Mack the Esteemer (I)

"Don't be fooled," a nice deep bass voice emerged from behind her, "O'Neill has no idea what he's talking about, just zone out to the tone of his voice."

Daria turned around and saw that the person speaking to her was a boy about her age, African-American, wearing a black shirt and jeans, his hair was in dreadlocks, muscular and very...

"Handsome." She admitted to herself but didn't dare allow that assessment to show on her face.

Instead she asked, "How are we supposed to get anything out of this if even the teacher doesn't know what he's talking about?"

The boy smirked and laughed then said, "This isn't a real class, it's Ms. Li's way of punishing students who won't conform."

Daria made a sound at that and replied, "Ah, now things are crystal clear, this school's more screwed up than even I had thought."

The boy laughed again, "That's the truth, and I'm Mack by the way if you didn't know my name already."

Daria felt the hint of a smile on her flat features and replied, "Daria, Daria Morgendorffer."

In the growing night, Michael 'Mack' Mackenzie was walking at her side, having offered to fill her in on the torturefest that she was in for in Esteem Class.

"Then we get separated by gender and each taken to different rooms and I was told that the girls are told about body-image." Mack said but didn't explain how he knew that.

"What about the boys?" Daria asked and then wondered if that was a good question to ask.

Mack just smirked, "A bunch of guys and a male teacher? I'll let you figure that one out."

Daria just shuddered and fought in vain to suppress the images in her mind.

After a minute she felt brave enough to ask him, "So Mack... Why do they keep you in the Esteem Class? You said you passed it several times."

"Yeah I did," Mack replied nonchalantly, "But they're keeping me in there as a punishment since I won't play football."

"...You're not joking are you?"

"Nope," Mack said with a weary sigh, "They just don't get it, I hate football, I have zero desire to do it. But I played it in Middle School back when my parents weren't making much money since a football scholarship would have been the only route to college."

"Yeah but what changed?" Daria asked with growing curiosity.

Mack grinned like a cat that ate an entire cage of canaries, "My Mom won the instant lotto, over two million in fact. Even after taxes we had more than enough for a college fund so I can go pretty much anywhere, and my Dad used the rest of it to start up his own hardware supply store and it's making a killing."

Daria grinned at that, "So the instant you guys made it you said, 'screw football', right?"

"Oh yeah!" Mack said with happiness, "I entered Freshman year of High School with Ms. Li and Gibson all prepared for me to be on the team as the future Captain. Man it was fun to tell them to stick it where the sun didn't shine!"

Daria felt herself give him a rare half-smile in appreciation, "If only I had been a fly on the wall that day."

"There were some costs though," Mack conceded a bit more sadly, "A lot of my so-called friends ditched me, then my then girlfriend Jodie let her parents load herself up with extracurriculars and somehow thought I'd be there for her even though she wouldn't be there for me, ha!"

The pair then rounded the corner and came up to Daria's street, "It was then that Ms. Li and Manson cooked up the idea of 'fixing' my obviously low self-esteem and for 'some reason' I've been in the course ever since." He put the words 'some reason' and 'fixing' in air-quotes.

"What about real friends?" Daria asked with interest and Mack gave her a sly smile.

"Besides yourself Daria? Well I still talk to some of the guys on the team, even if they don't understand me anymore, I dated a couple girls after Jodie but it didn't work out." Mack then sighed at that, "I did have high hopes for one, but we were better off as friends, I'll introduce you later."

"Who is it?" Daria asked while wondering if she already had seen her or not.

"She's the girl in the red coat that doesn't talk to people, draws rude pictures of them and sleeps in class." Mack said cryptically but for some reason it clicked.

"Uh... Jane Lane right?" Daria asked and smiled when Mack nodded, "I remember DeMartino's role call and her lackluster hand gesture while sleeping."

Mack laughed as they reached Daria's address and grinned, "Cool, we live a couple houses from each other." Then he pointed out the house where he lived, two houses away and across the street.

Daria raised an eyebrow and asked, "Why here? Why not the Crewe Neck?"

"Remember that the money went to my college fund and my dad's business Daria," Mack explained, "This house was paid for by the money Dad made later."

"Ah," Daria breathed as they stood in front of the walkway that lead to her front door, "Well... I'll see you tomorrow?" she asked hopefully and Mack gave her a big smile.

"Yup," he said and after a minute where they both stood in awkward silence he waved and gave her a goodbye and walked on down to his home.

Daria stood there watching him with a wistful look on her face until he entered his front door and was out of sight.

She didn't see her mother in the window watching this with her lips parted in a gasp and a hand over her mouth, her eyes filling with hope for her antisocial daughter.