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 Forty-first story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

Run Jane, Run

Touches of spring green poked through the drab grays and browns of Boston Common's grass and trees as Jane Lane ran by on a Saturday morning. The black-haired woman's pace and breathing were even and moderate, just right for long distance running. Scattered around the common were several other runners, each in their own world of thought.

I wonder how many of them will be with me a week from Monday?

Having already completed several miles, the warmth from her muscles drove away the morning chill, leaving her comfortable in her regular running shorts and shirt.

Completing her circuit of the Commons, Jane picked up the red brick line to follow the Freedom Trail. Two trips up and down the trail and around the common were almost 13 miles, half a marathon. She wove her way past tourists and other pedestrians on the trail, exchanged waves with several employees of shops along the way, and continued to revel at the sights of the trail, from the State House to Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church and ending at the Charlestown Naval Yard on the north side of the harbor.

Sometimes, I wish things had gone better back when I was on the track team in high school. I might've gotten a track scholarship if I'd stayed with it. But, it wouldn't have been to attend BFAC. I guess things worked out better, but sometimes, you gotta wonder.

Almost surprised by how quickly she got there, Jane neared her turn-around point in the shadow of the USS Constitution's tall masts.

"Good morning, Jane!" a voice called.

She changed paths to see a red-headed man in a park service uniform wrestling a filled bag out of a trash can. She stopped near him, running in place. "Hey, Michael. Letting Daria sleep in today?"

Michael Fulton said, "She said she had some...studying to do. I've got the morning cleanup shift here and I'll be over to see her after lunch. Are you going to be around?"

"I have some studying to do, also. Between running and work, I've gotten a little behind on stuff."

"You better get going then. Good luck."

"Thanks. See you later."

Jane pushed forward and resumed her pace. He almost said something he wasn't supposed to...what is that friend of mine up to this time?

"Thanks for meeting us like this, Mrs. Marquez," Daria Morgendorffer told the pleasant woman behind the office desk.

"Please, call me Bel, everyone else does," the Children's Activity Coordinator for Boston Children's Hospital told the three young women in her office. "So, what have you got?"

Daria said, "CC, please show her what you two came up with."

The one with blue hair and small, oblong framed glasses unfolded a t-shirt and placed it on the desk, along with a pencil drawing of the artwork. "I worked out the design and Nell airbrushed it."

She indicated the third woman, a brunette who tapped one of her arm crutches against CC's leg. Nell said, "CC, you also did the silk-screening on it."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," CC said with a shrug.

"Now I see why Jane's one of your friends," Bel said in response to the women's banter. She examined the shirt and smiled with appreciation. "I like it, but I'm not hoisting my butt on my own petard this time. I need to run it past the system and see if it flies."

"Thanks," Daria told her and placed a sheet of paper on the desk. "Please call my cell phone when you have an answer. If it's after lunch, you'll have to leave a message. I'll get back to you on my next break or when I get off work."

The following Monday, Bel looked up upon hearing a throat being cleared. Mrs. Jamison, a woman in her mid-thirties with stylish, short black hair, leaned on the doorframe. "Your Ms. Lane sure is a little busybody, isn't she?"

"I wish I had her energy. Is there a problem with the design?"

Mrs. Jamison chuckled. "No, there isn't. She's good to go, and so is the shirt. The marathon's always positive press."

"Great. The children are going to love it."

Mrs. Jamison looked down at the floor momentarily, and then at Bel. "I wish we could bottle her energy and enthusiasm."

Following a hearty laugh, Bel said, "Or her friends. We could make a fortune."

"How often have we agreed on anything?"

"Rarely. Let's not spoil it."

As she left work, Daria stopped just outside the building door. She pulled a cell phone from her jacket pocket and checked for messages, nodding and smiling as she heard Bel's. "Looks like we're on." She looked over her shoulder at the Raft University Press. "I'm glad we're finally caught up and I didn't have to stay late."

Walking through the staff parking lot, Daria first called her other roommate at work. "Hi, may I speak with Karen Myerson? Thanks, I can wait."

Daria was only a couple parking spaces away from her car when Karen answered, "Hi, this is Karen."

"Hey, it's Daria. We just got the go-ahead from Ms. Marquez. She'll find an excuse to keep Jane around a little extra to give us some time to get there. Can you make it?"

"After having to work through the plotting session last weekend, you know I'm in."

"Okay. I'll probably be giving Nell and CC a ride over, so we'll meet in the lobby."

"I'll be there."

"See ya." Daria closed the connection and got into her car, closing and locking the door.

She dialed the next number and CC answered. "Residence assistant. How can I help you?"

"You can help by telling Nell that the show's on for today."

"Hey Daria," CC said with relief. "Get me the hell out of here."

"Need a ride?"

"Wouldn't hurt."

"I'll be there in about fifteen or twenty minutes."

"Just come straight to my room; I'll warn the front desk you're on the way."


Daria closed the phone and started her car. "Let's hope the traffic isn't fouled up any more than usual."

"Stupid bean counters," Jane grumbled as she sat cross-legged on the floor of the art supply room. She counted boxes of craft paper on a lower shelf and recorded the number on a notepad. That section complete, she scooted along the floor to the next section and started counting canisters of paint powder.

"Jane," Bel said as she stuck her head in the door.

"Almost done," Jane said, looking up.

"Come out here a moment, please."

"Can it wait a couple minutes?"

Children's giggles came from behind Bel and Jane noticed her trying to motion with a hand to keep quiet. Curious, Jane bounced up and stepped to the door. "You've got something up your sleeve."

Smirking, Bel said, "I'm not alone." She stepped aside to show Daria, Karen, CC and Nell waiting with a room full of children from the art program.

Surprised, Jane said, "What's up?"

Bel produced the running shirt from a nearby table and held it up for viewing. "You asked if the program could sponsor you in the marathon."

"Cool!" she said with joy while eyeing her friends. "And what are those goons doing here?"

Bel explained, "After the public info office signed off on sponsoring you, I called your roommates for ideas on a shirt, and they brought in your friends from school to make it."

Jane took the red shirt. The hospital's name was printed high across the top and pictures of children drawing and painting were done around the perimeter. The basic outlines were silk-screened and colors were added by airbrush. The center was blank to make room for the racer number.

"Um...wow?!" Jane sputtered, astonished by the support. She smiled and crouched down to child level. "Thanks, you little monsters."

A happy chorus came back to her from the kids. Jane stood and went to her friends. "And thanks to you guys."

Daria shrugged and half-smiled. "Just making up for not supporting you on the track team. But you still have to promise not to splash mud on me."

"Okay, deal," Jane said.

"If it gets you home smelling worse than me after work," Karen said, pushing on Jane's shoulder, "I'll encourage it."

CC joined in. "Okay, I also used it as a grade in Printing Techniques. But, I figure if you can put up with me as long as you did as a roommate, I should do something."

"Well, some of us did it because we like you," Nell added.

Jane looked back into the storeroom. "So that inventory was busy work to keep me here?"

Bel winked at Jane. "Well, it needed to be done...but yeah."

Jane smiled and looked at all five with narrowed eyes. "Just remember...payback."

After dropping CC and Nell off at the BFAC dorms, Daria was the last to get home to the South Boston apartment. Looking worried, Jane waited at the table as Daria entered and held up a letter. "Sorry to be the bearer of possibly bad news. Mrs. Lyndon signed for it and dropped it off when Karen and I got home."

Daria accepted the letter and read the return address: Lawndale County Assistant District Attorney, Kyle Sullivan. She sat next to Jane. "It's not your fault."

Daria opened the letter and read the short note.

Dear Ms. Morgendorffer,

This letter is to inform you that Charles Ruttheimmer III has accepted a plea bargain with the District Attorney's office in relation to his criminal acts directed toward you and other associated charges. He has agreed to plead guilty to one count each of Distribution of Adult Material to a Minor, Criminal Stalking, and Breaking and Entering. In addition, he will plead guilty to forty-seven counts of Illegally Duplicating Copyrighted Material for Resale. He will be fined $100 for each copyright violation. For the remaining counts, he will be remanded to psychiatric care until a court-appointed board of physicians recommends his release, for a time not to exceed five years. Upon release from psychiatric care, he will be placed on probation for three years.

His allocution is scheduled for 1:00 PM, Monday, April 16, if you wish to be present for the proceedings.


Kyle Sullivan
Assistant District Attorney

Daria took time to let the information settle before speaking. "Upchuck's made a plea deal."

"Good, bad, or otherwise?"

"Psychiatric care for up to five years and three years probation, plus a forty-seven hundred dollar fine for the porno tapes."

"With what he was doing, I suppose he could use the shrinks. But I'm still worried."

"Me, too. But I hope the doctors help him. Both for his sake, and for my peace of mind."


"Doing something about his obsession is the best long-term solution for my safety. Nothing is guaranteed, but if the treatment works, he won't be interested in following me. Just locking an offender up may increase his obsession, making things more dangerous when he gets out."

"Ah, I see."

"For my own sake, I want to be there, but..."


"It's next Monday."

"Oh." Jane scratched her head and said, "Bel said she'd try to get a tape of me running for the kids to see; I'll get a copy for you."

"Are you sure?"

Jane placed a hand on Daria's shoulder. "I know you're behind what I'm doing. I'm behind what you need to do. Go."

Daria knocked on the sturdy oak office door while working to suppress her apprehension.

"Come in," a voice within called, so Daria opened the door and stepped forward.

Seated behind his large desk, her boss, Dr. Findlay said, "You're in early today."

"I was wondering if I could schedule some extra work to make up for taking next Monday off."

"Why do you need the time off?"

"To be at the courthouse in Lawndale, Maryland."

"Are you charged with something? Have you been summoned?"

"No. but..." Daria frowned and pulled the letter from Mr. Sullivan out of her bookbag, turning it over in her hand. "It's a sentencing hearing..."

Dr. Findlay watched the emotions pull at Daria's face and quickly decided. "You don't need to explain. You have Monday, and Tuesday, if you need it. Make up the hours when you can."

Surprised, Daria said, "Thank...you."

He watched the reaction and cracked a momentary smile. "I'm not clueless. I push everyone hard, but I also recognize when an employee needs some time. You need it."

Daria nodded and put the letter away.

"Why don't I just invite Derek over to stay so we can have a full house?" Karen said, half pouting, as she watched Mack MacKenzie enter the apartment and Jane close the door behind her boyfriend.

"Um, am I coming into the middle of something?" Mack asked.

"She's just being a little grumpy because Derek's been gone all weekend and won't be back until late tonight," Jane said.

Michael came out of Daria's room, saying, "Good to see you again."

Karen hiked a thumb toward Daria, beside Michael. "All ya'll get to sleep nice and cozy tonight. Hrumph."

"Good to see everyone." Mack then said to Jane, "I'm still confused; is Michael staying here?"

She answered, "He and Daria are leaving at five to go to Lawndale. Upchuck's in court tomorrow."

"Oh, well, good luck, Daria."

"Thanks, Mack," Daria said with a nod.

Mack said to Karen, "If things are making you uncomfortable..."

Karen laughed and shook her head. "I'm just giving them a hard time. Don't worry about it. Besides, Jane's brother and his fiancé are stopping by to take over the living room. From what I hear, you don't want to share a room with them."

"Ah. I should've guessed you were teasing, since you can put up with both of them. It'll be interesting to see Trent and Lindy someplace other than the Zon."

As soon as the door opened, Jane hugged her brother. "Glad you could make it."

"Hey, Janey. I figured someone from the family should be here."

"I can always count on you." She released Trent and hugged the blonde woman beside him. "Hi, Lindy."

"Jane, thanks for putting us up."

"No problem. You're here to watch me run myself stupid. Come on in and get settled."

Trent and Lindy faced more greetings as they entered the apartment. Soon, everyone was gathered in the living room, chatting and relaxing. Regrettably, things ended too soon as Daria and Michael exited to prepare for a 4:00 AM wakeup, followed by Jane and Mack, so Jane could get a full night's sleep before the race. The perennial early-riser Karen followed soon after, leaving Trent and Lindy to prepare their air mattress on the living room floor.

Lindy was stretching a sheet over the mattress as Trent put away the air pump. He stopped and looked across the room at the hallway that led to Daria and Jane's rooms. "Whoa."

"What's wrong?" Lindy inquired.

"Mack's sleeping with my little sister...and Michael's sleeping with Daria."

"They seem like good guys. You're not going to go all big brother on us, are you?"

"Nah. Just, seems like I should be, but I don't know, I'm not."

"Hey, we were together for a couple months before Jane moved up here. She didn't have any problem with that. She's a big girl, now."

"Yeah." Trent turned to Lindy. "She is old enough to take care of herself."

Lindy crawled over and put her arm around his chest. "Your little sisters have grown up."

Trent leaned against her. "They have."

Michael drank from his mug of coffee and set it down on the kitchen counter. "You realize, I wouldn't do this for just anybody."

Balancing a bowl of cereal in one hand and a spoon in the other, Daria said, "And you're not going to let me forget it, are you?"

"There's one thing you can do for me to call it even," Michael said with a warm smile as he moved her bowl to the counter.

"Oh? What's that?"

He lightly kissed Daria while holding her. "Even."

"Don't hold me too long like that, or I'll drift back off to sleep."

Softly laughing, Michael handed Daria her cup of coffee. "That would be embarrassing."

"Trading off driving will make this trip a lot easier. I appreciate you coming with."

"My pleasure. I can take over more of the driving if you want more time to vent about this guy."

"I ranted like my father a bit last night, didn't I?"

"I could hear the family resemblance."

"You did some choice ranting yourself. And, you're not using it as an excuse to avoid my driving. I may be a little cautious about dodging through traffic for your taste, but I get there."

He scooped the last of the cereal from his bowl. "Dad used to say that long distance car trips were the real test of a relationship. If you can survive the different driving styles, map reading skills, and bladder sizes, you can survive the bigger stuff."

She dryly said, "What a lovely perspective."

"You have to admit..."

"Yeah, it makes a practical kind of sense. How did you end up with such mutant parents?"

"I think it was something in the water."

Daria finished her cereal and placed the dirty dishes in the washer. "About ready?"

Michael stirred sugar and milk into two travel mugs of coffee. "As soon as I close these up."

"Thanks. Try to be quiet. I know Trent could sleep through Hannibal's elephants going by, but I don't know how light a sleeper Lindy is."

Daria cut the kitchen light off and they made their way across the dining room to the door and out onto the landing. She held Michael's arm as they went down the stairs to her car. "This is going to be a long day."

Hearing noise in the kitchen, Lindy shuffled to the door. "Karen?"

"Hey, good morning," the young blonde said brightly. "Want some breakfast?"

"Jane warned us you were a morning person. And thank you, breakfast would be nice."

Karen quickly had bacon frying and two eggs ready. "How do you like them?"

"Like what?"

"Your eggs."

"Oh, um, fried, I guess."

"Sunny side up?"


"Coffee's in the pot, cups are in the cabinet over it. What about Trent?"

"He won't be awake for a couple hours." Lindy fumbled with a cup and poured coffee into it before adding five spoonfuls of sugar.

"Want a little sugar rush with your caffeine?"

Lindy nodded.

"I'll make him some scrambled eggs; they heat in the microwave better."

"Thanks. From both of us."

Karen asked, "Are you excited about your wedding?"

"When I'm not going insane."

"Planning headaches?"

"I may have to kill my mother. I'd already have if it wasn't for my Maid of Honor, Quinn."

Karen grinned. "Watching Daria and Jane getting fitted for bridesmaid dresses should be fun."

Lindy rolled her eyes. "That's the easy part. Getting Trent's band fitted for tuxes...that's gonna be a challenge."

"From what I remember of them...I bet."

"Jane's excited about the race."

"That's her. Jump in with both feet for total immersion."

The angry electronic buzz coming into one of Jane's ears clashed with the muted sound of Mack's heartbeat in the other. She lifted her head from his chest and growled at the alarm clock.

Holding her to him, Mack opened one eye and said, "Are you going to start gnawing on me or something?"

Jane's hand reached out and grabbed the clock in her fist, shutting off the buzzer. She gave him a lopsided smirk and said, "Only if we had more time."

"There's always after."

"Like I'm going to have the energy then."

"How about if I tuck you in and massage your legs?"

"That, I'll take."

A little later, Mack stepped into the dining room, where Lindy was finishing her breakfast. "Morning."

Lindy looked up, more awake than before. "Hi, Mack."

Pulling a book bag over her shoulders, Karen came in from her room. "Good morning. Mack, I made you and 'herself' some eggs and bacon, with hash browns so she can grab some extra carbs. I have to get to class, but I'll come back here to guide you, Trent and Lindy to the race."

Mack shook his head. "Hi. Bye."

"See ya later." Karen was out of the door and tromping down the steps before Jane came out.

Jane yawned and said, "Thank God they don't run the marathon first thing in the morning."

Lindy nodded toward Jane and said to Mack, "Lanes are not morning people."

Mack steered his red sports car to the edge of the crowd around Hopkinton Common and stopped. The small town west of Boston was alive with competitors, friends, family, press and onlookers. Mack said, "I better let you out here to register, and then try to find a place to park somewhere in town."

In her red running shirt and black shorts, Jane nodded and opened the car door. "I'll wait for you on this side of the runners' corral."

After Jane closed the door, Mack asked, "How many did you say were in this?"

"Last I heard, about fifteen thousand."

"Wow, no wonder this little town is overrun."

"I hope everyone remembered their deodorant."

"Be back as soon as I can."

Mack eased away and Jane squirmed through the milling onlookers to registration and joined one of several efficiently moving lines segregated alphabetically by competitor's last name. It didn't take long for Jane to reach the table. She presented her ID and confirmation, saying "Hi, Jane Lane."

The young man fanned through a box of packets and stopped, backing up several before pulling one out. "Jane Lane. " He popped the envelope open and removed a racing number. "Lucky owner of number nine-seven-three-three. Start forming up at eleven and the women start at eleven-thirty. Hope you have a good race."

Jane peeled the backing from the number placard and stuck it onto the blank space of her shirt.

The guy held out his hand for the waste paper. "I can take that for you."


Jane stepped past and started stretching as she walked to the edge of the start corral. "It's a good day to run."

"Your psychological battery charger," Michael said from the passenger seat of Daria's car as she parked in front of Pizza Prince.

Daria sighed slightly and shut the car off. "We made it without killing each other, though I wasn't sure if you were trying to do us in near New York City."

"Sorry, old high-speed heavy traffic habits. I'd have thought driving in Boston would've gotten you used to it."

"How often do we go that fast in Boston?"

"Hmm. Good point."

"I'll take that leg of the trip next time. Avoid arguments."

"Agreed. And I'll keep an eye on the traffic direction signs."

Daria looked at her hands. "Sorry about that."

Michael nudged her toward the eatery. "Why don't we forget the drive and get pizza?"


Seated at a booth after picking up their orders, Daria leaned back and allowed the ambience to relax her mind. "Jane should be starting soon."

Jane leaned over the flagged border rope and hugged Mack, kissing him. When they parted, Mack said, "Good luck."

"Thanks for everything. You have my permission to kick Trent in the butt if he's not awake when you get there."

"I get the feeling that Lindy will make sure I don't have to."

"Probably. Don't mess around, even with a parking pass for runner pickup, you'll have a hell of a time if you wait. And don't scratch the paint job."

"I won't. The starter's raising the pistol; I'll see you in a couple hours." Mack gave her a quick kiss and stepped back as the pistol fired.

The mass of runners started forward like a giant organism, slowly flowing down the street from the Common on the road to Boston. Jane felt uncomfortable in the crush and longed for the pack to spread, to allow her to set a comfortable pace and drop into her own world.

Just outside of town, the route became almost rural. The two-lane road, Rt. 135, comfortably sloped downhill as the runners started to spread out, allowing Jane to relax and enjoy the scenery. A few curves and short, gentle rises spotted the course as she ran through the landscape of fields, trees and scattered homes. I need to get out here when there isn't such a crowd.

By the outskirts of the next small town, Ashland, Jane had acquired her chosen pace and was enjoying the total experience. The first important hill of the race faced her in town, making her shift some thought to consciously maintaining her pace. With a little extra push, her legs responded without fail and soon she was over the crest, where a road sign read: Boston 22 mi. Jane laughed to herself and thought, I'm just getting started.

Past the town, the gentle downward slope continued through more semi-rural countryside, something surprising this close to a major city. By then, the runners were comfortably spaced around Jane. Some were moving faster and passing, some slower and falling behind. Less than fifteen minutes later, Jane passed the train station in Framingham and felt an added tingle from the growing crowd.

On the long, flat straights that followed, Jane fought the urge to pick up more speed. Already, some of the early passers had dropped back, feeling the error of too fast, too soon. Jogging through the watching crowds in Natick, Jane noted the passing of mile marker ten and checked her watch.

"Seventy minutes. Good," she told herself. That small bit of information brought out a smile on her face. She'd maintained her pacing and still felt strong. A good sign at that point in the race.

The crowd in Natick was larger again, the people cheering all the runners. This time, the enthusiasm was infectious and Jane bounced up her speed. It wasn't until she was past the town that she noticed she was passing other runners. Jane mentally kicked herself and willed her legs to slow down.

Karen traced the red line drawn on a city map and said, "This looks weird as hell, but it'll get you to the parking area with fewer headaches."

Mack accepted the map and put it in his shirt pocket. "Now let's hope I don't make any wrong turns."

"Well, that'll be your problem. But I would advise against it, unless you want to face Jane's wrath."

"I'll be extra careful. Speaking of careful, are you sure about you and them riding the bus?"

"Positive. Without a pass, we can't park anywhere near Copley Square. By this time, even Raft's parking lots are full. This town virtually shuts down on marathon day and tries to park. The bus is our only sensible option. Besides, we can't get everyone in my truck."

"You know better than I would, and I have to agree about the truck. I'll see you at the reception area."

"We'll be there, don't worry."

One eye still closed, Trent wandered over from eating breakfast. "Ready?"

Karen looked sidelong at him. "I'm not a problem. Are you?"

"Think so."

Lindy came up beside Trent. "We're ready. It'll just take him a few minutes to figure that out."

"Well then, move out," Karen called, swinging her arm overhead toward the door.

She herded everyone out and locked the door.

Trent looked back from halfway down the stairs. "We have to walk?"

"It's only two blocks to the bus stop."

"Oh, yeah. Bus."

Jane could hear loud cheering well before she reached the edge of Wellesley College campus. Inside, the route narrowed and was lined with students, each screaming and hollering for the racers in a local tradition called, "The Screech Tunnel." Looking around as much as she could through the spectators, she tried to take in as much of the campus look as she could. Just behind Jane's runner concentration, new images bubbled around in her mind, anxious for the chance to be put on canvas. This has been worth it just for the inspiration.

After a steep drop and an equally steep climb, Jane reached the halfway mark, feeling only the beginnings of fatigue in her legs. She inhaled deeply and pushed her legs harder. The purely fun part of the race was over. It was time to commit to more speed and to work for every mile gained and every second saved.

Daria stopped at the courthouse door and closed her eyes. Michael held her hand while she breathed in and out several times. Sighing, Daria said, "Let's go in."

After a quick pass through a metal detector, they went to Courtroom B, where Daria chose seats near the back of the gallery. Michael sat next to her while the room slowly filled.

Mr. Sullivan entered and noticed Daria. He went to the seat in front of her and knelt on it, facing back. "Good afternoon, Ms. Morgendorffer."

"Hi, Mr. Sullivan." Daria held up Michael's hand. "This is Michael Fulton."

"Good to meet you, young man," the ADA replied. "Kyle Sullivan."

Michael nodded and smiled. "I appreciate everything you've done for Daria."

"No problem, it's part of my job. Daria, I was hoping to get a chance to speak with you before today's proceedings."

"Go ahead," Daria said.

"Now that we can close the chapter on this extended mess, I want to thank you for all your cooperation and clear thinking."

Daria nodded. "Though to be honest, I would've liked to see some jail time for Mrs. Griffin, Mr. Lamm and Ms. Li."

"I've never seen a group of defendants turn on each other so hard. Substituting fines and parole for jail time helped to keep all three pleas in place. And effectively, each one has become an untouchable in their fields. In the long run, I think we did the right thing."

"Did you hear that Mrs. and Mr. Griffin disowned Sandi?"

"My daughter heard about it and told me. I'm sorry."

Daria was quiet for a few moments before asking, "Am I right in assuming that some of the delay was caused by psychological evaluations for Mr. Ruttheimer?"

"Yes. It was determined that he knew what he was doing was wrong, but the consensus was that, with treatment, he could gain control of his compulsions."

"In the long run, hopefully safer for me."

"I'm relieved you understand. Your father was...animated when I told him."

"Dad probably wanted to cover him with peanut butter and stake him out in front of a herd of squirrels."

"Close, but your mother talked him down." Mr. Sullivan checked his watch. "I need to get into place. Judge Garrison should be here momentarily."

Beyond Wellesley College, the marathon route ran through the gently rolling Wellesley Hills, ending in a half-mile long decline. The steep slope made Jane fight back against gravity to prevent an uncontrolled tumble down the slope, taking more effort than running the distance flat. Jane felt strain in different leg muscles when she reached the bottom.

Soon after, she cleared the shading trees and faced a brightly sunlit climb of almost three-quarters of a mile. Despite the cool air, the sun's warmth added to her body heat and made for a shocking temperature change as Jane forced her way up the hill and into the town of Newton. The crowd at the top made the climb worth it. New energy came from the cheers, energy that was welcome to face the Newton hills over the next couple miles, hills that cause many entrants to drop out every year.

The first hill was just past a fire station. Jane followed the sweeping, turning path past a country club lined with people. Jane started to notice more and more younger people among the crowds. Some already looked to be intoxicated, with a couple offering beers to the runners. Each hill stressed Jane in different ways: some steep, some gentle, some with relatively straight paths, and others that sharply curved up the sides. To Jane, the crowd became dimmer and more distant and she focused more and more on running, pushing her endurance hard to keep going. Her steps became less even and her breathing ragged. She muttered, "The wall's getting close," and gritted her teeth against the aching fatigue in her legs.

Standing on an already crowded sidewalk, Bel looked in surprise at the large video camera the young, blond man with CC and Nell carried. "Do you think that thing's big enough?"

He shrugged and held the camera a little higher. "Professional grade. Bigger than your household camcorder, and a lot better. Sometimes, size does matter."

CC pushed past him. "Yeah, yeah, Joe, enough bragging." She placed a footstool on the sidewalk in front of him. "Can you get a good shot over their heads?"

He stepped up onto it. "No problem."

Another blond-haired man set a tall stool on the pavement and turned to Nell, who was grimly fighting the crowd. "Your seat's ready."

"That's great, Cal. Can you give me a hand?"

Cal easily gave her a lift to sit on the chair, so she could also clearly see the runners. He told CC, "Also, no problem."

Bel asked Joe and Cal, "So how did you two get recruited?

The two men looked at each other, looked at CC and Nell, and then at Bel.

Bel laughed and said, "Never mind."

Heartbreak Hill. Jane faced the final hill of the group with dread. Earlier in the race, the climb wouldn't have been difficult, but after more than twenty miles, it was one of the great make or break points of the race. Her legs felt limp and weighted down as she struggled up the road. The bordering crowd's roar wasn't even registering to her mind any more. One step, followed by the next, the only goal was to get the next step started. Her breathing grew heavy and desperate and her arms dropped limply to her sides.

Several runners, also looking tired, moved past. Jane felt like she was almost at the end when she reached the crest and could see the towers and skyscrapers of Boston. Abruptly, she felt a burst of energy and her breathing evened. The aching in her legs diminished and Jane picked up speed. I'm past the wall. Let's hope I don't hit the next one before the end.

Handcuffed, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and escorted by two massive guards, Upchuck looked aged and shrunken when he entered the courtroom. His eyes stayed on the carpet as he was led forward and seated.

Michael placed his free hand over the hand Daria was tightly gripping his with. She returned a brief nod and smile of gratitude.

The bailiff called in a tired voice, "Case 844602. The People versus Charles Ruttheimmer III."

Judge Garrison, a man in his mid-forties with black hair touched with gray, nodded to Mr. Sullivan. "Mr. Sullivan, is the plea agreement in this case still in effect?"

Mr. Sullivan said, "Yes, your honor."

"Mr. Ruttheimmer," Judge Garrison shifted his attention to the curly-haired man. "Do you still wish to abide by the plea agreement?"

Restrained, he said, "Yes, sir."

The judge reviewed some papers and then nodded to the bailiff, who read from a clipboard, "The defendant is accused of one count of Distribution of Adult Material to a Minor, one count of Criminal Stalking, on count of Breaking and Entering, and forty-seven counts of Illegally Duplicating Copyrighted Material for Resale."

"How do you plea?" Judge Garrison asked.

Just as quiet, Upchuck said, "Guilty."

"Your plea is accepted. By the terms of your agreement with the District Attorney's office, you are sentenced to detention in a psychiatric institution for treatment until a court-appointed panel of psychiatric professionals finds you sufficiently rehabilitated for release, not to exceed five years. Following release, you will be sentenced to supervised probation for three years."

He tapped the gavel and said, "Please transfer Mr. Ruttheimmer to the Department of Corrections for assignment to a psychiatric institution."

The guards raised Upchuck from his chair and escorted him from the room. He looked up and saw the couple seated near the back. Sad longing was on his face when he looked at Daria, but it changed to jealousy and anger when he looked at Michael.

The guard gave Upchuck a nudge when he paused, making him take his eyes away and focus again on the carpet.

Daria waited several more minutes before she whispered to Michael, "I'm ready." Continuing to hold his hand, she led them from the courthouse.

Outside, Helen and Jake waited on a bench. Daria went directly to them and accepted hugs from each.

Jake's tension was still palpable after the hug. He growled, "They should've..."

Helen admonished, "Jake! That's why we had to wait out here. We didn't need you arrested for contempt of court."

"That's okay, Mom." One-armed, Daria gave Jake a second hug. "As a father, he's allowed to be defensive. I think it's in the contract."

Jake nodded. "Yeah, Kiddo!"

Helen asked Michael, "How about you?"

"I understand how Mr. Morgendorffer feels. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to leave me alone with the guy, either. But then, that's why we have courts."

After the long wait outside listening to Jake's angry outbursts, Helen was a bit annoyed at Michael's empathy for them. However, she was also very pleased that he felt so protective of Daria. Helen said, "Agreed, but I'm glad you were calm enough to take inside."

"I hope Jane doesn't mind I drove my car instead of hers," Mack said as he hung the parking pass from the rear view mirror. "And I need to thank Karen for the directions. This place is a madhouse today."

He squeezed into the narrow space between his car and the next. "Another good reason for my car." Consulting the map, he oriented himself and started walking. "Looks like it's this way."

Feeling her energy draining again, Jane pushed on into Brookline and kept an eye on the sidewalk to her left. The crowd packed the sidewalk from roadside to buildings. Her mind was turning hazy from the exhaustion and she had to spare extra effort from her running to keep looking. After long blocks, Jane spotted a red flag waving on the end of one of Nell's crutches. She altered course through the other runners to stop in front of the group.

Jane gulped air for a couple seconds before weakly yelling to Joe's camera microphone, "Hey kids! I've got about two and a half miles to go. Take it easy on me tomorrow, will ya?" Jane waved to the camera, smiled and started running. She called over her shoulder, "Thanks!"

Bel, CC, Nell, Cal and Joe waved and called encouragement to her as Jane merged back into the pack.

Mack waved to Karen to let her know he saw her waiting for him near the entrance to the supporters' reception area. Closer, he said, "Okay, I didn't get lost, but you still got here faster, even with the side trip."

"I warned you about the traffic. We got off the bus early and walked; it was faster."

"You warned me. So, is the plan working?"

"Oh yeah, this is gonna be good."

Mack grinned. "Great."

Surprised, Daria looked over her cup of steaming tea at Helen. "Oh, crap. I don't believe I completely forgot. I got her wish list last week."

All four were seated at a table in a coffee house near the courthouse. "I think Quinn understands that you had a lot on your mind."

"Dammit, dammit, dammit. Even when she was always trying to give me makeovers, she remembered mine."

Michael suggested, "You can call her during one of my turns of driving later."

Daria sunk down in her chair. "I could. I have to miss Jane in the marathon, and now I've forgotten Quinn's birthday. Not a good track record."

"You can't be there for Jane, but the plan you helped Trent put in place will be."

"That's true. But I still don't know what I'm going to do about Quinn."

Jane's feet throbbed inside her running shoes, her legs felt like rubber, a cramp kept trying to form in her left thigh and she labored to breathe. Her reserves were gone. The sight of the Boston Public Library just ahead kept her going. Almost there... On each step, her feet fell free more than they were guided. The finish line grew closer and closer until she passed it at three hours, thirty-six minutes from her start.

She used the next block to slow down to a walking pace while the satisfaction settled in. She gladly accepted the offered water from the finish line staff and drank carefully. Another staff member unfolded a lightweight heat blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders to fight off cold as her muscles cooled down. Dazed and happy, she had to be gently guided in the direction of the reception area.

Mack greeted her with a hearty embrace, picking her up and spinning her around. "Congratulations!"

"Oh, Mack. Thanks."

Mack set her down while Trent, Lindy and Karen gathered around. Lindy said, "I don't know how you do it, but wow."

Karen hugged Jane and said, "I know how, and I still say, wow."

Trent followed. "Cool, Janey."

Jane was about to speak when she heard a woman's voice say, "Jane, how wonderful."

Shocked, Jane looked past Trent. "Mom?"

"Congratulations, Jane," Vincent said, standing next to Amanda.


Jane stumbled over and hugged both at the same time. "How did you...?"

Amanda quietly said, "Trent and Lindy said it was important to you. Daria helped us find a hotel and Karen helped us get on the right bus from the hotel."

"They all ganged up on me?"

Vincent puffed from his pipe and said, "Yes."

Jane turned to see Mack, Trent, Lindy and Karen nodding. She shivered under the blanket and smiled past her tears. "If you do all this for me to finish in the middle of the pack, what are you gonna do if I win?"

The bookstore clerk looked under the counter to find the reserved magazine. Once it was located, he stood, scanned the bar code, bagged the magazine and handed it to Quinn Morgendorffer. "Here's the issue you prepaid for. You're ready to go."

Quinn smiled and told him, "Thanks."

He grinned in return, saying, "Any time, Quinn. Have a nice day."

"You too."

Quinn left the bookstore near Pepperhill University and walked to her car. Just after starting it, her cell phone rang. "Hello?"

Riding in the car next to Michael, Daria hesitantly said, "Hi, Quinn. I'm, uh...sorry about yesterday. I was thinking so much about..."

Quinn rolled her eyes, "Daria...don't worry. I mean, thinking about....brr. I don't want to even go there. Even you are allowed to freak out at something like that."

"I'm still sorry about forgetting. What are you doing now?"

Quinn slipped the April issue of Musings Magazine from the paper bag, opened it to the table of contents and scanned down the list until she saw:

A Lifetime Condensed, by Daria Morgendorffer...........................................44.

"You could say that I just picked up my birthday present."

Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.

December, 2005