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. 2006.
This is the forty-fourth story in the Falling into College series.
Apartment for Rent
Todd Baker placed the last packing box in the trunk of his metallic blue car and closed the lid as his soon to be ex-roommate pulled up in a silver sedan. He called out, "Hey, Michael, any luck finding an apartment?"
Michael Fulton shook his head as he stepped out. "No."
"Dude, we're supposed to be out of the dorms by five."
"No kidding. Can I crash with your folks for a couple days?"
"Sorry. My dad's repainting my room and I'm going to be on the couch for a couple days myself. Can't your girlfriend put you up?"
"I'm sure Daria would be fine with it, but I'm not certain about her roommate."
"Jane seemed pretty cool the couple times I've met her."
"She is, but...you know. A strange guy staying in her place? I can see where it would make her uncomfortable."
"Like you're all that strange. Look, it's that or a hotel."
"I better call her."
Jane Lane pulled down her apartment's driveway and parked her phoenix-emblazoned black sedan behind Michael's. Walking past the car, she noticed the back and passenger seats filled with cardboard boxes. "Looks like he hasn't found a place yet."
She jogged up the exterior stairs to the second floor apartment and went inside. She smirked and called out, "Honey, I'm home!"
Seated at the dining table with Michael, Daria Morgendorffer returned with, "It's about time. Your dinner's getting cold."
Jane plopped down at a free seat and started to spoon a "one skillet wonder" onto a plate. "God, I'm starving. Hi, Michael."
Daria said, "If you can spare a second, we need to ask you something."
A forkful of food already in her mouth, Jane mumbled, "G' head."
Michael said, "Will you mind if I stay here a few days until I can find an apartment?"
Jane marginally raised her eyebrows. "Why would I mind?"
"You're Daria's boyfriend. Look, as long as you two keep the volume down, I don't mind." Jane started laughing almost as soon as she finished saying it in response to their momentary surprise.
"Funny, Lane," Daria said.
Jane said, "Don't worry. Though I wonder what Helen might say."
"Quinn started her cross-country drive home today from California. We better not give her anything else to think about."
"Good point." Jane stabbed her fork back into dinner. "So, Michael. What kind of place are you looking for?"
"Someplace with a roof that doesn't leak, that I don't have to share with the local six-legged wildlife, and preferably with indoor plumbing."
"And that doesn't cost an arm, leg or other important body parts?" Jane added.
"Anyone lined up as a roommate?"
"Unfortunately, no. The other history students I know have places already or have left for the summer. Todd's staying with his folks over the summer to save money. He blew more than he expected over spring break. Probably have to sublet and take my chances."
Daria shook her head. "Can't be any worse than the dorm lottery."
Michael remembered his first dorm roommate. "Well, not if they're human."
Bleary-eyed, Michael streaked the yellow highlighter pen over a classified ad from the Sunday paper. "You three got lucky finding this place."
Daria gazed around the living/dining room. "We did, but trust me; we looked at some real dives before we found this. And if we behaved like a lot of college students, we'd have been kicked out long ago."
"So that's why you've never thrown a kegger."
"Plus the whole underage bit."
"So next fall, you're going to throw one for your twenty-first birthday?"
"Sure, but it'll be at your place."
Michael folded the paper. "That's about all within my price range. Several efficiencies and a couple sublets scattered all over Boston. I'll start calling during lunch tomorrow to see them."
"Let me know, I'm still willing to go with."
"I'll call your cell phone after five with the plan, or lack of."
Hearing the ringing, Daria said, "Speaking of phones." She stepped over to the telephone and answered, "Hello."
"Hi, Daria. This is Samantha; I'm returning Michael's call."
"Hi. He's right here." Daria carried the handset to Michael. "Your mother."
"Thanks." He said into the phone, "Hi, Mom."
"Michael. So, you have to stay with Daria," Samantha teased. "Are you sure that wasn't your plan from the beginning?"
"You know it was!" Michael's younger sister Gina called from behind Samantha.
Michael said, "Let me guess, Gina got to the answering machine first."
"She's expecting a call from Roger."
"And she complained about me being geeky in high school."
"Michael..." Samantha warned.
He grinned. "He is a geek. And I'm glad she's seeing someone like him."
"He is a nice boy. Better than that Neville character."
"Hey! If you're going to talk about me, let me in on it!" Gina cried.
Samantha told her, "Michael was just saying that he's glad you're seeing someone like Roger."
"Oh, jeez! Don't let that get out!" Gina said in a faux panic.
"Ah, power," Michael said.
Samantha steered the conversation back on course. "So, how long do you plan on staying there?"
"Only a couple days, I hope. I've got a bunch of possible places from today's paper. I'll start looking at them tomorrow."
"Make sure you don't outstay your welcome."
"Okay. Let us know as soon as you have your new address and phone number."
"We're still looking forward to seeing you during vacation this July."
"I'm looking forward to seeing everyone. Even Gina."
"I'll tell her. Goodbye and good luck."
"I can use it. Bye, Mom."
He turned off the handset and placed it on the table. "There, I've checked in with home base and received my dose of sisterly abuse and returned it in kind."
Daria gently smiled. "Abusing your younger sister. It is one of life's simple pleasures."
Daria looked at Michael. "The sofa? Is there something wrong?"
He sat on the bed and shook his head. "No, no. Nothing wrong. It's just...sleeping with you would be a disincentive for me to find a place." Michael watched Daria as he continued. "As much as I dearly would love to stay here, I need to be out on my own for a while. I've lived with my folks or in the dorm my whole life. It's time I got out and grew up some more. There's a lot I still need to learn."
Daria sat beside him. "I can understand that. But, I want you to sleep with me while you're here." She slid one arm around his waist and kissed his cheek. "This is my house and if you're going to stay, you have to live by my rules."
Michael smiled and returned her kiss. "You've waited a long time to say that, haven't you?"
"Yes, though I didn't expect to use it under these exact conditions."
After work the next day, Michael stepped off an MBTA bus at the front of Raft University. Still wearing his Park Service uniform, he hurried across the quad to the Raft University Press, where Daria was waiting.
After a hug and kiss, they walked to her car in the staff parking lot. Michael said, "How was your day?"
"I survived. I think I may have that stupid library fine fixed. But, I'm not holding my breath," she said. "How was yours?"
"One of the older guides said it best, 'Why do they call it tourist season when we can't shoot them?'"
"Let's hope you don't have to shoot anything in the apartments we look at."
"Voice of experience?"
"Karen said they saw some roaches you could put a saddle on when helping my cousin Erin look."
"Are we sure they're not some mutants her boyfriend created?"
"Nah. He's trying to make featherless chickens with six wings and six drumsticks."
As he waited for Daria to unlock the car, Michael pulled out the folded classified ads and said, "The closest one is a quad apartment looking for someone to sublet."
"Wouldn't be my first choice."
"Not really mine, but I'm well down the list from my first choice."
A tall, blond man showed Michael around the apartment. The walls and furniture were well-worn, but the residents had at least made an effort to pick up the place. The living room was dominated by a large TV and an impressive stereo system along the wall facing a tired sofa.
"The rooms are all down the hall. Each one has its own bathroom."
"That's a plus," Michael said.
"The kitchen is over there, if you're into trying to cook. Be careful though; we took the batteries out of the smoke detector, so don't burn anything."
Wary, Michael said, "Okay."
In the hallway, three of the room doors were closed. Daria whispered, "Guess where all the crap is?"
The open room had a single bed, dresser and nightstand. On the wall opposite the bed, Michael noticed a cluster of dart holes in the wall, with a bare, round spot in the center where the target must have been. He asked, "What about that?"
"Don't worry. The landlord already hit up the last guy to pay for that. Dumbass should've been a better shot."
"By the way, what kind of tunes are you bringing with?"
"What kind of music? For the stereo."
"Kind of a mix."
"Well, just wanted to know. Just in case."
"You know. If somebody wants a change of sound or something."
The front door loudly banged open and someone yelled, "Hey! Where's the ice and the barrel?"
"Excuse me," their guide said and rushed out. Michael looked up at the ceiling, to regrettably see even more dart holes. Daria made a face and suspiciously looked at the door.
In the living room, their guide said, "You're early. I'm still showing Eddie's old room to someone."
There was a loud thud of something hitting the floor. "Hey, no problem. They can join in," was the reply from a new voice.
"Dude, we need someone to start paying for that room now. We don't want to scare anyone off until they've signed."
"Aw, man. Why don't we just find a good partier and not worry about that crap."
"Because we want somebody who can pay the rent, dumbass!"
Michael and Daria walked out to the living room. The new arrival had dropped a keg of beer on the kitchen floor and was arguing with the guide. "But I don't want somebody who's gonna whine about stuff." He changed his voice to imitate another. "Keep it down, I need to study. Hey, I want to sleep. Waaahhh!"
Michael took Daria's hand and they made a quick, quiet exit from the apartment.
Michael and Daria looked at the converted warehouse with trepidation. He said, "I guess you could call it rustic."
"More like rusted," Daria amended. "Are you sure you want to go any further?"
"The inside might look better."
They found the key inside a fake rock under an unkempt shrub, just like the landlord said. "High tech security. I'm impressed."
Daria said, "I'm getting the feeling that even the owner doesn't want to be here. That should be a warning."
Several roaches scurried out of the light when he opened the door. One remained on the stair railing facing them, waving its antennae. Michael said, "I think I've seen enough. When the roaches dare you to enter, it's time to leave."
He locked and closed the door, depositing the key inside the fake rock. Starting to walk away, Michael allowed his arm to drag through the foliage. His hand hit a small wasp nest inside the canopy and one of the angry residents quickly stung his hand.
Snapping his hand back, Michael saw the offender buzz back to the shrub. "Dammit!"
Daria turned her head. "What?"
"Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap." He started walking quickly to Daria's car.
Jogging to catch up, Daria asked, "What?"
"A wasp just nailed my hand."
Michael stopped at the car and steadied himself on the hood. His breathing became strained and he felt his throat. "I was afraid of that."
Worried, Daria said, "What can I do?"
He pulled a tube from his pocket and unscrewed the cap, placing it on the hood. "Drive me to the hospital."
Michael slid an injector out and placed the empty tube next to the cap. He pulled the safety and held the injector in his fist over one thigh. He gritted his teeth and said, "I hate this."
In a swift motion, he swung the injector against his leg. He grunted when the spring-loaded needle entered the muscle and the injection started. Following a slow count to ten, Michael pulled the needle out and massaged the muscle for another ten count.
He popped the injector back into the tube and screwed it shut until a locking click was felt. Michael carefully got into the passenger seat and said, "Go."
"Is that pollen on your car hood, or are the trees having an orgy! A Sick, Sad World prime time exclusive, tomorrow at eight!" blared the TV as Daria and Michael finally made it back.
Jane poked her head up over the sofa. "It's about time you kids got home. Do you have any idea of how late it is?"
Seeing Michael pale and moving slowly, Jane sat up straight. "Whoa, what happened?"
"I got stung. Spent three hours in the hospital getting checked out, treated, and sent home to rest at least a day."
"Ouch. Did you at least have any luck with the hunt?"
He shook his head. "No, and we only got to look at two places."
"No offense," Jane said. "But you better let Daria put you to bed. You look awful."
He lightly laughed. "Then I look better than I feel."
Daria guided him to her room. "But Jane's advice was actually good. Now, you're going to bed."
Resting on one elbow, Daria watched Michael sleeping beside her. His sleep-tossed hair gave him a boyish appearance. With her other hand, Daria softly touched his cheek and whispered, "Don't scare me like that again."
The touch caused Michael to smile and sigh in his sleep.
"You're right; it's very tempting to ask you to just stay here," Daria whispered more as she pushed her auburn hair from her face. "Part of me wants that so much."
She watched his soft breathing for a minute. Daria continued to whisper, "I once thought that I might end up alone with only a herd of cats for company. I never expected to meet someone like you, let alone my first semester of college." Her gaze moved to the ring finger of the hand stroking Michael's cheek. I sometimes wonder what things might've been like if I'd said yes.
Daria's eyes closed. But, I know we weren't ready then. Or now. Everyone's always said I was mature for my age, but I still think I need to grow more before I'm ready to completely share my life like that.
A soft kiss on her palm made Daria open her eyes. Michael said, "Good morning."
She smiled and said, "Good morning to you." Someday, I will be ready.
Michael held her hand and said, "Sorry I have to laze around here all day."
Daria leaned down and gave him a soft kiss. "You sat around with me while I was sick; time for me to return the favor."
Michael put on a sly grin. "Does that mean you'll be bringing lunch to me?"
"I'll be at school then." She moved the sheet aside and slipped out of bed, straightening her nightgown in the process. "But, I think I might be able to do something about breakfast."
Alone in the apartment, Michael carefully picked up a black marker pen. His hand ached from the sting as he grasped it and started scanning the ads he'd marked in the paper. "That little bit of inattention took a bite out of my checkbook." Here and there as he reread the advertisements, he crossed out those that were no longer within his budget.
Feeling down, he refolded the newspaper after finishing the listings. The Victorian era colors of cream for the walls and a dark green on the window frames and wainscoting seemed right for the old house. Contrasting the traditional was the unconventional of several Jane Lane originals adorning the walls. The second-hand furniture didn't match the decor or each other, but still provided a warm comfort to the living and dining room. Daria's black cat slumbered on the sofa back. Michael remembered helping to move the sofa into the apartment, provided by Daria and Jane's roommate Karen, who was spending the summer with her family in Georgia. "This is their apartment. The whole place says Daria, Jane and Karen. It wouldn't feel right for me to stay here long."
He pushed back from the table and turned to the hallway leading to Daria's room and thought about earlier. Tired and unsteady from his close call the day before, going to sleep in her arms was wonderfully reassuring. This morning waking to see her deep brown eyes reminded him of how lucky he was. "No matter how tempting it may be," he added to his earlier thought with a sigh.
He wandered into the kitchen and picked up a well-worn book from the counter. "I love her. But there so much more I need to be. So much more that she deserves."
"Hmm. 1001 Dorm Recipes for Hot Plate, Microwave and Toaster Oven, Revised Edition. Maybe there's something in here simple enough for even me to make."
Daria sniffed the air as she entered the apartment. "That's sweet." She called louder, "Thanks for having something delivered."
Michael looked out from the kitchen. "I didn't."
Daria looked at him with great concern. "You better not have been driving around."
Daria's eyes widened with greater concern. "Did you try to cook?"
"Um, I suppose I deserve that after some of my earlier attempts. This time, I think I may have succeeded and finally put the 'ramen noodle incident' behind me."
"I wanted to make sure someone else was here before I tasted it. Just in case."
Michael ducked back into the kitchen and dipped a spoon into a pot. "Here goes."
Daria watched intently. "Well?"
"You'll want to add some salt, but it's not lethal."
"It does smell good."
He held up a copy of the cookbook. "I need to find a copy."
"That was a graduation present from my Aunt Amy. If Jane and I can learn to cook from it, I don't see why you couldn't." Daria walked over and kissed Michael. "By the way, thanks for making dinner. Even though you were supposed to be resting."
"I wanted to do something for you."
Daria shook her head and hugged him. "You're incorrigible. Stay that way."
He gently put his arms around Daria the way she liked and felt her cheek rest against his chest. "If you insist."
"Are you going to need someone to hold your hand tomorrow while apartment hunting?"
"At the rate I'm going, I need a good get-away driver."
Michael waited on a bench near the Park Service office. His boss, a tall man with snow-white hair, waved and called, "Good night."
"Good night. Thanks for letting me get a little overtime today to make up for yesterday."
About ten minutes later, Daria pulled into the parking lot. She rolled down the window and said, "Sorry. They changed the travel lanes around the Big Dig again and, you know."
Michael leaned in and gave her a kiss. "You're worth the wait. The first place isn't very far from here. Be kind of nice for work."
He walked around the car and got into the passenger seat. Michael pulled out his newspaper and said, "We'll need to use the north exit from the lot."
The brownstone building was almost nondescript, the street number the only thing that distinguished it from any of others. Michael in the lead, they went up the narrow stairs toward the apartment advertised as needing a roommate.
Daria said, "This place had better be furnished. I can't see how you can move furniture up this stairwell."
"I think the below-deck stairs on the USS Constitution are wider," Michael replied.
Wads of paper and stray beer cans were scattered on the landing that three doors faced. Michael double-checked the address and knocked on the door marked 'C'.
A college-age man with grimy brown hair opened the door and belched. He scratched his stomach and said, "Yeah?"
"I was...uh, were you advertising for a roommate?"
"Yeah." The man grabbed Michael's hand and shook it. "Come on in. It ain't much, but it's home."
Michael wiped his hand on his pant leg and stood at the door. The smell rolling out was a vile mixture of old sweat, very cheap cologne, rancid milk and quite possibly, some kind of rotten meat. An immensely large and fat fly buzzed past his head and out of the door.
Daria tugged on his arm and gave him a fake, sappy smile. Throwing a higher pitch to her voice, she said, "You said you were going to get a nice place. I don't like this." She batted her eyes at him.
The guy turned around. "Aw, man. Are you so whipped you're gonna let your chick tell you where to stay?"
Michael lamely shrugged.
The guy frowned and said, "Look, I don't wanna hear that kind of crap. Maybe you're not the kind of roommate I'm looking for."
Michael said, "Uh, I think you're right. Sorry for taking up your time."
Rushing out of the building and back to Daria's car, Michael said, "Thanks for the save. I'd rather have my freshman dorm roommate than that guy."
Daria unlocked the car. "Just remember: nobody, and I mean nobody, hears about what I did up there to get us out."
"Absolute silence, I promise."
The landlord said, "You look like a good kid." He dropped a manila folder on small dining table of the efficiency apartment and said, "Here's the lease agreement. Take a quick look at it and sign where I highlighted in yellow. I'll take a check for the first and last months' rent plus one month for a security deposit. When you're done, lock the door and drop off the application and the check at my office downstairs." He quickly left, leaving Daria and Michael alone.
Michael opened the thick folder and said, "Since when do leases run for thirty pages?"
Daria looked past him and said, "I don't even know if Mom could write a lease that long. What the hell's in that thing?"
He flipped through the pages. "It looks like there's a one and a half page procedure on how to report a maintenance problem." He skimmed some more. "A six page checklist enumerating every fixture in the apartment and its condition at the time of rental."
Daria flipped a couple more pages. "Allowable cleaning products to use per surface area?"
"I think it's time to run away," Michael said as he closed the folder.
"Very fast," Daria agreed as she stepped out of the apartment with Michael and he locked the door.
Afterglow, a perfect description, Daria thought as she cuddled against Michael's bare chest and felt his arms softly encircling her. She sighed with contentment and said, "That was a nice way to start the morning."
Michael kissed her forehead and traced a finger along her spine, causing her to arch in pleased response. He said, "I'll be in a good mood all day."
"At least until you see this afternoon's apartments," she replied with a slight tease.
"I've got a good feeling about today."
Daria slid up to reach his lips and kissed them. "Are you sure it's not just a good feeling about what we just finished?"
Michael pulled her closer and stroked the back of her head. "I feel wonderful about that."
After work, Michael jogged up the stairs to Daria's apartment.
Inside, Daria was talking on the phone. "I'm glad you made it home all right, Quinn. Hey, Michael just walked in the door, so I need to get going. Sure, I'll tell him. Bye." She turned off the cordless phone and said, "Hi, Michael. That was Quinn; she also says 'hi' and hopes you can find a place soon."
He closed the door and walked over to Daria. "Tell her 'hi' the next time you talk. I want to change out of my work clothes before we head out."
She said, "I'm ready when you are."
As he leaned down to kiss her, Michael playfully said, "Maybe when we get back."
Daria looked over the top of her glasses afterward and said. "That really is all that guys think of."
"Um...that's why we dinosaurs have two brains?" He replied.
"With one close to the only place it's needed. I can believe that."
Cleaning paint from her hands with a rag, Jane walked out of her room. "Not that Daria's really complaining," she said and ducked the wadded paper thrown at her.
Daria followed up with, "I'll remember that the next time Mack visits."
"Who says I'm complaining?" Jane shot back.
Awakening, Bump looked at them from her perch on the windowsill and loudly meowed.
Jane pointed to the spayed cat. "Okay, you can complain."
Nose buried in printed map directions, Daria said, "The next place should be in the middle of the next block and on the left." Noticing that Michael wasn't slowing, she looked up and saw the building go by her window. "You just missed it."
"I'll pass. I saw the two...'sidewalk entrepreneurs'...on the corner. I really prefer to keep my distance from that, if at all possible."
Daria looked back over her shoulder at a pair of men exchanging money with the passenger of a parked car. "I'd like you to keep your distance, too."
"The kitchen is a little small, but I figure that won't be a problem for a single guy like you," the apartment manager said as he pointed to the closet-sized room.
He moved next to the small bathroom. "As you can see, everything is conveniently close together in here."
Michael looked at the space barely large enough to stand in situated between the toilet, sink and shower. "That's one way of putting it."
Finally, he pulled the single bed down from where it was folded against the wall in the main room. "Everything works fine and the mattress is only a couple years old."
Michael looked around. "I still have one more place I was going to look at. But, can I have the paperwork to get started on in case I decide on this place?"
The manager said, "Right here," and opened his briefcase. After a moment's search, he handed Michael a small packet of stapled pages. "It's first come, first served."
Back in Michael's car, Daria said, "You are getting desperate. That place is smaller than a dorm room."
"I really don't need much space."
A man with close-cropped brown hair opened the door. "Are you here about the sublet ad?"
"Yes, I'm Michael Fulton."
"Lewis Burkheart," the other man said as he shook hands with Michael.
"This is my girlfriend, Daria."
"Interesting name. Nice to meet you."
"Hi," Daria said.
Lewis stepped into the living room. "Guess you'll want the grand tour. Pretty basic living room. The kitchen is on the other side of that counter. Room for one person to cook, but two's asking a bit much unless they're real close."
He led them to a short hallway. "One bathroom. My room's on the right, the open one is on the left."
Michael and Daria went inside that room. It was slightly larger than Daria's and had a fair-sized closet against one wall. The single window looked out over the street of small shops and upstairs apartments.
Lewis continued explaining. "The phone and cable jacks are on that wall. The heat works pretty good in the winter. The summer air conditioning leaves a lot to be desired, but it's better than nothing."
Back to the living room, they talked for several minutes about more apartment details, party attitudes and general behavior of roommates. Finally, Lewis said, "And, the rent's due the first of the month. Any other questions?"
"If I move in right away, I assume you'll pro-rate my part of the rent?" Michael asked.
"If you can move in right away, that'd be great. I'm a grad student at Hlaford University and have about thirty dollars to last through the month."
Michael looked at Daria, who returned a look of "You have to ask?"
Lewis walked into the kitchen, leaned against the counter and said, "But, before we go any farther, I'm gay. Will that be a problem?"
Michael stood with his head slightly tilted. "Uh...um...I don't know. It's not something I've really thought about."
"Well, you're not backpedaling out of the door."
"This is the best deal I've seen in two weeks. It's a good apartment; you don't smoke cigars or have fungus growing on your laundry or have leases that could frighten a lawyer. I like it, but I've never really associated with anyone who was gay before."
"You probably have, you just don't realize it."
"Okay, that I knew about. I don't think it'll be a problem, but I really don't know."
"At least you're honest about it. However, remember that it's not just me. People will make assumptions about you."
"I'm willing to take a chance."
"Then so will I."
Michael said, "Everything I have with me fits in my car. I can move in tomorrow."
"Looks like we have a deal." Lewis came around the counter. "I'll give you a key before you leave. I have to work tomorrow night."
As Michael settled under the sheet next to Daria, he said, "Last night together like this. I'm going to miss it."
"Me too. I'm glad you found a place to stay." Daria looked into his eyes expectantly. "I hope you don't take this wrong. Having you sleep with me feels special and I want it to stay that way for a while yet. I'm not ready for it to be an everyday occurrence."
Michael gently smiled back. "I think I know what you mean. Being with you is like nothing else I could imagine. Savoring the memory of each time and anticipating the next. I want to keep that going for a while, too."
"I'm glad you understand," Daria said as she held him close. He closed his arms around her and kissed her goodnight.
Both thought, But I also look forward to when I can be with you every night.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.