Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2004.

This is the twelfth story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

Days of Expression

Sitting cross-legged on her bed, Daria Morgendorffer lowered the newspaper. "Nope. No movies I'm interested in."

Across their Raft University dorm room, Daria's roommate, Karen Myerson, sat sideways on her bed with her back resting against the wall. "Big town like Boston and we can't figure out something to do for a Saturday afternoon."

Jane Lane sat backward in a desk chair between them. "There has to be a college party somewhere. Haven't you two heard of any?"

"Still trying to drag me out to parties?" Daria shot back.

Smirking, Jane replied, "Just keeping my promise."

Karen shook her head. "Okay, my Derek's stuck attending a family wedding this weekend and Daria's Michael is elbow-deep in getting a sociology presentation together for Monday. What's your excuse? Al not work out?"

Jane shook a finger at Daria. "That boy was just too weird, even for my tastes."

Daria crossed her arms. "Go to all that work to set you up with a date."

Jane rubbed her forehead. "You're getting me back for all the times I tried to set you up with Trent. Where did you find him?"

"Well, I might have been out for a little revenge. Al has been in my first-year education classes, and I thought you could appreciate his...unique perspective on life."

"Daria, even I have my limits. So I hooked him up with my roommate, CC. They seem to be getting along fine."

Karen circled her hand between the three of them. "Thus leaving the three of us with nothing to do on a Saturday night."

The telephone ringing resulted in Daria and Karen looking at each other. Karen said, "Your turn."

Daria raised her eyebrows. "Oh, no. Your turn. I had to deal with that Florida condo salesman this morning."

"Damn." Karen answered the still ringing telephone. "Hello...Yes, she's here, just a second." Karen held it up, "Daria, for you. Some guy I don't recognize."

Daria looked up curiously and took the phone. "Hello?"

The voice on the other end said, "Daria. Hi, Tom...Sloane."


Jane looked over with a "this can't be good" expression. Karen leaned toward Jane and whispered, "Wasn't that the name of the guy she dated in high school?" Jane nodded.

Tom Sloane sat by himself in his Bromwell University dorm room, speaking into his cell phone, "I thought...well, we mentioned talking about our lives occasionally...so, I decided to call and talk some."

"Sure...uh...we can talk."

"Thanks. I hope you don't mind."


"Great. I knew we'd need some time after the breakup. That's why I haven't called since...that last time we saw each other, in front of your house."

"Thanks. I appreciate the thought."

"So, how's life at Raft?"

"Um...going pretty well, I guess."

"That's good. Talked to Jane lately?"

"You could say that. She got into BFAC's winter enrollment."

He said in surprise, "She's in Boston too?"

"Sitting about six feet away from me, listening to everything I say, and making faces."

"Figures. Say 'hi' to her for me."

"I will. Um...How are things going at Bromwell?"

"Not too bad. I like the greater challenge in class."

"I must admit I'm enjoying that too. Are Elsie and your parents doing okay?"

"They're all doing fine. How are Quinn and your folks?"

"Doing well."

"I saw in the paper last summer that you and Jane were both inducted into that new honor society at Lawndale High. Congratulations."

Daria smiled as she remembered the honor society she, Jane and Michael MacKenzie, or Mack, engineered to relieve pressure on Mack's overworked girlfriend, Jodie Landon. While the primary goal of getting Jodie one afternoon free a week worked, the official sponsor also maneuvered Daria into forming it into a real organization to be continued at Lawndale High. A role switch that all involved found amusing. Daria told Tom, "Thanks."

"Too bad it didn't happen sooner, it might have helped your Bromwell application."

Her smiled turned into a scowl. "Tom, you should know better than to even go close to that subject."

"Oops. Sorry. Still putting my foot in my mouth."

"Please don't do it again," Daria said with a hint of sternness.

"I promise."

"Besides, I think Raft has turned out to be a better choice. In addition to Jane, I found another best friend in my roommate, Karen."

"Nice to hear you had a winner in the roommate lottery."

Daria gave her friends a smile. "The three of us were plotting what to do to Boston tonight."

"Your roommate gets along with Jane?"


"You two, joined by a third like-minded soul, plotting to take on Boston. That is a frightening concept."

"I see you still like flattery."

"It does have its uses."

"Well, did you pull a psycho, or something worse, in the roommate lottery?"

"Kind of middle of the road. Not much to like, or dislike. We keep a business-like arrangement on maintaining the room."

"Oh. That sounds...efficient."

"About the best you can say about it. Two rich kids waiting to move into their own places."

"You said it, not me."

"Well, it is the truth. Guess a little bit of you rubbed off on me." Tom's voice got a little softer. "If you don't mind me asking, has anyone in Boston realized you're somebody worth getting to know?"

Uh...well...yes. I've been going out with someone for a couple months now."

"I hope you're happy."

"Thanks, I am. How about you? Seeing anybody?"

Tom said, "Nobody currently; I dated another freshman for a while last fall."

"I'm sorry things didn't work out."

"Don't be. Before you ask, I didn't call to try to get us back together. I've accepted that what we had was nice, but that you were right, we got bored and were drifting apart."


"But, I also meant what I said; I want to stay your friend, because I look up to you and respect your opinion."

Daria closed her eyes and remembered their parting. "I still want to be your friend, too." She opened her eyes and looked at Jane and Karen waiting. "I'm glad you called, but I've been ignoring Jane and Karen. They're getting restless and making threatening gestures, so I better get going. Hope to hear from you again."

"Thanks. I've enjoyed talking with you. Goodbye.


Daria hung up the phone.

Jane leaned forward. "No extended claws, no bared teeth. That seemed to go well."

"I thought so. Tom's doing okay at Bromwell. He said to tell you 'hi'. He still has a tendency to hit sensitive spots without realizing it."

"I noticed. Want to share?"

"He made a comment that our 'Jodie rescue' project might have helped my Bromwell application."

Jane shook her head. "Sometimes, that boy just doesn't learn."

Karen slid forward. "You applied to Bromwell?"

"I didn't get in, but Tom did." Daria saw the question in Karen's eyes. "That didn't directly cause the breakup, but, during the process, I began to realize how far we were apart, and that our differences were only getting wider."

Bringing up her knees, Karen said, "Back when you first started dating Michael, I asked if you were as nervous as when you started dating this guy. You said you would tell me later, this seems like as good of time as any."

Daria fidgeted uncomfortably and looked at Jane. Jane gave a half-smile and shrugged.

Daria said, "Like I told you then, it wasn't one of my proudest moments."

Karen noticed the look between the other two. "And Jane was somehow involved."

Daria slowly spoke. "Tom had dated Jane for a lot of our junior year. When I first went out on a date with Tom, things were...awkward between Jane and me."

Jane said, "I wasn't speaking to her."

Karen narrowed her eyes. "Wait, back up. What happened?"

Daria looked down at her feet. "I kissed Tom before he and Jane broke up."

Karen stared in surprise at Daria. "Oh...But...that is so...unlike you."

Daria was still visibly nervous. "Ordinarily, yes. Jane, are you comfortable with this?"

Jane rolled the chair over and placed a hand on Daria's. "I told you, I'm over it. I think the whole situation traumatized you more."

Daria gave Jane a small smile. "Thanks. In a way, this might be a good time to...try to explain things a little better."

Jane nodded. "Go ahead."

Daria closed her eyes. "It started a couple months before. I was trying to escape from the school's spring homecoming parade, after making a trip to the store for my dad."

Jane smirked. "To get toilet paper; he was stranded."

Daria rolled her eyes. "I ran into a little boy I knew from a babysitting job. He'd been separated from his parents in the crowd. While searching for said parents, we ran into Tom, who was looking for Jane. They'd crossed wires on where to meet."

Jane added, "We went to different drug stores."

"To my surprise, I enjoyed myself. That was when I first realized that Tom was an interesting person to know. Prior to that, I didn't get along with him, which caused a lot of problems."

"After the parade, the two of them stopped sniping at each other."

"Over time, I started to become attracted to him. We could talk about things..."

"Such as Fellini films or the comparative talents of Stalin, Machiavelli, and Ms. Li."

Karen raised her eyebrows at Jane.

Daria continued. "Tom was the first guy I was ever able to talk with at any significant length. It grew on me, and my attraction to him grew stronger, but I was in denial. I couldn't be interested in Jane's boyfriend. I told myself so much that I believed it."

"That, I can see. Go on," Karen said softly.

"Things started to become obvious after a minor fire at my house. We had to vacate it for repairs. I stayed at Jane's to avoid sharing a hotel room with my sister."

Karen smirked. "I could see where you wouldn't want to share with Quinn."

"Jane sensed something was going on. She and Tom were not getting along as well as they used to, and Tom and I were starting to have more long conversations. Trent noticed that Tom was attracted to me."

Jane sat up straight. "What? Trent knew something was up?"

"I thought he would have told you."


"Um, sorry."

"I'm gonna have to have a little talk with him."

Daria rubbed her eyes. "Anyway. I went back home, and things continued to be strained between the two of us. It all blew up when I foolishly let Jane talk me into dyeing her hair into a black and blond tiger-stripe."

Karen said, "This doesn't sound good."

"It was worse. I made a complete mess of it. Jane threw me out of the house."

Karen looked at Jane. "You thought she did it on purpose?"

Jane nodded. "I was thinking a little crazy, but, yeah."

"Jane hid out for a day and dyed her hair back to normal. I went over and had a long talk with Jane, and was very adamant that I had no interest in Tom. Hell, I believed it. Talk about fooling yourself. When I walked home, Tom was waiting out front in his car, and asked me to get in. I asked if he wanted to talk about Jane, but part of me was hoping he didn't. He said no, he wanted to talk about him and me."

"Starting to sound like he was scoping you out before breaking up with Jane," Karen said.

"Maybe, or he might have been as confused about the whole situation as I was. We talked, I chewed him out for disrupting my friendship with Jane; he said that he and Jane were getting bored with each other. I told him I would be stabbing Jane in the back to be even interested in him, he said he would be a jerk to consider it, and then he kissed me."

Karen shrugged a little. "Okay, he kissed you, but you didn't start it. I can see where Jane would want to mutilate him. But don't quite understand why you are being so hard on yourself."

Daria shook her head. "Karen, you should realize that I was seventeen, and had never kissed a boy. Never. Part of me was resigned to the idea that nobody would ever be interested. My crush on Jane's brother, Trent, had gone completely nowhere. As far as I could tell at the time, he hadn't noticed. I'd somewhat connected with a boy named Ted the year before, but he wandered off into video games at the first opportunity. I was too harsh and cynical for anyone to like. You have a good idea of what kind of personal walls I had up to isolate myself from others."

"I don't think I'll ever forget dealing with those walls." Karen agreed.

"When he kissed me, they fell away. I'd no idea of what kind of affect a simple kiss would have on me, that it would feel...so good." Daria blushed in embarrassment. "After I realized I was enjoying it, I pulled away, cursing. He tried to joke about it, I said it wasn't funny, and he agreed. But, we both kissed again. I wanted to. It felt good to have somebody...interested in me. I was in territory I had no experience in, nor preparation for. For one of the few times in my life, I reacted instead of thinking things through. In the process, I betrayed Jane..." Daria fell into silence.

Karen looked wide-eyed at Daria. "Oh."

"Right after...I thought about what I'd done to Jane, and regained control. I fled the car and ran inside. I wasn't able to sleep at all that night. All I could think about was how I had stabbed Jane in the back."

Jane addressed Karen. "To her credit, she told me the truth right away the next morning at school. Though in her usual direct method, it was quite a shock."

Daria said, "I felt like hell, but I couldn't stay quiet. Jane deserved to know."

Jane showed a little strain. "I broke up with Tom later that day. I told Daria I was okay with her going out with Tom. My turn to be delusional."

"In a rare display of naiveté on my part, I took her comment at face value. When Tom called to ask me out later that night, I agreed."

Jane said, "When I found out, I was mad again at Daria. That was late in May. We really didn't talk much again until mid-August."

Daria looked at Karen. "So, that's the sordid story. Oh, and to answer your original question, before my first date with Tom, I was extremely nervous, also guilty, and excited."

Karen looked at the two friends. "I can imagine."

Standing up, Jane said, "Okay, enough wallowing in old memories. If we can't think of anything else, let's go get some pizza."

Next morning, Daria sat her bed and looked out the window. Overnight snows had blanketed the inner quad with an undisturbed white. With Karen already departed for work, the room was quiet and peaceful.

His timing could've been better, but I'm glad I finally heard from Tom. Speaking with him as a friend, without any jealousy or romantic entanglements was...different. Once we get past the awkwardness, this looks promising. Even with his faults, he was a good guy; I'm looking forward to knowing him as a friend. I know Tom liked me, and I liked him. But looking back, there did seem to be something...missing.

Minutes later, Daria leaned back in a chair with her feet propped up on the desk, sipping coffee and reading from a spiral-bound notebook labeled "1999 Vol. 1". A fireproof lockbox was beside her, partially filled with more spiral notebooks.


Today was the first Valentine's Day I've had someone to celebrate with. Tom did make an effort, and things went smoother than our six month anniversary, back in November. Of course, it helps that I wasn't acting as weird, either.

Daria remembered the day from almost a year before.

Jake Morgendorffer stood by the open front door and called up the stairs, "Daria! Tom is here."

Daria walked down the stairs to see Tom waiting just inside the door, talking with her dad. "Thanks, Dad. Hi, Tom"

Tom looked over. "Hi, Daria." He stepped aside to allow Daria to pass, and followed her out to his slightly rusty Jaguar.

Settling into the passenger seat, Daria asked, "Any big Valentine's plans for us?"

Tom briefly looked over at Daria. "Well, you know how I feel about a lot of that corny stuff. But, I'm going to try."

"Thank you. I'm not much for corny either. However...I like being with someone this year, instead of watching from the outside."

After a brief kiss, they drove to High Hills Park, on the other side of Lawndale. Although the park was mostly still a dull, after-winter brown, a few specks of green were beginning to appear in the landscape. After parking, Tom removed a basket from the trunk. "I hope a small picnic will meet with your approval."

"That could work. Watching the precision drill formations of ants always gets my blood going."

Tom led Daria to the top of a small hill. Tom set the basket down and spread a blanket on the ground. He carefully removed some light sandwiches and fruit from the basket, a bottle of soda and two glasses. When he tried to place a vase holding a single red carnation in the center, it tipped on the uneven ground and spread a fan of water across one side of the blanket. "Oops. Guess that wasn't such a bright idea."

Daria sat on the dry side of the blanket. "But, a nice thought."

Tom sat and poured soda into the glasses before handing one to Daria. "Happy Valentine's Day."

Daria gave him a brief smile. "Happy Valentine's Day to you."

Tom took a bite from a sandwich. "How about we head over to my place as soon as we finish lunch? I picked up the new expansion to Zombie Slaughterhouse we could try out."

Daria picked up one of the sandwiches, slightly disappointed. "Sure, why not. What else is there to do at a picnic after you eat?"

Tom smiled. "Other than hang around to feed the ants?"

Daria gave him a small smile. "Or watch the ants feed on other picnickers." She fingered the small package in her jacket pocket. "I...um...picked up something for you." She removed the gift-wrapped box and handed it to Tom.

Tom unwrapped the present, to find a silver bookmark with an Art Nouveau design pierced through the metal. "Oh...wow...thanks." He pocketed it and continued with his lunch.

Tom was getting better at trying, it just...this sounds so silly...he could never get past feeling that things were corny. But, to be honest, I didn't help much either. How often did I get mad and try to break up with him?

Daria returned the diary volume to the lockbox. "If I'm going to do the introspection thing, Tom wasn't the only romantic interest I've had."

After our talk last summer, I know Trent had some feelings for me by the time of that silly multimedia project. He took all the blame as a way to ease away my crush on him, because we were really too different to make things work. He may be the world's biggest slacker, but his capacity to give will always be one of his most endearing qualities.

Daria shook her head and walked to her bed. Curling her legs underneath, she sat and stared out the window.

When he dropped me off last month, after driving Jane and I up here, he started to say he hadn't felt as strongly for someone as he did his current girlfriend, Lindy, in two...something. If he started to say two years, that would be in the months after that project.

Daria watched the snow-covered ground with concern.

If he did still have strong feelings, it must have been hard on him to watch Tom drift away from Jane and become attracted to me. And to watch Tom and I get together after. Damn. I wonder how much of that song, Betrayal, was about how he felt?

Daria sighed and rubbed her eyes.

Good one. All that time, we thought he was oblivious, and it was me instead.

"Well, this is getting frustrating. Maybe a look into the past will give me some help." She pulled a trunk from under her bed and opened the lock. Inside was lifetime of diaries from Theresa Blaine. Daria remembered the grand lady with fondness, and the times Daria read to her at the Better Days retirement home before her death. She visually scanned the marked spines, removed a marked volume, and sat back against the wall to read.

February 14, 1934

How do you describe an evening that went so right? Mark once again has shown himself to be a true gentleman. He surprised me with a dozen paper roses (who can afford that many real ones these days?) and a quiet dinner. Enjoyable conversation and gentle kisses. I wanted the evening to continue forever.

Daria looked up with a slight smirk. "Are you trying to drop hints to me? Okay, time to start examining how things are going with Michael."

Daria closed and returned the diary to its place in the trunk. After sliding it back under the bed, she went to the desk and reopened the lockbox with her diaries to retrieve the most recent. She sat down and began to write, using the silver pen that had also been a gift from Mrs. Blaine.


How do you feel about him, Morgendorffer?

Fresh from her after-work shower, Karen entered the dorm room to find Daria intently studying a spreadsheet on her computer. "Nose deep in more work; Michael must still be sweating away on his project."

Daria looked up. "I guess; his roommate said he hadn't seen him today. Knowing that guy, it only means that Michael left before one PM. I didn't see him over at the library. We probably missed each other."

"Hmm." Karen tossed a knotted plastic bag containing her work clothes into a hamper. "He does strike me as being devious enough to tell you he's busy elsewhere while he prepares something special for tomorrow."

"Yeah, right."

"He adores you."

"I can't see him spending the whole day shopping."

"Well, at least not intentionally. Him spending half the day in a confused fog trying to figure something out, that I can see." Karen squatted next to her and pointed to a pendant around Daria's neck. "He has a good track record. You hardly take that off."

Daria gave a short laugh. "He does."

"Or...he could be plotting something that just takes a lot of time, but not necessarily shopping."

"Maybe." After a moments silence, Daria quietly continued, "I hope I don't drive him away."

"Hmm? Why would you think that?"

"My track record."

Karen grabbed the other desk chair and sat down. "I know that feeling."

Daria looked up. "You do?"

Karen's eyes were sad. "I've scared away more guys than you have. There aren't that many that appreciate a girl that can curse enough to make a sailor blush."

"There's a lot more to you than that, and I've only heard you get that fired up at the computer."

"I suppose. But hell, you have an ex that calls and you can be on good terms with him. If any of my old boyfriends called, it would be more like an artillery duel."


"Your first crush is like a brother to you now."

"Well, yes."

"So, it looks like the only one you really 'drove away' was that Ted guy, who disappeared on the first date. From what Jane said, I think that boy had some other problems dealing with the real world."

"Damn. How do you do that?"

"Same as you and Jane, I call them as I see them. Too bad that seems to be a dead end with the guys I've dated."

"Outside Mr. Octopus that took you to the prom, you haven't really said much about them."

"Not a hell of a lot to talk about. I'd date guys, they'd get tired of me, and things would go to hell in a handbasket."

"Isn't that being a little melodramatic?"

"Possibly, but still accurate. Derek has been the longest, and most stable, relationship I've had. Maybe getting away with the National Guard once a month to shoot things lets him work off the stress I cause."

"I'll admit shooting live ammunition probably is a great stress reliever. But, let me pose a line of reasoning."

"Go ahead."

"You think you're too hard to get along with, that's why you've had relationships end so badly."


"Are these behavioral problems directed strictly toward males of the species?"

"I wouldn't think so."

"Okay. Do I put up with a lot of annoying nonsense from those around me?"

"Well, no."

"Therefore, you cannot be so irritating that you drive others away."

Karen eased back in her chair and raised an eyebrow. "You're good. That is, unless we are both such irritating losers that we are the only people that can tolerate each other."

"That could be seen as a reasonable supposition, but Derek is proof to the contrary. Unless I've been hallucinating, he's happy to be with you every time."

"Aha, and Michael is proof that you're not intolerable. If that boy gets any more puppy-eyed looking at you, I'm getting him a box of dog biscuits."

"Damn. Does that mean that we are starting to be well-adjusted?"

"Or that our boyfriends are utterly mad for putting up with us?"

"A more likely scenario, I think. By the way, don't sell yourself short. When you get wound up, you could make a sailor faint."

"Gee, thanks."

"What friends are for?"

Karen grinned and shrugged. "Abuse, it appears. Hey, what do you have planned for Michael?"

"Oh...I really don't know yet. What do you have up your sleeve for Derek?"

Karen developed an evil smirk. "You're gonna like this. I found out that the husband of one of the ladies I work with is a chocolatier..."

"Be careful letting Jane know about that."

Karen chuckled. "I'm having him make a chocolate DNA spiral for molecular-bio boy."

"Geek romance."

"He should get a smile out of it."

"I'm sure he will. Damn. Now I'm starting to feel bad about doing something for Michael."

"Knowing his fascination with Roman archaeology, how about a statue of one of the Roman gods, such as Priapus?


A faux innocent roll of the eyes was Karen's response.

"You make a suggestion like that again, and you will learn firsthand why Vlad Tepes was called the Impaler."

Karen smirked. "Like there's no phallic symbolism in that suggestion."


Karen picked up her purse. "Grab your jacket. We're going hunting."

"I really don't feel like spending the rest of the day shopping."

"Who said shopping, you don't have to buy something. We're hunting for ideas, and those can come from any source."

"You're going to be a pest if I don't agree."

"Like the flies on what I shovel at the zoo."

Daria gave a resigned sigh, stuffed her wallet into a jacket pocket and put it on. "Lead on."

"Bal-Mart. Temple to the great Gods of Consumerism." Jane smirked as she went inside the grossly oversized store. "I should be able to find some wonderfully tasteless crap in here for that new sculpture." She pulled a shopping cart from the rack, did a quick jog and hopped on the back for a ride. Jane noticed a familiar, unmistakable combination of bright red hair and camouflage jacket. Jane skidded to a stop and tapped on the man's shoulder. "Michael?"

He turned. "Hi, Jane."

"I thought you had some big project this weekend."

Michael Fulton scanned the area. "Is Daria with you?"


He relaxed. "Good. I finished yesterday. I'm hoping to use the extra time today to find a nice Valentine's gift for her."

"You're not going the dozen roses route?"

"Do you have any idea of how much those things cost this time of year? I might want to have children some day."

"Is Daria aware of this plan?"

"Well, it's not necessarily so much a plan as keeping options open. For some time in the far future. Far, far future. In any case, I'm still not interested in parting with one."

Jane smirked. "I'm sure she'll be relived to hear that."

"Um, Jane, think you could maybe give me a hand in finding something for Daria? I got lucky with Christmas, but with her, the jewelry route is limited. You've known her for a long time. Any ideas?"

"I suppose so, but I'll tell you up front, I won't get my belly button pierced."


"When we were sophomores, Daria went off to help my brother find me a birthday present, and she ended up with a pierced belly button."

"This must be the brother she had a crush on. Belly button piercing...hmm."

"I wouldn't go there if I were you."

"I get the feeling that she didn't keep it."

Jane grinned. "I'd have guessed you figured that out by now, one way or the other."

Blushing, Michael stammered. "Um...er...no...not really."

Jane laughed at his reaction. "One more thing. If we see a parade, I'm running like hell."

Michael gave Jane a curious look. "Um...yeah...sure. I'll keep that in mind. Any idea of where to start?"

"Wandering aimlessly works for me."

"I was able to that on my own."

"But, now you'll have expert advice."

"Jane, I know you're having fun, but please, I...I don't want to screw this up."

Jane stopped the cart and looked at him more seriously. "You care for her quite a bit, don't you?"

"Yes. I..." Michael turned away from Jane. "...Care a lot about her."

Jane raised both eyebrows and walked around to face him. "Okay. Ostentatious is right out, but you've probably guessed that already. Cute will get you maimed..."

"Quinn, you evil witch." Daria muttered, feeling the soft surface of the green cashmere sweater she wore, a gift from her sister. "You gave me this because you knew I'd get hooked on how comfortable it is. You're a conniving, appearance-obsessed..."

A knock on the door announced Michael's arrival.

Dammit heart, quit pounding like that, you're distracting. "Come on in." Daria replied to the door.

Michael entered, carrying a package wrapped in green. Before him, Daria rose from one of two chairs by a folding table, set for dinner. A single candle burned next to dishes containing a freshly prepared meal of honey chicken, herbed rice and tossed salad. "Wow." He stared at the table in wonder. "When you invited me over for dinner, I thought you were picking up some take-out."

"Well, Karen and I actually do a fair amount of our own cooking. It costs less than the university meal cards or eating out, and we have better choice in what we eat. I hope you like it."

"You're serving real food; of course I'll like it. I have something for you, happy Valentine's Day."

Daria smiled at Michael and accepted the package. Slowly, she opened it and found a small, deep blue-glass vase holding twelve red, miniature silk roses.

Michael continued. "Kind of funny, I started out dismissing the idea of roses, but somehow, the idea of a small bouquet that wouldn't get in the way, or wilt, seemed to be...right."

Daria placed the vase down in front of her plate. "Right...that is a good way to describe them." She placed her hands around the back of his neck and pulled his face down to kiss him. "Thank you."

Michael softly brought his arms around her waist and pulled her close. "You're welcome. And thank you. Does the candle mean you're trying to be a little romantic?"

"I suppose so. I liked the idea of us having a little peace and quiet together."

"Karen not expected back any time soon?"

"She and Derek have an eight o'clock reservation at the Boston Commons Steakhouse. Derek won dinner for two in a radio contest. It'll be after ten before she gets back."

Michael chuckled. "Hopefully Jane will have the sense to stay away."

"I promised severe bodily harm to her easel if she showed up tonight."

"That's cold."

"But, sometimes necessary." Daria reluctantly disengaged and waved toward the table. "Shall we?"

Later, the two sat in candlelight, talking over the remains of their meal. Daria said, "Mind if I ask you something?"

"Um, sure."

"How did you figure out...how to put this...the way you treat me. Nobody's ever treated me...hell, like some kind of royalty."

"My parents have always been close. I just, kind of treated you the way my Dad treated my Mom." He looked thoughtful a moment. "When I say it that way, it sounds kind of creepy."

"A bit incestuous, but I'll forgive you." Daria gave him a gentle smirk. "It also means you're the first person I've met with well-adjusted parents. Still, I can't believe your father's treated your mother like this for, at least eighteen years."

"Well, maybe not quite to the same extent. It's just...I guess...I'm being a little overly cautious. I don't want you to be disappointed...or to drive you off."

Daria looked at him in surprise.

"I'm not going overboard, am I?" He slapped his forehead. "Crap. I have been. You must feel I'm some kind of phony or something."

"You have gone somewhat overboard in trying to make me feel special. But, I've kind of enjoyed it. Just don't tell anyone in my family that, I'll never hear the end of it."

"Deal. So, you don't think I've been a phony?"

"No, but you should tone things down a bit. I think you've been like me, very surprised at how well things have been going between us, and scared to death of driving the other away."

"Okay, I'll agree to lighten up. Don't be shy about telling me to, either. Now, though some people might find your bluntness and sarcasm a problem, it is one of the things I like about you. Otherwise, how could you drive me away?"

"Michael, you're sweet. In the past, I've...crap...been very stupid...and caused a lot of pain." Daria released a deep breath. "I've already told this story once recently; I better tell you, since it may affect how you think about me. I'm sorry I haven't said anything before, but this isn't easy. Basically, it is me at my very worst."

Daria spent the next half-hour recounting the story of how she and Tom became involved, their somewhat tortuous relationship and how it ended. "In the long run, it turned into an overall good experience, but in getting there, I discovered my worst side."

"I think we all have a worst side, and are capable of huge mistakes."

"I'm very grateful that Jane was able to forgive me."

"I suspect, because she knew that deep down, your actions were the result of bad judgment, not malice. Seeing the guilt in your eyes, I don't think you would allow yourself to do anything like that again."

"I hope not."

"Though, that story does explain that parade comment Jane made yesterday...oops."

Daria cocked an eye at him.

"I ran into her while trying to get an idea for today, and asked her for help. She made a comment about running away if we saw a parade."

"That sounds like her humor."

"It is a lot on the unusual side. Some of her suggestions..."

"I'll fess up; Karen tried to help me yesterday too. Some of her ideas were, well, let's not trod that path anytime soon."

He chuckled. "In the end, I spotted the silk roses, though Jane did think they were a good idea."

"While my dinner came from some old reading."

"So much for originality. By the way, Jane also mentioned something about you getting your belly button pierced..."

"She didn't. She did, how else would you know about it? Now my humiliation is complete. She will die the death of a thousand piercings."

"Makes me feel a little better that I'm not the only one to do something utterly ridiculous because of the opposite sex."

Daria gave him a questioning look.

"During my junior year of high school, there was a girl I had a crush on. For a little background, the school teams were called the Warriors. Every year at homecoming, they have the human catapult, our version of a human cannonball. Well, I volunteered to be the rock to impress this girl. Yes, I know, stupid testosterone tricks. Stayed curled into a ball through the shot, bounced on the safety net, and decided to do a showy landing. Both feet went through the net mesh, resulting in my full weight hitting the net between my legs."

Daria grimaced.

"Yes, I was wearing a cup; it prevented damage, not pain. To add to the embarrassment, it was all caught on videotape and shown on the local news shows as their 'sports gaff of the week'. I have a copy, if you want to see the evidence. Oh, yeah. The girl didn't even see it; she skipped the game to go on a date."

"Okay, that beats a navel ring. And I don't think I want to see the video, I'll take your word for it."

Michael looked at his watch. "Damn, almost ten already." He walked around the table as Daria rose. When he reached her, he wrapped his arms around her shoulders.

Daria felt herself relax against his chest. "I know we agreed you don't have to go to all the trouble to make me feel special."


She circled his waist with her arms and looked up at him. " Um, the way you've been very softly putting your arms around me and pulling me to you when we embrace, do you mind continuing to do that?" Blushing, Daria continued, "I like the way it feels."

"I don't mind at all."

They stayed together for a couple minutes before Michael carefully pulled away. "Sorry to end this, but I should get going. I'm sorry."

"I understand; school calls. An addiction we both succumb to." She went to the table and picked up the vase with one hand, while pressing the pendant he had given her for Christmas against her chest. "Thank you again. You have a way of choosing gifts that mean something."

Michael smiled and gave her a lingering kiss. "Good night." He opened the door and stepped out.

Just before he closed the door, Daria said, "Good night." After, she carried the miniature bouquet to her desk and set it on the shelf, above the computer monitor. "When something like this is sincere, it's not corny." Daria picked up the dishes and placed them in a plastic tote to take to one of the large sinks for washing. She softly smiled and gazed upward. "An evening that went so right...Mrs. Blaine, perhaps you are trying to give me a hint. I'm beginning to feel...I don't quite know, but...I could grow to like it."

Michael began to walk toward the elevator. You were supposed to tell her tonight. Damn. Quit being such an idiot. He turned to look at the closed door. "I love you."

Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Isa Yo-Jo, Mahna Mahna, DJW, ipswichfan, Decelaraptor, nmorgendorffer, Mike Nassour, for comments, suggestions and all the usual stuff at PPMB

Thanks to ipswichfan and Karen Bealer for beta reading.

September 2004
Revised February 2005