Once Upon A Time in College
Chapter One
By Lawndale Stalker

~*~

Daria Morgendorffer held her brush poised over the paper for a moment, then with a single assured stroke, laid in a line of far hazy hills below her completed sky. Returning to her previous position, she studied her color sketch and a reference photograph. She then added a touch of green and yellow to the pigment puddle in the mixing area and laid in washes for more hills in the middle distance. The cool north light from a mostly clear Boston sky streaming through the window to her left provided ideal illumination to paint by.

Daria knelt on a cushion, her paper, paintbox, and equipment on the floor before her. Jane Lane stood nearby at her easel, palette and brushes in her hands, also painting. She looked from Daria to her canvas and swiftly delineated Daria's right forearm, then picked up some slightly darker paint from her palette and filled in an area of Daria's thigh while Daria's arm was moving. Jane was dressed much the way she had in high school, except that gray slacks had replaced the gray shorts she used to wear. Daria was not dressed.

Jane scumbled in some shading on Daria's brush arm while it was still, then looked back to her model. The chill air in the loft had brought out goosebumps on Daria's skin. The space was heated, but the temperature never quite seemed to reach seventy degrees in the winter months. Complaints to the landlord brought promises to "check into it," but no extra heat. Jane observed the texture of the goosebumps on Daria's skin with an artist's eye, and wished she knew a technique that could capture it short of all-out, take-forever photorealism.

Daria shivered. "This is pretty spartan, even for a garret," she remarked.

Jane glanced around the space. Since it was an attic, the only vertical walls were around the bathroom and the stairwell. These were covered with drawings and paintings. All else was neither wall nor ceiling, sloping up to a peak at about a forty-five degree angle. Mattresses, belongings, and strange objects were pushed to the sides where there was insufficient room to stand upright. Two battered tables and some mismatched chairs were the only furniture. "Well, I need the north light but, artist stereotypes aside, I'd rather not actually starve. This is the best I could get and still maintain a greater-than-zero food budget."

"Hmm. So, do you have an eskimo girl lined up to model for you for the next few months?"

"What?"

"Well, I can't do it. You're gonna freeze your butt off up here this winter, even all bundled up. I'll never be able to pose nude here if it gets any colder than this."

"Aww, c'mon, amiga…"

"Jane, I couldn't hold still if I tried. I get cold a lot faster when I can't move, you know. Dressed normally, I can hold a pose comfortably down to about sixty-eight degrees. With no clothes on, the temperature needs to be at least seventy-two, preferably seventy-five or warmer. I'm shivering right now. Paint faster."

The rattle of the doorknob preempted Jane's reply. "Don't come in," she called out, "I'm in the…"

There was a sound of a shoulder against the door, and it opened wide, admitting a young man in a field jacket. "Hey, a model!" he said, pulling a sketchbook out of the satchel he carried.

His next words were drowned out by Daria's shriek as she sprang up, grabbed the cushion and, holding it between her and him, dashed for the bathroom, which provided the only privacy in the garret, and was where her clothes were.

"What's the matter with the model?" the man asked.

Jane glanced at the closed bathroom door, from behind which a string of bad words was emerging. Not sentences, or even descriptive phrases, just the words. She could tell that Daria was extremely upset. She turned to glare at the young man. "Dammit, Geoff, you said you'd be gone till six," she replied, pushing him toward the door. "Wait outside."

Geoff took a couple of steps backward. "Jane, we explained to you about sharing. I thought you understood."

"I'm not gonna 'share' my best friend," she whispered fiercely. "She was only modeling for me as a personal favor! She'll probably never model for anyone, now! Wait outside!"

Looking put upon, but sensing this wasn't the time to stand up for his viewpoint, Geoff allowed himself to be pushed back out onto the stairway landing. The door slammed, leaving him in semi-gloom.

Daria jerked on her panties and pullover, stepped into her skirt and zipped it up. She got control of herself enough to stop mindlessly spouting every bad word she knew. Ignoring Jane calling her name, she checked out the ancient toilet stool to be sure it was reasonably clean, then sat and began pulling on her socks and boots.

There came a soft knock on the door. "Daria, I'm sorry. You saw me lock the door. I don't know how he got in," Jane said.

Daria started to lace her boots, then decided it would take too much time. Suddenly, she wanted nothing in the world more than to get out of this garret, out of this tenement, and back to her dorm room. Daria threw on her jacket and stuffed her bra in one of the pockets. You try to help someone, and look what it gets you…

Jane was about to knock on the bathroom door again when it burst open and Daria rushed out. She charged across the room and through the door to the stairs. The young man was on the landing. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't…"

"Move or die!" Daria snarled, pushing past him and clattering down the stairs at dangerous speed.

Jane came right behind her. "Hey, I didn't…" he tried again.

"The door was locked, dammit!" Jane shouted as she shoved by and headed down the stairs after Daria.

~*~

Daria burst out the door of the apartment building. Spotting a bus approaching, she ran for the bus stop as fast as she could without running out of her unlaced boots, waving at the driver with one hand and clutching her jacket closed with the other. She hurried up the steps and disappeared inside.

Jane likewise ran for the bus stop, beginning to close the lead that Daria had somehow opened on the stairs. She stopped at the [money machine] and looked down the length of the bus. Daria was nowhere in sight. "Daria!" Jane called out. "You left your painting stuff!" There was no reply but the curious stares of the passengers.

Knowing that Daria couldn't have gotten off the bus without being seen, Jane tried again. "Come on, Daria, it was an accident!"

The bus driver, a black woman with a sympathetic expression, said, "Miss, if you want to ride, please deposit your fare."

Jane considered doing that, but she hadn't put on a jacket before running out after Daria, and her painting stuff, and Daria's too, were laid out unattended in the loft. At a minimum, she needed to cap the paint tubes and clean the brushes. Daria would want her watercolor field kit and the painting she'd been working on, but Jane doubted that she would return for it any time soon, if ever. Scanning the seats once more for her friend, without success, she reluctantly turned and exited the bus. The door hissed closed and it pulled away from the curb. Jane sadly watched as the bus rumbled off down the street, then turned and headed back to the old dilapidated apartment building that was now her home.

In a seat toward the back of the bus, Daria finished tying her bootlaces. Not knowing whether or not Jane had decided to pay the fare and ride, Daria wiped away the tears, put on her poker face, and straightened up. Jane wasn't on board. Good. Daria didn't feel like dealing with her now, or anyone else. Carefully not looking around to see if the other passengers were staring at her (they almost certainly would be), Daria settled into her seat and strove to compose her feelings to match her face. You shouldn't be surprised, she told herself. No good deed goes unpunished. You've known that for a long time.

Note: In case you're wondering what happened to the last ficlet I posted here, I forgot to change the rating from G, and it was removed for "content in excess of rating." I was exiled.

But I have returned from Elba. Soon, Europe will again squirm and grovel beneath my tiny boots! Er, I mean, I'll try to be more careful.

LS

Disclaimer: "Daria" and all related characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International, inc. The author does not claim copyright to these characters or to anything else in the "Daria" milieu; he does, however, claim copyright to all those parts of this work of fiction which are original to him and not to MTV or to other fanfic authors. This fanfic may be freely copied and distributed provided its contents remain unchanged, provided the author's name and email address are included, and provided that the distributor does not use it for monetary profit. (as if.)

Galen Hardesty [gehardesty@yahoo.com]