Quinn's morning started off about as sourly as Max's, but ended on a sweeter note.

Upon waking, she immediately reached for her phone and made the phone call to Chris that she had spent most of the night dreading. It had to be done and she would be damned if she stressed any further about it. Stress caused wrinkles. She didn't want to prematurely age herself just because she was working with people who acted before they thought.

As she waited for the club owner to pick up the phone, she couldn't help but let her mind wander to the man that caused her this frustration.

Her heart had fluttered when he declared himself her boyfriend.

Sure, it was said as a challenge to a drunken idiot who thought he could grope her, but still, Max had said that they were a couple. Part of her had almost wished that was true.

Almost.

She had begun to see over the last month or so a softer side to the rocker than she would have expected. He came off rude and brash at first, but she found that he listened to her more than most guys, complimented her intelligence more than most guys, and generally seemed more interested in her for her than most guys.

She'd toyed with the idea of asking him on a date. It would have to be her doing the asking. If she let him plan it, he'd pick her up in that deathtrap of a van of his, take her to some crummy dive of a restaurant, perhaps they'd see some blood and gore movie, and then he'd expect her to put out – either in his dive apartment or in that previously mentioned rolling deathtrap.

Quinn, despite not mindlessly following her friends to the party school of their choice, still had standards, so while she had toyed with the idea of going out with him, she couldn't let herself take it seriously. They were on two very different playing fields when it came to dating and relationships. She was looking for something a little more stable than she thought that he could provide.

Could she get into a relationship with a guy that she wouldn't trust to plan anything for them? She wasn't sure. She did like to be surprised, but only pleasantly so.

Chris answering the phone pulled her thoughts back to the task at hand. Quickly she thanked him for giving them the opportunity to play the previous evening, spun some hype about the enthusiasm of the crowd, and apologized for the way the evening ended.

The club owner had laughed and reminded her that he used to be in a band himself when he was younger. Getting tossed out of the club they played at was nothing new for many musicians. He was just happy it happened towards the end of the evening and not before their set. There was nothing like having to kick a band out of the bar and then not having any entertainment for the evening.

Quinn felt a huge wave of relief wash over her and then felt a twinge of guilt for how she had gone off on Max when he was just trying to look out for her. It had been sweet in a way, that he would try to stop a guy from molesting her. Daria had been the only one to do that for her before.

Shrugging it off, Quinn commenced her morning routine, showering, moisturizing, putting on makeup, blow-drying and styling her hair, picking out an outfit, picking out accessories, and picking out the perfect pair of shoes. She had a band meeting in a couple of hours and she wanted to look her best.

She wouldn't admit to herself why looking better than normal was so important to her. She wouldn't admit that what Max thought of her weighed predominantly upon her mind.

An hour later, as she came down the stairs she heard the television blaring and saw her sister starting her customary home in Lawndale vegetative state. "…Cock-A-Doodle-Who? The Amnesic Rooster, Next On Sick Sad World!"

Quinn frowned at the teaser. "You know, the quality of that show is really going down hill."

Daria turned her head to cast her sibling with an amused smirk. "I don't know, the perils of poultry is pretty riveting television."

The younger sister diverted her path into the living room so she could crash down next Daria. "So…let me see it!"

"See what?" Daria asked in confusion.

"The belly ring, Daria!"

"Oh, you mean Mr. Itchy," Daria said as she lifted the bottom of her shirt to show her sister the jewelry in her bellybutton. It was a simple titanium barbell, nothing elaborate or flashy. It didn't need to be. Daria wasn't planning on baring her midriff for all the world to see. The ring was merely a reminder for herself that she wasn't that same scared teenager she had been. It was the subtle itching in her stomach area that forced her to not bolt out of the diner the second the conversation with Trent got serious. She wasn't that girl anymore. She could handle what her younger self couldn't.

Quinn laughed, "I can't believe you did it again. I can't believe you took it out the first time before I could get you in trouble for it!"

"I'm sure Helen would still pop her lid if you were to mention it now," Daria said as she lowered her shirt and turned her attention back to the television. "Feel free to use that if she starts getting on your case about going back to school."

"Like she'd believe me after last time," Quinn muttered. "Thanks, though."

Daria shrugged, "no big deal. I'm going to be twenty-one soon, it's not like she can order me to take it out anymore."

"Speaking of which!" Quinn exclaimed, her eyes lighting up as she thought of what Daria turning 21 would mean. "We're still on for your birthday right? Les has already booked the Spiral to play the Zon and Jane has handsomely compensated me for being your DD for the evening. I just need you and Jane here in Lawndale and at the Zon."

Daria wrinkled her nose in thought, "didn't my showing up last night ruin whatever plans you had for my birthday?" Part of her had sincerely hoped that it did. The last thing that she really wanted to do was go to the Zon, but she had promised Jane and she would honor the commitment, no matter how much she dreaded the thought.

Quinn frowned softly, carefully, to avoid wrinkles. "Well, your and Trent's mysterious disappearance last night does kind of take the necessity out of everything, since I'm assuming you're a couple now, however, we've already made plans and I think it will be fun for you. We can all still have a good time celebrating your first legal drink!"

"Trent and I are no such thing," Daria corrected her sister, ignoring the prospect of "fun" at the Zon. She was sure it was an oxymoron anyway. In all of the times she had gone to the Zon, she had yet to have an ounce of fun there. If it wasn't for the fact that she had met Tom there, Daria was pretty certain Jane would also say that nothing good came out of an evening at the Zon.

A frown flitted across Quinn's face at that one. She had assumed that the two had worked everything out and were now a matched pair. The idea that they hadn't become a couple hadn't even been an option for her. It seemed so simple. He liked her, she liked him. One said it, the other said it, ba-da-bing ba-da-boom, you've got yourself the world's cutest, most awkward couple. "How did Trent mess this up?"

Daria kept her eyes on the television as the story of the chicken with amnesia unfolded. Apparently damage to the Corpus Callosum worked the same wonders on a chicken brain as it did a human brain. The chicken didn't have amnesia as much as it was a split-brain patient. "He didn't mess anything up. He was very honest and direct, and he let me know how he feels about me."

"And?"

"And nothing. We're friends."

Quinn wanted to scream. She had feared that her sister and Trent would be too inept at social interactions to let the other know that they were in love with them, but it was hard for her to wrap her mind around the fact that they did and still nothing happened. She was an open person. She felt what she felt and she said what was on her mind. If she liked a guy, she told him. She didn't let it fester and she didn't analyze it. She just did what she felt.

It's how she and Daria differed. Daria had to analyze every emotion, every possible pro and con, every conceivable outcome to a situation before she could just let herself go and be free. She was too in her head, had her emotions under too tight of control, to ever just let the cards fall where they may.

Still, she loved her sister's ability to always see one step ahead. Hell, perhaps even twenty steps ahead. Quinn hadn't even done anything to really start Trent's life makeover before Daria knew what was going on and was putting on the brakes to stop it. Quinn wished that she had that ability to really look ahead and plan things. She'd probably be unstoppable if she could foresee events like Daria could.

"Well, are you at least coming to the Spiral rehearsal today?" Quinn asked, trying to keep the dejection out of her voice. Once she had gotten over the annoyance that her birthday plans for a Daria and Trent reunion were foiled, she had really latched onto the idea that last night was the night for it. The Spiral played a great show, Trent was in a weird place, Daria was faking a relationship. The stage couldn't have been more motion-picturesque.

Daria considered the request. It sure as hell beat sitting around the house now that she was stranded in this town for a day.

Predictably, Helen had gotten called into work. Some crisis or another – a client's secret off shore bank account was discovered or Erik got a hangnail. They ranked around the same on the emergency radar at Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, & Schrecter. Working at a law office herself now, granted only in a menial position, Daria had learned a little bit more about the power plays and the general stress that non-partners went through as they struggled to make partner.

While growing up, Daria had really only understood that her mother wasn't home, that she chose work over her family. Being exceptionally intelligent didn't make her any less of a child when it came to figuring out adult's motivations. Now that she was an adult herself, Daria still thought that Helen put her career before her family, but she understood that it was the competitive nature of making partner that forced Helen to drop everything and run out the door any time any of the partners needed her for something.

Erik was still the neediest son of a bitch Daria had ever seen.

"Beats sitting here," Daria said to her sister. "What time's the meeting?"

"At one," Quinn answered before standing up and wandering into the kitchen for food.

Daria looked at her watch. It was 12:15 now. She was still in her clothes from last night and she hadn't brushed her hair – or her teeth, for that matter.

With a shrug, she settled back into the cushions of the couch and refocused her attention on Sick Sad World. She'd be damned if she ever spent significant time on her appearance just because she was going to see Trent. That he could not change about her.


Jane opened the door to her house in amusement to see the younger Morgendorffer sister giving a stoic Daria a tongue lashing for not dressing up. Jane didn't see anything wrong with how Daria looked. Her hair was brushed, she was wearing clean clothes (at least they looked clean) and she didn't smell from this distance.

"Hey Amiga, Princess," Jane greeted them as she stepped aside and let them enter the home.

"Jane, will you tell my sister that when she is going to meet with a guy that she likes she should at least make an effort to make it look like she put some effort into getting ready?"

The dark haired artist shrugged, "nope. Trent wouldn't notice if she got dressed up and that would just upset Daria and make her feel stupid for thinking that he would." It was the same reason that Jane hadn't insisted that Daria do anything spectacular with her hair and her makeup before they went to the concert the night before. If Daria wanted to show up with a braid in her hair and a simple outfit on, then that's how she should go. No reason for her to be uncomfortable while she faced Trent's obliviousness.

Quinn stamped her foot on the ground. "You two are impossible!" she shrieked before heading down to the basement.

"Hey Lane," Daria finally said to her friend. She looked around the living room that they stood in and raised her eyebrows in minor surprise. "It looks clean in here."

"You're telling me!" Jane crowed as she took her friend's arm and dragged her into the kitchen. "Take a look at this refrigerator!"

Daria peered in curiously as Jane flung the door of the aforementioned appliance and couldn't help another raise of her eyebrows in surprise as she saw the well stocked contents inside. "Are we in another dimension?"

"Sick Sad World needs to hear of this," Jane agreed as she shut the door and looked at her friend. "What the hell did your influence do to my brother? The man was showered and shaved before I got up this morning, there's food in this house, it's clean in here – not to mention that his bedroom looks immaculate, like he's expecting some female company in there."

"I refuse to be blamed for his," Daria said, ignoring the implication, as she followed her sister's lead and headed down towards the basement, Jane following close behind her.

Quinn was sitting on the steps as they came down, jotting away in her planner and ignoring the two guys in the room as Trent and Nick tried to hash out new words for a song. It was clear that Nick was not a lyrical genius, but Trent was very patient with him as he tried to rhyme words and make the lines still make sense.

Daria couldn't help but watch the raven-haired man as he sat on the floor with his band mate and scribbled in a notebook ideas that they both had. He always made her breath hitch in her throat just by being in the same room as her. He had a simple grace about him, an ease in his surroundings that she envied and marveled at.

"What are you working on, Red?" Jane asked Quinn as she nudged past the younger girl and found her way to a wooden chair so she could sit down. Daria made her way down the stairs and sat at Jane's feet, exchanging a glance and a smile with Trent as she did so. She knew that Quinn and Jane couldn't comprehend the simplicity of the interaction she had with Trent.

They cared about each other, they loved each other. It didn't need to be huge declarations and dramatic gestures. Being around the other and being able to exchange such simple looks was enough for now. Their emotions were on the table. The timing might not be perfect, what with Daria living a few hundred miles away and Trent really just beginning to find his legs in life, but there was an understanding that they would be there for each other. They would get there. One day the timing would be perfect and they would find their way to each other. They both knew it and accepted it now, the words didn't really need to be spoken.

Though, she had told her mother that she and Trent would probably end up together. That was the closest thing to a confession she had said to anyone on the subject. Damn her caffeine deprived mind for blurting it out to her mother who wouldn't forget a confession like that! Thankfully her father had been too oblivious to her presence in he room to register that his eldest daughter was planning on dating a musician. While Trent and Jake had always gotten along, she kind of feared what her father's reaction would be to her dating the man. Nothing and nobody was good enough for his little girl, after all, and Jake was not opposed to starting a lynch mob when he thought that the occasion called for it.

Quinn began to explain that she was brainstorming ways to promote the Spiral even further. The show last night had been good, great even, but she really thought that they could do better. The demo still needed to be recorded, but she also knew that press needed to get wind of Mystik Spiral's rise to the top. If she could get reporters from the local newspaper, the high school paper, and perhaps the TV station to show up to the next show then they would be exposed to an even wider audience. Her attention was exceptionally focused on the local rock radio station. If she could secure an interview on air, get one of the DJs to mention their show, somehow get them to play a Spiral song, then they would be able to play any bar in the county.

Jane laughed, "damn, Trent, if you had hired her 10 years ago, you guys would be international successes by now!"

Her brother smiled thinly at her before turning his attention back to Nick and the lyrics they were writing. He was all too aware that the last ten years of their lives had been squandered and he really didn't need Janey pointing it out. He was doing his best to move forward despite the stagnation.

Part of that was exploring alternative ideas for the band, and that included getting ideas from the other guys for songs they should write. He believed that Nick had a story in him to tell. It wasn't fair that he and Jesse were the only ones that contributed their thoughts and feelings to the band. The other guys should have some input, besides Max's sub-zero argument. Trent still wasn't sure if Max understood how he went wrong with that one and he still wasn't willing to try to explain it any further than he didn't think people would understand what Max was trying to say. That was essentially the truth. People wouldn't understand, because nothing could be colder than sub-zero.

Speaking of the drummer, Trent couldn't help but realize that he was late to rehearsal. Jesse being late was no surprise, but the drummer was usually early and usually riding him and Jesse for being late. The only times Max was ever late was when he had something on his mind about his messed up family, which wasn't very often because Max did his very best to avoid his father and step-mother.

Max thought that because he came from a well-off family, it meant that he didn't have as many problems as someone like Trent and had no right to complain about how he grew up, but at times, Trent thought that Max might've actually had it worse. Both of them had grown up just wanting someone to say that they cared about them, that they worried about them, that they questioned their actions. Trent had received neglect in return for some of his wayward, attention seeking behavior and Max had received verbal and, at times, physical abuse.

Trent didn't have the anger in him that Max did about the situation. He didn't feel that same passionate hatred for his parents because they chose their own selfish needs over his well-being. The lyricist recognized that his parents were human, and while they made many mistakes, he knew that they cared about him and his siblings in their own unique, absent, and neglectful way. Victor and Amanda had wanted and cared for their children, just not enough to stick around and raise them. Max didn't know that anyone cared about him.

Trent knew that Max hadn't talked to his mother in years and that the relationship between him and his dad was pretty strained, on account of the fact that his dad decided to marry someone Max's age, who looked like a slightly older version of his daughter. It was creepy, Trent agreed with that.

Thinking about someone Steve Taylor's age marrying Janey was one of the few things that could raise Trent's blood pressure. He knew that Ashley Amber was only in it for the money and that it was her choice as much as Steve's to make. It didn't make it any less upsetting to see an old pervert like that marry someone only a few years older than his daughter. It was gross.

So Trent understood why the drunkard the previous night had upset Max so much. It wasn't that he thought that he needed to defend Quinn, he just hated that anyone could think so lowly of her. Trent wasn't sure he wouldn't have punched the guy either if it had been Jane or Daria that someone had disrespected in such a way. Thinking about it, he probably would've done the same for Quinn at this point, too. They were really good friends now and he hated the idea of a drunk guy thinking he could fondle her.

Monique was just about the only important woman in his life that he wouldn't have done it for, and that's just because Monique would've punched him herself. Trent knew that for a fact. He'd seen her do it before and get tossed out of the bar for disorderly conduct. Apparently it was okay to stick your hand up a girl's skirt, but it was not okay for the girl to beat you senseless for it. The bartender's explained that they had bouncers for that. Trent had explained, as he paid for his and Monique's tab, that the bouncers apparently couldn't do their job and should have got the drunk man out of the bar before his friend was violated.

Trent didn't worry about Monique that much. She was a tough chick who could handle herself in both verbal and physical fights. He did worry about Daria and Janey. Both girls had a bad habit of insulting people much physically stronger than they were, without a thought for the consequences. Most people let the snide remarks go, but he really feared for the time that someone decided to take their verbal punches and retaliate with physical ones. Not everyone walked away from such biting comments so easily. He knew that from experience as well. He'd taken his fair share of punches from people who couldn't handle his smart mouthed comments, not that he ever really intended on riling anyone up, he just sometimes said what he thought without a filter on.

Quinn mentioned that a guy had once taken her flirting too far and Daria had stepped in with her no nonsense attitude and made the guy down. Trent knew that it could have ended worse than the guy spitting on her, and he kind of wanted to hunt down the asshole and pound him into the ground for what could have happened and for what did happen. Lawndale wasn't a huge town, he was sure, if he put his mind to it, he could figure out which middle-aged lose it was that had violated one woman he cared for and literally spit on the one woman he loved.

Quinn had waved off his desire to hunt down the man, stating that it was a learning experience for her and that no one had been harmed. Sure, if she or Daria had been physically injured, she would have no problem letting Trent or anyone else who felt like hurting the guy loose on him, but why stir up an old problem at this point when no harm had been done?

Max's arrival into the room shook Trent out of his thoughts. In the drummer's hands were 24 long stemmed yellow roses with a red tip. He sat down on the stair next to Quinn and handed them to her, softly apologizing for being a drunken ass the night before. Explaining that he had acted without thinking and now recognized that he had put all of the work that she had been doing for them in jeopardy because he had thought with his fists instead of his brain. He promised her that if she forgave him, he would never let his actions threaten any work that she had done for them.

It was at that moment that Daria witnessed something she had never seen before, the cheeks underneath Quinn's many layers of makeup turned a soft pink color at a gesture from a guy. The only times she had ever seen Quinn embarrassed was if she had a wardrobe malfunction and someone else noticed it. Even then, Quinn was usually able to laugh it off and spin the situation to her advantage. Her sister just did not embarrass easily.

However, someone as well versed in romance as Quinn was recognized the symbolism of not only the coloring, but also the number of roses that he presented her with. Her embarrassment stemmed mostly from the fact that Max was essentially telling her that he was falling in love with her and was thinking about her every hour of the day. She had never received yellow roses with a red tip before. A dozen red roses all of the time, because that's what guys thought that they were supposed to do, and she disregarded the meaning of those roses each time she received them as a corny and generic gesture that was done without thought or feeling behind it. Max's choice seemed deliberate. As she looked into his nervous brown eyes, she was pretty sure his action and choice was intentional and that he was really fearful that it wouldn't be enough to make her forgive him.

The fact that he was giving her roses in front of two of his closest guy friends didn't escape her, either. He was asking for the ridicule of his life with that gesture, and he was willing to do it because he was afraid that he had really upset her, the girl that he thought that he was falling in love with.

For the first time in her life, Quinn was pretty certain that it wasn't her physical appearance that made a guy think they were falling in love with her, which kind of scared her. She didn't know how to be liked for who she was and not what she looked like.

Making a decision, she leaned over and kissed the drummer quickly, eliciting cat calls from Jane. Quinn's cheeks were once again red as they parted, and Max, after smiling at the fashion-minded girl, stood and joined his band mates where they were still trying to write a song.

"Hey Romeo, where are my roses and apology?" Jane asked Max as he walked past her. "I wasn't done drinking last night and you got me thrown out of the bar."

Max flipped her off and began talking with his assembled band mates, hoping to make everyone forget about his entrance into the room. Trent and Nick, surprisingly enough to Quinn, did not comment on the display of affection Max did upon entrance into the basement.

Trent was just glad that Max found a way to smooth things over with Quinn so that there was no tension between the band member and the manager, and Nick just wasn't looking forward to getting into a fight with Max yet. The drummer had been really hostile last night and Nick wanted to make sure that Max had gotten the actual rage out of his system before he opened his mouth and said something stupid to the drummer that resulted in them beating the living shit out of each other for kicks.

"While we wait for Jesse," Quinn said from her spot on the steps, roses still in her arms, "I just want to let you know that we caught a break with Chris last night and he hasn't decided to shut us out from any future shows. Apparently, because the fight didn't happen before your show, it wasn't as bad as we were imagining."

"Any idea about how much we made?" Nick asked. He couldn't help wondering about it. The number of house shows they were doing had been nice, but this gig was like payday for him. He had rent and child support due. He really needed more money than he was currently taking in by playing high school and college parties.

Quinn shook her head, "Chris hadn't gone in and gotten the final count from last nights drawers. We know that it's good though, right? The place was packed and everyone had a good time…well, except for that one guy, but he was just over served."

"You think it'll be enough to get the demo made?" Trent asked her.

She nodded. Being the only band member that had been in the actual crowd, she had a chance to count some of the heads and she was fairly certain that they would be able to secure studio time and produce the E.P. within the next couple of weeks. "Yeah, if we're not there, we're really close. I'm going to go up to the club and pick up the pay out later tonight. I'll text you, Trent, and let you know how much it was."

"Do you want some company?" Max asked quickly. He couldn't help it. He really liked Quinn and he wanted to be around her. From the way that she blushed and kissed him, he was pretty sure she liked him, too.

Trent shot a look at Daria and frowned. Max was years older than him. Quinn was almost two years younger than Daria. Despite that, they seemed to push this seemingly meaningless detail aside and go forward with the relationship that they wanted. He had tripped up on the age difference years ago. He wondered what their relationship would be like now if he had the guts when she was a teenager to tell her that he was falling in love with her.

Max and Quinn just made it look easy. Boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy asks girl out. That's the age old formula, but nothing could be that easy where Daria Morgendorffer was concerned. At least not when it came to him and Daria. They stumbled and fumbled over each other and took years to get from step to step.

He was now on the girl knows that boy likes her step. He hadn't asked her out yet. Jane had told him that she and Daria were stuck in Lawndale for the day, if he was ever going to ask Daria on a date, for some real one on one, face to face, alone time not at either of their houses and not stuck by the side of the road waiting for car help, then it should be for tonight.

He knew that he couldn't make a grand gesture. Quinn had nailed it on the head when she said that easy listening ballads and white horses would be wrong. She had also been right when she said that Daria would bolt if he did anything to cause undue attention to be drawn to her. He didn't really want all of that either. He just wanted some alone time with her, like they had last night. Sitting across from her and having a conversation had been amazing for him. That they had talked about their actual relationship had stunned him and elated him, he would have been happy with just talking about whatever was on her mind.

Jesse showed up a few minutes later and, after several harsh comments from Max about the tardiness Jesse displayed, despite the fact that Max himself had been late, rehearsal commenced.

Trent's brain was elsewhere though. He could only think about asking out the brunette girl sitting and talking with his sister through their rehearsal. He had really missed having her and Janey home. For the first time in a long time, he felt like his family was back.


Special thanks to BIFF1 for the long and super kind review - I have also disappeared places to get in a few more words of a story I'm enjoying and I'm flattered that someone has done that for something I wrote. I agree that I should spend more time proof reading and fixing the errors. I'm usually just so happy I finished a chapter at this point that I upload it before I decide to go back and add to it!

Even more thanks to Ronnie for buying a copy of my book and actually reading it! Totally made my universe with that! I completely get where you're coming from when you say it's darker than what you usually read and it is definitely a far cry from what I write with the Daria stuff - though the introspective, character development is the same. You can see why working on the two simultaneously wasn't working out for me!

Thanks to everyone that has been patient with me on these increasingly lagging updates. I have so many stories in my head that I often get pulled onto different projects. I have no intention of abandoning this story, however!