The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.

The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.


"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
-Abraham Lincoln


Bringing the Cheer
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery

Daria Morgendorffer woke up feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to get the day started.

"That's weird," she mumbled to herself as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.

Grabbing a selection of school clothes - the usual outfit of brownish-orange t-shirt, black skirt, socks, boots, and dark green jacket - and a towel, Daria made a beeline for the bathroom. The door was only pulled to, but she knocked anyway, wary ever since the time she'd walked in on her sister blow-drying places she didn't want to see blow-dried.

No one was inside, so she stepped past the threshold, closed and locked the door, then prepared to take a shower. As she went about her business, she had the growing suspicion that something was off, but it took her several minutes before she realized that it was the very fact that she was in the shower. Thanks to her various shower-hogging family members, she had never gotten in the bathroom that early in the morning before.

Never.

Shrugging it off, she finished up and got dressed. Standing just outside the door were her father Jake and sister Quinn, each patiently waiting for their turn in the bathroom.

"Uh," Daria said to Quinn, obviously the next in line, "your turn?"

"Thanks, Daria!" Quinn said as she danced by happily. "I know I don't say it much, but I'm glad that you're my sister! I think I'm, like, gonna tell everybody at school today how proud I am to have a sister like you!"

"Hey, kiddo!" Jake exclaimed before Daria could escape. "Hey, the garbage under the sink is lookin' pretty full, and it's your turn to take it out, so better get to it! Also, I know that making Quinn's life hard is one of your favorite pastimes, but when she admits to being your sister at school today, go easy, wouldya?

"Oh!" he added as she started walking down the stairs. "And make sure your mom is cooking up some of that de-li-cious heart healthy breakfast stuff, okay? Your old man is gonna beat this whole heart problem thing, you betcha, so I can be here with my girls for a good long time!"

Daria's attempts to figure out what her father was babbling about were sharply cut off when the smell of frying bacon hit her nostrils. Even from the other side of the house, she could hear the sizzle of meat on iron, and for a second fear coursed through her as she imagined the house on fire yet again. Dropping her boots and socks, she ran barefoot through the living room and rounded the corner into the kitchen to find her mother standing over the stove.

"Oh, Daria, hi!" Helen said when she noticed her eldest daughter standing in the doorway. "Could you help me set the table? I'm afraid my hands are a little full trying to take care of all this wonderful food!"

The kitchen counter was a cornucopia of breakfast delicacies. Daria took her glasses off, wiped them with the edge of her shirt, and put them back on again, but the vast array of ham, bacon, eggs (scrambled, sunnyside-up, and hard boiled), jelly, toast, cereal, and various other appropriate foods remained exactly where it was.

"Yes, I know it's a lot," Helen chuckled, "but anything for my family! Thank goodness Eric, bless him, has finally seen that family truly is the most important thing and given me all of this free time to spend with all of you, not to mention extra pay to make up for the lost work hours! Now come along, dear, the table won't set itself! Chop chop!"

Feeling a strange numbness, Daria did as her mother requested, pulling out dishes and silverware to set before the four seats at the kitchen table. Once she finished, she grabbed the garbage bag under the sink, tied the top, and took it out to the larger trash can in the garage. Back in the kitchen, she washed her hands thoroughly and helped Helen arrange the food for maximum reachability.

Quinn and Jake soon joined them and they all sat down to eat. Daria picked at a sausage patty for a few seconds before finally venturing to take a bite. The taste and texture of the fried beef was absolutely exquisite. Even the feel of the juices running out of the patty and sliding across her tongue was heavenly.

Still, she could find no enjoyment from it, or from any other part of the meal. Something was seriously wrong, and she just couldn't figure it.

Jake delved into his own food with gusto, even though it didn't look as half as good to Daria as what the rest of the family was eating. "Oh, man, rice cakes!" he said with something that sounded like pure ecstasy. It was difficult to tell because he continued to shove the small yellow-white disks in his mouth even as he was talking. "Why on Earth would anyone ever want to eat anything else, I ask you?!"

Quinn sat quietly, waiting for a moment when her father wasn't stuffing his face, then asked, "Daddy, is it okay if I borrow one of your charge cards tonight? They're having a sale at Cashman's!"

"Hmm," Jake hummed, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "If you make sure all your homework and chores are done, I don't see a problem with it. The advertising business is booming right now, after all, so I don't have to worry about you spending too much, right? Ha ha! But what do you think, Helen?"

"I think it sounds like a grand idea, Jakey!" Helen replied. "Would you like to have a little spending cash for the mall, too, Daria?"

"Uh, no, thanks. I think I'm good," Daria said, feeling completely confused.

"Well hey, that's alright," Jake reassured her, "maybe we can just order you something nice from that medical oddities website you like so much! But before that, maybe your mother and I could help the two of you with your homework! How does that sound? A little quality time with your folks!"

"Yay!" Quinn cheered, throwing her arms up in the air and doing an impromptu little happy dance.

"Can we . . . watch Sick, Sad World after?" Daria asked, purely to see what the answer would be.

"Certainly we can!" Helen said with a smile. "Whatever you want to do, dear, that's fine with us!"

Not sure what else she could possibly do, Daria stood up from her half-finished meal. "Okay," she said. "Good. So that's settled. I think I better get to school."

"Can I walk with you, Daria?" Quinn asked, looking like there was nothing in the world that she'd rather do.

Daria glanced at her dad, who gave her a wink and a thumbs up, then sighed and said, "Fine. Let's go."

After they'd finished getting all of their stuff together, Daria and Quinn opened the front door to find Trent standing there with his guitar.

"Oh, hey, Daria, Quinn," the lanky musician said. "I just stopped by so I could play this new song I wrote. It's called 'Daria, I'm Totally In Love With You And Finally Admitting It To The World', though I'm thinking of changing the name. Probably to something shorter like 'Daria Will You Go Out With Me?' Y'know, something people will remember."

"Trent," said Daria, surprise pulling her eyebrows straight up. "What are you doing up so early?"

The young man squinted his eyes and looked into the distance for a few moments, then relaxed and said, "Oh, yah. The whole responsibility thing. I'm trying it out, and I think I kinda like it. Early to bed, early to rise, and all that. The whole band is doing it now, y'know, and we're gettin' tons of practice in. And it seems to be workin', 'cause we've got this meeting tomorrow with a talent agent who saw us play at the Zon and everything."

"That's . . . great," Daria said uncertainly. "Look, I'd love to stay and listen to your new song, but I- uh, we've got to get to school. Maybe after?"

"Sure thing, no prob." Trent gave her one of his trademark smirks, the one that had always made Daria feel butterflies in her stomach, back before she'd gotten over his crush on him. Which she wasn't so sure she was still over anymore.

"Tell you what," he continued as he stepped to the side to let her and Quinn pass, "I'll just stay here on your steps and practice the song until you get back. It's cool, I'll be fine. I'd wait for weeks in the middle of a desert just for you, Daria. And when you get back, maybe we'll make out or something. But nothin' else, 'cause you're not gonna turn 18 for a few more months, and that would be, like, totally wrong. I respect you way too much to try something like that."

It took all of Daria's strength not to bolt down the sidewalk. She forced herself to take just one step at a time as she and Quinn gradually moved away from the Morgendorffer homestead. She still wasn't sure exactly what was going on, but it was starting to actively frighten her. Her mind raced as she wondered just what she was going to do about it all.

Daria's reverie was broken by the sputtering sound of Tom's car pulling up alongside her. "Hey, Daria!" Tom called out as he put the car in park and got out. "I was just wondering-"

Another vehicle flew out of nowhere and rolled Tom under its treads. Being that the vehicle was, in fact, an 18 wheeler meant that there was a lot of tread for him to roll under. Daria and Quinn ran up to his broken, mangled body to find that he was miraculously still alive.

"Oh, wow!" he said brightly. "That was something, wasn't it? Well, it looks like I'm about to die, so I guess I better say my last words. Daria, I'm sorry for driving a wedge between you and Jane on at least two separate occasions. I really shouldn't have just waded into the situation without knowing what was going on between you two, and I most certainly should have broken up with Jane before I ever tried to get with you. Big duh-ee on my part, huh?

"But being with you was still the greatest time of my life, and I'm glad for every single second of it. Oh, and I'm sorry for accidentally overhearing your conversation with Trent, but I gotta say that I can die happy knowing that you'll now be with a man who could give you all the things I couldn't, like happiness and love everlasting.

"Um, Quinn," he stumbled on his words, "I'm not sure if we really had much to do with each other, but since I'm such a stupid bastard, I bet I probably did something terrible to you, too, at some point. And for that I apologize."

"Hey, no problem, everybody's human!" Quinn said, waving him off. "We all make mistakes!"

Tom smiled happily. "Cool, awesome," he said. "So, uh, I guess I'm gonna die now. Don't worry, it doesn't hurt or anything, and everyone's probably better off for it, including me. So no tears! Just . . . could you maybe roll me up on the sidewalk until the paramedics and cops get here? I don't want to block traffic or anything. Thanks a bunch guys, and see you on the other side!"

And with that, Tom died. Daria and Quinn continued on their way, Quinn skipping lightly and Daria lost deep in thought. Before she knew it, they were at Jane's house and Quinn was knocking on the door.

"I'm glad you and Trent are boyfriend and girlfriend now," Quinn said while they were waiting. "He's a great catch, and I hope you guys stay together for a good, long time. After all, if there's one thing Quinn Morgendorffer stands for, it's commitment to one's significant other!

"Hmm, speaking of which," she mumbled to herself, "I should probably tell Jeffy and Joey that I've picked Jamie. It should be okay, since they've stopped being jealous of each other a little while back. And ever since I started remembering Jamie's name, he's just sorta grown on me, y'know?"

Daria was saved from the rhetorical question when Jane opened the front door of Casa Lane and stepped out into the beautiful sunshiney day.

"Ah, smell that fresh air!" she said. "Makes you feel good to be alive, doesn't it?"

Daria couldn't take it anymore. She couldn't stand one more second of the insanity that was transpiring around her. She desperately grabbed Jane by the shoulders and started shaking her back and forth.

"Jane!" she screeched, panicking like she'd never panicked before. "Jane! You have to tell me! Please tell me! I have to know!"

"H-h-hey, o-o-okay-ay," Jane stammered as she was tossed about like a rag doll. "Te-eh-eh-ell you-oo-oo-oo wha-ah-ah-at?"

"Tell me we still make fun of stupid people at school!"

Jane looked at Daria funny, then glanced at Quinn, who shrugged helplessly. "Are you feeling okay, Daria?" she asked. "Would you like to come inside for a drink of water or some-"

"No!" Daria screamed. "Just tell me!"

"Yes, okay?!" Jane yelled as she tried to pull back as far as she could. "Yes! We still make fun of the stupid people at school! Kevin, Brittany, Upchuck, O'Neill, Barch, Li, the whole gang!"

Daria looked at her best friend, tears starting to form in the corners of her eyes. "Really?" she asked, pleading. "You're not just saying that?"

"Of course not!" Jane assured her. "Damn, not making fun of stupid people? I couldn't even imagine a world where we didn't do that."

Letting go of Jane and standing up straight, Daria immediately cheered up. The tears dried within seconds and she looked as if she'd never been anywhere near having a nervous breakdown at all.

"Great!" she said, a wide smile crossing her features. "As long as we can still do that, nothing else matters! Ready to go to school?"

"Born ready, amiga!" Jane said, shouldering her bookbag.

"Hey, can I make fun of stupid people with you guys?" Quinn asked as they all skipped down the sidewalk. "I'm smart now, so I can do that, right? I'm getting all A's in class, y'know!"

"Sure thing, little sis," Daria said, playfully tousling Quinn's hair. "Anything you want!"

"Hooray!"

END

Roland 'Jim' Lowery
esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com

March 4, 2010