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 fifty-first story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske


Sitting up in bed, Helen looked into a hand mirror and willed her face to smile. The right side of her mouth responded instantly, but the left corner raised only a tiny fraction of an inch. Frustration crossed her face, erasing the half-smile. Determined, she tried again, and failed.

Tears blurred Helen's vision as she placed the mirror on a nightstand and looked around the new bedroom. Up until a couple weeks earlier, it had been the dining room. The sideboard and china cabinet had been moved to the kitchen, while the formal table and chairs now resided in the garage. Bed and dressers replaced them.

On the other side of the door, she could hear a muffled clatter from the kitchen as Jake worked on breakfast. "Ah! It's not supposed to splash like that!" he shouted. Helen winced, thinking about what disaster must be transpiring as her husband attempted, again, to make her whole wheat pancake recipe. As much as she wanted to call out to discover what was happening, she resisted. Jake would drop everything to check on her if she did. Too often, the term "drop" was literal, and a bowl of pancake batter would make a huge mess on the floor.

"Here you go, Helen!" Jake announced half an hour later, entering the room carrying a tray. He placed it over her lap and said, "Breakfast is served."

Two perfectly round whole wheat pancakes, toast, a small pat of butter and a tiny pitcher of syrup were on the plate. Alongside was a tall glass of orange juice. Helen nodded. Microwave pancakes, it would be so much easier for him just to stick with them, but he keeps trying. Her voice was still slow and slightly slurred when she said, "Thanks, Jakey. But you don't have to keep doing this."

"It's no problem, Helen."

"Jake...I want to eat breakfast in the kitchen." Breakfast in bed makes me feel like an invalid.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Jake. And, I want to get there on my own. Can you carry the tray, please?"

"Oh, sure honey."

Jake lifted the tray and stepped back toward the kitchen while apprehensively looking at Helen. She swung her right leg off the bed, twisting as her left leg remained unmoved. Left arm resting in her lap, she then reached across with her right hand and pulled her left leg over. Pushing with her right arm, she stood on her right leg and managed a brief, twisting hop to turn around before sitting down in a wheelchair. After tugging her left leg into place and adjusting her nightgown, Helen gently pushed a control lever forward and the chair's motors hummed to life, slowly moving her around the bed. The insurance company can gripe all they want. I will not be dependent on somebody else to move me around my home.

Jake led the way, pausing at the door to gulp before going forward. Helen quickly saw the reason for the gulp; at least a dozen bowls of different sizes were piled on the counter next to the stove. All of them were covered with drips and splatters of pancake batter, while a dusting of light brown wheat flour covered almost everything else. She did her best to ignore the mess and roll to the table, where Jake was transferring her breakfast. "Better."

"Great!" Jake said and grabbed his breakfast from the counter, sitting next to Helen. "Um, sorry about the mess. You made it look so easy."

"You'll get the hang of it."

"You bet!"

"But Jake..."


"Why don't you skip trying while Amy and Daria are here this weekend?" Uneven, she pointed her head toward the bowls. "Just to be on the safe side."

Sounding a little hurt, Jake said, "Will do, Helen."

"And start again on Monday."

Heartened, he replied, "I can do that!"

Sitting on an exam table, Daria patiently waited while the school clinic's doctor examined her test results. In time, he said, "With their eating habits, many college students tend to have unhealthy blood cholesterol profiles, and yours is at the wrong end of that spectrum. In light of the family background you provided, I'm more concerned than usual."

"All things considered, I'm not surprised," Daria said. "That's why I came in."

"You can also stand to lose a little weight, five to ten pounds. My preference, especially considering your age, is to address this with lifestyle adjustments: reduced fat intake, particularly saturated fat, reduced cholesterol intake, and exercise."

"Great." Daria sighed. "Carrot and celery sticks. My life is complete."

The doctor coughed for effect. "I don't want you going onto some extreme diet or anything. I said reduce, not eliminate. The idea is to develop eating habits that you can sustain."

"That's a relief, I think."

"And, I'd rather not see you lose more than ten pounds. With your small frame, that should be enough."

"I, uh, have gained more than that since starting college."

"I'm sure you still have some visible body fat, but I'm not worried about it. A ten pound loss will put you at a healthy weight for your height and build. And then, with appropriate eating habits and exercise, it will be a good weight for you to maintain."

"Exercise. Jane and Karen are going to have a field day with that."


"And roommates."

"Ah. Don't let them tease you into not doing what you need to do."

"Jane ran in the last Boston Marathon and Karen can lift a calf. They are so going to enjoy getting me into shape."

"Then you're one lucky girl."

Cell phone in hand and seated on a circular bench under a palm tree, Quinn said to her mother, "Yes, Mom, I got the credit card mess fixed. It's not like I was the one who cancelled my flight or anything."

Sitting in the wheelchair near the sliding glass doors in the kitchen, Helen watched a mockingbird chasing a squirrel away from the bird feeder Jake and Michael had installed the previous weekend. "Good. You can't let those people see the slightest sign of weakness. I'm glad you're standing up for yourself."

"I still wish I'd been able to see you in the hospital."

"I know, dear, but your daily calls cheer me up."

"Thanks, but tell Daria I'm jealous that she gets to see you every weekend."

The playful teasing of one daughter by the other lifted Helen's mood. "I'll make sure she knows."

"You better." Seeing a muscular, blond young man trot up carrying a paper bag and a drink cup, Quinn said, "Hold on a second, my lunch just arrived."

"Here you are, Quinn. A southwest veggie wrap and diet soda," the man said, placing the meal on the bench next to Quinn.

"That's so sweet, Jason. Thanks."

"Any time, Quinn."

She pointed to her phone, "Please? I'm talking to my mother."

"No problem. Seeya later."


She waved as the man trotted away and held the phone with her shoulder as she opened her lunch. "Back, Mom."

"I thought you said you were on the plaza. How did you get someplace to deliver?"

"Oh, a nice boy ran across the street for me."

"I see some things haven't changed."


"Gotcha." With some effort, Helen looked over to the wall clock. "Quinn, my physical therapist will be here soon. Thanks for calling."

"No problem, Mom. Talk to you tomorrow."

"I look forward to it."

"I love you, good bye."

"I love you. Bye, honey."

Quinn closed her phone and slowly finished opening the wrapper on her lunch. "I miss you, Mommy."

"Gah! Where'd it get off to?" Jake asked, hearing the electronic ring of a cell phone and desperately looking on the kitchen counter.

Helen said, "On the coffee table, Jake."

He hurried into the living room and picked up the phone, taking two tries to turn it on. "Morgendorffer Consulting."

Listening and nodding, Jake fumbled through a small date book that was also on the coffee table. "Okay, 12:45 is good for me. I'll meet you at my office. Have a nice day."

He stared at the phone for a couple seconds and then turned it off. "I have a client."

"I heard," Helen replied. "Nancy will be here at 12:30, and Marianne will stop by about 1:30, so I'll be okay. If I need anything before you get home, I can call Amanda and Lindy."

"Okay, honey. I'll be back as soon as I can."

A stocky woman in pink surgical scrubs supported Helen's left arm with one hand and pressed the other against Helen's hand as she pressed back. "That's good."

Resting on the bed, Helen said, "It is?"

"It's going to take time for your brain to find new pathways, but you're making good progress."

"Doesn't feel like it, Nancy."

"A lot of stroke patients don't make the progress you've already made. Enough for the arm, time to work on your leg."

She shifted her chair and lifted Helen's left leg, flexing it at the knee and hip, and then rotating the ankle. She placed it down and said, "Okay Helen, move your foot."

Concentrating hard, Helen succeeded in moving her toes back and forth about an inch. Nancy said, "Good, good. Now, try bending your knee."

Lightly biting her lower lip, Helen nodded and closed her eyes. Moments later, her knee slowly rose a couple inches.

Nancy smiled wide and said, "Wow. That's a big improvement."

Helen opened her eyes and said, "That felt like something, at least."

"If you can keep up this progress, we might get you on your feet soon."

"No might about it...I will be on my feet as soon as I can."

"Keep it up; I like my patients to have an attitude."

"You haven't seen me in a courtroom."

Jake hurried to his office door. A sign attached just below "Morgendorffer Consulting" read, "Office hours by appointment only." He unlocked the door and entered, going directly to his desk and sitting. He placed a finger on a checklist taped on the front of a drawer and read it. Moving slowly as he remembered the order, he picked up his phone and cancelled the call-forward. Pleased, he smiled to himself and said aloud, "There, I'm starting to get the hang of it."

He spent several minutes organizing and reorganizing papers until his client entered. He rose and extended his hand, "Come on in, Bert. I have some great new ideas for you."

Glancing back at the door sign, the trim, middle-aged black businessman said, "Appointment only? Getting that much business?"

Focused on Helen's photo on his desk, Jake sighed and said, "Helen's ill and I've been splitting my time between here and home."

"Aw, man. That's rough. Good thing you're the boss, so you can take off the time you need."

"Makes starting my own business worth it," Jake said, and feeling it to the core. All of the setbacks, failures and frustrations of the last years were a small price to pay for not having to explain his time off to someone like the sadistic boss he had in Highland.

"I bet. Helen sure is lucky. So, what do you have for me?"

Jake opened a folder. "I thought we could build on what Jodie set up for your summer sale."

"Great idea! Hey, is she back in school?"


"She graduates in a year or two, right?"

"Two, same as my oldest daughter."

"That Jodie's a real go-getter, like her old man. You know, Jake, when she graduates, I bet that if you wanted to retire early, you could sell this business to her for a nice little nest egg."

Jake thought for a moment before saying, "I'm a little too young to retire."

"Please don't take this wrong, Helen, but it feels strange seeing you in casual clothes," Marianne said, seated on one of the sofas the Morgendorffer's living room.

"To be honest, it feels good not having to squeeze into panty hose every day," Helen said, sitting in her wheelchair at the spot that one of the sofa pieces formerly inhabited.

"Not that I object to seeing you, but are you sure you want to look over these papers?"

"Marianne, daytime television is atrocious and I can only read so many bestsellers a week. Staying in touch keeps my mind active."

"I'm only worried. The way the other partners joked about you really fitting in 'as one of the gang' by having your stroke was creepy."

"But, I don't have my golf-buddy cardiologist on speed-dial. At least the hormone replacement is keeping those damn hot flashes in check. Dealing with them at the same time as this would drive me nuts."

Marianne cautiously laughed. "The other partners would completely fall apart if they experienced even one hot flash."

"Don't you know it."

"Uh...have they figured out what caused your stroke?"

"Not yet. As far as the doctors can tell, it shouldn't have happened."

"Freakin', crying out loud! I knew this would happen," Daria exclaimed to her smirking roommates.

"Come on, Daria, how could we resist?" Jane replied. "Seriously, though, you can join me running."

"And drop dead from exhaustion trying to keep up with you? I'll pass."

Karen said, "We helped you through things as a freshman; we'll help you now."

Daria shook her head. "But you'll still have some fun in the process."

Karen winked. "We've earned it."

"I will pay you back."

Jane said, "Yeah, yeah."

Karen put one arm around Daria. "What happened to your Mom spooked all of us. Jane and I talked to our parents most of that first night she was in the hospital. You know that joking helps us deal, right?"

"Yes, I know, and I appreciate the support."

"So...when do we order the cheeseless pizza?" Jane asked, quickly stepping back.

Daria glared at Jane. "But, I may still have to kill you."

Sitting on a towel, Quinn watched rolling surf that glinted silver from moonlight and the city lights behind her. The beach was quiet for the moment, with the sun worshipers gone and the nighttime partiers not yet arrived. "I bet you would like this view, Mom," she said to the breaking waves.

A sandpiper landed along the surf's edge and started hunting for interesting morsels as it dodged back and forth with the shifting water. Alone with it, Quinn watched the small bird intently. The almost comical blur of its short, fast-moving legs fascinated Quinn and allowed her mind a respite from worry.

Since returning to California, the beach had become one of Quinn's favorite places and seemed able to meet her many moods. Sunbathing, socializing or playing during the day, parties and fun at night, and in between, these interludes of quiet. Oddly, she felt the separation from her family, while simultaneously a sense of belonging that she hadn't known before.

"Ah-ha, there you are," Fran said from behind.

Quinn twisted around to see Fran with Tammy and Grace. Tammy said, "We're heading over to Pacific Coast Smoothie and thought you might want to come with us."

"Yeah, PCS has a new band playing tonight," Grace said. "The lead singer's supposed to be cute."

A booming bass note sounded from a portable stereo somewhere down the beach. Quinn stood and picked up her towel. "Cute, huh?"

Later, all four were seated together at the smoothie bar when Fran flagged down their bartender and said, "Another Mango Supercharger, please."

The man looked at Fran, somewhat surprised.

"Hey, I'm a big girl." She followed his gaze to her slight, less than 5 foot frame. "Okay, not that big, but I can handle it."

Quinn, Grace and Tammy all gave the waiter a look of, "Give her the drink and nobody gets hurt."

He quickly said, "Yes, ma'am," and hurried to mix the fruit concoction.

Fran turned her attention back to her friend. "I know you're feeling guilty about not seeing your mom, and I'm not trying to talk you out of it."

Quinn said over her carrot smoothie, "Good."

"Why don't you do something else that's special for her?"

"Like what?"

"I don't know. What does she like?"

"She likes to work too much."

Grace said, "Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't you invite them here for Thanksgiving?"

Quinn said, "Thanksgiving? You know I don't cook much."

Tammy said, "From what you've told us, neither does your mom. Deli turkey from California can't be that different from deli turkey in Maryland."

"What about my sister?"

Fran said, "No-one says she can't come. Or, she can do what you did last year and have Thanksgiving with her friends. All in all, I wouldn't mind meeting her."

Talking over the roof of her car early Saturday morning, Daria said, "I can't tell you how much I appreciate you coming along, but you don't have to."

Michael shrugged, "Eh, it's my Mom's influence rubbing off. You know it's safer with two people to trade off driving on a long trip."

Daria smirked as she got into the driver's seat. "Even if one of them drives like a maniac?"

"Hey! I've gotten better. Haven't I?" Michael said as he entered and sat down.

"You're no longer terrifying...only scary."

"Well, that's a relief."

Daria started the car and backed out of her driveway. She couldn't resist saying, "Yes, it is."

"It's going to be a little crowded at your folks, isn't it?"

"They'll have room, barely. We'll be in my old room, Amy and Reese in the guest room and the kids will share Quinn's room."

"Is it safe to expose small children to that?"

"If they're blood-related to somebody whom Amy would marry, I'd say they are tough enough to face it and come out stronger."

Amy told the tall, red-haired man seated next to her in the car, "Reese, try...try to behave yourself."

He reached over and picked up his new wife's hand, kissing it. "Don't worry; even I'm not that clueless."

"Pardon me if I wait for conclusive evidence to back that hypothesis."

Barely slowing, Amy directed the brand new, red sedan into the Morgendorffer driveway and came to a precise stop behind Helen's SUV.

Reese opened his door and stood. "With the way you drive, we really need to teach you to fly."

Amy picked up her small purse and exited the driver's seat, stepping back to open the rear door. "So you can share your macho pilot rituals with me? How generous."

Giggles came from twin, 4-year old blonde girls in the back seat as Reese opened the other door. He teasingly said, "I can see that Amy's setting a fine example for you two."

Jocelyn unbuckled herself from a child's car seat and hopped out next to her father. "She's not that bad, Daddy."

Next to Amy, Jerica also loosed herself and exited the car, saying "She's a keeper."

"And, I think we'll keep you two around," Amy replied.

Reese gently warned, "Girls, because Aunt Helen's been sick, she's going to sound a little different. Don't make fun of her."

After the twins agreed, Reese walked to the back of the car and opened the trunk, removing a couple of paper grocery bags. "I've got the goodies for Helen."

Amy stopped to give him a kiss. "Thanks."

"Hmm, maybe I should remember to do nice things like this on a regular basis."

Amy tugged on his waist to move them to the door. "That... would be a good idea."

Having followed her father, Jocelyn looked at her sister and said, "They're at it again."

Moments later, Jake opened the door to let them in. "Hey, Amy! Reese, my man. How are you?"

"We're doing fine, Jake," Amy said. "How is Helen?"

"Well enough to hear you!" she called from the living room.

Reese shook Jake's hand. "Nice to see you again."

Amy hurried across the room to her sister. Holding firmly onto the wheelchair with her right hand, Helen stood with her weight on her right leg.

"Careful, Helen," Amy warned.

"I can stand long enough to hug you, Amy," Helen warned.

"Deal." Amy said, embracing Helen.

Jake squatted to face the girls eye to eye. "And how are you two sweethearts?"

"Uncle Jake!" both shouted, excited about seeing their funny, new uncle.

Amy looked back and then said to Helen, "Hmm, maybe we found a backup babysitter for Grandma Wyatt."

Amy saw Helen briefly try to smile, and then force the gesture away before saying, "Maybe after I can get around a little better."

Leaving his daughters jabbering away at their new relative, Reese stepped inside and said, "We come bearing gifts; which way to the kitchen?"

Helen said, "Why, thank you. Just to your right, you can't miss it."

Helen carefully eased herself back into the wheelchair. "I still have to take things a little easy."

Amy sat on the sofa next to Helen. "I'm still sorry about the whole 'out of contact' thing. It really was aimed more at Reese's Air Force buddies. They threatened to buzz the hotel in F-15s, and from what I know of that bunch, they would."

"Outside of spoil your honeymoon, there's not much you could've done. I know Rita's still annoyed, but I'm glad it wasn't ruined for you." When Amy started to protest, Helen shushed her and finished, "Though I don't know if I'd have picked Key West over Kyoto."

In the kitchen, Amy set a stack of CDs on the table. "If you can't get to the Keys or the Caribbean any time soon, you can at least listen to some appropriate music."

"I suppose it's better than 'Someone went to Key West and all I got was this lousy t-shirt,'" Helen said.

"Daria gets the t-shirt." Next, Amy started transferring the contents of a grocery bag to the refrigerator. "Everything you need for pina coladas, daiquiris and margaritas. To help with the mood. Thinking about the tropics and the islands is one way I deal when things pile up. I picture a cool drink and a sea breeze while island music plays."

"Amy..." Helen sighed and then acquiesced upon remembering a post card from Amy years before. "Okay."

"And finally..." Amy produced a small box of Swiss chocolates with Sprungli engraved on the side. "Strictly for personal use only: complete, utter and sinful indulgence."

Leaning from the other side of the kitchen counter, Reese said, "Even I have to be on my very best behavior for her to share one with me. You're getting a whole box."

Amy winked at Reese and said, "At least I haven't asked you to fly a box over for me, yet."

"No, your evil twin Paula did."

"What?" Helen asked in surprise and a little indignation, thinking about how much a fighter jet would cost to fly across the Atlantic.

Reese said, "Long story, but it's how we met. I was flying back from Germany after my summer Air Guard duty, when the CO asked me to carry a box back in my personal gear and drop it off for Amy, as a favor for Paula...uh, Colonel Trainor."

Amy gave him a sly smile and placed the box in Helen's hand. "Never let anyone say that chocolate is bad for you."

"I thought you said Amy drove a cool little two-seater," Michael said, looking at Amy and Reese's car.

"She does, but here isn't room for the munchkins in it," Daria said.

"Ah, that would explain the temporary tags; new car." Michael laughed as he handed Daria's keys back while they walked to the door. "Your aunt's driving a mom-mobile."

"Say that in front of Amy and I won't lift a finger to save you."

"You don't want to be my knight in shining armor?"

"I don't want my finger torn off."

"Oh yeah, it's hard to type with nine fingers."

Nearing the house door, she kissed his cheek and said, "Not to mention other things."

He returned the kiss and said, "Note to self; don't make fun of Amy's car."

The door was flung open before they reached it and the twins boiled out. "Daria!"

As the girls each grabbed Daria's legs in an embrace, she said to Michael, "It's amazing. A pair of four-year olds has no problem with my name, but every term, it usually takes a couple weeks to train some professors."

Reese followed his daughters and, with arms folded said, "You appear to have a fan club."

Daria carefully separated herself from the twins. "I've had bad experiences with fan clubs, Uncle Reese, but I might be interested in the job of evil mentor."

"I have dibs on that," Amy said, walking up behind Reese.

Reese stepped back and put his arm around Amy. "No, I think my mother got there first."

While Daria was in the kitchen getting a drink from the refrigerator, Amy and Helen sat in the living room as the twins watched television. Amy discreetly tilted her head toward Daria and said to Helen, "Now that I've had a little taste of parenthood, I know that you're luckier than I even thought before."

Helen leaned forward and patted Amy's hand while nodding to Jerica and Jocelyn. "Give it a little time, and you'll feel like the lucky one. That is, when you don't want to kill them."

"I somehow suspect that I'm going to start wondering why our mother didn't kill all three of us."

Looking out of the window at Jake, Michael and Reese, Daria replied to the barely-heard comment. "If Grandma didn't kill Grandpa for the male bonding ritual of lighting the barbeque grill, she had enough patience not to kill you, Mom, or Aunt Rita."

Helen said, "After the Fultons were here last summer, I made Jake buy a gas grill and had the store assemble it. All he has to do is push a button to light it."

Daria paused for a last look before walking back to Amy and Helen. "I should be glad they're not chasing squirrels."

She placed her drink on the table and handed a second to Helen. "Here, Mom."

"You didn't have to, Daria."

"No problem, Mom."

Helen held in a soft sigh and said, "Thank you."

Outside, Jake said, "She won't let anyone know how hard this has been. A couple of times, I've seen Helen looking into a mirror and trying to smile like she used to. She was always the strong one."

"Like her sister and daughter," Reese said. "Not too many people would've been able to handle their maid of honor having to back out at literally the last minute, and not too many women could step into that job on such short notice."

Michael said, "Mr. Morgendorffer, don't sell yourself short. I was at the hospital, remember?"

"All I did was sit there with Helen."

"Like I said."

"And you were there for Daria."

"I see I have some tough acts to follow," Reese said. He tilted his head back, draining a beer bottle to cover the emptiness he felt for his daughters' deceased mother, and the vague sense of disloyalty for marrying Amy, though he knew it was the right thing to do. He set the empty bottle aside and added, "Michael, you live in Boston, so once you're old enough, you have no excuse for drinking bad beer."

Helen's attention drifted away from the adult conversation and onto the girls playing near the large, corner window of the living room. Jocelyn had an action figure in a white uniform, while Jerica played with a toy tiger. She could almost see Daria and Quinn as small children, when they would sometimes play together; Quinn with one of her dolls and Daria with a toy horse. Helen contemplated how much she missed those days.

Amy flipped through her new copy of Literature in Action. "So, Melody's gone into retirement. What are you planning on writing next?"

"I'm not sure." Daria held up a t-shirt from a gift box. It sported a bearded portrait and the words, "Someone picked me up off of the floor of Hemingway's favorite bar." She asked, "Are you trying to tell me something?"

"It's a better version of 'Somebody went to Key West and all I got was this lousy t-shirt?'"

"Cool," Michael said, looking at a pewter coin. "A replica of one of the Atocha doubloons."

Following a brief clatter in the kitchen, Daria asked, "How is Dad's cooking these days?" When Helen didn't respond, Daria added, "Mom?"

"Oh? What was that, dear?"

"How is Dad's cooking these days?"

"Actually, he's getting better."

Michael said, "Then it's a good thing I'm not in there helping him."

Daria elbowed him. "You're getting better, too."

Amy faced Reese. "Thank goodness I don't have to teach you how to cook."

"No!" Jerica's voice pierced across the room. "You always do that!"

Jocelyn screamed back, "Do not!"

"Do, too!"



Reese said to Amy, "Be a good time to practice your new Mom skills."

Amy made a faux frown and said, "They're your sprouts, but okay." She crossed the room to the little girls. "That's enough, you two."

Seeing Helen massaging her temple, Daria asked, "Mom, are you all right?"

"Just remembering why I'm glad you're no longer that age."

Looking across the crowded dinner table at the sight of Helen picking up her cell phone, Daria said, "Mom, you really do have that thing surgically attached, don't you?"

"It's Quinn. I won't take too long," Helen said, ignoring Daria's comment after reading the caller ID. She activated the phone and said, "Hello. How are you, Quinn?"

Back in the common room of her dorm suite, Quinn said, "Hi Mom, I'm great. Did Amy and Daria get there okay?"

"Yes honey, everyone's here."

"Great, say hi for me."

Helen waved the cell phone and mouthed, "Quinn says 'hi.'"

Quinn continued without pausing, "Mom, we were kind of talking. I mean by we, me and Fran and Tammy and Grace. Anyway, we were talking yesterday and thinking about how I haven't been able to do much for you and everything."

"Oh, Quinn."

"I mean, I know I call, but it's like, you know, not the same as seeing you."

"Quinn, you don't need to fly all the way back here just for a weekend."

"I know. That's why we were talking and stuff. Grace came up with the idea, and that got me thinking about how you went to see Daria last year for Thanksgiving and we thought that maybe you could come out here for Thanksgiving this year. You know, see Pepperhill and meet my friends."

"It might be a little hard for me to fly, Quinn."

"You're getting better, right Mom?"

"I am."

"Then maybe you can make it."

"You know, maybe I can. And, it would be fair."

"So, you will try?"

"No Quinn, we won't try. Jake and I will be there."

"Daria's welcome, too."

"I won't speak for her; you'll have to ask her yourself." Helen passed the phone to Daria.

Taking it, Daria said, "What's up, Quinn?"

The younger sister asked, "Do you want to come to California for Thanksgiving?"

Daria looked to her side. "Does that include Michael?"

"Of course!"

"We'll have to talk it over and look at costs. Can I call you back when we have a clue?"

"Sure Daria, just let me know. Can I talk to Amy?"

"If she's willing." Daria held the phone out to Amy. "Feeling up to it?"

"Why not?" Amy said, taking the phone. "Hi, Quinn."

"Hi, Amy. Have fun on your honeymoon?"

Amy smirked. "You could say that."

Quinn asked, "Good, now that everyone isn't listening, how do you bag a nice rich guy?"

"I don't believe you just asked me that."

Quinn giggled. "How could I resist?"

Catching the joke, Amy answered, while glancing at Reese, "You throw a big burlap sack over his head."

Quinn laughed and said, "Sounds easy, but burlap is so last year."

"I'm sure you'll find something up to date. Good hunting."

"Thanks, Amy. Can you say bye to everyone for me? Fashion Rescue is about to start."

"Sure. Bye, Quinn."


Amy passed the phone back to Helen and everyone started eating again.

Holding her phone under the edge of the table, Helen hit the "3" on her speed-dial. A second later, the cell phone in Daria's pocket rang. When she reached for it, Helen said, with a very Daria-like straight face, "Surgically attached?"

At breakfast the next morning, Daria stopped Jake from placing another strip of bacon on her plate and said, "That's good, Dad."

"Are you sure? I made plenty. Just because you mother and I have to be careful, doesn't mean you can't enjoy."

Having to back away from her years of food-related defiance, Daria sighed and said, "I'm trying to be careful, too."

Helen said, "That's sweet, but it's okay, we can watch and enjoy vicariously."

"No, Mom. It's not just about making you feel better. I went in for a checkup and learned that I'm well on my way to repeating your health problems. So...I have to start being careful about what I eat."

Leaning her face against one hand and not yet fully awake, Amy said, "Welcome to the sisterhood. I'll teach you the secret handshake later."

Jake placed the skillet back on the stove. "That stinks, kiddo. You should be able to enjoy bacon in your youth."

Understanding what her daughter admitted and the maturity behind her decision, Helen reached across the table to grasp Daria's hand. "Thank you, sweetie."

Alone on her bed, Helen sat upright with her right hand holding the left at the wrist. Concentrating intently, she was able to make one finger at a time slowly lift and straighten. From one of Amy's gift CDs, Jimmy Buffet sang along with steel guitars:

Legal problems gettin' thick and hazy
Look at the people gettin' rich and crazy
Locked up in mansions on top of the hill
Someone needs to tell them 'bout overkill

Overkill, overkill
Such a megalo modern problematic ill
Climb too fast and shove too hard
You'll be pushin' up the daisies in the old bone yard.

Next, she shifted her right hand to support the forearm and struggled to raise her hand at the wrist. She was startled out of her concentration by the cell phone ringing. Seeing the ID, she whispered, "Damn," and answered. "Hello, Eric."

After closing her eyes in annoyance, she said, "No, I haven't finished them yet. Eric, I've had guests this weekend, including the first time I've had a chance to see Amy since my stroke."

Helen listened to another longwinded exposition by Eric. Her attention drifted to the music and the end of a rap segment of the song:

It ain't about the talent, it ain't about the skill
It's all about the silly stupid horseshit deal!

She held the phone away and looked at it, totally ignoring Eric's speech as she remembered Marianne's comment about the partners saying that the stroke made Helen "one of the gang." Helen brought the phone back and quietly said, "Eric, it's Sunday morning, I've barely finished breakfast and I'm doing my physical therapy exercises. I'll talk to you Monday. Maybe around noon. Good bye."

Overkill, overkill
Such a megalo modern problematic ill
Climb too fast and shove too hard
You'll be pushin' up the daisies in the old bone yard.

When Helen wheeled her way from the bedroom to the living room, she saw everyone occupied. The twins were riding on Michael's back as if he were a horse. Amy and Daria sat on one sofa, discussing a stack of books on the coffee table before them. Jake and Reese sat, one each, on the other two sofa sections, watching an old war movie on the TV. Reese kibitzed the aircraft sequences and demonstrated by "flying" his hands.

Helen remembered a plea her friend Amanda had made a couple years earlier, after a family invasion. She then announced, "I want my house back."

Daria said, "Mom?"

Helen held up her strong hand. "I want my house back. Everyone has come here to help since I was discharged from the hospital: you Daria, Mother, Rita, even Ruth. I have a physical therapist come in three days a week and an RN once a week. Marianne drops stuff off from work every weekday."

Face darkened, Daria said, "Sorry, Mom. I was..."

"Daria, I'm not being ungrateful. Everyone has been wonderful. You really have. But, it's time for me to start regaining my life. Time to start regaining what's important." Turning her wheelchair around, Helen went back into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "Amy, you were right, thinking about the islands helps. Now, do I want a pina colada or a daiquiri?"

While Reese made sure that the girls were secure within their car seats, Amy leaned against Daria's car and talked to her through the window. "I would say that Helen is over the hump and well on her way back."

Daria thought for a moment, and then said, "Yeah, Mom's over the hump, but don't think she's on her way back. She's on her way forward, somewhere."

When Reese stepped over, Amy put her arm around his waist and looked through the car window at Daria and Michael. She said, "Now that you mention it, all of us are."

Jake opened the door and swept into an exaggerated bow. "Breakfast is served."

"Yes, dear," Helen replied, setting the mirror in her lap and starting the wheelchair forward. She rolled to the table as Jake excitedly went to the counter and picked up two plates from what looked like the aftermath of a plane crash.

He returned and set a plate before Helen that contained two amoeba-shaped pancakes, alongside toast, butter and syrup. The cakes were softly browned and smelled wonderful. Helen poured a small puddle of syrup onto them as Jake sat down and expectantly watched. Immensely curious, Helen tasted the pancakes; the flavor was delicious. She smiled at Jake and said, "Honey, these are wonderful."

Jake scrambled around the table and took the mirror from Helen's lap, holding it up to her face so that she could see that, though still not completely even, her smile was stronger and warmer than anything since her stroke.

Eyes edged with tears, Helen put her strong arm around Jake and buried her face against his chest. "When everything else failed, you were always the one who could make me smile."

Lyrics for Overkill by Jimmy Buffett.

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

November 2006