Synopsis: Jane, Daria, and the former members of the Fashion Club face up to the changes in their lives.

Author's Forward: I am rating the following story PG-13 for content. The subject matter deals with teen pregnancy. I am not an advocate of teen pregnancy, and firmly believe that common sense should prevail in such cases. However, real life being what it is, this is not always the case.

The following story was written for entertainment purposes only, and should not be taken as educational material. I do not claim that the "technical" aspects of my story are even remotely accurate. If you have any questions, go to a responsible adult knowledgeable in the appropriate areas.

Other Notes: The author assumes that the reader is familiar with "Daria" and the characters therein, and has read my previous stories. This story is eight in the series and takes place concurrent with the events portrayed in "Life in The Past Lane."

Legal Drek: Daria and her cohorts are property of MTV and Viacom.

This story is Copyright May 20, 2006.

Daria

in

Facts of life

By Greystar

The only way to describe Main Street today was dead, Jane decided, looking over the empty thoroughfare as she followed a couple of paces behind Tom and Daria. With the exception of the three of them, the only other people that she could see were an old couple walking out of a coffee shop at the other end of the block. Places like Degas Street or the Lawndale Mall almost always had a steady flow of traffic but for some reason, Main Street was feast or famine. And today was definitely famine, despite banners hanging from every light pole proclaiming "Main Street Mania."

Jane chuckled to herself when she realized that she had been expecting to see Jake Morgendorffer's Lexus somewhere on the street. Thankfully, Jake was no longer following Daria and Tom around like a rabid watchdog since his attempt to maroon Tom and Jeffy in the country last week. According to Daria, the confrontation between Jake and Helen when she had returned with the two boys had been legendary.

"What ever happened to the big 'Revitalize Downtown Lawndale' plan?" Jane asked as the three of them crossed a side street.

"Dunno," Tom said sullenly. "They probably spent all of the money on flags."

Jane cocked an eyebrow slightly at Tom as they stopped for a moment outside the stationery store so Daria could lean up against the building and rest for a moment. Her OB/GYN, Dr. Nelson, had mandated some kind of exercise since she had been pulled form PE because of her pregnancy. At almost five and a half months along, it was now obvious that Daria was pregnant, despite her trying to cover it in the bulk of her jacket, which was now stretched a little tight over her expanded abdomen. Jane figured that it would be only another week or two before Daria wouldn't be able to get it zipped at all.

Despite all that, it was actually Tom that she was worried about at the moment. Normally, he could match Jane and Daria's snarky comments one for one, but over the last few days, Tom was decidedly off his game.

"You okay?" Tom asked Daria as she rubbed the small of her back.

"Just getting used to packing your kid around," Daria replied with a sigh. "Of course, we could ask you the same question."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, let's just say that you're not your usual cheery self these last couple of weeks," Jane said with a cocked eyebrow.

"Oh, well...Just some stuff around home. It's nothing." Tom shook his head and glanced across the street at the bank's outside clock. "Come on. We have to get to the post office before it closes."

"New wanted posters go up today?" Jane folded her arms and looked at the couple.

"No use trying to keep good news secret in this town." Daria stood back up and stretched, her hands still pressed into the small of her back.

Jane's artistic eye looked Daria over as she arched her back in an attempt to relieve muscles that weren't used to carrying the extra weight she had put on. Not all of it was confined to the almost five pounds that she had put on around her middle. Daria had confided that she had gone up almost half a cup in brassier size, much to Quinn's dismay at the sight, and her stretch had pushed her chest prominently against her jacket. Jane gave herself a hard mental shake as she discovered that her musings were passing way beyond analytical.

"You coming?" Daria asked, mercifully finishing her stretch.

Jeeze, Jane, get a grip, Jane thought as she looked away in embarrassment, hoping that Daria hadn't noticed.

"Uh..." Unable to make eye contact with Daria for the moment, Jane looked down the side street and saw a young man walking into the stationery store they were standing in front of. He was well dressed, with fairly well chiseled features and his dark hair slicked back into a wavy part. Jane could almost feel her mental gears grind as they shifted.

"Actually, I really need an eraser. A nice, big, cute one." A wickedly dreamy expression crossed her features. "You guys go on ahead and I'll catch up with you at the pizza place."

Jane headed for the entrance to the store with a half-hearted wave and barely a look back, her sights set on the guy she had just seen go inside.

That was just too damned weird. What is it with me? Jane thought as she pushed the door open, a small bell ringing as she did so.

The old stationery store definitely gave the impression that it was, well, old. The smells of paper and parchments mixed with the tickle of dust in Jane's nose. Scents of inks, pigments, and solvents were as familiar to her as spices would be to a chef and she was able to sort them out of the air and pick up the sweet woodsy smell of cologne from the cute guy standing at the counter. His tie and suspenders, as well as the cut of his eggshell white shirt were decidedly out of date, though Jane was never much for keeping up with the styles. Set against the atmosphere of the stationery store, though, Jane thought that the whole outfit had an attractiveness all its own. And she was definitely attracted.

Biting her lower lip for a moment, Jane tried to look nonchalant as she walked up to the front counter of the store. Picking up a very expensive looking sable hair brush from a display rack on the counter, she ran the bristles over her fingertips, not really feeling them as she examined the guy through the corner of her eye. She could see that he was checking her out as well, all the while making a show of looking at an old fountain pen that he had picked up.

"Wow." Jane said, causing the guy to look up. "This place is so old, even the crayons have expired."

"It's really orbiting Planet Yesterday, huh?" His deep brown eyes met Jane's. "They don't make 'em like they used to."

"I really love this stuff! Photo corners, cloth typewriter ribbons, sealing wax..." Jane's artistic leanings were showing, but not enough to bring her away from the guy in front of her.

"Oh, look. Carbon paper." The guy looked down as the stack of matt black sheets that were sitting on the counter between them. Both he and Jane reached for the stack at the same time, then looked each other in the eyes when their hands touched.

"I'm Nathan," he said, offering his hand to her.

"Jane." She took his hand in hers. His grip was firm, but at the same time, somehow gentle.

"You know, I really ought to give this a test scribble before I buy it." Nathan's eyebrow went up slyly. "Maybe I could write down, say, a phone number?"

"How about mine?" Jane's expression was the picture of innocence. It would save her the trouble of slipping it into his pocket when he wasn't looking.

An hour later, she had caught up to Tom and Daria at Pizza King in their usual booth. Leaving her pizza untouched for nearly twenty minutes, Jane recounted her meeting with Nathan with an enthusiasm that she usually reserved for her artistic endeavors.

"...And he wears cuff links, and drives one of those big old cars with fins," Jane finished, finally coming up for air. "How great is that?"

Daria looked up from the chicken and veggie laden pizza that had become her standard fare over the past few months. "Do you think it's a good idea to pick up a perfect stranger while under the influence of ink well fumes? Even if he has come here from prehistoric times."

"Hey, if I didn't have the nerve to pick up guys, you wouldn't have a boyfriend." Jane cocked her eyebrow at her friend and finally took a bite of her pizza.

"Oh great." Daria rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to have to get knocked up by this guy too, am I?"

"Hey!" Jane nearly choked on her pizza. It took her a moment to notice that Tom, who should have been the most upset by Daria's retort, hadn't even noticed.

"What? I'm sorry, what'd you say?" Tom asked as Daria just shrugged.

"What?" Daria looked at her boyfriend. "I said I'm not going to have to -- Never mind, you're obviously not even in the same zip code as the rest of us today."

"Yeah, what gives?" Jane asked. "You've been moping around all afternoon."

"It's nothing. Really." Tom looked back at his pizza for a moment, then up at the girls. "Go on, Daria. What were you saying?"

"C'mon, Tom, what's going on?" Daria prodded.

"Well, it's just that..." Tom sighed and pushed his plate away. "After the thing in court, things between my parents started to get, well, a little chilly. I thought that it was just one of those things that they didn't talk about when Elsie and I were around. You know, repressed household and all that. But, mom and dad haven't spoken to each other at all for at least a week."

"Ouch." Jane winced.

"I'm sorry, Tom. I didn't know. Why didn't you tell us it was getting that bad?" Daria asked.

"I didn't think that it was, really." Tom sat back into the corner of the booth and slumped a little. "I just thought that this was going to be one of those things that would eventually blow over. Okay, a fairly big thing, but still. Then, yesterday morning, Elsie told me that she heard mom on the telephone with a lawyer."

"Double ouch," Jane's eyebrows went up.

"Maybe Elsie heard wrong?" Daria suggested. "Maybe it had something to do with the museum?"

"I would have thought so, she only heard a couple of seconds before she hung back up, but...Last week, dad moved into one of the guest bedrooms on the other end of the house."

"Could always be worse," Jane said. "My parents haven't spoken in almost six months. Of course they're on different continents most of the time."

"This isn't remotely the same thing, Jane," Tom said, a clouded look passing over his face. "My parents aren't a couple of free spirits that can pick up their relationship after six months like they were taking a bookmark out of some cheesy art book!"

"Hey, just because your folks are having problems is no reason to rag on mine." Jane stood up and stormed out of the restaurant.

"Wait, Jane, I didn't mean -- aw crap." Tom slumped lower in the bench as the door closed behind Jane. "Well, that was intelligent. You know, one of these days I'm going to learn to keep my big mouth shut."

"But I don't understand why Sandi's still avoiding us," Stacy said as she, Quinn, and Tiffany walked across the street and began crossing the parking lot of the Lawndale Mall. "We've told her a bunch of times that we're still her friends and that we want to hang out with her and stuff, but she still won't talk to us or anything!"

"I know, Stacy," Quinn said.

"I've never seen Sandi stay mad this long before," Tiffany said. "And she keeps hanging out with Tori and Brooke more and more."

"Yeah, I've seen them." Quinn sighed. "You know, guys, we might just have to get used to the idea that Sandi doesn't want to be our friend any more."

"But I don't want her not to be my friend!" Stacy said sadly.

"Me either!" Tiffany put in.

"Guys, I don't want her to not be my friend any more than you don't, but I don't know what else to do."

"But, she's still president of the Fashion Club," Stacy pointed out. "How are we gong to have our meetings without her?"

"Maybe we should just pick a new president," Tiffany suggested.

"We can't. Sandi never resigned like she did when she broke her leg, remember?" Stacy pointed out. "We can't pick a new president without the old one quitting or graduating."

"Guys, maybe we should talk about doing that some other time, huh?" Quinn suggested in a slightly nervous voice. If there was going to be any chance of building a bridge with Sandi, then throwing the presidency of their club in her face wasn't going to help.

"But, how can we have a Fashion Club without a president?" Tiffany asked.

"Maybe its just time for the Fashion Club to end," Quinn suggested sadly.

"Quinn! Don't say that! There has to be a Fashion Club!" Stacy said quickly, earning a curious look from Quinn. "You don't understand. Sandi's been our friend since, like, first grade. We've always hung out and done everything together! Even in fifth grade, when everyone was laughing and making jokes about her braces!"

"Yeah." Tiffany shook her head. "Everyone was just so mean and everything. They called her all kinds of names and stuff. It's just too depressing to even think about."

Quinn could well understand that. She still had the pictures that Sandi's younger brothers had slipped to her a couple of years ago. If the names that those two had come up with were any indication of what she had been called way back then, it had been pretty horrible.

"C'mon, let's hit the cosmetics counter at Cashmans," Quinn said. "That'll cheer us up."

As the three walked up onto the sidewalk to the mall entrance, they had to sidestep a small crowd that had been gathered at some kind of stand outside the door. The whole thing wasn't much more than a box covered in a garish looking piece of cloth. Charles Ruttheimer, wearing an old golfer's cap, appeared to be paying off DeMartino, who was just leaving. Quinn immediately recognized it as one of Upchuck's schemes to either make money or meet girls. All three girls immediately started walking faster.

"Beauteous maidens," Charles said in his most solicitous voice as they passed. "May I show you something that will astound and amaze?"

"Upchuck, is this important?" Quinn asked. "Because we're really not in the mood for one of your slimy come-ons."

"Nothing of the kind, young lady! Simply...a feat of illusion."

"Like, contouring your nose to make it look thin?" Tiffany asked innocently, eliciting a gasp and surprised looks from Quinn and Stacy. "Not me!"

Charles suppressed a chuckle. Tiffany might not have been the swiftest, but on occasion there was a flash of a real sense of humor there, even if she didn't use it consciously.

"Please, ladies, spare just a moment to behold my astonishing magic skills! Observe!" Charles reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill. "Genuine U.S. currency! Which I shall now tear into tiny pieces!"

Taking the bill in his fingers, Charles proceeded to rip the bill into four equal strips. The three girls gasped as the ten dollar note was effectively destroyed before their eyes.

"That can't be legal!" Quinn sounded shocked that Upchuck could do something like that.

"Ah, but wait!" Charles made a show of crumpling the strips between his hands. "Through the commanding force of my virile presence, the bill is magically restored!"

Charles held the bill in both hands, showing the front and back to the girls to prove that it was indeed undamaged. Quinn, Tiffany, and Stacy sighed in relief.

"Wow," Stacy said in amazement. "How'd he do that?

"Maybe he used mirrors or something?" Tiffany said slowly.

"Okay, yeah it was kind of cool, but it was only a ten," Quinn pointed out. "It's not like it was a fifty."

"Well then, ladies, perhaps I could hold your interest with another feat of prestidigitation?" Charles gestured grandly towards his garishly decorated stand.

"Actually, we were going shopping, Upchuck," Quinn said.

"Um, I'd kind of like to see what he can do, Quinn," Stacy said bashfully. "Is it all right if I catch up with you later?"

"I guess so," Quinn shrugged.

"I'd like to stay and watch too," Tiffany said.

"Oh, what the heck?" Quinn sighed. "Maybe he can pull a rabbit out of his hat or something."

"Well, I'm not quite that good yet, but..." Charles took his golfing hat off and reached inside it. With a flourish and a flick of his wrist a fluffy, pink paper flower seemed to snap into existence from the empty space. He presented it to Stacy with a slight bow.

Stacy simply blinked wide-eyed at the flower while the other two actually clapped a little.

"How's that for a start?" Charles asked with a slight smile.

Jane tossed her math textbook into her locker with a groan. It didn't matter how much she struggled with it, she just couldn't get the hang of algebra without help. She had spent most of the weekend trying to work her way through it on her own, without Daria's help. Normally, Daria knew how to translate the gobbledygook in the textbook into something that Jane could understand and then put down on paper as something that the math teacher could understand.

Fortunately, her weekend wasn't all work and no play since she'd had a date with Nathan on Sunday afternoon.

How did I let him talk me into this? Jane asked herself with a small smile as she glanced down at the yellow, fifties style dress and high heels that she was wearing. Almost as soon as she'd gotten home Sunday, she'd gone up to the attic and gotten into her mom's old clothes. Most of them actually fit, and Jane had found a couple of outfits that actually looked pretty good.

"Hey stranger," Jane heard Daria's voice from over her shoulder. She looked up and saw Daria coming down the hall. Her backpack was slung over her shoulder as usual, but her jacket hung open, showing a longer than usual t-shirt in her normal brown mustard color. "Haven't seen you around much lately."

"Been hanging out with Nathan," Jane said with a shrug.

"I had a hunch." Daria took in Jane's new outfit with a dubious look. "Heard any good barbershop quartets lately?"

"No, but we went to an antique car show on Sunday, and we're starting Foxtrot lessons tonight."

"Sounds great. Except for the car show and Foxtrot part."

"Hey, dancing is fun, Daria," Jane said defensively. "That's more than I can say for you these days."

"Come on, do I look like I'm in any shape for dancing?" Daria held her free arm out and looked down at her abdomen.

"Yeah, I suppose there is that," Jane agreed.

"Besides, a few weeks ago you would have been laughing at this too, you know," Daria pointed out.

"Oh, come off it, Daria. So I'm expanding my horizons beyond school, pizza, and television. What's the big deal?" Jane glared at Daria. "Just because you and Tom are in a rut doesn't mean that you have to put Nathan and me down."

"At least we weren't doing the Foxtrot when we tripped and fell in it," Daria said with a glare of her own.

"Oh ha," Jane said icily as she spun on her high heel and left.

"Hey, come back!" Jane heard Daria call out, but she bit her lip and kept on walking. "Do you know your seams are crooked?"

Rounding a corner, Jane lengthened her stride as much as the cut of her skirt would let her and bit back a caustic response. She couldn't understand why it was such a big damn surprise to everyone that she was trying something new and different. She'd done things like this before -- trying out for the track team, even keeping up her 'conventional teenager' look a few days after O'Neill's screwy success at failure assignment. Every time she tried something new, someone had something to say about it.

It never really bothered me before. If other people couldn't deal with it, that was their problem, so the heck with them, Jane thought as she walked down the corridor. Why now? What the hell is it with me?

"So, pizza?" Tom asked as he and Daria slipped out of the Cineplex on the edge of the departing crowd. When he didn't get an immediate answer, he turned to see Daria giving him a curious look. "What? You okay?"

"Tom, do you think that we're getting in a rut?" Daria asked after a moment's thought.

"Where'd that come from?"

"Jane," Daria sighed. "I mean look at me, I'm not exactly in shape for an exciting social life any more while she's off co-piloting a time machine."

"You mean Nathan?" Tom asked.

"Don't you think he sounds a little pretentious?"

"Is that any way to talk about your future boyfriend?" Tom asked with a smirk, his old sense of humor beginning to poke through.

"Hey!" Daria glared and crossed her arms.

"What'd I say?" Tom asked innocently, eliciting a groan from his girlfriend. "Come on. Let's shake up our routine and go someplace crazy."

A short time later, Tom and Daria were getting out of his car in the parking lot of the Finias T Firefly restaurant that had recently opened. Once inside, Daria spent a moment looking at the memorabilia that was plastered all over the walls: pictures of stars past and present, sporting equipment of almost every variety, and at least half a dozen different types of musical instruments.

"Well, you wanted someplace crazy, I'd say this qualifies," Daria said as the hostess walked them to their table.

"You know what they say -- be careful what you wish for," Tom said with a smirk as he helped Daria slip into her side of the booth before taking his own seat.

"Tom," Daria hesitated for a moment before continuing. "Why didn't you say anything about your parents having problems?"

"I just figured that you had enough on your mind already." Tom looked at the menu without really seeing it.

"It's my bladder he's on, not my mind," Daria said with a slight grimace.

"You finally found out the gender?" Tom asked with raised eyebrows. One of the things Daria had avoided finding out was the gender of their child.

"No, and don't change the subject. Why didn't you say anything?"

"Well, because I wasn't really sure until now. You see, my folks don't fight in front of us if it can be helped. Whatever they have to say to each other, they usually say it behind closed doors, and usually very loudly. We figure out the rest by reading between the lines." Tom sighed. "This time, though, they're not saying anything to each other, and I have no idea what's going on. It's a little hard to read between the lines if there are none, you know what I mean?"

"Here I've been worrying about this Nathan guy being a complete jerk." Daria slumped back in her seat. "It turns out I've been worrying about the wrong jerk."

"Thanks, but I'm going to be okay."

"Not you. Me."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"I should have never have let mom push the child support thing. If I'd fought her on it, then your family wouldn't be coming apart at the seams and Aunt Amy wouldn't have had to relive the worst part of her life." She slumped down sadly. "I don't know what makes me the bigger jerk -- that I didn't think about it or that I let it happen in the first place."

"Wait a minute, you think you're responsible for what's going on with my folks?" Somehow, the train had changed tracks and left him behind at the switch.

"Aren't I?"

"No. Look, something like this would have probably happened anyway, eventually. Or maybe not at all. The point is that it's just one of those things that happens. It's not your fault."

"I'm sorry, Tom, it's just . . . I feel a certain responsibility for everything that's happened. I know it doesn't make any sense, but . . ."

"Yeah, I do too," Tom admitted reluctantly. "But we've got to give things a chance."

"I guess," Daria reluctantly conceded as she picked up her menu.

She had barely more than a few seconds to look over the selections before a blonde waitress arrived. The suspenders she wore over her shirt seemed to have no earthly purpose other than to hold the dozen or so garish pins that she wore.

"Hi, I'm Debbie, your server," she chipperly announced as she walked up. "Would you care for a free Sour Cream Supreme Potato Skin with your order today?"

"Gee, I bet you say that to all the customers," Daria said dryly.

"If I don't, you get a free five dollar Finias T. Firefly gift certificate, good at any of our two hundred and forty locations across the country!"

"In that case, I'll take two, along with the honey chicken stir-fry," Daria said, closing the menu. "Sorry, Tom, but I just realized I'm starved."

"Uh, yeah," Tom said slowly. He had been about to suggest that they ditch the place and go for their usual pizza, but instead he looked up at Debbie patiently waiting with her note pad for him to order. "I'll have the same, I guess."

"Well, at least I can tell Jane she was wrong," Daria said as Debbie took their menus and walked away.

"About what?"

"Jane thought we were getting in a rut." Daria smiled slightly. "Wait until I tell her about this place."

"How about this one?" Jake said hopefully as he passed a white card across the table to Helen, who glanced at the card and frowned.

"Jake, you are not making that horrible kitchen sink stew again!" Helen's tone was enough to convince Jake not to press that particular entree. "We've got to make sure she gets the proper nutrition now."

"But it's nutritious! Just look at --"

"The last time you made it, it turned your tongue black and you spent most of the night in the bathroom, and that was just from one spoonful." Helen took the card from Jake's hand and put it on one of the piles off to her right, the one that would eventually go through her shredder. "No chance."

"Darn it." Jake pouted and went back to going through his own stack of cards.

"Hey, anyone home?" Someone said from the living room as Helen heard the front door close.

"In the kitchen, Amy," Helen called out as she went back to sorting out the more begin dishes from Jake's recipe file. "How was work?"

"Long and too damn quiet," Amy said as she walked into the kitchen. She dropped her handbag next to the doorway to the kitchen. "Everybody's been walking on eggshells there for the past couple of weeks. I think they're all waiting for this thing between Kay Sloane and me to blow up royally." Amy took a seat at the kitchen table. "What've you two been up to?"

"Sorting the more volatile selections from Jake's recipe file." Helen dropped the few cards that she was holding. "Amy, I'm ready to go nuts. I've got to go back to work soon."

"So? Go."

"It's not really that easy. I practically had to resign to be able to get my leave of absence, and I wasn't too nice about how I went about it, either." She looked off to the side and frowned. "I'll have to go back to Eric on my knees to get back in. Not that he'd ever go out of his way to find out when I wanted to come back."

"So go someplace else. It's not like you were an indentured servant," Amy said as she idly flipped through the recipe cards. "You've probably got a client list a mile long, and any firm around here would jump at something like that."

"Unfortunately, it's not that easy." Helen sighed. "All of the clients are clients of the firm as a whole, not just the individual associates. I can't just walk out of there with my files under my arm."

"So hit them up when you get to someplace else. There's no law against that, is there?" Amy frowned at the card she had picked up. "What the hell is 'Mongolian goulash bolognaise?'"

"Hey, I've been looking for that one!" Jake piped up

"Jake remember what I said" Helen warned with a shake of her head, then turned back to her sister. "The problem with that idea is Eric. By the time I got set up someplace else, Eric would have my professional name dragged through the mud. My other clients wouldn't follow me then if I begged them."

"You could always go into business for yourself," Amy suggested.

"Easy for you to say," Helen chuckled.

"You think there's a lot of business for freelance art appraisers?"

"Not really. Speaking of which, what are you going to do?"

"About Kay Sloane and the museum," Amy shrugged. "Not much I can do. Besides, it's kind of the only game in town right now."

"Even after what you just told me?" Helen looked surprised. "Aren't you worried that the situation might be a little tense? Even after the court case?"

"A little." Amy said as the telephone started ringing. "Thankfully, I'm not the one she's pissed at. She's got me tagged as one of the victims in this whole mess."

"Just a second." Helen turned and put the receiver to her ear. "Hellooooo...Yes, this is Helen Morgendorffer...Mrs. Horowitz!"

"Who's that?" Amy asked.

"Just another stuffed shirt from that law firm of hers," Jake grumbled as he kept sorting.

"Quiet! She's one of the senior partners!" Helen whispered rapidly. "Yes, I'm aware of the ATC motors case...Tomorrow? I can, but you should be aware that I'm on leave of absence...Yes, my daughter. I wasn't aware that you knew...Of course, nine a.m. sharp...Goodbye."

"Well, speak of the devil," Amy smirked.

"I'll say." Helen dropped the phone and headed out of the kitchen at a fast walk. "I've got to get to the dry cleaners before they close! Find something in there for dinner, okay? I'll be back later."

"Aaaaand she's off!" Amy said to herself with a smile as she started sorting through the cards that were spread out on the table. "Well, let's see what we've got here...'Egyptian sauerkraut?' Eww!"

"Hey, you found my Egyptian sauerkraut recipe?" Jake perked up. "I've been looking for that!"

Amy put the card on the table in front of her, keeping it from his reach. "Keep looking, Jakie."

"Ladies, ladies, please!" Charles Ruttheimer said as he walked down the corridor of the school with Quinn, Tiffany, and Stacy --voluntarily! -- walking along beside him. "I wish I could quench your curiosity, but I cannot reveal my secrets. It's the Magician's Code."

"But I have to know how you did it!" Stacy pleaded. "I can't get it out of my mind!"

"C'mon, Upchuck, it's just one little trick," Quinn prodded.

"It's not just 'one little trick,' my dear. It is a classic staple of the art of Slight of Hand." Upchuck shook his head. "As a member of the Magicians Brotherhood, I cannot tell you how the illusion is performed. I am sorry."

"But Upchuck, we want to know how to do it toooo," Tiffany drawled.

"Ladies, this is unfair," Charles said with a sigh. "Using your combined charms to wile your way into my heart and learn what you wish to know is truly diabolical. However, as temped as I am, it is still no deal."

"Upchuck, come off the mysterious crap for once, all right?" Stacy said in frustration. "What do we have to do to learn that trick?"

"Hmmm," Charles stopped walking and thought for a moment. "Well, there is one way..."

"If you're about to suggest something gross, we're going right to Ms. Barch," Quinn stated with a glare.

"No, no, nothing like that!" Charles said, looking momentarily terrified. "Really, I am a gentleman, after all. However, Ms Li is planning to put on a fundraiser for more of her precious security equipment. Consequently, she has approached me and 'requested' that I perform some of the more interesting illusions that I know. And I do need an assistant...Or three."

"I'll do it!" Stacy immediately said.

"Stacy!" Quinn sounded shocked, while Tiffany just looked it.

"But I want to know how he did it! C'mon, guys, it'll be fun!"

"I don't know..."

"Well now, isn't this pathetic," Sandi Griffin's husky voice cut into the conversation. She walked up to the group with the tanned, blonde Tori Jericho in tow. "Notice, Tori, how far the mighty have fallen to be seen in public with the great un-bathed of geekdom."

"Yeah, I know. He's even unpopular among the geeks," Tori supplied.

"And a pleasant good afternoon to you, ladies," Charles said, unfazed by the girls' verbal barbs. "We were just discussing Ms Li's most recent endeavor to raise funds for our illustrious Lawndale High. Would you care to participate in our discussion?"

"Upchuck, any kind of conversation involving you isn't worth the time to say 'shove it.'" Sandi glared at Charles for a brief moment, then turned on the three girls. "I merely came to advise Stacy and Tiffany that, as president of the Fashion Club, I have decided that they are welcome to return to their positions on a probationary basis."

"Buuut, what about Quinn?" Tiffany asked.

"Kuh-winn has proven that she is disloyal and cannot be trusted."

"But she's vice president of the club," Stacy pointed out.

"No longer. Tori has recently been appointed to that position." Sandi glanced at Tori, who smiled brightly.

"Really, I thought that you promised Brooke the vice president spot if she lied for you in that court thing." Quinn looked at Sandi with a raised eyebrow.

"A vice president who cannot follow simple instructions adequately is unacceptable, as you have proven time and again." Sandi glared at Quinn, while Tori's smile faded slightly. "However, Quinn, if you would like to rejoin the Fashion Club, I believe that the new vice president and I can agree on giving you probationary status as a sub-junior member."

Charles silently leaned back against the nearby wall and folded his arms as he watched the byplay between Quinn and Sandi. If they decided that he was going to be invisible for this conversation, then he definitely was going to stand back and enjoy the show.

"But, Quinn didn't do anything wrong, Sandi," Stacy said, stepping forward.

"Really, Stacy," Sandi sneered as she stepped up and glared at Stacy from less than a foot away. "Are you saying that my recollection of events is inaccurate?"

"Uh, well," Stacy flinched back a half a step as her resolve started to crumble.

"I thought not." Sandi backed off a pace. "I would suggest that you reconsider where your loyalties lie, ladies, unless you want your popularity to suffer for it."

Sandi turned and stalked off with Tori in tow. Charles looked at the retreating girls -- specifically their backsides -- for a moment before looking back at the girls standing next to him.

"Well now." Charles raised his eyebrows in Stacy's direction. "I was beginning to fear that we were going to have a fight on our hands."

"Yeah, me too," Stacy said in a shaky voice. "She didn't have to do that."

"No, she didn't." Quinn glared in the direction that Sandi and Tori went for a moment. "But if she wants to make this about being popular...Hey, Upchuck?"

"Yes, Quinn my sweet?" Charles immediately straightened up.

"If we do this magic thing, you promise to make us look good?"

"Ladies, you shall be the very centers of attention," Charles said with a smile.

"You won't make us look fat?" Tiffany asked.

"Tiffany, my dear, you shall be a svelte goddess on stage next to Ruttheimer the Prestidigator." Hm, that sounds pretty good. I'll have to use that.

"Is that good?"

"Of course it is," Charles chuckled. "Come, ladies, and let us discuss the subject of magic."

Helen took a deep breath as she pulled the SUV into one of the visitor parking spaces. She still wasn't sure how this meeting with Mrs. Horowitz was going to go and had resisted the urge to use the spot that she normally did with the rest of the senior associates.

Okay Helen, just relax, she thought to herself. It's just a meeting -- with the number three partner at the firm! Oh my god, what could this be about? She wanted to know how familiar I was with the ATC case...Did I miss something, juggling that case with Daria's? Oh lord, what if I did! She took another deep breath. Well, sitting here isn't going to make this any easier.

Stepping out of the SUV, Helen pulled herself up straight and plastered on her going-to-court face in an attempt to cover how nervous she was. Expecting every eye to in the place to be on her the minute she walked through the door, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was almost business as usual. She stopped for a moment at the receptionist's desk to confirm her meeting with Mrs. Horowitz, and then proceeded to the floor her office was on.

The door was partially closed, Helen saw as she walked down the hall. She figured she'd better check and see if there was any furniture left, though she wouldn't have put it past Eric to have had it doled out by now. As she reached for the door, it was suddenly pulled open from the other side. Marianne yelped as she walked out of the office door and almost ran into Helen.

"Helen! You're back?" Marianne asked as she tried to catch her breath.

"To be honest, I'm not sure. I've got a meeting with Mrs. Horowitz in a few minutes." Helen slowly walked into the office and glanced around. "So, Eric hasn't given my office to someone else yet?"

"He wouldn't do that Helen," Marianne said with a chuckle that didn't project a whole lot of confidence in the statement.

"I suppose not. He'd get a bigger laugh out of turning it into a broom closet," Helen said with a grim look settling on her face as she turned and left her office.

Making her way to the conference room, she was so lost in her own thoughts that she almost didn't hear Eric's voice as he walked around the corner with another attorney, whom Helen recognized almost immediately. Eric, who wasn't looking where he was going, collided with Helen, coming to a screeching halt as he turned to face forward.

"Watch where you're -- Helen!" Eric took a step backwards. "What are you doing here?"

"Hello, Eric, good to see you again," Helen said with all the false civility that she could muster before turning a cocked eyebrow at the man with him. "And Mr. Moore, this is a surprise. How...nice to see you outside the court room."

"Likewise, Mrs. Morgendorffer," Moore said, adjusting his tie. "Pity Kay Sloane couldn't have waited five more minutes, I would have liked to have heard the judges decision that day."

"Could be Kay was just saving you the disappointment," Helen said coldly. "As for why I'm here, Eric, Mrs. Horowitz called me in for some kind of meeting."

"Really." Eric's tone was enough to tell Helen that their meeting wasn't turning out to be the coincidence she thought it was. "Tell ya what, Roger, let's continue this at lunch, huh?"

"Your expense account or mine?" Roger chuckled as he turned to go. "Later, Eric. A pleasure to see you again, Helen."

"You'll forgive me if the feeling isn't mutual," Helen said flatly.

"Yow, feisty woman," Roger muttered as he walked past.

Jerk, Helen thought icily, giving him a dirty look in response.

"Oh good, you're both here," an older woman said as she came up the corridor behind Helen. She was slightly taller than Helen, her salt and pepper hair tied back professionally in a loose bun. Her business suit was a severely cut silver-gray jacket and skirt combination that ended below the knees.

"Mrs. Horowitz. Good Morning," Helen said pleasantly.

"Morning, Gladys," Eric said with a nod.

"Let's step into the conference room, shall we?" Mrs. Horowitz said as she walked past them and opened the large, mostly glass door.

A large oaken table flanked by high-backed chairs on both sides dominated the firm's conference room. The wall opposite the door was covered with shelf after shelf after shelf of law books and reference material. Sitting on the table were several thick folders in neat stacks.

"So, take a seat and let me explain why you're here," Mrs. Horowitz said as she took the seat at the head of the table. "ATC Motors. Helen, you said you were familiar with the case?"

"Most of the particulars," Helen replied as she pulled out a chair and sat down.

"She's been out of the loop for the last couple of months," Eric said as he took the seat immediately to the left of Horowitz. "She was helping out with the case up until her little vacation, but everything's going along fine without her."

"Is it?" Horowitz cocked an eyebrow at Eric.

"Swimmingly."

"Then why is it that their in-house lawyers are calling me and telling me that the whole thing is on the verge of collapse because you aren't pursuing the supplier negligence angle?" Horowitz gaze leveled on Eric. "From what I hear, that's practically the lynchpin of the other side's entire case."

"Yes, well, we knew that their suppliers were cutting their own costs, and the quality of the inspections was dramatically dropping--" Helen started to say, but was cut off by Eric.

"What Helen means is that the suppliers were one lead out of a dozen possibilities," Eric said smoothly, shooting a hard look at Helen as he spoke. "It takes time to follow them all and weed out the dead ends from a legitimate line of questioning."

"Does this include taking time out to bring a lawsuit against one of the biggest charity firms in the world?"

"Now that wasn't my fault, I had bad cell phone reception!" Eric sat up defensively.

"Excuse me, suing a charity?" Helen asked, sounding confused.

"He tried to bring a suit against Unicef in connection with some faulty tires --made by Uniroyal -- which turned out to be a pure nuisance suit to begin with." Both Mrs. Horowitz and Helen looked at Eric, who was blushing furiously. "Turns out he got the case work mixed in with the plans for our annual charity fundraiser this Halloween."

"Gladys, that's not fair," Eric said. "I've been trying to make progress on six major cases ever since Helen walked out, working ten and twelve hour days six days a week --"

"How is that any different from my job?" Helen asked archly. "God, I'd have given anything for just a twelve-hour day!"

"Hold it, you two," Gladys stood, holding up a hand and forestalling the argument before it could get any momentum built up. "I think I've got the solution to all of this. Helen, when do you feel you'll be coming back to work?"

"Uh, I can start on Monday," Helen said after a moment of stunned silence.

"Now wait a minute, she's not on your staff," Eric protested.

"Eric, you're tired," Gladys continued as though he hadn't spoken. "Come Monday morning, we're going to be farming out some of your case load around the office -- including ATC."

"What?" Eric stammered. "I've been working on that from the beginning!"

"No, you've been overseeing your staff and taking credit for their work is what you've been doing." Gladys nodded at Helen. "From what I've been reading, Helen appears to have done most of the work on the case."

"Well," Helen said slowly.

"Helen, I want you to take the weekend, relax, and get your game face back on. Starting Monday morning, you're going to be taking point on ATC Motors."

"Uh...t-t-taking point?" Helen blinked.

"She's..." Eric couldn't seem to continue.

"I know this is a bit of a shock, but from what I've read, you're going to need the least amount of time to get up to speed." Gladys sat back down. "I've spoken to the judge and gotten a continuance, but you're back in court on Wednesday, whether we're ready or not. I need you to hit the ground running on this."

"No problem, Mrs. Horowitz, you can count on me," Helen said. She was practically salivating at the chance to get back to work.

"Oh sure! I see how it is!" Eric rolled his eyes in exasperation. "I ask you to do the same thing and you're walking out the door!"

"Eric, you demanded that I treat my daughter like some kind of hobby!" Helen replied hotly.

"Yes, Eric, put a sock in it, will you?" Gladys rolled her eyes. "I'm also very aware of the situation with your oldest girl, Helen, so I'll let you write your own schedule as much as possible so you can spend time with your daughter."

"Thank you, Mrs. Horowitz," Helen said with relief.

"Now, why don't you go and let your secretary know you're back, and I'll have this all sent over to your office so you can decide which of the junior associates you want on your staff for this." Gladys stood up and offered Helen her hand.

"I'll get on it right away," Helen said, shaking the senior partner's hand before turning and heading for the door with a new determination.

"Now, Eric," Helen heard Mrs. Horowitz say as she left. "Let me explain what kind of an ass you almost made of yourself..."

"Hey, wait up!"

Jane had been thinking that she was getting the hang of the unfamiliar high heels that she was wearing with the pink and white, fifties era outfit she had on, when she turned around, staggering momentarily. Her hair was gathered back into a white net, and her usual half a dozen silver earrings had been replaced by a single onyx and gold square in each lobe. She saw Daria coming out of the school entrance, not making any great time herself.

"You know, you're lucky I have more trouble walking in heels than you do with that belly of yours," Jane said with a slight smirk.

"I consider myself lucky I can walk at all," Daria said. "Listen, I'm sorry I gave you a hard time about your boyfriend."

"You don't have to write people off before you get to know them, you know," Jane said with a raised eyebrow.

"But, I thought that was what you liked about me," Daria replied with a similarly cocked eyebrow.

"Well, given your condition and all, I guess I can forgive you." Jane chuckled and held out her arms in front of her and looked her outfit over. "Besides, this retro thing is pretty silly. I mean, I'm wearing a snood!"

"I was trying not to notice," Daria said, knowing that the hair net was the first thing she had seen that morning.

"Ah hell, it's just for fun." Jane chuckled again, crossing her arms. Nathan did tend to take it a little too seriously, though. She remembered how freaked out he had become when his hair had gotten slightly mussed that night. But he was a pretty good kisser, so it evened out in the end.

"I'm finally beginning to figure that out." Daria took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

"You okay? Want to sit down someplace?" Jane asked, looking concerned.

"I'd love to, but the effort of getting back up again just isn't worth it." Daria looked down at her stomach. "I swear, I've gained at least fifteen pounds in the last six months, and it's all stomach."

"Hey, here's Nathan," Jane said, turning as she heard a car pull into the parking circle. The car was a vintage baby blue sedan with fins on the back that rivaled the current incarnation of the Bat-mobile. "Need a ride home?"

"Um, actually, I'm waiting for Tom," Daria said tiredly. "I've got an appointment with Dr. Nelson after school."

"Want us to wait with you?"

"I wouldn't mind the company," Daria said honestly.

"Hey, good lookin'," Nathan said as he leaned out the open driver side window.

"Hey, what am I, chopped liver?" Jane said with a wicked smirk as she walked over and leaned in for a quick smooch. "Daria's waiting for Tom to take her to an appointment. Do you mind hanging out for a little while?"

"No problem. For you, I've got all night." Nathan opened the door and stepped out, adjusting his tie and fedora. "Hey Daria."

"Hey," Daria greeted him sullenly as she leaned against the side of his car. She noticed that the pattern on Nathan's tie and on the pockets of Jane's outfit were identical tiny pink polka-dots. "Matching dress and tie. Copasetic."

"Hey, you speaketh the jive!" Nathan said, his face lighting up.

"I dabble." Daria shrugged.

"That's a swinging look you've put together, Daria. Catholic School Girl meets Kings Road London, circa eighty-three," Nathan said as he looked over Daria's usual outfit, his eyes narrowing slightly.

"And here I was going for circa eighty-two," Daria replied in mock defeat.

"So, where's your appointment? I could drop you off," Nathan offered.

"Over at the Medical Arts Partners building," Jane replied automatically.

"That's okay, Nathan. Tom'll be here in a minute," Daria said, looking around for Tom's car.

"Gonna get me some more pictures of the little belly buster?" Jane said, quickly reaching out and patting Daria's expansive abdomen.

"Only if you stop that!" Daria said, pushing Jane's hand away. "You're burning up godmother points here, you know."

"Sure, spoil my fun," Jane said with a smirk as she leaned against the car next to Daria and draped her arm around her shoulder, much to Daria's embarrassment.

Jane and Daria turned at the sound of a familiar car horn as Tom's battered Jag pulled into the parking circle. Neither of them saw Nathan's eyebrow drop slightly as he continued to give Daria a critical eye.

"Hey, speak of the devil," Jane said as Tom pulled to a stop behind Nathan's car.

"Hey Daria, Jane, Nathan," Tom said as he got out, leaving the engine running. "Sorry I'm late, Seven Corners was a mess. Ready?"

"Hey, Daria, do you guys want to hang out with us Friday?" Jane asked as Daria straightened up. "We're going to check out this movie theater outside town."

"What do you think, you feel up to it?" Tom asked.

"Um, sure," Daria said after a long moment. "That sounds . . . fun."

"Swingin', we'll pick you up at Jane's on Friday," Nathan said.

Jane could tell by Daria expression that she wasn't what she was feeling -- that she'd probably swallow a handful of live ants than go out anywhere. But she was trying, and Jane knew that any excuse Daria could grab onto to get out of the house was taken.

"Great, we'll see you then," Tom said as Jane and Daria walked over to the passenger side of the Jag and Daria sank gratefully into the seat.

"Cool, later." Jane walked around the front of Nathan's car and pulled the passenger door open to climb in.

"So, what's her story?" Nathan asked as he got behind the wheel and closed the door.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's pretty obvious that she's gut a bun in the oven," Nathan said as Tom's car pulled past them. "I just want to know what she's about is all."

"She is going to have a baby, yes. The neat part about it is that Tom happens to be the father of said baby."

"Uh-huh. And he's also your ex-boyfriend too, right?" Nathan pulled out into traffic.

"Yeah. What's that got to do with it?"

"Nothing at all. Gotta figure that the guy's eighteen-carat to be sticking around after something like that happens, that's all."

"Something like what?" Jane asked with an edge creeping into her voice.

"Whoa, hey, don't get me wrong, sweet heart," Nathan said lightly. "It's just that most people that I know wouldn't come inside a stone's throw of that situation. I'm just sayin', you know?"

"Mmm." Jane cocked her eyebrow at Nathan for a moment before turning back to the scenery passing outside the vehicle.

"So, Daria, anything big going on this week?" Dr. Samantha Nelson, Daria's OB/GYN asked as she pumped up the blood pressure cuff on Daria's arm.

"Not really, why do you ask?" Daria asked as she blankly watched the silver liquid in the thermometer-like gauge hover at almost one-ninety.

"Well, your blood pressure's a little high this time," Dr. Nelson replied as she opened the valve to let some of the air out of the cuff. She stopped it after only a moment, frowning slightly. "One-forty over ninety-five. Not too bad, but it could be better."

"Well, let's see. I've gained something like fifteen pounds, gone up a bra size, and have to go to the bathroom about twice as often as before." Daria absently rubbed the bandage that covered the fingertip where the doctor had pricked it earlier. "My Aunt Amy's back in town and mom's going back to work on Monday. All in all, everything's as normal as could be expected."

"What about your dad?"

"He's been pretty quiet lately," Daria said as Nelson removed the blood pressure cuff from her arm. She glanced at Tom, standing next to the exam table that she sat on.

"You could say that." Tom confirmed. "He actually has been pretty docile the last couple of weeks. At least after your mom got through with him over what happened."

Daria grimaced and nudged Tom in the ribs with her elbow.

"Why? What happened?" Dr. Nelson asked.

"It's actually a long story," Tom said as he and Daria exchanged bemused glances. "Let's just say that family Thanksgivings are going to be real interesting."

"Tom..."

"Uh-huh," Nelson said with a raised eyebrow and sensing a wider ranging story than she was getting. "Anyone care to elaborate further?"

"Not really," Daria said sullenly as she and Tom shared a look.

"Are the two of you having problems?"

"No, of course not," Tom replied as Daria shook her head.

Dr. Nelson sighed as she put down her stethoscope and made a few notes in Daria's file. Once she was done, she pulled a desk chair around and sat down facing the examination table that Daria was reclined on.

"Okay, for the most part, everything's fine," Dr. Nelson said as she crossed her legs. "Your hemocrits have dropped some, but that's normal for this far into your pregnancy, and I want you to start taking the iron supplements again. Second, like I said before, your blood pressure has gone up some. I want you to try and take it easy and relax. Avoid stress if you can."

"Does that mean you're going to give me a note to get out of the next three months of school?" Daria asked wryly.

"Unfortunately, I can't do that--"

Damn, Daria thought.

"-- But I can talk to your folks and teachers and see if we can't work something out. Would you like me to do that?"

"No, I'll do it," Daria said. "With my aunt back in town, the four of us ought to be able to come up with something."

"Okay, great. I'll leave that in your hands." Nelson took a deep breath. "There's one other thing, though."

"What?"

"Your ultrasound images."

"There's not something wrong, is there?" Tom asked with obvious concern.

"No, no, there's nothing wrong. Everything is perfectly normal -- except for the fact that every other parent I've worked with has been more than willing, if not eager to get their hands on their ultrasound pictures. Except you. You won't even look at the screen, and the copies you take you seal in envelopes and give to your friend Jane." She put both feet back on the floor and leaned forward, elbows on her knees. "Now I'm no psychiatrist, but to me all of this points to a serious case of denial."

"Doctor, I'm not denying that I'm pregnant," Daria said, looking down at her abdomen. "In fact, it's rather obvious by now, I think."

"That's not what I'm talking about. I'm worried that you're going to be having problems bonding with the baby when it comes. That kind of thing can be as serious as any kind of health problems I can think of. Like I said, I'm no psychiatrist, but it does have me a little concerned."

"I don't think I'm going to have any problems 'bonding' with my child, doctor," Daria said flatly. "Are we through?"

Not by a long shot, Nelson thought, but knew when to cut her losses when delving into unfamiliar territory. "Okay, yeah, I suppose we're done for today. But I want you to think about what I said. I'll contact you in a couple of weeks, and we'll talk then, all right?"

"I suppose I can't stop you," Daria said as she rolled off the table and collected the manila envelope with the latest set of ultrasound images for Jane. "Later."

"See ya, doc," Tom said, following Daria out of the exam room.

Dr. Nelson sat in the empty room for a moment after the two teens had left. She picked up Daria's file and looked over her notes from previous visits and decided to go with her first hunch.

I don't care what that girl said, she's got problems other than reactionary parents, Nelson thought as she closed the file and rolled the chair back over to the desk. Picking up the phone, she dialed a four digit extension.

"Hi, this is Dr. Nelson," she said as someone picked up the other end. "Is Dr. Washington available?...I need a consult on a patient of mine. Can he squeeze in about twenty minutes before he leaves?"

Daria lay on her side, her head propped up on one arm, while she read the book that Mr. O'Neil had assigned that day. She had already read it long ago, and could remember it well enough to write the report that O'Neill had assigned by the end of class. However she also remembered the last time that she had told him she'd already read the books on his assignment list.

Flipping a page, she pondered for a moment that she would have been more comfortable leaning against the headboard on her back. Glancing down at her abdomen, she winced at the thought of the backache she had gotten from the last time she did that. She hadn't been able to sleep on her stomach for the last few weeks either.

Only about sixteen more weeks to go and I can finally sleep on my back for a change, Daria thought as someone knocked at the door.

"Daria? Do you have a moment?" Helen asked, opening the door partially and poking her head through.

"I suppose," Daria replied. "Tom's going to be here in a little while to take us over to Jane's. Then we're going to hang out with her and Nathan for a while.

"I see." Helen walked in and sat at the foot of the bed. "Are you sure you should be out at all hours of the night? Especially given that you're pregnant?"

"Don't worry, mom. Both Tom and Jane will be there, so I'll have the full detail of mother hens around for the night." Daria sighed. "I haven't had any problems so far, and I'm not going out of my way to look for them."

"Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about," Helen said slowly. The slight pause at the end made Daria turn to look at her mother. "Dr. Nelson and I spoke today, and she told me that she believes you're having problems accepting certain aspects of your pregnancy."

"She didn't!" Daria glared at Helen, then back at her book for a moment. "Dammit, I told her that everything was going fine! She didn't have any right to go over my head!"

"Daria, she's your doctor. She's supposed to be concerned about you."

"But there's nothing to be concerned about!"

"She thinks there is." Helen's voice remained steady and calm. "Daria, you've been to see her five times so far, and she took ultrasound pictures each time. However, we haven't seen a single one of them. Why is that?"

"I've been giving them to Jane."

"And why is that?"

What, am I on a witness stand or something? Daria thought with a frown. "She's got some kind of special project going that she wants to give when the baby's born."

"So, what do the pictures look like?" Helen asked hopefully.

"I don't know, I haven't seen any of them. I didn't particularly feel the need." Daria closed her book and slowly sat up. "Are we done here, because I have to meet Tom and Jane."

"No, young lady, we are not done here." Helen turned to face her daughter more directly. "You aren't going anywhere until you give me a plausible, believable explanation."

"Okay, how many ultrasound pictures do you have of me and Quinn?" Daria asked reasonably.

"None, unfortunately. The technology wasn't as readily available back then as it is now." Helen sighed. "Believe me, if it had been, we would've had a stack of pictures a foot high. But that's not the point."

"No, the point is that I'm not reacting to any of this the way somebody like you or Aunt Rita or Erin or Aunt Amy would." Daria pointed out. "I'm reacting the way I would."

"Exactly. The way you react to strong emotions is to pull back into that shell of yours. You did the same thing right before you started seeing Tom regularly."

"I also happen to recall coming to you for advice in that situation," Daria said as she shifted on the bed. Junior was sitting on her bladder again.

"I don't mean that night you kissed him, I mean after that."

"Oh."

Daria knew what Helen was talking about now. She remembered her conversation with Jane that night, and then her talk with Tom on the phone immediately afterwards. She had been so confused at the time, she hadn't come out of her room for three days except for the most perfunctory family contact at meals. Her main pillar of emotional support -- Jane -- had been kicked out from under her, and she was still convinced that she had been the one who had done the kicking. Tom had offered his own support in his own way, but somehow it had fallen short and it had been Daria who finally took the first steps to reconcile with Jane.

"Honey?" Helen asked quietly.

"Look, mom, I don't ..." Daria started, paused to take a deep breath, and started again. "I told Tom and Jane that not knowing certain things about all of this makes it easier to deal with. It was hard enough dealing with it as an intellectual exercise when you didn't know I was..."

"I see your point," Helen nodded sadly. "But this is reality now, not just theory."

"You're right, it's not. But it's still something that I have to handle on my own. Right now, that means keeping the concepts as simple as possible, and that means no pictures."

There were a couple of arguments that Helen considered using over the next few moments. One was how inconsiderate she was acting towards her and Jake by not getting the pictures. After all, they were going to be this child's grandparents and they had some right to know what was going on. Another was that these pictures were something that expectant mothers just got over the course of their examinations and showed off to whomever was remotely interested.

"Daria, why don't you want the pictures?" Helen asked just as Dr. Nelson had coached her earlier.

"I just told you, I want to keep the concepts as simple as I can for now. They're going to get complicated enough later."

"Are you sure that's all?"

"Okay, Mrs. Kreskin, you seem to know something I don't here," Daria said flatly. "Why don't you tell me what the problem is?"

"All right then, young lady, I will." Helen cocked her eyebrow at her daughter. "I think that you're doing the equivalent of hiding in your room until it's all over."

"I am not!"

"Then why won't you bring any of the ultrasound pictures home?"

"Because I don't need you two acting like nervous grandparents every time I turn around, all right?" Daria said sharply, her last nerve fraying. "I need you guys to act like a normal mom and dad for a change! I don't need you acting like an over protective Doberman every time I sneeze and I don't need dad acting like Tom's Typhoid Mary every time he shows up, or talking to my stomach just because he thinks there's a little person in there!"

"But Daria, there is a little person in there, as you put it -- your child."

"I know that! Dammit, mom, I haven't been going to an OB/GYN just because I've got gas, you know!"

"Okay, I know, but --"

"But nothing! We talked about all of this after you and dad had your big meltdowns -- I have to try and live as normal a life as I can if I'm going to get through this without you guys driving me nuts in the process. Right now that means no blasted ultrasound pictures! All right!"

"No, Daria, it's not all right." Helen was rather proud of herself as keeping her head together while Daria flipped out. Usually it was the other way around. "This is not something that's going to go away like a case of acne in another three or four months, Daria. This is the very beginning of something that's going to effect you for the rest of your life."

"Daria, Tom's here!" Quinn's voice drifted up from the first floor of the house.

"My ride's here," Daria said more calmly. "Can I go, or do you intend to ground me?"

"No, Daria, I have no intention of grounding you, just be back at a reasonable hour," Helen said as her daughter stood up. "But I do want you to think about what I said, all right? And maybe we'll talk a little later, when things aren't so hectic around here."

Like that'll ever happen, Daria thought as she walked out of her bedroom, leaving her mother sitting on the bed, wondering if she had actually gotten anywhere.

Daria's mood hadn't improved any by the time she and Tom rendezvoused with Nathan and Jane at her house. Now that they were speeding down a street on the outskirts of town, it didn't seem that she was any closer to making an upturn. Nathan's car turned out to be a hard-topped convertible and he had removed the roof before setting out. Now Daria and Tom were in the back seat getting their hair blown all over the place while Jane and Nathan sat up front behind the relative protection of the windshield. Jane still had a scarf over her head to protect her hair and Nathan's fedora seemed to be clamped onto his skull with a will of it's own, ignoring the wind.

"Nathan, how the hell are you keeping that hat on?" Tom finally had to ask.

"Custom made, my man," Nathan said with a proud smirk. "It's all in the fit."

"And yet they can't find a cure for cancer," Daria said flatly, earning herself a nudge from Tom's elbow.

"Nathan actually owns a pair of pants that belonged to Sammy Davis Junior," Jane said, turning to look at Tom and Daria.

"Problem is, I can't wear them." Nathan raised an eyebrow. "They're a very strange shape."

"Then what do you put on when you want to take a sunrise and sprinkle it with dew?" Daria asked acidly, earning another elbow from Tom, who scrambled to make up for her vitriol.

"So, how'd you get interested in all of this, Nathan?" Tom asked hurriedly.

"Well, I've always dug the beauty and elegance of post-war American design." Nathan hadn't seemed to notice Daria's barb. "People had a sense of timeless style and civilized decorum back then. There was a social propriety about things, you know?"

"Oh yeah, the 'timeless style' of Cold War conformity and the 'civilized decorum' of segregation. Then there's the 'social propriety' of the National Guard escorting your kids to school." Daria arched an eyebrow. It seemed like this guy was out to push all of her buttons.

"Hey, I never said it was all steak and onions, but you didn't have to worry about your kid coming home pregnant either," Nathan said, matching Daria's cold look with one of his own. "No offense intended."

"Uh-huh." Daria's glare got harder. "Not like anyone back then would admit to having their daughter shipped of to the local home for wayward girls for nine months, either."

"If they had any respectability, they wouldn't have to worry about that problem to begin with."

Jane was giving Nathan a sidelong glare to rival the dirty look that Daria was giving him from the back seat. She was definitely going to have a talk with that boy later about how he was egging Daria on like that.

"Hey, there it is," Nathan said as a large, battered movie screen came into view. He was oblivious to the looks he was getting from his passengers.

A moment later, they were pulling into the drive in theaters parking / viewing lot. Weeds and grass poked through the cracks and holes in the old concrete. Faded lines denoted parking spaces that had been empty and unused for years.

"What movie are we seeing?" Tom asked, curious in spite of Nathan's lousy attitude.

"No movie," Nathan replied as he stopped the car. All four of them sat for a moment, just taking the atmosphere of the place in.

"Wow. Eerie." Jane looked at the decaying and rusted playground equipment that was spread out at the base of the screen. She had vague memories of playing here when she was in first or second grade, and the equipment hadn't been in much better shape back then. "Let's get out and poke around."

"This is kind of bizarre," Tom agreed as he looked the place over.

"It ranks right up there with hairless cats, all right," Daria said, the prospect of exploring the old place didn't come close to countering Nathan's contemptuous attitude.

"Darn it," Nathan said as he looked around the parking lot.

"What?" Jane asked.

"We're the first ones here." He sounded a little dejected. "I wanted to make an entrance."

"First ones here?" Daria suppressed a groan as she heard the sound of car engines drown out the sounds of crickets and the wind through the grass. She turned and saw half a dozen vehicles that appeared to be of the same era as Nathan's pulling into the lot. "Oh god, it's night of the vintage threads."

"Hey, there's Charlece and Asher!" Nathan said as the lead car pulled to a stop nearby. Couples began climbing out of the cars as they stopped in random spots across the lot. "C'mon, Jane, I'll introduce you to the gang."

"There's a gang?" Daria resisted the urge to crawl under the seat, though she did try to pull her jacket a little tighter around the middle. She wasn't to thrilled with the thought of a crowd of these walking anachronisms passing judgment on her without so much as a second thought.

"But first, hair check!" Nathan removed his hat with a flourish and ran a comb through his slicked back hair with a practiced motion.

Daria turned away from Nathan and his primping, resisting the urge to grab Jane's handbag and clout her boyfriend across his well coiffed head. Instead, she watched as someone pulled a decidedly modern stereo from the back of the seat of his car. A press of a button later and the night air was filled with snappy, big band dance music. The response was immediate as couples paired off and stared jitterbugging across the lot. A few yards from the car, one pair even executed a complex move where one dancer flipped his partner over his head. She landed on her feet like a pro, and the continued dancing without missing a beat.

"Hey, that was pretty good," Tom said in admiration.

"Yeah, and I bet they didn't spend a good portion of their teen years practicing it either," Daria said sourly. How the hell did I get talked into this?

"Are you guys coming?" Jane asked as she opened the passenger door and climbed out.

"You mean outside?" Daria arched an eyebrow at her friend. "You're kidding, right?"

"Daria," Jane said warningly.

"Ah, leave 'em!" Nathan said with an exasperated waved of his hand. "Some people can't make the scene without clearing it with the PC police first!"

"Nathan," Jane warned her current boyfriend.

"Don't worry about it, Jane. Even if I wanted to, I'm in no shape for that kind of dancing." Daria rolled her eyes.

"Neither will Nathan by the time I'm done," Jane said with a harsh look at Nathan's retreating back. "Holler if you guys need something, okay?"

"Do you believe that guy?" Tom asked rhetorically as Jane walked off into the crowd. "For a second during the ride there I thought you were going to go for his throat!"

"Believe me, I'd like to strangle him with Sammy Davis' pants. Too bad Jane thinks he's 'swingin'.'" Daria looked glumly down at her boots. She tried to think of something more to say, but her emotions had caused a lump to form in her throat. She was blinking back tears that were rapidly building up.

"Daria?"

"That...How dare he! How dare that Mickey Spillane reject judge me by some antique set of standards that went out decades before he was even born!" Daria sniffed once and sat there, quietly seething.

"The guy's a jackass. There's no doubt about that. I think even Jane's starting to see it now, too." Tom scooted over and slipped his arm around Daria's shoulder. "Don't let him get to you, Daria. The jerk isn't even close to being worth the trouble."

"I used to think the same thing about you, you know," Daria sniffed with half a smirk.

"And see? You were right." Tom smiled back, seeing that it seemed to lighten Daria's mood a little.

"Okay, you got me there." Daria sighed. "And, yeah, logically I could care less what that guy thinks of me. But still..."

"Yeah, I know." Tom squeezed Daria's shoulders.

"You know, I wish the PC police were here," Daria said after a moment. "Maybe they'd give us a --"

Tom glanced over as Daria suddenly looked down at her abdomen with a curious expression on her face. She tentatively laid her hand on the curve of her stomach as her expression slowly changed to one of awe.

"Daria, is something wrong?" Tom asked, growing concerned.

"No, I..."

"What is it?"

"I think I just..." Daria swallowed. "No, I'm sure of it..."

"What?"

"The baby's...moving!"

"Really?" Tom gently laid his hand next to Daria's. "I don't feeling anything. Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. It really moved." As the sensation subsided, she tried to come up with some way to describe what she felt. But how could she describe something just barely above the threshold of her perceptions? "I don't know how to describe it."

"I think the look on your face just did," Tom said with his own smile as he hugged her shoulders.

We're going to have a baby, Daria thought to herself. I'm really going to have a baby!

When Daria arrived home that night, she was dead tired. She didn't have the same energy levels she did five or six months ago. It was surprising at how much it took out of her to just get through a normal day anymore. Upon entering the house, she trudged over to the sofas where Amy was sitting with her feet up on the coffee table and a book in her lap.

"Hey, stranger," Amy greeted her niece as Daria plopped down onto the sofa with a groan. "Have a good night?"

"I suppose some aspects of this night could be considered good." Daria sounded exhausted. "They would balance out the parts that completely sucked."

"Something happen?" Amy looked at Daria over the rims of her glasses.

"Nathan's ethical standards are as antique as his car is, and just as rusted." Daria frowned. "I'd rather not talk about it right now."

This doesn't sound good, Amy thought as she closed her book on her index finger to keep her place. "So what else happened?"

Daria was quiet for a minute as a small but genuine smile appeared on her lips.

"I felt the baby move for the first time."

"Oh wow," Amy said with a smile of her own. "I'd say that could offset quite a lot."

"I'll say." Daria looked down at her stomach and interlaced her fingers below the bulge, cupping it gently in her palms. "This really is happening, isn't it?"

"Oh, yeah."

"So...where is everybody?"

"Helen's in the kitchen, trying to get caught up on some mondo case she was working on before her leave. Jake said something about entertaining a client and Quinn's out with her friends."

"So mom couldn't stay away from the office, huh?"

"She said that she'd been made the lead attorney since the first guy tried to sue some charity he thought was a tire company."

"Sounds like one of Eric Schrecter's screw ups," Daria said. "It's happened before when he's got too many things going on at once."

"Doesn't know his limits, huh?"

"More like he doesn't know how not to micromanage everything to death." Daria leaned her head back on the sofa and closed her eyes, enjoying the relative silence of the room after a night of big band music.

"Helen told me about your ultrasound pictures," Amy said quietly.

"You're not going to start on me about those things too, are you?" Daria opened one eye and fixed Amy with a baleful look.

"Nope. Seeing those things is entirely up to you. But I am wondering a little if this hasn't changed your mind about it some."

"Well, maybe a little." Daria lifted her head and opened her other eye. "It does kick the reality of the whole situation up a few levels."

"So, do you know what you're going to do?"

"Right at the moment ... no."

"Are you going to tell Helen?"

"Not right now, I don't think." Daria cast a glance back towards the entrance to the kitchen. "I'm not sure I want to become the focal point of her attention right now."

"Can't say I blame you" Amy opened her book back up and resumed her reading for a moment.

"Aunt Amy, do you think that I'm less, well, respectable because I got...well..." Daria just looked down at her stomach.

"What brought this up?"

"Something that Nathan said tonight." Daria frowned. "He said if girls had any respectability they wouldn't have problems like this."

"I see. Sounds like he was born about forty years too late. He'd have got along great with my mom." Amy closed her book again. "Personally, I wouldn't worry about him. Sooner or later, someone'll give him a big bite of a reality sandwich, and you watch what happens."

"I think I'll leave that up to Jane." Daria tried to stand up, but made it only a little way before dropping back to the sofa with a groan. "Is it just me or has the gravity been unusually high today?"

"Don't worry, Daria," Amy said as she stood up and took Daria's hands in hers. "Just three more months and the laws of gravity will return to normal and the Chaos Theory of Motherhood will take over. Now, one two three-heave!"

"I had a great time the other night," Jane said a couple of days later as she and Daria walked along the hall towards the lunchroom.

"Yeah, me too," Daria grumbled as she tried to look at her boots over her abdomen.

"Listen, um, I'm sorry about what Nathan said on the way out to the old drive-in," Jane said hesitantly.

"Don't worry about it. Besides, the night wasn't a total loss." The corner of Daria's mouth twitched upwards slightly.

"Something interesting happen while I was dancing on Nathan's toes with my high heels?"

"You could say that."

"Well, what happened?"

"I felt the baby move for the first time." Daria's Mona Lisa smile got more pronounced.

"And you didn't tell me?" Jane asked, incredulous. "Dammit woman!"

"Ladies!"

Both girls looked up and saw Charles dressed to the nines in a powder blue tuxedo, complete with a white carnation in his jacket lapel and white gloves. He was standing next to a card table in front of the principal's office, where Ms. Li was hovering over a roll of orange tickets and a cash box like a vulture over fresh carrion

"Come see a feat of legerdemain so dangerous that I've taken out an insurance policy on my body -- and my bodily fluids!" Charles held up a thick, legal looking document for the girls to see. "This Saturday night, I will be handcuffed, straight jacketed, and interred within an airtight, steel reinforced, military grade trunk. Then it's either escape or asphyxiate!"

"Do we get to pick?" Daria asked blandly, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

"All proceeds --" Li started to say, but was cut off by Charles clearing his throat loudly. "Most proceeds benefit the special expenditures fund for embedding microchips in the gym equipment."

"Upchuck, bound and gagged," Daria mused. "I have to admit, that does sound entertaining."

"We'll take four tickets," Jane said as she pulled a couple of bills from her jacket pocket and handed them to Ms. Li.

"On behalf of pilfered basketballs everywhere, Ms. Lane, I'd like to say that's very school spirited of you!" Li pulled four tickets from the roll and passed them to Jane in exchange for the bills. Jane tore two of them off and passed them to Daria.

"Here, you ask Tom. I'll ask Nathan. My treat." Daria looked at the tickets sourly. "Don't worry about Nathan. I'll make sure he minds his p's and q's."

"Well, I guess," Daria said reluctantly as they turned to leave.

"Aha, an approaching trio of lovelies!" Upchuck said slickly as Daria and Jane were walking off. "It appears my magic mojo is working overtime!"

"God, he is such a ham," Jane said out of the side of her mouth.

"Hi Stacy, Quinn, Tiffany!"

Daria and Jane looked back over their shoulders in disbelief when the three former fashion club members actually returned Charles' greeting and stopped at the table.

"Hi. Rehearsal's still at six, right?" Stacy asked.

"Quite correct, my dear," Charles replied with a smile. "We'll get to use the auditorium tonight and tomorrow before our big performance."

"Don't worry, we'll be there," Quinn said.

"Are you sure that costume doesn't make me look fat? Tiffany asked predictably.

"Positive," Quinn said patiently. "Come on, guys, we've got to get to class. See ya, Upchuck."

"Okay, the fashion fiends are helping The Great Prosciutto?" Jane asked Daria in disbelief. "Have they been using expired blush?"

"I think it has to do more with Sandi and the dissolution of the fashion club than actually assisting Upchuck," Daria said as they resumed walking. "And it would explain why I saw Quinn doing a Vanna White imitation in front of her mirrors last night."

Trent opened the front door of the Lane house and about wished he knew where a pair of sunglasses was. Standing on the welcome mat was a young man wearing a jacket and suit with horrendously exaggerated shoulders and a wide brimmed hat to match. His entire ensemble was varying shades of the same color.

"Whoa, Canary Yellow!" Trent stepped back, blinking in spite of himself.

"Hi, I'm Nathan, Jane's escort for the evening. You must be Trent." Nathan extended his hand, which Trent shook. "It's great to finally meet you."

"Yeah, same here." Jane's escort for the evening? Do people actually talk like that? Trent looked Nathan over with a cocked eyebrow. "You dress like that every day?"

"Sure. Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Dress like that every day." Nathan gave Trent a similar looking over. "I mean, the sixties are over."

"Yeah, but the forties were over first."

"Maybe," Nathan said with half a smile. "But great style is timeless."

"That's just what I was going to say." Trent nodded. "Thanks."

"No, thank you." Nathan shook Trent's hand again.

"Janey's upstairs. End of the hall on the left."

"Thanks."

Nathan took the stairs at a brisk pace and followed Trent's directions right to Jane's room. He stepped up to the open door, peeked inside, and saw Jane wearing a blue dancing outfit that was just the right amount of nineteen fifty-four.

"This was so much easier when I had just one outfit," he heard her mutter to the mirror that was sitting on an easel in front of her.

He smiled to himself as he knocked on the doorframe.

"Yo." Jane looked up from her mirror as Nathan walked into the room.

"Hey gorgeous."

"Hey." Jane looked Nathan over as an excuse to dodge his attempt to kiss her. She was still a little peeved at him for what he had said about Daria earlier in the week. "Wow. You really do own a zoot suit!"

"Got to have something for special occasions," Nathan said as he helped himself to a seat on the end of the bed. Jane turned back to her mirror and made one more check of her dress while Nathan turned on the television.

"Trouble travels by trike!" The familiar voice of the Sick, Sad World announcer immediately blasted into the room. Jane turned and saw two tricycle-bound kids dismount their rides and start exchanging punches. "Under-age road rage, next on Sick, Sad World!"

"Ugh. How could anyone watch that crap!" Nathan said as he turned the TV off and tossed the remote back onto the bed. "The decline of modern civilization!"

"Exactly." Jane smiled as she stepped into her shoes.

"Ready to go?" Nathan asked expectantly. "The Tiki Tavern is going to be packed tonight."

"I bought tickets to see Upchuck the Irritating, remember?" Jane reminded him. "You know, first the freaky, then the tiki."

"Oh, come on! Magic is so old and corny!" Nathan protested. "Besides, the gang's expecting us in time for the floating ukulele review."

"I told Daria and Tom we'd be there," Jane said with a little more steel in her voice. "You know, my gang? We talked about this the other night, remember?"

"Yean, I remember. And I'm sorry, but that Daria chick just curdles my stomach. That whole scene with those two just isn't my speed." Nathan glanced down at Jane and shook his head as he looked her over. "I don't know why I let you hang out with someone like her. Uh, you do know you're mixing forties shoes with a fifties dress, right?"

"Screw my clothes." Jane planted her fists on her hips. "Since when do I need you to 'let' me do anything? And just what the hell did you mean by someone like Daria?"

"She's barely eighteen and she's gotten herself pregnant, Jane, what do you think I mean? Can you honestly tell me that you're comfortable hanging around someone who couldn't keep her legs together?" Nathan shook his head. "I tell you, people today have absolutely no morals any more."

"Hey, Daria's the most straight up person I know!"

"How'd she get knocked up then? Wishful thinking?"

"She's been like a sister to me almost from the week she moved to this town," Jane said in an angry voice as her face slowly began to turn a hot red. "She's been my best friend, confidant, and a grade-A pain in the ass when necessary, and I'll be damned if I'm going to stand here and listen to you bad mouth her any more. Apologize, Nathan, right now."

"You want me to apologize for her being a skank?" Nathan couldn't believe his ears. "You're kidding, right?"

Jane's hand lashed out almost before she knew it was moving, and the sound of the slap seemed to take them both by surprise. Nathan jerked backwards quickly, causing his hat to fall forward over his eyes for a second. Jane snatched it off of his head before he had time to recover. She glared at him murderously and stood with the brim of his hat crushed in her fist.

"You sanctimonious son of a bitch!" Jane hissed through clenched teeth. "All I've ever heard out of you is how much better everything and everyone was way back when! Well, I'm sick of it! If you honestly cared it wouldn't matter what I ware or who my friends are!"

"If you had any values at all --"

"Get out of this house!"

"Fine." Nathan held out his hand. "Give me my hat."

Jane threw his hat on the floor and stomped on it once, squashing it flat before Nathan could pick it up.

"Phony," Jane spat as she kicked the flattened hat against his ankles.

"Dyke," Nathan shot back, snatching his damaged hat up.

Jane glared at Nathan's back as he stormed out of the room, trying to fix his flattened hat as he went. As soon as she heard his footsteps on the stairs, she sat down on her bead and flopped over on her back.

Daria was so right about that guy! Jane thought, rubbing her face with both hands and smearing her makeup. She held her hands in front of her face and looked at them critically. This is so not me.

She sat up and grabbed a reasonably clean cloth from the supply box next to her easel. A few moments of vigorous wiping took care of the makeup on her hands and face. She ran her fingers through her hair and attempted to mold her hair back into it's usual style, but all the hair spray she'd had to use put up a stiff resistance.

Oh well, that's almost me, Jane thought as she looked at herself in the mirror on her easel. Close enough for right now.

"Hey, what happened to Nathan?" Trent asked, appearing at the door.

"Nathan who?" Jane sighed. "Forget him, Trent. It's over."

"Bummer."

"You're not going to say that we made a 'cute couple' are you?" Jane asked as her brother crossed the room.

"Nope."

"Good."

"I never thought he was your type anyway." Trent sat down next to his sister.

"What the hell is it with me, Trent?" Jane flopped back on the bed again. "How come the only people I keep attracting are self centered, self righteous jerks?"

Trent shrugged. "Tom was pretty cool."

"Tom ended up kissing my best friend." Jane sourly rolled her eyes. "Among other things he did."

"Well, what about Daria? She's not any of those things."

"Yeah, she knows me better than I know myself sometimes. She was dead on about Nathan too, dammit. "Jane pushed herself up on her elbows. "How the hell can someone that antisocial be so good at reading people?"

"Search me," Trent said as he stood back up and started to walk out. "Maybe that's why you like her so much."

"Maybe," Jane replied to a now empty room as she stood up from the bed and began to rummage around the room for her regular clothes. "Maybe I ought to start dating Daria. God knows I've done worse this month." Jane chuckled in genuine amusement. "Yeah, right. I can see it all now. 'Hey, Tom, I kissed your pregnant girlfriend.'"

Jane shook her head at the absurdity of that particular scenario as it played out in her mind. The whole time she was showering and getting re-dressed, however, a tiny voice in the back of her mind kept asking what would have been so wrong about that?

The high school auditorium was packed, Stacy saw as she peeked out from the edge of the stage curtain. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she stepped back to let Quinn have a look. Tiffany was minutely examining her costume in a nearby mirror, oblivious to her friends' nervous looks at the crowd.

"Wow, there isn't an empty seat in the house," Quinn said in quiet surprise. "Ms. Li didn't even have to threaten anyone this time."

"It didn't hurt that my father happened to donate the resources to help us advertise a little, either." Charles peeked over Quinn's shoulder at the crowd. "A few hundred flyers sure go a long way."

Charles stepped back from the curtain and adjusted the bow tie on his blue and white tuxedo as he looked over his three assistants. The girls wore identical outfits of blue and white to match Charles suit. Heels and a fluffy, feathered headpiece, all liberally covered with sequins and glitter completed each costume.

"I'm not sure that I can do this," Stacy said, breathing deeply to avoid a fit of hyperventilation.

"What are you talking about? This was your idea, you know!" Quinn planted her hands on her hips and gave Stacy a look.

"I know! But I didn't think there was going to be such a big crowd!" Stacy turned and looked out of the curtain again. Her eyes darted back and forth, desperately looking for an empty seat. Then her eyes fell on three seats by the center aisle. "Sandi's out there!"

"Where?" Quinn peeked briefly around Stacy's pointing finger. "Huh. She brought Brooke and Tori too. I really didn't expect them to show up at something like this."

"Well, young people," Ms Li said with her usual martial enthusiasm. "The hall is rented and the audience is seated. I trust that you will give an excellent performance!"

"Ready, willing and able," Charles said with a sly wink in Stacy's direction.

"Uh, yeah, ready." Stacy saw Charles' wink and was trying not to blush. "Really ready."

"Excellent! Places please for the main event!" Ms Li turned and headed for the opposite side of the stage.

"C'mon, Tiffany, we've got to get in place for our part!" Quinn took the other girl's arm and pulled her away from the mirror.

"This is such a cool costume!" Tiffany said as she was led off. "It's so sparkly! And it doesn't make me look fat!"

Charles and Stacy exchanged a glance and a chuckle as Ms Li walked through the curtain and addressed the audience.

"Welcome one and all! I'd like to thank Mr. Ruttheimer for supporting a most worthy cause..."

"Nervous?" Charles asked as Li droned on.

"Yeah," Stacy said bashfully.

"Don't worry, we're going to be fantastic!"

"...And now, Ruttheimer the Prestidigitator and his lovely assistant, Stacy!"

"Let's make some magic!" Charles said as the curtains split open in front of them.

Tom and Daria sat out in the audience and clapped politely with the rest of the crowd as Charles and Stacy walked out on stage. Daria risked a glance a couple of rows behind her where she had heard someone gasp as Stacy's name was announced. She saw Sandi sitting by the side aisle, arms folded and glaring death at the stage while the two girls next to her whispered to each other about something.

What, did she expect Stacy to curl up and hide in her room? Daria thought as she turned back to the show. I wonder where Quinn and Tiffany are?

"Greetings, magic aficionados!" Charles said as he picked up a bulky looking straight jacket from atop a large trunk and slipped it on. Stacy took the overly long sleeves and began to cinch the jacket shut in the back. Charles turned slightly and winked. "Please be gentle, my sweet. I have a very sensitive...everything!"

"I hope I'm doing this right," Stacy stage whispered, concentrating on her job.

"No complaints on this end." Charles turned back to the audience as Stacy began fitting large chains in place around his arms. "Ladies and Gentlemen, as soon as I am fully bondaged, I will enter this steel reinforced trunk, which the lovely Stacy will close and lock. From the outside!"

As soon as Stacy clicked the last latch in place, Charles stepped over the edge of a large gray trunk in the middle of the stage. After he lay down inside, Stacy closed the lid and fixed the latches shut, finishing it off with a large padlock through a loop on the center latch. Looking down at her handiwork, she stepped back out of the way, her brow furrowed in concentration.

"Oh no!" Stacy whispered loudly as concentration changed to worry. "I've forgotten what to do next!"

Daria shook her head. Somehow she knew that this wasn't going to end well from the moment they walked out on stage.

"Where do you think Jane and Nathan are?" Tom asked, looking over at the two empty seats next to Daria.

"Maybe the roadster ran out of jive juice," Daria suggested as she watched Stacy look more and more panicked by the second. She could hear Charles beginning to struggle harder inside the trunk. Looking down at her abdomen, she wondered if her unborn baby would feel something similar as it grew in the confined space.

"What's taking so long?" Ms Li looked impatient as she walked on stage and confronted Stacy. "I've already rented the auditorium out and the Single Scientologists will be here in less than an hour!"

"He was supposed to signal me!" Stacy's voice cracked as genuine fear began to set in. "Something's gone wrong!"

"Panic! Panic! I foresee a major hike in insurance premiums!"

"Not to mention another body to stash," Daria whispered to Tom.

"I hear the lake behind C'est la Veal is pretty good for that," Tom replied.

Onstage, Mr. DeMartino had come out of one of the wings carrying a large pry bar. He knelt by the trunk and began to wedge one end of it behind one of the latches.

"Why do I always wind up bailing out the naive or incompetent when their ill-conceived plans go awry!" DeMartino grunted as he pushed on the bar.

"Just like a man to be there one minute and gone the next!" Ms Barch said as she walked out onstage and over to the trunk. She hauled her leg back and gave a mighty kick to the padlocked latch. When that failed to yield results, she started in on a series of them.

All of this finally turned out to be too much for Stacy. She left the stage and headed out into the aisles in an effort to get away from all the activity. She kept looking back at the stage as she tried to slip up the side aisle that Sandi, Brooke, and Tori happened to be sitting next to.

"You know, Stacy, it's just too tragic how you so completely embarrassed yourself up there," Sandi said with a sneer.

"Not to mention how you totally freaked out," Tori sniffed. "I mean, it's just Upchuck!"

"And Quinn and Tiffany aren't around anywhere to help you out," Brooke said as she looked around the crowd. "That must just suck for you."

"At least Upchuck's buried alive in there, so you won't have to get him back for embarrassing you in front of the whole school." Sandi cocked her eyebrow at Stacy. "Pity you'll have to spend the rest of your life seeking revenge on Quinn and Tiffany for abandoning you."

"Oh Sandi, you are so naive!" Stacy's mood changed as if someone had flipped a switch, catching Sandi completely off guard.

"Huh?"

On stage, the center latch on the trunk popped open with a loud, sudden snap that made DeMartino and Barch jump backwards slightly. The lid sprang open and Quinn and Tiffany, dressed in outfits identical to Stacy's hopped to their feet and struck a pose for the crowd.

"TA-DAA!" The two of then sang.

"What?" DeMartino blinked at the sudden appearance of the two girls. "Where is he?"

"There!" The girls pointed to the opposite side of the auditorium from Stacy.

"Shazam!"

Heads all over the auditorium turned to look to the other side of the room at Charles, standing in the aisle with his arms outstretched in front of him.

"You know, I really thought he was in trouble up there," Tom said as Charles made his way back to the stage.

"Optimist." Daria smirked, then squinted momentarily at Charles. "Are those Sammy Davis' pants?"

"Ladies and Gentlemen, let's hear it for my lovely assistants: Quinn, Tiffany and especially Stacy and her Oscar worthy acting job!" Charles turned and held Stacy's hand in the air as the crowd applauded. "Your crocodile tears bring out the tiger in me! Rowrrr!"

Stacy blushed as she took her bows with her friends.

Forty five minutes later, the crowd was slowly filing out of the auditorium, Charles had held their attention with a wide array of slight of hand and illusion, making Quinn, Tiffany, and Stacy each disappear and reappear at various points of the show. For a finale, all four of them stepped into a large wooden crate that DeMartino had wheeled out. When the top was lifted off, the sides collapsed and none of them were anywhere to be found, at least until they came out from back stage.

"Well, you have to admit, that wasn't half bad," Tom was saying as he and Daria walked out slowly.

"Yeah, but which half?" Daria asked dryly. "I wish Jane had made it to the show."

"Speak of the devil," Tom said, spotting Jane approaching through the crowd and pointed her out to Daria. She was dressed in her usual red shirt, black T-shirt, shorts and leggings.

"Hey," Jane greeted them. "Did I miss anything?"

"Nothing good. Upchuck and the former fashion fiends seem to have survived," Daria replied with a smirk.

"So, where's Sir Swanky?" Tom asked, then winced. "Sorry, I mean --"

"Don't worry about it." Jane waved him off. "We broke up."

"No kidding," Daria said with a look at Jane's outfit.

"At least now I can admit that I didn't like him," Tom said.

"And if we get back together?" Jane cocked an eyebrow cattily.

"Aw crap!" Tom sighed, looking to the sky with a 'give me strength' expression.

"Relax, there's no way that's going to happen," Jane chuckled. "You were right, Daria. He turned out to be exactly the kind of jerk that you thought he was."

"I didn't feel like it was my place to point out that incredibly obvious fact," Daria said.

"Something I should have known when you didn't try to steal him away from me." Jane turned her eyebrow on Daria.

"Hey!" Tom and Daria took offence simultaneously.

"What?" Jane asked innocently, then dropped the expression after a second. "Maybe I did all that stuff because I was a little too eager to be hanging out with someone cool."

"You were right about fun being fun, too," Daria admitted. "I'm going to try to remember that on the off chance that I'm ever back in the shape to have some."

"I guess Nathan's good looks blinded me to the fact he was a total jackass."

"Well, you always did have a weakness for the cute ones." Daria turned and flashed her Mona Lisa smile affectionately at Tom, who blushed slightly.

Jane's own smile slipped through, along with the unbidden thought that she had a weakness for the smart ones as well.

"That was so cool!" Stacy was still pumped from their performance with Charles.

"Yeah." Tiffany smiled at the memory of the applause they had gotten from the finale. "Stacy, you have got to teach me to cry like that!"

"Me too!" Quinn said as they left through the stage door. "That would come in so handy at home, and in a variety of social situations too!"

"Yeah," Stacy nodded in agreement. "Well, I suppose I could try. It's just something I've always been able to do."

"Well, look at this. Upchuck's bunnies."

The three girls turned around and saw Sandi walking up behind them, her face set in an angry glare and her fists clenched at her sides.

"Uh, hi Sandi," Stacy said. They'd all seen that look before and knew this couldn't be good.

"Well, I hope the three of you are happy now!" Sandi snapped.

"What do you mean, Sandi?" Quinn asked.

"Save the innocent act, Quinn, you did it to me again!" Sandi walked right up to Quinn and stood barely a foot away. "Now all everyone's talking about is that stupid freaking magic act! Brooke and Tori won't shut up about how you three looked so cute--" The words came out as a sneer -- "in your little blue outfits!"

"So? That was the idea." Quinn decided to try a tactic that Daria had suggested some time earlier. "By tomorrow they'll find something else to talk about and everything will be back to normal."

"No it won't! It won't be back to normal for me!" Sandi practically yelled. "You're doing it again, Quinn! You're screwing up my life and stealing my friends just like you did before!"

"I didn't steal anyone, Sandi," Quinn sighed. "You turned your back on us on your own."

"I did not!"

"Yes, you did, and all because we wouldn't take your side against my sister because you got a bad grade on a test she gave." Quinn pointed out calmly. "It went way, way, way, too far, and when we wouldn't back you up, you blamed us."

"You're lying!"

"No, she's not, Sandi," Tiffany said sadly. "It's like what happened with Andrea when we were kids. She wouldn't do what you wanted and you started ignoring her."

"I...She..." Sandi stammered for a moment. "Don't you dare talk about that bitch to me! She deserved what she got!"

"No, she didn't. And we don't deserve this."

"Yes you do. Both you and Stacy do," Sandi said with finality. She glared at Quinn. "I hope you're happy, Quinn. You've cost me everything and I'm never going to forgive you for it."

Sandi turned and stalked angrily off across the grass towards the school parking lot. Quinn watched her leave, feeling somewhat confused about what to do next.

"Shouldn't we go after her or something?" Stacy asked hesitantly.

"I don't think it would matter," Quinn replied with a sad sigh. "I guess the Fashion Club really is dead."

"Yeah, I guess so," Tiffany said quietly.

"I'm sorry guys. I guess I kind of caused all of this."

"It's not your fault, Quinn," Stacy said.

"Yeah, Quinn. Don't worry about it." Tiffany affirmed.

"So, if you guys don't mind me asking, what happened with Andrea?" Quinn asked hesitantly. "I mean I know that you guys used to be friends, but..."

"Well, that's kind of a long story," Stacy said as the three of them slowly resumed walking.

"Yeah, and we kind of promised her that we wouldn't talk about it," Tiffany said.

"Sandi?" Quinn asked.

"No. Andrea."

"Eighty, ninety, a hundred," Jane counted out the new ten dollar bills as she and Daria walked out of the clothing store. She knew that Christy's Closet always bought old clothes from the forties and fifties and then resold them later. All of the stuff she took in with her would surely find good homes.

"Not too bad, considering that most of those clothes came from the attic." Jane smiled as she tucked the bills into her hip pocket. "Guess the 'beauty and elegance' of old clothes is worth something after all."

"So, how do you feel about the beauty and elegance of a post war American pizza?" Daria asked as they started up the street.

"I guess I'm buying, since I've got the hundred bucks,"

"Jane," Daria started hesitantly. "You still have the ultrasound pictures that I gave you, right?"

"Yeah, I've been putting them in an album, actually." Jane looked over at her friend. "You want to see them?"

"You sound like you've been expecting me to ask for them sooner or later." Daria met her friend's look.

"Well, I figured that curiosity would win out eventually." Jane smiled. "That, or maternal instinct."

"Yeah, right. I've got all the maternal instinct of a meat loaf."

"So, what brings this on?"

"The night that I felt the movement, for starters." Daria admitted. "The more I thought about it, the less I could really look at it as some kind of exercise, so I figured why not embrace the madness?"

"I knew that the famous Morgendorffer logic would work its way around to this sooner or later." Jane smiled. "C'mon. Food first, then over to my place for pictures."

"Sounds like a plan."

Jane looked at her friend for a moment as they walked. This felt right, she thought. With her best friend at her side, Jane felt like there wasn't a problem in the world that she couldn't work past, or couldn't be handled in typical damn-the-torpedoes Jane Lane style.

"Hey, Daria?"

"Yeah?"

Jane opened her mouth . . . and found that the words just didn't want to come out. When she didn't say anything, Daria looked over at her friend with a concerned expression.

"What is it?"

"Never mind, amiga," Jane said with her own slight smile. "It'll keep."

to be continued...

Author's Notes:

Well, there's not much in the way of notes or comments this time around, in spite of the time it took to finish. Thanks and Props go out to those who Beta Read for me (in no particular order)-- E.A. Smith, Olivier Milde Steven Galloway, and Prince Charon.

The Common point that everyone turned their attention was that of Jane and her questioning her sexual orientation. I want to point out that this is not as out of the blue as everyone seemed to believe. Jane actually started thinking along these lines in two different sections of the previous story, "A Tale of Two T's." The first time, when she was mentally filling in the details of her "special project" painting where she saw her face in place of Tom's. The second was during Jane and Daria's telephone conversation -- while she was sketching, Jane drew Alison's likeness and Daria's clothes and glasses. (The idea being that Alison's image popping up represented what Jane was trying to figure out, but was avoiding facing directly.)

E.A. Smith also pointed out that the Daria / Jane paring is a bit overused as a plot device. While it does lend itself to some excellent stories, it is not the direction that I'm planning on taking. Daria does make a logical object for Jane's affections, and vice versa. That does not mean that Jane is going to make any advances, or that Daria would respond favorably if she did. Jane's a smart lady and she knows this. (No, she's not going to go after Quinn either. Sorry.) However, Jane's story is just starting out, even though it is comparatively late in the series, and it still has a ways to go.

Well, I guess that's all there is for this installment. As usual, please send any questions or comments to I hope you enjoyed the story and thank you all for sticking with it. See you next time!