bed. "Does the door lock?"

"I don't know," Jane answered. "I've never tried."

"Would you mind?" Daria said, turning the question into a command.

Jane walked over to the door as Daria followed her butt with her eyes, thinking no bounce at all. "It looks as if it probably doesn't lock. If it does, I have no idea how."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Daria sighed.

"I don't know why people say you're dumb," said Jane. "But it's okay; Trent and the guys'll be down in the basement. You know how they get when they're rehearsing."

"Comatose?"

"I was going to say 'absorbed', but 'comatose' is good." She walked back to the easel, picked up a can of fixative and sprayed the sketch, then took it down and replaced it with a blank sheet of paper.

"It had better be okay, Lane," Daria growled. "I can just see it. 'Hi, Janey, Daria. We just thought we'd come up and visit with you between songs. Gee Daria, you're naked.' If anything like that happens I promise I'll kick those firm little buns of yours so hard..."

Now let's see whether I know Daria as well as I think I do, Jane thought. "Speaking of my buns, would you feel more comfortable if I was dressed, or would you rather I remained au naturelle?"

Daria looked up. "This is weird enough already, thanks." She reached down onto the bed, retrieved Jane's panties, and handed them to her.

Bingo. Round four, Jane thought, sighing silently with relief, and she dressed quickly as Daria sat on the bed unlacing her boots. At least she won't be able to see any visible outward signs. That could have been difficult.

"You know," Daria said, dropping her boots onto the floor, "that when the opportunity arises my revenge will be swift and terrible?"

"I'd factored that in," Jane responded, trying hard to sound normal while her heart raced, and handing Daria a bar of peanut brittle.

Daria took the peanut brittle and stood, an expression of resigned reluctance on her face. She took off her t-shirt, laying it carefully, Jane noticed through the adrenaline haze, and with studied slowness, on the bed. Facing away from Jane now, she unhooked the clasp on the side of her skirt and unwrapped it, then laid it next to the t-shirt.

Jane forced herself to breathe regularly and hoped that Daria would blame the flush she felt on her face on the reflection of her red jacket. Try not to stare, try not to stare, she thought, forcing herself to putter around with a box of charcoal.

Daria turned. "Listen, Lane, are you sure I have to be completely naked? I mean wouldn't this...?" She looked down at herself and back at Jane. "Couldn't you sort of...interpret...?"

For the first time Jane felt a pang of guilt for what she was putting Daria through. Damn, she thought, I don't know whether this is an act or not, but if it is, it's a good one. She's really feeling uncomfortable about it. For an instant she considered letting Daria off the hook, but then she thought of the consequences and realised that, whatever the cost, the show had to go on. "Sorry," she said, meaning it.

Daria stared at Jane for a moment, then she sighed, pulled down and stepped out of her panties, reached around her back to unhook her bra and it slid if off over her shoulders. She looked back at Jane. "Satisfied?"

The word is "stunned". You're as beautiful as your sister, if only you knew it.
"See, that wasn't so hard. And besides, now that you've gotten over the hard part just think about how nice it'll be to be able to shower without getting your clothes wet." Unlike parts of my clothes, she thought.

Daria grimaced and picked up the still-unopened peanut brittle from the bed where she'd put it down. "Where do you want me?"

Anywhere at all, Daria. "Hm, how about...there." Jane pointed to a clear spot on the floor. "Hold on." She walked over to the bed and picked up three pillows. "Sit down."

Daria did as she was told, taking her glasses off and putting them down next to her.

Jane put the pillows down. "Lie down on your side. Here..." She gently held Daria's shoulder and guided her down onto the pillows, and thought for a minute. "Put the glasses back on."

Daria replaced her glasses and started peeling the peanut brittle from its wrapper. She took a bite and crunched it disconsolately. "This doesn't compensate," she mumbled.

"Now," said Jane, "prop yourself up on your elbow. Pull your right leg up and put your hand here. Yeah, that's it." She stood up and stepped back to the easel to look, then came back over to Daria and squatted down in front of her. "Hold your left arm here. Let your hand hang over the pillows, like this." She reached over and guided Daria's arm to where she wanted it, inadvertently brushing against Daria's breast and feeling an electric spark jump between them.

Jane took a sharp breath, and stood up quickly, stepping back to the easel. She felt the heat in her face and realised that, unless Daria was completely clueless, she'd given herself away. She turned back towards Daria, silently offering a prayer that her friend hadn't stood up and started dressing.

Daria hadn't moved. She was looking up at Jane, her eyes half-narrowed and magnified by her glasses, with an expression that said "That's the way it is, is it? Okay then, Jane, let's see this through."

Jane stared and swallowed, wondering whether to say something or to continue the charade. She slowly stepped back over to Daria, crouched down and tenderly ran her hand through Daria's hair, gathering an auburn tress and draping it over her shoulder so that it lay down along the top of her breast. Then she stood up.

"Perfect," Jane said, unable to keep the tremor out of her voice, and she stepped back to the easel. Daria's expression hadn't changed. Jane took a piece of charcoal out of the box and started sketching.

Daria, by a knockout
.

Half an hour later the sketch was close to finished, even though Jane had done most of it on autopilot. Not a word had passed between them, and Jane's thoughts had run like quicksilver. Had she imagined Daria's reaction? Perhaps she hadn't even noticed. What if she had?

"I need to move," said Daria. "I'm getting a cramp."

"Sure." Jane breathed. At least she's talking to me. "Why don't you come and see how it's looking?"

Daria stood up and walked over to stand beside Jane, staring at the drawing.

Jane stepped back to stand slightly behind Daria, staring at her. The downy hairs on the back of her neck, the soft curve of her...

"It's good," Daria said, turning back to look at Jane.

Jane peered into Daria's eyes, trying to read her mind, and failing. She paused. "Daria..." she said, instantly deciding that she had to tell her...

"Can I get my clothes on now?"

"Uh, sure, I guess that about does it." It was too late. The moment had been lost.

* * *

Jane stood in the doorway watching Daria walk away, watching her as she turned the corner and disappeared out of sight, as if the intensity of her gaze could bring Daria back into view. Her lips moved, silently speaking Daria's name. A tear escaped and rolled slowly down her face.

She took a step back from the door and closed it with slow reluctance, feeling the latch snick into place. Turning back into the house she noticed the sound of the band rehearsing in the basement, unsure of whether it had been there all the time or whether they'd just started. In a daze she trudged back up the stairs, pausing at the door of her room to take a jagged breath, and she walked in, unconsciously pushing the door behind her with just enough force to close it without slamming. She stopped, her eyes drawn to the easel from which Daria's eyes stared at her accusingly.

Is that what it's all about, Jane?

Jane shook her head.

You're lying.

No.

I saw it. I felt it.

No. That's not how it was supposed to be!

I felt you looking at me.

NO! You don't understand! I was doing it for YOU! For US!

You were doing it for you. You were doing it because I make you...

Please, Daria...PLEASE!

How do you think Quinn will feel about this?

QUINN KNOWS! Do you think I wouldn't tell her?

Even you're not crazy enough to think that we can still be friends after this?

* * *

"Janey?"

There was no answer. Trent knocked again. "Janey? Are you okay?"

<>He waited. After a minute he gently turned the doorknob and opened the door a crack. His heart sank, and he walked in.

There was a sheet of art paper propped up on the easel. It had obviously been a drawing, but it was slashed to ribbons. He looked down to see an X-acto knife lying on the floor underneath it. There were deep gouges in the wooden backing board of the easel. He turned his attention towards the bed, where the person who mattered most in the world to him lay curled in a foetal position, sobbing. He sat down beside her and cradled her in his arms.



"Jane talked you into posing nude?"

"No. She blackmailed me into posing nude."

Tom smirked. "How much do you think she'd want for a copy?"

"Why would you want a copy? You have the real thing," Daria growled.

"To keep me warm on those lonely nights at sea?"

"Don't toy with me, Sloane. How would you feel to know that a bunch of strangers were going to be ogling you?"

"What? You mean like in the 'JaneCam' incident?" Tom said, internally breathing a sigh of relief.

"At least you had your clothes on."

"At least Jane warned you about what she had in mind. Besides, they won't be ogling you, they'll be assessing Jane's artistic talent. How did it turn out?"

"Good," Daria said carefully. "Too good."

"You really didn't enjoy it, did you?"

"What? You think I should have enjoyed sitting naked in front of my best friend?"

"Sure. I would have."

"Men!" Daria exclaimed. "Underneath your soft and caring exteriors, you're all whores."

"Have any of us ever denied it?"

"Tom?" Daria said, turning to look at him.

"Uh huh?"

"If you...if Jane showed you the sketch she drew of herself ... would it .... would you...."

"Go on."

"Would it turn you on?"

"Um, perhaps."

"But you wouldn't...I mean you wouldn't actually..."

"Wouldn't actually what?"

"You know--do it--with Jane."

"Daria," Tom said, getting down off the bed and sitting next to her, "I broke up with Jane. I chose you."

Daria looked away. "She's beautiful."

"Not as beautiful as you."

Daria looked back at him. "Yeah. Right."

"I mean it," he said, stroking her hair.

"But she's perfect. She's lean, she's tall, she's muscular...and those boobs..." She sighed.

"Whoa," said Tom, wide-eyed. "Is this Daria Morgendorffer? Or has she been kidnapped by space aliens and replaced by a robot running the Fashion Club program?" He leaned over and reached a hand down her t-shirt, cupping a soft breast and gently squeezing. "Hm, no, either it's you or robot technology's improved out of sight since I..."

Daria slapped his hand and pulled it out of her shirt. "Be serious for a minute, will you?"

"Who said I wasn't being serious?" He paused. "Or is there something else bothering you?"

"It's silly."

"No doubt, but tell me anyway."

"Well, there was this...thing." Tom saw that Daria was blushing. "She was setting me up in the pose she wanted and, um, her hand brushed my boob..."

"Intentionally?"

"No--I don't think so, but...it was weird. She acted as if she'd been stung. I tried to work out what was going on. She didn't talk to me after that, at least not while she was drawing, and I kept looking at her, trying to figure it out."

Tom's mind raced. "Oh. So...what do you think...?"

"I told you. It's silly."

"Try me."

"I think...she was afraid of getting turned on."

"What's so silly about that?" Tom asked cautiously.

"Tom, this is Jane we're talking about. And me. I mean if it had been someone attractive, maybe I could believe it, but it's just ridiculous."

Thanks for confusing two issues, Daria. I'm sure you could make it even harder for me if you tried. Tom sat up, as much to give himself time to think as to assume an authoritative posture. "On a purely hypothetical level, how would you feel if you were right?"

Daria thought for a moment. "I don't know. Weird...I guess. But ...."

"No buts. Just assume. Hypothetical, okay?"

"Well, I was going to say icky, but...that's not right. I think it'd be a little flattering to think that someone would find me attractive."

"Ow. Want to bite off the other one? I won't be needing it."

"You know that's not what I mean. Actually, it's kind of odd that I could even say that."

"Because you're afraid that thinking that Jane might find you sexually attractive might be threatening to your own sexuality?"

Daria thought again and stared at the wall. "No. I don't have any problems with that. Besides, I don't think I'll ever think of myself in terms of sexuality." She turned to Tom and kissed him on the cheek. "Except when I'm with you. And you don't count because you're certifiably insane."

"Thanks."

"What really worries me is that if she started seeing me like that..."

"It'd change your relationship?"

Daria nodded.

Tom sighed. "I can understand why that would worry you."

"But it's not possible."

"Daria, it's perfectly possible. One of these days someone is going to beat into that thick skull of yours the fact that, no matter how hard you try to hide it, you're very beautiful."

"We've had this conversation before, Tom. You're blinded by...you know."

Tom sighed again. "Alright. We don't have to go there. But I know this. Jane may lay awake at night lusting after you or not, but she'll never let anything get in the way of your friendship. If I know Jane, and I do, and if you're right, she'd be much more worried about it than you are."

"You think so?"

I'm certain. In fact it could be a bigger problem than you think. If you're right of course. And you may not be. You probably misconstrued the whole thing. But even if you didn't, you can be absolutely certain that Jane cares too much about your friendship to let simple lust get in the way," Tom said, feeling a little guilty that he was lying to Daria about how much he knew. But he consoled himself with the thought that it was the whitest of white lies. He was worried, though, at Daria's description of how Jane had reacted.

Daria stared at him. "And you know this how, exactly...?"

Tom turned red. "She was my girlfriend. Remember? What do you think we used to talk about on those long nights waiting for Sick, Sad World to come on?"

"You don't want to know what I think you talked about--if that's what you call it."

"Have it your way," he said, smiling. "But trust me on this. Besides, have you seen the way she looks at Quinn?"

Daria stuck her tongue out. "Gah. Don't remind me."

* * *

Tom grabbed the phone as soon as Daria had gone. He looked at his watch. Late. To hell with it. He dialled and let it ring a dozen times. He was just about to hang up when it answered.

"Hello?"

"Hey Trent, it's Tom. Is Jane there?"

There was a pause. "Hold on."

Tom could hear the sound of the phone being covered, and what was probably Trent's voice, muffled and unintelligible. There was a rustling as the phone was passed on.

"Hello?"

Tom felt sick. Jane's voice sounded like a five-year-old's; shallow and squeaky, barely recognisable. "Jane? Are you okay?"

"No." That little girl voice, trembling.

"Jane, Daria's just left. We talked. I thought you'd want to know."

A high-pitched keening was the only reply.

"Jane, believe me, everything's fine."

A pause.

"I said everything's fine. She told me what happened."

"Fine?" A little stronger.

"Yes. Sure. What did you think was wrong?"

"I thought...I thought..." trying to catch her breath between sobs.

"It's okay. Look, just take my word for it--there's absolutely nothing for you to be worried about. There's no problem. It sounds as if you could use some sleep. We can talk tomorrow. You can tell me about it then if you want to."

Jane sniffed. "Okay."

"You're sure you're okay?"

"Yes," Jane squeaked, "now."

"Okay. Put me back to Trent, will you?"

"Tom?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

Trent took the phone back. He and Tom spoke for a few minutes, then he put the phone down and turned back to Jane. She was sleeping. He watched her breathing slowly and deeply for a moment. He pulled a blanket up over her and quietly walked out, stopping in front of the easel to pick up the X-acto knife and scraps of shredded paper from the floor, and the parts that remained on the easel, taking them with him and turning the light out as he closed the door.




Jane wasn't sure how long someone had been knocking on the door. She opened her eyes and stared blearily at the clock. It was just before midday. She'd been sleeping for more than fifteen hours.

There was another knock. "Hang on," she groaned. Throwing off the blanket, she looked down to see that she was still dressed in the clothes she'd been wearing yesterday and...and it came back to her. Floods of conflicting emotions hit her like a freight train; that look in Daria's eyes...the drawing...and some relief as she remembered Tom's phone call.  Everything's okay.

She climbed out of bed, sore, smelling of sweat, dehydrated, a bitter, metallic taste in her mouth, and she walked to the door, opening it a crack.

"And this year's Miss American Morning award goes to Jane Lane," Daria deadpanned.

Jane stared.

"Well? Are you going to let me in, or are you going to stand there with your mouth open?"

"Uh, yeah, sure." She stepped back and let Daria walk in. Jane stared. Tom had been telling the truth. She resisted the powerful need to hug Daria, to make sure she was real.

"You look terrible. Take a shower," Daria said. "I'll wait."

"Uh, yeah," Jane nodded, and she walked out, turning at the door to confirm that Daria was actually there, the sight of her sitting on the bed reading a magazine, a balm to Jane's troubled soul.

She closed the bathroom door and shrugged out of her clothes, leaving them where they fell, turned on the water and stepped in. Tilting her head back, Jane let her mouth fill with the warm water, sloshing it around and spitting it out, getting rid of the taste. It felt good.

After fifteen minutes the water had washed away as much of the awfulness as it could, and she walked back into her room, a clean towel wrapped around her. The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee hit her immediately as Daria handed her a hot, strong cup. Jane drank gratefully.

"Better?" Daria asked, as Jane drained the last of it.

Jane nodded and, for what felt like the first time in forever, smiled. "Thanks," she said quietly.

"There's toast on the night stand. The peanut butter's a little old and the grape jelly tried to escape, but it'll probably keep you alive until you can get some food."

Jane turned, realising that she was famished, and ate hungrily. She put the plate down and walked back over to Daria who had gone back to reading the magazine, which she put down as Jane sat beside her. "Daria..."

"If this is going to be another 'thanks', thank Trent. He called this morning and told me what had happened."

Jane blushed, shocked and alarmed that Daria knew. "He...told you?"

"Uh huh. It's a damn shame."

"A...shame?"

"Sure, but nothing that can't be fixed."

Jane was in no condition to argue. She walked over to the chest of drawers, pulled out some clean clothes, and let the towel fall. Just as she was about to step into a pair of pale blue cotton panties she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Hold on," Daria said, standing back and looking carefully at Jane, assessing her. Jane stood, stunned, wondering what was going on, too surprised to respond.

"He's an idiot," Daria said at last, apparently satisfied. "Now get dressed."

"Who...what...?"

"Nothing. I'll tell you later."

Jane dressed, wondering what the hell Trent had been up to. She put on her jacket and turned to Daria, who had started to remove her clothes, and tried desperately to collect herself. "Daria, what exactly did Trent tell you?"

"That there'd been an accident and the picture had been ruined--that you'd have to do it again. So help me, Lane, if Trent saw that picture I'll have to open your mouth to untie my boots. What the hell happened?"

Jane forced herself through the wall of amazement that was rapidly gaining height around her. "It's, um, a long story. I'll fill you in over a slice of pizza." And I hope by then I'll have figured it out myself.

Daria smiled. "Sounds good. You're buying." She picked up the pillows that Jane had used yesterday to prop her up, and lay down in the same position.

"Deal," Jane smiled, picking up half a dozen sheets of art paper and putting them on the easel, covering the gouges in the backboard. She slipped into artist mode, forcing aside the memory of the powerful sensations and emotions that had led to yesterday's fugue, and looked down at Daria. "Straighten your right arm. Yeah, good. Damn...". She crouched down and, as dispassionately as she could, took the same lock of hair and, very carefully this time, replaced it in position.

"Hold it," said Daria as Jane was about to stand up. "I don't want to move, and my left boob itches like hell. Would you scratch it for me?"

Jane froze. Slowly she turned to Daria, trying to read her, and turning beet-red.

"Now, dammit," Daria said, sounding annoyed and screwing her eyes up as if she was in pain.

Jane glanced down, slowly reached out a trembling hand, and gently scratched.

"Up a little...to the front...oh yeah! There." She closed her eyes in ecstasy. "Okay. Thanks, that got it."

"No problem," Jane croaked, trying to control her voice as she stood up. "I, uh, have to go to the bathroom." She walked out, closing the door behind her.

Bingo, Daria thought, wincing with the realisation that Tom had been right. Again.

Jane returned looking more relaxed. "Okay, back to work," she said, picking up a stick of charcoal. After a while she paused, looking at what she'd done. The basic plan was there, but there was something missing. She looked back at Daria, then back at the sketch.

"What's up?" Daria asked.

"Your eyes," Jane said, torn between the need to recapture that expression in Daria's eyes, and the fear of being reminded of what she'd thought it meant. "Yesterday you looked...they were different."

"Like this?" Daria asked, half-closing her eyes.

Jane shuddered as yesterday's feelings came flooding back. Even through memories of the fugue, she forced herself to focus on the fact that yesterday's sketch was probably the best work she'd ever done. The subject matter helped, of course. "Yeah," she breathed. "That's it."

Jane sketched in silence, wrestling with her thoughts. If she was going to ask Daria to do the other favour she'd been contemplating, perhaps there was no better time than this. The sketch flowed from her fingers while her mind struggled with itself, finally reaching a conclusion. It was now or never. "Uh, Daria," she said.

"Uh huh."

"I've got another favour to ask." She kept working, hoping that it would make it seem less overwhelming. To herself.

"This has got to be easy. After posing nude, nothing could be weird."

Jane's heart sank. She gritted her teeth and told Daria what she wanted, trying to be nonchalant, blushing again.

Daria smirked. "It'd be a pleasure."

You're kidding? Jane said.

Of course not. I told you my revenge would be swift and terrible. I've changed my mind. It's going to be slow and terrible.

"I was afraid of that," Jane said.

Daria waited for a moment before she answered. "No," she said, "that's not what you were afraid of." She stood up and walked over to look at the sketch. "It's good. Maybe better than yesterday's."

"What...do you mean, Daria?" Jane asked, trying to suppress the jolt of adrenaline.

"I think you've got my hair a little better this time."

"That's not what...you know that's not what I meant."

Daria turned to her. "You were afraid of me. Well, not of me, exactly. You were afraid of what happened to you when you were around me."

Jane blushed. "It's okay, you know," Daria said gently. "It's weird, and I'd prefer that it wasn't like that. But that's not what I'm afraid of."

"You knew, didn't you? All along?"

"No, but I suspected. When you touched my boob yesterday I thought you were going to explode."

Jane sat on the bed and sniffed again. "So why...the itch?"

"I needed to be sure."

Jane looked up at Daria, tears starting to pool in her eyes again. I don't want it to be like that either, she said.

I know, Daria replied.

Jane sniffed and smiled again. "I told Quinn. It wasn't something I could keep from her."

"How did she take it?"

Jane shook her head slowly from side to side. "I thought she'd explode. I thought she'd be hurt, and angry. But you know...she wasnt." She looked up at Daria again. "I still don't understand her. Sometimes it seems like she's the way she used to be, other times she seems so much older..."

Daria sat down on the bed next to Jane. "Believe me, I know. I still live with her. There are still times that I want to strangle her. But she's doing okay, isn't she?"

Jane smiled and sniffed back a tear. "Yeah," she croaked. "She's doing just fine."

"I think she's still Quinn. I think she'll always be Quinn. But she's putting new stuff on top of the old stuff." She paused. "I guess you could say the same thing about us."

Jane nodded, smiling.

"But the new stuff doesn't replace the old stuff. You're still you. I'm still me. As far as I'm concerned, I don't care if your hormones do stuff to you when I'm around..."

"You don't? It doesn't make any difference?"

"Do you think I'd be sitting here on the bed next to you..." She looked down at herself. "...like this, if it worried me? Not that I give you permission to do anything about it of course!" She looked at Jane and saw a little smile. "Uh, the last time I did this it didn't exactly make you comfortable," Daria said. Cautiously, she turned to Jane and put her arms around her. This time, Jane hugged back.

Daria felt a sob shake Jane's body. But when she spoke, croakingly, there was a smile in her voice. "You weren't naked last time."

"Mmm. I'd better get dressed. I can just see Trent coming in now. He'd definitely get the wrong idea. Is that okay? Do you need me any more?"

Jane looked at her, smiling through bloodshot eyes, and sniffed. "I'll always need you, Daria."

"I meant for the sketch."

"I know," Jane said, hugging her again, then letting her go. "No," she smiled, reaching over, taking a tissue from a box by the bed, and blowing her nose. "You can get dressed."

Daria stood up, but paused. "Jane?"

"Uh uh," Jane answered, blowing again.

"Does it matter to you?"

Jane looked down at the ground. "Yes," she said quietly, and looked up. "I want it to be the way it's always been."

"You mean before you started having sex with my sister?" Daria deadpanned, and instantly berated herself for slipping back into old habits. "Dammit," she said, walking over and sitting next to Jane on the bed. "I'm sorry. I was just..."

"Being Daria," Jane said, smiling again.

"I guess," Daria replied, slipping her bra on.

"I thought...I thought that there might be a way to...you know...fix it."

"Fix it?"

"Yeah," said Jane nervously. "Put it back. The way it was."

Daria stopped. "I don't even want to think about how many ways I could interpret that. Would you care to explain?"

* * *

"Does she really look like that?" Quinn asked, looking at Jane's sketch of Daria.

"No. She's a different colour. Also, she's three-dimensional and she's not made of paper and charcoal."

Quinn playfully dug her elbow into Jane's ribs. "You know what I mean."

"I guess that's how she looks. If the sketch of me looks like me, I suppose the sketch of Daria looks like Daria."

"She's gorgeous," Quinn said wistfully.

"I know," said Jane. "But you must see her naked from time to time."

"Not if I can help it," Quinn said. "And really, no. That shy thing she does isn't an act. I think that when Daria and Tom do it she keeps her clothes on."

"That's funny," said Jane.

"I know."

"No, I mean it's funny...Daria said that."

"What a waste," Quinn said, looking back at the picture.

Jane turned in surprise. "What?"

"Underneath her clothes she looks like that. Even the glasses look good. And she dresses in that skirt! And that jacket! And those...those boots! It should be some kind of crime to hide a body like that under those."

"A crime against fashion?" Jane said, a gentle touch of cynicism in her voice.

"Exactly!" Quinn said before she realised what she'd done. She blushed and turned to Jane. "I mean, look--nice clothes are like the frame around a painting, right? They're not the painting, but they make a difference. If you saw, say, an old master, like...I don't know...a Galileo or a Bertolucci, in some tacky old frame, the painting would still be beautiful, but it just wouldn't be right. It would be...disrespectful."

Jane grinned. "You make a good point. Although Galileo was an astronomer and Bertoluicci's a film director."

Quinn blushed again. "But you know what I mean."

"Yes," Jane said, putting an arm around Quinn's shoulder. "I know what you mean. In fact, you make me think that I should probably take a little more notice of your fashion advice."

Quinn spun on her heel to face Jane. "Really? You're not just saying that?"

"No, I mean it. In your own way, you're an artist too. Your canvas is the human body, and your paint is clothes. I've never really thought of it like that."

"Really?" Quinn repeated, looking up into Jane's eyes.

"Yes. Really. Now get your clothes off."

Quinn grinned. "You only want me for my body."

"That's not true," said Jane indignantly. "Well, I mean it is in this case, but not usually. Well, not always. Now stand over there." Jane took Daria's sketch down from the easel and replaced it with a new sheet of paper.

"Here?" said Quinn.

"Over to the right a little."

Quinn moved to where Jane had indicated and slipped out of her jeans.

"Hold it," Jane said. "You're not wearing a bra."

"No, I don't need to all the time. Particularly if I'm just going to take it off again," she grinned.

"You have a one-track mind, Quinn Morgendorffer."

"I do not!"

"Who said I was complaining? Now face the window."

Quinn turned.

"Good. Don't take the top off, just pull it up over your boobs."

Quinn pulled the top up. "Like this?"

"A little more. Yeah. Just right. Now the panties."

Quinn pulled them down, letting them drop to the floor.

"No, wait--pull them up again. No, not all the way. Just so that they're under your buns. Good. Now hold them there."

Jane walked around behind Quinn, turned her around a little more, and stepped back. "Yeah. Now turn your head back towards me. Look at, um, that pizza stain on the floor. Look down a little. There! Perfect. Hold that!" She turned and started sketching furiously, muttering to herself, looking back at Quinn, and back to the sketch. "Yeah. Perfect."

Half an hour later, Quinn stood next to Jane looking at the sketch. "It's great," she said, though she looked a little uncertain.

"But...?" Jane started.

"No, I mean it's great. I just...I guess I'd just prefer if only you saw it. You know what I mean? It's kind of weird to think that some people will be looking at it. I guess it wouldn't feel funny if it wasn't so good."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Jane smiled. "But yeah, I know what you mean. I guess I'd rather have you all to myself too, but look at it like this--when they see it they'll completely lose all sense of judgement and pass me on the strength of your butt alone."

Quinn laughed. "Did I ever tell you," she added, turning to Jane, "about the time that Sandi, Tiffany, Stacy and I got a sketch done by this guy at the fair?"

"I don't think so. Was it a nude?" Jane asked.

"Of course," Quinn replied dreamily. "We all took off our clothes, rubbed oil all over our bodies, and made passionate love while this guy sketched us."

"I can see that," Jane grinned. "Or at least I could if you showed it to me."

"It disappeared. Which was probably a good thing. Sandi and Tiffany wanted Mom to sue the guy who did it."

"It can't have been all that bad, then," Jane muttered contemptuously, instantly feeling terrible at the hurt in Quinn's eyes.

"I know they annoy you," Quinn said, "but they've been my friends since I came to Lawndale. Sometimes they annoy me too, but then maybe I annoy them. Maybe it balances out..." she trailed off, uncertainly Jane thought, and a little sadly.

Jane turned and hugged her as a flood of guilt threatened to sweep her away. Looking down into Quinn's eyes she saw only love beyond question; love that had brought her back from the brink. And all she could do was to pour scorn on Quinn's choice of friends. Jane knew that she would never understand the attraction between Quinn and her friends, but what did it matter?

"I'm sorry, Light of my Life," she said gently. "Daria said something to me a couple of days ago. As soon as she'd said it I could see that she was sorry. She thought that she'd hurt me and she apologised. I've just done the same thing to you." Jane hugged her a little tighter. "I'm not going to do it again," she said, releasing Quinn and stepping back. "They're your friends, and the least I can do is respect that."

Quinn stepped forward and put her arms around Jane's waist, her cheek resting against Jane's chest. "I'd like that." She looked up. "I don't want you to, you know, sacrifice your principles or anything. But if you could just...be nice to them."

"I will," Jane said, "first chance I get."

A little smile played over Quinn's lips. "Sandi's having a hot tub party on Saturday."

Inwardly, Jane sighed. Outwardly, she returned Quinn's smile. "Then I'll be there. If you think they'll have me."

"They'll have you," Quinn said, a little reluctance creeping into her tone. "They're itching to see us together."

"Oh?" Jane said, as noncommittally as she could.

"Uh huh." Quinn sat on the bed. "Stacy'll be okay. There isn't a nasty bone in her body. Tiffany...well, Tiffany'll be curious I suppose, but as long as nothing's making her look fat she'll be fine."

"Sandi?"

"Whatever. I don't know. In one respect I guess she sees it as an opportunity. It's taken me out of the opposing team, so she doesn't have to worry about me any more as a date rival. On the other hand, anything that draws attention away from her...well, she won't take too kindly to. And believe me, this'll take attention away from her. At least for a while."

"Ah," Jane said. "So we'll be the centre of attention."

"I'm afraid so," Quinn sighed, turning to Jane as she came to sit beside her on the bed. "I'd understand if you don't want to do this."

Jane bent over and kissed Quinn. "Why would I not want to do it?"

"Well, it could be...you know...embarrassing..."

"I don't feel embarrassed when I'm with you," Jane said, looking into her eyes. "Half the guys in Lawndale High wanted to be seen with you..."

"Only half?" Quinn said, feigning shock.

"Okay then--all the guys at Lawndale High," Jane laughed. "Those who were wealthy enough wined you and dined you and not one of them got to first base..."

"I don't feel good about that," Quinn interrupted. "I didn't know what I was looking for. I knew I was looking for something, and I could never work out why I couldn't find it, so I guess I thought that it was just...like that. That all that stuff about love was just so much hype. I mean what was the point of dating anyone more than once or twice? There was nothing there. I thought that if I kept dating different people, sooner or later something would work. But it never did."

"Their bad luck, my good luck," Jane said, lying down on the bed and pulling Quinn down beside her.

"It's all electrical, you know," Quinn said.

"What is," said Jane, holding her a little closer.

"Orgasm."

Jane smiled. "Shocking."

"I'm serious," Quinn said. "You know, nerve impulses and all that."

"Sure. And you know exactly where to connect the wires."

"Mmmm," Quinn said, snuggling against Jane. "You don't do so bad yourself. But Daria was talking about it the other day."

Jane sat up. "Really? About orgasms?"

"Well, yeah," Quinn answered. "She was saying how weird it is that some electric shocks can feel so good, and others can feel so bad."

"I've never thought of it like that. You mean as in 'the chair'?" Jane took off her t-shirt and lay down again.

"Sure. Or like in the movies when the radiator falls into the bathtub."

"As far as some people are concerned," Jane said, "it's okay for some people to give other people electric shocks to kill them, but it's not okay for us to give each other the other kind."

"To hell with them," Quinn said softly, tracing the outline of Jane's breast with her finger. "What would they know?"

"They don't know you," Jane said, closing her eyes.

"But that's not really the weird part. The weird part is the connections between orgasm and death."

"Really?" Jane said, losing interest in what Quinn was saying and moving down the bed next to her.

"In some languages orgasm's called 'the little death'. And some French philosopher guy said that the only way to be sure of reaching heaven is to die at the moment of orgasm."

"Daria reads too much," Jane purred, running a fingernail lightly down Quinn's back. "She shaaaaaaaaarrrrgggg. Damn! You're getting good at that!" she panted, as Quinn reciprocated in the way that she knew Jane particularly enjoyed.

An hour later they lay, warm and tired, holding each other close. Feeling, rather than seeing, Jane staring at her, Quinn asked quietly "What are you thinking?"

Jane kept staring into Quinn's eyes. Finally she raised an arm and gently stroked Quinn's hair. "I still can't quite believe it," she said. Quinn closed her eyes, smiled, and held Jane closer. "You know, I think this is better than sex," Jane added.

"This?" Quinn said, not moving.

"Uh huh. Just holding you, feeling you next to me. I think that guy was wrong."

"Which guy?" Quinn asked, looking up at Jane.

"The French guy. Don't get me wrong, the sex is great...better than great...but right now I feel so good that nothing, anything, no matter what happened, could ever feel better than this. If I died now they'd never wipe the smile off my face."

"I couldn't stand that," Quinn said.

"I'm not going anywhere," Jane replied, holding her tighter.

"But you are."

"What?"

"You're going to Boston."

"Oh, that."

Quinn sat up. "I can't stop thinking about it."

"I haven't even been accepted yet."

"But you will be,"Quinn said sadly.

"I guess we need to talk about it," Jane said, looking up at her, and seeing her nod. "But not now. Please?"

"I'm sorry," Quinn said, and lay back down next to Jane. "I feel...like that too. I don't want it to end. I love you."

"Later," Jane whispered. "Now is forever."

And so it was.


"Daria," Helen called, "Jane's on the phone."

"I've got it," Daria called back, picking up the phone next to her bed.

"Now?" Jane said.

"You're sure you want to go through with this?" Daria asked.

"Uh huh," Jane replied nervously.

"Okay then. I'll be there in half an hour. Have you got the stuff?"

"Yeah."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, dammit! I'm sure! Now get over here before I change my mind."

Daria sighed. "I'm there," and she hung up.



The afternoon sun painted the Griffin family's back deck orange, as four bikini-clad young women lay back in a hot tub as it bubbled gently. Three young men, one dark, one blonde, and one with brown hair, gathered around three of the four women, leaving one to fend for herself.

"Can I get you a soda, Sandi?" said one.

"Why, thank you, Joey," said Sandi. "A diet Vanilla Coke would do nicely."

"Would you like a carrot stick, Stacy?" asked Jeffy.

"Sure," Stacy smiled.

"Celery stick, Tiffany?" added Jamie.

"Noooo, thaaaaanks. I've already haaaad one. I don't want to get faaaaaat."

"So, Quinn," Sandi said, lying back amongst the bubbles, "when do you think Jane will arrive?"

"Oh, soon, I'm sure," Quinn answered, trying desperately to sound relaxed. This wasn't the worst of the ordeals, she thought. Telling her parents had been the stand-out, but this was close. She didn't care what people said about her, but she cared desperately what they said about Jane, and if Sandi decided to go on the attack, for whatever reason...

Quinn didn't want to think about it. The butterflies in her stomach had been breeding and taking flight all day. If they got any worse, she thought, she'd rise up out of the hot tub, but a part of her wished that Jane wouldn't arrive at all.

"Dating an artist is quite fashionable, Quinn," Sandi continued casually. "You could have made a worse choice. And now that Jane has decided to join us today, who knows? Perhaps we...I mean you, of course...might be able to exercise some influence over her choice of wardrobe. Who knows what a little judicious makeup might achieve, though she does have an excellent complexion for someone who doesn't believe in looking after their skin, and of course most of the earrings would have to..."

"Oh, there she is," said Stacy, waving to Jane as she let herself out through the double glass doors onto the deck. There was a barely audible gasp.

"Why, Jane," said Sandi, with barely-concealed admiration, "that wrap is...quite stunning."

"Yeah!" said Joey, staring at Jane, who was wearing a light, silk-like sarong in shades of pale pink, turquoise and lilac, her shoulders, arms, and legs bare.

"Stunning," added Jeffy.

"Wow," exclaimed Jamie.

"Quinn, wherever did you find it?" Sandi asked.

"I didn't," Quinn muttered, torn between focussing on Jane and on other people's reactions to her.

"This?" Jane said, looking at the wrap. "It's just something I knocked up for the party. I got the material at the bulk store at the Mall of the Millennium and I had some fabric dyes left over from the wall hangings I made for last year's dance in the gym. Anyway," she added happily, "it was so nice of you to invite me, Sandi, I thought I'd at least contribute to the food."

She put two cardboard boxes down on the table next to the plate of celery and carrot sticks, she took the lid off the first. "I hope chocolate mud cake with double-chocolate frosting's okay with everyone. Oh, and..." she opened the second flat box, "...a triple cheese and pepperoni pizza."

Quinn winced and stifled a laugh as Joey, Jeff and Jamie scrambled to the table and grabbed large slices of cake and pizza, their groans of delight completely blocking out Fashion Club members' expressions of dismay. Their radar alerted, Sandi's younger brothers, Sam and Chris tumbled out of the door and emulated the older members of their sex.

"Time to get in, then," Jane said, and all eyes turned to her as she reached up and pulled out the piece of fabric tucked in at the top, letting the wrap fall to the ground. Five mouths full of cake and pizza stopped in mid-chew.

Oh my God, Quinn thought.

It was impossible to know what Sandi, Tiffany, and Stacy thought, their having, for once, been totally and utterly outclassed.

"Um, I need to get in the water," said Joey, bending slightly forward in the middle.

"Me too!" said Jamie, hastening to get into the water, closely followed by Jeffy. Sam and Chris, enjoying all the advantages of their youth, continued, unembarrassed, to enjoy both the food and the view.

What Quinn noticed, though, as Jane got into the tub, was that not only did she not have a hair out of place, a small crease in the bikini bottom gave the distinct impression that she didn't have a hair to be out of place.

Everyone's eyes followed Jane as she sank down into the frothy water, and made her way across the tub to sit beside Quinn, turned to her, and smiled. "Hi, sweetness," she said, and kissed Quinn on the cheek.

Okaaaaay, Quinn thought, and, forcing herself not to blush, she put an arm around Jane and kissed her back.

"Uh, I have to get out of the tub," said Joey, and he scrambled out and hurried back to the table, bent almost double, and sat down facing away from the tub, followed immediately and in an identical manner by Jeffy and Jamie. "Eeewww, yuck," said Sam, and he turned and helped himself to another piece of mudcake.

Sandi looked on disdainfully. "Take no notice of that uncivilised behaviour, Jane," she said. "It was very perceptive of you to bring something to distract them."

"Actually," Jane replied, "I brought it for me. Nothing makes me feel more like pizza and chocolate cake than soaking in a hot tub. Well, not that I've actually soaked in a hot tub before, but I imagined that it'd make me feel like that."

She turned to the boys and shouted, "Hey--save some for me." Then, turning back to Sandi, "Whaddaya know? I was right!"

"Sure Jane!" said Joey.

"I'll bring you some, Jane," said Jamie.

"Me too," said Jeffy, putting a slice of pizza and a slice of cake on a plate and standing up to bring it to Jane. "Oh," he said. "Um, in a little while, maybe," and sat down again.

Quinn and Stacy stifled giggles.

"Ahem, yes," Sandi said. "I must say that you're very fortunate, Jane, being able to eat food that's so bad for you while keeping such a trim figure."

"Yeah," Jane replied casually. "It's amazing what running ten miles a day'll do for you."

"Wow!" said Stacy. "Do you mean that if I ran ten miles a day I could eat pizza and chocolate cake and look like you?"

"Sure," said Jane, pushing away Quinn's bubble-concealed hand from her thigh. "Why not?"

"There are other considerations, Stacy," said Sandi dismissively.

"Pooooooooores," said Tiffany.

"Eep!" Stacy responded.

"Precisely," Sandi said.

"But Jane has really cute pores!" Stacy said before she noticed the expression on Sandi's face.

Jane sighed, fantisising about holding Sandi under the water for ten minutes but knowing it would make Quinn mad. She tried to keep up her end of the conversation at the minimum possible level and forced herself to smile and be civil, though she noticed that Quinn was unusually quiet.

When a car horn signalled Trent's arrival she thanked Sandi, saying that she had to leave and, to her surprise, Quinn took her leave too, as if it had been expected that they'd leave together, though Jane had expected her to stay on.

"It didn't work," Quinn said sadly, as they talked in the back seat of Trent's car on the way back to Quinn's house.

"I'm sorry," said Jane, "I tried really hard, but I just can't..."

"No," Quinn interrupted, "No--you were great, I mean me. It didn't work for me."

"What do you mean?" Jane asked.

Quinn turned to look out the window, pausing for thought. "It's hard to explain. I kept going to say something, you know, like I normally would, and every time I started I...it was as if I was listening to myself speaking...through your ears. I mean it was like I was hearing myself from inside your head."

"Oh?" Jane said quietly, reaching over to hold Quinn's hand.

"I sounded so stupid," Quinn said sadly, still staring out the window.

* * *

"Hey, Trent," said Daria, opening the door to her room. "To what do I owe this honour?"

"I picked up Janey and Quinn from that...person's place. You know? With the hot tub thing?"

"Sandi?"

"Yeah, I guess. Anyway, they're in the car outside. I don't think they know that we're here. They were pretty involved in their..."

"In the car?" Daria asked, her eyes wide.

"...conversation," said Trent. "I figured I'd leave them to it."

Daria laughed, and said "Sit down, if you don't mind the bed."

"I'm used to beds," Trent said, sitting down. "They're comfortable." He looked around. "Cool room. So how's it going?"

"Pretty good I guess," Daria answered. "And no, I don't want it redecorated in pink."

Trent smirked and coughed.

"So tell me," Daria said, "what was it about that library book?"

"Oh, yeah. I forgot to return it. I should probably ask Janey to take it back."

"Sure," said Daria. "What was it?"

"I can't quite remember. It was about fish."

"I didn't know you were interested in fish."

"I'm not," Trent said, "but it was a pretty cool book."

"Moby Dick?" Daria suggested.

"Could be," Trent replied, scratching his head. "Is that about fish?"

"A whale actually," Daria replied.

"No, I don't think it was about a whale. I'm pretty sure it was a fish."

"Hemmingway. The Old Man and The Sea?"

"Maybe. Was he a doctor? It was written by a doctor, I remember that."

"Ah," Daria said. "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish", right?"

"That's it," Trent smiled.

"Um, isn't that a little, uh, young?"

"It wasn't for Janey when I used to read it to her," Trent repliedm, as a happy and slightly distant look appeared on his face. "I saw it in the library and I remembered how much she used to love it, so I took it out to bring it home and show her. I guess I just forgot to take it back."

Daria gave herself another mental kicking.

"I guess she was maybe four or five," Trent continued, still smiling. "She drew me a picture of the fish--a red one and a blue one--with her coloured pencils. She could draw better then than I can now. I've still got it."

"Trent," Daria said, "how do you feel about, you know, this thing with Quinn?"

"I guess I was surprised at first, but when I saw how happy she was..." He turned to look at Daria. "Anyone who can make Janey that happy is fine by me."

Daria smiled. "Me too. Jane's lucky to have you for a brother."

"No, I'm lucky. And I'm glad she's worked it out with you. She was really afraid of losing you."

"Uh, exactly how much did she tell you?"

"Not much. Enough."

Daria blushed and stood up. She walked over to the window and looked out. "I wish she had more confidence in me."

"It's not confidence, Daria," said Trent. "It's...you know..."

"Yeah," Daria sighed. "I know."

"It scares me," Trent said.

* * *

Quinn turned to Jane. "Am I stupid?" she asked, making puppy dog eyes.

"No!" Jane said quickly. "But your friends..."

"I know," Quinn sighed. "When I'm with them it's fine. Well, most of the time. I mean sometimes Sandi gets, you know..."

"Yeah. I know," Jane sighed.

"But when you were there, it was...different."

"When I was little," Jane said, "I remember playing fairies with my friend down the street. We had sticks for fairy wands, and we ran around pretending to be flying and casting fairy spells. We were having a great time." She smiled at the memory. "Then, at some point, I looked up and saw Penny watching us, and all of a sudden we felt stupid and it wasn't fun any more. It was as if the spell had been broken."

"That's exactly it!" said Quinn. "That's exactly what it was like!"

"Do you remember that night," Jane said tenderly, "when I was sitting in the family room at your place with a black eye, and you came and sat down beside me?"

"I'll never forget," said Quinn.

"You quoted some guy...you said that sometimes we're looking so hard for things that we don't notice what's right in front of our eyes. Remember?"

"Wittgenstein," Quinn smiled. "I remember."

"I asked Daria later who the hell that was. You read Austrian philosophers, and you ask me if you're stupid?"

"I found it on Daria's shelf and I started looking through it and it was...like all these cool things little things, especially about what's close at hand, and when I first talked to you that night I was self-conscious and thought you wouldn't take me seriously because..."

"Quinn--QUIET!"

* * *

Daria looked down at the car. "It may have been conversation when you left, but it's not conversation any more."

Trent walked over and looked. "I guess I'd better go and interrupt," he smiled.

"Yeah," said Daria, "I guess you'd better. I'll come with you."

"Who'd have thought you could steam up car windows in summer?" Daria said as they reached the car.

"Daria!" Jane said.

"Eeep!" Quinn added.

"It's a good thing you didn't do that in the park," Trent drawled. "Principal Li would really have had something to hassle us about."

Quinn and Jane parted, blushing and rearranging their clothes.

"I've gotta go, Janey. Are you coming?" Trent asked.

"You may want to rephrase that," Daria deadpanned.

"Oh, yeah. Um, are you going back to our place or staying here?"

"I'd better come with you and change," Jane said. "You wanna come?" she asked Quinn, then quickly turned to Daria and added,"And no wisecracks from you, Morgendorffer."

"You're coming back here after you've changed?" Quinn asked.

"Yep. Tonight's the Sick Sad World marathon. My best friend and I traditionally watch it over pepperoni pizza."

"Can I watch too?" Quinn said.

"Sure," said Jane, "but I didn't think you liked it."

"I don't," said Quinn, smiling at Jane. "But I like you."




"It's called 'aversion therapy,'" Daria said, taking another slice of pizza from the box on the coffee table in the Morgendorffers' family room, while Quinn munched on an apple.

"And it means?" asked Quinn.

"It means," Daria replied, "that you can condition people's responses to stimuli by making them associate a specific stimulus with positive or negative reinforcement, depending on how you want them to respond to the stimulus in the future."

"Oh," said Quinn.

"Yeah," said Jane. "What does it mean?"

"How about you explain it, Lane, since you don't like my explanation and it was your idea anyway?" Daria retorted dryly.

"Sure," said Jane jauntily. "Suppose you were really fat, like, I dunno..."

"Tiffany?" Quinn said, smirking.

"Perfect," Jane replied, taking another slice of pizza. "You could wire her up to an electric shock gadget, and show her pictures of her favourite food."

"Celery sticks?"

"Right. And every time she sees a picture of a celery stick..."

"Wham. Fifty thousand volts, right up the wazoo," Daria added.

"Eewwww!" said Quinn.

"Yeah, that'd solve the problem," Jane said. "But no, just enough to make it really unpleasant. After a while, her mind would associate celery sticks with feeling bad, and no matter how much she know it was artificial, she'd get to the point where she couldn't bear to look at them."

"They made a movie about it," said Daria. "It was called 'A Clockwork Orange.'"

"Orange is soooooo last year!" Quinn said, earning an elbow in the ribs from Jane.

"It wasn't about the colour orange," Daria said, "or oranges. It was about social engineering."

"Oh," said Quinn. "Math stuff. But I think I get it, I think. Jane was worried about the fact that she...enjoyed...seeing you naked, so she..."

"So I worked out a way of killing two birds with one stone," Jane interrupted. "You wanted me to do one of the most unpleasant things I'd ever conceived of, and I needed to associate that aspect of Daria with something unpleasant. Bingo. Two problems solved in one go."

"Three problems," said Daria. "I had a need to punish Jane for making me pose naked so that strangers could ogle me. I admit that tearing out her pubic hair with hot wax wouldn't ever have occurred to me. But when she asked me, it was just so perfect I couldn't say no."

"Oh yeah," said Jane. "Something as fundamentally evil as that takes a truly twisted mind."

They both looked at Quinn. "So, um, did it work?" she asked.

"Judge for yourself," Jane said, taking Quinn's hand and pushing it down her shorts.

"Thank you," said Daria, turning away. "That was a sight I had never hoped nor wanted to see. Although after what I did to you I doubt that anything could bother me ever again."

"I mean the aversion thingy," said Quinn, gently stroking Jane before removing her hand.

"Oh yeah," Jane said, briefly wishing that either she hadn't done that or, better, that Daria wasn't there. "The very thought of Daria naked makes me want to scream in agony. You're going to have to pack the sketch for me--the very thought of it makes me shrivel."

"It worked for me too," said Daria. "Never again will I want to stand between Jane's legs while neither of us have any clothes on, pasting hot wax over parts of her that I'd never wanted to see, and tearing it off while Jane screams. Oh--wait--I never wanted to do that anyway."

"Sure you did," said Jane, leaning forward to take another slice of pizza. "Sure you did."

Quinn tucked her legs up under her and snuggled up next to Jane on the couch. Jane put her arm around her and pulled her closer.

"Shh, it's on," said Daria.

"Can television rot your brain? We're about to find out! The Sick, Sad World Marathon, next!" said the TV.

And Daria, to Jane's surprise and delight, leaned in from the other side and put her head on Jane's shoulder.



Thanks, as always, to an exceptional bunch of beta readers; friends and collaborators: DJ, Greybird, NoNameJane, Renfield, The Cheshire Cat, ipswichfan, Micka, WacoKid, Scissors MacGee, and Mistress Thea Zara

Particular thanks to DJ for his inspirational drawings of Jane, Quinn, and Daria, and to Greybird, whom I haven't had the opportunity to thank previously, for his wonderful artwork for Quinntessence II,  Lux Vivendi, and for his, and many others' constant encouragement to write more of this tale. I hope you're not disappointed.

Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV.

Quirks: I'm an Australian, so I've used Aussie English spellings and grammar conventions. I may also have inadvertently used some Aussie idioms though I've tried to keep in culture. There are references to other fanfics in this. I hope their authors will take them for what they are -- sincere flattery.

Liked it? Hated it? Tell me: bfderef@yahoo.com.au