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. 2008.
This is the Sixty-Second story in the Falling into College series.
Daria's clock-radio clicked on and a smooth-voiced announcer said, "...high of 79 and twenty percent chance of rain. The current temperature is 64 degrees."
Her face still buried in the pillow, she reached over and turned the alarm off while leaving the radio on. "Yeah, yeah, I'm awake," she muttered and rolled to the side to drop her feet to the floor. With a little more effort, she pushed her face away from the pillow and sat up. "Yee-haw. Another year of school, here I come," she said in her old, high-school monotone.
At a corner of the bed, Bump yawned, stretched, gave Daria a quick glance and then settled back to sleep.
"Rub it in, why don't you?" Daria said.
A quick meow was Bump's only reply.
Daria reached down and touched the empty space next to her on the bed, remembering waking up with Michael next to her every morning during the cruise. Not wanting to dwell on how much she missed that, Daria put on her glasses, stood and started her day.
Washed and dressed, Daria thought the apartment seemed strangely quiet for morning and went to the dining room to find Jane and Karen mechanically eating breakfast and seeming to stare into space. She said, "Hello, is there anybody home?"
Karen shook herself. "Sorry, just being a little preoccupied. One of the guys in Derek's squad was hurt and will probably be out for a couple weeks."
"Oh," Daria said, understanding Karen's worry. "Jane?"
She shrugged and gulped some coffee. "Still the same old post-breakup thing."
Daria nodded again in understanding. "And I get to face another day of looking for a job. At this point, I'm about to start practicing, 'Would you like fries with that?'"
The room fell silent again as Daria went into the kitchen to prepare a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee for breakfast. Upon her return, Jane said, "You'll find a job, and I bet it won't entail food-service."
Karen said to Jane, "You'll get over Mike."
Taking a seat, Daria finally said, "Derek will make it back. He's too afraid not to."
Lunchtime found Daria sharing a booth with Michael at the Big Bean Burrito. He finished his stuffed chili and watched Daria study the help wanted ads in the paper while ignoring her black bean burrito. He said, "Your lunch isn't going to eat itself."
Daria sighed and set the paper down. "No, it's not," she said before starting to eat.
"I'm guessing that you haven't found anything interesting."
She shook her head. "Mostly retail jobs and you know that I would not last long dealing with the public."
"I know you don't like the idea, but what about clerical work?"
"Those are among the few I have marked," Daria admitted.
Michael saw something and leaned across the table, turning his head to read it. "Hey, there's a copy editor position at The Mast."
Daria quickly shook her head. "I swore that I would never work for a school paper again."
"That was years ago and besides, I'm sure Raft's paper is a bit better quality than that place in Texas."
"That's true; I've never seen them misspell the paper's name in the masthead."
Michael read some more and asked, "Wasn't Carly Stanton on your floor when you lived in the dorm?"
Daria looked at the advertisement. "Editor-in-Chief. She's done well for herself."
"Do you think she'd make a good boss?"
"She was always nice enough back then." Daria looked into his eyes and sighed. "Yes, I'll apply."
"But I'm still going to look elsewhere."
"That's only prudent."
"Fitting," Daria said out loud as she walked down a set of narrow stairs to the basement of Warner Hall, the Literature and Humanities building on campus and home to the Journalism School. The corridor below was only slightly wider and the door to the newspaper offices was only a short distance away. She went in and said "Hello," to the receptionist, an enthusiastic freshman.
"How can I help you?" she asked.
"I'm here to apply for the copy editor position."
"Cool," the girl said. She opened a desk drawer and took a form from a folder, handing it to Daria. "You can fill this out over there and if you've got a resume, just paper clip it when you give it back."
Daria accepted the application and went to the indicated desk, its well-worn wood and deep staining a clue that this was a leftover from earlier days when such furniture graced every classroom. The application was straightforward and held no surprises.
"Daria?" a voice said over her shoulder. The speaker was a black woman with short hair and soft facial features wearing a well-fitted, red, short-sleeved blouse and skirt. "Are you doing what I hope you're doing?"
"I'm applying for the copy editor position you have open," Daria said.
"That's great. Can I see your resume while you finish the paperwork?"
"Sure," Daria said, handing it over.
After reading it through, Carly said, "Are you free for an interview on Friday?"
"Considering that I'm not working, yes. I'm available between classes from eleven to one and then after three."
"Then I'll see you at eleven-thirty."
After her classes for the day, Jane found herself in the odd position of being led by her friend Nell while her old roommate CC held both her arms and guided her from behind to make sure that Jane didn't try to slip away. Jane asked, "What's going on here?"
Nell said over her shoulder, "You need a night out with some unattached girls. Daria and Karen are cool, but they aren't going to do what you need right now."
Jane half-heartedly protested, "It's not night yet."
"So?" CC said. "I don't want to waste valuable party time waiting for the sun to quit dragging its ass across the sky."
"Good point," Jane said. "In that case, where are we going?"
"The Six-Pack," CC said. "I know a couple of the dancers and I'll put in a good word for you."
"They're male strippers, right?" Jane said, a little leery of her friend's sometimes odd humor.
"You know," Jane said. "I think you two are onto something."
A couple of days later, a woman's voice gently said, "Hi, Michael," as he left the History Department office after dropping off some paperwork.
He stopped and looked at the girl with wavy, blond hair. Immediately nervous, he said, "Hi, Clarice. After not seeing you around, I was wondering if something had happened." As soon as he spoke the words, Michael cringed and added, "Sorry."
"You never were a smooth-talker," she said, clearly as nervous as Michael, if not more so. "You haven't seen me because I've been avoiding you, but I can't keep that up all year."
"I never meant to hurt you. It never even dawned on me..."
Clarice held up her hand to stop him. "I know. I wanted to say, 'hi', but I'm not up to much more, yet. I'll see you around."
Before Michael could think of anything to say, she was gone.
Moments later, his friend Jack came up and said, "Hey, was that Clarice? I was hoping to grab Sean and the four of us could go get some lunch."
"Yeah, she, um, had something to do."
Daria flopped onto the couch in Michael's apartment. "God, I'm starting to hope I get that position at the paper so I can stop this damn job hunt."
Michael leaned over the back of the sofa and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "Good luck."
"Thanks, I need it."
"Would you believe me if I said I have faith in you?"
"I'd suspect you were deluded, but not lying," she replied, turned to kiss his cheek. "But it's still a sweet thought."
"Well, I do have faith, trust me."
"I'll think about it."
Michael sniffed the air and suddenly jerked away, running for the kitchen. "Dinner!"
Daria closed her eyes and slowly shook her head in amusement.
A few moments later, he reemerged from the kitchen. "Saved."
"Good, I was worried we were going to starve to death."
Michael laughed at the joke. "It'll be ready in a few more minutes."
"Is it safe to come over?"
"I'll risk it." Daria went to the edge of the kitchen and watched Michael finish cooking the meal. Despite the sound of his earlier panic, it looked like things were well under control. She said, "Enough about me. How was your day?"
He paled and looked down. "I saw Clarice today."
"Not for long. She...I think she still wants to be my friend, but..."
"Things were very awkward."
"Yeah. It was the first time I'd seen her since that night."
Daria moved next to Michael and put an arm around his waist. "I don't think she's a threat."
"She's not a threat, but she's still hurt."
"It's not your fault."
"No, part of it is. I should've seen what was going on."
Daria looked up into his green eyes. "There's no way I'm going to convince you otherwise, is there?"
"I have to make things right, somehow."
Daria leaned against him and rested her head on his shoulder. "You wouldn't be you if you didn't try."
"Yo, Daria. Whatcha dressed up for?" Jane asked as Daria came out of her room in a long skirt and pressed blouse.
"Interview today and I don't want to change in the restroom. Speaking of changes of clothes, what's with the gym bag?"
"Oh, I'm going to meet CC and Nell after work and we're heading out to a dance club for the night."
"Oh, well, have fun."
"I plan on it, and hey, good luck, Morgendorffer."
"Have a seat, Daria," Carly said, indicating a chair in front of her filled, but organized work desk.
Daria sat down and looked straight ahead at Carly. "Thanks."
Picking up a sheet of paper from the desktop, Carly said, "Let's get started. Why do you want this position?"
"I'm an experienced proofreader and editor from my time at the University Press and think I would be well suited for the demands of the job."
"In particular, why do you want to work for The Mast?"
"I'm hoping to gain valuable experience in a different venue than my previous position."
"A writer disagrees with some of your edits. How would you handle the situation?"
"I would explain the reason for my edits and then listen to the writer's reasons for why they disagree. If they can give a good explanation, my mind can be changed. If not, the edit stays and it's my responsibility."
As the interview went on, Daria fought to keep her natural sarcasm in check, something she was sure Carly noticed, too. After what seemed like an immensely long interrogation, Carly asked, "Do you have any questions?"
Daria thought for a second or two before saying, "Since the paper covered the events that led to my resignation from the University Press, will there be a problem with the faculty if I get the job?"
"I can't rule it out," Carly admitted. "But I can say that if it does, we'll have support from other faculty."
Clarice broke into a short jog to catch up to Michael as he crossed the Quad. "Wait up."
"Hey," he said, pausing a moment.
"Mind if I walk with you?"
"Not at all. Are you doing any better?"
She looked down. "A little."
Michael carefully put one hand on her shoulder. "I want to apologize. I was so full of myself and my problems that I didn't even see what was happening."
"Michael, guys that are full of themselves see things that aren't there with girls."
"I didn't see that a great girl was interested in me. That's out of it."
Clarice blinked and looked away. "A great girl, huh?"
"You are. You're smart, pretty and wickedly funny. I know that there have to be some good guys that want to go out with you. If I was still looking, I know I would."
"You are attracted to me," Clarice said, not as a question, but as a statement.
"Yes, you are attractive. If I'd never met Daria..."
Clarice stopped. "So if you had met me first, things would be different." She shook her head and said, "I gotta go."
"No, I have to go," she said and started to walk away with the deliberate pace of someone doing everything they can not to run.
He knew that he could do nothing at the time and turned to continue his path toward Warner Hall. Daria was waiting when he reached his destination. She saw the look on his face and said, "Is there something wrong?"
He looked back across the Quad. "I certainly didn't make things right."
Daria carried a bowl of popcorn from her kitchen and sat on the sofa next to Michael. "There was a time when I thought my honesty would lead to me living alone in an apartment full of thirty-year-old newspapers and cats."
Glum, he said, "So I get ten out of ten for honesty and minus ten for tact."
"I'm still learning the tact part, too."
Michael mindlessly munched on a handful of popcorn and then said, "You're not upset about it?"
"It's a little strange to come to grips with you actually voicing your idea of an alternative girlfriend, but I think I understand. I've sometimes thought about what would've happened if I'd gotten involved with Trent."
"I'm glad you can put up with me," he said.
Daria slipped closer and said, "You put up with me. We're even."
Sounding like she was scolding them, Bump loudly meowed and turned to face the television as a repeat of Stargate SG-1 started. Daria said, "Somebody wants us to be quiet and watch the show."
Michael looked at the cat and said, "The way she watches, there are times I really wonder what she's thinking about."
"Probably catching up on what the other System Lords are doing," Daria said.
Jane stepped off of the nightclub's dance floor, dropped down onto a stool next to a small table and let out her breath. "Damn can CC dance. I'm a runner and I have a hard time keeping up with her."
Seated on the next stool, Nell said, "She calls it a gift."
A young man with short, spiky blond hair stopped by the table and asked, "Would either of you ladies care to dance?"
Nell held up one of her crutches and said, "These get in the way of what they're playing now, but if you want to wait for a slow dance and don't mind that I'll have to lean on you a bit, I'm interested."
The man smiled and said, "You're on. Would you like a drink while we wait?"
"Sure, I'm drinking Ultra-Cola," she said and nodded toward her crutches, "Alcohol and those things don't mix."
"Cool," he said and waved to a waitress. "An Ultra-Cola and a Doug Adams draft."
"Coming right up," she said, taking a quick note on her pad before hurrying away.
The man said, "I'll be right back, I want to make a request."
After the man went to talk to the disk jockey, Jane said, "That was pretty slick."
"Guys like playing knight in shining armor and I like snuggling up against a nice, strong chest."
"I can see that, but still a pretty smooth move."
"Why, thank you."
About a minute later, the young man returned in time to pay for the drinks and have a seat again. "The DJ will play something slow the song after next."
"That's great. Hi, I'm Nell."
At the end of the song, CC joined them, hopping onto the stool and letting it spin once before stopping. "Hey there, which one of them picked you up?"
Caught off-guard by her directness, the young man took a couple seconds to clear his head and say, "I asked your friend Nell."
"Ah, a fan of slow dancing, I see. Do you have any friends Jane and I could snag for a dance or two?"
"I believe so."
The sound of the front door opening broke Daria out of her writing trance and made her look at the clock on her computer. "Two-twenty. Damn, I've been at this a while." She stood, stretched and went to the hallway. "Jane?"
"Hey, Daria," Jane said, her voice partially slurred.
"It sounds like you've had a good time."
"Yep. Dancing, drinking, cute boys, drinking, dancing."
"You seem to be, um, doing better."
Jane nodded. "CC and Nell were right. I needed to get out and about again. No offense Daria, I know you're happy, but being around you and Michael just wasn't cutting it for me."
Daria watched her friend for a second as she made her way to her room before asking. "Is it making you happy?"
Jane half turned. "I'm getting there. Thanks for asking."
Leaving her Old English Literature class on Monday morning, Daria's cell phone rang and she paused a moment before answering, not immediately recognizing the incoming phone number. "Hello?"
"Daria? It's Carly Stanton."
"Hi. Am I correct in assuming this is about the job?"
"Yes, it is. I'm offering you the copy editor position."
Daria stopped partway down the stairs of the building. After months of searching, she was honestly excited to have a job again. "When do you want me to start?"
"Tomorrow. By what you gave me, you're available after 2:00 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, correct?"
"I'll see you at two. You'll need to spend some time filling out more paperwork, and then I'll introduce you around the office."
"I'll be there, and thanks."
"Good to have you on the team."
After spending the afternoon crawling through a trench dug for an irrigation line, checking for possible historical artifacts, Michael was glad to get out of his Park Service uniform and into his regular clothes. Thinking mostly of taking a shower when he got home, he was surprised to see Daria waiting for him outside of the Freedom Trail Visitor Center. "Hey, this is a nice surprise," he said, giving her a hug. "But please forgive me if I'm a little ripe."
"I got the job at the paper," Daria said, ignoring his warning.
"Congratulations! We need to celebrate...after I grab a shower."
"Okay," she said. "We'll run by your place so that you can make yourself presentable."
"Do you have your car or are we taking the 'T'?"
"I came here straight from school, so we're taking the 'T' today."
"Let's go," he said, heading for the nearest station. "Are you excited about your new job?"
"You know, I am. I never thought I'd say this, but I missed working."
"Damn, you're getting all materialistic on me. I hope I can deal."
"When I can start paying for dinner again, I'm sure you'll deal."
"Yeah, I think I will."
Clarice looked at her watch and abruptly told Sean and Jack, "Damn, I've got to run. Later, guys."
"Later, Clarice," Sean said.
Jack looked over his shoulder toward where Clarice had looked a moment before and said, "See ya," while watching Michael approach down the school corridor.
"Hey," Michael said. "How's it going?"
"Okay, we were just hanging out with Clarice, but she had to go."
"Um, yeah, I saw that."
Jack folded his arms. "What the hell is going on? She disappeared right at the end of spring semester and canceled her summer classes. Now, she's hardly around and leaves when you show up. Did you screw up that class project that bad?"
"We got an A on it," Michael said, but then sighed, knowing he had to say something. "But we had a...misunderstanding when we finished it."
"Misunderstanding?" Sean said. "What kind of misunderstanding?"
"I'd rather not go into it right now, except to say that I screwed up. Big-time."
"I'd say so if she's still pissed off at you," Jack said.
After completing the necessary paperwork on Tuesday, Daria followed Carly out of the office and into the main workroom of The Mast. Carly said, "Hi everybody, I'd like to have your attention." After some rapid clicks on keyboards and squeaks of chairs, everyone turned to face them. She continued, "I'd like to introduce the new copy editor. This is Daria Morgendorffer. She's published several short stories and has experience as a copy editor at the University Press, so I'm sure she'll be a great addition to the team."
The faces that looked back seemed only marginally interested as Daria said, "Hello."
Carly walked Daria around the room to meet the editorial staff. The first was a woman with faintly Asian features. Carly said, "Mira Chu, our News Editor."
Mira nodded and said, "Hello. If you don't mind, I really need to get back to something."
"Not at all," Daria said as Mira had already turned back to her computer monitor.
A tall man with black hair in the next cubicle nodded and said, "I'm Jeff Olson, the Campus Editor. I remember you from the big blowup at the U Press last year."
"That was a difficult time," Daria said.
"But it made good copy."
Carly led Daria around a slight turn to another cubicle to reveal a man with a deep tan and a bright smile. She said, "This is Jesus Trujuillo, the Opinions Editor."
Jesus had a voice with a slightly musical Spanish accent. "Hi, Daria. Before you ask, yes, I got the job because I have no reservations about expressing my opinions."
An athletic brunette was in the facing cubicle. She said, "I'm Brianna Kennedy, the Sports and Leisure editor. Please, don't ask for free tickets...for anything."
"Hi, and I'll keep that in mind."
Carly pointed to a quiet man in the next booth and said, "This is Ben Cohen, our other copy editor. You'll be in the cubicle opposite his."
"Hi, Ben," Daria said.
"Hi," he mumbled before going back to his work.
Carly said, "I had campus IT get the computer ready for you, you'll just have to sign in under your Raft computer account. Probably the same login screen as you saw at the U Press."
Daria sat and typed in her username and password, bringing up the desktop after the inevitable delay. "Looks to be about the same."
"Good. I'm heading back to my office while you get settled. I have some stories that need your attention and I'll send them over right away and you can get started."
The others in the room had gone back to their tasks as Daria went through the drawers of the cubicle to see if they were clean before starting to adjust her personal settings on the computer. All the while, she thought, Not exactly what you could call a warm welcome. Oh well, what can you expect from a bunch of cranky writers like me?
By six in the evening, Daria had finished proofing her second story for the day. "Not much, if we can teach this guy to use semi-colons correctly," Daria said to herself. The others of the editorial staff had finished a bit earlier without saying a word and Daria was by herself. She shut down the computer and rolled back in her seat. "Damn, it's weird, but it feels good to be back to work."
On her way out, Daria stopped by Carly's office. "Hey."
"Hey. How did you like your first day?"
"Not too bad. I can get used to this."
"No. Everything was quiet."
"Good. Anyway, I'm on my way out of here myself. Come on."
The two women left the building and started to go their separate ways. Carly said, "See you tomorrow."
"See you then," Daria said in return.
Mira intercepted Carly as she crossed campus. "I can't believe you did it," she sharply said.
Carly stopped and glared at Mira. "It was my responsibility to choose the best candidate for the job."
"Come on," Mira said. "You passed over some good J-school seniors who've worked for the paper since they were freshmen."
"I agree that they're all good, but in my judgment, Daria was overall better qualified."
"She's never worked for a paper before except some high school rag."
"If this had been a section editor opening, I'd have agreed with you that her lack of newspaper experience was a problem. But she's a copy editor with experience under a couple of very demanding bosses. That made her rise to the top of the list."
Mira shook her head. "It's still a bad idea bringing in someone from the outside. Look at those guys who have been working their way up through the system. You screwed them over."
"I thought about that, but I also thought about how it will be good to get a fresh perspective into the editorial staff. Mira, my decision stands."
"Yeah, I know, but I don't have to like it."
"That's right. You just have to live with it."
Hurrying to the bus stop after class, Michael halted when he saw Clarice sitting on a bench near the Quad, reading. After several seconds, she shook her head, closed the book and stared down at the grass by her feet.
Michael was tempted to go over, but the total lack of a clue of what to say stopped him. Sadly, he turned and continued on his way. "I owe her and will find a way to help."
Ben was walking back to his cubicle from using the restroom when he noticed the book open on Daria's workstation. "Oh, what are you looking up?"
The tone of his voice grated on Daria and she half-turned in annoyance. "I'm confirming something in the AP Stylebook before making an edit."
"After all we heard about your skill, I didn't think you'd need to look things up."
"If anything, working with the U Press taught me to double check my edits if I have the slightest question."
"I see," he snipped, turning into his cubicle and cutting off the conversation.
Daria thought, Jerk, before going back to her work.
Brianna moved from station to station, dropping off fresh donuts to everyone and being loudly thanked each time. After she gave one to Ben, he took a bite and said, "Thanks, this is delicious."
Empty-handed, she turned, shrugged at Daria and insincerely said, "Oops, sorry. Still used to there only being five of us in here."
Daria shrugged in return. "That's okay. I've been trying to cut back myself."
Daria followed the rest of the editors out of the building that evening as Jeff said, "See you at Cheap and Cheesy in a bit!" followed by a chorus of the same from the others.
Daria stopped at the top of the building steps and watched them leave. Several more incidents with the other editors had occurred during the afternoon. When Carly came out, Daria asked her bluntly, "I know I'm not the most sociable person in the world, but they seem to be going out of their way to make sure that I don't feel welcome. What's going on?"
Carly sighed. "There were several internal candidates for your job and there's a feeling that I should've hired one of them, since all the other editors have come up through the ranks at the paper."
Daria nodded. "I get it. That explains some of the veiled comments and openly making plans while excluding me; I'm not part of the club."
"Journalism seniors here at the paper see the editorial slots as an entitlement. They think that if they put in their three years, they should get the slot regardless of anything else. Bringing in an outsider..."
"Well, that's different. I'm usually not considered an outcast until after I say something. Is there anything else I should know?"
"Because we've all taken the same classes from the same professors, we tend to have the same attitudes and ideas. I'm hoping that you can bring a different viewpoint at times."
"I can do that, if you'll back me up."
"I will, and I think you'll be pleased that some of the faculty will, too."
"Good. Carly, I'll warn you that I'll do a good job, but I've learned my lesson about letting a job consume my life. I won't let it take control."
"I always liked your practicality."
"I call it just getting through life."
Carly smiled and nodded. "Tell you what; do you want to run over to Dominator's Pizza for a slice? Not as cheap, but definitely better."
"Thanks for the offer, but I can't. I's my turn to make dinner at home and I talked Michael into picking up takeout for everybody instead."
"Rain check then?"
"For pizza, I'll take a rain check."
Karen answered the apartment door and said, "Hi, Michael. Thanks for picking up dinner for everyone."
Holding two large paper sacks, he peeked between them and said, "No problem, but I think the sauce leaked out of someone's dinner and I need to set these down before the bag falls apart."
Karen stepped aside and said, "Sorry." As he went by, she sniffed and said, "Smells like the Kung Pao chicken."
"Mmm, that'd be Jane's."
"What's that?" Jane said from the couch.
He replied, "Sauce leak," as he set the bags on the dining table.
She scrambled off the sofa to check the bag. "Don't spill the sacred secret ingredient."
Michael started to take containers from the other bag. "What secret ingredient?"
"I don't know, it's a secret, but it sure adds something."
Daria came out of her room and went to her fiancé, hugging him. "Michael."
He hugged back and said, "I knew there was a reason I agreed to this."
Jane sat down in relief. "Whew, didn't lose too much."
Looking at the soggy, weakened bag, Michael said, "Oh, then it must be corrosive."
Karen gently tore the stapled receipt from one bag and looked it over. "Okay, I owe you six-fifty, Jane, you owe him five-seventy five and Daria, how you pay him off is your business."
Daria shook her head and said, "Karen, I'll be glad when Derek gets back and you can get laid; you've gotten as bad as Jane."
Taking money from her wallet to pay her bill, Jane said, "If you think I'm bad..."
"Yes, we know that CC has no capacity for embarrassment," Daria said. "And I'm grateful you're not as bad as she is, because I still do have the capacity."
"Here, Michael," Karen said, paying for her dinner. After Michael nodded his thanks, she then asked Jane, "Are you going out clubbing with CC and Nell again tonight?"
"Nah, we decided to give the local clubs a break. Besides, CC has to work and it's not amateur night."
Michael chuckled and said, "Come to think of it, you seem to be doing better, Jane."
"I am," she said. "Getting out and about was what I needed to really start getting over Mack. I'll always feel it a little bit, but I know it's not the end of the world or anything."
"So we've got the old care-free Jane Lane back with us," Daria said. "Or on her way."
Chopsticks halfway to his face, Michael paused in thought and then said, "Jane, can you and your friends do something for me?"
What passed for the conference room at The Mast was also the breakroom and home to the photocopier and fax machine. A coffee pot was on a side table between a soda machine and a snack dispenser. The paper's editorial staff was seated around the second-hand table in the center of the room with various cups of coffee, tea and cans of soda spread before them, as well as an open box of donuts. When they were joined by a woman in her forties with platinum blond hair and pale green eyes, Carly stood and said, "Dr. Sweinson, I'd like you to meet our newest editor, Ms. Daria Morgendorffer. Daria, Dr. Sweinson is our faculty sponsor."
The woman reached across the table to shake Daria's hand. "Julia Sweinson. It's nice to meet an English major joining us on the dark side."
"Um, hi, Dr. Sweinson," Daria said. "And, I've long had people think that I was already on the dark side."
"Then you should fit right in."
"Okay, let's get started," Carly said. "Is there any old business anyone would like to discuss?"
Jeff nodded. "I've been watching Adam Lee and I'd like to move him up to lead reporter for the campus beat."
Daria held back for moment before speaking. "His stories have good content, but the ones I've seen have required a lot of editing for punctuation."
"Are you questioning my judgment as the Campus Editor?" he growled.
"I'm making an observation based on what I've seen as Copy Editor. Use it as you see fit."
"And I see fit to not use it. Adam's a good writer and I want him in that position."
Carly turned to the other copy editor. "Ben, what's your take on Adam's writing?"
He gave Daria a brief glance and sighed. "Um...his punctuation usually needs help. I don't think Adam's ready yet. Give him another week or two to tighten things up or we try someone else."
"Anyone else?" After a couple moments of silence, Carly said, "Okay, we'll keep Adam as the temporary lead for another two weeks and look at him again."
Annoyed, Jeff gave Daria an angry look, followed by one toward Ben.
After they had returned to their workstations after the meeting, Ben rolled his chair over to Daria and quietly said, "Thanks for speaking up about Adam's writing. I owe you one."
"I simply stated my opinion. Isn't that what those meetings are about?"
"Yeah, but if you hadn't said something, I'd have gone along because..." Ben said, stopping to think. "Because that's the way we've done things. Carly was right, we need another viewpoint." He offered his hand. "Let's start over; welcome to The Mast."
Daria shook his hand. "Good to be here."
"You didn't make a friend with Jeff today," Ben warned.
"It's not the first time and it won't be the last someone hasn't been happy with what I've said."
Seeing Clarice leaving Nevis Hall, Michael trotted over to her. "Clarice, please, can we talk for a few minutes?"
She stopped and slowly turned. "Okay, I guess it is time to face things."
"Right off, I'm sorry that I was so clueless and hurt you. You're one of the best friends I've ever had and I never wanted anything like this to happen."
"I'm sorry I saw something that wasn't there. Michael, you're a good man, honest, loyal, though a little naive. It's a nice combination among a lot of guys only after one thing. Two, if you count the beer they usually seem to require in the process."
"I want to try to help. Let me introduce you to someone."
"Please tell me you're not trying to set me up with a guy."
"No, I'm not." Michael motioned and Jane, followed by CC and Nell, came over from where they were waiting nearby. "This is Jane, Daria's roommate."
"You are not setting me up with a girl!" Clarice exclaimed.
Making calming motions with his hands, Michael said, "I'm not doing that, either. Jane has a better idea of what you're going through and might be able to help where I can't."
Jane nodded. "Hi, Clarice. Let me introduce you to my partners in hedonism, CC and Nell."
They waved and said, "Hi."
"Um, hi," Clarice said, uncertain of what was going on.
"How about a girls' night out?" Jane said in answer to the unspoken question.
CC stepped forward. "You know, a bunch of girls out together to have fun on the town and sample some of the local 'cuisine.'"
Michael said, "I can't really help you beyond my apology, but I believe they can. Therefore, I'll leave you in their most capable hands," before politely nodding and taking his leave.
Clarice said to the other women, "I don't know if I should thank him or kick his ass."
Nell said, "Now that they've had their fun, don't worry about us spiriting you away now. We've got jobs and classes to go to. Today's just the intro and invite."
"When and if you're ready to get away, let us know," CC said.
"And really, we don't bite," Jane added.
Clarice looked at Michael walking away for a moment and then said, "Let me think about it."
Holding back her anger only by force of will, Mira said to one of her reporters on the phone, "You call that fact-checking? No wonder the story sounds like bullshit!" After a pause to listen, she cut off the reporter, "Forget it, I'll check and if I can't confirm it, I'm killing the story. Don't whine, you know better. Next time, do all your work before you turn in the story!"
She slammed the phone down and went to her computer to type in a search query. Seeing the number of results, she mumbled in frustration and stood up. Raising her voice to be heard in all the cubicles, she asked, "Does anybody know a good source for checking military records? I need to confirm a background before running a story."
When it became clear nobody else would answer, Daria stood up and said, "Try asking Dr. Miller over at the Department of History. He studies media coverage of political and military events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."
"How do you know that?"
"I worked for him as a transcriptionist during spring semester of my freshman year."
"Oh." Mira looked at her phone and said, "Um, okay. I'll give him a call. Thanks."
Winded from dancing, Clarice passed Nell as she left the dance floor and the other young woman was carefully walking onto it with a young man for a slow dance. Clarice joined Jane at a booth and took a long drink from her glass. "Damn, that'll wear you out."
"You bookish types have an endurance problem," Jane joked. "You need to get out more."
"I notice you're sitting down."
"That's because I had to run to the bathroom."
Clarice rolled her glass between her hands. "Can I ask you something?"
"Eh, sure," Jane said with a one-armed shrug.
"Why are you doing this? You didn't know me before a couple days ago."
"Because I was hurting not too long ago."
"So you decide to help the crazy girl get over her crush on your roommate's fiancé."
"I figure it's something I can hold over Daria and Michael on their wedding day."
Clarice giggled. "You wouldn't."
Jane raised an eyebrow.
"No, I will."
"You two are looking way too serious," CC said, sitting down and pushing Jane inward. Looking at Clarice, she said, "You would look great with purple hair. What do you think, Jane?"
Jane leaned across the table and said, "CC is the second person in the world that I would never trust to dye my hair."
"Hey!" CC said. "I'm an expert at dying hair."
Jane said, "Yeah, and she believes in doing a complete job." Seeing Clarice look at CC's eyebrows, which matched her blue hair, Jane went on to say, "No, I mean very complete."
Clarice moved back in her seat. "You're kidding."
The Big Bean Burrito was crowded as usual during the early part of lunch. Daria held a small tortilla in one hand and spooned grilled chicken, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and salsa onto it. "Much to my embarrassment, my mother would be proud of how much I've used my 'networking' on the job. Today, I put Brianna in touch with some of the theater people I met last spring."
"So you're winning them over," Michael said before taking a bite of a flauta.
"Or being useful to them."
"Useful is good, too."
"Yeah, it means that they're not hostile. Well, except for Jeff. He's still pissed off, but I don't think anything will help that."
"Isn't there usually at least one asshole per job?"
"Yeah, I think it's in the contract."
Unnoticed, Clarice had stopped at the table. She said, "Hi, Michael. Hi, Daria."
When they looked up, their mouths dropped in surprise at Clarice's purple hair. Daria was the first to recover. "You let CC dye your hair."
Laughing, Clarice said, "Yeah, I needed a change."
"That's quite a change," Michael said.
"It fits." She then gave Daria and Michael a serious look. "Daria, will it bother you if I want to stay friends with Michael?"
Daria shook her head. "No."
Michael offered his hand to shake and said, "Friends."
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.