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 eighteenth John Lane story

Richard Lobinske


Hearing the front door slam downstairs, John Lane rolled off his bed, where he'd been lying on his stomach to watch television. From the TV, an announcer said, "They all want a bite of you, but there's not enough of you to go around. Bug Wars! Next, on Sick, Sad World.

Heavy boots stomped up the stairs and down the hall. He watched his girlfriend, Daria Morgendorffer, stride past his door without pausing. By the time he reached it, he heard her door close, followed by a click of the lock.

"Sounds like the driving lesson didn't go well," John said to himself. After looking down the hall toward Daria's room for a few more seconds, he stepped out and then walked downstairs. The living room was empty, so John quietly walked around to the kitchen. Behind the counter, Daria's father was holding a bottle of gin in one shaking hand and a bottle of vermouth in the other, attempting to pour them into a pitcher.

John asked, "Jake, aren't you supposed to measure those?"

"Gah!" Jake jumped and splashed the liquors across the counter. Recovering, he went back to pouring and said, "Sometimes, you just need to eyeball it."

"What happened during Daria's driving lesson?"

Jake went to the freezer, pulled out the ice drawer and took it back to the counter, dumping the contents into the pitcher. "Um…" Jake mumbled as he stirred the drink.

"What happened?"

Jake scooped half of a bottle of olives into the pitcher. "J…John, I'm really not ready to talk about it. It was…" He picked up the pitcher and drank directly from it.

"Okay, later," John said in frustration. He left the kitchen and started back upstairs. Midway up, he paused. "Jake's driving lessons make me nervous and I already have practice. With Daria's coordination…this is not going to be pretty."

Later that evening, Daria slowly opened John's door. "Um, hi."

Sitting on the floor under a window, John set his sketchbook aside. "Hey."

Daria entered and sat on the bed. "I just can't practice driving with Dad in the car. I'm not that bad, but once he loses it, I can't concentrate and…bam, what little driving skills I have vanish."

"The car's in the driveway, intact. So, it wasn't a complete disaster."

She snorted and said, "True, but I'm not learning with him. We mostly just scare the hell out of each other."

"He…looked, uh…" John said. Realizing that glossing things over would only make matters worse, he added after a pause, "…upset. Look, I've had more practice than you and Jake gets hyper when I drive. Don't let his nerves get to you."

"Easier said than done. Seeing him try to hide under the dashboard doesn't do a lot for my self-esteem."

John moved over and sat next to her. "I'd help if I could."

Daria faintly smiled and leaned against him. "Thanks. But, you're not over eighteen and you don't have a regular license, either."

"Good point. But, I've ridden in the Tank with Max at the wheel."

"You were also crammed in the back behind the equipment so you couldn't see what was coming."

"Better that way."

"Like I said." Daria sighed and flopped back on the bed. "My only real option is Mom, if I can ever get her away from that exploding ketchup case."

"You could tell her that giving you driving lessons is cheaper than all the vodka and vermouth Jake's been buying."

Daria looked at him through narrowed eyes. "You're not helping."

"There you go, young man," Helen said to the pimply-faced delivery driver as she handed him several bills. "Keep the change."

With a nasal voice, the boy with "Artie" written on his uniform said, "Thanks, ma'am," and handed her a pizza box.

Helen closed the door and walked back to the kitchen, angrily glaring at Jake asleep on the sofa as she passed him. "Dinner's here," she told Daria, Quinn and John as she sat down and opened the box.

Daria and John each grabbed slices and dropped them onto plates. In a single motion, Quinn deftly removed the cheese from a slice and slid it out, dropping the cheese like a shadow. She then plucked the toppings free and put them on her slice.

Lastly, Helen picked up a slice and ripped a bite from it before it reached her plate.

Daria whispered, "Let's get this over with," to John before saying to Helen, "Mom, um, about my driving lessons…"

"I can't believe your father," Helen bemoaned. "How are you ever going to learn to drive when he does that?"

"That's the point I'm trying to bring up. He's not the best driving teacher."

Tossing her head toward her sleeping husband, Helen said, "Certainly not when he's like that."

Daria inhaled in preparation of her mother's response. "Mom, could you swing some time free to give me driving lessons?"

Helen shook her head. "Daria. You know I'm swamped right now. This is one of the biggest cases I've been given by the firm. They're counting on me."

"Can I count on you?"

"What? Of course you can count on me, Sweetie. It's…" Helen noticed all conscious eyes were on her. She sighed and said, "I'll pick you up from your father's office tomorrow and we'll start your driving lessons."

Sitting at Cluster Burger the next day for lunch, John chugged down a glass of cola while Daria looked on. She pointed to the half-eaten burger on his plate and said, "You realize that there's a reason they call that an Incendiary Cluster, don't you?"

He set the glass down and grabbed a napkin to wipe his brow. "Of course. Why do you think I got one?"

"Should I be worried about this masochistic streak?"

"A little spice is good for you."

"A little spice is fine, but attempting to cauterize your digestive tract is another."

"That which does not destroy us…"

"I don't think Nietzsche had hot pepper sauce burgers in mind when he wrote that."

"Probably not. But, it'll prepare me for driving lessons with Jake."

"Good luck."

"Thanks. He's probably going to use it as a 'bonding' opportunity, too."

"I bet Mom's going to try the same thing with me."

"Is getting our licenses worth this?"

"It better."

Buckled into the driver's seat, Daria looked around the red SUV, craning her neck to see what may be behind the back corners of the vehicle. "This thing is huge."

In the passenger seat, Helen said, "You'll get used to it, Daria. Once you do, you'll appreciate how other drivers don't try to bully you on the road. Something very useful when you're learning."

"I'll take your word for it."

"Okay Daria, start the car and back out of the parking space."

Daria turned the key and the engine started, roaring louder than usual. Helen tapped Daria's leg and said, "Not so much gas."

Pulling her foot off the accelerator, Daria muttered, "Oops," and the engine quieted down.

"Now, put it in reverse and back out of the parking space."
Unevenly, Daria turned the steering wheel to the left as she backed out toward the farther travel lane. She rose up to almost standing; trying to see how close the right back corner of the SUV was coming to a car.

Looking over her right shoulder, Helen abruptly said, "Whoa!" and the truck jerked to a halt as Daria stepped hard on the brake. "Honey, you're a little too close to that car."

Pink-cheeked, Daria said, "Um, sorry. I couldn't see it very well. Maybe if I were a couple inches higher, it might help."

"You have to develop a feel for where the bumper is, you'll get it."

"Um, thanks. Let's hope I don't crash into too many things in the process."

"Don't worry, you'll do fine. Just be a little more careful."

Jake and John watched the SUV slowly drive away. John cautiously said, "Well, ready to start on my driving lessons?"

As if viewing it for the last time, Jake eyed his Lexus and said, "I, uh, guess so."

"The keys would help," John said, holding out his hand.

"Oh, right." Jake handed them over and followed John to the blue sedan. "John, you know that is an expensive car; please be careful."

"If nothing else, I'll make sure I save the steering wheel."

"Ulp." Jake stopped mid-reach to the door handle.

Okay, bad time to be a smartass. "Kidding. I promise to be just as careful as I am in Trent's car."

Jake wiped his brow and said, "Whew. That makes me feel better." He opened the door and sat down before he remembered the state of the vehicle in question. "Isn't your brother's car a little…worn around the edges?"

"No, it's a falling apart piece of junk that would lose a head-on collision with a Chihuahua. Self-preservation is a good motivator."

"Oh, I see." Jake tried to joke, "Hey, it's a good thing his band's taking that van on their big tour."

"Yeah…you'd need something at least as big as a bull dog to total the Tank."

Watching the car go past in front of them, Helen said, "You had plenty of time to pull out before that car came by."

Nervously looking in the rearview mirror at the cars lined up behind her, Daria said, "Sorry, Mom. I wasn't sure how fast it was coming toward us."

Helen looked to the side and said, "Okay honey, after the next car."

A green sports car sped by and Daria crept out into the traffic, closely hugging the right side of the lane. Two cars pulled out behind her and immediately passed, causing Daria to jump in surprise at their sudden appearance beside her. "Ah!"

"Idiots," Helen grumbled at the passing cars. "Daria, they're everywhere. Don't let them get to you."

"For once, we agree on something."

"What the…?" John said as he pulled the car to the side of the road and the following police cruiser followed. "I don't think I did anything."

"Gaah! The police are always looking for something. Always."

"I must've missed a light or something."

"Okay, John. Just act cool." The high pitch of Jake's voice betrayed his apparent calm.

John pulled his learner's permit from his wallet and looked in the side mirror at the police officer walking up. "Great, I know him."

Step out of the car, please," Officer Parks said as he reached the Lexus and took the license from John.

"Um, yes sir."

Parks leaned down and said to Jake, "Sir, stay in the car for the moment." Back to John, he said, "Follow me."

John did as directed. When they were near the hood of the patrol car, Parks said, "John, what in the world are you doing driving with that maniac?"

"Uh, I live with the Morgendorffers."

"Wait, they're the ones that you moved in with?"

"Yeah. Is there a problem?"

"I didn't realize. The problem is that…Mr. Morgendorffer's a nutcase behind the wheel."

"Oh, I knew that. But right now, I don't have a choice. Trent's out of town and Mrs. Morgendorffer is with Daria."

"Daria's the girl you've been seeing?"


"Okay, I get the picture. Head on home, and keep it under the speed limit."

John sighed in relief. "So you're not giving me a ticket?"

"Not exactly." Parks scribbled on a ticket and passed it, along with his license, to John. "Here's a note. I'd feel a lot better if you didn't learn to drive with him in the car. Please."

Daria desperately looked around before she identified the sound of Helen's cell phone ringing. Helen answered with, "Hello…Hi, Eric…I'm giving my daughter a driving lesson…No, Daria…We're halfway…But Eric…They what?...Dammit!...Dammit!...I'll be on my way back as soon as we get home…No Eric, I'm not dropping her off in the middle of the street…I'll be there, don't worry…Okay, bye."

The SUV swerved some as Daria corrected its position in the lane as she brought her eyes back to the road. "Sounds like today's lesson is getting cut short."

"I'm sorry, Sweetie. We have a major development in the case and I really need to get back to the office. We'd better head straight home."

Daria nodded. "At least I got a little practice in. Maybe next time will be better."

"Daria…until this case is over, I'm not sure I'll be able to have time for more lessons. I'm really sorry."

"Maybe I can learn this fall, after school starts again."

"I'll ask Helen when she gets home," Jake said as he entered the house. "I think we ought to fight it."

John shook his head. "I don't want any trouble, and…" he dropped to a near-whisper to, "I'd rather not let Helen know I was pulled over, if you know what I mean."

"Oh, oh, okay. Mum's the word. But…"

"I'll figure something out."

"Then, great."

After Jake went upstairs, John noticed Daria sitting on one of the sofas. "Hi. How'd your driving lesson go?"

"Okay, for as long as it lasted. Mom was called back to the office and we cut it short. Speaking of short, so was yours."

John sat down and said, "Um, one of the cops I know from helping Trent pulled us over, and gave me this."

Daria read the note made to look almost like a formal ticket and said, "So he doesn't think it's safe to ride with Dad, and from the sounds of it, Mom won't be free again until after her stupid case is over. We're screwed."

"Yeah." John put his arm around Daria and sat closer, both to provide comfort, and feel some himself.

Daria put her arm around him and said, "It can't be that hard to drive. After all, if Kevin can learn, I damn well know that we can. We just need practice."

John half smiled and said, "I might have an idea. You know that empty parking lot behind the unfinished side of the building Jake's office is in? We could get the building super to let us past the gate and we could practice there. I don't think the cops would object to us practicing in a sealed off lot."

Daria gently smiled and kissed him. "Good idea."

Walking to Jake's office from the bus stop with Daria, John said, "I don't see your dad's car, so maybe he remembered to park it by the back gate."

"Or he forgot to go to back to the office after lunch."

Closer to the front door of Morgendorffer Consulting, John said, "Well, the light's on."

Daria pushed the door open and said, "Let's see if anyone's home."

Jake took his attention away from the computer and his game of hearts to say, "Hey, kids. I parked the car around back like you asked."

Daria said, "Did the building super unlock the gate?"

"Yeah, but he said to make sure you lock up when you leave."

"It's the least we can do," Daria replied.

John asked, "So, what's on the table for us to do today?"

"Well, I have a client showing up in about an hour with an idea for coffee-table fish tanks."

"I can hardly wait."

"As ideas go, it wasn't as bad as those from some of his other clients," John said as he and Daria walked around toward the back of the office building.

"It does solve a space issue for people in small apartments, even if a lot of fish are boring to look at from the top."

"I can see a great market for colorful, tropical flounders."

The transition from the front of the office building to the back was jarring. The front was clean and well maintained, even if a third of the rental office suites were empty. The building was designed with offices facing the front and back, though with slow rentals, the back offices were unfinished. Aged plywood covered the window openings and the concrete block was only primered. Dust, dirt and trash covered the walkways and all the exterior light fixtures were missing.

John and Daria stopped next to Jake's car and looked out at the empty parking lot. Glittering sunlight in various places marked broken glass. Bags, boxes and cans were scattered around the fading lines of the parking spaces and the travel lanes.

Daria said, "A view to inspire confidence."

"Hey, dodging the trash will be like dodging pedestrians. I'll get the gate if you'll bring the car in."


John opened the gate and motioned for Daria to drive through. Cautiously, she passed through, rapidly looking from side to side to gauge her position relative to the gate opening. He followed the car, closing the gate behind. Next, John slipped the padlock in place and turned it to look like it was closed.

Daria rolled down the window and said, "Who's first?"

Going to the right side of the car to get in, John said, "Since you're already in the driver's seat, might as well be you."

"That makes sense."

The car rolled forward about a foot and John stumbled, exclaiming, "Ah!" as he used the door to keep from falling.

Daria looked down. "Sorry, my foot slipped off the brake. Think I need to move the seat forward again."

John replied, "Just so you weren't trying to bump me off for the insurance," and got into the car.

"Now that you mention it, an insurance payoff would make a good down-payment on that isolated cabin in Montana."

Daria put the car in park and said through her teeth, "I suppose you could do better. Fine, show me. I'm through for the day."

Surveying the odd position the car was in between two stacks of boxes being used for parallel parking, John said, "Okay, as soon as I can figure out how to get the car out of here."

Daria opened the door and stepped out. "I'll move a stack of boxes. You shouldn't have any trouble."

Scooting over to the driver's seat, John muttered, "Smartass." He closed the door and pulled the car away when Daria tugged the boxes away and waited while she put them back before returning to the car.

"Okay, now show me how it's done," Daria said after she got in.

"Not a problem," John said as he started the car.

The steering wheel momentarily spun out of John's hand when the front tire hit the uneven edge of a storm drain and lurched to the side.

Grasping the overhead handgrip with one hand and the seat with the other, Daria nervously said, "Two hands on the wheel, okay? Two hands."

"It was just a little glitch," said John, turning to quickly look at Daria. The burning glare in her eyes made him rethink his opinion. "Okay, two hands. Sheesh."

"Hey, kids! How'd the…driving…practice…go?" Jake called as he rounded the corner of the building, his voice trailing off as he saw Daria and John leaning on opposite sides of the car and looking away. The two teens looked at him and said nothing, though the residual frustration and anger was clear.

"Okay then. Why don't we just go straight home?"

Still without saying a word, John got in the back seat as usual, but instead of joining him, Daria sat in the front passenger seat.

"Um, yeah. Home it is."

Looking in her planning book while walking down the hallway, Quinn Morgendorffer cheerfully said, "Hmm. Okay, tonight I have a date with…here it is, Steve." She flipped a couple pages and checked down a list. "He has a gold, year-old coupe with a six-disc CD changer, but it's not a convertible. That means, I'll wear the…"

She stopped and looked at the two closed doors on the left side of the hall. "That's weird." Curious, she knocked on Daria's door.

"The door you are attempting to use is not in service at this time. Please try again later," Daria's voice announced.

Quinn looked down the hall at John's door and whispered to herself, "And she doesn't consider herself a drama queen."

To the door, Quinn said, "Something's up between you and John."

"It's none of your business."

"Daria, Mom also just got home. Do you want to talk to me, or her?"

Several muffled footsteps later, the door opened. "Quinn, you're hanging around Mom too much and picking up her habits."

Quinn pushed her way inside and closed the door. "So, what happened?"

Daria stalked back to her bed. "I really don't want to talk about it. Why would you want to?"

Quinn sighed and sat next to Daria. "Because sometimes, we girls need to stick together. Talking about boy problems with another girl helps. Otherwise, things would build up and we'd just kill them all."

Despite herself, Daria half smiled and said, "Ms. Barch would like that."

"Yeah, but then we'd have to get our own sodas and pay for our own movies."

"You know that there's more to how I feel about John than that."

"That's why you need someone to talk to. So you don't kill him or turn John into a Jane."

"Dammit." John tore a sheet from the large sketchpad on his easel, wadded it and threw it at the trash can.

He flopped onto the bed and studied the ceiling. "How the hell did we get so mad at each other?"

A few details of the disastrous afternoon came to him. Each one seemed small and minor: his mentioning to Daria that she could go faster, her telling him he could slow down, her difficulty with parallel parking, his arrogance at doing the same and hitting a stack of boxes, his comments about her wide, awkwardly slow turns and finally, her comments about the faint sound of tires squealing during some of his faster, sharp turns.

"Oh yeah, that's how. I guess I picked up a few bad habits from Trent…and Jesse, and Nick, and Max. And I guess Ms. Li claiming games of New Car Test Drive as a 'driving simulator' on the school computers didn't work well for Daria during Driver's Ed class."

Following a rapid knock on the door, John heard Quinn say, "Hey, are you dressed in there?"

"What's it to you?"

"Because I'm about to drag you out of there."

John replied, "I'm completely naked," though fully clothed.

The door swung open to reveal Quinn with her arms folded. "Right. Now come on."

John rolled onto his side and said, "Quinn, what are you doing?"

"Getting two stubborn people to talk."

"If Daria's willing…" He hopped off the bed and said, "I'll try."

Quinn grabbed his hand and pulled. "Follow me," she said, leading him to her room.

"Why are we going there?"

"Neutered ground."

"I hope you mean neutral ground."

Quinn exclaimed, "Whatever," before pushing him inside and closing the door.

Inside, Daria was looking away from the door and at the various stuffed animals on Quinn's canopy bed. "Hi."

"Um, hi."

They stood still without speaking for close to a minute before Daria said, "This room's awfully pink."

"Hard on the eyes, too."

Daria turned and said, "In her own way, Quinn's trying to be helpful."

"I get the idea she wants us to talk."

"I suspect she's using her room to speed up the process."

"It's working," John said, carefully smiling.

"We…got a little mad back there."

"I think it was more than a little."

"Okay, very mad. Happy?"

"Not really. Actually, more like miserable."

"Me, too."

"Look, uh, I'm…"

"Um, so am I."

John held his hands out and Daria grasped them, pulling him closer. She tilted her head back slightly and John leaned down to kiss her. Not breaking the kiss, they let go of each other's hands, John moving his around Daria's waist and she moved hers around his chest. Eyes closed, they forgot about anger as they enjoyed the embrace.

"Oh my God!" burst from Helen as she opened the door. "In Quinn's room!"

The outburst caused Daria and John to jump apart, with beet red faces.

"Mo-om!" Quinn called, trying to interrupt.

Helen brushed her daughter off, saying, "Hush, Quinn. I'll handle this. Daria, John, just what do you think you're doing?"

"Making up," Daria blurted out.

"I can see that," Helen said, not exactly understanding what was said.

"Up, Mom." Quinn tugged on Helen's sleeve. "They were making up, not making out."

Helen suddenly calmed. "What?"

John found his voice. "Daria and I had a fight earlier. We were making up."

Now confused, Helen asked, "In Quinn's room?"

"It was my idea," Quinn said.

"Your idea?" Helen asked.

"I didn't think their rooms would be a good idea; you know, even footing."

"There is the hallway."

"Mom, I figured they'd want at least a little privacy."

Daria said, "Mom, trust me. We were not going to stay in here very long."

"You know it," Quinn said, stepping past to her closet. "I still have a date to get ready for tonight. Now, can everybody please leave?"

Helen sighed and shook her head. "You kids better not give me any gray hairs."

John stepped into the hall. "That's really not our intention."

Helen joined him. "But you two really know better than to fully close the door."

John nodded. "I was thinking so much about what happened, I forgot. I'm sorry."

"No harm done," Helen said. "Besides a few more frayed nerves all around. I came up to tell you that dinner is almost ready. I'll meet you in the kitchen."

Helen went back downstairs and Daria asked Quinn, "Not that I don't appreciate it, but I'm curious. Why?"

Quinn smiled. "Because I like you two together…and you keep Mom and Dad distracted."

"Ulterior motives." John shrugged and said, "But, I'll take it. Thanks, Quinn."

"Glad we can be your decoys," Daria said.

Quinn started closing her door. "Yeah, yeah, you're welcome. But really, I need to get ready. I've already spent enough time on you two."

Quinn closed the door and Daria turned to John, putting her arms around his waist and leaning against him. "So much for the moment."

"I won't forget it anytime soon," John said, folding his arms around her.

Quinn peeked out of her door, satisfied. You better not.

The Lawndale Community College student union was sparsely occupied the next morning after Daria's Creative Writing class. Waiting for John to get out of his class, Daria pulled a plastic chair over to one of the pay phones and sat down. Flipping through the battered phone book attached to the booth by a steel cable, Daria jotted down notes on a sheet of paper.

With a list completed, Daria fished a quarter from her pocket and popped into the coin slot of the phone. She dialed the first number and waited, finally hearing a receptionist say, "Acme of Lawndale Driving School. May I help you?"

"Hi. My name's Daria Morgendorffer and I'm inquiring about your fees and schedules for driving lessons."

"Did you say Morgendorffer?"


"Any relation to Helen Morgendorffer?"

Wary, Daria said, "Yes."

"She actually had the gall to let you call us? Well, forget it. We don't have openings for new students. Goodbye."

Daria looked at the phone and said, "Mom, what did you sue them for? Oh well, next school."

She fed a quarter into the phone and dialed the second number on the list. After a couple rings, she heard, "Good morning, Bee-Safe Driving School. Can I help you?"

"Yes. My name's Daria Morgendorffer and I'm looking for…" Daria cut off her introduction when she heard a click and the line went dead. "Must be a bad connection."

She tried again and heard, "Good Morning, Bee-Safe Driving School. Can I help you?"

"I called just a moment ago and we were cut off. I'm…"

"Go away!" If anything, the hang-up click seemed louder.

Daria sighed and said, "Now that's customer service. Next."

The next call was answered with, "Drive with Confidence School, how may I help you?"

"Hi, I'm checking on prices and schedules for driving lessons."

"I can help you with that. Are you a new driver or fulfilling a court order?"

"Um, new driver."

"Adult or minor?"


"Do you currently have a learner's permit?"


"Okay. We have several options and an information brochure I can mail to you. Name, please?"

"Daria Morgendorffer."

"Morgen…oh dear."

"Is there a problem?"


"Okay, what did my mother do to you?"

"You don't know?"

"I don't exactly follow her cases, but you're the third school to have a problem."

"Look, we're not supposed to talk about it. But, we can't help you. Bye."

Daria pulled out another quarter for the phone and dialed from memory. Soon, she heard, "Helen Morgendorffer's office, this is Marianne."

"Hi Marianne, this is Daria. Is Mom in?"

"I'm sorry Daria, she's at the courthouse."

"Maybe you can help me, since you're the one that really knows what's going on around there."

Marianne chuckled at the comment. "I'll do what I can."

"Was Mom part of some kind of lawsuit involving the local driving schools?"

"Hmm, let me think." After a couple seconds, Marianne said, "That would be the Brake Right, Right-Hand Brake Company case. Helen successfully defended them against a class-action suit brought by the local driving schools for faulty instructor brakes."

"Well, that explains why the schools won't talk to me or why Mom's never suggested them."

"From what it sounded like, the schools weren't happy about losing. Do you want me to tell your mother you're having problems?"

"No! I already go to one school where the administration hates me. I'll just have to look into other options for driving lessons."

"I'm sorry, Daria."

"Thanks. Bye."

Daria hung up the phone and said, "Now what?"

John sat on the floor of Daria's room with his back against her bed, where she was reclining. John said to the cordless phone, "Trent, it was a raw oyster festival; what did you expect the free meal to be?"

John's tall, lanky brother leaned against the edge of a phone booth and looked at the other members of Mystik Spiral gathered around their road-weary black van, parked on a seaside wharf. Shirtless, Jesse was asleep in the passenger seat with a content smile on his face. Nick was leaning over the railing, returning his meal to the ocean, while Max sat in the open side cargo door, eagerly going through a box of crackers.

Trent said, "Kinda hoping for fish sticks. Had a few, go down easy. Don't know what's so exciting about them."

"So, what's wrong?"

"Didn't agree with Nick. Good thing we're not on the road."

"I bet. Is that it?"

"Max wouldn't eat any. We got 'm a box of crackers."

"What about Jesse?"

"He'll eat anything."

"Including stuff from our old fridge. Beside the food, how'd the gig go?"

"Don't think they're ready for Spiral."

Few are. "So, what's next?"

"Gonna jam with a local band tonight. Call themselves the Drunken Sailors."

"How appropriate for a fishing town."

"Said we might add a cool sound to some song called In Plymouth Town."

"What about after that?"

"We have a gig some place near D.C. called Correctly Political. Hey, what's up with you?"

"The sculpture class is fun and Daria's enjoying hers. Working for Jake is still strange, and so are his clients."

"Glad things are cool."

"But it's too bad you're not around for some driving practice."

"You drive okay."

John looked at Daria. "But not great. Plus, Daria also needs some practice. Still planning on being on the road all summer?"

"Maybe not all summer, but we could go 'til fall. Gonna play it loose."

In other words, until the Tank dies or you're broke. "I'll see what I can figure out here."

"You'll make it, Johnny."

"I'll try. Thanks for calling. It's nice knowing you're still alive."

Trent laughed and coughed. "Guess I'm acting like the rest of our family. Oh yeah, can you tell Monique we're doing good?"

"Yeah, I'll tell her."

"Looks like Nick's done. I'll talk to you later, Johnny. Um, yeah, tell Mr. and Mrs. M thanks for letting me call collect."

"I will. Later, Trent." John turned off the phone and said, "Well, I'm not going to bet on them to help."

"They were a long shot."

John started dialing a number on the phone. "Pardon me a sec while I try to keep Trent's ass out of the fire."



Daria sat up. "Hey."

"Hey, what?"

"Monique. She has a car."

John turned around and leaned up to kiss Daria. "You're brilliant."

Energy drink in one hand, granola bar in the other and a briefcase jammed under her arm, Helen rushed to the door on Saturday morning. "Daria, if I'm not home from the office by five, please start the frozen lasagna."

Waiting for a sugar tart that was warming in the toaster, Daria said, "I'll try to fit it into my whirlwind schedule."

Pouring coffee, John nodded while saying, "Or we'll do something."

"Thanks!" Helen opened the door and ran into a slender young woman with flowing black hair reaching for the doorbell. The drink flew from her hand and the briefcase tumbled to the ground, popping open.

Monique stumbled backward. "Ah!"

Helen squatted down and started grabbing loose papers. "Oh dear, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were there."

Monique knelt down to help. "It's okay; I guess you don't usually try to run over guests."

"Oh, uh…do I know you?"

"Monique. I'm to see Johnny and Daria."

Helen eyed Monique's bare midriff and nose ring. "Are you a friend from the college?"

Laughing, Monique said, "Nah, I'm Trent's girlfriend. You must be Daria's mom. Hi."

"Yes, I'm Helen. What brings you here?"

"Gonna give them some driving practice."

Stung, Helen said, "I see."

"Johnny said you had some important work to do. I'm kind of a temp until you can free up some more time."

"I really wish I had the time."

"My mom had to work a lot and I turned out fine."

"Uh-huh." Helen looked closer at the nose ring. "That's a real piercing, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Hey, Daria still have hers?"

"I don't know; it's not something she shows a lot."

"Pretty cool that you're not freaked out by it."

"I, uh, try to keep an open mind."

"It's also cool what you did for Johnny. I used to worry about him. Trent's a nice guy and all, but…he's not the most responsible."

"Thank you. John's a good boy and I'm glad to have him as part of the family."

Monique packed the last of the papers together and placed them in Helen's briefcase. "Looks like you're in a hurry. Better get on your way."

Helen closed the lid and said, "Oh dear, yes. Thank you so much for helping me pick things up. It's been nice running into you."

"I see where Daria gets some of her sense of humor."

"Sense of humor?"

"Running into me?"

Helen snickered. "Oh. That is rather funny."

The two women stood up and Helen said, "Come to think of it, I was wondering why they were up so early on a Saturday. Go on in and have a nice day."

"Thanks, you too."

As John climbed in the back seat of Monique's black sports car, Daria held back to say, "I don't know if I'm ready for a car like this."

In the passenger seat, Monique leaned across and said, "It handles better than your mom's battlebarge or your dad's bourg-mobile."

Stepping forward, Daria said, "If you say so." She sat down and pulled the seat forward, buckled in and adjusted the mirrors to meet her smaller frame.

Patting Daria's shoulder, Monique said, "Don't worry, I was a terror learning how to drive. You can't be any worse."

Daria started the car and turned to look behind while putting in reverse. A light pressure on the gas pedal caused the car to speed down the driveway and into the street. Daria's eyes flew open in surprise and she hit the brake while turning to avoid the opposite curb.

"Oh yeah, it has a little more 'umph' than your folks' cars," Monique said.

"Thanks for the warning."

Sitting on the opposite side of the booth from Daria and John, Monique dropped a pizza crust rim on her plate, adding to the stack of pizza bones already there. She said, "I wouldn't go for a driving test yet, but you're not doing that bad."

"Except for not noticing that speed limit sign," Daria said.

"So you were going 25 in a 45 zone. Better than the other way around."

John said, "At least you didn't scrape the front bumper on the curb when you parked."

"That stuff happens," Monique replied. "You haven't done anything to make me change pants, I'm happy."

"That's a fairly easy standard to attain," Daria said.

"You'd think, but I've ridden with some real scary drivers."

John said, "Like Max."

"You said it."

Daria asked, "Any other comments about our driving?"

"You act like you have a blind spot to the sides, like your glasses get in the way."

"They do, a little."

Monique waved her hand before picking up another slice. "Lots of people learn to deal with it. You'll be fine."

John asked, "What about me?"

"Slow down, you're not running a race."

"I get the hint."

Monique said to Daria, "Be glad he doesn't fall asleep at the wheel, like his brother."

"I feel better now," Daria said as she drove away from the street behind the Zon later that afternoon. "My parallel parking is still ugly, but at least it's not as embarrassing as my last attempt. Right, John?"

"I think there was some non-Euclidean geometry involved. The car was at a very strange angle," John answered.

"Now you know a quiet place to practice during the day," Monique said. "Except on Thursdays. That's when the beer is delivered."

"Ah!" Daria exclaimed in response to an old pickup pulling out of an alley to the left. The tall pile of junk haphazardly lashed down in the truck bed swayed and leaned as it turned onto the street dangerously close to the front of the car.

From John's viewpoint in back, the truck filled the front window as Daria hit the brake, throwing everyone hard against their seat belts. He noticed every detail as Daria pulled the steering wheel to the right and the car bucked and jumped as the front tire rode over the curb. It landed with a hard thump before stopping abruptly as the rear tire hit the curb.

Outside, he heard the metallic "ting" of a hubcap bouncing off the building facing the street. Daria still held a tight grip on the wheel and breathed hard while staring at the wall. Monique shook her head and reached down to the shifter, placing the transmission in park. "We're okay, Daria."


"We're okay."

"That truck, it just…appeared."

"I know."

"Your car…I'm sorry."

Monique leaned through the open window and then stepped out, walking to the front of the car. She held her hands a couple inches apart and said, "This much to spare. Looks like all that happened was a dinged hub cap and the front-end alignment's probably shot."

Still not moving, Daria said, "I think I'm done for the day."

Monique picked up the loose hub cap, walked around to the left side of the car and opened the door. After dropping the hubcap on the rear floorboard, she said, "Don't blame you. I'll take over and drive you home."

Stiff, Daria crawled out and was surprised when Monique put her arms around her, saying, "Great driving."

"What do you mean?"

Stepping back to arm's length while keeping her hands on Daria's shoulder, Monique said, "That could've been real bad, but it wasn't thanks to you."

Daria gazed down the street in the direction the truck had disappeared and shivered as the implication sank in. John slid over while Monique helped Daria into the back seat and put his arm around her when Monique swung the seat back into place. He said, "Wow Daria, good save."

"I just reacted."

John kissed her cheek. "I'd say your reactions are pretty good."

John and Daria climbed out of the passenger door and leaned back against the door frame after closing it. John said through the open window, "Thanks a bunch, Monique."

"No prob, Johnny."

Next, Daria said, "Thanks. I'm still sorry about your car."

"Eh, it really needed an alignment anyway. Do you need some practice time next weekend?"

Daria and John looked at each other and he said, "If you can stand us."

"Riding with you two will keep me out of trouble, since your brother's on the road. But, you can do me a favor."

"Sure," John agreed. "What's that?"

Monique's voice took on a hard edge. "The next time that irresponsible bum calls you, tell him to call me and not use you as a messenger."

"Um…yeah. I'll do that."

Back to normal, Monique said, "Thanks. I should get going, the Harpies have practice tonight and they get bitchy if I'm late. I really need to go solo. Bye, you two."

After Daria and John said goodbye, Monique drove off, leaving them by the driveway. Walking to the front door of the house, Daria said, "I hope I don't have any more close calls like that."

"I hope I don't have to find out if I could've done as well as you." John looked at his watch and said, "Oops. It's after five."

"And Mom's not home yet. Surprise, surprise."

A potent, eye-watering aroma hit them as they opened the door. Jake jumped up from the sofa and said, "Hey, kids! Nobody was home to start dinner, so I tried one of my new recipes. How does Indian curry chicken sound to you?"

Daria said, "After today, I think I can face it."

Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.

June 2006