Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.

This is the fifty-second and final John Lane story in the series. Future stand-alone stories will be written as inspiration strikes me.

Richard Lobinske

From the Last Step to the First

The school secretary looked up and saw Daria enter the front office. "I'm sorry, but Ms. Li stepped out to the ladies' room. She should be back shortly."

Daria said, "That's okay; I don't need to see her," as she walked past the secretary and into the principal's office. "I'll only be a minute."

"But..."

Daria picked up the microphone for the school intercom and keyed the on switch. "Attention, students of Lawndale High. This is Daria Morgendorffer. To avoid the annoyance, lost time, aggravation, and headache that will come from answering this question all day long, I'll answer it now. I. AM. NOT. PREGNANT. Thank you."

Daria walked out of the office and past the secretary. "That's all."

After Daria closed the door, the secretary pulled a pill bottle from her top desk drawer and dry-swallowed two extra-strength pain relievers. "This is going to be one of those days."

A couple of minutes later when Ms. Li returned, the secretary said, "Ms. Li, I..."

The principal looked at the few remaining days in May and the school year, rubbed her temple and said, "It's not worth it."

Ms Li continued on her way and closed the office door behind her. The secretary then took the bottle out of the drawer and examined it. "Did somebody swap my aspirin for acid?"


"Do not, under any circumstances, let my father see that ring," Jodie sternly told Daria in the hallway. "For some reason, he's convinced that Mack is about to propose to me and that's only going to feed the delusion."

Daria said, "I know it is almost unheard of these days for someone to become engaged at our age, but sheesh, this ring seems to be sucking the brains out of everyone within fifty feet. I swear that the average IQ of Lawndale High has dropped thirty points since I stepped on campus."

Mack said, "That, and causing guys within fifty feet to become unduly paranoid."

John shook his head. "It's not like we're going to get married right after graduation."

Mack said, "John, you know better than to try to get our classmates to understand details."

"What was I thinking?"

Jodie said, "Anyway, congratulations. I'm still a little worried, but holding off until after college makes me feel more comfortable about your decision."

"Thanks," Daria said. "We're still comfortable about it."


Cornered in the gym locker room, John held up his hands as he faced the crowd. "Look, guys, this was strictly between me and Daria. I cannot be held responsible for any comments, suggestions, hints, threats or ultimatums your girlfriends may give you."

One of the crowd said, "But you gave them the idea!"

"It's not like we came up with the idea," John said. "Last I checked, it has been around for a couple of thousand years."

Someone else said, "But couldn't you have waited until after graduation?"

"Yeah!" another yelled. "That would've saved us a lot of hassles."

"Hey, I wasn't thinking about any of you or your girlfriends when I asked Daria. This shouldn't be about you and your girlfriends."

"But it is and we want to know what you're going to do about it!" yet another boy said.

"I'll have to get back to you about that."


Meanwhile, Daria faced a similar crowd in the other locker room. "Look, this is something between the two of us and it shouldn't affect your relationships a bit."

Another senior said, "We just want to know how you did it."

"Yeah," a redhead said. "How did you get John to ask you?"

"I didn't 'get him' to ask me. He asked on his own, and that's the way it should be."

"Yeah, right. No guy gets the idea on his own. You gave it to him."

Daria shook her head. "No..."

"Come on," the first girl said.

"It was a mutually agreeable situation," Daria said. "And you need to remember that. If your boyfriend isn't agreeable, it's not going to work."

"We know that," a tall girl in the back said. "We're trying to find out how you got John to be agreeable."

Daria lowered her face into her hand. "My head."


Seated at his desk with arms folded and head tilted, John said, "Shouldn't we call someone or something?"

In the adjacent seat, Daria said, "Probably."

Curious, Jodie stood up from her seat and walked to the front of the room to wave her hand in front of the still figure of their science teacher, Ms. Barch. "No response."

"I think you broke her," Mack said.

"We really should call somebody," John said.

"That would be the responsible thing to do," Daria said.

"I guess it's my turn to use the intercom," Jodie said, walking to the teacher's control. Speaking into it, she said, "Could you please send the school nurse? Ms. Barch - isn't herself today."

Grinning, Kevin Thompson said, "Hey, Daria, can you do that to the rest of our teachers?"


"Mr. Lane, Ms. Morgendorffer," Mr. DeMartino said as they left history class, "congratulations on showing that somebody in your generation is capable of planning ahead and making a decision!"

"Um, thanks?" John said.

Daria said, "Thank you."

"You make me feel as if my time here hasn't been a complete and utter waste. Thank you," Mr. DeMartino said as Daria and John made a fast retreat.

By the time they reached their English class, they could see Ms. Ruiz standing at the door. John said, "Oh no, not again."

"That which doesn't kill us..." Daria said.

"I want to change that to, 'That which we don't kill,'" John said.

Smiling, Ms. Ruiz said, "Yes, I've heard. Congratulations."

John stopped. "Thanks. You're not freaking out on us."

She shrugged. "I figured you needed a little bit of rationality today."

"We appreciate it," Daria said.

"After all, you've driven the rationality out of everyone else at school today."


Driving the blue car home, Daria said, "Well, wasn't today as much fun as dental surgery without anesthesia?"

"I'll take the dental surgery," John said. "But hopefully, the worst of the stupidity is behind us."

Daria glanced at him. "I wish you hadn't done that."

"Done what?"

"Challenged 'worse.'"


After a full day of being the center of attention, the complete absence of that attention the next day at school was unsettling for John and Daria. Finally, they tracked down Jodie and Mack.

Daria said, "Okay, what's up? The only reason that we're no longer the object of attention is that something else has come up to take it away. Not that we're really complaining, but if we've learned anything at Lawndale High, forewarned is forearmed."

"You haven't heard?" Jodie said.

"No, that's why we're asking."

"Oh," Mack said. "Rumor has it that Ms. Barch cornered Mr. O'Neill last night and -"

"And what?" John said. "Or is it too terrible to imagine?"

"Let's put it this way. You two motivated her."

"Oh, no," John said. "Please don't tell me -"

Jodie and Mack nodded.

John said, "It is something too terrible to imagine."

Daria said, "After what he tried to accuse Quinn of last summer, I'm not shedding any tears over his fate. And it has taken the attention away from us."

John nodded. "Now, all we have to do is to get through the last week of class and finals."

"Gladly, and then we're out of here," Daria said.


Despite the coffee he had just finished, John yawned as he stood up from the breakfast table. "Why don't they start finals later in the day so that we can catch up on the sleep we missed studying last night?"

Still seated, Daria said, "Because you would use that as an excuse to stay up later and thus, continue to be sleep-deprived."

John playfully growled. "Damn logic."

"I'm preparing for college."

"Well, so am I. How else can I pull off a successful all-nighter?"

"I don't think those terms go together."

"I look forward to finding out if they do."

Helen entered the kitchen and walked over to the coffee machine to pour a cup. "How does your last day of high school feel?"

John snickered when Daria said, "That's another phase of my life shot to hell."

"Daria," Helen sighed.

"And I'm looking forward to being shot out of the cannon to my next phase of life."

Helen cracked a smile. "I really wish I'd learned to appreciate your sense of humor earlier. It would've saved me a lot of grief."

Daria smirked back. "On both sides."

Helen said, "What about you, John?"

He said, "I haven't really thought about it much. I've been too busy worrying about our history and science finals today. But, assuming I pass them, I think I'm going to feel relieved. Very relieved."

"Good luck," Helen said. "I hope everything goes well."


Nearing the school entrance, John said, "It seems like we should have something significant and profound to say as we walk through those doors."

"'Once more unto the breach' doesnメt really feel appropriate," Daria said.

"Hmm. Neither does 'That's one small step for a man.'"

"'Abandon all hope' fits better the first time you enter, not the last."

A passing student suddenly farted, and then looked nervously around to see if anyone had noticed before hurrying inside.

Daria nodded and said, "I can't think of anything more appropriate."

"Works for me," John said as they walked through the doors.


As he placed his test on the teacher's desk, John felt a great sense of relief. Out of curiosity, he quietly asked, "Mr. DeMartino. Why are your finals always multiple choice?"

Mr. DeMartino said, "Because they are faster to grade than fill in the blank or essay. You're not the only one who wants to get out of here at the end of the school year."

John nodded and said, "I can see your point."

After he returned to his desk, John let his mind drift during the remaining minutes of class while Daria quietly read. The remaining students turned in their completed tests and then sat and waited with increasing anticipation.

When the final bell rang, students launched from their desks in a great rush to vacate the building.

Daria watched and said, "I can wait for the stampede to be over."

"Sure," John said.

After a couple of minutes, the sound in the corridor died down. Mr. DeMartino looked at the door and said, "It may be safe to venture out now."

"I think we can risk it," Daria said.

When they reached the door, Daria gave Mr. DeMartino a friendly nod, who then smiled and nodded in return.

The corridor looked to be well on its way to being a post-apocalypse movie set. Random locker doors hung open. Loose papers lay scattered around overflowing trash cans while here and there were odd bits of cloth or other unidentifiable objects.

"And so it ends," John said.

"Well, we have one more thing to do," Daria said.

"Oh, yeah. Onward to the front office."

After a short walk through the abandoned hallways, they arrived at the main office and entered. The receptionist smiled and said, "Daria Morgendorffer and John Lane. Your caps and gowns are ready for pickup. Just sign here, please."

After each had signed, the receptionist handed over two blue, shrink-wrapped bundles. "Here you go."

After each accepted their labeled sets, Daria and John left the office and walked toward the student parking lot. Daria rolled it in her hands. "Prepackaged graduation regalia. How...Lawndale High."

John said, "Sanitary sealed for your protection."

Daria glanced at him. "Okay, there is something to be said for single-use instead of rental."

"That is Lawndale High."


Nearing the front door of the Landon residence, Daria said, "Remind me why we're doing this again?"

"Giving Jodie and Mack a break after we dodged the prom and left them alone to deal with Kevin and Brittany."

"Damn conscience."

"Yeah, it can be a pain in the ass."

John rang the doorbell. "Maybe we'll be lucky and nobody is home."

Jodie opened the door. "Daria, John. I can't tell you how glad I am to see you."

Daria said, "Kevin and Brittany here already?"

Jodie sighed. "Kevin already asked my dad, 'Where's the keg?'"

"That's Kevin," John said.

"Everything is going on around the back porch again," Jodie said while leading them through the house.

"Less collateral damage that way," Daria said.

"Exactly," was Jodie's reply.

Lawndale students were spread out on and around the large, wood deck attached to the back of the house. Daria looked around and said, "Yep, looks like a party."

"There is a god." They turned to find Mack behind them. He said, "I know how much you hate to mingle, so if you want to stay here, I'm good with that."

John said, "You want us to be human shields."

"Do you blame us?"

"Keep us supplied with chips and drinks and you have yourself a deal," Daria said.

Jodie and Mack said, "Deal."


Quinn found her sister seated at a table on the deck and said, "Daria."

She said, "Quinn."

"Oh, I guess I shouldn't say too much. You're actually here."

"Thank you," Daria said. "You know, I might try to attend more parties like this when I go away to college."

"Really?"

"Sure. The cheap entertainment and blackmail material you get at a high school party is priceless. I can't wait to see what's in store when you throw more alcohol into the mix."

Quinn shook her head. "Daria."

"I am who I am."

"There you are," Tom said, coming up and putting his arm around Quinn. "Oh, hi Daria."

"Hi, Tom," Daria said.

"Where's John?" Quinn asked.

"Bathroom. Human kidneys can only take so much Ultra Cola."

"Ah."

Daria said, "Tom, I must say that you really must like Quinn if you're willing to put up with Lawndale High students."

Tom shrugged. "I don't know. Fielding students are just as capable of getting stupid, only they have more money to spend on doing it and better lawyers to get them out of trouble afterward. But now, we can escape and head off to college, leaving all this behind."

Quinn frowned a little. Not noticing, Daria said, "So high school sucks all over."

"I don't know about sucks, but stupidity is pretty universal."

John returned and, hearing that, said, "And this is the home of universal stupidity."

"Hey, John," Tom said. "How are you?"

"Not bad. You?"

"Okay. I think I'm ready for graduation to be over."

"You're not the only one," John said. "I keep expecting to wake up and find out it's only the second day of ninth grade."

"Now that's a nightmare."

"Tell me about it."

From somewhere in the yard, Stacy called, "Quinn!"

"Gotta go," Quinn said. "See you later."

"Later," Daria said.

Tom gave Daria and John a quick salute and said, "Good luck tomorrow."

"You too," John said in return.


After saying goodnight to Jodie and Mack, Daria and John were glad to get out to their car. "The last high school party we'll ever have to endure."

John gave a deadpan, "Hip, hip, hooray."

"Daria! John!" Kevin waved at them from his Jeep. "Were you at the party?"

"Yes, Kevin," Daria said.

John said, "Wait a minute. Where were you?"

"Hi!" Brittany said, leaning over Kevin to wave at them.

"Never mind," John said.

Brittany said, "Good night! See you tomorrow."

"Good night, Brittany," Daria said. "We'll see you tomorrow."


Waiting for them at home, Helen said, "Did you have a fun time?"

"As much fun as to be expected," Daria said.

"Daria..."

"There was plenty of live entertainment."

"Oh, that was nice. What about you, John?"

"The same. We have a big day tomorrow, so we're going to turn in."

"Good night, kids. Sleep well," Helen said. After the two had gone up stairs, Helen sat on the sofa and, with a wry smile, shook her head. "Live entertainment."


"Oh, the hell with it," John said as he threw the sheet aside and sat up on the edge of the bed. "I'm awake. Dammit."

Using only a bedside lamp for light, he pulled on a pair of running shorts, shirt and shoes. "I might as well get a good run out of waking up this freaking early."

The house was dark and quiet as he made his way downstairs and out of the door. Outside, there were a couple of clouds that moved in front of the stars that shone through the glow of streetlamps illuminating the roads. Glad to avoid the daytime heat, John started off down the sidewalk at a brisk jog.

The thoughts that woke him up came back to his mind. Graduation. I made it. Wow. Now we have to move on to real life. At least we have the summer before then. Summer. What are we going to do until we leave for Boston? Helen isn't going to let us sit around on our asses, no matter how much we'd like to. We need a plan.


Unfortunately, no plan had formed by the time John arrived home. So, he walked around and plopped down at the backyard picnic table. Watching the sunrise may not help, but it can't hurt.

Inside, Jake rummaged in the refrigerator looking for a snack. When he emerged with a covered bowl and closed the door, he noticed John in the back yard. "Hmm."

Jake opened the sliding glass door and said, "John?"

He turned and said, "Oh. Hey, Jake. What are you doing up?"

"Looking for a snack. What about you?"

"Thinking."

"Be right back," Jake said. After a quick trip to grab an extra spoon, he went back out and joined John. He opened the bowl and offered the teen a spoon. "Leftover chili?"

John took the spoon. "I can eat."

After a few mouthfuls, Jake said, "What are you thinking about?"

"Graduation. Life. What the hell I'm going to do with it?"

Jake nodded. "I'm still asking myself that. Well, not the graduation part."

John chuckled. "Yeah, you got that out of the way a few years ago."

Jake grumbled, "Damn Class A uniforms..."

"I suppose that sucks more than a poorly fitting bag over your body and a mason's implement on your head."

Jake laughed.

John said, "I don't suppose you have any grand advice you want to give me."

"Umナ"

After a quick burp, John said, "Oops, excuse me."

Jake's eyes brightened and he smiled. "Always make sure you take the time to scratch and belch."

"You know, I think that's advice I can live with."


Going into the kitchen, Daria didn't even try to stifle her yawn before saying, "Mom, what are you looking at?"

Seated at the table and drinking coffee while she looked out of the glass doors, Helen nodded outside and said, "Your father and John are bonding over a guy's breakfast."

Daria filled a mug and joined her mother. Outside, John and Jake were freely talking while alternately digging spoonfuls of chili from the bowl. "Is that what I think it is?"

Helen nodded.

Daria said, "Oh, boy."

"If we're lucky, there will be a strong breeze this afternoon to - dissipate things quickly."

"We can only hope."


Noticing John squirm as they sat through Jodie's valedictorian speech, Daria whispered, "Are you okay?"

"Just a little - pressure," he whispered back.

Daria smirked and looked at the crowd seated in the football stands. Surrounded by a ring of empty seats, Jake was easy to spot. Helen and Quinn sat to his left and Trent lounged on his right. Quinn was trying to hide under a baseball cap, Helen had her "keep calm" face locked in place and Trent occasionally glanced at Jake with a knowing look. Guys.

At the podium, Jodie concluded her speech. "...for today we leave the days of our youth behind and begin our journey into adulthood. Many years from now, I'm sure we will look back on our days at Lawndale High with a great fondness, for what once was, and will never be again."

Daria whispered, "We can only hope for the last part."

Jodie said, "Thank you," and exited the stage, glad to have completed her final responsible act at Lawndale High. The clapping for Jodie subsided as she stepped down and Ms. Li stepped up to the podium.

Ms. Li cleared her throat and said, "Thank you, Jodie Landon, valedictorian of the graduating class of Laaawndale High. And remember, parents, your child doesn't have to be a current student for us to accept your generous donations. And now, people, and now, awards time! We'll do the sports and other good prizes after I get these academic jobbies out of the way. Now as you know at Lawndale High, we reward students for both their scholarship and contribution to student life. To that end, we do everything we can to engage each and every one of our students to make a well-rounded individual, no matter how deficient they may start. And so, I give you the winner of this year's Lawndale High School Dian Fossey Award for dazzling academic achievement, while overcoming her near-total misanthropy, Ms. Daria Morgendorffer!"

John nudged Daria. "That's you."

Half-dazed, Daria walked up to the podium and accepted a gold-toned statue from the principal. Facing her classmates, she said, "Um...Thank you. As you know, I'd much rather write than talk, and Iメm not very good at lying. So let me just say that, if it weren't for a few lucky breaks along the way, high school would've been completely forgettable. However, if you're lucky enough to have a family that cares and someone that loves you; you might remember a few things about it. Otherwise, my advice is: Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless logic and experience prove you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked. The truth and a lie are not sort of the same thing, and thereメs no aspect, no facet, no moment of life, that can't be improved with pizza. Thank you."

The audience clapped as Daria walked back to her seat. She noticed the other students leaning away from John. As she sat down, carefully breathing through her mouth, she whispered, "Pressure got to you?"

"Yeah."


John left Daria to deal with Jake and Helen's excitement over the award and he found Trent. "Hey."

"Hey, Johnny."

"Thanks for coming."

"Figured someone should be here; nobody was here for mine."

"Trent, you weren't here for your graduation."

"Oh, yeah. I think we had a gig that night."

"Or was it practice?"

"One of them." Trent smiled. "I see Daria got an award. That was pretty cool."

"I think she was rather surprised."

"Too bad you didn't get anything."

"No awards for art around there. But look out for my graduation from BFAC."

"I'll be there."

John smiled. "I'm sure you will. Thanks, Trent."

Trent put his arm around John's shoulder. "Any time."


Driving home, John said, "You had the perfect chance to bash Ms. Li's brains in with that statue and you passed it up."

In the passenger seat, Daria said, "I know, and I plead temporary insanity."

"Insanity plea accepted, but what about the speech?"

"Still insane."

"Hmm."

"You didn't let things go in the middle of my speech, did you?"

"Me? No."

"Good."

"I cut loose when you were about halfway to the stage. I thought I'd try to get as much dispersal time as possible before you returned."

"Now that's true love."

"I do my best."

Daria said, "Just don't do it in the car."

"I won't."

"Or when we get pizza."

"Promise."

"Good."


Daria and John looked around the crowded pizza place for a seat. "Hey, there's Quinn and Tom," John said, pointing to a booth. "And it looks like the only space free."

"Let's see if they'll mind company," Daria said.

Quinn saw them first and waved them over. "Come on."

After a round of greetings, Tom said, "I heard you received an award. Congratulations."

"To say it was a surprise is an understatement," Daria said. "But thanks."

"Any excitement at your ceremony?" John asked.

That caused Tom to snort. "Excitement is strictly forbidden at all Fielding Preparatory Academy graduation functions. There are traditions to be honored and protocols to be followed. To the letter."

"I thought Lawndale was bad," Daria said.

"It's all part of the total package at Fielding," Tom said. "That, and the subliminal programming to make sure you send your kids to Fielding."

"Oooh," John said. "Long-term planning."

"How do you think old money keeps old money?" Tom said. "That an arranged marriages."

"Speaking of money," Quinn said, ignoring his last comment. "I'm going to help Tom at his dad's office this summer. Mom's not going to find me a summer activity this year."

"Good thinking," Daria said.

"You don't know how dull filing earnings reports can be," Tom said.

"Nothing is worse than what my mother can find for summer activities," Daria said.

"And we still need to come up with something," John said. "I'm open to ideas."

Tom said, "I might have something."

Daria said, "Oh?"

"Mom mentioned that the Lawndale Art Museum is looking for some part-time docents. You two already are on good terms with the board, so it's probably worth a shot."

"I wouldn't mind having a chance to sell another painting or two before leaving for college."

"And I'm sure it's better than doing something like working as a lifeguard at the public pool," Daria said.

"I'll tell Mom to expect you."


"You're hired," Mr. Loudon, the chairman of the museum board, said. He stepped around his desk and first shook Daria's and then John's hand. "Congratulations."

John said, "Wow."

Mr. Loudon said, "It's rare that we have young people interested in working here. I'm not going to let the opportunity pass me by."

"Thanks," Daria said.

Mr. Loudon winked. "Especially two young people who have a clue about art."


Later at the pizza place, they split a celebratory pizza and drinks. John said, "That really was easy."

"What do you expect," Daria said, "after Mrs. Sloane put in a good word for us."

John shrugged. "A lot of the art world is about personal contacts and, to be honest, I'm hoping to make a few working here."

"I'm a little uncomfortable with getting the job because Mrs. Sloane likes Quinn."

"Don't forget that we made a good impression on Mr. Loudon and the Hamptons at my showing last year during their ball. Enough of an impression for them to pay for my work and cover a big chunk of my first year's tuition at BFAC."

"That explains you, but what about me?"

John smirked. "They hired you for your looks."

Daria crumpled a napkin and threw it at John. "Smartass."


Busy with trying a new recipe, Helen still stopped and said, "Working at the art museum? That's wonderful. I'm so proud of you."

"We thought you should know," Daria said.

John said, "Do you need any help with dinner?"

"Thanks for asking, but I have this under control," Helen said. "It should be ready in about half an hour."

"Cool, then," John replied.

Daria said, "See you then, Mom," as she and John left the kitchen.

Helen watched them leave and smiled to herself. "All three of them found something to do for the summer without any prodding. After all these years, I think I can call this a success."


Helen sat on the sofa, sorting through briefs and wondering how much jail time she would serve if she strangled each one of her current clients. If it wasn't for my children...

Daria cautiously approached and said, "Good, you're sitting down. I need to ask for something."

Also cautious, Helen said, "Yes, Daria, what do you need?"

"Money to go buy some, uh, appropriate work clothes for the museum."

Helen relaxed and smiled. "I have it on good authority that it can be arranged. What about John?"

Daria nodded.

"Get the gold card out of my purse. I'll have Jake give John his card."

Daria walked around the table to the purse and picked up the card from the wallet inside. "Thanks."

"I also have it on good authority that there will be no objection if you pick up a few things for college."

"Mom, are you trying to be a bad influence on me?"

Helen said, "The thought never crossed my mind."

Amused, Daria sat down on the sofa next to Helen. "Good comeback. Almost as if you've been practicing for a while."

"It's useful for my job."

Daria raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, I'll let you in on a little secret. If you think other students don't understand a confident, intelligent girl these days, imagine what it was like for one back in the Sixties."

"Voice of experience?"

"Who do you think Amy learned it from?"

"That explains a few things."

"Amy uses it as an all-purpose tool while I prefer it for more precision work."

"I suppose that puts me somewhere in between."

Helen pulled Daria into a hug. "You're going to find your own way."

Hugging back, Daria said, "Oh, God. We've been bonding, haven't we?"

"Yes, and that was me being a bad influence."


At the mall the following morning, Daria stopped just inside the entrance of Cashman's and said, "Oh, great."

"What?" John asked.

"Look at who is now working in the ladies wear section."

"It looks like Quinn's friend Stacy."

"Exactly."

"Could be..."

"Don't say it. Don't say it. Don't say it."

John said, "Order received and understood."

"The faster we do this, the faster we can escape and get pizza."

"Fast it is."

Daria leading the way, they continued into the store. When they reached Stacy, she nervously said, "Good morning and welcome to Cashman's. How can I help you?"

After a moment, Stacy recognized them and said, "Daria? Hi."

"Hi, Stacy," Daria said.

"Wow, you're my first customer. I just started today."

"We're here for a similar reason. John and I are starting summer jobs and need a week's worth of appropriate clothes," Daria said.

"Oh, sure. Right over here," Stacy said, directing Daria over to a group of skirt and blouse combinations.

Following, John said, "I'm surprised that you're not working over in the teen fashion section."

"The manager said it would be easier for me to start here. Business women are more reasonable than teenage girls," Stacy said and then giggled. "She's right. We can be such little bitches at times."

"Take care of me with a minimum of fuss and I promise to be completely reasonable."

Stacy unrolled a tape measure. "First, we need to make sure we get you the right size."

Daria said, "And when we're done, I'm going to need a few things for college."

Stacy said, "I can help you with that, too."

John said, "You seem to have this under control, so I guess I should wander over to the men's wear and find something."

"Go ahead and leave me," Daria said.

"I think you can handle it," John said with a nod. "I'll be back in a bit."


Placing a stack of dress pants and shirts on the counter, the young salesman said, "You said that you would be working at the art museum, correct?"

"Yes," John said.

"Follow me," the salesman said. "I think I have just the selection of ties for you."

"Oh?" John said, dreading what he imagined the available options to be.

"We've started carrying a selection licensed by the New York City Museum of Art."

"Oh?" John said, now with his curiosity raised.

They reached a display case with a colorful selection of art print ties. "Right here."

John recognized each design drawn from a masterpiece. "Cool."

"I was hoping you would agree. Now, are there any in particular you would like to see?"

"Yes."

"Which ones?"

"All of them."


Stacy was printing up the receipt for Daria when John returned. Daria looked at the size of the bags in his hands and said, "Are you all right?"

John said, "I got a little carried away."

"A little?"

John pulled out one tie and said, "I'm supporting the arts."

Stacy handed Daria the receipt and a pen. "Sign here, please."

"Oh, yeah," Daria said before signing. "All done."

Stacy gave them a big smile. "Thank you for shopping at Cashman's." She then bounced around the counter and hugged Daria. "And thank you for buying from me!"

Daria looked at John. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "You have a gift."


After showing John and Daria around the museum and giving them their basic training, Kay Sloane said, "Do you think you're ready?"

John said, "Stand around and talk about art. I think I can handle that."

"I'll make sure his enthusiasm doesn't get in the way," Daria said.

"Good, because we need to throw you into the fray immediately," Kay said.

"That was fast," Daria said.

"I wasn't exaggerating when I said we really needed help. Thank you so very much for applying."

John said, "Well then, let's get out there and educate the unwashed masses about art."

"I think most of them are washed," Daria said. "But let's go."

"Have a good day, kids," Kay said. "And keep up the good attitude."

Walking out into the main gallery, Daria said to John, "As long as the public keeps up its good attitude."

He said, "Like that's going to happen."

"Optimist."

"Yep, I'm a 'drank half the glass' kind of guy."

"As long as you leave the other half for me," Daria said as she walked over to her station on the other side of the gallery.

He watched and appreciated how Daria looked in the professional blouse and skirt that she wore. When she decides to look good...

When Daria reached her station, she turned and looked at John in his dress shirt, tie and slacks. I have to admit that he cleans up pretty well.


Stopping just before the door leading to the gift shop, John told the small tour group, "Thank you and I hope you enjoyed your visit to the Lawndale Art Museum."

Several of the visitors gave him a polite, "Thank you," as they walked past.

Once all of them were through, he thought, And buy stuff; it helps to cover my salary.

"I hope you explain art better than you make it," a voice said behind him.

John turned to see a middle-aged man he first met at the Starry Night Ball the previous year. He also remembered the man's dislike for anything resembling modern art. "Hello, Mr. Vilano. The last tour group seemed pleased with me."

Mr. Vilano nodded. "I hope so. Reputation is very important to the Lawndale Art Museum."

Wary of where this was leading, John said, "It has a very good reputation; that's why I'm excited to work here."

"Good," Mr. Vilano said before turning and striding away.

"That was pleasant," John said. "So pleasant, I hope he doesn't make it a daily occurrence."

A few moments later, Daria walked over. "What was that about?" she asked.

"I think Mr. Vilano still isn't happy about the rest of the board voting to buy my art last fall."

"Grudge?"

"Big time."

"There always has to be something."

John nodded. "Yep."


One at a time, Quinn picked up a report from a pile on a nearby table, flipped through the drawer of a filing cabinet to find the proper folder and dropped the report into its proper place. At the other end of the table, Tom was doing the same thing.

Quinn said, "When your father said we'd be filing reports, he wasn't kidding."

"He thinks of it as character building," Tom said. "By the end of the day, I should hope that we will be some kind of character."

Quinn laughed. "Is this really what we're going to do all summer?"

"No, this is just the cold water shock. After this, we get to participate in all the exciting day to day activity of the business world."

"Why doesn't that sound as exciting as it could be?"

"We're talking about my dad. He does nothing exciting and he doesn't allow anything exciting to happen in his office."

Quinn gulped.

Tom smirked. "Watch the office staff when Dad goes out of town. It never ceases to provide great amusement."


"Working Saturdays is the one real down side of this job," John said to Daria while they waited for new visitors to arrive at the museum. "It really makes me wonder how Trent took up a profession that always works weekends."

"Some things we may never know." Hearing voices near the entrance, Daria said, "We have company."

A woman's voice reached them just before the guests were visible, "Eric!"

"That's not good," John said as he saw Helen's boss Eric and his wife Harriet enter the gallery. Eric was clearly unsteady on his feet while Harriet was a mix of annoyance and mortification.

Daria said, "John, he's going to run into something if we don't do something."

"It looks like 'guided tour' is going to be literal today." John stepped forward and said, "Good afternoon and welcome to the Lawndale Art Museum. My name is John and I will be your guide for today."

Harriet said, "You're Helen's adopted son. Oh, and I see Daria is here too. Isn't that wonderful, Eric?"

Eric belched. "Sure, honey."

John nodded for Daria to take the lead while he positioned himself to prevent Eric from veering into any exposed artwork while hoping that Harriet would be able to do the same on the other side.

In the lead, Daria said, "Our first experience will be the Jenner Gallery, specializing in Nineteenth Century American art."

John had to quickly step toward Eric and nudge him away from an urn on a pedestal near the gallery entrance. This is going to be a long tour.


By the time they reached the Dryden Galley of Modern Art and the final one on the tour, John was holding Eric up while Harriet attempted to steer.

Daria stopped and said, "Here we have Spectral Spectrum Number 3 by my companion docent, John Lane."

Harriet said, "You have art in here? That's amazing."

John said, "Amazing good luck."

"Luck is what we make. Sometimes good," Harriet said, and then glanced at her husband, adding, "and sometimes bad."

John grunted as Eric shifted more weight onto him.

"Oh dear," Harriet said. "I really should get him out of here."

"Right this way," Daria said. "Straight through the gift shop."

Harriet groaned. "How am I going to get him through there without breaking half the inventory?"

"We'll help. We've gotten him this far, haven't we?"

"Thank you, young man," Harriet said.

They moved carefully and deliberately past the fragile bric-a-brac while Eric stared at random shiny objects.

John, Daria and Harriet sighed with relief when they left the building. Harriet said, "Can I impose upon you to help me across the street to our car?"

"We're in this far," John said.

Daria said, "So we might as well finish the job."

Fortunately, the side street traffic was light and they reached the car without incident. After they plopped Eric into the passenger seat, Harriet said, "Eric can be so embarrassing at times. I don't know how to thank you."

Off-hand, Daria said, "Talk him into making my mom a full partner."

Harriet smiled and said, "I will let the Museum management know just how wonderful you two have been."

John said, "Thanks, and have a good day."

"I doubt that," Harriet said. "But I'll do my best."

Daria and John watched the car drive away and then walked back to the museum. Daria said, "I used to wonder how Mom put up with Eric. Now, I wonder how Mrs. Schrecter puts up with him."

Mr. Vilano was waiting at the door. "Where have you been? You're supposed to be on duty."

John said, "We were helping some guests out to their car."

Mr. Vilano glared. "Oh?"

"We were taught to go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to customer service," Daria said.

Mr. Vilano grumbled, "The next time you find a drunk in the gallery, you will have security escort him out. Am I clear?"

John said, "Yes."

"Good. Now, get out of here."

Once out to the car, John said, "I'm getting the feeling that he's gunning for us. Well, me, with you as collateral damage."

Daria nodded. "The best way to get back at him is to not give him anything to use against us."


Sharing a pizza with John, Daria looked around the familiar restaurant and said, "As odd as it sounds coming from me, I'm going to miss this place when we go to Boston."

"It kind of grows on you," John said. "Hey, I'm sure we'll find a good pizza place somewhere around Raft or BFAC."

"Good pizza, as opposed to this place?" Daria said with a smirk.

"I've heard rumors that there are places in Boston that use real ovens instead of microwaves."

"Wow, I'm impressed."

"I've been investigating."

"What else have you learned?"

"That we shouldn't want for pizza. I've even mapped out every place I could find between Raft and BFAC."

"Okay, now I'm impressed, but curious why you haven't mentioned this before."

"Eh, it was going to be a surprise."

"I see. Well, I'm surprised now; does that count?"

"Close enough," John said.

Across the room, Brittany and Kevin were seated at another booth. Any casual observer could see that something was going on and that was confirmed when Brittany yelled, "What!"

Everyone in the room turned to look at the couple. At a couple of booths, teens were starting to take bets on who said what or any other of the myriad reasons that Kevin and Brittany had argued in the past.

John said, "That doesn't sound good."

Looking panicked, Kevin motioned with his hands for Brittany to sit down. "Babe..."

"You just broke up with me, so you can't call me 'babe' anymore!"

"I meant when I leave for training camp next week," Kevin said.

"Then you should've waited until next week."

"Babe..."

"Don't call me babe!"

"But..."

"I'm not your babe!"

"Not even..."

"No!" Brittany spun around and marched to the door. "I'm glad that I'm leaving for cheerleader camp in two weeks, so there."

Kevin sighed and said, "Aw, man."

"I never expected them to stay together, but, it's still kind of depressing," John said.

Daria said, "You remember how many times they've broken up before, don't you?"

"Yeah, but this seemed different. Permanent."

"Maybe."

"I feel a little responsible."

"How?"

"If we hadn't tutored them, they probably wouldn't be graduating and going off to different colleges."

"Maybe, and maybe they will be better off than if they had stayed together here as high school dropouts."

"I hope so."

Daria said, "You know, me too. They're not bad people. They grew up under different expectations. They - they didn't have the support we had."

"Gee, what happened to that cynical girl I fell in love with?"

"She fell in love with you. Smartass."


Quinn leaned out of the door to the filing room and watched the casually-dressed staff of the office go about their business, smiling and occasionally joking. She said, "You call this cutting loose when your dad's out of town?"

Joining her, Tom said, "For them, it's cutting loose and when you know them, fairly amusing."

"Now that you mention it, Mr. Tollens in a Hawaiian shirt is rather amusing, in a complete fashion disaster sort of way."

"You take what you can get. Oh, look at Ms. Nettler zeroing in on that intern."

"Eww, that's kind of creepy."

"You've never watched The Graduate, have you?"

"No, I haven't."

"We're going to have to correct that."

"Am I going to like it?"

"It stars Dustin Hoffman back when he was young."

"Okay, I'll give it a try."

"Great."

Quinn shuddered. "Can we go back to filing? Mrs. Arbuckle just walked by wearing a...eww, I don't even want to think about it."

Tom blinked. "And I wish I hadn't seen it. Filing sounds like a good idea."


Nearing the end of the day, John thought it felt good to sit down on one of the stools provided for the docents near the museum entrance. An afternoon of keeping up with a summer day camp class had almost worn out both him and Daria.

Daria looked at the clock over the ticket counter. "Fifteen minutes," she said.

"Wonderful. I'm beat," John said.

"You're the runner. How do you think I feel?"

"Rub your feet when we get home?"

"You're on, mister. Here's hoping we don't have any last minute visitors."

John sighed. "I wish you hadn't said that."

"Superstitious?" Daria said.

The door opened and a woman entered. John looked up and said, "Mom?"

Amanda Lane smiled and said, "John, I told you I would visit."

John glanced again at the clock. "You did. Glad you could make it."

Daria also looked at the clock before saying, "Hi, Mrs. Lane."

"Daria, how wonderful. I hope I'm not running too late."

John said, "I think we can fit you in."

"Oh, thank you."

Leading the way, John said, "Mom, our first stop will be the Jenner Gallery of Nineteenth Century American art."

"Oh, I remember when they put this one in," Amanda said.

"You do?" Daria asked.

"Oh, of course. Vincent and I were here when the museum opened."

Daria said, "That's kind of neat."

"It was nineteen years ago." Dreamy, Amanda said, "It was such a pleasant June day and John, your father was so romantic."

John thought, Mom, please don't go into details. Especially with Daria here.

Strolling along and smiling, Amanda looked around and said, "I guess that's why you're so artistic. I wonder if they still have thatナ"

John quickly said, "Moving along to the next gallery, we have the transition to the twentieth century and the Arts and Crafts movement."

Following, Daria said under her breath, "Hmm, that explains a few things."


John used his key to unlock the exit door of the museum. "I'm sorry the gift shop is closed."

Amanda said, "That's okay. I came to see you and the museum."

"Thanks, Mom."

"And your art."

Daria said, "I think we're all proud of him for that."

"How long are you in town?" John asked.

"Not long; you know how it is."

"Do you have time for dinner?"

Amanda smiled. "I'd like that."

"Preference?"

"How about Chinese?"

Daria said, "As long as we don't find any wormholes out back."

"Huh?" Amanda said.

John laughed. "It's a long story. No, more like a short story. Written one, that is."

"We have to finish up here. Can we meet you?" Daria said.

"I'll be waiting," Amanda said. "Bye, for now."

"Bye, Mom," John said. "We'll see you there."

On their way back to the staff office, they heard Mr. Vilano say, "I hope you're not trying to squeeze in some unauthorized overtime."

Daria said, "We were making sure that a guest had an enjoyable visit."

"We closed almost half an hour ago."

"Would you want us to rush a guest out?"

He grumbled. "No."

John said, "We'll sign out at our scheduled time, okay?"

"That will be acceptable."

John nodded. "In that case, please excuse us."

After they walked away, Mr. Vilano quietly said, "They'd better not bring that bitch around here again or I will find a way to get rid of them."

Once they were in the tiny office, John said, "What an ass."

Daria said, "I wonder what kind of dirt he has on the rest of the board."

"It must be something good for them to keep putting up with him."

"Or he could have donated a lot of money," Daria said.

"Money talks."

"And sometimes, it says dumb things."


Sipping her green tea while seated across the restaurant booth from Daria and John, Amanda said, "Is that horrible Mr. Vilano still on the museum board?"

John said, "You know him?"

"His parents helped start the museum. They were such nice people."

"That aspect didn't get passed down," Daria said.

"I miss them."

John said, "What's his bug about modern art?"

Amanda shrugged. "I never knew. He was always like that."

"Is he the reason that County Museum of Modern Art is a separate institution?" John asked.

Amanda smiled. "They needed some place to put the donated Dali."

"I'd heard that the Dali was part of the original collection," John said.

"He was so mad at his parents for doing that."

Daria said, "Sounds like he has a few personal issues."

Amanda smiled again. "Sometimes, I think he needs to get laid."


Relaxed, Angier Sloane stood in the doorway to the filing room while Tom and Quinn finished up inside. He said, "I'm very pleased with your work. Thank you, Quinn."

Appreciating the rare compliment, Quinn said, "Thanks, Mr. Sloane."

"If you're not otherwise occupied next summer, you are welcome to return here."

Impressed again, Quinn said, "That's a kind offer."

Angier smiled. "Kindness has nothing to do with it. I appreciate a good worker. You are a very organized young woman." He glanced at Tom. "You don't always see that in a young person these days."

"When you lead a busy life, you have to keep things in order or you'll never find just the right shoes to wear."

Angier nodded. "It serves you well. Enjoy the rest of your summer, Quinn. I hope we will see you when we get back from the Cove."

"I hope to see you, too."

After Angier left, Quinn sighed. "Do you have to go to the Cove for the whole rest of the summer?"

"Family obligation. At least this will be the last time. After I start college, I'll be excused to investigate other things. It's what all Sloanes are expected to do."

"I'm going to miss you, Tom."

"The feeling is mutual, Quinn. At least you'll be around your friends here in Lawndale. The most exciting thing I can look forward to is Aunt Mildred's lemonade."

"Is it that good?"

"No, not really. That's why I don't have that much to look forward to."

Frowning, Quinn said, "And when you get back, we'll only have a couple of days before you leave for Bromwell."

"We'll have to make the most of our time."

"It's going to be weird. You know, not being around each other."

"We'll make it work."

"I hope so."

"You're nervous."

"Yeah. You're going off to a whole new place to meet whole new people and I'll be stuck here in Lawndale. And what about after that? You know my grades will never get me into Bromwell."

"There are plenty of other good schools within a couple of hours' driving time."

"You seem pretty confident."

"It's in the Sloane genetics."

"Yeah, right."

"Quinn, I just have a feeling. Does that make sense?"

"In a way, yes," Quinn replied, but with a hint of worry.


While John was leading a group of guests through the galleries, Daria saw Jodie enter the museum. "Hi, Jodie," she said.

Quietly, Jodie said, "Hi."

"You're uncharacteristically quiet," Daria said.

"Mack and I broke up."

"What? What happened?"

Jodie shrugged. "I'm going to Turner; he's going to Vance."

"That can't be the only reason."

"No, just the deciding reason. Listen, Daria. Mack's a nice guy. A really nice guy, but we weren't working out. We've been together for years because we've been expected to be together. It was time we faced reality instead of everyone's expectations."

"Oh. Sorry."

"That's not to say I like it. We were together for a long time." Jodie gave a short laugh. "We were together for longer than my cousin's marriage."

Daria briefly thought of her cousin, Erin. "I have a cousin like that, too. It's...it makes you think."

Jodie said, "You doing tours?"

"Yes."

"I came here to be distracted. Why don't we get started?"

"We can get started," Daria replied.


Driving home that afternoon, John said, "Mack and Jodie broke up. Man, that sucks."

Daria said, "After listening to Jodie, I have to agree that they did the right thing."

"Yeah, but it still sucks, especially knowing how we contributed."

"They knew that they didn't have anything like what we have."

"I'm still not used to being a good example."

"How do you think I feel?" Daria said. "Until I met you, I always figured I'd end up as some kind of crazy cat lady living in a house stacked floor to ceiling with books, magazines and old newspapers."

"I guess we were lucky?"

Daria reached over and grasped John's hand. "I normally don't trust luck, but this time, I've let him slide."


Finding her husband's office empty, Harriet grumbled, "Son of a bitch!" before she started checking doors in the office. Finally she found one that opened.

"Oh, hello, Helen."

Helen looked up from her desk. "Hi, Harriet. Iメm sorry, but Eric and the rest of the partners have left for the day."

"Do you know where they are?"

"Probably on the back nine by now."

"And they left you here."

"That's okay. I'm just finishing up a few details on the Fahnstalk asbestos case."

"Did you say, Fahnstalk case?"

"Oh, yes. I've been working on this one for weeks. Unless things go south, we should have a settlement in a day or two."

Harriet nodded. "Good luck, Helen."

Helen nodded. "I'll take every bit of luck I can get."


"Uh, oh," Eric said the moment he stepped into the kitchen and saw the look in Harriet's eyes. "I'm sorry to run so late, honey. I've been working on the Fahnstalk again. It really has been kicking my ass."

"I stopped by the office and ran into Helen Morgendorffer. It looks like the Fahnstalk case has been kicking her ass while you and the rest of the partners have been off playing golf."

"Honey..."

"Don't," she warned.

Eric stopped and sat on a stool next to the counter. "What are your demands?"

"You know that I believe in repaying debts."

"Yes."

"Follow me."

Eric sighed as he stood, but followed orders and went to the living room with Harriet. There, she picked up a remote and started a videotape that had been cued up on the player.

"What's this?" he asked.

"How you got home last Halloween," she curtly answered.

On the TV, they watched the recording of John driving Eric's car, with Eric asleep in the passenger seat, up the driveway and park. Moments later, Daria arrived in the old Plymouth and after a short conversation, she and John got back into their car and left.

Eric said, "Oh."

"Yeah, 'Oh.' And don't forget that they kept you from crashing through half the exhibits at the art museum a couple of weeks ago."

"Oh, yeah."

Harriet glared straight into Eric's eyes. "Those two have kept your drunken ass out of jail twice. Now, you're going to do something for them."

"Like what?" Eric said, cringing from his wife's anger.

"You're going to promote their mother to full partner."

"Partner?"

"Don't play games with me, Eric. Partner. I'm just as aware of what goes on in that law firm as you are and I know how much work Helen does for you. For instance, when I talked to her about the Fahnstalk case earlier today."

Eric winced.

Harriet continued, saying, "She's earned it, you owe it to her children and the whole lot of you partners could certainly use a woman's viewpoint when making decisions about the firm."

"It's going to be a tough sell."

"Do you know what else is going to be a tough sell if something doesn't happen soon?"

"Harriet..."

"Eric..."

Eric turned away. "Yes, dear."


John stumbled down to the kitchen and found Helen busily cooking and Daria and Jake already seated and eating breakfast. "Wow, what's the occasion?" he said.

"I thought I'd send you off on your last day of work with a good breakfast," Helen said.

Daria said, "You know, kind of a last meal."

Jake lowered his paper and said, "Shouldn't we order steak and lobster?"

Helen gave Daria a playful glare. "I blame you."

Daria shrugged.

Helen gave John a plate. "Here is yours."

"Um, thanks," John said.

After John sat down, Daria whispered, "I think her mothering instinct is kicking in again. After all, our next big step after this is the move to Boston next week."

"Ah."

Helen walked over. "I think you can be a little understanding of my feelings about my children leaving home."

John said, "Busted."

Jake said, "Who's leaving?"

In unison, Helen, Daria and John said, "Jake..."

Entering the kitchen, Quinn said, "What?"


"Yes, Mr. Vitale, I'll be right over," Helen said and hung up the phone.

At her desk, Marianne said, "Is there a problem?"

"None that I'm aware of." Helen stood, carefully straightened her suit and walked to the door. "Whether there is or not, I'm about to find out."

"Good luck, Helen," Marianne said.

Helen nodded and thought to her herself, I'll need it.

Helen knocked and immediately heard a firm, deep voice. "Come in, Helen."

She entered and closed the door. "Yes, Mr. Vitale?"

Behind the heavy, ornate desk sat a large man wearing an impeccable, imported suit. "Have a seat, Helen," he said. When she was seated, Jim Vitale added, "And please, call me Jim."

Caught off-guard, Helen said, "Oh, yes, of course. Jim."

"Excellent."

"What can I do for you today?"

Jim said, "Nothing. Today is about what we are going to do for you."

"Me?"

"I need you to proof-read the firm's new letterhead."

Helen groaned inside at the simple task as she accepted the paper pushed across the desk. She looked down at the paper.

Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Morgendorffer.

Helen started to feel faint as she reread the letterhead.

Jim smiled and said, "Congratulations."

"I'm speechless."

Jim pushed another piece of paper across the desk. "As per your hiring contract, you will receive the following increase in compensation, as well as all rights, privileges and responsibilities of a partner."

Helen sat still, but gave him a bare nod.

"We don't have another office for you, but a few upgrades to your current office will be in order."

Helen nodded again.

"Your first meeting with the partners will be Thursday." Jim smiled again. "It should be ヨ interesting to have your input."

Helen finally said, "Thank you, Mr. - Jim. This really means a lot to me."

"You've earned it, Helen. In more ways than one."


In the Museum staff break room at the end of the day, Mr. Loudon said, "Daria, John, it has been a pleasure having you work here. If you're back in Lawndale next summer, give me a call."

"Thank, Mr. Loudon," John said. "It's always good to have a standing offer."

Daria said, "It's been a good experience working here. Surprisingly, considering who I live with, I've learned a lot about art this summer."

"I'm very happy to hear that," Mr. Loudon said. "And I hope you have a wonderful time in college. Have a good day."

Mr. Loudon left and John turned to Daria. "In the art world, having a standing offer of any kind is great."

"John, in the real world, having a standing offer is great," Daria said. "You do realize we're going to have to thank Tom for telling us about these jobs."

"I'm sure he'll accept our thanks with his usual grace and style."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

John and Daria laughed as they made their way to the employee exit. Once outside, they heard a voice that they were hoping to avoid. Mr. Vilano said, "I see you two are done."

John said, "Yes, sir. We spend the next week packing and then we head off to Boston."

"I know Mr. Loudon passed on the board's recommendation for you to return next year. I want you to know that I voted against it."

"It's good to know where we stand," Daria said. "As if we had any doubt."

John shook his head and said, "Come on," to Daria and walked away. "It's not worth it."

Catching up with John, Daria said, "It takes a lot of effort to hold a grudge like that."

"Some say that successful art should piss people off. Do you think that this counts as a good start?"

Daria glanced back at Mr. Vilano, still glaring at them. "I would call that a roaring start."

John opened Daria's car door. "Then I can call this a win."


As they neared home, Daria said, "Uh-oh. What is Mom doing home so early?"

"I would say that maybe she's home sick, but your mom's law firm only sends employees home on orders from the CDC."

John parked and they got out. "Are you as nervous as I am?" he said.

"Yes."

"Want to wait a few minutes?"

"Ordinarily, I'd say yes. But I really need to go."

"I'll distract her while you make a run upstairs."

Daria gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You are a brave man."

"I know I can run faster."

"And intelligent. I like that."

When they reached the door, John said, "Ready?"

"More than ready."

"Go."

John quickly stepped forward into the living room while Daria made a beeline for the stairs.

He called out, "Hello?"

Helen absolutely bounded out of the kitchen with joy. "John!"

"Helen?" John said, totally taken by surprise.

"Where's Daria?"

John pointed upstairs. "Bathroom."

"Go and tell her to hurry. Something wonderful happened."

Still feeling stunned, John said, "I'll relay the message."

Upstairs, he knocked on the bathroom door.

Daria answered, "What's going on?"

"I don't know, but your mother is - bouncy."

"Did you just say, bouncy?"

"Yes."

"My mother?"

John said, "Yes. She says that something wonderful happened."

"Jupiter was just turned into a star to support life on Europa?"

"I didn't see any monoliths hanging around."

"Tell her I'll be down in a minute. I can only work so fast."

"I'll wait. She scares me like this."

"So much for brave."

"I don't think I can outrun whatever she's got."

After a short wait, Daria emerged and said, "Let's get this out of the way. Whatever is inside of Mom needs to get out before she explodes."

"Agreed."

Helen was eagerly waiting for them. "There you are!"

Daria said, "Hi, Mom. What's up?"

"Wonderful news!"

"And that would be?"

"I've been promoted to full partner!"

Actually surprised, Daria said, "Really?"

"Yes! Jim, Mr. Vitale, told me himself just this afternoon."

"That is amazing, Mom. Honestly, I thought that they were stringing you along and would never offer you a partnership."

Helen said, "I was beginning to suspect the same thing."

John said, "So this came out of the blue?"

"I didn't think that the partners could keep this under their hats," Helen said. "But they did. I had no clue it was coming."

"I wonder what pushed them to finally make the offer," John said.

"At this point, I'm not asking. But I'm just as curious myself," Helen said.

John said, "Does this mean we're going to celebrate tonight?"

"Oh, yes we are," Helen said.


The setting sun bathed the boathouse in orange light as Tom and Quinn leaned on the railing to watch. She rested her head on his arm. "I wish summer didn't have to end."

Tom put his arm around her. "But it does, so we'll have to make the best of what's to come."

Quinn inwardly groaned, dreading what was coming.

"I know it's not going to be easy," Tom said.

Quinn closed her eyes.

"But Newtown really isn't that far away from Lawndale, only a few hours by train."

"Hmm?" Quinn said, confused.

"So I think we can make it work."

"Work?"

"Yeah, work. You know, the two of us. Our relationship?"

"You mean that you're not going to break up with me?" Quinn asked.

Somewhat surprised, Tom said, "Why would I want to do that?"

"Because you're going to be, oh, you knowナ"

Tom turned to face Quinn. "Like I said, it's not going to be easy, but you're worth the effort."

Quinn kissed him and said, "Don't mind me; I'm channeling the way I used to be."

Tom chuckled, "Damn, I guess that did sound like the introduction to a breakup. Mr. Foot in Mouth strikes again."

"You recovered. I think I've trained you rather well."

"Trained, huh?"

Quinn lifted an eyebrow.

"Trained, it is."

"And Tom?"

"Yes."

"You're worth the effort, too."


Trent scratched Damien's head while the black dog cleaned the pizza remains from a box. Across the living room of his small apartment, John and Daria shared a large beanbag chair. Trent said, "This college thing of yours really got me and the band thinking."

Amused, Daria said, "Trent, you know how dangerous that can be."

Trent laughed. "Always."

John said, "So, what brilliant plan have you guys come up with this time?"

"Do you remember Max's brother, Mark?"

John said, "Vaguely. He always seemed to be trying to sell something."

"Yeah, that's him," Trent replied.

"What's he trying to sell this time?"

"Nah, he's not trying to sell us anything. He's got a house in Mirage where we can stay."

Daria said, "Isn't Mirage that trendy new art/musician community?"

"Yeah. It's gonna be cool."

John said, "I assume that you're going to be able to find more paying gigs there."

"Oh, yeah."

"And Mark is just going to let you stay in his house?" John asked.

Trent said, "We've got to keep an eye on the place and, um, fix a few things."

"Hmm, fix a few things. I hope the place isn't a wreck."

Trent looked around his tiny apartment.

John said, "Oh, yeah. Scratch that."

Daria said, "What about Damien?"

Trent shrugged. "He's coming with us. Axl says he's not making much of guard dog."

Damien barked and Trent said, "He's excited."

"When are you leaving?" John said.

"End of the month when the lease runs out."

John said, "You don't have a lease; you pay month to month."

"Yeah, that. When what I've paid runs out."

"Don't act like our brother. Make sure I have a way to contact you."

Trent fished around in his pocket and pulled out an inexpensive cell phone. "I got this at Drugs 'N' Stuff. You, um, pay for it and it works."

Daria said, "A prepaid phone. Not a bad idea if you're moving. Make sure you keep minutes on it, okay?"

"Yeah, I will," Trent said. "I want to make sure I can talk to Johnny." Trent rolled the phone in his hand. "I'm gonna miss you, little brother."

"In your own way, you've been there for me," John said. "I'm going to miss you. I guess this means that the Lanes will have finally wandered away from Lawndale."

"Yeah, guess it does. Weird. Hey, what are you going to do with my old car?"

Daria said, "Mom's going to sell it and use the money to help Quinn buy a car."

"Neither of us can have cars on campus as freshmen and from what I can tell, you're better off not having a car in Boston."

Trent said, "I heard that they get a little crazy there. Good thinking."

Trent stood and helped the other two to their feet. "We've got a gig tonight and I need to go." He hugged John. "Drive careful, Johnny." Then, he hugged Daria. "Glad Johnny found you."


"Just a minute," Jake called out as he weaved his way through boxes and suitcases to reach the front door.

When he opened it, Vincent Lane stood outside and said, "Hello, Jake."

"Hey, Vincent! Come on in," Jake replied. "Be careful, the kids are getting ready to leave for Boston tomorrow."

"Are they around?"

"They should be back soon. They went to visit Trent."

Helen came over and said, "Hello, Vincent. How are you?"

"I'm well. I came here to wish John well and to thank you and Jake. You've done more for John in three years than I was able to do in fifteen."

"He's a fine young man," Helen said. "Despite what happened, you and Amanda gave him a good start."

"Only a start," Vincent said, "but we weren't there for the long run. You saved him. Thank you."


After Daria parked the car, John looked at the strange vehicle in the driveway. "Hmm, I wonder who that is?"

Daria said, "I hope Dad didn't invite another client home."

John winced. "Fish-flavored custard."

"The cats liked it," Daria said.

"I'm going to miss those two furballs."

"When we're sophomores, we'll find an apartment that allows pets."

"Sounds like a plan." John opened the door. "We're back."

Inside, Vincent, Jake and Helen were seated at the sofas. Vincent stood and said, "Hi, John."

"Dad," John said.

"I wanted to give you a proper sendoff before leaving for college," Vincent said.

"Wow, thanks."

"Helen was telling me that you and Daria spent the summer working at the Lawndale Art Museum."

"That's right."

"Boy, does that bring back memories."

Daria said, "Amanda said some things about the beginning of the museum and the one person there who gave us problems, Mr. Vilano."

"He's still there?"

John said, "What gives with him? Mom didn't seem to know."

Vincent sighed. "Amanda and I helped raise money to start the museum, including convincing several wealthy benefactors to contribute, like his parents. To be honest, they convinced everyone to elect him to the board of directors to give him something to do after his business failed."

Daria said, "So, he had no real art experience."

Vincent shook his head. "To the contrary, he was a classically trained painter. He produced some beautiful works when he was younger."

John said, "Then why the attitude toward modern art?"

"Your mother can be oblivious to some things. You know that she has always been partial to modern art. Well, Mr. Vilano developed a crush on her and she never noticed, despite his rather blatant efforts. When it was clear that she was pregnant with you, it left him bitter and angry. At the time, he convinced the board that we were a bad influence and so, we left. It sounds like he is still bitter."

Incredulous, Daria said, "She never noticed?"

John said, "I can believe it."

Daria said, "Weren't you angry?"

"At the time, yes. But now, if he has let this ruin his whole life, there's not much I can think of that I could do to him that would be worse than what he has done to himself."

John shook his head. "I can't be mad at him any more. That's just, sad."

Jake said, "Hey, why don't you tell him about BFAC and Raft?"

John turned and gave him a grateful nod of thanks.


With everything packed and ready to go downstairs, John's room looked and felt empty as he prepared for bed. Beyond a change of clothes and an overnight bag, the only things left in his room were those slated to stay behind. Or, stay behind until they could be moved to Boston.

John turned out the light and climbed into bed. Thinking back over the last three years, John looked around the moonlit room. Things have really changed since that first day I saw Daria. And overall, I have to think that it has been a change for the better.

The door opening and closing caught his attention. "Daria?" he whispered.

"Sh," she whispered as she climbed into bed with him. "It's our last night here. I want to spend it together."

"What about your parents?"

"I'm certain that Mom saw me. She just smiled and closed the door to her room."

"We certainly have come a long way since you moved to town."

Daria snuggled against him. "We certainly have."

Holding her, John said, "I love you."

Daria whispered back, "I love you."


Grateful that Helen and Quinn had both discreetly avoided any mention of them staying together the night before, John and Daria sat on the sofa while Helen prepared a breakfast and Quinn did what she could to help. On the sofa with them were two tabby cats, one orange and one gray. Both purred as John and Daria petted them.

John said, "Okay, Zachary, Taylor. You guys need to behave while I'm gone. I'm going to be too far away to bail you out if you wear out your welcome around here."

Quinn came over and said, "Don't worry. I think Dad's gotten as attached to those two as you are, John."

"Yeah, but it never hurts to be careful."

Quinn reached over and scratched each cat's head. "I've gotten rather attached to them." Quinn then gave John a quick hug. "I've even grown attached to you. Brother."

"Brother?" John said.

"Yeah, brother. And no, I don't want to get into how weird it is that you and Dariaナ you know. Just, take it for what it is."

"I will. Thanks, Sis."


With a push, John closed the back hatch of Helen's SUV, sealing his and Daria's possessions inside. "That's it; we're ready to go."

Waiting with the rest of the family behind the car, Helen said, "We should get going. It's a six hour trip before we take into account pit stops and meal breaks."

Holding a travel mug, Jake said, "Do you want me to take the first leg?"

"I want you to get more coffee in you first. I'll take the first leg, then we will rotate through you, then Daria, John, Quinn and back to me."

"Okay, honey." Using a western accent, Jake said, "Load 'em up and move 'em out!"

Quinn looked in the back seat. "This is going to be crowded."

Helen said, "It will be more crowded in your father's car, and no, we are not taking both cars. We will survive."

Helen and Jake got into the front while Daria, John and Quinn squeezed into the back seat with Quinn in between. "Why do I have to sit in the middle?"

Daria said, "Because you're still the youngest and the skinniest."

"Fine."

Helen warned, "Girls."

Grinning, John waited until a moment after the car started to say, "Are we there yet?"

Helen looked into her rearview mirror at him. He shrugged and said, "Isn't it better to get that out of the way now?"

Helen said, "Is there anything else we need to get out of the way? No? Good, let's go."

Daria said, "It almost feels strange leaving. John?"

"Yeah," he said. John then watched the familiar red brick house as they drove away. As the car turned and the house fell out of sight, he whispered, "Goodbye, old friend."


Still awake from the previous night's performance, Trent sat on a park bench and watched the road, his acoustic guitar on his lap. Eventually, he saw the familiar red SUV on the street. Trent could already feel how much he was going to miss his little brother. He remembered a song he had learned years ago, strummed a few bars, and began to sing as the car drove past him.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before
It always leads me here
Leads me to your door.


Lyrics to The Long and Winding Road by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Some dialog from Is It College Yet? by Glen Eichler and Peggy Nicoll.

Thanks also to my long-time beta readers: Kristen Bealer, and Ipswichfan who found the numerous spelling errors, typos and other grammatical oddities in my writing and patiently read through many stories over the last seven years.

Thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed these stories. I hope you have had as much fun reading as I have had writing them.

December 2011 - March 2012.