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 third John Lane story
New Model Year
"Happy birthday, Daria. Sweet sixteen," Helen Morgendorffer said to her oldest daughter as she followed her youngest, Quinn, from the kitchen to the dining room. Quinn carried a white cake with sixteen candles burning around the perimeter.
John Lane watched with a mixture of amusement and anticipation. He was amused that Quinn's continued "helpfulness" around the house in exchange for Daria's and his silence about her unauthorized expedition to the Mall of the Millennium during school hours. He felt anticipation to see if Daria, the girl he found so fascinating, would like his gift.
"Happy birthday, Kiddo!" said Jake, Daria's father, as Quinn placed the cake on the table.
Daria looked suspiciously around the table at each person. "Remember the agreement. Any singing, and I walk."
Helen gave her a slight frown. "Yes, a deal's a deal."
Jake pushed the cake toward Daria. "Make your wish and blow out the candles."
Daria briefly eyed Quinn before inhaling and blowing out the candles.
Helen looked at the thin lines of smoke rising from the candles. "I hope your wish comes true."
Daria gazed upward. "We'll know in about fifteen minutes when the air-raid sirens start."
Helen sank into a chair and sighed, "Daria."
Daria grabbed the large cake knife and began carving into the cake. "Quinn, you want an extra-large corner piece with lots of frosting?"
Quinn's face wrinkled in disgust. "Daria, please. Give me a tiny piece out of the middle. Do you know how much fat is in that frosting?"
Even while obliging Quinn and cutting a small piece from the middle, Daria wiped some frosting from the knife and tasted it. "Hmm. Tastes like good, industrial strength lard. Bet this packs in fat by the metric ton."
Daria then served up more or less normal-sized pieces to Jake and Helen, and larger slices to John and herself.
John dug in and enjoyed. Even if it was from a bakery and not homemade, the cake was a lot tastier than the slightly stale cupcakes Trent had located for John's last birthday.
Quinn nibbled at her slice and eyed Daria's. "God, you deserve to balloon up eating stuff like that."
Helen riveted her gaze on Quinn. "Quiet. It's Daria's birthday; she's allowed a little indulgence."
John looked from one sister to the other. Daria might show a little fat on her thighs, but it's better than that skeletal look you and the rest of the Fashion Club aspire to.
"Why don't we get a carrot cake for Quinn's next birthday?" Daria asked Helen "Then she won't have to worry."
Quinn brightened. "Daria! I didn't know you could make cake from carrots. What a great idea."
Helen picked up a package from the side of the table and handed it to Daria in a desperate attempt to divert the conversation. "Happy birthday."
Daria noted the tag and carefully pulled open tape to neatly remove the wrapping paper. She removed a leather-bound book and read the title out loud. "The Gulag Archipelago." She looked at Helen and Jake with understated gratitude. "Right from the top of the list. Thanks."
Helen moved the next package over. Daria opened it while keeping one eye on Quinn. She pulled the long box from the paper and read the label. "Scrunchies of the World Collection. Just what I needed."
Quinn said, "Daria, you need to start somewhere. I figured you'd really appreciate the international diversity in that package."
"Uh, yeah. Thanks."
Helen slid a third package over and watched John through the corner of her eye. Despite the clear attraction between Daria and John, Helen was relieved that they seemed to be able to control themselves. Having her daughter's romantic interest living with them continued to give Helen nightmares whenever she remembered some of her own teenage improprieties during the sixties. It could be worse. She could be attracted to someone like John's older brother.
Daria took the clumsily wrapped box and looked at it for a moment. The first real gift I've had from a guy. Well, if you discount that emaciated horned toad that Beavis gave me in seventh grade. She gave John a tiny smile and peeled away the paper and opened the gift. It was a set of three cartridge-feed calligraphy pens.
John looked at her expectantly. "You want to be writer. I thought it seemed just right."
Her smiled widened. "These are nice, thanks. But, I don't know anything about calligraphy."
"I can show you. You don't think we bought greeting cards in the Lane household, did you?"
"And you were recruited to make them."
"At least after Penny left home."
That temporarily got Helen's attention. "Has your family been able to contact her about the house?"
John shook his head. "Nope. She's probably going to be in for a rude surprise, and so is anyone who moves into the old place."
After the party, John held Daria's hand as they sat a carefully spaced inch apart on her bed, watching Sick, Sad World. The reporter said, "An encyclopedia is an unusual product for a supermodel to promote, isn't it?"
A thin model held up a single volume and spoke in a faux-French accent. "But what's different about my encyclopedia is that you only buy the letters you find attractive. And it has big margins to draw your own pictures! How do you call them? Big margins, yes?"
John leaned back and pushed on the gray padding on the wall. "I've said it before, I'll say it again. You have the coolest room."
"It's got pros and cons. You can't hurt yourself in here. But you can't hurt anybody else, either."
"I suppose I should be grateful for that."
"Mom's threatening to redecorate again. Every time she brings it up I stumble and grab a handrail. But, I think she's catching on."
John thought for a moment. "You need to stumble somewhere else in the house. Break a bone. She'll reconsider."
"Thanks for your help."
He quickly looked at the open door to see nobody was there, then raised her hand and kissed it. "I suppose your would need somebody to help compensate for your temporary disability."
From the television came the announcer's voice. "Next, on Sick, Sad World: the Malibu Primate Diet."
John concentrated on a sketch while his English teacher, Mr. O'Neill, droned on. "Is Mr. Thoreau really turning his back on the world by moving to Walden Pond? Or is he, by his example, trying desperately to save the world after all? Normandy?"
The over-endowed blond cheerleader, Brittany Taylor, narrowed her eyes and said, "Brittany. He wasn't at Walden Pond because he was mad at the world. He was just mad at Jane Fonda. You know he was her father in real life, too?"
Despondent, Mr. O'Neill tried to think of some kind of rational response. "Hmmm..."
The principal of Lawndale High, Ms. Li, barged into the class and without hesitation said, "Good morning! I hope I'm not disrupting the learning process."
Mr. O'Neill sadly shook his head, relieved at the break from frustration. "Oh, no."
Grinning and gesturing, Ms. Li said, "I've got some exciting information for you all. A team of talent scouts from the Amazon Modeling Agency will be here this week as part of their national talent search and the most promising Lawndale student will receive a professional modeling contract."
Brittany sat up straighter, a motion that normally attracted the attention of most males in the room. "They got my letter!"
A pleasant black girl in the front row, Jodie Landon, asked, "Why here?"
Ms. Li produced a forced chuckle. "I guess they found out what a good looking group you are. But, seriously, this is a great opportunity for you, and even greater for Lawndale High." The school name was drawn out in the principal's own style.
Daria clearly had enough of the silliness. "Excuse me? Isn't modeling about dropping out of school to pursue a career based solely on your youth and your looks? Both of which are declared over by age 25."
"Do you have a point, Ms. Morgendorffer?" Ms. Li said in growing frustration.
John felt a twisted smile form on his lips. This is too much fun to pass up. "And don't fashion people squander their lives loudly worshiping all that is superficial and meaningless while the planet keeps riding the roller coaster to hell?"
Ms. Li responded with a bit of fatigue, "Modeling is a competitive field, yes, but the financial rewards are great. As principal, I'd be cheating the student body if I didn't allow them every opportunity to fulfill their potential."
Moving in for the kill, Daria said, "Excuse me. Can we assume the financial rewards are great for the school as well?"
"That is really none of your business!" Ms. Li said in annoyance.
Like a swordmaster, Daria made the telling cut. "But I don't want to miss a lesson in applied economics. I'm trying to fulfill my potential."
Ms. Li relented. "The school is receiving a fee for its cooperation, but every cent is going to capital improvements! We're finally going to get those bullet proof skylights for the swimming pool."
"Well, I for one am very excited about this." John rubbed his hands together and grinned. "I can feel myself getting into the modeling spirit."
Ms. Li enjoyed seeing fresh enthusiasm. "Excellent!"
John moved in for the follow-up strike. "May I be excused? I'd like to go to the girls' room and watch the model wannabes vomit up breakfast."
As Jodie sat down at Daria and John's regular table in the cafeteria, Daria asked, "Where's your lunch?"
Jodie said, "I ate during student council."
John shook his head. "Come on, you're not fooling us. You fed your lunch to a stray jock." He winked at Daria. "She'll have that modeling contract before you even get a chance."
Daria glared at John and said to Jodie, "You really ought to stick to mineral water and parsley."
Exasperated, Jodie said, "You know, you don't always have to be against everything. If a kid wants to take a modeling class, you can't tell her, 'no.'"
"But you don't have to let the fashion mob push the classes on school grounds, either."
John finished a bite of lunch. "Yeah, it's not fair to the dope dealers. They have to work on the other side of the parking lot. I think we need to put up rain shelters for them."
"It's completely voluntary." Jodie still couldn't understand Daria's objection. "What's the problem?"
"No problem," said Daria, "but why stop at modeling? Maybe there's a go-go bar downtown that would like to come recruit lap dancers."
John said, "Better hit the ones out by the interstate. Those downtown only recruit ,um, dual purpose employees."
Daria shot him a look that would normally kill at fifty yards. "And how would you know?"
John realized just how bad that had sounded. "Um…I've helped Trent and his band set up downtown a bunch of times. We 'B' Babes is only half a block down from McGrundy's pub, and Jiggle City is around the corner from the Zon."
Daria and Jodie continued to visually lance him.
"Look, it's not like I've sampled any of the product." John looked back and forth between them, hoping for some respite.
"Okay, I snuck in with the band a couple times. Come on, it's natural curiosity."
The stares relented somewhat.
John lightly slapped his forehead. "That's where it was! Now I remember where I saw that Eric guy your Mom works for. He and a bunch of other suits mistook Monique for a stripper when she came in to drag Trent out of Jiggle City last summer."
Daria's brain immediately shifted gears. "Are you absolutely sure that was Eric Schrecter you saw in that go-go bar?"
"Oh, yeah. The waitress called him Eric when she slapped him and said hands off the customers."
Daria smiled. "I don't know when, but that is going to be useful information."
Channeling Picasso on a bad trip is the only explanation for her diagrams. John looked at the convoluted series of lines, Xs and Os on the board as the Economics teacher, Mrs. Bennett, said, "The fashion industry may be a considered perfect implementer of marketplace psychology. The business insures its own survival by training consumers to focus on arbitrary styling distinctions, rather than quality and durability."
She was interrupted by the laughter of a platinum-blond man and a black-haired woman entering the room. "Huh," she said, waving them in. "You must be the representatives from the Amazon Modeling Agency."
"Well, I would hope so," the man said. "We're a little long in the tooth to be attending high school."
The woman jokingly slapped the man's back. "Speak for yourself, grandpapa," she said and laughed as he turned back in mild annoyance.
He drolly said, "Ha, ha, ha."
Mrs. Bennett laughed uncomfortably. "I was just telling the class about how the fashion industry uses customer psychology to perpetuate itself in the marketplace."
"I'm Romanica and this is Claude."
Claude walked over to Mrs. Bennett. "You know, if the hem of that skirt was an inch higher, you'd have a look as up-to-date as tomorrow."
"Do you think so?" Mrs. Bennett asked, looking down at her legs.
Claude waved a hand. "Show off those gams, girlfriend."
Brittany, who'd come to class in a trench coat, cried out, "This is the most exciting day of my life! Being a model is all I've ever wanted to be."
Kevin Thompson looked like a hurt puppy. "Uh…hey..."
Brittany leaned over to placate him. "I mean, besides being the girlfriend of the cutest guy on the team. Oh, and winning the national high school cheerleading championship." Her voice took on a serious tone. "Oh yeah, and helping the starving kids in the desert, or wherever."
Romanica came over and held Brittany's chin in her hand. "Well, let's have a look! Hmmmm...lovely. What is your name?"
"Brittany. Is that okay? Because I was thinking of changing it to Blue."
"Can you take off your coat and walk for us?" Claude asked.
Romanica gave her a predatory grin. "Just slip out of that jacket and do a little runway, sweetie."
Brittany shed the coat to show a pink, strapless formal gown. She strutted up and down an aisle of desks while the other students watched. John sensed Daria's tired disgust at the proceedings, though he looked on in amusement at the air-headed girl. While Brittany's back was turned, Claude motioned with his hands to indicate the teen's large breasts. Romanica shook her head.
Romanica quietly clapped. "That was just wonderful! Don't you think so, Claude?"
He said, "Wonderful? Astonishing! We'll see you in class…Blue."
Romanica gazed around the room. "Now, who else in this room is a potential superstar of fashion?"
Can we end this, now? John held up a sketch of Claude and Romanica as circling vultures. Romanica stepped back with a frown on her face.
Claude laughed at the drawing. "That's an excellent likeness of you, darling." He gazed around and spotted Daria. "Oh, look at you. So waif-like, so pouty. Could you remove your glasses?"
Daria deadpanned, "Could you remove your halter top?"
"I can't take my glasses off. I need them to see scam artists."
The two looked at her in surprise.
John leaned over and quietly said, "Good one, Daria."
"Excuse me," said Claude and Romanica as they left the room.
Romanica glanced back and said under her breath, "Hmm. Daria."
Daria said to John, "Thanks."
He grinned. "Isn't Waif the name of the fashion magazine your sister obsesses over?"
"That I never want to be even remotely associated with. If you don't want bootprints on certain body parts, you will never mention that again."
While John idly picked at his lasagna, Daria spoke to Jake and Helen. "So then Ms. Li admits to only doing this for new bulletproof skylights. The whole thing is sick enough to turn your stomach. Which I guess is good if you want to become a model: eases the transition into bulimia."
Helen said, "You really feel strongly about this."
"What do you mean?"
"Well…you're talking to us."
Thrown slightly off-guard, Daria said, "Well, yeah, well."
Helen beamed. "I'm glad you feel strongly about it Daria, and for the record, I agree with you."
Jake perked up. "So do I!"
Daria looked from one to the other. "I suppose you realize that now I have to reconsider my position."
John looked up. "But does that mean you agree that you look…"
"I told you not to mention that."
Helen looked at the two and dismissed the obviously private message. "These people sound like opportunists who are feeding off the vanity of naive young people. I pity the kids who get sucked in by them and I pity their poor parents."
Quinn rushed into the dining room and said, "Mom! Dad! Guess what? I've been accepted into a really exclusive modeling class!"
As a group, all four looked at her.
Confused, Quinn said, "What?"
A few minutes later, Quinn pounded her fists on the table and demanded, "What do you mean, I'm not the modeling type? Are you talking about my hips?"
Helen said, "This has nothing to do with your hips."
"It can't be my boobs," Quinn arrogantly said. "Claude said that my boobs are perfect."
Jake jumped up in a full rant. "Who's Claude? I'll kill him! If he is a him."
"As close as I can tell, Claude thinks any boobs are perfect," John muttered.
Helen wearily said, "You're not killing anyone Jake."
Jake slumped. "Can I go upstairs, then? This conversation is making me really uncomfortable."
"Sit down, Jake," Helen irritably said before turning to her daughter. "Quinn, this isn't about your body. I don't think you realize that modeling is an extremely competitive activity."
While keeping her voice level, Quinn lowered her head and said in a predatory tone, "So is dating. If you do it right."
"In which your value as a human being is based entirely on how you look."
"When does the bad part come in?"
The cordless phone on the table rang. Daria looked on in surprise when neither Helen nor Quinn moved to answer it by the second ring. "Wow, they are upset, she said as she picked up the phone after the third ring. "Hello?"
Romanica reclined on a table in a spa, speaking on a cell phone. "Hello! My name is Romanica DeGregory."
In a mock accent, Daria said, "And I am Daria Morgendorffer."
Romanica smiled unpleasantly. How nice, our little scam spotter. "I wonder if I might speak to a Helen Morgendorffer."
"Hold on please." Daria handed the phone to her mother.
Helen sweetly said, "Hello?"
"Am I speaking to the mother of Quinn and Daria Morgendorffer?"
"Yes, I'm their mother."
Their mother? Startled, Daria listened carefully.
"This is Romanicaaeeeeee!" she screeched as a spa worker poured a depilatory hot wax on her. "Romanica DeGregory, with the Amazon Modeling Agency. Have I called you at a bad time, Mrs. Morgendorffer?"
"Please, call me Helen. What can I do for you, Monica?"
"Call me Romanica. Helen, your daughters have been selected along with a mere handful of girls to participate in a complementary class in the Lawndale High auditorium."
"A complementary class?"
Jake perked up at the word. "Complementary?"
"Absolutely complementary Helen," Romanica smoothly replied, "and an experience that we expect will generate many compliments. All the students are invited but Daria and Quinn will be among the lucky ones who will be coached on stage. We're looking upon modeling superstars."
Helen showed a mix of pride and suspicion. "Uh, huh."
"I shouldn't be telling you this, but we think your daughters are something special!"
"We think they're pretty special, too."
They're? Daria switched from curiosity to concern.
"You know, Helen, I spend a lot of time with the world's top models and they all have that special something. I think millions of girls have a little something but it's not special. Your daughters have something special. Quinn is a pearl in a bed of oysters. Daria is a diamond in the rough."
Helen nodded and looked at Quinn, then Daria. "I'll discuss this with my daughters, Monica, and we'll let you know."
Daughters. Plural. This is not good.
John noticed Daria's concern and slid a little closer to her.
"Rrrrrrrromonica! Thank you, Helen. And remember, opportunity knocks, but it doesn't beg." She let out a loud, "Ahhhhhhhh!" as the cooled wax was ripped away. "Goodbye."
Helen switched off the phone. "What a strange woman."
Quinn stood and leaned against the table. "You gotta let me do this! You always say I can be anything I want to be!"
Helen sighed, "Yes, I do say that."
"That reminds me," Daria said, "can I be the queen of Brazil?"
John nudged her. "Would that make me your consort?"
She smiled at him. "That'll do, since you won't make a good mistress."
"All right," Helen said to Quinn, "you can participate in the open class, but it goes no further and on one condition."
Quinn happily cried, "Yes!" before narrowing her eyes. "What condition?"
A split second later, Daria also said, "What condition?"
Helen looked at Daria. "Both of you have been invited to the class. Daria, even though I normally don't approve of such activities, I think this would be a wonderful opportunity for you to get out of your shell and learn to be a little more feminine."
Quinn's eyes flew open in outright panic. "Mo-om! You can't let Daria in the class!"
Helen stabbed Quinn with a prosecutorial gaze. "Then I can't let you in the class."
"One or the other. Choose."
Quinn angrily folded her arms and looked at Daria. "Fine! She'll only make the rest of us look better." She turned and stalked away from the table.
Helen turned to her oldest with her calmest lawyer façade in place. "Now, what do I have to do to make you go to that class?"
"Daria, I want you there to keep an eye on her, and do a better job than you did at that party."
"I can watch her from the audience."
"I'm serious about this helping you out of your shell. Let's put it this way: You can negotiate a price from me for you to go, or a price you will have to pay to stay out. One or the other. Choose."
John quietly backed away from the discussion as he noticed Jake doing the same. Jake leaned over to put an arm around John's shoulder and whispered, "Son, you're learning. Never, never get between them when they're negotiating."
Daria released a frustrated sigh and held up one finger. "No mention of redecorating my room until I graduate from high school."
Daria held up a second finger and briefly looked at John. "John and I are allowed to close the doors of our rooms, but not latch them, when we're in a room together."
The tension in her jaw line made it through Helen's controlled face. "Agreed."
Daria held up a third finger. "Neither you, nor Quinn, will attempt to influence what I wear to this."
A slight twitch hit the corner of Helen's eye. "Deal. Now, don't push your luck."
Helen released her held breath. "You're getting tougher."
"This has the potential for my total humiliation. The price had to be high." Daria allowed a small smile to show. "However, there is the potential for Quinn's total humiliation, which could make it all worthwhile." She turned and walked upstairs. John rose to follow.
Feeling like she'd just been through a rough cross-examination, Helen turned to Jake. "Tell me I should just be glad that she's going."
Jake grinned. "Of course you should! It's great that she wants to look out for her little sister."
"Do you hear anything that goes on here?" Helen barked.
In full retreat, Jake said, "Have you seen the paper?"
John followed Daria into her room. She stepped behind him and pulled the door closed, but not latched. "Crap. Crap…crap…crap."
John gently placed a hand on her shoulder, hoping to comfort her. "Look at the bright side? We can have a little privacy."
Daria reached up and held his hand. "And I saved my room, but John, I really don't want to do this."
"I know. I wish I could help."
"God. Having to parade around up on stage with a bunch of fashion monsters."
"You mentioned the opportunity to humiliate Quinn. Since you have to be there, you really could, you know."
"Show her up. You hide it very well, but you're better looking."
Daria shook her head. "I know very well what I look like. Don't even go there, John."
"But, just one…"
She continued shaking her head. "It would embarrass Quinn, but it would also give her and Mom a big victory I can't afford. Both of them use their looks to get ahead and think I should, too. Quinn is obvious about it, while Mom wears those tailored suits with the minimum length skirt she can get away with in court. Don't think she doesn't use her legs for effect. If I give in and show off there, it'll give them more leverage to use against me."
"Okay, okay. Scrub that idea. We'll have to figure out another way."
"Good." Daria picked up a notebook from the floor and sat on her bed to think.
John came over and sat next to her. "So, what's the plan?"
"I don't know yet." Daria looked at the notepad for several moments. She gave John one of her warm smiles, pulled him close with one arm, and kissed him. "Thank you."
John sat alone near the back of the auditorium. Daria, Quinn, and the rest of the Four Horses of Fashion -Sandi Griffin, Stacy Rowe, and Tiffany Blum-Deckler - were lined up on the stage, along with a plump girl with curly red hair. Romanica and Claude stood next to a model runway erected on the stage deck.
Romanica looked at the girls. "All right, ladies, your worst enemy is at the end of the cat walk, the one that stole your boyfriend. She has fallen and broken her leg. Your job is to tell her, without words, that you've come to watch them cut it off." She crossed her throat with one finger as she finished. As the girls began walking, she said, "Very good, Sandi, Stacy..."
As the plump girl walked by, Claude and Romanica exchanged a few words unheard by anyone else. As Quinn went by, Romanica said, "Oh, Quinn, that is excellent. You look to be truly savoring another's misfortune."
Quinn cocked one hip out with her hand resting on it. "Thanks."
Daria was last in line, dressed in her normal ochre shirt, green jacket, black skirt, and boots. She clearly made no attempt to do anything but walk normally.
Claude hissed, "Romanica. The first decoy was wonderful, but our little pouty waif is a disaster. Why don't we let her go?"
"Patience," she whispered back, "let the peer pressure work its magic. Those four girls are predators that will tear her apart at the first sign of weakness."
"If you say so." Claude put on a smile and said to the group, "Now, girls, you are little kittens in an animal shelter, and you have to look sad so someone will adopt you. Or else, it's kitty heaven."
John smiled to see Daria make a comment that caused all the other girls to say, "Eww," and step away from her. Claude turned away from Daria in frustration.
Romanica turned to the girls and said, "Now. When you stride down the runway, you're walking towards your car. You've spotted a headless corpse in it - and it's a brand-new car!"
Daria's voice carried out into the auditorium. "And it's a smelly old corpse."
The other girls stepped farther away. Romanica glared at Daria and Claude glared at Romanica.
John's brother, Trent, wandered in to the auditorium and sat down next to him. "Hey, Johnny."
He looked over. "Yo! Trent, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, you know. Whatever."
"You didn't drag yourself out of bed before nightfall for whatever. What are you doing?"
Trent propped his legs on the seats in front of him. "Um…you know. After you told me about this on the phone, I thought I'd check it out. Get used to being around fashion types. You know, for the future."
"Trent, what are you talking about?"
Alternating between pointing at himself and the stage, he said, "You know, models, musicians? Models, musicians?"
As if. "Does Monique know you're out and about?"
"Um, I'm not sure how to break it to her. You got any ideas?"
John rolled his eyes. "She kicked you out."
John shook his head. "Where are you staying?"
"You know, wherever."
Approaching noises began to divert John's attention. Whimpering loudly into a handkerchief, Brittany sat down near the end of the row, next to John.
John looked over. "I'm afraid to ask."
"I'm not model material!" Brittany whined, "I should be up there on stage with the winners instead of out here in the audience with the losers!"
"Yeah, we can be such bad influence."
Kevin appeared and sat next to Brittany. "Oh, babe, I found you."
"Kevin, life is so unfair." Brittany buried her face in his shoulder pad.
"What's wrong, babe?"
Brittany's response was garbled.
Kevin gave a confused, "Huh?"
John looked over. "Don't ask. Just be there for her." John looked away so he wouldn't see the results.
Kevin put his arm around Brittany. "Oh, okay."
Claude's voice carried out into the audience as he pointed at Kevin. "You, out there. What's your name?"
Kevin looked up in surprise and pointed at himself. "Kevin?"
Claude waved. "Come on up here, and help our pretty little sparrows learn to pose with handsome young eagles."
Kevin stupidly grinned. "Sure!" He bounced up, leaving Brittany to whimper and fall over into his seat.
John noticed Quinn's three captive males, Joey, Jamie, and Jeffy, were already on stage. He looked to the side. "Don't be sad, Brittany. He's up there with the winners now."
Brittany sat up and bawled loudly.
Claude continued to scan the audience, finally pointing. "You, we need another handsome hunk up here."
Mack MacKenzie looked at his girlfriend, Jodie.
She shrugged. "If Daria can stomach being up there, I don't see any harm."
John looked back at his brother. "Trent, where are you staying?"
"I'm going to be at Jesse's this week, as soon as he finds the sofa. Hopefully, Max will have shoveled out some room for me next week."
"Trent, I'm worried. Please find a real place to stay."
"That kind of needs, you know, real money."
"I know. Look, you either need to find some more gigs for the band, or you need a second job."
"Job…man, that's just cruel."
Unnoticed, Brittany left the chair and moved forward in the audience to keep a closer eye on Kevin.
"Trent, so is being homeless. It's already November."
"Damn, I don't know."
Daria loudly said, "Excuse me?"
John and Trent looked up.
Trent said, "Hey. Isn't that Daria up there?"
On the stage, Joey, Jamie, Jeffy were shirtless. Kevin wore his shoulder pads. Mack stood with his shirt on and a look of distaste on his face.
Daria faced off against Romanica. "No offense to Mack, but not a chance."
"No offense Daria," Mack said, "but same here."
Romanica glowered at the two. "Are you sure?"
Quinn stepped back from Joey and looked at Daria. Daria could see that Quinn wanted a way out, even if she wouldn't admit it.
Daria looked at Romanica. "Yes, I'm sure."
"Young lady, you're registered in this class, and you will participate in all parts of the class."
"Excuse me? This is a voluntary class, and I am not volunteering for the next exercise."
"This is part of being a model. Don't tell me you haven't done anything like that to your boyfriend."
"What we may or may not have done is none of your business. You're asking me to," Daria paused, "grope one of the few people in this school I respect, who is also the boyfriend of one of the few other people I respect. I will stand here like a lump, but I will not participate."
Romanica was getting visibly angry. She clenched her fists and searched for something to say.
Claude chuckled into his hand and quietly said, "What was that about peer pressure magic, darling?"
Daria looked at her. "Peer pressure? I'd wondered why I was invited."
Ms. Li appeared from the stage wing and charged over. "Ms. Morgendorffer! Just what are you doing, harassing our guests like that?"
Daria turned. "Refusing to participate in what I'm sure you will find to be undesirable behavior."
Ms. Li's eyes registered the four shirtless boys with the rest of the Fashion Club standing in front of them. "What the hell is going on here?" She turned to Romanica and Claude. "This is not what I approved of." She turned to the boys. "Get your shirts on! This is not Coach Gibson's gymnasium." Shooing with her hands, she moved toward the students. "Clear out. Class is dismissed!"
The students broke up and started to move away. Daria and Mack went down the front steps to the auditorium, while Quinn sprinted for the restroom.
Brittany grabbed Kevin and dragged him away as he cried, "But, babe. It was only modeling!"
When they reached Jodie, Mack sat with a sigh of relief. "This week's column should be interesting," Daria whispered to Jodie, I'll have it to you by tomorrow morning."
Jodie said, "Thanks." She briefly held Daria's hand. "Really, thanks."
Daria gave her a brief smile and nod before heading out to where John and Trent were seated.
"Great performance," said John.
Daria smiled and sat down. "Saving my own butt. Hey, Trent. What brings you here?"
"Oh, you know. Thought I'd…"
John put a hand over Trent's mouth. "Monique kicked him out and he's looking for a place to stay."
"Damn, I'm sorry."
Trent shook his head. "No big deal. I once spent six months living in a tent. I can do it again."
"Trent, that was over the summer. And I brought sandwiches out for you every day." John looked at Daria. "He was in the backyard."
Seated around the table with the Morgendorffers, John looked down at his plate. I'm going to learn how to cook if I see lasagna again this week.
"So I thought," Quinn prattled on, "if I sign up with a charity now, before I'm famous, later on I can say, 'Oh! I was helping others long before I started modeling.'"
"We agreed that you would take that one class and that was it," Helen replied.
Quinn dreamily looked up. "I was thinking maybe some group that helps animals, but cute animals."
"Quinn, we made a commitment to each other and now it's time to honor that commitment. No more modeling classes."
"Mom! I'm not talking about the class that Daria scr…was also in. I'm talking about winning the modeling contract."
John said, "You looked pretty appreciative to get off the stage, to me."
Quinn looked at him in annoyance. "John, this is none of your business."
Helen looked at John. "What do you mean?"
Before John could say anything, Quinn interrupted. "I had to go to the bathroom really bad. I was glad to get offstage to go."
"Oh." Helen moved a hand toward Quinn. "Sweetheart, please don't take this the wrong way, but what if you don't win?"
Quinn looked stupefied. "Don't win?"
Daria produced a mischievous, knowing smile. "Then I guess the animals are on their own, even the cute ones."
Helen looked at Daria. "You haven't said anything about your experience. How did you find the class?"
Helen dropped her head. "Didn't you get anything out of it?"
Daria smile grew slightly. "I had a fascinating look inside the world of modeling that provided material for my next newspaper column."
Helen perked up. "Sweetie! That's wonderful, you…" Helen's voice slowly fell as the implication sunk in. "…have material for your column."
John pulled Daria's room door almost closed and leaned against her computer desk as she typed. "How's it coming?"
Daria talked without pausing her typing. "Almost done."
"Cool. Um…are you going to be able to help me, after?"
Daria stopped typing and saved the file. "There. I'll give it a once-over in the morning." She turned in the swivel chair to face John. "I'll help, but a lot of the effort has to be from Trent. Mom and Dad are not going to let him camp in the backyard."
"I know. The best thing will be to find Mystik Spiral more gigs and find him some low-rent housing."
"We could try some net searches."
Helen quietly knocked on the door and opened it. "Would you two like a snack?"
Daria looked past John. "Mom, we ate dinner an hour ago."
"Oh." Helen set a plate of crackers on the bookshelf and entered the room. "I know you weren't happy about attending, but I really was hoping you would learn a little from that class."
"What I learned was that fashion is even shallower than I thought."
"I meant…" She looked a John. "That it might help you learn to appreciate your own…looks better."
Daria shook her head. "Mom. I do. And the people that are important to me, like you and John, do. I don't need others to appreciate how I look."
"Oh." Helen shifted her gaze to John. "How do you know how she looks?"
John stiffened. I've imagined. "I'm an artist." Still thinking about his imagination, John said without thinking, "I've learned to understand what a body looks like underneath clothing, to be able to represent the subject."
Helen's mind made a high jump to a conclusion. "You haven't had her pose nude or…"
John blushed. "No! I…no, I haven't," he blurted and shook his head violently.
A mortified cry of "Mom!" came from Daria as her face flushed bright red.
"Sorry." Helen sighed. "Just a little maternal paranoia. Young men can be very single-minded."
Swallowing, John tried to salvage the situation. "Mrs. Morgendorffer, I wouldn't make the suggestion."
Helen's lawyer instincts kicked in and she raised an eyebrow. "John, don't tell me you're not interested."
John looked at Daria and the blush returned. "I…um…I." He slumped before bracing himself. Don't lie. She can smell it like Trent's week-old socks. "I'd be lying if I said no."
Daria's eyes widened in shock. Helen leaned toward him threateningly.
John tenderly looked at Daria. "I can't help that I think she's beautiful. But, we're nowhere near ready for that." John turned to Helen. "I promise not to ask for as long as I live here. And, I know you'll skin me alive if I do."
"Mom, trust me," Daria added, wanting the subject to go away. "It will be a cold day in hell before I pose for a nude painting that will be put on display…anywhere."
Helen sighed in relief. "Good. John, you have kept your word so far. I'll hold you to it."
John also sighed in relief. But someday I hope you will, if only for me.
A couple days later, Ms. Li finished up the school assembly. "Due to unforeseen circumstances, the new glass for the swimming pool skylights has been cancelled. The steel shutters will remain in place." Ms. Li closed the folder on her notes and said, "Okay, students. That will be all for today's assembly. Don't forget the pep rally tomorrow, for the honor and glory of Lawndale High." She stepped away from the podium and exited the stage.
John crossed his arms and looked at Daria. "I'm impressed. Not a single mention of the Amazon Modeling Agency."
Daria allowed a brief smile. "I should be worried that I intentionally enjoyed my extracurricular activity."
John made a cross with his fingers. "That is the path to ruin! Turn away while you still can!"
Quinn and the rest of the Fashion Club approached. Sandi angrily stepped forward, holding a copy of the Lawndale Lowdown. "You sabotaged our chances! After your column came out, Ms. Li sent Romanica and Claude away before they could offer anybody a contract!"
Stacy carefully quoted Daria's column from the paper. "I had to wonder if the Amazon Modeling Agency was looking for models, or perhaps more 'hands on' workers, like some of the downtown clubs are reputed to employ. To avoid that kind of embarrassment in the future, why not bring in a mercenary recruiter? One suggestion would be General Conroy from Brutal Mercenary magazine. They could have lessons in hand-to-hand combat in the gym. After all, the school should be providing well-rounded educational opportunities to anybody willing to offer a financial incentive."
Sandi continued, "You clearly don't understand anything important. How would anyone call you a brain?" Sandi spun and strutted away, with Stacy and Tiffany in tow. Quinn held back, turned, and gave her a brief smile before following the rest.
Daria watched her sister. "That, is probably about the closest I'm going to get to a thank you."
John hitched a thumb at the departing girls. "I wouldn't want any of them to pose nude for me. But, I bet they'd make great strippers." John flinched from Daria's slap. "Ow!"
"One of those is my sister."
Dialog from This Year's Model by Laura Kightlinger and Glenn Eichler via the Outpost-Daria transcript.
Thanks to Ipswichfan, Kristen Bealer and The Angst Guy for beta reading.