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. 2005.

This is the twenty-ninth story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

Back Aboard

The evening sun's rays fell on Karen Myerson kneeling beside a grave in her quiet, rural Georgia hometown's cemetery. Her left arm was in a cast and supported by a sling over a red and black plaid shirt tucked into one of her usual pairs of jeans. The young blonde placed a bundle of yellow carnations in front of the tombstone, which had carnations carved into the face above the inscription:

Laura Deanna Austin
June 3, 1981 - October 17 1998

Tears began to trickle down Karen's face. "I still miss you. I'm sorry I haven't been by since leaving for college." She lightly followed the letters with her fingertips. "It's taken a long time to build up the courage to come back. I can't believe how blind I was to what you were doing, and hope someday you forgive me."

She placed her hand back on the flowers. "If it's any comfort, your loss may have helped save my roommate from a serious problem. Either that, or just proved I'm a meddling witch." Karen remembered a difficult conversation with her roommate, Daria Morgendorffer, the previous October.

"I'm worried about this self-image problem of yours. I've already had one person ask me if you were anorexic and hiding it. That's not a good sign. I don't want you hurting yourself."

"When did you become a psychologist?"

"I'm not. I'm a concerned friend trying her best. You don't have an eating disorder now, but, you know as well as I do, that something like that can be easily triggered when somebody has a low opinion of their own body. I've already been through one friend doing that."

Karen stopped and choked slightly, before covering her face for a moment. She inhaled and said, "I don't know if I could live through a repeat."

"You'd like Daria. She's intelligent, funny, and one of the most dedicated friends possible. We'll be together again this year. I'll be sharing an apartment with her and her friend from high school, Jane."

Karen sat back and cleared her eyes. "I'm doing pretty good in school and still plan on being a vet." She waved her broken arm. "Also, I'm still working the same summer job for old Doc Westerman. That's how I got this. One of the Reilly's mares got in a good shot.

"Would you believe I have a steady boyfriend now? Derek was able to stay for a week when he finished his Guard training up at Fort Benning this summer. He's a molecular bio major at school. I met him last fall. His folks live in western Massachusetts, so he'll meet me at Raft. I know; everyone back in high school would give me hell for dating a Yankee. We really have been getting serious."

Karen smiled warmly. "Yes, even that serious, and I kept the promise of no back seat." Karen laughed a little. "I'm glad it was my turn to do the laundry."

Karen looked to the side for a second. "My folks are both doing well. Things got a little tight last fall, between my school costs and some equipment breakdowns. Daria helped me find enough financial aid to keep me in school up in Boston."

She returned her gaze to the gravestone. "That brain-damaged brother of mine, Terry, and his wife Jill are still happy together. She's been looking a little green around the gills lately. I wonder if I'll be seeing a niece or nephew by the time I'm back for next summer."

The call of a whip-poor-will made Karen realize it was getting dark. She stood and looked down. "I need to get home to pack. I've got a lot of driving to do over the next two days. I so hope you've been able to rest peacefully. I promise to stop by more often. Bye."

She slowly walked toward the road, where she'd parked the two-tone blue, light pickup with a bed topper that she'd purchased a few weeks earlier.

Karen's brother and her father, Geoff, balanced a tan and brown sofa before sliding it into the bed of her truck. Both were large and strongly built from years of farm work. Terry had short, light brown hair and a mustache, while Geoff's short hair was solid gray. He asked Karen, "How do you plan on getting this thing into your apartment? You're not supposed to try to lift anything, and from the sounds of it, I don't think your roommates can do it."

"I'll give Derek a call and we'll see if Daria can drag her male over to help," Karen said. "And don't be fooled, Jane's a lot stronger than she looks."

"Okay, just make sure to stay off that arm."

"Dad, I have been, haven't I?"

Terry cinched the tie-down straps to secure the sofa to the truck. "So far. But, Dad knows you as well as I do."

"Trust me, Daria and Jane will watch me just as close. Jane because she'll simply enjoy it, Daria because she wants to get even for me watching out for her."

Maddie Myerson put a plate of fresh eggs, toast, and bacon down in front of Karen. "There, you should at least have one good, hot meal before your trip."

An observer could clearly tell the mother/daughter relationship, from the dark blond hair and tall build to their wide hips. Karen smiled back and said, "Thanks. One thing good about driving: I'll have more food options than I did taking a bus."

"You be careful, driving with only one arm."

"I will. I'm already damaged goods; I don't want to see any more done in transit." Karen rolled her eyes as she realized how that comment could be taken. "I've had three weeks experience driving around here like this."

"It's a good thing you didn't get that stick shift."

"No kidding."

"Say hi to that nice Daria for me."

"I will, Mom."

"And make sure you thank the Morgendorffers for letting you stay the night."

"I will."

Maddie went out of the room and returned with two large net bags of onions. "Don't forget."

Karen grinned. "I won't. I'm sure Daria's parents will appreciate their bag. Besides, you think I liked those bitter bullets they sold for onions up there?"

Maddie laughed. "Now that you have a real place, I can ship more fresh vegetables up to you."

"I'm looking forward to that. With a little luck, I should make converts out of Daria and Jane."

"What about Derek?"

"I love him, but when it comes to food, he's hopeless. He thinks MRE's taste good."

"That just makes it a bigger challenge."

"Mom, I don't think you can overcome taste buds burned off by hot sauce."

"With a little patience, you'll be surprised."

"I take it Dad required training?"

"Oh, no. Your Grammy Bella did that. I was thinking about your Uncle Calvin. Aunt Viv had a time with him."

Karen exchanged waves with her parents as she set off into the predawn fog. Her truck was filled front and back with possessions. She looked around and giggled. "To think that a year ago, I traveled with only two suitcases and two satchels."

She drove down the narrow country road and let out a light sigh. Back to the crowds and concrete of the city. After about ten minutes, she reached the edge of town and smiled at the single police car parked at the breakfast diner. Rusty must have run late getting on duty again this morning.

She continued through the small town, only occasional signs of activity present. On the other side of town, she could see lights in the farm houses on, farmers already preparing for the day's work, and to try to get as much done in the early morning before the late August heat settled in. Soon she joined a wider road, and later picked up Interstate 95. At the first rest stop, she pulled in and rolled her sling back over the cast enough to allow her to reach the steering wheel. What they don't know, won't hurt them. With her left arm providing partial assistance in steering, Karen pulled back onto the highway.

At about seven that evening, Karen pulled the truck to a stop outside a red brick home in Lawndale, Maryland. A red SUV and a blue Lexus were parked in the driveway. Both are home. She climbed out and walked to the front door. She hesitated before ringing the bell.

Soon Helen Morgendorffer answered the door. "Karen. It's so nice to see you, come in."

"Thanks, Mrs. Morgendorffer."

Oh, dear. Did you drive all the way like that?"

"Not a lot of fun, but manageable."

Jake looked over from the sofa. "Hey, Karen. How's it going?"

"Okay, Mr. Morgendorffer." Karen held up one bag of onions. "Mom insisted I drop off a bag of fresh sweet onions for you."

Helen accepted the bag. Oh my God. Jake's going to want these in everything he cooks for the next two weeks. Smiling, she said, "Tell your mother how much we appreciate it."

"I'll remember."

She read the label. "Myerson Certified Organic?"

"We got the certification this summer. So far, it looks like Terry was right: it was a good move." She looked around. "Not to be rude, but it's been two and a half hours since my last stop. Where's your bathroom?"

Helen pointed. "Up the stairs and straight. The guest room is immediately to the left of that."

With relief, she said, "Thanks."

Early in the morning, Karen talked to the mirror as she brushed her hair. "This has been an experience. I'm glad I was able to honestly claim to be tired last night."

She packed the brush into a small case and went to the guest room to retrieve her suitcase. She looked around and let out a short laugh. "Michael must have used this room when he stayed here. I bet Jane will tease Daria about me sharing a bed with him." She continued to smile and walked out of the room. "Maybe Jane needs an inflatable male."

She went downstairs and left her suitcase by the front door. The first floor was dark and quiet. "Why not? They did put me up for the night." Karen went to the kitchen and turned on the light. "Now where do they keep everything?"

Already dressed for work and carrying her briefcase, Helen could smell the food as she came downstairs and entered the kitchen. Why do my guests keep making breakfast? "Karen, that is so sweet of you."

"Hey, you saved me the cost of a hotel and fed me."

"You're our guest; you didn't have to."

"I've been around Daria too long. You don't have time to cook this morning, do you?"

Helen looked down. "No."

"That's what I thought."

Helen sat on a stool at the counter while Karen served a plate and cup of coffee. Helen started to eat in silence, with something clearly bothering her.

Karen pulled up a stool and sat across the counter with her breakfast. "Daria says that she always knew you were thinking about them, even when you couldn't be there."

Helen looked up. "She's always been far more understanding of me than she let on."

Karen gave her a grin. "That must be why she can put up with Jane and me."

Helen smiled back. "I'm glad she's staying with such good friends."

Jake came in, still wearing a bathrobe. "Hey! That smells good. Did somebody cook breakfast?"

Karen rolled her eyes and looked at Helen, who shook her head and patted Karen's hand.

Karen double-checked her map duct-taped to the dashboard as she drove down a residential street. After a string of colorful outbursts, she said, "It's freaking sad when you have problems finding your own apartment. Probably would've helped if I'd been there more than a couple of times before I left for Georgia."

She noticed a street sign. "Finally." She made the turn and went down several blocks to a large nineteenth century house. Karen drove around to the back and parked to the side of the driveway, next to an old carriage house that now acted as a garage for the owner.

The only other car in sight was a black sedan with a phoenix painted on the hood and flames trailing down the side of the car. "Must be Jane's."

She grabbed one of her suitcases and walked up the outside staircase to the second floor. She set the bag down and opened the door. "Jane! I made it."

A lean woman with jet black hair sitting in one of the camp chairs in the living room waved and said, "Welcome back, Karen. What did you do to your arm?"

Karen looked down at her cast-bound left arm. "A horse kicked it."

Jane smirked, "Unhappy patient?"

"Exactly. She wasn't thrilled with the procedure."

Jane queried, "What could be so bad?"

"It involved a very long rubber glove...we'll leave it at that."

Jane thought for a second before making a disgusted face. "Ew."

"That's a good, technical description of it. Where's Daria?"

"She and Michael were out for lunch. They should be back soon."

"Good, I was hoping to have a strong back around to help. I brought a real sofa with."

Jane jumped up and ran to the door, looking down at the tarp-covered end sticking out of the back of Karen's truck. She pumped a fist. "Yes! Our first real living room furniture." She turned to Karen. "How'd you pull that off?"

"It's a hand-me-down from Terry. They got a new one, so..."

Jane grinned. "We'll take it."

"I like your new car."

"Thanks. Sometimes my brother is also good for something."

"I'm going to call Derek to tell him to come over. Then I'll take a bath and change." She pointed to her cast. "Taking a shower with this thing is just too much of pain in the neck. When everyone gets here, I'll recruit them to unload the truck."

A muscular man with brown hair held the front of the sofa and another young man with a medium build, red hair and glasses, carried the back of it. They carried it up the stairs and onto the apartment landing. Derek Adler stopped just inside the apartment door. Michael Fulton said from outside, "Okay where do you want it...and no anatomical suggestions."

Jane directed. "Okay, straight ahead...right...a little more...straight...okay, hook left...that's it...a little more...that's it...stop."

The two set the sofa down in the sparse living room. The room otherwise had three folding upright camp chairs and one lounge chair, plus a television on a cart. The furniture looked out of place with the Victorian-era pale of the walls and dark green trim and wainscoting. Both men rolled over the sofa arms and plopped onto it.

Karen tilted her head next to Daria. "You'd think we overworked them or something."

Daria looked at them. "I think they're angling for attention."

Jane sat down between Derek and Michael. "Well, if you two aren't interested..."

Michael and Derek looked at Jane, at Daria and Karen, and then each other. With expressions of mock fear, each slid away from Jane to the edge of the sofa.

Jane looked at them and crossed her arms. "Hrmph."

Karen sat on the couch arm and kissed Derek. "It's all in the training."

Derek glared good-naturedly at Karen. "Training? Sorry, you don't look at all like any of my D.I.s. Thank God."

Jane cracked into laughter. "But you must admit, if they looked like her, recruitment would go up."

She got up, still laughing. "I'm going to grab some drinks for everyone."

Daria followed her into the kitchen. "Hey, you all right?"

Jane turned. "I will be. I know they were only playing around."

"Look, they..."

"...Were being loyal. Janey's just feeling a little left out."

Daria looked down and sighed.

Jane gently pushed Daria's shoulder. "Hey, you did try to set me up with someone."

"Who was a flake even CC had to get rid of. Look, I'll talk to them."

"Don't. It wasn't bright, but they were only having fun. Head back in. I'll get the drinks." She saw Daria's remaining concern. "I'll be okay, just give me a few seconds."

Daria watched her. "Okay. A few seconds."


Daria went back into the living room. Michael met her halfway and whispered. "That didn't go over too well, did it?"

She hugged him and whispered back, "Not exactly."

"Damn. I'm sorry."

"Come on, let's go face the others."

Karen was nestled under Derek's arm when they got back. He asked, "How's Jane?"

"She'll live. I bet she's going to come out with some idea for having fun."

Everyone nodded in understanding.

Michael sat in the lounge chair and slid to the side. Daria shook her head and squeezed beside him. "You're starting to like this too much."

He put an arm around her and gently hugged her. "Starting?"

"Okay, you're just plain spoiled."


She relaxed against him. "Me, too."

Jane came in holding a six-pack of sodas by one open ring. "Okay, you have your choice of the local store brand cola...or the local store brand cola."

She peeled off cans and handed them around, then sat in a chair and opened the remaining can. She looked at the two couples and an impish grin formed. "This is the last weekend of summer. Daria and I have spent almost the entire time cooped up indoors. We live in a coastal city."

Daria lowered her head. Here it comes.

Jane grinned at her. "You squirmed out on me earlier. I want to go to the beach."

Karen said, "Just don't expect me to get this cast wet."

Derek said, "I'll go for amoral support."

Michael said, "I've never really been to an ocean beach."

Daria sighed. "Okay, I'm in."

Jane said, "Goody."

Karen leaned out of the window of her truck and yelled, "Jane, you better know where we're going!" Stuffed into the back of her truck were chairs, umbrellas, coolers and almost all the beach cargo for six people.

Jane leaned out of her car window and yelled back, "I've got Daria reading the map. If we get lost, blame her!"

Inside Jane's car, her old roommate, CC sat in the front passenger seat. Her dark blue hair was pulled into a single braid and tied with an ornate ribbon. Daria sat behind Jane and Michael behind CC. Daria said, "That's it, preemptively blame me. CC could just as easily do this."

Jane looked in the rear-view mirror. "Yeah, but this keeps you busy with something other than normal back seat activities." She shifted the car into drive and it started moving.

CC looked at Jane. "I thought she was navigating because I can get lost on the way to the bathroom."

"That, too."

"There is a reason I still live on campus." She turned to Daria. "Can you believe that they still want me as a Residence Assistant for the full year?"

Daria said, "They must be desperate."

"They are, but I'll take it. Free room and board."

Jane said, "Partial board: I know you'll be coming over to mooch food. Nobody can live on a complete diet of BFAC cafeteria food."

CC laughed. "Perhaps some aliens might."

Michael leaned forward, "Haven't you ever wondered what happened to those students that just seemed to drop out of sight..."

Jane shook her head. "Nah. That would mean that there's meat in the mystery meat."

CC added, "And we know that's not true. Raw tofu has more flavor."

Jane pulled out onto the street, with Karen and Derek following behind.

Each laden with supplies, they trudged across the parking lot and onto a wooden ramp. Daria stopped at the edge of the beach, looking out. "There's too many people."

Jane said from behind, "But, you can't complain about there not being enough exits."

Grumbling, Daria continued onto the beach. They found a sufficiently clear area and unloaded their burdens to form a base camp. Daria wore her only swim suit, a blue one-piece. Karen wore the same yellow and white suit she'd used for Jane's Spring Break party. Daria noticed that Jane had found a bright red bikini that was more revealing than her previous suits. CC had a white suit that was probably pushing the local exposure limits. Michael appeared to have on the same green shorts as he'd worn to the party, while Derek had some cut-off jeans on.

Soon chairs and umbrellas were up and functioning. Jane looked out toward the ocean. "Wouldn't it be cool if a dead whale washed up on the beach?"

Daria squinted. "Cool?"

Karen settled into a lounge chair and adjusted her cast. "Doc likes to tell the story of when he helped with a necropsy on one in school. He said that after a day on the beach it stunk like you wouldn't believe. To top it off, tourists kept asking them why they didn't try to save it."

Derek let out a couple laughs. "I must stay this: you ladies are not among the squeamish types."

Daria said, "Which is a good thing. If we had to depend on the likes of you two to protect our delicate sensibilities, we'd be in trouble."

Michael looked up from raiding the cooler for a drink. "Hey! What'd I do?"

Once all was in place, Derek settled in next to Karen in side by side chairs. Michael and Daria held hands and walked to the surf. Jane nudged CC. "Looks like time for us to go trolling."

"Fly-fishing could be more fun with this crowd."

Jane looked at CC from foot to head. "No idea of where to put the hook."

CC smirked and poked Jane in the back. "If we put it in here." Followed with a poke to her stomach. "And brought it out here, it would work."


CC looked at Michael and Daria near the water. "Isn't that kind of like the blind leading the blind?"

"I hope they left a trail of bread crumbs to find their way back."

"She seems to be a little more relaxed."

Jane leaned her weight onto one hip. "She is. Last year, I literally had to drag her out of the room." She looked down. "Hell, I've changed; there's probably half the fabric on this compared to my old suit."

CC lightly slapped Jane on the shoulder. "Come on, the art hussy and the stripper need to find some fun."

"Who are you calling a hussy? I'm very particular."

Daria stopped at the water with an intake in breath. "That's cold."

"Finest North Atlantic. What did you expect?"

"You know, there is a reason people die of hypothermia after a ship sinking."

He gently pulled on her hand. "Come on."

"You're one of those jump-in-and-get-it-over-with types, aren't you?"

He shrugged.

"Well, I like to draw out the misery."

"Tell you what; I'll go dive in, and wait for you to come out to me."

She squinted without her glasses. "Providing I can find you."

"I can see you enough to track. I'll holler and give you directions."

She snorted. "Why do I keep you around?"

"I still haven't figured that one out, but I know why I stay around."

She gave him a smile and kiss. "Good save. Go on; just expect to wait a bit."

Michael took a running start and made a shallow dive, emerging with a loud exhale and eyes wide open.

A little faster than she liked, Daria worked her way out in the direction he ran, stopping and rising up on her toes as each wave came in. Occasional calls from him helped her maintain the proper direction.

As she got close, she realized he must be squatting down to hold just his head above the surface, as the water level was only chest high on her as she got close. He moved up and wrapped his arms around her. "Adapting?"

"Barely. The human body really wasn't meant for these temperatures."

He held her tighter. "Better?"

Daria closed her eyes and let out a pleased sigh. With only the fabric of her swimsuit between them, the warmth of his chest felt good. She looked up and kissed the underside of his chin. "Yes."

He leaned back and pushed off, away from shore.

Daria tightened.

"Just heading out a little further so we can swim."

"Michael...I'm not a good swimmer. The last time I spent any real time swimming was at summer camp when I was twelve."

He stopped his outward motion by dragging his feet on the bottom. "How about here, then?"


He released her and she felt her feet touch bottom, with the water at the top of her shoulders. Each incoming waved lifted her up and she felt a momentary disorientation. Might as well. She leaned forward and started to clumsily swim.

Michael stayed next to her. "Thanks for indulging. We'll head in when you want to."

"We're not chasing watermelons. I can stay out here a while."

Karen set down her book and looked at Derek. "You don't have to stay beside me the whole time."

He shrugged. "No problem. Just making sure no beach gorillas kick sand on you."

She lowered her sunglasses. "Why don't you just whiz on the chairs to mark your territory?"

He raised both hands, palms up, and smirked. "I don't want to be arrested for indecent exposure?" He dropped the smirk. "I want to stay with you."

"Okay, as long as you're here because of my charming personality and not some testosterone induced posturing."

He leaned over and kissed her. "How about both? What male could resist?"

"Those that don't have brain damage?"

"Dammit! That must be how you put that mind-control chip in."

CC stalked up to the base camp. She flipped a cooler open, ripped a soda from a six-pack and dumped the rest back in. "Ergh," she said as she sat on a towel and opened the can.

Karen smiled. "Trolling not going well?"

CC shook her head. "Bringing plenty in. I had to keep throwing them back as underage."

"Where's Jane?"

CC pointed up the beach to where Jane was attempting to teach a couple of young men how to foxtrot. The uneven sand and inappropriate music wasn't helping, but all appeared to be having a good time. "I do enough dancing for work."

Derek, Karen, CC and Jane stood around a small grill and looked around the crowded beach.

Derek scanned along the surf. "I don't see them. I wonder where they could've gone?"

Jane pointed down the beach. "There they are."

Holding his hand, Daria walked with Michael back to the group. She plopped onto a chair and said, "I'm not moving." She removed a small case from a backpack and put on her glasses.

Michael set a chair in front of hers. "I offered to carry you."

Jane looked concerned. "What happened?"

Michael reached down to a bag and retrieved his glasses. "We didn't pay attention to how far we had drifted down the beach while swimming."

Daria reached for his hand as he sat. "Whose fault is that?"

"We got a little lost on the way back," Michael said to Jane.

Daria looked at Michael. "We were going the wrong direction."

"We turned around."

"After I asked where we were."

Jane said, "Yep, the blind leading the blind."

"Men...just can't ask for directions," CC joked.

"Genetically encoded, must be." Karen added.

Derek recognized the losing battle. "Okay, we're guilty."

Beginning to rub Daria's feet, Michael said, "And I better make up for it."

"Now, let's get to a more important question." Derek turned toward the smoking grill. "Can we cook lunch now?"

Karen moved next to the grill. "Who's this 'we' you mentioned?"

He looked at his girlfriend. "You're not letting me near it, are you?"

She winked at him. "No, because I want my friends to be able to eat it."

"Okay, I promise only to watch."

"Good, maybe you'll learn something."

"You did succeed in teaching me how to boil water."

Daria perked up. "Hey, can you teach Jane?"

Jane turned. "That's enough, Morgendorffer. I've learned the basics of your one and only cookbook. You've even eaten my creations."

"I have an iron stomach. I lived for years on Mom's frozen lasagna and Dad's mystery meals."

Karen started putting burgers on the small grill. "Enough, already. I'm cooking. You'll eat what you get."

Michael looked around the group. "Says something about our cooking skills when the one-armed person is doing the grilling."

As the afternoon wore on, Daria and Karen sat on chairs talking while Derek and Michael ferried supplies to Karen's truck and dropped off the trash. Karen said, "So, you were too distracted to notice you were drifting. Anything particularly distracting?"

Daria lightly blushed. "I haven't really enjoyed swimming in almost as long as I can remember. Plus...um...having him next to me while wearing only this was...nice."

"I wondered." She looked at a small commotion on the beach. "Looks like Jane and CC hooked something interesting." Jane and CC were in a volleyball game with a several other young women against a similar sized group of men.

"I think Jane's feeling better, now."

"You still feel a little responsible for her, don't you?"

Daria gently nodded. "Ever since Tom."

"We'll just have to keep our eyes open."


"I haven't said anything yet, but I'm glad you and Michael are together."

"You said that in your email."

"But not in person."

"Oh, thanks. It's nice that you and Derek are getting along so well."

Karen lightly blushed. "Very well. So, you actually dressed up for Michael."

Daria nodded. "Like I told you I would. He really appreciated it."

"Letting your romantic streak show again?"

"He does bring it out."

The game broke up and Jane ran over, slightly winded. "Daria, I know you can't live without a notepad around. Can I grab a page or two and a pencil?"

Daria reached into her backpack. "Phone numbers?"

"Yeah, a couple of them look pretty tasty."

"Jane, the beach bunny."

She flashed a wide grin back and said, "We really should do this more often." Jane grabbed the notepad. "Be back in a bit, and then we can go."

Karen watched Jane jog back to a couple of young men. "Yeah, she's feeling better."

Karen rolled out of bed in the morning and stood. "Going to take a while to get used to this bed." She quietly went about getting ready for the first day of fall classes. In the kitchen, she started coffee and prepared her breakfast.

Karen smiled at the familiar sight of her old dorm roommate's first-of-the-morning appearance. "Hey, Daria."

"Hmm." Daria went to the kitchen and returned minutes later with coffee and cereal. "Another fine morning you've gotten us into."

"Old habits die hard."

"You don't want them to."

Karen's vision shifted to Jane, stumbling into the dining area. "You and mornings really don't get along."

Jane frowned. "Blrch."

"Coffee's ready; go hook up an IV."

Jane slowly edged to the kitchen. "Thkyg."

Karen turned to Daria, who was nursing her coffee. "I was thinking. I've got Organic Chem. One at eight AM. Physics with Calc. One at nine-thirty, and World Lit One at eleven." She laughed a bit. "At least you're in that one."

A little more clear-headed, Daria nodded. "Yeah, and I've got Secondary Teaching Methods at eight and Poetry One at nine-thirty."

"And we both work after lunch. Wouldn't carpooling over on Tuesday and Thursday mornings make more sense? We could come back here for lunch, and then separate."

"Karen, sometimes it is frightening how much sense you can make this early in the morning. You are a mutant."

Karen sat in her truck after classes and groaned. "At least that's over for today."

Daria sat in the passenger seat. "I don't want to hear it. Let's go get some lunch."

"Deal. Let's stop by Cheap and Cheesy. I'm too lazy to fix something."

"I need a cholesterol fix."

"Ready for another workday of editing?"

Daria yawned. "If I can stay awake. Bet you get out of shoveling for the next couple weeks."

"Yeah, I got kicked on purpose so I wouldn't have to shovel zoo droppings."

"After this amount of time, I was expecting them to promote you."

"I am hoping."

After lunch, Karen reached the Franklin Park Zoo and went to the operations office. She said hello to various other workers as she passed through the building, stopping several times to explain the arm. After running the gauntlet, she reached her supervisor's office. At the sight of Karen, Sarah Wilkins got up from the desk and came to the door. "Welcome back to the zoo."

Karen leaned against the wall. "I got back to the zoo last week. This is just getting back to work."

Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.

February 2005