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 tenth John Lane story
A Tale of Two Brains
Seated on her bed, Daria Morgendorffer raised a glass to her lips to cautiously taste the concoction inside. "Hmm. You know, I like it."
Sitting next to her, John Lane drank from an identical glass. "I thought you would."
"So tell me; how did you learn to make non-alcoholic coconut daiquiris?"
"I got recruited to tend bar for a couple parties Mystik Spiral and the Harpies had. The keyboardist for the Harpies…well, when she gets too drunk, tends to lose her inhibitions…and usually her clothes. Monique taught me how to make these to give her after the first one."
"You were bartending…because?"
"I was the only one in the house rational enough to keep from mixing up the alcohol and Dad's developing chemicals."
Daria lightly laughed.
After knocking, her sister pushed the unlatched door open and said, "Are you two in there?"
Daria held up her glass and pointed it at a small fake palm tree next to the bed. "No, Quinn. We're taking it easy in Tahiti for a few days."
Quinn walked in and looked curiously at the tree. "Whatever. Um, I was wondering if...you could give me a little help with an essay."
Daria raised an eyebrow. "A little help?"
"Like, could you write it for me?"
Daria slowly took a drink before saying, "And what's my motivation again?"
After a quick assessment of the situation, Quinn's shoulders slumped. "This is really gonna cost me, isn't it?"
"Quinn," John said, "You could save some money and write it yourself."
"But I have a date tonight!"
Daria said, "Quinn…what does this look like?"
"Um, a date. But you two hardly ever go anywhere."
"Mom and Dad finally have enough trust to let us go out occasionally," Daria explained. "But, we're not pushing our luck."
"So you can stay here together and write my paper at the same time."
"Do you realize you're making me write my own essay?"
Quinn stamped her foot. "Oooh. You were a lot easier to bribe before you met him."
John held his glass up in a toast. "Just think of me as an educational opportunity."
Quinn spun and went to her room, saying, "Now I have to cancel my date. Gee, thanks."
"I'll get it." John got up and pushed the door closed, stopping just before it latched.
"You are being a bad influence on me," Daria said as he returned. "I could've made fifteen or twenty bucks off of her."
"But I hope I'm a little more fun."
"That, you are." She stood and kissed him.
John abruptly stepped back and whispered, "I hear footsteps."
Daria's mother pushed the door open. Accusingly, she said, "What in the world did you make in the blender down there?"
"These." John handed his drink to Helen. "Before you ask, they're nonalcoholic."
She tasted it and said, "Well, I don't taste anything, but I know these drinks can be made that way."
Daria stood up. "Mom, how much was left in the blender?"
"Oh, about half of one of these glasses."
"Why don't you try some and see if you feel anything."
Helen peered into the glass and then gave it back to John. "I'm sorry, John, I overreacted. But, you have to admit, what you left downstairs looked suspicious."
"Okay, but make sure you clean it up before you go to sleep tonight." She said as she started to leave the room.
After Helen closed the door, John said, "Wow, she believed me."
Using a magnet to hold it in place, Helen put a sheet of paper on the refrigerator door. "There. Now it's on full display."
Daria looked at Quinn's essay with an "A" written in bright red at the top and deadpanned, "Quite the door of achievement."
"Come on, kiddo." Jake tried to sound enthusiastic. "You want to encourage your sister, don't you?"
"Yeah, to get her own place."
John leaned over the counter. "You know, we could convert her room into a combination library and gallery."
When Quinn walked past John into the kitchen, Jake beamed. "Hey! It's my daughter the genius."
Helen cooed. "Our own academic achiever."
Confused, John looked at each and then at Daria, who rolled her eyes at Jake and Helen's comments.
"We're all so proud of you." Jake turned to face his other daughter. "Aren't we, Daria?"
She replied, "More like stunned."
Quinn sweetly smiled at her parents. "Mom, Dad, making you happy is the greatest reward I can ask for. Of course, when other kids get a good grade, they sometimes get a little present."
Helen cautioned, "Now, Quinn, I really think..."
Jake interrupted. "I'll handle this. You're absolutely right, sweetheart. You get an A, you should be rewarded." He opened his wallet and removed a twenty dollar bill. "Here ya go!"
"Thanks, Dad," Quinn said as she took the money.
Annoyed, Daria said, "Wait. Isn't that a double standard?"
"You just gave her a twenty for getting one A." Daria pointed to herself. "What about all the A's I get for free?" She then pointed at John. "Or the ones he gets in art and P.E.?"
John kept his mouth shut. As long as nobody brings up my math grades.
Jake verbally stumbled. "Yeah, but this is a special occasion, so Quinn gets a special reward!" He half-whispered to Daria, "It's a motivational thing."
Daria folded her arms. "But won't that demotivate the other two students who live here? Whose work is consistently good."
Helen arched an eyebrow. "Yes, Jake, where are you going with this?"
"I wasn't finished." Jake pulled two more twenties from his wallet. "Both Daria and John should have consistent rewards for consistently good work."
John jogged around the counter to take his money. "Cool."
Quinn shouted, "Hey!"
Jake passed another twenty to Quinn. "And she gets a special one-time reward for her one-time effort!"
"But what about a higher reward for maintaining a standard of excellence over time?" Daria couldn't resist an extra tweak. "Perhaps with compound interest?"
After anxiously looking at all three teenagers, he tossed his wallet to Helen and yelled, "Here, just take it! I told you I was no good at this parenting crap!" before he retreated from the room.
Quinn looked at her two twenties and at the one each in Daria and John's hands. She pocketed the money and said, "Well, bye! Gotta date."
Quinn bounced out of the kitchen, leaving Helen alone with Daria and John. She sighed and took two more twenties from Jake's wallet.
Daria quietly said as she took the money, "Buy John some more of the coconut daiquiri mix, and this never happened."
Helen smiled. "Done."
"You let that go pretty cheap. How am I supposed to learn extortion if you give in so easily?" John asked while preparing a canvas for painting.
Seated cross-legged on John's bed, Daria said, "Because Quinn's essay is going to appear in the Smart Thoughts column of tomorrow's Lowdown. It's going to be great."
"Her essay is bad, but it shows creativity. That must be why Mr. O'Neill gave it an A. And now, it'll get put on public display."
"But knowing Quinn's friends, they'll think it's brilliant."
"Exactly. They'll think she's a brain and Quinn will get a taste of what I go through. Like the way I got a taste of her life back when I did that science project with Kevin and the J-boys started chasing after me."
John set his cafeteria tray down and took a seat. "Yum. Sloppy Joes. I wonder if they used real Joes in the mix."
Already seated, Daria said, "Even if they used tofu Joes, it's safer than the meatloaf."
Taking a copy of the school paper from his backpack, John pointed to the Smart Thoughts column. "This intro must've really annoyed her: 'Academic Imprisonment, by Quinn Morgendorffer. Quinn is a freshman and the sister of Clear Reasons columnist, Daria Morgendorffer. Lawndale High is proud of these writing sisters.'"
Daria faintly smiled. "You know, sometimes Jodie has a subversive sense of humor."
Her hair pulled up under a baseball cap and wearing dark sunglasses, Quinn slid onto the bench to the other side of Daria from John, saying, "Could you put that away? They're everywhere."
Daria turned. "What are you doing here? Bomb scare at your table?"
Quinn motioned with her hands. "Keep it down, okay? I'm trying to keep a low profile since the paper came out. You knew about it, didn't you?"
"And you didn't warn me?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise." Daria half-smiled. "I kept a copy for Mom to frame."
"Gee, thanks." Quinn quivered in frustration. "The intro said you were my sister! Now everyone thinks I'm a brain, too!"
"Welcome to the club."
Pleading, Quinn asked, "I can't be a brain! My friends will hate me!"
John shrugged on shoulder. "Eh, I'm sure you could find some new ones. Maybe with the Chess Club."
Daria put her finger to her chin in mock thought. "Or possibly…the Mathletics team."
Quinn sighed heavily. "Now you're just being silly. Hey, maybe I can steal all the newspapers before anyone else reads them."
Daria squinted at her. "Wait a minute. You don't even have lunch this period, do you?"
"Of course not! I cut Science so I can talk to you." Quinn looked around the room. "I'm trying to avoid being a brain, remember?"
"Oh, that. I wouldn't worry too much about it."
Concerned, John sat on the grass beside Daria during their afternoon break. "The meeting with Mr. O'Neill was that bad?"
Daria rubbed the bridge of her nose. "He complained that my writing had been a little flat lately and that he was bringing in someone for one-on-one tutoring."
"Let me guess, a snotty upperclassman?"
Daria groaned. "Worse. Quinn."
John's jaw dropped. "You're…you're not kidding."
Frustration at things backfiring showed in Daria's eyes. "I should have said, 'I don't need tutoring to write like her. Just some big crayons.'"
John almost reached out for her hand, stopped only by Principal. Li's hands-off policy. "Ouch."
Daria growled, "I'm not letting it get to me."
John watched her, thinking. Right, and Trent's deed for a private island in the Everglades is worth something.
Behind them, both heard Quinn say, "Look everyone! I wrote another poem while I was eating my fries."
After a brief tussle, Jeffy said, "My turn to read! 'The greasy fry, it cannot lie. Its truth is written on your thighs.'"
Joey said, "Wow. That's amazing."
Jamie sniffed. "Beautiful."
Jeffy added, "Genius."
After Quinn said, "I know!" Daria closed her eyes and slumped down.
John leaned closer to her and whispered, "Okay, that was just plain bad."
"Fan mail." Daria dragged more than carried her backpack down the hall to her locker. "She's already getting fan mail."
Freshly showered after track practice, John had joined her as she left the Lowdown staff room. He said, "She's getting attention like you expected."
Daria stopped at her locker and opened it. "Not like I expected. It only increased her popularity."
"Maybe we should've planned on that. She is the Teflon Donna."
"Yeah, right." Daria tossed books into her locker and dropped her head on top of them. "Do me a favor?"
"Kick me in the ass."
"To top it all off, she had a beret and an ankh," Daria said, lying on her back sideways on John's bed with her hair falling to the floor beneath. "All of it as black as my mood."
After dipping his fingertips in acrylic paint, John streaked them across his canvas. "Did you bother to tell her that it was the way deep people dressed…forty years ago?"
"I should've. Damn, I was hoping this would let her know how I'm treated. But no, she gets to be the brain with bouncy hair."
"We already knew popular people are held to different standards."
"It's imaginative, but her writing needs a lot of help. But, nobody seems to see that. You have a good idea of what I'm feeling."
John streaked more paint onto the canvas. "Yeah, about how I felt when Brittany won that poster contest."
Daria rolled over and sat up. "Okay, that was worse. Brittany had no talent at all. We need to stop this 'Quinn the Brain' phase…but I don't want to totally discourage her either."
John slid a towel off his shoulder and wiped the paint from his fingers. "So what are we going to do?"
"I've got an idea, but I don't know if I'm desperate enough yet."
After gym class, John was at his locker when Quinn, attractively dressed in all black, stopped beside him. "Can I ask you something?"
John shrugged as he balanced a stack of books while pulling one from the bottom. "Sure, go ahead."
"You don't think I'm a brain, do you?"
"Well, not like your sister."
"Me, either. I mean, I really like the way this is getting to her, but I'm starting to feel like a phony."
John cocked an eyebrow. "Starting?"
"So I wrote a stupid essay!" Quinn inquired, "What's everyone making such a big deal about?"
John thought for a moment. "You surprised them. When nobody expects much from you, they get excited when..."
Quinn glared angrily at him. "What do you mean, nobody expects much from me? I'll show them!" She spun and rapidly walked away.
John scratched his head. "Okay, that could've gone better."
He popped the book into his backpack and closed the locker door before heading over to catch Daria on the way to Economics class. On the way, he started to notice that a lot of girls were also dressing all in black.
When he caught up with Daria, she was talking to another girl. "Um…I got them at the S-Mart out by the interstate."
The girl asked, "Do they still carry them?"
Daria apologetically shrugged. "I don't know, I haven't looked lately."
The girl smiled. "That's okay, I'll give it a try anyway, thanks."
John watched her leave and then said to Daria, "What was that?"
Looking slightly vacant, Daria watched the departing girl. "She wanted to know where I bought my black skirts."
"That was weird."
Daria faced him. "That's just the start. The Fashion Troopers came up to me today and mumbled and bumbled around before leaving. I wasn't quite sure of what was up until Jamie, Joey and Jeffy came up to me, pleading for me to bring Quinn back."
"That is getting a little creepy."
Daria sighed. "I'm desperate enough."
"Mom?" Daria said as she approached Helen in the kitchen. "Can I borrow one of the cards?"
She looked cautiously at Daria. "What for?"
"You see, I found out about this big sale at Cashman's and thought that maybe I should expand my wardrobe a bit."
Lawyerlike, Helen asked, "Daria, what do you really want the card for?"
On the edge of his vision, John could see Quinn seated on one of the sofas, listening.
Daria was firm. "To buy some more clothes. Okay, the Cashman's line was an attention getter. You have to admit it worked."
Helen folded her arms. "True, though it didn't do much for your credibility."
"Nothing drastic, but I would like to get a few new options to wear. I thought you'd be excited."
"Daria, I am, it's just so sudden. And well, since you so rarely ask for the card like this, I have to wonder." Helen's face flushed with abrupt surprise. "Oh my God!"
She reached for Daria's stomach. "Sweetie, how are you doing? Feeling okay?"
"I'm not pregnant."
That startled John as he realized where the conversation had drifted and that Helen was eying him.
Daria's voice became firm. "Absolutely not pregnant."
Helen tapped her foot and peered back at Daria. "Perhaps we need to get you tested."
Daria shook her head. "The prerequisite events for that have not happened. I give you my word on that."
Helen's anxiety eased modestly. "All right. But why do you want the card?"
"To buy a few more things to wear. Mom, Quinn goes on shopping sprees all the time."
Helen looked over a Quinn. "There is that."
John said, "Isn't that a double standard?"
Helen shifted to him. "You have a point, but this feels too much like you have something else up your sleeve." She turned to Daria. "I haven't forgotten as much of my teenage years as you might think. I insist that somebody go along with you."
A brief, hard glare slipped past Daria before she sighed and said. "I'll assume that's not negotiable."
Daria sighed again and leaned against the counter. "Don't know who I could ask. Jodie's at a tennis match this afternoon."
John quickly shifted his eyes to check on Quinn, who was plainly trying not to say anything. Daria followed his look. "If I want to go today, it looks like Quinn's my only choice. I might be able to go a couple hours without killing her."
Helen looked at Quinn, who'd turned upon hearing her name. Helen said, "I'm still keeping an eye on her after she went shopping instead of to that concert." Helen grinned as she got an idea. "Two heads are better than one: I'll go too! Tomorrow's Saturday. We'll do it then and make a family bonding session out of it."
Daria dropped her head. "I better stop before I get in any deeper. It's a deal."
Quinn rushed over. "This is going to be great."
John asked, "What about Jake?"
Helen sighed. "He can sleep in late. It'll be safer that way."
John held the door while Daria climbed into the back seat of Helen's SUV the next morning. He quietly said, "I'm impressed by the way you played your mom like Jimi Hendrix played a guitar."
Daria gave him a quick smile. "But it's going to cost us in more spot checks to see what we're doing." She held his hand. "Even though using her paranoia to distract her served its purpose, I can't entirely blame Mom for being paranoid. Our situation has its temptations."
Thinking of the gentle curves he knew hid under her bulky jacket, John held back a sigh and nodded in agreement.
As Helen and Quinn got near the truck, Daria squeezed his hand. "No matter how boring things get, please stay close. I don't like two-to-one odds and this is going to be a real balancing act."
Quinn swung into the front passenger seat and turned to face them. "This is going to be so great. Daria, I'm glad you finally came to your senses."
"God, Daria. You look like a Halloween ad," Quinn whined as Daria stepped from a dressing room wearing a smooth, black skirt that accented her hips, along with an orange blouse. "Okay, the skirt works, but that top, eww."
Daria put her hands on her hips in annoyance. "Well then, what do you suggest?"
"Hold on." Quinn dashed to a rack and returned with a green, long-sleeved blouse. "We'll work with the colors you're happy with. Try this."
The dressing room door cracked open and a black baby t-shirt flew out, with Daria calling, "No way."
Helen picked up the diminutive garment, looked at John, and then scowled at Quinn. She shrugged and said, "But she'd look so cute in it."
Keeping his hand hidden from view, John pinched his thigh as hard as he could to keep awake. Helen sat next to him and said, "This would be a little easier if Daria would consider some different shoes instead of those boots."
Conspiratorially, he whispered, "You know she's generally opposed to exercise. Wearing those heavy boots while walking to and from school help just that much more at keeping her physically fit. It's a fair tradeoff, I think." And I like how her legs look in them.
Helen sighed. "I suppose that makes sense. At least Quinn's been able to work around them."
Daria stepped out again, wearing jeans, khaki shirt and a green vest. Quinn put on hand on her hip. "What did I tell you?"
Daria nodded. "You're right, it is comfortable."
Quinn clasped her hands together. "Great! Now we need to find you something really nice to wear." She turned and winked. "Like for a real date with John."
Daria faintly blushed and Helen tensed.
"Jeez, Daria. You should have at least one thing to look good in." Quinn smirked at Daria's blush, but was disturbed by Helen's unease. With hands on her hips and oddly flustered, Quinn turned to face her. "Mo-om! How often have they gone out on a date?"
Helen tried to be positive. "A few times."
"Yeah, only a few. You have them scared to go out on hardly any dates or to even hold hands in the house!"
"Quinn, you must realize that they are in a very unusual situation. Young people can have these feelings and not think clearly…"
Quinn stamped her foot. "They're the best-behaved couple at school! Even if they live in the same house; nobody believes that they…you know. Brr."
John, Daria, and Helen all stared at Quinn.
"I mean, if it was anybody else, everybody would think they were…eww, but not them. Yeah, they're geeks, but they're cute and a lot of people look up to them."
Helen's hand went to her mouth. "Oh."
"Well, you three talk it over, I think I saw the perfect thing for Daria over here. Be right back."
Quinn hurried to another part of the store.
Uncertain, Helen muttered, "Is that true?"
Daria sat on the other side of her mother. "We are very careful. Mom, I haven't forgotten what you first told me about how things can get out of hand."
John said, "We know it's not fair that we have to be held to higher standards, but we understand why. Mrs. Morgendorffer, my sister Summer had her first kid when she was seventeen. I never want to do that to Daria."
"But Mom, if we hold hands or kiss from time to time, could you and Dad please not freak out?"
"Relaxing a little more if we want to go out to a movie would help," John included.
"I'll take them under consideration, but don't even think about latching the doors to your rooms if both of you are in it."
Daria and John said, "Done."
Quinn returned with a black dress, a deep green sash and a pair of black, soft leather dress boots. "Try these."
Daria took them and paused. "I said, no new shoes."
Quinn pointed to Daria's regular boots and fired back, "Daria, reality check. Those boots don't go with any formal wear." She put the new boots in front of Daria. "I got a pair without heels because I know you won't wear them otherwise."
Daria muttered and started to the dressing room. "I'll try, but this is the last batch. I've hit my shopping limit for the decade."
Several minutes later, Daria called, "Quinn, come here."
For several more minutes after Quinn went in, their voices were faintly heard. Finally, Quinn appeared, pulling Daria out.
Helen's surprised inhale barely registered with John. His attention was on Daria.
The black, sleeveless dress had a high v-neck and a smooth, close fit that accented her subtle curves. The green sash was tied around her waist with the bow to the left so the loose ends followed the shape of her hip and thigh. The narrow, ankle-length skirt was slit to knee level on the right side, showing one of the soft boots. Overall, relatively modest but still highly enticing.
Noticing John stunned and speechless, Quinn smirked and said, "See, Daria, it rocks."
Finally home, John placed the shopping bags on Daria's bed while she sat at her desk. She pushed her hair back with her hand and breathed deeply. "Okay, that had a few unanticipated bonuses, and I never thought she'd try something like that last dress, but I think the stage is set."
John sat on the bed and glanced at the folded dress inside. "I know you're not comfortable with people saying these things, but you are very pretty in that dress."
Daria shyly looked at the floor. "Thanks. I'm learning to be more comfortable with things like that from you."
"And, you get to wear it tonight."
"I've wanted to see a stage version of Les Misérables for a long time. Even if it's a student production at Lawndale State. I guess it's not too high a price to pay…"
John said, "Speaking of prices, I certainly didn't plan on getting hauled someplace to buy a suit."
"We wouldn't want any double standards, would we?"
"No." John rubbed his chin. "You know, there was something else interesting I noticed today."
"Every combination you picked out had one item that looked very good, and others to give Quinn something to fix. Almost as if you knew exactly what would and wouldn't look right."
Daria gave him wry grin. "Just because I choose not to use certain knowledge, doesn't mean I don't possess it."
John said, "I'm listening."
"It's kind of curious that nobody's ever asked what I did on the school newspaper in Highland. Because I was the only one with paired X chromosomes on the staff, I was stuck as fashion editor. It gave me the tools to look just good enough for Quinn to want to help me, and to also make her feel threatened about her looks."
"Fashion editor? That explains a few things." He noticed the time on Daria's alarm clock. "If we're going to make the play, we better get ready."
John got up and started to leave. When he opened the door, there was Quinn, dressed to kill for a date and about to knock.
Daria crossed her arms. "I see the mime getup is gone."
John inwardly smiled. Damn, Daria. It worked like a charm.
Quinn waved her hand. "Oh, that intellectual look was so yesterday."
Daria leaned against the back of her chair. "So, it looks like the days of 'Brains' Morgendorffer are over."
Quinn laughed. "Yeah, I'll leave that to you. You're much better at it."
"Now that you've shown you can do it, I'm not inclined to write essays for you."
Quinn's face started to turn red with anger.
Daria rose from her chair. "But, if you want a little editorial review before you turn something in…"
Quinn nodded. "Deal. And I'll be around if you want to improve your wardrobe any more. Anyway, I gotta go, enjoy your date. Though if you're going to see a French play, you really should have dinner at Chez Pierre."
Daria started to close the door. "I'll pass. For some reason, I prefer a French restaurant that uses proper French on the menu. "
"Besides, Mom's driving us over and picking us up after. We won't have time for a fancy dinner."
"Oh, yeah. Later." Quinn went back to her room.
John hugged Daria. "Looks like it worked; she's back to her normal self and we got a nice side benefit."
Daria hugged him back. "And Quinn will be trying a little harder academically, with a few nudges from us."
"So, we won."
"I'm on top of the world."
"See you downstairs." John left and started down the hall to his room.
He saw Quinn leaving her room and said, "If you don't mind me saying, I'm a little surprised at all the effort you put into making Daria look good today."
Quinn held her hands out to show her figure. "Duh. She's my sister. Daria's always looked good, she just never showed it. But now that she has a reason to, I'll help her."
"Um, thanks. That is real nice of you."
Quinn winked at John. "If you two are happy, then she's out of circulation. I want to keep it that way."
Dialog from Quinn the Brain by Rachel Lipman
A polite nod to Kara Wild for her Driven Wild Universe and the Mathletic team.
And a nod to DJW's J-Men. I know he'll get even.
Thanks to Ipswichfan, Mr. Orange and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.