Categories > Cartoons > Daria > To Annoy a Mockingbird

Of Coffee and Men

by BF110C4 0 Reviews

Daria and Jane get involved on the establishment of Cafè Lawndale, O'Neill's pet proyect, and on the power plays behind the scene.

Category: Daria - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama,Humor - Characters: Daria,Jane - Warnings: [!!] [?] - Published: 2012/04/12 - Updated: 2012/04/13 - 11646 words

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Chapter 04: Of Coffee and Men


Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV and Viacom. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged. Special thanks to the Outpost Daria for the Transcripts available there, they were invaluable tools for the development of this chapter, and in the future I hope I can be less reliant on them.

Originally I wanted to use the Short Story "Melody Powers and the Crystal Boutique" that I wrote before starting this full fic, however the characterization of O'Neill and Li would have been impossible, and due to the constraining method I used adding the necessary parts was not feasible. One of these days I’ll publish it on ff.net

This chapter is dedicated to peetz5050 for his invaluable efforts proof reading and making it legible.

* I II III IV *

Angela Li, Principal of Lawndale High School, would usually be asleep by the time the call from the police department came at 4:00 am, but this morning she was already up and ready with a cup of strong coffee on her hand. She had to force herself from picking up the phone until it rang at least four or five times.

Not completely faking the tiredness and confusion in her voice she proceeded to answer the call.

“Do you know what time it is? …the police, yes, yes I’m Angela Li… Yes, ‘alt(dot)lawndale(dot)com’ is a cybercafé belonging to Lawndale High School… break in… anybody hurt… thank goodness… All of them! What a disaster… I’ll make a statement in the morning… yes, we are insured… can you? … Ok, thank you.”

It had worked like a charm, just like her associate had predicted. Now the claim adjuster would never learn that the computers of the cybercafé were more outdated that the receipt she submitted to the insurance company after her budget for impact resistant windows was denied by the PTA. Didn’t they knew what kind of people were out there?

And the price for the continuous security of LHS was certainly cheap, 35% of the insurance money, a little extra help to get them the garbage disposal contracts and additional publicity for Middleton College; plus whatever they could get for the equipment itself in Cuba.

Now she had a few more hours before getting ready for school, and she certainly needed her beauty sleep. Tomorrow she would arrive early and visit ‘alt(dot)lawndale(dot)com’, then she would give a statement to the students through the speaker system, or maybe in an assembly, lamenting such a deplorable act.

Later on in the week she would start the plans for a series of tours to Middleton. She would of course do the appropriate level of promotion of this initiative. To be known for good academic counsel would only increase the Honor and Glory of Lawndale High School. Seniors only, she didn’t want to start giving more publicity to that cesspool unless needed. You never knew when a bargaining chip could be useful once more.

* I II III IV *

To most of the students of LHS the next day was just as uneventful as always, their worries limited to homework, sports and surviving their daily dose of stupidity.

“Come on, Mack Daddy! I'll get the coach to write us a note. I'll say we need extra time on the free weights.”

“Don't call me that, okay? And they're not gonna excuse you from English for weight training.” Michael Jordan Mackenzie had to put the team before the ‘I’, he had to do the best for the team. And the best for the team was letting Kevin live one more day, no matter how much humanity as a whole would suffer.

“I can't take anymore of this Shakespeare dude, bro. He's, like, a total chick writer!”

“Hi, Mack! Hi...” Unlike Kevin, Brittany did read and understood the previous week's assignment, and she was trying to demonstrate it to her lover. “…Romeo.”

“See?” Wasted words as far as Kevin was concerned.

“Maybe we'll start Hamlet today. That has a skull in it.”

“Really?”

It was at that moment that Daria arrived at her locker to find Kevin obstructing her.

“Excuse me.”

To his credit Kevin did move to let Daria through, without complaint or delay. “Daria, you're a chick, right?”

Having some disturbing flashbacks from a similar question from Butt-head she cautiously answered back with another question. “Why? You have a biology test today?”

“Like, why should I be interested in anything this Shakespeare guy says?”

“You? Well... Hamlet has a skull in it.”

* I II III IV *

Timothy O’Neill had studied for an English Literature Major in order to learn more about human nature, and in his humble opinion he had succeeded. He understood that there was good inside everyone, they just covered it from time to time in negative feelings, and it was his duty as a teacher to bring that good out of every student.

“Class, I thought today we'd take a break from the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to discuss the real life tragedy that happened last night here in Lawndale. Let's share our feelings of violation following the loss of our beloved cybercafé, alt(dot)lawndale(dot)com. Who would like to start?”

Maybe the boy in the school colors would be a good person to start? He showed school spirit everywhere so he surely must be suffering. “Charles? Charles, did you hear me?”

“You mean, Kevin?” Oh my, he had confused the seating charts once more. Why did he have such a horrible memory for faces?

“Kevin, heh. I'm sorry. You uh, look like somebody else. What do you have to say about last night's horrible event?”

“I was home all night. You can ask my parents. Besides, I already have a computer.” Maybe he misunderstood his question?

“No, Kevin. I mean, how did the theft make you feel?”

“Um… sad?” Poor boy, he needed help to show his true feelings, thankfully the self-esteem workshop has given him the right tool, even if it was a little bit too harsh.

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Angry?” Progress?

“Hmmm... Jodie, how about you?” She was a leader among her peers, she would be able to express how the rest of the student body was coping with the tragedy.

“I think the cybercafé served one very particular segment of the community, but it still pisses me off when people take what isn't theirs.”

“That's how I feel!” Progress!

“Thank you, Kevin. Jodie, about that word, "community." Isn't that the whole idea of a cybercafé? To jack us into the global community? I think what's most disturbing about this crime is the symbolism involved. Don't you agree, Jane?”

“No.” Did he screw up? Maybe she was still a little too sensitive from the assembly he had forced on her.

“Suddenly, we're cut off. We can't hail our friends across the globe and say, "It's a beautiful day in the cyberhood." They didn't just take a few computers. They took the symbol of our virtual community. To visit alt(dot)lawndale(dot)com was to come together with the planet!”

“Oh, come on.” It was Dorian, the other prominent member of his Self-Esteem class and his greatest success. The way she had overcome her pain during the assembly and vowed to become closer to her sister more than compensated for those hurtful words she had said by accident.

“Yes?”

“Come together with the planet? By staring at a screen for hours? Sitting in a room full of people you never say a word to?” She was right; maybe he had been too materialistic.

“Hmm. Interesting point, Dorian.”

“Daria.”

Mr. O'Neill once more looked at his seating chart, this time it was a spider that caused him to hurt such a delicate student. For its transgression the arachnid was slapped.

“Uh! Damn spiders. Daria, you believe that while connecting Lawndale citizens to our global neighbors, the cafe was alienating us from each other.” Daria’s gloomy exterior hid a nice caring person, and now that person wanted to get out. He would help her to get out of her shell.

“I'm saying if you really miss the place, put a Mr. Coffee in the computer lab.” She was right, the students need something more personal, something warmer…

“So, in your opinion, what we really need is a return to the traditional coffee house of yore, where you'd watch some performers and share a cup with your friends, face to face.”

“You're a visionary.” Jane declared, smirking at Daria.
It was so heartwarming to see two friends who had suffered so much already, supporting each other, and this was just the beginning.

“Right here and now, let's pledge to make Daria's dream a reality.”

“You mean the one where people walking down the street burst into flames?” Oh no! She was once more trying to hide in her shell. He would show his support openly, that will keep her out of it.

“The coffee house! We'll plan it, locate it, raise the money, and open it!” Angela is going to be happy to learn that the students are willing to raise the old traditions back from the ashes of the disaster. He’ll discuss it with her as soon as the class is over.

“Would that qualify as an extracurricular activity?”

“Of course.” Worried as a student as well as a person. What a beautiful soul.

“Then I'd like to register as a conscientious objector.”

* I II III IV *

While at first sight, or even on a more detailed analysis Daria and her dad had not many things in common personality wise, they did have a few shared habits, like reading the newspaper in an agreeable silence whenever the other residents of the house allowed such luxuries.

“Hi! Gotta change, dinner meeting.” The hurried tone in her voice was becoming far more common as of the last few days; the adjustment period the firm gave her was officially over, and everyday Eric Schrecter was piling more and more work on her lap.

“Did something happen?” His father hadn’t quite reached the newspaper nirvana yet so he was still reacting to the world, even if at a slower pace.

“Hmm... depends on your perspective.”

“Hi! No dinner for me! Emergency meeting of the Fashion Club!” The Fashion Club was also becoming more active, even if their emergencies weren’t what most people could call work, or even important.

“I'll make up a nice plate for you and cover it up with cling wrap.”

“That was Quinn.”

“Yes, but you still haven't identified our first mystery guest.”

“Dammit. I just called Eric for directions and he said the meeting's cancelled. Well, that just gives us the chance for a family dinner.” That’s the silver lightning in every cloud, all right.

“I'll throw another steak on the grill.”

“Later.” Quinn was also running from place to place like a headless chicken. Maybe being unable to be still was the legacy of Helen to her youngest daughter.

“Where's she going?”

“Crisis at the Fashion Club. Someone woke up with frosted hair.”

“You know, Daria, it wouldn't hurt if you got involved in some after school projects once in a while.”

“Can't talk now. I'm chairing a meeting of the Resting Quietly Club.”

Daria was a smart girl, in fact she was scarily smart, but she always shunned away from any kind of social or academic activity, nothing interested her at all, and most things just managed to frustrate and annoy her; for that reason Helen thought it was necessary to force her to get out of her shell from time to time.

But two weeks ago she had learned that Daria did have an interest, one that was important to both mother and daughter, even if it was for different reasons. And the day she had discovered it she had almost ruined that bond by pushing a little too much. This time maybe it would be better to appeal to her own logic, and let her decide upon that.

“Dear, could you tell me please, which is the relevance of extracurricular activities for getting into college?

Before Daria could respond to her mother's question in one way or another; and demonstrating he was hearing, not listening, the conversation; Jake responded to the petition.

“Hmm. Well, these days it's more about whether you can pay… This might be a good time to talk about setting up a trust…”

Before Helen could berate her distracted husband for ruining a perfectly good chance of getting their daughter to network a little more he kept talking.

“… But then most of the scholarships and grants talk about positive action and community service, plus when they have only a few slots, they can use the extracurriculars as a tie-breaker.”

“I guess that’s a point for you Mom.”

“If you don’t want to start right now with an activity, we could make up for it over the summer… maybe send you to music camp, you could learn to use the full range of your voice, it's too lovely to limit yourself to your usual monotone.”

“Music Camp? What a great idea. How come you don't ever play the flute anymore, Daria?” Jake was slowly getting out of the paper trance, and was trying to insert himself into the conversation, but he was still getting only one out of every five words.

“Because you ran over it when I was in fifth grade, which was two years after I quit playing anyway. Which is why I would have to interpret music camp as punishment for doing something very, very wrong.”

“If you try you can find something fun to get involved with.” Something fun, something capable of getting her out of her shell.

”You're good. When you put your mind to it, you're very, very good.”

“Sure she is!” Jake at last was doing his best to support his wife, this time on purpose.

“Just think about it, Daria. That's all I ask.”

“Fair enough.”

* I II III IV *

Later in the afternoon, Daria was in the Lanes’ house working alongside Jane on the more technical aspects of their little side business with the students of Middleton. Until now the feedback from the papers had been positive, but Jane had been adamant for Daria to at least edit her papers for a spellcheck.

While Jane was on the bed checking her new Polaroid Camera, Daria was on the computer, doing some minor corrections to a second different, yet similar Andy Warhol paper while telling her friend about the latest conversation with her parents.

“… and now I have to find something to do in the afternoons before my mother’s patience finally runs out and she finds me something else to do, something like playing ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ for the entire year.”

“You could try telling her you are already doing community service, helping scholastically challenged college students raise their grades.”

“Somehow I think that the University Admission Board would be a little skeptical about letting in someone who got on their résumé ‘cheating ring’ as their last job.”

“Point. What about your idea of this morning?”

“Which idea, the one were we use spray paint in the faces of the fashion club in order to dissuade poachers from using their perfectly moistened skin as coats?”

“No, the ‘idea’ that you rammed inside O’Neill’s head, about starting a classic hippy coffeehouse, he did say it counted as an extracurricular activity.”

“Umm, you might have something there Lane, if we participate on the fundraiser for a couple of days we could spin it into something grandiloquent, something like ‘helping in the conception and funding of new places for the promotion of the liberal arts and the free exchange of ideas’. That would take a lot of pressure off me.”

“Cool… Wait a second I know I heard a ‘we’ in there somewhere. There should be no ‘we’ in that sentence, just an ‘I’.”

“Well, it was your idea, and misery does love company”

“No way, baby.”

“Come on. Do it for friendship.”

“I have no friends. I walk alone.”

“Well, then, do it for sisterhood or something.”

“Are you nuts?”

“Then do it for the opportunity to look inside people's houses and find out what screwed-up tastes they have. You could bring your new camera”

“Cool, but you’re paying the film.”

* I II III IV *

Jane and Daria then took the decision to go to O’Neill before they lost their nerve. They found him in one of the classrooms, working on making sense some of the seniors’ homework.

“Oh... umm, misses…”

“It's Daria, Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane, your students, the girls that you once called an entire assembly for?” After all the work that both friends had put into making his life miserable, he should have the decency, or at least the precaution, of learning their names.

“Hi Daria, hi Jane. What's up? Do you need some help with your esteem? This semester’s workshop ended already, but I could find some extra time for additional classes if you need them.”

“No, thanks, our self-esteem has been soaring these last few hours. We want to volunteer to work on the coffeehouse.”

“Fantastic! What made you change your mind?”

At this point Jane took the initiative. “Well, we have been given so much by the community of Lawndale that we feel we need to give something back.”

“That's great! It is so heartwarming to see young people helping the community. I guess that you want to read one of your essays…”

“No, I wasn't actually thinking about performing.”

“... maybe that one about feeling like a big misfit whom everybody hates. The other kids will really relate to that. I know I do.” And O’Neill is demonstrating his understanding of the average teen reaction once more.

“Is that the one that compares the sophomore class to barnyard animals? You could try that one Daria; it names ‘Names’, it would be a riot, I’ve always wanted to be in one.”

“oh, my… What about you Jane, would you like to try to participate on the stage.”

“Dunno, since the Self-Esteem assembly I’m scared of being in the spotlight.”

“Oh, yeah…”

“But, tell you what, I’m handy with a brush, so I could give the boring old coffeehouse some life”

“To have a Coffeehouse for the students, decorated by the students, and with the participation of the students, what an exiting idea. Daria, how would you like to cooperate with this endeavor?”

“I'm really not much of a performer. I'm thinking more along the lines of fundraising?”

“Oh. Well, we're selling chocolates, magazines, CDs, and wrapping paper. Jump in!”

* I II III IV *

After that Daria and Jane turned their attention to the practical matter of establishing a budget for the decorations. It didn’t take long for them to discover that it wouldn’t be as easy as they thought; the budget allocated to the Café Lawndale was one of the most overly complicated messes that Daria had ever seen, the contractor listed a series of repairs that would almost be the equivalent of building a small house.

With Professor O’Neill becoming worried to the point of incapacity, Daria and Jane went back to Casa Lane to plan a new budget for the Coffeehouse. Daria then turned to the only person she knew that had the connections to find a more reasonable contractor.

“Morgendorffer Consultants; if you have it, I’ll let the world know”

“Dad, its me Daria, I need a little favor”

“Kiddo, it’s great, you’re calling your old man at his work, what can I do for my sweetheart?”

“Uh… Well, first don’t call me sweetheart, it gives me diabetes. As for the call, the school is starting a Coffeehouse and we…”

“A coffeehouse Daria, good for you, honey! I know you’ll be a hit on the stage. In my old days I used to go there at weekends to listen to the pals play some sweet tunes, I wrote a couple of verses myself, wanna hear them?”

“No thanks dad, I’m right now in the administrative side of the operation. What I was wondering is if you could do better than this” Then she proceeded to list a number of tasks and their respective prices.
"What? Those really stink, Daria! They are at least a third higher than market price. Don’t worry Daria, give me a few hours, let me make a few calls, and I can beat those by 30%, no… 40%."

“40% dad? Many young slackers singing bad tunes and reciting mediocre poetry will thank you.”

“Think nothing of it Kiddo; I’ll give you the new and improved budget when I get home.”

* I II III IV *

The breakfast next day could have been a distorted mirror image of the previous day, everyone on the table was in their nightwear; with Quinn talking with her mother, Jake reading the newspaper with his suitcase at his side and Daria was ready to leave the house in a hurry already fully dressed.

“…then after Tiffany’s hair was frosted in the night, Sandi called for an emergency meeting of the Fashion Club and gave her a stern scolding followed by punishing her to investigate 5 ways of preventing hair frostage.”

It was then that Daria went down from the stairs already dressed in her traditional skirt and green jacket, and stole a slice of toast while doing some math in her notebook.

“I’m sorry I have to miss this soggy cereal, but I have to wake Jane and she sleeps like a corpse, so I need to get a new shovel.” A difference between Daria and Quinn is that the former lives her life at a more sedate pace than the latter…

“Wait a second Young Lady, Where do you think you’re going without breakfast?” … a sedate enough pace to be caught on most occasions.

Meanwhile Jake was too busy searching in his suitcase to see the fact that his wife was starting a rant, until he found the papers he was looking for.

“Here you go Kiddo, I talked with Doug Thompson and he agrees that what they’re asking for the coffeehouse job is too high, and he told me that he was going to smooth a few things with the PTA to get the stuff you need, he might even shave up to 50% off the original.”

“Thanks dad, Jane was worried that she would have to use my hair as a brush to keep inside budget”

“I’m doing the budget of the materials needed for Café Lawndale alongside Jane; then in the afternoon we are going to sell useless trinkets to people who don’t need them to get whatever money is not covered by the school. Yesterday it would have been more than 750 bucks, now…” At this point Daria did a quick check of the papers that her father gave her. “…400 dollars? Hey dad, you got a 55%?

“Hey, what can I say? Your old man still got it.”

“Café Lawndale?” Helen was getting tired of being ignored and ignorant in this conversation

“Yes, it’s going to be the replacement of the cybercafé that was looted the day before yesterday, and since my words, after being twisted beyond recognition, were the inspiration for it, I’m forced to be the midwife for Rosemary’s Baby from High School Hell.”

“Good for you kiddo, show them how to make things right.”

“I’m proud Daria, that is the kind of activity Universities look for in their future students. Quinn, what are you doing this afternoon?”

“We’re having another meeting with the Club, to review if the methods investigated by Tiffany are appropriate to deal with Frosted Hair”

“I’m pretty sure the Fashion Club can survive a day or two without you, and it would be a good idea for you to participate in an altruistic event like your sister from time to time.”

* I II III IV *

After school, the volunteers for the fundraising - most of them who had been volunteered to avoid detentions - have been given a part of the merchandize stored in the school for this kind of event (at this point Daria had asked just how often did the school did fundraisers for it to need a permanent stock; the answer given to her by the rest of the students wasn’t the most reassuring.), and a route drawn from LHS long experience in exhorting money out of Lawndale citizenship. Jane and Daria had become the default organizers when O’Neill had burst into tears first for the impossible previous goal, and then once more, when looking at the improved budget, in tears of happiness.

* I II III IV *

After being forced to participate in the fundraising, Quinn was given a few dozens long distance phone cards and a route for one of the upper middle class neighborhoods of Lawndale, her target was to sell at least 50 dollars worth of long distance calls by the end of the day.

For all her lack of common sense and academic knowledge, Quinn does know a few things better than anyone else, sister included. One of those things is how to do a sales pitch.

“Hi! I'm selling long distance phone cards.”

“I just use a credit card.”

First you need to identify the target’s reason to buy or not to buy your product.

“Oh. Well, are you really happy with the service?”

“Um, uh, it's fine.”

“I mean, are you really happy?”

“I don't get you. W-why shouldn't I be?”

Then you need to introduce a doubt in the target’s confidence in his ability to live without said product.

“I mean, like, are you ever, like, really looking forward to talking to someone, and then you can't hear them because of crackling and static?”

“Not...”

Once there's even the smallest shadow of a doubt, the next step is to look more human to the target’s eyes, until the target stops talking to a saleswoman and starts talking with a friend.

“I mean, I know that if I were your friend and you were calling me, I'd want to listen to you, not some static. I mean, you have a really nice voice. Your friend should be able to hear it.”

“They usually, uh...”

“Just pretend you're calling me.”

“What?”

“Really, just try it. My name's Quinn. What's your name?”

“Danny.”

“So, call me, Danny.”

Once the target is on the correct frame of mind, then it's time to use the imagination to set a new scenario…

“Hello? Uh, Quinn?”

“Danny? Is that you?”

“Hi! Quinn?”

“Speak up, Danny, I can't hear you.”

“Hi! Quinn? It's me, Danny.”

Desire is a useful tool to sell something,

“I've been thinking about you all day. The way your hair falls over your eyes when you laugh. I can't get it out of my head.”

“Really?”

“You gotta speak up, Danny. Listen, do you want to come over tonight? My folks went away for the whole weekend.”

“Yeah! I mean, um, s-sure, Quinn.”

And once the desire is established, even the slightest threat to take it away will be enough for the target to buy anything, at any cost.

“Oh, that's okay, Danny, I understand. I'll see if Pete wants to come over.”

“But I said...”

“Bye!”

“Wait!”

“Click. See what can happen with bad long distance service, Danny?”

“Who's Pete?”

If it works with boyfriends, why shouldn’t it work with Phone Cards?

* I II III IV *

When Daria and Jane, who was giving her friend moral support while waiting for candid shots for her new Polaroid, knocked on the first house of their route, they were answered by an overweight woman, a really overweight woman, a woman so fat that the jokes both friends made on the spot would have filled an entire number of the Sick, Sad Magazine. Said woman was heavily wheezing by the time she opened, just as if she had been running to the door.

“Um, hi. I'm selling chocolate bars for the new student coffeehouse.” Daria would never be as confident in the face of strangers as Quinn.

“New coffeehouse?”

“Our cybercafé got trashed.” Jane answered.

“Well, I enjoy chocolate. Doctor says I'm not supposed to have too much of it, but he wouldn't mind if it's for a good cause.”

At this point Jane took her payment for sharing Daria’s torment by taking a snapshot of the fat woman’s front and back, as she went for her purse. Daria was right; this was giving her a lot of ideas, mostly Fernando Botero’s large people.

“Just... just a second, girls.”

“Are you all right?” Now she sounded as if she had been part of a track team.

“Yeah, yeah. Just, just, I was in the basement when the doorbell rang. Need to catch my breath a little. How many chocolate bars you got there?” Now the fat jokes on the girls’ minds would have filled a Sick, Sad World full Anthology.

“We've got about two boxes. That's twenty-four.”

“Tell you what: I'll take all of them.”

“All of them? Really?”

“You sure that's okay with your doctor?” By this point Daria wasn’t thinking about jokes anymore, the concern was surpassing her cynicism.

“It's okay as long as he doesn’t know about it! Dammit! Where's that purse?”

At this point the Large Woman coughed and then fainted; the earth did tremble a little with her fall. Daria stood there for a heartbeat before reacting.

“Uh-oh.” Her first house and Daria had already killed someone, who knew, she thought the fundraising was going to be the death of her, not of her clients.

“Did she hit her head?”

“I don't think so.”

“Do you know CPR or anything?”

“Yes, let me remember… Okay ABC, Airway, Breathing and Circulation. First we need to tilt her head to open her airway…” She was working on the woman’s head when she said that. … lift the chin… and then…”

Then it was the end of her practical knowledge of First Aid CPR, since the day of the classes when it was the turn of the next part of the protocol, Breathing, Beavis and Butt-Head used the mouth-to-mouth respirations as an excuse to try kissing the girls in the class. Since she didn’t like the skanks they were chasing anyway she didn’t tried to stop them. The next day they moved on to burns, in which they received first rate training thanks to Beavis and a lighter.

“Uh-oh” Jane wasn’t feeling confident by her friend’s outburst.


“We should be doing something now. I'm sure of it.”

“Yeah, I think you're right.”

At that moment, Jane takes a picture of Daria holding the woman’s head, which coincides with said woman recovering from her fainting spell.

“Damn hypoglycemia. I'm sorry, girls, I'm holding up the works. Okay, now. How much apiece on those chocolate bars?” The Large woman was rising up on her own without any concern to her health as far as both friends could tell. It was creepy.

“Ma'am, I'm not sure I can sell you any chocolate bars.” It was a matter of both conscience and legal liability, Daria didn’t want to face charges of criminal indifference or manslaughter.

“What's the matter? My money's not good enough for you?”

“It's not that, it's just... maybe it's not such a good idea.”

“Give me those chocolate bars!”

“Thank you for the offer though, ma'am, and for caring about the students of Lawndale High.” Jane reached the same decision that her friend had and started disengaging.

“We could call your doctor or the hospital if you like. Otherwise, we'll be going.”

With those parting words Jane and Daria turned and started walking away.

“I don't need a damn doctor, I need a damn chocolate bar! Gimme! I'll pay ya five bucks apiece!”

“Have a nice day, ma'am.” She was not going to be indicted on charges of assisted suicide, not for such a pathetic charge, nothing less that a full murder on a second degree for this girl.

“I want those chocolate bars! I want chocolate, dammit!”

“Five dollars apiece. We would've made over a hundred bucks.” Jane’s mercenary side was arguing with her morality, and it was an even fight.

“Yeah, and all we had to do was take a human life.”

“You always see the downside, don't you?”

At that point the fat woman fainted again.

“Jane, could you get inside her house and dial 911? Meanwhile I’ll try to remember my ABCs” The face palm was audible over the woman’s troubled breathing.

* I II III IV *

They had to wait ten minutes for an ambulance to arrive, in which the woman fainted and raised again twice more. Then they learned that Mrs. Johannsen, as the name she gave to the paramedics, was a frequent patient of the local EMTs and that she would not listen to anyone; it took an additional ten minutes to give her the usual check-up.

When said woman started complaining about discrimination - for not selling her the chocolates -, and that the girls had broken into her home - to call 911- the EMTs reluctantly had to call a patrol. Once the cops arrived and were given an explanation of the events in the house Daria and Jane were finally free, once the latter gave up her photographs of the fat lady as evidence and as a punishment for taking them in the first place.

Having lost all interest in selling death sticks (a moniker both girls had applied only to cigars and cigarettes before) to the unsuspecting masses, they returned tired, grumpy and thoroughly defeated.

It was much to their surprise that even with all the lost time at Mrs. Johannsen’s house they were the first to arrive. Less than five minutes later Andrea Hecuba - the only true volunteer as far as they knew - reached the school tired, sweaty from walking in her black clothes, and with the tatters of her wrapping paper in one hand; when taking notice of Jane and Daria’s questioning looks she said a single word: Dog. It was at this point that they all discovered that O’Neill was missing once more, and there was no one to collect the money.

Seeing Andrea’s look of frustration at been forced to wait for the wimpy teacher, Daria hastily wrote a pair of receipts in her notebook, signed them alongside the other two girls, and collected the money while giving one of the receipts to the Goth, and wrapping the other on the bills. This process repeated itself as each one of the students forced to collect money returned to the school. In the case of Brittany and Kevin they went as far as clipping his receipt to his jacket with an old safely pin, just like a small child.

They kept waiting in the English classroom for the arrival of either Quinn, who was the only student who hadn’t reported back yet; or O’Neill, so that they could dump the money on him, and leave.

It was then that they heard their names on the speaker system.

* I II III IV *

Angela Li, Principal of Lawndale High School, was having a really bad day. The day itself had started well enough, with Timothy’s idea of a coffeehouse going forward without a hitch. The new place could give her even greater access to the money from the insurance claim than her original idea of ‘trying’ to rebuild the cybercafé and failing when running out of funds. Using as an excuse the necessary remodeling to add a stage, tables, and a small kitchen she would have had an excuse to call in Dinozzo’s contractors and get him his cut on the job without raising suspicions. The fact that the children would be doing their own fundraising to get the money for the real expenses was just icing on the cake.

And then with a phone call all of her plans went up in flames. The head of the Parent-Teacher Association had received a call from Doug Thompson, who had a copy of Li’s bogus estimates for Café Lawndale, and wanted to have a piece of the cake. Once the magnitude of the differences was evident, others members of the PTA had been called and the decision to give the construction job to Doug was reached without the input or knowledge of the principal. Once she had been let into the loop she had done her best to reverse the decision, but since the funds of the original ‘alt(dot)lawndale(dot)com’ and the insurance payments came from the PTA they had the last word on how those were used, to do otherwise now that they were aware of the problem would be to invite disaster.

Now that she had been cut off from the insurance money she found herself a little short on money, and she couldn’t exactly default on her payment to the Dinozzos - she liked her knees on her legs thank you very much - so she would have to get their 35% from the school funds. Since she had already put most of the teachers on the starvation threshold, and she dare not touch the sports, she would need to drain the maintenance fund.

She had called to her office the only person who had access to the full budget; the Literature Professor Timothy O’Neill. It only took a few minutes of gentle questioning for him to confess about giving the budget to two of the volunteers for review. Since he had technically done nothing wrong with the information, she wasn’t going to punish him; with any other teacher she would have found an excuse for kicking him out of school, probably as a scapegoat for the whole fiasco, but she did keep people like Bennett, Manson and him for a reason.

Finding idiots was one of the simplest thing you can ever do, most people just watch themselves in the mirror and find one, but gullible, predictable idiots who are willing to take orders without question, and who are not prone to telling anybody about who ordered what, are a scarce commodity. O’Neill himself wouldn’t be able to find the scam even when pointed out to him, and for all his hippy attitude, he was a proud man who would never accept his mistakes.

While O’Neill didn’t remember their names, his clues about the self-esteem assembly had been enough to discover their identities. Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane were the students responsible for this mess. Daria had come to her attention during the third day of classes in the year, when her mother called to complain about the self-esteem class and Manson’s abilities, while it wasn’t rare for parents to complain about their children being on that particular workshop, the fact that she claimed to have a transcription of the session with Manson was worth remembering, even if such notes existed only in writing.

The second time she heard that name, now with the addition of Jane Lane, a slacker who was sent to the classes as a personal favor to Coach Morris and until now was a non entity in school, was during the Assembly that she had called as a bone thrown to O’Neill. While the speech of Jane was certainly embarrassing to the teacher, it was Daria’s public accusations that were dangerous. She exposed both of Li's tools as the fools they were, and as far as she could tell they were nothing more than collateral damage to the verbal assault she laid on her sister.

That time she had been forced to let it go to avoid attracting real attention to the incident, she also did nothing as a way to punish Manson for her lack of discretion with both her personal data, and for putting such a wolf amongst the sheep; but now her passivity had come to bite her in the ass in the worst way imaginable.

She was about to let O’Neill out of the hook to meditate on the appropriate way to deal with both the crisis and her revenge on the girls when she received a phone call from Mrs. Johannsen, a woman known for her insatiable hunger for anything sweet, who was a frequent customer of their food related fundraisers. She was complaining that two girls, one a brunette with a green jacket and glasses; and another black haired girl with a red jacket; had refused to sell her chocolates, and more importantly they had broken into her house.

Well, well, well, into every cloud there is a silver lightning… She then activated the school wide speakers to call for the two delinquents, after all it is always better to strike while the iron is still hot.

* I II III IV *

When Jane and Daria arrived at the office of Madame Li, they found her sitting on her desk, while O’Neill was standing on the side, trying to memorize both girls’ names.

“Daria... Jane. Daria... Jane. Daria... Jane.”

“Come in, Ms. Morgendorffer, Ms. Lane. Sit down.”

Both friends were thinking that this was going to be about the fundraiser, after all due to luck, mostly bad, they have been all day in the thick of it; Daria was already getting her notebook to show them their progress. In a way they were right.

“The school received a phone call this morning from a Mrs. Johannsen. She said two girls came to her door to sell her chocolate bars, and then suddenly refused to do so. Hmm. Even after she offered five dollars a bar, or more than twice the asking price.”


“She was hypoglycemic. The chocolate would've killed her.” Daria’s excuse was given at the same time she started transcribing the full conversation in shorthand, something told her it would be necessary.

“She passed out while we were standing there.” Jane added.

“Do you understand that refusing to sell her the chocolates could be interpreted as discrimination? Weight discrimination to be more accurate.” She took notice of the way the Morgendorffer girl was writing on the notebook; shorthand, and by the look of it, professional level, it seemed that she was indeed able to record a full conversation.

“It could also be interpreted as an act of charity; we were helping her to keep breathing.”

“There is also the fact that Mrs. Johannsen reported that you broke into her house when she was otherwise indisposed.”

She was having a respiratory arrest and she fainted on the spot, so as good little citizens we called for an ambulance, granted it was her second fainting spell in less than ten minutes, so we might have taken our time…” Jane response wasn’t the most diplomatic.

“So, your refusal to sell chocolate to this woman was based purely on concern for her welfare…”

“And not wanting to do time for manslaughter.”

“However Mrs. Johannsen accusations must be taken seriously by the school, so until a proper investigation can be done I’m afraid I must suspend you until further notice.”

At this point Jane lost her smile, this had become way too serious; an open ended suspension was as good as an expulsion. However, when she looked to her side, Daria was just as collected as always.

“Ok, we are suspended; the first thing you must do is to call a parent to collect us, I choose my mother, could you call her to Vitale, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter, she is a corporate lawyer under Eric Schrecter the third…”

At the mention of the word lawyer, Angela's face lost a little color, she didn’t know that the woman who called that time was a lawyer. However on that occasion she did fold fast enough so maybe it wasn’t that bad.

“… but I’m not worried since I was a Good Samaritan so…”

At this point Li decided it was necessary to intervene. “Miss Morgendorffer, I don’t know why you aren't taking this seriously, this is not a game, being or not a Good Christian will not justify your reckless actions.”

“Actually, in the eyes of the law it does, the Good Samaritan Laws in this state protect first responders from fear of being sued or prosecuted or those who choose to tend to others who are injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated; in this case getting inside the house of the person at risk to make a call to 911 is covered by the law. Anyway then we needed to call the police to get the statement done after the ambulance arrived.

“Wait a second Miss Morgendorffer, what statement?”

“Well, Mrs. Johannsen made the same accusation to the EMTs, so they had to call the police; the cops filed a report…” At this point Daria stopped writing for a second and flipped back a few pages. “… AB-159347, were he took our statements and informed us of both the charges and of the Good Samaritan Law; he also got a few photos of the incident where we are clearly shown giving first aid to the alleged victim.”

This last part did get a smile out of the now calm Jane. Only Daria could spin cops confiscating rude photos of the Fat Lady into physical evidence of our innocence.

Her next few words left a taste of ashes in the Principal’s mouth, but she wasn’t about to let the police and an irate lawyer get their hands into this mess; they would only need to recognize Dinozzo’s company to bring chaos to LHS.

“I see, in the light of this information, I guess I can omit the suspension for now, however there is the matter of the fundraising itself.” However she was going to have the last word.

“You have no overall problem with raising money for the coffeehouse?”

“I believe in coffee, coffee for everyone. But I don't want to sell any more chocolate bars. It makes me feel dirty.”

“The bad kind of dirty.” Jane now sure of her scholastic safety was throwing quips again.

“Well, I can't force you to do fundraising, but I can't give you credit for participating in the coffee house project, either.”

“Not even after the efforts we put into improving the budget?”

Twist the knife a little deeper Miss Morgendorffer. “I’m afraid that while that was doable it is the duty of the faculty, not of the students.” If looks could kill O’Neill would be prime material for a grave robber by now.

“Well, at least I get to do the decorations.” Jane was a glass half full kind of person, the better to soak someone in Ultra Cola.

“Wait. Daria, what about what we discussed? Reading something on opening night.” O’Neill on the other hand saw one more chance of getting the girl’s boots on the stage.

“I don't think so.”

“You do want this extracurricular activity, don't you?” At this point Li would take any kind of revenge, no matter how petty.

The coup de grace came from Jane of all people. A muttered rendition of Pop goes the Weasel.

“Fine.”

“Fabulous!”

“You can go now, close the door when you leave. I have to talk with Mr. O’Neill about the budget and other concerns.” O’Neill couldn’t help but to feel a little pang of fear at those words.

* I II III IV *

Just outside the door, Jane realized that with all the confusion they hadn’t been able to give the English teacher the money collected from the rest of the students.

“You know, we did forget to give O’Neill the combined loot.”

“Yeah, but something tells me he wants to be interrupted now…” The screams of Li were loud enough to be heard through the door. “…so we should give him the money tomorrow morning.”

When they were about to enter the classroom that was used as the meeting point of the fundraiser, they found Quinn walking in the hall, her expression was akin to the canary that ate the cat, and while her pockets were overflowing in a less than fashionable way she didn’t care for once, since the golden rule of glamour was in effect: ‘Those who got the money makes the trends’.

“Hey Daria, do you have any more phone cards?”

Jane was the first to get her voice back. “No, I think that you sold them all…”

“I must admit it sis, I’m impressed.”

Quinn as always was basking in the glory, but did try to look humble for once. “Selling stuff is like fishing for boyfriends; you launch the bait, and then reel back the gold.”

“I think that you’re mixing your analogies Quinn. By the way, I think it's fair to ask since you are paying for it anyway, what would you prefer for the coffeehouse, an Espresso Machine capable of making cappuccino and macchiato, or a giant TV?”

“A cappuccino machine, as long as the coffee is caffeine free, and the milk is Light of course.”

* I II III IV *

Daria and Jane were in the Morgendorffer’s house; Jane was getting the most out of the last of her Polaroid film.

“Hold still.” Jane was aiming carefully with the camera, for this to work the shot itself would have to be perfect.

“Doctor, is it going to hurt?” Daria was as immobile as a statue.

“You will fell just a little prick.” Click.

Once the photo was taken Jane took Daria’s pen from her hand and start using it, cap and all, to scratch around the still undeveloped film.

Once again able to move, Daria continue reading her different short works. “How about, ‘The Bleakness That Lies Ahead’?”

“Too sentimental.” The film was almost ready.

“‘No Life, No Hope, No Future’?”

“Too pie in the sky.” The picture was looking ok until now.

“’Mommy's Little Hypocrite’?”

“Too much like a children's book.” Ready…

“I wish I were dead.”

“That sounds promising.” Ready… “Listen, you gotta give them something they'll really appreciate. Picture Kevin and Brittany drinking in your words like an elixir of knowledge. Heady... potent... seductive.”

“Are you marketing your own fragrance now?” Daria remarked the last comment with a sigh. “I'm going to have to write something new for the occasion. Is it ready now?”

“Yeah, is it cool or what?” It was a photo of Daria, but her glasses looked as they contained a whirlpool, and the room around her was painted by Van Gogh rather that being part of a photograph.

* I II III IV *

It was finally the day of the inauguration of Café Lawndale, as far as they could see Kevin's father Doug Thompson had done an excellent job transforming the old cybercafé into an ode to the traditional coffee house of yore. After repairing the broken glass from the robbery and adding metal bars for extra protection, he and his company installed a small but functional kitchen in the back which connected with a bar holding the professional Espresso machine, with an assortment of cups of different sizes at its side. The biggest change however was the addition of a stage on the back of the room, one complete with the multiple curtains commonly used for theatre, the multiple color lamps for illumination, and a full sound set with speakers evenly distributed around the entire coffeehouse.

Jane and Daria had decorated the bare brick walls with a varied selection of photographs of the school's wackiest moments, like when the cheerleaders' pyramid collapsed, or the end result of the latest Pep Rally were plastered all around, with a space reserved for new pictures and a sign in it encouraging the customers to bring their own. The tables themselves had weird looking lamps with the dimmest bulbs possible that the girls got from a store in Dega Street. But they left the best for the roof, which was painted blue with some sort of white sparkles; at least until the lights were off, at which point the fluorescent paint would render an accurate picture of the sky’s constellations inspired by the illustrations done on a college astronomy paper. Additional banners and posters had been added all around school for the last week.

All courtesy of the prime ratings of the insurance claim on several computers of the latest generation (it was a shame that no student ever heard of the source of the money, or they might have died from laughing so hard).

During the opening night both friends sat in one of the tables in Café Lawndale. What they would never admit to anyone, even under torture, was that when they looked at the full house on opening night they were filled with pride. This coffeehouse at the end of the day was as much their project as it was O’Neill’s, more so in fact, as the teacher had spent the entire week getting in the way and giving useless advice.

First one of the senior stoners (and he was a stoner in every sense of the word) sang some lines before destroying his own guitar on stage then Brittany and Kevin mangled Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene in such a way that the Bard would have cried tears of shame for daring to write the inspiration for such abomination. Then it was the turn of Andrea.

“I'm here. But where are you? Sure, I see your body. Anybody home in that rotting bag of flesh?” After this last line she left the stage, with only a few polite claps being heard, Daria and Jane’s among them.

“See? You don't want to do poetry for this crowd.” Jane was now mentally preparing Daria for the stage through the medium of her usual quips.

“I think that was for the poem about killing a dog, many patrons look like dog people.”

“Could be, Andrea always took the Poetic Justice with a bit too much poetry and too little justice. Well, there is O’Neill, I think now is the appropriate moment to wish you a broken arm, or was it leg? Just break whatever limb you think will bring you luck.”

“Gee, thanks for the wishes of luck and maiming. Why don’t you make yourself useful and check the sound.”

“Yes my master, yes She-who-attracts-rotten-tomatoes.”

It was at this point that Mr. O'Neill took his place on the stage as the host of the evening.

“Thank you very much, Andrea. It takes a lot of courage to expose your raw emotions that way.”

Taking his cue from this the guy who was manning the spotlight turned it toward Andrea’s table surprising her with a bottle of booze which she quickly moved behind her. Café Lawndale is an alcohol and smoke free establishment, at least until the school forgets about teacher supervision.

“Now, speaking of raw emotions, it's my pleasure to introduce one of Lawndale High's most gifted writers: Daria Morgendorffer.”

Once again using her usual ferrous self-control to hide the butterflies in her belly from the rest of the audience Daria stepped up and started reading from a stack of papers.

“Thank you. Tonight I'd like to read a new story I've written entitled, ‘Melody Powers and the Crystal Boutique’”

“It had taken Melody Powers, Defense Lawyer and occasional lawbreaker more than half an hour to reach the roof of the mall, and another hour of timing the suspiciously well trained rent-a-cops to find a hole big enough in their patrols to sneak inside the Grassfield Mall. The easy part was over.”

The coffeehouse speakers began softly playing an instrumental piece of the kind used in mystery films to increase the suspense.

“As Melody played with her set of lock picks, she reassured herself on the importance of her self-appointed mission, how would she exonerate John Grissham from the murder, if no one dared to investigate Velle and her chain of thrift stores ‘Crystal Boutiques’. At last, with a final click, the door to the store’s office was open.”

It was starting to attract the interest of the crowd, it wasn’t instantaneous, but here and there a few bored teens started paying more attention.

“It was weird, while she was sure this was Velle’s office there was something wrong in there, the documentation in the desk was too bland, too insubstantial for the supposed volume of work, this was not the office of the CEO who controlled over 50 stores in the U.S. alone… this was a front. But a front for what?”

To the shock of the people inside Café Lawndale Daria, for the first time in their collective memory, was putting some emotion into her voice other than annoyance or sarcasm. One unintended consequence of using her books as a method of escapism was that most of her inner walls and defense mechanisms were lowered whenever she read something truly interesting or emotional.


“After her failure in Velle’s office Melody decided to try some of her lackeys’ offices, with luck there could be at least a clue of what was goi… what was that? The noise came from the store proper, but at this hour there shouldn’t be anyone there. Carefully Powers went to the door that connected the administrative section with the store and crossed over.”

Thanks to her stage fright and the nerves from showing one of her stories to the public at large, Daria was unable to use her usual monotone, instead she had been projecting the inquisitiveness that until now had shaped Melody’s actions, now tinted with a bit of caution and wariness.

“Inside the store four young girls that Melody recognized as the Runway models that she'd met at last week’s Crystal Boutique Fashion Parade, but they were quite different from the catty airheads that would criticize her clothing and didn’t now what a textbook was for. Now they were pushing a heavy cart full of clothes, with no concern for their appearance and sweeping their surroundings with their patented thousand-yard stare. The single most frightening thing however was the absolute silence they worked in which was in sharp contrast to the rumor mongering and idiotic little giggles that followed them everywhere, even the bathroom.”

The cattiness of this last description wasn’t all Melody, a little of the contempt Daria had for the Fashion Club leaked into her narrative.

“The clique carried on with their duty, collecting certain clothes from the racks without any apparent reason, a sock from here, some loafers from there, all the while Powers shadowed them, hiding behind those same racks, trying to find a clue to what the hell they were doing, until they suddenly changed their pattern and when directly to the dressers in the Junior Ten's section. It was then that Melody accidently made a noise.”

Kevin and Brittany were holding each other, at first sight it could be interpreted as Kevin reassuring his girlfriend, but on careful examination it was he who was so tense he might jump any second now.

“When the models heard the crash of the precariously balanced mannequin, Melody was hiding behind one of the displays nearby, when one of the zombies peeled herself from the rest to investigate she forced herself not to breathe and took cover to avoid discovery. It was only after she was sure than her enemy had lost interest that she finally raised her head, just to discover that the models and their cart were gone without a trace…”

The sigh of relief in more than one voice was heard in the café, the tension in the room had been palpable.

“This was impossible, there was no way they could have disappeared in the short moments she was too busy hiding, the exits were too far away and the cart itself was too big to cover anywhere. Calming herself she then went to the last place she saw them and started looking out for clues. Luckily the wheels of the cart had left a faint trace she could follow, although it ended in the dead end that was ‘Fitting Room Eight’.”

Now Daria's voice was puzzled, as if she didn’t knew what was happening.

“Fitting Room Eight was a reserved dressing room, used by the ugly and unpopular people so that they couldn’t pollute the regular clients; they even had a plaque explaining that on the door, and it didn’t make any sense, Crystal Boutique already reserved the entrance to their facilities to a few of the rich and famous, there wasn’t any need for such an obvious dressing room.”

That little piece of information she had learned on her very first visit to Cashman’s with her mother. She was more than a little insulted when they took her to a changing room far away in the back of the shop, almost at the loading docks. This was her version of poetic justice.

“Examining the dressing room Powers immediately noticed that for being a place reserved for whatever outcasts they couldn’t kept out (and she was so going to sue the place for discrimination as soon as she was out of here) it was the biggest fitting room she had ever seen, dwarfing the rest by a wide, wide margin. Working on a hunch, she started softly knocking the walls, until one of them sounded different, less solid. It was then when she noticed that the hanger was out of place, a little too low and off-center to be comfortable; it could be another way to annoy the ugly people out of the establishment, but…”

“But what?” A voice was heard in the café, before being silenced by more than a dozen angry stares.

“When she pressed the hanger a false wall opened itself, revealing a ramp going down at a more or less gentle slope, a faint sound of machinery being heard alongside a sensation of heat. Following the road she finally reached a steel door, and beyond it a scene out of the third world… It was a sweatshop, filled to the brim with rail thin young girls working on sewing machines or with huge scissors, piles of fabric and clothes all around them, Melody noted with disgust that the children were bound to the tables with a rope tied to their ankles, and that from time to time some of the older women inside would hit those who didn’t work fast enough.”

“What!!!” This time the cry came from Brittany, and looking at her furious visage no one dared to silence her.

“Melody hid behind one of the stacks of clothing, using her small camera to get as many snapshots as possible of the illegal factory, this had officially become bigger than her, bigger than another corporation playing hardball with their suppliers, the knowledge that such a place existed under the Crystal Boutique would be enough to destroy Velle’s imperium in a single stroke. It was then that she saw one of the doors open and entered the Fashion Mafia carrying their loot from upstairs… no it was wrong to call them that, they were victims as well. They got the dresses carefully laid on top of one of the piles of clothes, and then began cutting them open to subtract small pouches filled with a white powder.”

Now Mr. O'Neill was looking shocked, worried and frightened as he catalogued in his mind the references to various crimes.

“Drugs, now it all made sense, the Crystal Boutique was used as a front to get high quality heroin to the high society of Grassfield, they used selected clothes to hide the cargo and restricted the clientele to limit the number of people that could discover them. Then they used illegal and desperate girls to both be couriers and do the heavy lifting, getting the most beautiful ones to work as models while virtually brainwashing them and then keeping them high between parties. Now she needed to get out with the photos and call the cops to deal with… There was a shadow moving behind her, she needed to…”

The patrons of the coffeehouse were silent, high on adrenalin fueled by Melody Powers, and to a man they all jumped when the buzz of a clock that Jane had added to time and limit the duration of the different performances sounded off for the first time in the night, Daria had timed her narrative to the last second.

“Thank you for withstanding my voice this evening, good night.” Her usual monotone was back with a vengeance.

The complaints from the public didn’t take long.

“You must be kidding…”

“What happened to Melody?”

“What about the children, are they going to be okay?”

“We should find that Crystal Boutique and burn it to the ground.”

“Does the mall even have one of those?”

“We should burn the mall to be sure.”

“Once the conversation veered into forming a mob, Daria went back to the stage and gave a small statement.

“Do any of you want to risk burning Melody Powers inside the Mall?

It was Kevin the one who answered the question. “Umm… No?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, I guess that if you want to find out if Melody has become one of Velle’s zombies you will have to come back next week.”

The audience was silent for a moment; then, Kevin jumped up and cheered, followed by the rest of the coffeehouse patrons.

Jane was waiting at their table with a sardonic smile on her face. “What, you had the chance to start a mob and you let it go?”

“Well, I bet that if I had started a mob, Li would force us to clean up after it.”

“Us? One more time with the We. And what about the next week part… Don’t tell me that you actually liked to be in the spotlight.”

“I guess that to have the control over the idiotic masses had an effect on me, I kind of liked me being the center of attention instead of my sister for once.”

* I II III IV *

It was two days later when once again Daria was reading the paper alongside her family when they found the article, due to the content Jake took the decision to read it out loud.

"’Café Lawndale a new place for the meeting of young minds.’ Isn't that the coffeehouse you are working for?”

“Yeah, so what does the Fifth Power says about the place?”

“After the break in and robbery of Lawndale High School ‘alt(dot)lawndale(dot)com last week’ LHS’ students and authorities decided not to fall into despair, and with an enormous show of ingenuity, effort, and cooperation the students working in close co-operation with teacher Timothy O’Neill and principal Angel Li transformed the former cybercafé into the newest young adult coffeehouse in the city. In the words of Angela Li: ‘This place will help the younger members of the society of Lawndale express and develop their creativity in a safe environment free of smoke and alcohol, this generation and those who follow will bring great honor to Lawndale High School and the community.’ During the first night of Café Lawndale there was a varied show of music, poetry, theatre and a stimulating thriller to close the event.”


“Breakfast meeting at the Royalton.” huffed Helen as she rushed out. Everyday Eric depended a little more on her mother. “That was good, right?”

“But you haven't even tasted my soufflé.” However, a good daughter should make an effort to remind the family about the important stuff.

“That’s my girl! I’m so glad that your coffeehouse was such a great success, don’t you think so Quinn?

“I wasn't there. I had a real date.”

“And you missed the part were we named the Espresso Machine in your honor.”

* I II III IV *

That night Daria took the letter of recommendation that O’Neill was forced by her to sign. It detailed her work in both helping with the restructuring of the original budget, her administrative, decorative and organizational support in the creation of Café Lawndale and the fact that she was currently part of the administrative staff in charge of the books as well as an occasional performer.

She was going to send the original to the Sloane Foundation to support her claim, while other copies would be sent to many other lesser scholarships to see if anyone was interested.

While Melody Power’s first short story was rushed and full of plot holes, the basic plot did have a certain charm, she would only need to expand the locations, create the appropriate background and connect the different events in the plot with a longer coherent timeline. Once it was over she would edit a copy for a few magazines, in the hope that at least one would publish it.

It had been a good week after all…

* I II III IV *

A large part of this chapter is based on the short story ‘Melody Powers and the Crystal Boutique’ written for my own Iron Chef.

As always opinions, comments and criticisms are extremely appreciated.

* I II III IV *
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