Acts of Cupidity
Author's Note: This story came about from an Iron Chef where Valentine's Day gets drunk and wrecks a number of relationships across Lawndale. The following stipulations were in effect:
At least five established canon/fanon couples have to break up. (six do, though two of the couples may not fit the standard definition)
At least one couple will patch things up and be just as happy as before (if not happier)
At least two new couples will form from the ones that broke up.
At least one person will hook up with someone who wasn't already in a relationship.
At least one person will be left lonely and heartbroken.
It must take place at some point between Esteemsters and Boxing Daria. (This one occurs somewhere between Jane's Addition and Fire!, given Jane's relationship status.)
Disclaimer: The characters of Daria belong to their respective rights holder, and I am not that holder. I am not profiting through this story in any monetary or legal sense. I write my stories for nothing and my fics for free.
"...with the Spatula Man, he'll be there to take over your weekday morning rush! We'll find out the mystery guest host Monday Morning. Right now though, let's get back to the hits. It's Boys R Guys with their latest smash hit, "I'm So Sorry (Please Don't Tell Your Daddy)" on Zeeeeeeee-93!"
Valentine's Day's hand slapped around on the clock/radio until it found the snooze button. He rolled over in bed, his head throbbing. He was about to drift back to sleep when the sound of his phone ringing snapped him out of unconsciousness. He grabbed the receiver off his nightstand and thumbed it on. "Mmmmhhhh, hello?"
An Irish voice came through the phone with clarity, both of tone and message. "V-Day, what the bloody hell were you doing last night?"
Valentine's tried to answer, but nothing came to mind. "Ummm, actually Pat, I don't know. I can't remember much."
"That's hardly surprising, laddie. After Sadie beat you in that tic-tac-toe game, I'm surprised you can remember your name."
The first memories of that day started to come back to the winged teenager. The Love League had gotten together early the morning before to celebrate...he couldn't remember what. Mother's Day and Father's Day were hosting the party, trying to be responsible but eventually breaking down into the usual arguments. Sweetest Day and Sadie Hawkins Day were both flirting with him and tempting him with drinks. The last memory he had was Sadie winning a game of Tic-Tac-Toe played with shot glasses. He lost on the last possible play, meaning he had to down five shots of Joe Mexico Tequila. From there, the rest of the day was a blank.
"Are you listening to me?"
Valentine's Day came back to the present sharply, which didn't help his headache. "I'm sorry; I was just trying to remember what happened."
St. Patrick's Day, on the other end, replied, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. The Big Guy has all the footage just waiting for you when you get down here."
That froze Valentine's Day. "The Big Guy? What did I do?"
"Oh, what you did might not be that bad on any other day, but yesterday was supposed to be your day to shine."
V-Day gasped. Suddenly, he remembered the reason for the party. It was his turn to go out into the world and spread the love. It was February Fourteenth. And now...
"That makes you practically the only one last night."
Valentine's Day looked across the massive desk before him at The Big Guy, a large man nearly ten feet tall with short black hair and a full beard and mustache. "Sir, I'm sorry I grabbed the wrong darts, but I can make it up!"
The Big Guy stood up. "It's too late for that for some of these people. Your grabbing the hate darts instead of the love darts has wrecked a lot of lives. I can't believe you started messing up so early in the morning!"
Valentine's Day, not fully over his hangover, was confused. "What do you mean so early in the morning?"
To that, The Big Guy pulled out a remote and used it to start an audio recording.
"It's 8:42 on your drive time commute! I'm Bing..."
"And I'm the Spatula Man!"
"We're keeping the music live all morning long!"
"Hey, that was my line!"
"Well, you get more lines than I do!"
"Well, maybe if you weren't doing so many lines last night..."
"That's a total lie! I didn't do any lines last night!"
"Ah, so you took a night off? No wonder you aren't functioning so well today!"
"Well after Bonnie left you last year, I'm surprised you can function at all!"
"That does it; I've had it with you! I should have done this a long time ago! I quit!"
"Well good! I'd say we've been together ten years too long! In fact, here's a perfect song for you. It's "Good Riddance" by Green Day on Zeeeeeee-93!"
As the recording ended, Valentine's Day held his head in his hands, both from realizing that he'd likely had a part in that episode and from his ongoing hangover. "I don't even remember that."
The Big Guy nodded. "I figured as much. If you would have been sober, you would have noticed your darts making the problem worse. However, because you and your Love League decided to live it up the night before, the situation in Lawndale is bleak. You've done some real damage to the relationship scene there."
"I'll fix it! Just tell me who to bring together and I'll do it!"
The Big Guy shook his head. "I'm afraid some of the damage may be permanent. Here's a copy of the incidents in question and my notes for each section. Do what you can to make as many people happy as possible. Good luck." He handed the winged teen a videocassette and a binder and showed him off.
Back in Valentine's Day's dorm room, St. Patrick's Day huddled in front of the television. "Faith and Begorrah, would you put the tape in already?"
Valentine's Day came over from his mini-fridge with a stack of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate candies. "Sorry, but there's no way I can watch a movie without something to eat."
"This isn't exactly a John Cusack movie. This is your only ticket out of serious punishment!"
"Then put it on already! I'm ready to see if I remember any of last night."
The tape was inserted, the play button was pressed, and the scenes began to play.
The front doorbell at the Morgendorffer house rang, and Jake Morgendorffer answered it. Seeing the three boys outside, he first said, "Hi boys," then turned to yell upstairs, "Quinn, your dates are here!" before leaving.
Quinn Morgendorffer walked down the stairs, dressed to the nines. She greeted each of the boys before her. "Hi Joey, Jeffy, Jermaine."
Jamie White frowned. "It's Jamie!"
Joey Black broke in with, "Quinn, can I hold your hand?"
Jeffy Brown jumped in with, "Can I hold your other hand?"
Jamie added, "Can I hold your...um, purse?"
Quinn smiled playfully and waved them aside. "Oh, sillies, there'll be plenty of time for that after you drive me to Chez Pierre. Now whose car are we taking?"
Joey raised his hand. "Pick mine!"
Jeffy responded, "No, mine's faster!"
Jamie countered, "Mine has cold diet soda!"
Quinn shook her head. "Boys, I told you to sort out the car thing before you got here! I can't have you all leaving your cars here while we go for our date!"
In the distance, a familiar winged figure sneaks in and shoots four times, skillfully hitting all four with what were supposed to have been love darts before sneaking away.
Joey recovered from the shock first, yelling, "Well, we wouldn't have had this problem if we would have just gone with my car."
Jeffy scowled. "Hey, it's not my fault your car is burning through oil!"
Jamie scoffed. "As if your car isn't a deathtrap on wheels!"
Quinn stomped her foot. "Damn it, I don't care whose car we take! Let's just freaking go!"
Jeffy pointed his finger at Quinn. "Hey, we wouldn't be in this position if you would have picked one of us to go out with by now!"
Quinn grabbed Jeffy's finger. "Like I could choose any one of you; you're so alike it's like dating three of the same breed of dog, all fighting over my lap!"
"Well then maybe it's time we found a new bitch to fight for." said Joey before turning to leave.
Quinn nodded defiantly. "Good idea. You three were starting to annoy me anyway."
Jamie said, "Fine, but just remember..." and grabbed her by her arms and shook her. "It's JAMIE!" He let go of her and stomped off to his car. All three boys drove off in their cars, and Quinn stomped up to her room fuming.
"That's not a good start," said Valentine's Day, before popping a chocolate-covered cherry into his mouth.
St. Patrick's Day nodded. "No, but I think that may have been best for all four of them. I mean, they saw everything in her, and all she saw were three boys to do her bidding. You could have done worse, lad."
V-Day looked at the screen, where the next scene was starting. "I get the feeling I did do worse."
"Damn it, Trent; I told you not to play that song again!"
Trent looked over at Monique, who was unhappy at him yet again. "Look, it's not that I like playing such a personal song, but 'Icebox Woman' is our top request. Actually, it's our only request."
Monique shook her head. "I don't care if it's the only song you know! How could you play that when you know I'm here? It's Valentine's Day for crying out loud!"
Trent furrowed his brow. "Hey, I'm not trying to make you happy out there; I'm trying to make this band a success."
Monique snorted. "Oh, yes, and you've done a grand job of that! Mystik Spiral barely had a shot to go anywhere when I was in it, and Nick's not helping you at all. Max would collapse if he had to go on a real tour, and Jesse is just a body that attempts to play rhythm guitar. I know you want to carry this band, but there'll come a time when you'll have to dump them off. I hope by then you won't have a broken back!"
Again, St. V's came into the picture during Monique's tirade. He aimed two darts and hit both musicians with precision. Thinking his job finished, he stumbled out of sight.
Trent frowned sharply. "Damn it, stop tearing down my band! This is my life! This is why you never fit in with us."
Monique curled her lip into a sneer. "Exactly, because I had the head on my shoulders to know you were going nowhere! Well listen, I know the Harpies are going nowhere, but I'm using my time in the band to refine my sound, harness my creative muse, and keep Michelle off drugs while I can. In a year or so, I'll be off to another city, ready to start a new band with other real musicians. I was going to wait until then to break up with you, or maybe even ask you to join me, but what's the point?"
Trent's words were laced with anger for the first time that Monique could remember. "You're right. What's the point of any of this? Why don't you just go home and bitch to your other bitches and play some more mindless covers? I'll stay here with my real songs and real musicians and just think about how good it'll be with you out of my life! For keeps!"
Monique stood silent for a moment, then said, "You know, if you had a quarter of that enthusiasm in your music, maybe Mystik Spiral would stand a chance. Too bad that's about five years of your aggression blown on a relationship that's been dead since it began." She turned and walked away. Trent looked like he had something to say, but did not come up with a retort.
St. Patrick's Day punched Valentine's Day lightly in the arm. "See, that's not so bad. Those two have broken up more often than that band the woman plays with."
Valentine's rubbed his arm where it had been punched. "Well, it's not so bad so far, but I don't think the Big Guy would have had an issue if these were the only kind of couples I broke up."
Patty's agreed. "Aye, laddie. It makes me wonder what...ach! I had to ask!" Both sets of eyes went wide as they saw the couple now on the screen.
Ted Dewitt-Clinton sat down next to Stacy Rowe on a quiet stretch of shoreline just outside the Lawndale city limits. A roaring campfire burned before them. Ted handed Stacy a bottle containing an orangish liquid. "Here you are my sweet: a carbonated beverage from my father's soda fountain. No artificial ingredients and just a small amount of beet sugar to balance out the taste."
Stacy took the bottle and said, "Thanks!" The two clinked their bottles together and took swigs. At once, both teens spit out the liquid they had just imbibed.
Ted spoke first. "Oops, I guess this batch didn't quite turn out right."
Stacy dumped out her bottle and handed it back to Ted to reuse. "Oh, that's all right. It's the thought that counts. I still can't believe you found this place. It's so peaceful and quiet and romantic."
Ted smiled. "I found it when I was looking for driftwood I could use for decorations. Mom always said that driftwood is nature's recycling program."
Stacy couldn't care less about driftwood. "Um, yes. Well, now that we're up here, did you want to do anything with me?"
Ted, who didn't pick up on Stacy's hint, said, "I hadn't really planned that far ahead, actually. I was thinking we'd talk for a while, maybe. After all, we haven't been going out that long, and I'd like to know you better."
Stacy nodded. "That makes sense. Hey, why don't we play a game?"
Ted smiled. "Like Fortress of Sunder?"
Stacy looked a bit nervous. "Um, not exactly. This is called Truth or Dare. I start by asking you, 'Truth or Dare?', and you have to say which one you want. If you say truth, you have to answer whatever question I ask, truthfully."
"Like 'Who was buried in Grant's Tomb?'"
Stacy fought the urge to roll her eyes. "Um, not really. More like 'Have you kissed a girl before?' or 'What do you like about me?' We're trying to learn more about each other. If you say dare, you have to do whatever I tell you to. Then you ask me, and we keep going."
Ted looked thoughtful. "Sounds interesting, but if I have nothing to hide, why would I ever choose dare?"
Stacy shrugged. "Well, maybe you want to find out what I would dare you to do. You don't know what the question or the dare are going to be when you choose, and you can't switch back after you choose."
Ted nodded. "I see; so you may choose to have me do something I'd like to do anyway, like serenade you with a song."
Stacy nodded. "Or I could have you recite the Pledge of Allegiance while hopping on one foot. You'll never know until you choose."
Ted smiled again. "Ok, you start."
"Truth or Dare?"
"Okay, recite the Pledge of Allegiance while hopping on one foot."
Ted laughed. "I walked right into that one, didn't I?" He stood up, grabbed his left foot, and hopped on his right until he had finished saying the pledge. Stacy clapped as he finished. "Thank you, Stacy. Now it's your turn: Truth or Dare?"
Stacy thought it over, and answered, "Truth."
Ted replied, "Okay, um, have you ever been kissed by a girl?"
Stacy was taken aback by this. "What? I don't know where you heard that from, but I don't do that! Oh, no; who's been spreading rumors about me now?"
Ted looked a bit frazzled. "What? I don't understand; what's the big deal? I kiss guys myself every now and then."
Stacy's eyes went wide. "You do?"
Ted nodded. "Sure! I have an uncle that comes in from Italy every now and then, and he used to kiss me on the cheek all the time! He said it's a custom in his country."
Stacy, realizing that Ted's motives were as innocent as they always were, exhaled. "Oh, I see. I thought you meant...never mind. I've had my Grandma kiss me on the cheek. Oh, and one time in first grade, there was a girl in my class who kissed me because she said she didn't want to kiss boys. She was kind of strange, and she moved out after that year. Now it's my turn again; Truth or Dare?"
Ted nodded. "I think I'll try a truth this time."
Stacy thought it over, and decided to give him a question she was fairly sure she knew the answer to. "Have you ever gone out with a girl?"
Ted immediately answered, "Well, I did go out once with Daria."
Stacy, not having heard this from Quinn, was shocked. She was shocked again when both her and Ted were struck with darts from Valentine's Day's launcher.
Stacy, once she regained her poise, replied, "You what? I thought I was the first girl you ever went out with!"
Ted, starting to feel unhappy about Stacy's tone, said, "No, I said you were the first woman who ever dated me. Daria just took me out for a meal to thank her for her help on Yearbook. Can we move on?"
Stacy, not satisfied, said, "Fine, Truth again."
Ted, looking to test his date, said, "Have you ever kissed a boy; not one you were related to, but one you were dating?"
Stacy shook her head. "No, never!"
Ted frowned. "Then why did Skylar Feldman tell me that you kissed him on the hand?"
Stacy gasped. "He told me he would never tell anyone! And besides, that's all I kissed him on!"
Ted crossed his arms before him. "You still lied to me! I can't believe it!"
Stacy's lips snarled. "I've had enough of this. Truth or Dare?"
Ted gritted his teeth and replied, "Dare."
Stacy stood and stamped her foot. "Put out this fire, take me back to your father's car, drive me back to my house, and get out of my life!"
Ted scowled and got to his feet. "With pleasure."
Valentine's Day shook his head. "They were such a cute couple. I feel so bad about ruining their relationship while it was first starting."
St Patrick's Day shook his head. "You may feel bad, but I'm almost happy for it. Those two were so sweet it was giving me cavities."
V-Day shrugged. "Well, we'll see how it goes when we get down there. Right now I need another box of candy before I go any further." He paused the tape and went to his stash of candy boxes.
Pat's rolled his eyes and called back to him, "That's another thing that'll give you cavities!"
"She drank his wine, he drank in her beauty, and then they drank each other's blood! Love, Transylvanian Style, next on Sick Sad World!"
Tom Sloane sat slumped on Jane Lane's bed watching the TV before him. "You know, vampires these days just don't stack up to the olden days. Give me the original Vlad the Impaler any day."
Jane, busy at her easel, nodded. "True, or at least the old school Bela Lugosi Drac. Leslie Nielson may be the death of the genre."
Tom shook his head. "I don't think you can pin it all on him. At least go back a bit further and blame Blacula. So, want to do anything special tonight?"
Jane shrugged. "I dunno. Hearts and flowers aren't really my thing, unless the heart is still pumping, of course."
Tom replied, "No problem. I had a few plans if you were interested in doing something traditional, but I can call them off if you're not interested."
Before Tom could pull out his phone, Jane stopped him. "Whoa, what kind of plans are you talking about?"
Tom, continuing to take his phone out, said, "Oh, just dinner and some alone time; nothing fancy, but probably more than you're looking for."
Jane shook her finger. "Hey, I'm not going to turn down a free meal just because I have to look presentable, and that alone time seems worth the trip on its own."
Once again, Mr. V snuck into the picture and fired a pair of Anti-Love Darts at this pair of lovers. The effects were immediate.
Tom's face lost its enthusiasm. "Great, so you don't want a big production, but you will go to get free food and make out. How romantic."
Jane was caught off-guard by this. "What? Hey, I was just saying I could enjoy your company for a while, but now I'm starting to wonder what you're planning here."
Tom started to get angry. "Oh come on. I just wanted to give you a romantic dinner and a night under the stars. It's not like like I'm trying to bribe you into sleeping with me with a free meal!"
Jane crossed her arms in front of her. "That would be your speed: bribing people to get what you want. Hell, you do it all the time: at the movies, in traffic, hell, I bet you bribe your teachers to get good grades!"
Tom couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You know; maybe I should just cancel the date anyway. Hell, at this rate, Daria would be a better date tonight."
Jane slapped Tom, who flinched slightly. "You get out of this room and out of my life!"
Tom nodded forcefully. "You don't have to tell me twice." He turned around and walked out of the room. As Jane mumbled to herself and went back to her painting, the lines she painted became more and more drastic. As the front door slammed, she started jabbing the canvas with her brush, then tore a slash through the canvas before throwing down her palette and collapsing into her bed in tears.
Valentine's Day shook his head. "Aw, man; those two were supposed to last a lot longer than that."
St. Patrick's Day concurred. "Faith and begorrah V; those were some potent Anti-Love Darts you were shooting off. That went from normal to disaster in record time."
Valentine's Day nodded. "Yeah, I'm missing my experimental Extra-Angst Formula Darts, so I must have grabbed those. I was trying to come up with a fast acting antidote in case I hit like two different species or something, but I went a little overboard."
St Pat's looked at the screen. "Oh great; you messed up these two now?"
The shot showed Kevin Thompson's Jeep at a distance of about 15 feet. It was mostly dark out, but there was some slight illumination inside the vehicle, providing a silhouette of two lovers. Sounds emanating from the Jeep identified the occupants as "Kevvy" and "Babe"; at least, those were the only two words discernible amongst the moans and squeaks surrounding them.
From the left, Valentine's Day staggered on-screen. He raised his hand to shoot his darts at the Jeep, but then he stopped and waved his hands at the Jeep, as if to say, "Forget it!" He then staggered off-screen. Shortly thereafter, sounds of vomiting joined the other, more amorous sounds from the Jeep before the scene faded to black.
"Whew; close one there, laddie."
"Well, it's kind of pointless to shoot a couple that's already made it to second base. At least, I think that's where they were."
"Where exactly is second base, anyway?"
"Dude, I'm the embodiment of love, and even I'm not totally sure where second base is. Well, the Big Guy said there were only 6 scenes to watch other than that radio show he played for me, so I think we're just about..." Valentine's Day trailed off as he saw the couple on the screen. "Oh, for fun..."
"Lad, fun is the last thing I expect to see with these two."
Michael Mackenzie, known as Mack to his friends, carefully took the two breaded chicken cutlets out of the frying pan and onto two plates of angel-hair pasta. He ladled a red sauce over both of the cutlets and finished the entrée off with some shredded Parmesan cheese. He then tossed a large bowl filled with greens, tomatoes, olives, croûtons, and a mixture of oil, vinegar, and seasonings one last time before filling two smaller bowls with the salad. He then carefully placed both bowls, both plates, a green bottle that looked like a wine bottle, and two wine glasses onto a large metal trash can lid. He balanced the lid carefully and called out, "Dinner is served!"
Jodie Landon, relaxing on the Mackenzies' couch, stood up and walked to the dinner table. "So what's with the trash can lid?"
Mack was just setting down the two plates as Jodie approached. Dad keeps one of these around as a serving platter. He says it reminds him how frivolous fancy restaurants can be. Don't worry, all the actual trash cans are plastic, and this lid is as clean as any other dish we have."
Mack placed the now-empty lid on the ground and walked around to Jodie's chair. As he helped her sit, she thanked him. He then walked back around, grabbed the bottle, now revealed to be sparkling white grape juice, unscrewed the cap, and poured both of them a glass. Finally, he sat down and raised his glass, prompting Jodie to raise hers. "To a romantic, relaxing, and really great Valentine's night."
Jodie said, "Amen," before clinking her glass with Mack's. After taking a drink, Jodie continued, "I'm so happy that your parents trust you with their house for the night."
Mack shrugged, saying, "It's their tradition since I've been old enough to leave alone. I get the house to myself, and they find a hotel room where they can watch Jaws."
Jodie, preparing a bite of pasta, looked a bit confused. "Jaws?"
Mack smiled. "Their first date. Every time the shark came on, Mom would hold Dad closer. That's why they get the hotel room."
Jodie smiled and shrugged. "Well, I guess there are worse movies in that case. Can you imagine if they had gone to see Foxy Brown or Cleopatra Jones?"
Mack stifled a laugh. "With Dad's mouth, I'm sure Mom would have punched him for something by the end. How's the chicken?"
Jodie had just swallowed a bite of the cutlet. "Mmm, that's perfect. This is so much better than when I tried to make this."
Mack thought back to that night a few months ago. "That's all right. I needed an excuse to skip Ms. Barch's test the next day. Don't worry; I checked both with a meat thermometer before I took them off."
Jodie smiled. "I know. You're a much better cook than I am."
Mack looked into Jodie's eyes. "Oh, I don't know about that. You sure know how to cook when you want to."
Jodie, picking up Mack's meaning, playfully slapped the air in front of Mack. "Oh, stop. I'd like to finish dinner before I work on dessert." Both locked eyes for a while, then smiled and went back to eating.
After a while, Mack spoke up. "I'm just happy your parents let you take a night off."
Jodie exhaled sharply. "Oh, me too. I had to practically beg my father into seeing it my way. Well, until he saw how Mom was looking at him, anyway. Then again, if it wasn't Valentine's Day, they'd never let me out. They don't see why I'd want to spend a Friday Night not volunteering at a homeless shelter, or working on college applications, or whatever busywork they're having me do next."
Mack looked away. "With all that work you're doing, it's almost impossible to spend time together; not that your parents seem overly enthused about you spending time with me."
Jodie wasn't sure where this was going. "Yeah, they're always saying that the two of us won't last, and that I should find some rich guy to be my boyfriend. To them, even when I'm dating, I should be building my career."
Mack hung his head. "I bet they'd prefer I was some rich white kid."
Jodie put her head in her hands. "As much as I hate to admit that, Dad would probably prefer it. He always measures my relationships in dollars. Then again, if Mom heard Dad saying I should shack up with a white boy to advance my career, he'd be lucky to wind up on the couch."
At this point, the familiar form of Valentine's Day came into the picture, making the usual dart shots to hold the relationship together. Of course, having fired the wrong darts, the wheels came off instead.
Mack replied, "Great, so your dad wants you to dump me for some cracker with a trust fund?"
Jodie, for reasons that later escaped her, didn't like how Mack had made it sound. "Hey, he's just trying to get me to date a bank account instead of a person. It's not like I care what race I'm dating; I care about the person I'm dating."
Mack didn't exactly appreciate that response. "It's not like you care what race you're dating? So if you found some white guy who looked better than me, you'd run to him?"
Jodie's eyes went wide, as she failed to make the jump Mack had just taken. "That's not even close to what I said! All I'm saying is if you were white, I'd still go out with you. Would you go running off to some white girl if you weren't going out with me?"
Mack proceeded to put his foot in his mouth. "I might have to. I mean, it's not like there's exactly much of a selection of black women around here."
Jodie's scowl intensified. "Oh, so you're only going out with me because I'm better than the other three sisters in town?"
Mack didn't exactly help his case by saying, "I didn't say that! I mean, I would rather be with you than them, but..."
Jodie stood up, not giving Mack the chance to finish. "Well, thanks for the ego boost. And while I'm at it..." Jodie picked up her plate and dumped the contents onto Mack's head. "Thanks for dinner. I'm through with you."
Mack pushed the pasta out of his face. "Fine, get out of my life, Jodie! Go find some rich cracker to cook your dinner!" Jodie walked out the door, and Mack grabbed the trash can lid and slammed it against a wall.
St. Patrick's Day shook his head. "Och, of all the couples to break up, they were maybe the worst to see. And right when they started arguing about race. It's just like the last time I broke up with Reformation Day."
Valentine's Day looked over at his friend. "You know, I probably shouldn't have brought the two of you together. I was hoping it might ease some of the tension after that whole Belfast thing, but you're fighting worse than ever."
St. Patrick's grimaced. "You'll do well enough to leave the two of us alone after that stunt. Right now you've got four relationships, a partnership, and whatever those three boys had with that redhead to fix."
Valentine's sighed. "I know. I've read through the notes as these played out. Apparently some of these feelings are permanently damaged. All I can do now is try to get whoever I can together and hope it works out."
It being Saturday Night, Valentine's Day went to his usual starting point, the Zon. He didn't figure to find too many people he was looking for there, but it was as good a place to start as any. As he canvassed the room, he found two of the people he'd been looking for; unfortunately, they weren't what anyone would consider a couple.
Trent had just gotten another beer from the bartender when he heard a balding man three stools down start rambling semi-coherently. "They call this music? Why these young punks wouldn't know real music if it showed up on their doorstep in the dead of night and threw up on their rug!"
Trent, knowing that he was there to help keep peace as much as drown his sorrows, walked down to the stool next to the man. "Hey man, this band isn't so bad." He stretched the truth slightly; they were better than the last band, but they made the Spiral sound like a precision unit.
The balding man clapped Trent on the shoulder. "Ahh, I can barely hear this band. I'm talking about the punks I have to play at work. I mean, Boys R Guys? Bunch of male models trying to pretend they can sing. Tina Tina the Lovely Latina? She's about as Latina as I am. And don't get me started on that Big Brad. Yells randomly into a microphone and calls it rap? He's not fit to open for the Get Down Brothers!"
Trent nodded, trying to keep the man at the lower tone of voice he'd been using. "I can dig that, man. Like, nobody has integrity any more. They write a catchy chorus, put a drum beat behind it, and call it music."
V-day noticed this, and reached into his arsenal of darts. He grabbed a pair marked with a "P" (for platonic) and fired at the two men. They barely felt the shock, but the conversation kept going.
The balding man smiled. "Say man, you know your music. You ever spend time as a DJ?"
Trent shrugged. "I tried to set up our PA at a club once, but I only had like a handful of CD's."
The other man laughed. "Naw, naw. I mean at a radio station. They call me the Spatula Man. I'm one of the morning DJ's at Zeeeeeeeee(hic)-93, and my partner just split. Would you be interested in trying out to be my co-host?"
Trent thought it over. "Hmm, that would be good money, but it would be pretty early, right?"
Spatula Man nodded. "Five to nine AM, Monday through Friday."
Trent nodded. "I'm usually still up by then. I wouldn't be selling out though, would I?"
Spatula Man looked into Trent's eyes. "You're in a band, aren't you?"
Trent nodded. "Yeah, Mystic Spiral, but we're thinking of changing the name."
"Doors cover band?"
"No, that's why we're thinking of changing it."
Spatula smiled. "Well, I used to be in a band myself, before the other three decided to give up the life. With this job, you work half as long as most working stiffs, and if you sleep right after you get off work, you're up in time to head out to the nightlife. You can keep your band running, and even plug it on the air if the station doesn't mind. I need a co-host starting Monday. What do you say?"
Trent took Spatula Man's extended hand and shook it. "You got yourself a deal, man."
Spatula Man was happy. "All right! Starting this Monday, it's...what did you say your name was?"
"Trent," said Trent.
"Trent and the Spatula Man, only on Zeeeeeeee(hic)-93!" Spatula Man said, before taking another drink.
Valentine's Day then moved on to McGrundy's Pub. He there saw another pair of his targets, but again, not a pair he had broken up. However, willing to take what he could get, he pulled out a pair of low-dose love darts and fired them at the two rejected lovers.
Tom thought he felt someone pinch him as he walked up to the bar. After finding nobody behind him (other than a bald biker guy giving him the evil eye), he continued to the bar and ordered. "Hey, Larry. Make mine a double. I've got to drink away my blues."
Larry, who knew Tom from his wife, grabbed two longneck bottles of 1847 Root Beer from the fridge and popped off their tops. "Sure thing, Tom. What's the matter now; another trust fund chick go belly-up before you got her belly-up?"
Tom smiled and shook his head. "Nah, I found a girl with a brain this time instead of a bank account, but she dropped me just the same. I wish I could figure out what I'm looking for."
Larry patted Tom on the shoulder. "Ah, never mind that, Tom. I didn't know what I was looking for until I was 38. I'm still surprised someone like Mary was Kay Sloane's sister."
Tom shrugged. "Hey, if you were growing up with my Mom, you'd be ready to buy a Harley and see the nation too. At least Mary ended up with Grandma's business sense."
Larry smiled as he wiped off a glass. "Yeah, that woman has kept me out of the red so often; I can't remember how I kept this place open before she joined on. Talk to you later." He walked off to help another customer.
As Tom sipped his first root beer, a woman with long black hair sitting next to him at the bar tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, I heard you say you just got out of a relationship."
Tom shrugged. "Yeah, but I'm not sure I'm ready to dive right into another one."
The woman shook her hand. "Oh, believe me, neither am I. Besides, I think you might be a bit young for me." She gazed at the root beer bottles in front of the boy she spoke with.
Tom decided to turn on his charm anyway and see what happened. "Well, maybe a little, but not that much. I'll be legal before the year's out. But yeah, I just broke up with an artist." He made finger quotes in the air as he said "artist."
The woman smiled. "Oh, I know that feeling. I just broke up with a musician." She used finger quotes in a similar fashion.
Tom replied, "That is a total shock," in a tone that implied that it wasn't.
The woman laughed thinking about her look. "Yeah, well, I'm a bit of a musician myself. My name's Monique."
"Tom," said Tom. The woman's name sounded familiar.
Monique continued. "Nice to meet you. It's funny; my ex had a little sister who was some kind of artist. She'd probably be about your age."
Tom froze, putting together the information. "Was her name Jane Lane?"
Monique was astonished. "How did you know?"
Tom laughed out loud. "So you're that Monique! I guess both of us dumped Lanes last night."
Monique, understanding now, said, "You mean you were dating...of course! Trent said Jane was dating some..." She stopped, appraising the man before her. "Tom Sloane, the fortunate son."
Tom nodded. "Tom Sloane, that's my name."
Monique smiled. "Wow, you guys are rolling with money. I mean, I know money isn't everything and all, but it must make life easier sometimes."
Tom wagged his finger playfully at Monique. "Ah, ah, ah; no fair going after my money this quickly after meeting me. The society dames wait at least three dances before trying to get their hands on my wallet."
Monique laughed. "Don't worry; I'll only steal enough for a tour or two. Seriously, it's not the money that matters. Hell, I stayed with Trent for four years thinking he'd amount to something, but I didn't leave him because he was broke. He just had no ambition to do anything but sleep."
Tom smiled. "Ah, he only gets eight hours a night...and then another ten during the day."
Monique laughed again. "This is what I missed going out with a human Quaalude. Man, I need to toast. Here's to never dating a Lane again!" She raised her beer bottle.
Tom raised his root beer bottle to Monique's bottle. "Hear hear!"
Sunday morning came and went, and Valentine's Day hadn't made any further progress. Then again, he had reasoned that all remaining involved parties would be asleep most of the morning, so he might as well be too. That afternoon, he gathered his darts and set out to find a couple of his targets, as well as the only non-holiday that could help him, assuming anyone could.
Daria sat at her computer. She had been attempting to write something about Jane's breakup, which she had learned about mere moments after the fact over a COBB Pizza (Chicken, Onion, Bacon, and Beef). However, her attempts went nowhere, so she was given over to staring at her ceiling when a knock came at her window. Curious, she walked over to the window and saw a familiar face. "Oh no; not you again."
Valentine's Day waited until Daria opened the window. "Hey, are you alone?"
Daria deadpanned, "Do hallucinations embodying the spirits of holidays count?"
Valentine's frowned. "I was hoping your sister or Jane were around."
Daria shook her head. "No, Jane is spending the day gaining intimate carnal knowledge of a pint of chocolate ice cream, and Quinn is off helping one of her Fashion Club friends get over a breakup of her own." Daria frowned and folded her arms in front of her chest. "And since this is the first time in history that anyone's asked for both of them in the same sentence, I get the feeling you had something to do with it."
Valentine's looked down. "Well, me and Joe Mexico."
Daria thought that over. "Joe Mexico? Who...oh, tequila. So my best friend's heart is shattered because you got drunk?"
Valentine's Day looked at Daria. "I'm sorry. I really goofed things up and I'm trying to set things right. Could I come in? My wings are getting sore."
Daria stared at the winged man before her. Finally she sighed. "Sure, come on in. Since I'm guessing you also had a hand in making Quinn's followers disperse, I owe it to you to at least hear you out before I hurt you."
Daria took a moment to clear up her mind. "Okay, so let me make sure I have everything. You broke up Jane and Tom, along with Jodie and Mack, which I'm upset over. You also broke up Bing and the Spatula Man and got Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie to stop worshiping my sister, which I can't say I'm the least bit upset about. You broke up Trent and Monique, which takes no skill and is better for both of them, and Stacy and Ted, which I didn't even know was happening, but it makes me feel kind of upset to hear that they broke up. You're walking a pretty thin line between me shaking your hand and introducing you to my right boot."
Valentine's Day sighed. "I'm not looking for either of those right now. All I need is your help. The fixes I made might have backed me into a corner, especially where Jane is concerned."
Daria nodded. "I know. I don't think Jane would want the Not-Quite-Hardy Boys chasing after her, and I'm positive she'd get sick of Ted. I think your best bet is to talk to her directly. Maybe she'll know someone she's kept to herself."
Valentine's Day agreed. "That's probably the only thing to do, and she already knows me. There's one last thing."
"If I need an out, would you be interested in taking a shot?"
Daria frowned. "I think taking shots is what got you into this mess."
Valentine's Day shook his head. "No, I meant a shot from my love tazer."
Daria realized what he meant. "Oh, um, maybe. I mean, I guess it'd be kind of nice to have an actual boyfriend and all, but I don't want you hooking me on someone I'll just have to bury when your dart wears off. I'm not even sure who I'd want you to hook me up with."
Valentine's looked into Daria's eyes and took her hand. His voice dropped several octaves as he assumed his romantic, Barry White-esque tone. "Oh, really? You should feel relaxed and warm. Everything is cool. Everything is love, baby. And the next word out of your mouth will be that particular someone who makes you feel like Queen Cleopatra."
Daria, who'd begun to smile in spite of herself, said, "Bolt Vanderhuge?" She covered her mouth at the admission.
Valentine's Day, who had reverted to his usual voice, asked, "Who's Bolt Vanderhuge?"
Daria, blushing, replied, "Um, he's the double agent super spy I wrote into my last story."
Valentine's Day smiled. "It's official; you need to get out more."
Daria sighed. "All right, but no pairing me with anyone without half a brain, and I don't want a return match with Ted."
V-Day thought this over. "Hmm, might be hard to find a guy like that among the guys I have left." He then seemed to get an idea. "Hey, would you..."
"No," interrupted Daria, "no girls."
V-Day snapped his fingers. "Damn, so much for that idea." He then saw Daria's expression and cringed. "For fixing the problem, nothing else I swear!"
Daria, who had rolled up her right sleeve, said, "Good save."
Jane Lane sat back on her bed watching I Was a Teenage Appetizer from Planet Sushi: the Second Coming when her brother Trent entered the room. "Hey Janey; feeling any better?"
Jane sighed. "Well, I'm still depressed and stuff, but that pint of Mint Double Chip reminded me that there are reasons to live." She pointed to the empty carton laying on her floor.
Trent smiled. "That's good. I wouldn't want someone I care about to be so upset over a guy they tried to kill themselves; not even Monique. Well, maybe as long as she didn't succeed."
Jane smirked. "That's a healthy way to think about your ex. You actually seem a lot better yourself since last night."
Trent nodded. "Yeah, I went to the bar and ended up getting a job."
Jane's eyes somehow stayed within the confines of her skull. "You? Got a Job? At the Bar?"
Trent shook his head. "Nope, they hired me on as a DJ on Z-93. 20 hours a week and I get paid like I'm working 40. I don't even have to do much, just put in the music and talk with that Spatula guy on the air most of the time."
Jane looked at Trent in disbelief. "Wait, you're telling me that you got hired for that Mental in the Morning show? How exactly do you plan on being awake for that?"
Trent thought it over. "Hmm, I guess I should go to bed a little later this afternoon so that I don't fall asleep before the show." Trent walked away thinking.
Jane rolled her eyes as she picked up the phone that had just started ringing. "We'll see how long that lasts. Hello? Oh, hi Daria. You mean Christmas, Halloween, and that English guy? So that wasn't just a dream? Yeah, I know. What? He's here? You mean he's the reason Tom...yeah. Trent too? Damn it. Well, at least that's something. Over here? Does he have a death wish? True, he did come to you first. Okay, I'll try to leave him alive for now. See ya,"
Jane thumbed off the phone and heard the doorbell. Jane walked down to the front door and opened the door, seeing the guy Daria had called her about. "You have the rest of the day to convince me not to use your wings in my next sculpture. Good luck."
It was Monday morning and Daria and Jane were walking to school, discussing the happenings of the weekend. "So then Quinn sits through dinner barely saying a word, and then when Mom asked her about her day, she started speaking a mile a minute," said Daria. "She was so nervous I thought she was going to tap a hole through the table."
Jane shrugged. "Well, it's not Stupid Cupid's fault. He came in right after you called, and stayed until after you say Quinn got back."
Daria nodded. "I know. I just wish you would tell me what his plans are."
Jane gestured to the guy in front of them. "Well, he promised me to secrecy, but if you'd like to ask him, he's right here for some unknown reason. Hey there, V.D."
Valentine's Day smiled and nodded at both girls. "Hey Jane; hey Daria. I should be able to get everything back together today. As long as nothing goes wrong, I won't need to use you as a backup."
Daria's expression was neutral. "Oh darn, I'll never find a date for the prom at this rate."
Valentine's Day, not sure if that was sarcasm or not, replied, "I can hook you up with someone else if you'd like."
Daria shook her head. "No thanks. If I want a guy later on, I'm fairly certain I can get him interested the old fashioned way."
Jane smiled. "Just make sure you're not flashing your chest in the direction of one of Ms. Li's cameras."
Daria grinned a little. "I told you memorizing those camera locations would come in handy."
Valentine's Day, now certain that they were kidding (at least about flashing), continued, "Well, I need to get to school to put things right."
Jane stopped him. "Wait, how are you going to get into Lawndale High? You're not a student, and, dressed like that, Ms. Li's security would have you locked up before you got to the front door."
Valentine's Day put up his index finger. "Ah, but not once I slip into..." He switched into his lower voice as he disappeared before their eyes. "Stealth Mode, baby."
Daria was impressed, though a bit worried. "Nice, except now I worry you'll take a side trip to the girls' locker room."
Valentine's Day, still invisible but back to his normal voice, said, "I tried that. Apparently, Stealth Mode automatically covers up anyone with their vital parts uncovered. I guess that's so I don't get stuck on one couple when I have more to visit."
Jane shook her head. "The power of love at your fingertips, and they still leave the training wheels on. If that's not a metaphor, I don't know what is."
Daria looked at her friend. "A metaphor for what, exactly?"
Jane shrugged. "I don't know. I'd think about it further, but we're at school, and that's a strict non-creative thinking zone."
Jane and Daria entered the school, with Valentine's Day following them behind, so as not to arouse suspicion (something which an invisible person opening a door might arouse).
Valentine's flew up to the ceiling to avoid bumping into anyone in the halls. He flew to where Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie were trying to figure out what to do. "So now that we're done with Quinn," asked Joey, "what do we do?"
"We could find someone else," suggested Jeffy.
"Like who?" asked Joey
"We could ask Quinn who..." suggested Jamie.
"No!" shouted both Joey and Jeffy.
"It was just a thought," explained Jamie.
Further down the hall, the Fashion Club was meeting at Quinn's locker, and as usual, Sandi was leading the discussion. "All right, since Quinn has so graciously allowed us to consider Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie back on the market..."
Quinn interjected, "Oh, it's really nothing. There's no reason three eligible guys should be off limits to my friends just because they're not right for me."
Sandi continued, "The best thing to do is make sure they are aware we are available for their services, should they wish to continue their association with the Fashion Club."
Tiffany vacantly added, "More options are always good."
Stacy, looking nervous as usual, replied, "Um, yeah. That's very generous of you, Quinn."
Valentine's Day saw the situation, and readied his special 4-way tazer. He took aim and fired. Three of his darts were true, and struck their intended targets. The fourth, however, was heading for its intended target when it suddenly veered away, towards another target in the vicinity. It was redirected once more before hitting an unexpected target. When Valentine's Day saw who was hit, it took everything he had not to yell out an obscenity.
Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie turned to see a girl they, along with everyone in school, knew very well. They looked at each other, nodded, and ran over to her at full haste.
Joey was the first to speak. "Um, hi. We heard that you were single."
Jeffy was next. "Yeah, if the rumors are true, it's terrible what that guy did to you."
Jamie finished up. "So, would you be interested in going out with me?" This was followed by two subsequent cries of "No, me!" from the other two.
Jodie looked at the boys before her. She liked the attention, but was certainly not accustomed to it. "Wait; aren't you Quinn's beg...um, boys?"
Jamie spoke first. "Nah, we're done with her."
Jeffy added, "You're more beautiful."
Joey followed up with, "And you're smarter. Can I carry your books?"
Jeffy counteroffered, "Can I carry your planner?"
Jamie added, "Can I carry...um, do you need anything else?"
Jodie pondered the scene before her. She knew she was through with Mack after their talk on Sunday, at least for a while. She didn't really want to get into dating this quickly. However, these boys were nice, and didn't seem to just be trying to get into her pants like the last two jerks that propositioned her today. If they were willing to chase after Quinn for so long, they had to have the patience of saints where that was concerned. Besides, she could use some extra hands if her summer internship came through. Even a go-fer needs a go-fer. Or three. "Um, sure. Jamie, you can drop this paper off at Ms. Li's office and meet me at History. I'll be at Mr. D's in a moment."
Jamie took the paper as Joey took the books and Jeffy took the planner. Jodie heard Jamie say, "She even got my name right!" as he left. She turned around and almost ran into Quinn, who'd been watching the situation with bemused interest. "Quinn, I hope you're not mad about..."
Quinn stopped Jodie. "Oh, don't worry about that. I've cut ties with Joey, Jeffy, and Jamiroquai."
Jodie corrected her, "Jamie."
Quinn shrugged and continued, "Whatever. We talked it over last night, and we agreed it wasn't right to keep them hanging on me anymore. It's not I'm like some kind of cult leader like that Tom Jones or David Cassidy guy. Just take care of them for me. They're nice guys, and they deserve to be with someone who won't take advantage of them."
Jodie, wondering if she was missing something but happy that Quinn wasn't upset, followed with, "Um, certainly; thanks Quinn. Let me know if you change your mind about them." With that, she went off to her History class.
Sandi, now upset over having to change her plans for Joey, said, "Well, I guess now the J's are a moot point; at least until they decide to change their target again."
Quinn turned to Sandi. "I'm so sorry, Sandi. I guess even the Fashion Club has its limits in luring guys."
Meanwhile, Jane, who had known of Valentine's Day's plans, watched the scene play out in amusement. "So plan B it is."
Daria turned towards Jane, not hearing what she had said. "What was that?"
Jane waved her hand dismissively. "Nothing; just watching as the circus parade of humanity passes me by."
Daria squinted at her friend. "When you're the one making up purple prose, something's definitely wrong."
Timothy O'Neill stood before his class. "Now class, in Candide, Voltaire wrote of a place called El Dorado, which was a Utopia. Who knows what a Utopia is? Kevin?"
Kevin Thompson racked his brain and found what he thought was a good answer. "My cousin had that Utopia game. I kept sinking his fishing boats with my PT boats!"
Mr. O'Neill sighed. "Brittany, do you know about Utopia?"
Brittany twirled her hair around her right index finger. "Um, isn't that the juice drink they're serving in the cafeteria?"
Mr. O'Neill shook his head. "Actually, that's Fruitopia, but you're getting closer. Daria?"
Daria sighed, knowing she would once again have to illuminate the class. "A Utopia is generally a perfect place, where everything is good and everyone is happy. The name, however, literally translates to no place, because the author believes that no such place could possibly exist in real life."
Mr. O'Neill, happy for the correct answer, replied, "Exactly, Daria; and why did Candide decide to leave this Utopia? Kevin?"
Kevin smiled, believing he had the right answer. "Because his parents brought home Madden 99?"
Daria and Jane walked down the hall after their last class. Mack walked up from behind them sounding depressed. "Hey guys."
Daria spoke next. "Hey, Mack."
Jane was about to say something when Kevin appeared behind the group. "Hey Mack Daddy!"
Mack shuddered. "Don't call me that!"
Jane stifled a giggle. "You're just a bundle of mirth today, Michael."
Kevin replied, cheerful as ever, "Yeah, you should really get back together with Jodie."
Mack turned to Kevin. "For the fourth time, I already tried that! We agreed to see other people, and now she's got Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie all over her. My only options are to leave the situation alone or punch out all three of them."
Jane cocked an eyebrow. "And Jodie would take you back then?"
Mack shook his head. "No, but I'd sure feel better."
Daria shrugged. "Look at it this way: it took three football players to fill the void in her life you left."
Mack smiled for the first time in days. "I like the way that sounds. I've got three times the talent and three times the intelligence."
Daria smirked. "And three times the ego."
Mack looked at Daria. "With those three, that's not difficult. Hell, you've got three times their ego."
Daria blushed a bit. "I guess that's true."
Mack decided to ask, "Say Daria, um, would you be interested in having dinner with me? There's no practice tonight, and I could use someone to talk to that isn't my father."
Daria, shocked by the request but happy it was made, replied, "Um, sure. Split a pie at Pizza King?"
Mack shrugged. "Sounds good to me. Let me run and get my stuff and I'll meet you back here at your locker. See you in a bit."
Daria nodded, still smiling. "Sure. See you."
Kevin, trying to figure out what was going on, asked Jane, "Hey Jane, would you..."
Jane cut him off. "Kevin, Brittany's right there and, even if you were single, not in a million years."
Kevin shook his head. "Whew, thank goodness!"
Jane was confused. "Excuse me?"
Kevin explained. "I was just testing. I just wanted to make sure all the unpopular girls didn't decide to suddenly fall for football players. That would be weird."
Daria, who was starting to think clearly again, said, "Yes, it would be. You should go run off with your girlfriend now." Kevin wandered over to Brittany while Daria continued to talk with Jane. "Jane, was that plan B?"
Jane tried to hide her smirk. "You mean getting Kevin to ask me out?"
Daria looked at her friend, who was putting her books in her locker. "You know what I mean."
Jane sighed. "Yes, that was our winged friend, if the fact that you two were sparking for a few seconds was any indicator. Right, V.D.?"
Valentine's Day, still in stealth mode, said, "Right." He then realized his mistake in talking. "I mean, um, damn."
Jane shrugged. "You were the backup plan. If anything went wrong, you'd end up with Mack."
Daria sighed. "Well, I can't complain."
Jane continued, at first not hearing Daria's response. "I know you're not happy with V.D. messing with...wait, what?"
Daria explained, "Look, I would feel bad if I was taking him from Jodie, but it looks like she's doing fine for herself. Mack's a decent guy; one of the few around here who are smart enough to talk with and not detestable to be around. I can't think of anyone I'd rather hang out with right now."
Jane inquired, "Not even a musician?"
Daria grimaced. "Don't even start."
Jane folded her arms in front of her and smiled. "So, Daria's off to her first real date."
Daria shrugged. "I'm not sure Quinn would call it a date, but then I don't rely on her opinion for dating. I tried that once; never again."
Valentine's Day interjected. "Actually, I should probably talk to you about Quinn."
Jane looked thoughtful. "Yeah, weren't you going to hook Quinn back up with her entourage?"
V-Day nodded, though neither of the girls noticed as he was still invisible. "That was the plan, but the dart deflected right off her aura."
Daria frowned. "Her aura? If you're turning new age here, I'll leave now."
V-Day continued. "Seriously, there are only two reasons I ever miss. Either my equipment fails - and I made sure that's not the case after the shot - or the intended target is already in love with someone who's not the other target. Apparently she's already found someone."
Daria nodded. "That's not exactly surprising. She can find another guy to go out with quicker than I can eat a slice of pizza."
Valentine's Day scratched his chin. "Well, there's the matter of the other person the dart deflected off of."
Jane closed the front door of her house. Trent was lying on the couch, sleeping. "Hey, Mr. Sandman, wake up!" She kicked the couch to emphasize her point.
Trent stirred. "Hey Janey."
Jane continued, "How was your first day on the morning shift?"
Trent shook his head groggily. "Not so good. It ended up being my last day on the morning shift."
Jane's face dropped. "Oh, Trent; you got fired on your first day?"
"Not exactly," replied Trent, as he thought back to his day.
Trent walked into the Z-93 office building for the first time at 4:00 that morning with only a couple CD's in his hand. The night watchman confirmed his identity and waved him in after calling up to the studio. Trent proceeded past the main office, which was vacant, to the hallway outside the main studio. He saw the "On the Air" light was on, so he looked in the window at his new working quarters.
The studio was a fairly tight room. There was room for two people at the main console, plus two more on a side mic. The boards and other equipment was a mixture of newer digital equipment and more archaic electronics. A window on the left side of the studio opened to a news room, sparsely populated with microphones and chairs. In the back of the studio was a utility table, and stacked on the table were an empty backpack, a couple ledgers, a book titled "The FCC and You", a spare pair of headphones, and a stack of CD's.
Behind the microphone was an older man, whom the Spatula Man had described to Trent. He looked to be in his fifties, had slightly graying black hair, and wore a yellow Z-93 T-shirt with a logo he'd remembered seeing years ago over his skinny midsection. The man waved to Trent, and said a few last words before putting on a song and turning off the mic, as well as the "On the Air" sign. Trent walked in and shook hands with the man. "Hey."
The man was a bit run-down but made his best effort to be upbeat. "Hello Trent. I'm "The Lean Mean" Alex Greene, the station manager here. I'll be your boss."
Trent nodded. "Cool. Why are you DJ'ing now though?"
Alex sighed. "Well, Moss Steiger, our 11-5 A.M. Jockey, tried to kill himself again."
Trent's eyes went wide (well, wider). "Again?"
Alex nodded. "Yeah; fifth time since we hired him three years ago. He's getting some psych help on our dollar, so for the next four weeks, I'll be taking his slot. It's been a hell of a week with his issues and Bing leaving."
Trent started to worry about the job he was taking. "Um, I hope I can fill the void that Bing left."
Alex perked up a bit. "Oh, don't worry about it. The Spatula Man will be there for anything. All you need to do is stay on your toes, follow the broadcasting rules, and keep the show interesting. Let me get you started on the quick rundown of FCC rules, or what you can't say on the radio, what to do if you do say something you can't, and what can happen if anyone hears you say it."
At quarter to five, the Spatula Man walked in. "Hey Greene! Good to see you again, Trent!"
Alex waved. "Hey Spats, you got yourself a winner here. FCC was a breeze, station policies were quick; he even put in the last few songs for me."
Trent shrugged. "The rules aren't any worse than the time we had to play at that teenager's birthday party and I learned how to use most of the mixer setting up for gigs."
The Spatula Man clapped Trent on the back. "Well then, all you have to do is keep up with me and this will be the best 'Mental in the Morning' ever!"
Trent coughed from the hearty pat. "So why is it called 'Mental in the Morning' anyway? I mean, it's pretty much a top-40 station now, right?"
Alex turned to his new DJ. "Well, we used to be a heavy metal station. When metal faded out, we had to change formats, but by then our morning show was too popular to change the name." Alex handed Trent three dollars. "Hey, would you run down and get an Ultra Cola for each of us? We need to toast your first broadcast."
Trent took the money and smiled. "Cool. I like this place already."
As Trent left the studio, the Spatula Man turned to Alex. "Okay, Al. What's the real deal? You looked a bit more worried than usual."
Alex sighed. "Well, it's not his ability. I wasn't lying about learning the ropes. I'm always skeptical of new DJ's with no experience, but he's been great for a newbie."
Spatula Man countered with, "But?"
Alex continued. "But, I don't see how he's going to keep up with you. I realize I'm not used to this time shift, but I've been twice as tired over the last half-hour as I have any other time I've taken this shift. He makes Stephen Wright seem like Richard Simmons. I see him falling asleep before your shift is done."
Spatula Man waved his hand dismissively. "Bah, I can handle that. Even if he falls asleep, I'll be there to keep him on his toes." He paused a moment. "Just like Bing used to do for me."
Alex patted his employee on the shoulder. "Don't worry; he'll do fine wherever he ends up. You've got to move on."
Spatula Man sighed, then struck his fist against his palm. "Right. Today's a new day. Trent and the Spatula Man. It's out with the old school and in with the new, baby!"
Spatula Man announced into his microphone, "It's 5:15 in the A.M. here on Zeeeeeeeee-93! It's Trent and the Spatula Man with Mental in the Morning! Now here's Trent with today's wacky headline!"
Trent raised the newspaper in front of him and spoke into the mic in his usual lackadaisical manner. "Well, a man in Spooner, Wisconsin decided to rob the local Stop 'n' Snack Station. He took out his wallet and asked the clerk for change for a hundred dollar bill. After the clerk opened the drawer, the man pulled a gun and demanded all the money. The man ran from the store with the contents of the drawer, about $75 dollars. However, he not only left his wallet on the counter, he also left the $100 bill he was trying to cash."
Spatula Man, trying to keep the energy up, responded, "Wow! So he ended up giving the clerk more money than he took! I wonder if they gave the crook negative days in jail!"
Trent scanned the story and replied, "Nope, just a $500 fine." This brought a frown to Spatula Man's face.
The clock on the wall said 6:10 as the Spatula Man said, "And now it's time for the Zeeeeeeeee-93 Wacky Mystery Music Clip! If you can identify this song from just the clip, you'll win the latest CD from Colby Jack Flash and a Z-93 t-shirt! All right, Trent, play that song!"
Trent played the snippet perfectly, and then said, "Hey, I know that song. It's..."
Spatula Man quickly cut in with, "I'm sure you do, but employees of Zeeeeeeeeeee-93 and their families are not eligible. So all you people who think you're on my man Trent's vibe, call up to win that great prize package! Now, kiddies, here is "Nowhere Band" by the Soundtastics, only on Zeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-93!" He started the song, made sure the mics were off, and then turned to Trent and said, "Hey man, that's our daily contest song. You almost gave away the answer!"
Trent shrugged. "Sorry, man. That's just one of my favorite songs."
Spatula Man looked at the sheet he had with the answer. "You're into Your Sanguine Dreams?"
Trent looked curious. "Who? I thought that was the theme from Cartoon Blammo."
The clock showed 6:50 as Spatula Man, who was losing his cheerful demeanor, said, "And that was Lil' Bob with "For the Love of Honey" on Zeeeeeeeeeeeeee-93! Now here comes the moment you've all been waiting for. You all know how my former DJ partner used to bring his own records in for the Off-The-Wall Unrequested Weirdness Song of the Day? Well Trent's keeping the trend alive, because here's the T-Man to introduce the next strange favorite!"
Trent spoke up. "Yeah. I brought a couple CD's, but the first one definitely didn't fit those FCC regulations."
Spatula Man interjected, "Uh-oh, too hot for radio!" He then pushed a button for a short sound of a Fire Siren.
Trent continued, "But this track is ready for the masses. It's actually from a local band called Mystik Spiral, and the song is called 'Every Dog Has His Day.'"
Spatula Man spoke up. "So come on all you suits on your drive-time commute and all the kiddies getting ready for school, call us at 555-ZZ93 and tell us what you think about Mystik Spiral!"
Spatula Man played the song, and was quickly grimacing. "Ugh, that sounds terrible. Do you have a better quality copy?"
Trent shook his head. "No, that's pretty much what it sounds like when we play it live."
Spatula Man nodded, but then realized what Trent meant. "This is your band? Man, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to rip on your band, man."
Trent shrugged. "It's all right, it's not for everyone. I hope it's for at least someone out there."
Spatula Man wasn't optimistic about that happening, but decided to take calls anyway after the song ended. "All right, let's see what the lovely, luscious, lascivious listeners of Zeeeeeeeeeeeee-93 have to say about Mystik Spiral! Hello, you're on the air."
The first caller seemed to be a teenage girl. "Yeah, I just heard that last song you played. What the hell was that? That guy better be handsome or he's not going anywhere."
Spatula Man quickly went to the next caller. "Well, that response was less than enthusiastic, but don't worry, there's always another caller. You're up now!"
The second caller seemed to be a middle-aged man. "Yeah, that dog song was terrible. Why can't you play good music like Boz Scaggs or Foghat?"
Spatula cleared his throat before continuing. "Well, I wouldn't say those bands are really our focus. Z-93 is all about the cutting edge of music! Next caller!"
The third caller sounded half-asleep. "Yeah, I'd like a large thin crust, extra pepperoni..."
Spatula cut off the caller. "I'm sorry, you want 555-ZZ24. That's the 24-hour Pizza parlor. That makes 15 calls for the month! One last caller and you're on the air!"
The last caller seemed to be another middle-aged man, but was somewhat familiar. "Hey, that was...an interesting song. Sounds like a band I heard around here recently."
Trent spoke up. "Yeah, that's Mystik Spiral. They usually play the clubs around Lawndale."
The caller laughed. "Man, that is some out there music. It's definitely worthy to stand next to my Off-The-Wall Unrequested Weirdness Songs of the Day."
The Spatula Man recognized the voice. "Bing? Is that you?"
The caller replied, "Yeah, it's Bing; just calling up to give my best wishes for the new team! I know I departed on, shall we say, not the greatest terms, and I wanted to apologize for how my last show went."
Spatula replied, "Aw heck, Bing, if anything I should be apologizing. It's my fault I let things build to a head like that."
Bing answered, "Well hey, why don't you cue up the next song, and we'll talk this out over the break?"
Spatula Man nodded. "Sounds great, Der Bingle! Let's get back to the music with Fade 2 Shade and "Heal Again" on Zeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-93!"
"So then they patched it up and got the station manager to hire back Bing," Trent finished saying to Jane.
Jane nodded, "Well, at least you got to finish out the shift before they fired you."
Trent shook his head. "They didn't fire me. They're having me cover Moss Steiger's shift at 1-5 A.M. After he gets back, they'll keep me on as a fill-in, so even if I don't work, I'll get a few bucks for being on call. They said my voice was much better suited for overnights anyway."
Jane smiled. "I'd agree with that. You're not nearly perky enough for morning radio, but I could see you making overnights work. So, are you happy that you were at the Zon alone Saturday instead of with Monique and her Harpies?"
Trent nodded. "Yeah, it's not like Monique and I ever really worked out anyway. Plus, when Bing got to the station, he said he'd shop around my demo as a favor. No promises, but who knows?"
Jane hugged her brother. "That's great! I guess this weekend hasn't turned out so bad after all." Inwardly she thought, I just hope Daria's sisterly chat works out as well as mine.
Daria closed the front door of her house. Quinn was in front of the television, watching FashionVision as per usual. "Hey Quinn; are Mom or Dad home yet?"
Quinn shrugged, still looking at the TV. "Nope, Dad called to say he's working late, and Mom said this morning that she wouldn't be home until dark. You seemed to be home later than usual."
Daria walked over to the couch across from where Quinn was seated. "Yeah, I, um, kinda had a date."
Quinn turned to her sister. "A date? Who wanted to go out with you?"
Daria blushed. "Well, date may be a bit of an overstatement, but Mack bought me pizza."
Quinn's eyes bugged out a bit. "You were able to snag Mack? Daria, I'm...I'm proud of you!"
It was Daria's turn to let her eyes bug out. "You are?"
Quinn nodded vigorously. "Of course! Mack was the biggest free agent on the dating market. Even Sandi didn't think she had a chance, and she always thinks she does. Even getting a date with him reflects well on the Morgendorffer name." By the end of this, Quinn was attempting to sound far-away and poetic.
Daria cocked her eyebrow. "If he's such a catch, I'm surprised you didn't go after him."
Quinn looked panicked for a moment, before trying to restore her calm. "Oh, well, I was making my plans and all, but I was planning to give Jodie a chance to change her mind about Mack."
Daria nodded up and down, disbelieving what she heard. "Uh-huh. You missed out on the biggest catch in school because you wanted to be nice to the girl who just took your sycophants. Quinn, you don't have to pretend to me."
Quinn felt a lump in her throat. "Um, what do you mean? Pretend what?"
Daria folded her arms. "I know everything, Quinn. Now you can tell me here or you can tell the whole family when they get home."
Quinn looked scared. "Please, not that!" Then she looked thoughtful and a bit angry. "Wait a minute; you've used that line on me before, Daria. Every time you say that, I tell you whatever secret I'm trying to keep and then you tell me you didn't know after all."
Daria smiled. "Well, now I know you do have a secret."
Quinn got mad. "Oooooooh! Okay, you tell me what you know, and I'll tell you what it means."
Daria nodded. "Okay, first off, I saw your reaction to Jodie taking your three followers from you. You didn't bat an eyelash."
Quinn shrugged, "So what? We're done with each other, and Sandi was looking to scoop up one of them, if not more, before they broke up with me."
Daria conceded that. "Okay, that's reasonable. The other part's a bit hard to explain. You remember when there were a bunch of weird-looking teens in our living room?"
Quinn nodded. "Yeah; you said they were Christmas, Halloween, and Fox News or something."
Daria nodded. "Yes, and do you remember Mom and Dad getting all mushy and you had to keep them from having a baby?"
Quinn wrinkled her nose at that thought. "Ewwwwwww, don't remind me!"
Daria agreed. "No problem. Well, the same guy that made Mom and Dad...like that is the same guy that broke up half the couples in the school: you and your J's, Jane and Tom, Jodie and Mack, et cetera. He's been patching them up as he could, and was trying to get you back with the J's, but the dart bounced off you and onto Jodie."
Quinn looked at Daria incredulously. "Okay, you're really testing the limits of my gullibility here."
Daria sighed. "The point is, the reason he missed you is because you're already in love. I didn't think about it then, but when have you ever really been in love with anyone, especially the guys you date? Then he told me one more thing."
Quinn was on the edge of her seat. "What?"
Daria looked into Quinn's eyes. "The other person the dart deflected off of. You know who it was."
Quinn looked into Daria's eyes for a moment, but then let her gaze fall. "You do know. Damn it, I didn't want anyone to know."
Daria walked over to Quinn and put her arm on Quinn's shoulder. "Nobody else needs to know, besides Jane who'll be silent. No bribes, no threats to make it public. This is too great a threat to ever use."
Quinn gasped, "Wait, if that guy you're talking about has been hooking people back up, did he...?"
Daria shook her head. "No, otherwise he wouldn't have tried to get you back with the J's. You made that decision on your own."
Quinn nodded slowly and stared at her feet. "It was so strange though. I was on her bed talking with her. She had just finished crying on my shoulder over Ted. We started talking about how tough it is to find love, and she said something about how nobody really loved her. I told her that despite all the guys trying to get me into their backseats how nobody really seemed to love me either, but at least we were here for each other. She came over and gave me this big hug, and then she pulled back, and we looked into each others eyes. I saw something there I had never seen in a boy's eyes; something warm; something meaningful. I made the first move. It felt like...home; like I'd finally found where I belonged." She turned to face Daria. "Have you ever felt that way?"
Daria thought it over. "Occasionally, when I was in that spot in Highland near the waterfall, reading a particularly good book, I'd glance around and feel the wind and the sun. I'd hear the birds singing, and even though they usually annoyed me, they sounded like beautiful music at those moments. That's probably as close as I've ever been to that feeling."
Quinn smiled. "No wonder you were always reading. God, if I felt a tenth of what she makes me feel like when I opened a book, I'd never close it." She frowned and looked away. "Oh Daria, I don't know what to do. I don't want Mom or Dad getting between the two of us; not when I've finally found myself."
Daria put her hand on Quinn's hands. "Don't worry about them. I'll feel them out for you. They won't even know I'm doing it. I'll let you know what to expect, and when you're ready to tell them, I'll be there for you."
Quinn put her arms around her sister. "Thanks. I guess I should stop calling you my cousin now."
Daria shook her head. "If you're trying to avoid suspicion, I wouldn't start acknowledging me in public just yet."
"So Trent has a job, Jodie has a fleet of secretaries, Quinn's found love is more than getting a guy to spend all his money on her, you've got a date with Mack, and I've got an I.O.U. from V.D. for the next time I find Mr. Perfect."
Daria listened to the phone at her ear. "Jane, are you sure you want to bed down with a pro wrestler?"
Jane thought this over. "Hmm, I'm seeing a joke about a piledriver in your future."
Daria put her hand to her head. "Thanks, I really needed that visual."
Jane smiled. "Hey, I wouldn't mind one of those guys pinning me. Anyway, you're cool with Quinn batting for the other team?"
Daria shrugged. "Hey, it's her life. I haven't really cared who she dated before, and I'm not going to care now."
Jane nodded. "Well, if you ever needed a bargaining chip, you now have a nuke in your arsenal."
Daria shook her head. "I'll beg you to leave my arsenal alone. I'm not going to hover that over her head. If I use it, it's game over. She'd never talk to me again, who knows what my parents might do, and I'm not ready to become an orphan just yet."
Jane cocked an eyebrow. "Is that a ray of sunshine peeking through your dark clouds?"
Daria rolled her eyes. "More like a flashlight aimed at your head. I just don't want to have to find another family to put me through college."
Jane smiled. "Sure, Morgendorffer. Well, all's well that ends well, right?"
Daria agreed. "Hey, it all came out for the best. How often does that happen?"
It was 6:30 pm. Ted DeWitt-Clinton sat on a rock at his favorite place watching the sun set. He sighed to himself, and then heard footsteps behind him. He turned and saw his former love walking up to him. He watched as she sat on the next rock over from him. "Hi, Stacy."
Stacy looked out at the sunset. "Hi, Ted."
Ted gestured to the sunset. "It's such a beautiful effect: the rays of the sun traveling away at different speeds, lengthening their waves to a spectrum of reds and oranges. It's almost as beautiful as you are, Stacy."
Stacy sighed. "Ted, I'm sorry, but I can't go out with you any more."
Ted nodded. "I figured as much. I spoke out of turn that night. I'm not worthy of your consideration."
Stacy turned to face Ted for the first time since she came down, and she had to fight her own tears as she saw the tracks on Ted's face. "Ted, if anyone's unworthy, it's me. I took one comment and blew it way out of proportion. You didn't deserve what I said to you any more than I did what you said to me."
Ted shrugged. "I guess we both said things we shouldn't have. So why can't you come back to me?"
Stacy looked away. "There's...someone else."
Ted looked down. "I don't suppose you could tell me who."
Stacy fought back tears as she shook her head. "I can't."
Ted nodded. "It doesn't matter. If you're hurting this much breaking up with me, he must be pretty special to you."
Stacy closed her eyes and nodded. "'He' is."
Ted turned to Stacy. "Then can I ask one favor."
Stacy looked into Ted's eyes, her own eyes wet with tears. "What?"
Ted swallowed what felt like a knot in his throat. "One last embrace."
Both teens stood and walked towards each other, and Stacy fell into Ted's arms, both teens letting their tears fall as the sunset faded in the distance.
Dancing with tears
in my eyes
Living out a memory of a love that died
It's time and we're in each other's arms
It's time but I don't think we really care
-Ultravox, "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes"