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 fifth John Lane story.
Standing in the school hallway, John Lane asked, "Well, are you ready to face the lidless eye of Barad Lawndale?" and enjoyed the look of mild surprise on Daria Morgendorffer's face.
"You've read Lord of the Rings?"
"Yeah, wicked story."
"Oh, I kind of didn't picture it as your style."
John shrugged. "I'd picked up a book of the Hildebrandt brothers' art for it. That's where I got the idea to paint from Polaroids. The art was so cool, I decided to read the books."
A haughty voice called from down the hall, "Hello! Quinn's cousin or something."
Daria looked past John with amusement and said, "You'll have to excuse me, my sister wants me to stay away."
John turned to see Daria's sister, Quinn, crossing her arms in front to indicate "don't come over" while her friend and bitter rival, Sandi Griffin, was waving for Daria to approach.
Sandi called, "So, Quinn's little friend, or whatever, take a look at this," indicating a girl standing next her that John vaguely remembered as Brooke.
Behind them were the other two stalwarts of fashion dictates at Lawndale High, Stacy Rowe and Tiffany Blum-Deckler, plus two girls that John couldn't even put a name to.
Daria asked, "What is it?" as she reached the group.
Tiffany said, "It's Brooke's new nose. Isn't it cute?"
After a few moments of careful scrutiny, Daria said, "Don't worry, it'll grow out."
Brooke stepped back in confused shock while the rest of the girls stood by in horror. Daria gave them the briefest of smiles and walked back to John.
"What was that about?" he inquired.
"What kind of person would go under the knife to join the shallow end of the gene pool? Next on Sick, Sad World."
"Huh? If she'd had surgery, I would've thought that they'd be…oh, you were looking at her nose."
"I know where you live."
Near the end of Mr. DeMartino's history lecture, he said, "And on that fateful day, his followers obediently drank the poison brew."
The class responded with various versions of "Wow" or "Whoa."
"Jonestown, one charismatic leader exerting his demonic will over scores of followers. What lesson can we take from this tragic example of herd-like behavior? Kevin!"
Seated in the front, Kevin Thompson said, "Uh, BYOB?"
John lightly chuckled and whispered to Daria, "For him, that was pretty observant."
Daria whispered back, "Frighteningly so."
"Please return to your stupor, Kevin," the exasperated teacher implored.
Mr. DeMartino forged on. "While we continue our discussion of cults, can anyone give me another example of a group using coercive techniques such as peer pressure, chanting, and social isolation to achieve control over its members? Brittany!"
The blonde hesitantly squeaked, "Cheerleading?"
"Ah, Brittany," said Mr. DeMartino. "Sometimes, despite a complete lack of insight, you stumble upon an interesting answer."
Brittany beamed. "Wow, and I didn't even have to read the chapter!"
John suppressed laughing out loud. "No need, you live it every day."
"And I bet all that cheering scares away the ferrets trying to build nests in her head," Daria quipped.
Mr. DeMartino barked, "Now remember, your term papers are due next Monday and no excuses will be accepted."
As they walked out, John asked, "What are you doing your paper on?"
"It's been hard to choose. So much mind control, so little time. What about you?"
"I figure I'll do a little field study on the mind-numbing effects of Mystik Spiral's music."
"Oh yeah, Trent rooked you into helping the band this weekend. Um, need any more help?"
"I wouldn't mind, but there won't be room in the Tank for a tenth person on top of all the gear."
"Monique's band is also riding with."
"That ought to be special. Remember your ear plugs."
"I've developed a resistance after years of exposure." John nodded his head at Daria's sister and a blond-haired boy up ahead. "Hey, there's Quinn with one of her many pets."
"She's well liked among classmates of both sexes. And yet, strangely, she turns my stomach."
Both walked up to Quinn, who was saying to the boy, "Well, I…"
Daria cut her off with, "Quinn, some guy named Skylar was looking for you this morning."
Quinn recoiled in shock. "Oh no, he figured out you're my sister?"
Disgusted, Daria said, "Actually, he seemed to think I was your au pair. He asked me how I liked America so far."
Quinn smiled in relief. "People are so weird."
"Some are weird." Not wanting to put up with any more, Daria walked away. "Some are just astonishingly self-centered and deceitful."
John nodded and followed Daria. "Later."
The boy said in surprise, "Skylar Feldman?"
John snickered and said to Daria, "Good one."
Daria smiled serenely. "And the truth shall set him free."
"And I bet he'll never thank you for it."
John kept a careful eye on Helen as he sat with the Morgendorffer family around the dinner table. A small shaker bottle of mixed herbs was secreted in his hand, ready for an opening.
Quinn prattled on about her encounter that morning with Brooke. "So I said, 'I thought it was cute.'"
Jake asked, "Really?"
"Why doesn't anyone believe me?" Quinn demanded in frustration
Helen looked at Quinn. "What was wrong with Brooke's old nose?"
Seizing the opportunity, John sprinkled the spices on his slab of semi-heated lasagna and then slipped the bottle to Daria.
"It wasn't cute," Quinn stated, as if the fact should have been obvious to all, "It had like, an extra bone in it."
"Like your head." John smirked.
Quinn frowned at him and Helen sighed.
To divert her mother's attention from John, Daria said, "Hey, this has been so appetizing, can we discuss liposuction now?"
Helen looked briefly at Daria, and then back at Quinn. "I just don't like the idea of you girls talking about cosmetic surgery."
While Helen was busy talking, Daria snuck the spices onto her lasagna and passed the bottle back to John, whispering, "Thanks."
"Maybe when you're older, and you're doing it for yourself, or there's a sound professional reason for it. I mean, you need to be presentable. Yes, it's a double standard but women in business are judged on their looks, and there's no getting around that." Helen breathed in. "But breast implants? I just don't know."
John raised a confused eyebrow and said, "Okay, where did breast implants come from?"
"A special pit in the Eighth Circle of Hell. I'd certainly call them fraudulent," Daria speculated.
Quinn muttered, "Right."
Helen nodded to Daria. "Fraud is an excellent description, and when a woman is elected president, it won't be because she got them."
"At least her people will deny it," Daria said in return.
"Yeah, they'll claim she had reduction surgery," John said before taking a drink.
"Jake?" Helen implored her husband, "I could use some help here."
Jake uncertainly said, "Um, no honey, you look great. Everybody looks great. Perfect!"
John looked sideways at Daria. Well, Jake, in one instance, I can agree with you.
Helen moaned, "That's not what I..."
"I'm not perfect." Quinn looked at her plate. "My nose has…inperfections."
John shrugged. "I suppose that's better than your nose having perforations."
Quinn tilted her head in confusion.
Daria pointed to the side of her nose said, "Holes."
"Eww!" Quinn slid her chair back. "I think I just lost my appetite."
"Hey, John," Mack MacKenzie called as he and Jodie Landon walked up to where John waited by Daria's locker.
"Hey." John looked past them.
Jodie said, "Daria wanted us to let you know she was called up to the office to take her sister to the doctor."
John shifted slightly. "Do you know if it's something serious?"
"I don't think so. Ms. Li didn't call an ambulance," Jodie said with a small smile.
John nodded. "Good. Any idea of how long?"
"Daria asked me to cover for her at the Lowdown after school," Jodie said.
Somewhat disappointed, John said, "I guess I walk home alone today."
Strolling away with Jodie, Mack said over his shoulder, "We won't tell anyone you showed the slightest concern for Quinn."
"Thanks. I'd never live it down if word got out."
Tired, Daria sat on her bed that evening and vented. "Quinn faked having cramps just so she could go down to the Rx Plex office of that plastic quack, Dr. Shar."
John sat on the bed next to her. "Quinn's still going on about that?"
"So, why drag you with?"
"Um." Daria looked toward the window. "She…wanted me there for my honesty."
"That's an improvement."
"Not that she paid any attention to it."
"We can only expect so much. Well, what happened?"
"First, Dr. Shar tells Quinn that she can fix her up for six thousand dollars."
"Wow, personality transplants are only six Gs?"
"I wish. I'd raid the cabin fund to get her one of those."
"I'd pitch in the twenty bucks I've got squirreled away."
Daria gave him a brief laugh. "Cheekbones, dimples, beauty mark and new hair. Quinn completely bought it and ignored me."
"But wait, there's more. After I made my opinion known, Dr. Shar announced that for 20 grand, she can fix me up to look like Quinn."
Talk about a blind professional. "Ouch, she was really trying to make you insecure."
"No kidding, and then to top it off, she sent me home with a pair of fake boobs 'To change my attitude.'"
"I like your attitude problem." John had a crooked smile. "Eh, you probably only need one fake boob."
"I'm sure you'd like the Eccentrica Gallumbits effect, wouldn't you?"
"It would make an interesting composition."
"Not a chance."
John gave an obviously exaggerated sigh. "Okay."
"Out of curiosity, you got them?"
"Well, where are they?"
Daria pulled a small box from under her bed. "In here."
"Oh, Daria, don't be shy, show me your boobs."
Both suddenly watched the door in dread. John slowly counted with eyes closed, "One…two…three…four…five…six."
He released his held breath. "Whew, she wasn't out there."
"Good thing for you." Daria opened the box containing two clear plastic, gel-filled inserts.
John looked in. "Hmm. Why did I think they would be more interesting?"
"They bake cookies by day, but they really heat up the night. G-String grandmas, today on Sick, Sad, World," the television announcer said in an excited voice.
John lounged on one sofa and put his hand over his belly. "Easy stomach."
Quinn looked at the toenail she had just painted with nail polish and exclaimed, "Gross!"
Daria looked from John to Quinn. "For once, we're all in agreement."
"This color looks nothing like melon. It's way too pink." Quinn turned to her sister. "Oh, hey Daria, what are you doing Saturday night?"
Daria gazed away. "I told you on the bus, forget it. I don't like kids. I didn't even like kids when I was a kid."
"But you gotta take my babysitting job! Six bucks an hour!"
"Oooh, I could make a down payment on that isolated mountain cabin."
Quinn tried to sweeten the offer with, "I'll pay you a two dollar an hour bonus. You can do your homework and earn money at the same time."
"Well, there is that history paper I haven't started yet..." Daria thought for a moment. "But if I babysat for you, then technically I'd be doing you a favor. And that simply cannot be."
Helen walked by heading toward the door. "There's angel hair in the freezer, kids, and don't forget that Saturday we're hosting the couples workshop. It's Focus On Teens night! I expect all three of you to be there."
Quinn rolled her head to peer over her shoulder, "Sorry Mom, I have a date. Remember what you said last Saturday? A commitment's a commitment."
Helen sighed. "Well, I guess I did say that." She looked at Daria and John. "But I'll see the two of you there."
John winced and gave Daria a look of "I'm sorry," before saying, "Um…I'm doing roadie duty with Trent's band on Saturday."
Looking like she'd swallowed something horrible, Daria said, "I can't, I'm…babysitting."
Helen frowned. "Oh, dear. I suppose it can't be helped, but I expect the three of you to plan better for the next time."
Daria listened to Mr. Gupty say over the phone, "I hope Quinn explained our rules. Were you planning on having a boyfriend in the house? Because we don't allow that."
She looked at Quinn standing nearby. Like you don't have boys over when you're baby-sitting. But, I can't risk it. She told Mr. Gupty, "I understand. One question, will it be a problem if a boy comes over when I'm done to escort me home? I don't want to walk alone in the dark."
Talking on another phone, Mrs. Gupty cautiously said, "I guess that's not a problem."
"Well, that seems to cover everything," Mr. Gupty said. "See you Saturday, Daria."
Daria said, "Bye," and hung up the phone. Turning, she told Quinn, "Ten dollar surcharge if I have to spend more than fifteen minutes with the parents."
Quinn shrugged. "Deal. Just be glad you don't have to put up with them after school every day the way I do."
"I spend every day with the school paper; that's bad enough. Besides, you got yourself in that mess when you decided to get me in trouble by spilling the beans about Brittany's party. We'd all be in better shape if you'd kept quiet about that night."
John added. "No kidding. I have to listen to Ms. Morris every afternoon for track practice."
"Ugh. Rub it in. I've barely been able to hang onto my Fashion Club office with all this after-school baby-sitting."
While John and Daria talked in the school hallway, she pointed to Kevin, who was wearing a fake shoulder hump, ugly makeup and walking with a gnarled cane. "Ms. Barch is using him as an experiment in human reactions to appearance and, at the same time, setting a fine example for the ethical use of human subjects in experiments."
When Kevin walked by, John asked, "How's the science project?"
Kevin stopped and said through wadded cotton in his mouth, "Okay." He turned slightly. "Drrra, I nnnd urr…"
Daria said, "What?"
Kevin pulled the wadding out. "Daria, man, I need your advice. You're used to being unpopular."
"It's really bumming me out that people hate the way I look."
Daria remembered Dr. Shar's parting comment, and smiled inside to use the same line on the gullible boy. She told Kevin, "Well, a respectable member of the medical community once told me that money can make anyone look beautiful."
"Hey, thanks Daria." Kevin stuffed the cotton back into his mouth and strode away down the hall.
John scratched his neck. "What do you think he thinks you meant?"
"What's the difference? He's gone."
Quinn rushed up to them, spouting off, "Daria! I need to…" She waved at John. "Shoo! Shoo!" John stepped back once as she turned back to Daria. "I need to borrow six thousand dollars."
Daria was incredulous. "I don't have six thousand dollars."
"It's an emergency!"
John reached into his pocket and held out a quarter and three pennies. "Emergency, huh?"
Quinn ignored him. "Here's what you do. Tell Mom and Dad that Dr. Shar says you need human growth hormone. They'll believe that."
John looked at Quinn. "Quinn, without your heels, you're the same height as Daria."
Quinn rotated her head quickly to face John. "I told you to shoo." She immediately turned back to Daria. "But instead, Dr. Shar will do me and charge them for you!"
John leaned against a locker to carefully get out of slapping range. "How many things the term 'do me' suggests boggles the mind."
Quinn glared at him. "I said, 'Shoo!'"
Daria was getting irritated at Quinn and thought for a moment. Hmm. I bet this was Dr. Shar's idea. It requires too much original thought to be Quinn's. "No, I don't feel like it."
Quinn stamped her foot. "You've got to! Where else am I gonna get six thousand dollars?"
John said, "Ask for donations?"
Quinn's face brightened and she rushed away.
Daria sighed. "I'm dragging you to my therapy."
"She's gone, isn't she?"
"I wasn't exaggerating when I said I didn't like kids, even when I was one," Daria explained to John as they prepared for the evening's events.
"Think of small children as pack animals," John explained. "Make sure they know you're the boss…kind of like dealing with band members."
"At least we're in the same boat."
"You'll only have to deal with two children, not eight. And, yours won't be drunk."
"Okay, you win, but this whole thing is still giving me the creeps. I've never done baby-sitting before."
"I used to baby-sit my sister's kids. If they start to drive you nuts, tell them you know this great game called 'Cemetery.' They have to lie on the floor and pretend they're dead. The first one to move or make a sound loses."
"Something like that might give me time to think about that stupid history paper."
"I'm going to have my brain under sonic attack. Relax; I'll be there by eleven. We can panic together about the paper afterward."
Daria checked that her bedroom door was almost closed and held both his hands. "Sweet talker."
"I'll come over early to help if I can get away."
Daria shook her head. "The Guptys said no boyfriends. Even if Quinn gets away with it, we can't take the chance."
"Crap." He gently squeezed her hands. "Sorry."
Daria gently kissed him. "Thanks for offering."
Trent and his occasional girlfriend, Monique, were in the front of the van as it crawled into the driveway. When John walked to the sliding side door, Monique pointed a thumb to the rear. "Sorry, Johnny, no space there. You'll need to crawl in through the back."
"I should've known." John went to the back and slowly opened one door of the van, bracing a hand against the opening in case anything fell loose.
When nothing tumbled out at him, he examined the small space available. "Damn good thing I'm skinny." He squeezed in and pulled the door closed before hollering over the stacked band gear, "I'm in."
A chorus of voices from both Mystik Spiral and the Harpies called greetings to him.
Max, the van's owner, yelled back, "Hang on, Johnny. The shocks are gone in back and it's ridin' on springs."
The extended bouncing he felt as the van crossed the bump at the end of the driveway told him Max wasn't kidding. He ruefully grinned. "Great."
Taking a break after helping unload the Tank, John walked around downtown Lawndale a bit. He did a double-take and laughed when he saw Kevin in his ugly makeup, handing out five dollar bills to get people to say "hi" to him. "Leave it to Kevin to interpret Daria's words in a literal sense. Too bad the line's so long; it's tempting to relieve Kevin of some of his money."
Still laughing, he headed back to the Zon. "After that, I might be able to face the evening."
"I'm Monique, that's Susie on bass, Anne on keyboard and Peggy on drums. We're the Harpies and we hope you have a good time. One, two, three…"
The four women started to play with Monique singing.
Shrieking wind caresses my wings,
Headlong and fearless diving
Helpless prey's call in my ear sings,
Hunting is my way of living
Working his way outside, John shook his head. "Sometimes, those bands deserve each other."
He walked across the street from the Zon and found a payphone that worked. After digging the folded note from his pocket, he dialed the number.
After a couple rings, Daria said, "Hello. Gupty residence."
"Hey, how're you holding up?"
"They've gone from playing cemetery to playing lichen."
In the background, he could hear children's voices. "Tad dropped a spore."
"Did not! It was a raisin!"
John grimaced. "Sounds like somebody lost."
"Please tell me you're having as miserable a time as I am."
"The Harpies were playing Hunting For My Dinner when I stepped out."
"And Mystik Spiral still has a set after them."
"Want to know something truly frightening? These kids have a record that's worse than anything Mystik Spiral has played."
"Still on for eleven?"
"So far, so good."
Daria begged, "Bring junk food."
Near the end of Mystic Spiral's set, Trent belted out:
You're an angel in black,
You sure have a knack,
"Oh, crap. He should know better than to sing that with her around." John closed his eyes in anticipation of the inevitable detonation.
For putting my heart on a shelf in the back,
I'm waiting my turn,
Monique stood on the edge of the crowd, glowing with rage.
Oh when will I learn?
My poor heart, you're giving it freezer burn
When Mystik Spiral left the stage after the set, Monique shrieked, "Trent! You miserable, stupid sonofabitch!"
The band ground to a halt as Monique charged up into Trent's face. "You said you burned those freakin' lyrics!"
"Monique…I tried, but I just couldn't, felt too much like…something."
"It's going to feel like a boot in the balls if you ever play that again!"
"Hey, it's art."
"No, it's a song you wrote when you were pissed off at me."
"Oh, yeah. That's right. Sorry."
"Sorry! That's all you have to say?"
"Arrrgh!" Monique stomped away, the rest of the Harpies following.
Jesse took a drink from his beer. "Uncool."
John felt his pocket and breathed easier when he felt the keys to the Tank. "Come on guys, let's get the gear loaded." Before you get loaded.
"Mooscle bound oapf!" Susie slurred at Jesse. "Coodn't play 'r way outta a doggie bag."
"'Oggie bag?" Jesse perked up. "Burger'd be good."
John pushed the side door shut on the two bands piled into the back of the van. "Shut the hell up," he grumbled.
John looked down the street and saw a police car. He walked over and looked in the open window, recognizing the policeman normally assigned to the area. "Officer Parks, mind following me back to Trent's?"
The policeman looked at the fifteen year old. "I really shouldn't let you drive that thing."
"Yeah, I know it's a deathtrap, but do you want all of them in your holding pen overnight?"
"It might do them some good."
"They're fighting, and you know at least half of them are gonna hurl before the night's over."
"Like any other bunch of drunks."
John leaned forward just a little. "They might start singing."
Parks rested his head on one hand. "Sarge would kill me. Okay."
"Trent's new place is a lot closer than our old house, just behind Axel's."
"I'll let you drive there, and no farther."
John got into the driver's seat and pulled the keys from his pocket. Amplifiers were piled on the passenger seat to provide room for all eight band members to be poured into the back.
Jesse and Susie were still kind of fighting. Max was passed out and Peggy was using his bald head as practice drums. Nick had crawled up on top of the stacked instruments and was fast asleep; Anne sat behind the passenger seat with her legs drawn up, nursing a wine cooler. Trent was passed out and Monique was still going on arguing about Icebox Woman.
John started the van and slowly pulled away from the curb, with Officer Parks following. John drove scrupulously at the speed limit and carefully came to a stop at each sign and light.
After he reached the alley behind Axel's Piercing Parlor and stopped, Officer Parks waved at John, saying "Good luck cleaning them up tomorrow!"
John waved back. "They can clean themselves up."
"And get your regular license soon!"
John gave a short laugh. "As soon as I'm old enough."
He climbed out and opened the door of Trent's apartment. Going back to the van, he escorted the mobile and semi-mobile band members inside. Grabbing each of the unconscious people under the armpits and dragging their feet, he pulled each inside and dumped them on the floor.
He looked back out at the Tank. "Ah, crap, that piece of junk doesn't have locks. I better bring all their gear in, too."
Daria woke up to the sound of a key rattling in the door. She quickly closed her spiral notebook just as Mr. and Mrs. Gupty entered the house.
Mrs. Gupty said, "Hi Daria, how did it go? Any problems?"
Daria yawned and said, "It sure is hard to tear them away from their oral hygiene routines. But other than that..."
"Well, thanks for coming over," Mr. Gupty said. "We'd hate to miss Couple's Therapy Night."
Mrs. Gupty clasped her hands together and smiled. "I just love the new picture in your living room."
"You were at my house?" Daria asked in surprise.
Pleased, Mrs. Gupty told her, "Yes, and we had a breakthrough tonight. Your father cried."
"Please, don't tell me why."
Mr. Gupty said, "We apologize for our tardiness. Daria, wasn't a young man supposed to be here at eleven to escort you home?"
Daria looked at her watch. 11:30. "Um, yeah. He must've been delayed by something."
"Daria, I like the new look," Mrs. Gupty said in praise.
Daria fingered the one of her newly braided pigtails that made her vaguely look like Pippi Longstocking. "Um, yeah. Tricia wanted to see what they looked like. Now, if you don't mind." Daria pulled the ribbons from each and started to unbraid them.
Disappointed, Mrs. Gupty said, "Oh."
"She knows what they look like now. She might try them later on herself."
Mrs. Gupty recovered. "Oh." She opened her purse and removed some money. "Before I forget, here you go, Daria."
Daria accepted the money and visually counted it before putting it into her jacket pocket. "Thanks."
Mr. Gupty answered a knock at the door. Exhausted, John said, 'Hi. Sorry I'm late. I'm here to walk Daria home."
Daria moved toward him. "Mr. and Mrs. Gupty, this is John."
"Nice to meet you, young man." Mr. Gupty shook his hand. "Are you all right?"
He nodded. "Long story, tired, okay."
Daria was already out of the door. "It's running late and we really should be going. Good night."
Both Guptys said, "Good night, Daria."
John quickly followed. "Good night."
Hearing the door lock click, Daria said to John, "You're late."
John looked at her and sighed. "No kidding, I had to unload the Tank by myself."
"What about the bands?"
"Worthless. I dumped all of them and their gear in Trent's apartment."
"Sounds like fun."
John snorted a small laugh. "Loads. Jesse's not going to be happy about his shirt."
Dubious, Daria said, "Please, don't tell me why."
"You've got a ten-thousand yard stare." Worried, John asked, "What kind of monsters were those kids?"
"They weren't really monsters, but still…very disturbing. I think I have the subject for my paper."
Daria looked back and lightly shuddered. "Let's get away from here."
John shrugged. "Okay." He stooped over and picked up a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips he'd hidden behind a shrub. John tore it open and presented it to Daria. "As requested."
Daria reached in and said with clear sincerity, "Thank you." She removed a handful and savored each chip individually.
They started down the sidewalk toward home. John pulled Daria close for mutual warmth against the late fall wind. She put an arm around his waist and felt herself relax some in his embrace.
Daria looked up at the crescent moon shining down on them. "How about we not worry about things tonight and enjoy the walk?"
John looked up and noticed the moon. "Deal."
In the school hall several days later, John told Daria, "I'll catch you in history."
"Yeah, history." She watched him start to walk away and slowly turned to go to the gym for PE class.
Quinn rushed up, complaining, "Some people are so shallow!"
John and Daria stopped. John remained several steps away, listening.
Daria said, "Wow, Quinn. Thanks for the news flash."
"Nobody'll donate for my surgery!"
"How am I going to get the money for Dr. Shar?!"
John stopped before speaking and only thought, Some of the girls working…nah, better not even think any farther.
Daria quietly said, "Listen Quinn..."
"You know, I should get boobs," Quinn speculated. "I bet if I got the boobs on credit I can get the rest of the money in no time."
"Or maybe Dr. Shar will give me a part time job sweeping up fat or something."
Quinn's frustration overflowed as she explained, "I mean, I like being attractive and popular. It's like, me, okay? So if Dr. Shar makes everyone else attractive and popular then I'll have to be even more attractive just to keep up! And then if they, like, go back to her to catch up to me, then I'll have to go back and pretty soon it'll be like one of those vicious things!" Quinn calmed and asked, almost pleading, "Where will it end Daria, where will it end?"
Daria half-sighed. "You don't need surgery Quinn. I was hoping it wouldn't come to this and I'll deny I ever said it. But there's nothing wrong with you, physically. You've got the kind of looks that make other girls mentally ill. So stop it. You don't need any plastic surgery. You're perfect."
Noticing movement from the corner of her eye, Quinn said, "Why do I even bother talking to you?"
Stacy and Tiffany walked up, holding their noses and alternately saying, "Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod."
Quinn instantly shifted her attention. "Ohmigod what?"
Stacy said, "Did you hear what happened to Brooke?"
"Yeah," Quinn said. "She's super cute."
Tiffany said, "She had a nasal relapse."
Daria walked away and pulled John with. "There's nothing we can do for them now."
John leaned next to Daria's ear. "That's probably the nicest thing I've heard you say to her."
"Don't let it out, I know where you live."
"Your secret's safe. We better get to gym. I don't want Coach Gibson bitching about me being late and I don't want Ms. Morris hounding me at track practice to get you there on time."
"PE: Hell in high school. See you later."
Mr. DeMartino waited until the end of history class to return papers, giving his usual commentary with each one. "Brittany, although your topic, The Cult of Abs, was an intriguing one, I'm afraid that the choice of photo collage, rather than actual text, did not work to your advantage."
The blonde cheerleader looked at her paper. "D, bummer. And I ruined all my magazines."
He handed Daria her paper. "Your paper was excellent. Commentary on the psychological effects was hair-raising, although some of the techniques described are prohibited by the Geneva Convention. I hope your interview subjects get help soon."
John was the last student to get a paper back. "Mr. Lane. If not for the fact that I still have nightmares about those alleged carriers of human DNA that were the subjects of your paper, I never would have believed it."
The bell rang and students quickly filed out of the room.
John read the title of Daria's paper as they walked, "The Real-Life Results of Childhood Mind Control."
Daria read his title, "Effects of Acoustic and Chemical Torture. A Replicated Study."
John smiled. "Talk about an efficient use of non-quality time."
After dinner, John spent part of the evening painting in his room while Daria wrote in hers. He'd just finished sketching in his design when he stretched and said, "Break time."
Just as he stepped from his room, John saw Quinn in front of Daria's closed door, uncertain. He stepped back and watched. After several seconds, Quinn barely said above a whisper, "Thanks, Daria." She turned away and John ducked back into his room.
Just before going into her room, Quinn turned back to Daria's, again whispering, "You don't need any surgery either. You're pretty, even if you hide it," before going into her room.
John poked his head back out. Nobody would ever believe me if I told them.
Pinch Sitter by Anne D. Bernstein
Too Cute by Larry Doyle
Icebox Woman lyrics from:
Road Worrier by Anne D. Bernstein
Thanks to Mr. Orange, Kristen Bealer, and Ipswichfan for beta reading.