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 Thirty-Fourth story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

For This, We're Thankful

"I'm going to rip that little puke's throat out!" Jake growled, sounding eerily like his father.

Lawndale County's Assistant District Attorney, Kyle Sullivan shook his head. "No, Mr. Morgendorffer. Under no circumstances do we want Mr. Ruttheimer to claim any kind of victim status."

The arm of his chair would probably have Jake's fingerprints permanently embossed into the leather by the time he left. "Can't you lock him up?"

Mr. Sullivan said, "The problem is, all we have him on now are a stack of copyright violations and one count of selling adult-oriented material to a minor. He was easily able to qualify for and post bail."

"He was stalking my daughter!"

"Yes, but this is where cases become difficult and dangerous. Besides watching and taking photos, Mr. Ruttheimer hasn't really done anything. We can't do more until we can prove at trial that he's dangerous to your daughter."

Helen asked, "So, what do you plan to do about it?"

"Mrs. Morgendorffer, your daughter had restraining orders placed on him to stay away from her person here and in Massachusetts, her current residence, and your residence."

Helen folded her hands together. "Mr. Sullivan, we both know how effectively useless those are at protecting someone."

"Regrettably correct. This is where you two come in. We need to catch him doing something that we can put him in jail for."

Helen narrowed her eyes to slits. "And you want us to...?"

Sullivan steepled his fingers. "Accept your daughter's invitation to go to Boston for Thanksgiving."

Jake said, "How did you know about the invitation?"

"Daria and I discussed some things before you arrived."

Helen asked, "What things?"

"Our psychologist believes there is a high risk that Mr. Ruttheimer will try something dangerous if your daughter returns to Lawndale. With the discovery of his spying and photography, he may feel that he only has a limited time to attempt anything. We want to catch him without putting anyone at risk."

"I assume that having us go to Boston is part of a plan."

"Yes, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Your daughter is a smart girl. Most of this was her idea."

Jane Lane was at her easel painting when she noticed her apartment-mate, Daria, leaning against the doorframe. Jane said, "What's up?"

Daria carefully said, "From what Mr. Sullivan told me, you were also in a lot of Upchuck's photos. Please tell me you're planning to stay here for the holiday."

"Do you think I'd pass up the first time you host your parents for something?"

"Good...I think."

"You're worried about me."

"Yes. We don't know how dangerous Upchuck might be."

"Well, thanks. By the way, I was talking with Karen, we're also worried about you and figure there's safety in numbers. She's not going home either."

"I really don't..."

"It's easier on my wallet," Karen Myerson said over Daria's shoulder. "I'm doing better than last year, but I'm still not as flush with cash as you are."

"I appreciate the company," Daria said in return.

"Um...." Karen verbally fumbled slightly, "I hope nobody minds that I sort of invited Derek over."

Jane said, "I won't hurt to have a trained professional in kicking butt around."

Daria shook her head. "Well, then I won't feel bad about inviting Michael."

Karen put out her hand. "Then we're agreed. Thanksgiving in Boston."

Daria and Jane reached in and all three shook hands.

"But next year," Karen added, "I'm dragging everyone down to Georgia."

Daria smiled, "Deal."

"Equal opportunity mooching, I'm in," Jane said with a laugh.

Karen half-smiled. "Great. Now, can we safely assume that I'll be cooking the turkey?"

"Don't look at me. I haven't cooked anything larger than a chicken," Daria said.

Amazed, Jane said, "A turkey, you really want to cook a turkey? A whole turkey?"

Karen smirked and put her hands to her hips. "It's not rocket science."

"Wow. A real fresh-cooked turkey."

"Why do I have a feeling this will be a first for you?"

"Because...it will be."

"Eww, Daria. That is so creepy," Quinn said over her cell phone while lying on her dorm room bed. She thought, Even worse than that Bobby who followed me when we stayed at Le Grande Hotel after the fire. That was only a couple days. Upchuck's been following her...eww.

Seated at her computer, Daria replied over a matching cell phone. "No kidding. I always thought of Upchuck as annoying, but when you consider...I don't want to think about it."

Quinn looked at her dark-haired roommate. "I asked about what we talked about last time, and Fran's aunt and uncle said it's fine for me to spend the holiday with them."

"Good. You'll, um, tell them thanks, please."

"I will. Um, Daria, be careful. I know you're trying to keep me safe. You do the same."

"Don't worry, Quinn. As much as I grumble at times, I still think this life is better than the alternative. I'll make sure I stay safe."

"Thanks. I hope this clears up so I can see you for Christmas."

"Me too."

"Bye, Sis."

"Bye, Quinn."

"That's a hell of a plan, Daria. Thinking like that is one of the reasons I love you," Michael Fulton told Daria as they sat together in a small Greek restaurant the next day. "Most people would be freaked out, but you came up with a solid way to deal with the bastard."

Daria looked worried. "Trust me, I am freaked out. Coming up with a plan is my way of dealing with it."

"Like I said."

Daria said with feigned indignation, "Fine, be that way."

"Seriously," Michael said, "I like how you can face the problem even when you're scared. However, I'm glad you'll have a lot of people with you, just in case."

"So, it won't exactly be a romantic get-together for two..." Daria said to lighten the conversation.

"Hey, it'll sure beat the Raft Cafeteria turkey loaf I had last year," Michael joked.

"You didn't go home last year?"

"Nah, I couldn't see the point when I'd be flying home for Christmas in only a couple weeks, and besides, it would have taken a bite out of my spring finances."

"Oh." Daria looked down at her dolmades. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For...jeez, I turned you down the day before and then you had to eat a Raft Brick for Thanksgiving dinner. That must've really sucked."

"Hey, you more than made up for it when you changed your mind the next Monday." He leaned over the table and gave her a quick kiss.

Daria looked in his eyes and softly smiled. "You know, because of my parent's stories that weekend about how they got together and how it convinced me to give you a chance...I'm always going to have a reason to be thankful at this time of year."

"And I have even more reason."

Over cocktails at a local lounge, Jake talked with a client and remembered some of the discussion with Mr. Sullivan. He suppressed a shudder.

"You will need to casually drop it into a few normal conversations," Mr. Sullivan explained. "Kind of like you would normally discuss her plans to visit."

Helen complained, "Why the verbal charade about her car not working?"

Mr. Sullivan slid a photo of Daria with Carol Murphey across the table and said, "Mr. Ruttheimer knew Daria would be in town for the grand jury testimony last week. We suspect he has some way of knowing whenever she'll be here. He may get suspicious if he doesn't see her car at your house."

Jake asked, "How did he know?"

Mr. Sullivan shook his head. "We haven't figured that out. But some kind of eavesdropping is a simple explanation."

Because he also knew it helped to connect with some clients, Jake went into a mild rant. "My daughter's car broke down and the mechanic can't get the part until after the holidays so she won't be able to drive."

The client nodded and smiled. "I feel your pain. My son's car threw a rod last spring. Damn mechanics can smell college students a mile away."

Helen sipped her glass of wine at the partners' lunch, watching and listening. As she'd previously suspected, a lot of the firm's business was conducted at these lunches, away from the hungry ears of the associates.

However, not all conversation was business related. Her former boss, Eric Schrecter asked, "How are your daughters doing?"

Helen smiled, "Okay. My youngest is having a good time in California. However, my oldest won't get her car back until next Monday."

"That must be putting a crimp on things. Remember, enjoy the long weekend, you're a partner now. You can call the associates as much as you want, let them do the worrying."

After a pleasant Sunday afternoon of museum visits, Michael took Daria to a harbor-side seafood restaurant. Seated in a secluded corner, Daria had just finished telling Michael about her birthday adventure the year before with her Aunt Amy and Karen. "We never did figure out what those guys thought we had."

"I'm never gonna top that story." He got up from his chair. "I'll be back in a minute."

Daria was curious when she noticed he hadn't gone to the restroom, but outside. She shrugged and looked out the window at the harbor lights.

Soon, Michael returned with a waiter following him. The waiter quietly said, "Happy birthday, miss," and placed a small cake with a single candle on the table in front of Daria.

Michael knelt beside her and gently put one arm around her shoulders. "Happy birthday."

Daria didn't think about doing it, but enjoyed emotional warmth when one hand clutched his first gift to her, the green and gold pendant around her neck. She blew out the candle and softly told Michael, "Thanks"

"How does it feel to be finally out of your teens?"

"Like a very convoluted chapter has ended." Daria watched the young man smile at her. A quiet, dignified, romantic dinner with a man who honestly loves me to end the day, I couldn't ask for anything more. "And a better one is starting."

Michael revealed a package he'd brought in and handed it to Daria. "I love you."

"That's sweet." She hefted the package. "Feels like a book."

Michael innocently smiled.

"When you smile like that, I get worried. What is?"

"Open it and see."

Daria removed the wrapping to find a book with a dark green leather cover. The letter 'D' was tooled onto the front and set off with gold leaf, along with the page edges. She flipped through the heavy-weight, blank pages and found a small tag on the back cover that read: "Hand-bound using the finest archival quality materials and acid-free 100% cotton paper."

"This is...incredible. Where did you find it?"

"One of the living history guys at the National Park got me in contact with a friend who does book binding. I told him what I thought you'd like, and he put it together."

"You had this made for me?"

"Seemed like a good idea at the time."

She embraced the book with both arms and leaned against him. "I love you."

Still feeling the warmth on her lips from Michael's farewell kiss and holding her book close, Daria went into her apartment. Her black cat, Bump, meowed and jumped off the sofa to greet her. Daria bent over to pet the cat's head. "Hello, are our psychotic housemates around?"

Almost in answer, Jane's voice came from the kitchen. "Yikes, Karen. That thing's big enough to feed Mystik Spiral."

Karen chuckled and said, "Half the idea of Thanksgiving is eating the leftovers for the next week."

Daria said, "Yep, and it sounds like they went shopping."

Karen said, "I hope those pecans Mom and Dad shipped show up on time, I don't want to use the local poor excuses for the pie."

Daria stood up. "I better go check on them."

"You're really getting into this." Jane added, "Trying to show off your domestic side for Derek?"

"Um...maybe a little."

Jane laughed loudly. "I knew it."

"Or maybe I'm just going to enjoy the power."

"Make sure you use it responsibly." Jane turned to see Daria enter the kitchen. "I think somebody had a happy birthday, what do you say, Karen?"

"Oh, yeah. No mistaking the look on her face." She playfully tossed a lock of Daria's hair back. "Or the mussed hair."

Daria blushed slightly. "Yes, I did." The blush faded as she needled Karen, "Though I seem to remember you came home Friday with only half your shirt tucked in."

Karen turned away with her own blush. "Oh, well, um."

Jane snickered.

Daria raised an eyebrow at her. "You still haven't explained that tongue stud that fell out of your shirt pocket in the laundry."

"Uh...long story?"

Daria looked at the large quantity of food Karen and Jane were putting away from grocery bags. "You have enough here to supply us for the winter. How much do I owe you?"

Karen handed Daria a cash register receipt. "Well, you're responsible for four of the seven eating, but I'm bringing Derek, and we all know his appetite. Call it half."

"Call it three quarters, you're doing the cooking."

"Daria, I'll be having fun. Don't worry about it."

"Two thirds."

"Five eights"

Daria sighed. "Okay, deal."

Jane shook her head in amusement. "That had to be oddest haggling I've ever heard."

Karen poked her finger at Daria's book, "We know that male of yours has interesting taste. Come on and show us your goodies."

Stifling a yawn late Wednesday evening, Daria waved to her parents walking down a boarding ramp at Logan International Airport. Helen waved back and pulled an unsteady Jake along.

"Hi Mom, did Dad have a couple on the flight?"

Helen rolled her eyes. "Yes."

Daria took up a position on Jake's other arm. "Hi, Dad."

Jake took a moment to focus. "Hey, Kiddo."

"Why don't we get you to my car. It's in the short-term parking."

Jake slurred, "Wha 'bout the luggage?"

"Mom and I will handle it."


Carrying her father's suitcase, Daria asked Helen, "I hope the air mattress works okay for you. We didn't really plan for guests, so all three of us bought single beds, or else we'd offer one of them."

"Honey, don't worry. We'll do fine."

"Just to warn you, the place is insulated to nineteenth century standards and tends to be on the cool side."

"We packed warm sleepwear."

"And don't worry; nobody sleeps in anything revealing that'll embarrass Dad."


In a more serious tone, Daria asked, "How did things go with the house?"

"The nice policewoman who put up cameras managed to dress a lot like you. She set up cameras to watch the doors, your room and the stairs."

"That must have been strange."

"It was, and having all those cameras..." Helen shivered.

"With luck, they'll record what we need."

"I hope so, though I'm not comfortable with the thought of him breaking in."

"That's why I wanted you out of the house after the police psychologist told me he might try something."

"I also felt odd sneaking out back to catch a cab to the airport."

"The idea was to make it look like we were all home." Daria shook her head. "Anyway, you're here, that's the important part."

Early in the morning, Karen was preparing the turkey for roasting when Helen sweetly said, "Hello."

"Hey Mrs. Morgendorffer. I hope I didn't wake you."

"No...I was already awake and thought I'd make breakfast since you're going to be so busy with everything else."

"You don't have to."

"Karen, I'm returning the favor. If everyone else can make breakfast in my kitchen, I can make it in someone else's."

"Okay, I yield. I think you can find the fridge, the skillets are under the oven, the utensils are in that drawer, the spices are in the cabinet to your left, and holler if you need anything else."


They worked at their tasks, mildly awkward in the small kitchen. Helen watched Karen stuffing the bird. "Cornbread dressing. I haven't seen that since we left Texas."

Karen smirked. "Don't worry, I didn't use any Tex-Mex spices in it."

"Thank goodness."

I'm not going to ask. Karen thought as she went back to work.

A few minutes later, Helen had just finished breaking eggs into a bowl when she let out an "Eep!" that startled Karen.

Concerned, she said, "Are you okay?"

Helen looked straight ahead and nervously said, "There's...something rubbing against my ankle."

"Oh, it's just Bump. She likes you."

Helen carefully looked down and visibly relaxed at the sight. "Whew. Daria mentioned a cat."

"Uh...you have a problem with cats or something? You...looked scared for a second there."

Helen wiped her forehead. "Oh, no. Just, um...never mind."

Karen crossed her arms. "Come on. Don't dangle something out like that and not tell."

"I'm sure Daria mentioned Jake and I lived in a commune when we were your age."


"Well...it wasn't the best sealed building in the world and there were a lot of animals running around. We would sometimes get rats. Very big rats."

"Let me guess, they were also bold."

Helen nodded.

"I get the picture." Karen bent over and said to Bump, "Shoo. We're busy in here. Go bother your Chief of Staff. Tell her you're hungry or something."

"Who are you, and what have you done with my mother," Daria said, watching Helen place a serving plate of pancakes on the table.

"Thought I would help out a little, Sweetie. I am still capable, you know."

"Ah, you're trying to shock me into waking up."

Helen gave Daria a knowing smile. "It worked."

"Good one."

Helen looked over at Jake curled under a blanket and lightly snoring. She said, "I suppose I should wake him before breakfast gets too cold. What about Jane?"

"Um, don't worry about her. Some things never change, she might be operating under her own power by noon."

"But her pancakes will be cold."

"Mom, as long as they haven't turned fuzzy, Jane will be more than happy with them."

Karen said from the kitchen, "If she can shave the fuzz off, she'll still eat them."

"Oh." Helen cautiously looked toward Jane's room.

Daria gazed through the top of her glasses. "Mom...joke?"

Helen cracked a smile. "Oh."

"We better wake Dad up."

Jane munched on a rolled up pancake slathered with peanut butter. Slurping coffee to wash it down, she said, "These are good."

Helen carefully said "Thanks."

When the doorbell rang, Jane got up to answer it. "That's why I like the peanut butter, makes pancakes mobile food."

Jane peeked through the spyglass and opened the door for a tall, well-built man with brown hair. She yelled back, "Karen, it's yours."

Derek Adler shook his head. "Hi, Jane."

Karen walked over with a towel tossed over one shoulder. "Hey." She quickly kissed him and pointed him toward the living room. "These are Daria's parents, Jake and Helen."

He waved at them.

"This is my boyfriend, Derek."

"Nice to meet you," Helen said.

Jake jumped up and walked over to shake his hand. "How's it going, my man."


"Hey, ready to watch some football?"

"Um...I was kinda hoping to catch the Wings marathon on Discovery."


"I'll show you later." He looked at Karen waiting. "We're going to check on things in the kitchen."

Michael arrived a few minutes after and Daria let him in after a quick kiss.

He waved and said, "Hi Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer."

Both of them came over. Helen briefly hugged him, "Hi, Michael."

Jake shook his hand. "Dude, are you ready for some football, or you also interested in that Wings stuff?"

He crookedly smiled, "Well, my vote was for the Barbarian Invasion marathon on the History Channel."

Jake looked down. "Oh."

Daria tugged on Jake's sleeve. "Don't worry, if Georgia's playing somewhere, Karen will want to cheer them on, if Florida's playing, she'll cheer the other team on."

"Okay, now that everyone's here, I'm going to introduce you to a fine old Myerson family tradition. Forced labor," Karen, arms folded, announced from the kitchen door.

"Sure, I'll..." Helen started to say.

Karen cut her off. "You made breakfast, you're exempt and get to choose the TV channel."

Michael shrugged. "As long as you work within my limited culinary skills."

"You're shelling pecans."

Derek half grinned and looked up. "I don't suppose you need a sometimes-expert at peeling potatoes."

Karen wrinkled her nose. "Why would I want to do that? Oh, yeah." She playfully winked at Derek, "Some of you Yankees do that to their poor mashed potatoes. Nah, you're chopping veggies for the salad."

Karen looked at Jane. "You make the punch. I'm sure you can find some creative mix to inflict on us."

"Oh, yeah!" Jane grinned and cracked her knuckles.

"Oh, God," Daria said. "Okay, I'm ready for my sentence."

"I need you to half-shuck the corn."

"Sounds like fun."

"Why do you think I'm farming it out?"

Jake said, "What about me?"

Karen pointed to Bump sleeping on his lap. "You're in charge of keeping Her Highness from getting underfoot while we work."

"Sure thing!"

"You're a guest, they'll insist. Just have a seat and let us set the table," Fran told Quinn.

"Okay, but I'll help if you want."

"Thanks for the offer, we won't be long."

Quinn sat in the living room of Fran's aunt and uncle's small southern California desert home. Her gaze was drawn to a framed family portrait on an end table. A dark haired man in a suit stood with his hands around the waist of a blonde woman in a red dress. Posed in front were two girls, the older with dark hair and a younger blonde.

Quinn picked it up and looked at it closely. Curious, she examined the back and saw written:

May 1992. Fran 10. Donna 7.

"That was taken about a month before..." Fran's voice caused Quinn to jump.

She looked up. "I'm sorry, I was..."

"That's okay, in a way, you got to meet them."


"I still love them and like to remember."

Quinn nodded. "Um, if you don't mind, your aunt and uncle seem kind of young."

"They'd only been married a couple years. David's my Mom's younger brother. When I got out of the hospital after the accident, he and Beth were the best situated to care for me."


"I know it was hard on them, but they've never complained." Fran looked to the kitchen. "Um, by the way, the table's ready."

Quinn followed her into the kitchen. A couple in their early-thirties, Beth and David were already seated. A turkey breast was placed in the center of the table and serving bowls containing potatoes, dressing, and vegetables were around it. Beth said, "Please."

After Quinn sat down, David said, "Let us be thankful." He reached to the center and presented the turkey to Quinn.

During the final preparations, Karen grabbed Daria and pulled her to one side. "Okay, I'm dying of curiosity. Last year, you mentioned that your Dad wasn't allowed near a turkey after the 'fireball' incident. What the hell happened?"

Daria looked briefly toward the living room before dragging Karen into her bedroom. Daria whispered, "When I was thirteen, Dad decided to cook a turkey with a big barbeque grill."

Karen closed her eyes in with an "I'm afraid I see what's coming," expression.

Daria caught the look. "Yep. The fire went out and Dad decided to relight it."

"With a tad too much lighter fluid?"

"Too much of one of his co-worker's 'home-brew' lighter fluid that was 'guaranteed to ignite a sack of wet newspapers.'"

After covering her mouth to suppress a laugh, Karen asked, "What was the blast radius?"

"Actually, the over-built grill directed most of the blast upward...but the burning turkey was thrown two blocks away."

"Wow, was anybody hurt?"

"Dad didn't need to shave for a month afterward."

"That's not too bad."

"I think the greatest damage was that an idiot boy I went to school with saw the flaming turkey. It seemed to have started some kind of fascination with fire for him. Along with his buddy, I'm surprised that they didn't burn the town down over the next two years."

Karen finished dishing up her dinner in the kitchen and went to her seat. All seven people were gathered around the small, cramped table, Michael, Derek and Jane seated in camp chairs, everyone else on the regular chairs.

Karen looked over the table and felt good. She smiled and said, "If I may. With family and friends. For this, we're thankful."

Soft agreement came from everyone else. Michael bowed his head, glanced at Daria and closed his eyes for a second.

Daria noticed and reached over to hold his hand.

Jane bit into a slice of turkey from her plate and sank backward. "Mmmm. Wow. I didn't know turkey had flavor."

"Shocking, isn't it?" Daria quipped.

Derek patted Karen's shoulder. "Ah, this is good. Damn, you're giving me another reason to keep you around."

"Keep me around?" She said. "I thought I was the one keeping you around."

"More like you chase each other around," Jane said with a smirk.

Michael chuckled. Derek said, "Don't even think of saying anything. If anyone in this room is farther gone than me, it's you."

Daria leaned against Michael's arm. "It's my allure."

Helen watched the young people laugh at Daria's comment. That is something she never would have said a year ago. Helen remembered with gentle sadness the togetherness she shared with the rest of the commune thirty years earlier, but was pleased to see Daria sharing something similar.

Jake looked up from his sweet potatoes. "Hmm?"

Late in the evening, Daria sat on her bed and wrote in her new diary about the day, including a call from Quinn, and a quick birthday celebration with her parents. Satisfied, she closed the book and said, "All in all, a good day." She placed the diary in a fireproof box and locked it. With an understated smile, she slipped under the blanket and drifted off to sleep.

In the semi-darkness of the Morgendorffer house in Lawndale, a voice said, "Grrrow. So this is the feisty Ms. Morgendorffer's bed. Alas, regrettably unoccupied. Therefore, I must use my imagination..."

"Sorry I can't stay longer, Mrs. Morgendorffer. I agreed to work extra today to give one of the full-timers a long weekend. I need to be at the zoo by eight," Karen, already dressed, explained.

Helen waved her hand at Jake asleep on the air mattress. "Don't worry. You do what you have to. Jake and I both thank you for that marvelous dinner yesterday."

After a shrug, Karen said, "You had me over last year. And I don't get to cook like that often around here."

"To be honest." Helen nodded to Daria and Jane's rooms, "I'm surprised those two aren't living on a diet of sugar tarts and pizza."

"They would if they could. Look, I've really got to go. Have a safe trip home."

"We will, thanks."

Karen grabbed a travel mug of coffee and was out of the door quickly.

Helen went to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. She looked around the kitchen and living room, at the buff-colored, smooth plaster walls, the dark green window frames and wainscoting, and the aged hardwood floors.

She sat at the table and sipped her coffee. "This really is a lot nicer than that old farmhouse we used as a commune when I was her age."

After more coffee, she smiled. "She actually made a positive comment about being attractive. I doubt she'd say that outside of last night's company. But after all these years, I'll take it."

Helen went to the window near the apartment door and looked out over the back yard of the home. Beyond, the rest of the city rose up through the morning haze. Abruptly, she laughed. "Daria's exactly the kind of daughter that Mother wanted me to be in college. Perfect grades, a nice place to live, a clean-cut boyfriend..." Her voice dropped to a practiced whisper. "...no drugs."

"Mom, you're talking to yourself. Am I going to have to bribe Quinn to take you out shopping?"

Helen spun around in surprise. "Oh, honey! I didn't know you were awake."

Still in her sleepwear, Daria said, "I figured you'd be up, so I set my alarm."

"I must have been in my own little world, I didn't even hear it."

"So, was that a private conversation, or can anyone join?"

"I suppose I could make it public."

"I caught 'clean-cut boyfriend.' I take it Michael still meets with your approval."


"Thanks. You do realize I can't let you call him that when anybody else is around."

"He'd be mortified."

"Not to mention what it would do to my lack of reputation."

Helen laughed lightly and gazed around. "Can I be serious for a second?"

"I guess."

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"Becoming a young woman I know I don't have to worry about so much."

"Mom, I'm just surviving college."

She gave her daughter a knowing look. "You're doing a lot more than surviving. You're..."

"If you say blossoming, I will kill you."

"No, you're taking control. Even with the horrible situation with that Ruttheimer punk."

"Thanks," Daria's mood darkened, "I'd managed not to think about him for a while."

"Sorry, but still...that shows what I mean. You've taken control of the situation instead of letting him keep control."

"At least I hope so." Daria relaxed a little "You've been getting that urge to keep up with me again, haven't you?"

"It's part of the contract."

After the flight and taxi ride home, Helen hoped she could relax, but approached the house with trepidation. Jake nervously watched the house windows. Inside the living room, things seemed fine. Helen went upstairs while Jake went to check the kitchen.

Helen peered into Daria's room and her hand quickly went to her face. "Oh, my!" She turned and yelled downstairs. "Jake! Don't touch anything!"

He yelled back, "What was that?"

"Don't touch anything! Somebody was in here."

She opened her cell phone and hit a speed-dial. "Hello. This is Helen Morgendorffer. It looks like we had a break-in...Eleven-eleven Glen Oaks, correct...Yes, and please send the crime scene technicians...Thanks."

Moments later, Jake was by her side. "How do you know?"

Helen pointed into Daria's room, and the single red rose lying on the bed.

Officer Parks mumbled, "I thought only ladies selling cosmetics owned pink cars." The older-model convertible and its plates matched the description of a person wanted on multiple arrest warrants. With one of the warrant charges a violation of the anti-stalking law, Parks unsnapped the safety trap on his sidearm and got out of his police cruiser.

The red-headed man in the car sat still as Parks approached, and presented his driver's license as soon as Parks reached the door. The young man said, "What's the problem, officer?"

After a brief check that the ID and driver matched, he said, "Mr. Ruttheimer, please step out of the car and place your hands on the hood."

Using his old stage magic skills, Upchuck slipped the palmed cash out to his fingertips and discreetly flashed them at Parks. "Is that really necessary?"

Parks carefully took the money and said, "Yes, it is. Please step out of the car."

"But, you just..."

"Accepted evidence."

"Officer. I really need to be..."

"Slowly opening the car door and getting out."

Upchuck gulped and said, "Sir, perhaps we can arrange for a more...um...generous compensation package?"

Parks leaned forward and growled. "Get out of the car before I remove you from it."

Upchuck started to look in his rear-view mirror and to the sides

"Don't even go there. I'm really not in the mood for a car chase."

Confused, Upchuck looked around more.

"Get out of the car you stupid little punk!" Parks barked.

"Ah!" Startled, Upchucked tumbled out of the car.

Parks grabbed his arm and swung him around, shoving him hard against the car hood. "Spread 'em."

Parks patted Upchuck down and handcuffed him. "You're under arrest."

"Okay, Mom. Thanks for letting me know...Yes, I'm feeling a lot better now." Daria hung up the phone and turned to Michael waiting in her dining room. "Upchuck was arrested on his way out of Lawndale with two suitcases and a plane ticket to Boston."

"He was coming here?"

"Yeah. I guess after not finding me at my parents' home, he decided to try." Daria shivered. "The DA convinced a judge he was a flight risk, and bail was set high. When dear old Charles Ruttheimer Jr. found out his errant son was fleeing and would've forfeited his previous bails, Junior cut Upchuck off and wouldn't post a nickel. Upchuck's in for the duration."

"But, what kind of duration?"

"The videotape clearly shows him in the house, and though he wore gloves then, he'd handled the rose without them earlier. They should be able to convict him on multiple charges, not to mention the bribery attempt caught on the patrol car video."

Daria pulled Michael's arms around her waist and leaned against him. I know it's purely emotional, but I've also started to feel protected in his arms. "I'm glad it's over, I was scared."

He kissed her cheek. "I'd say you were brave about it."

Daria pulled his arms around a little tighter and kissed him back. "Having you with me helped, thanks."

"I love you, but all I did was stand around and hold you."

She smiled and rested her cheek on his chest. "Like I said."

"Well, I'm thankful your plan worked and nobody got hurt."

"That makes both of us".

Thanks to Mr. Orange and Ipswichfan for beta reading.
My long-term beta reader, Kristen Bealer, was busy getting married and going on a honeymoon, so I figured I'd give her a break this time. Best wishes to Kristen and Bryan on a long, happy marriage.

May 2005