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. The character of Richard Rawlings was developed by The Sidhe and can be found in his The Other Side of Time stories.

This is the sixty-fourth story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

This Is Now

After a long day of work, Helen dropped onto the sofa with pleasure and began sorting through the day's mail. "It's going to be good to see the Yeagers again."

Preparing dinner, Jake said, "Yeah. I hope Coyote brings some more of that berry juice. I loved those pectins."

"You loved the alcohol since it had fermented," Helen said.

"Oh, that's right."

"It sounds like they've been doing well for themselves."

"Yeah, their whole Hemp Hammocks Online thing has really taken off."

She held up one letter and looked at the return address intently. Silent, she opened the envelope and read the letter inside.

Dear Helen Morgendorffer,

After careful consideration, the search and screen committee has agreed to offer you the Lawyer Assistance Director position for the State Bar Association. The position includes all SBA senior staff benefits and the starting salary is negotiable based on experience and background. We look forward to hearing from you within the next week.


Ms. Carol Murphey
Committee Chair

Helen held a hand over her mouth as she read and reread the letter. "They're offering me the job."

Jake said, "What's that, honey?"

Dazed, she stood and went to the kitchen. "They're offering me the job."

Chopping a large pile of onions, Jake said, "What job?"

"The one at the bar association. The one I interviewed for two weeks ago."

"Oh, yeah, I'd almost forgotten, but that's great." After a couple seconds he asked, "What would you be doing, again?"

"I'll oversee programs to teach other lawyers the little, practical things about a career that they don't teach you in law school, like how to balance parenting and work."

"You really know all about that!" Jake said, excited.

Helen became more thoughtful. "But the office is all the way in Baltimore, meaning a lot longer commute."

"You can take the train! Oh, man, I wish I could take a train to work," Jake said.

Helen leaned against the refrigerator. "I really put a lot of effort into making partner and now...I'm going to need to think about this."

Sitting on her bed, Daria talked on her cell phone. "Michael, I understand. Writing papers is one of the 'college experiences' we're paying so much money to get. Do what you need to do and give me a call when you're done, or just need a break. Nah, it's quiet here. Karen's visiting Derek at the VA hospital and Jane's off with CC and Nell to an art show up the coast. Okay. I love you, too. Goodbye."

"Meow," Bump said, reclining on the other end of the bed and lifting her head to look at Daria.

Daria closed the phone and said, "It looks like it's just the two of us."

Bump rose, stretched and sauntered to Daria, lying back down on the young woman's lap. "Roaw."

"I bet I know what you'd like," she said, reaching to her nightstand for a fine-toothed brush.

Bump's eyes brightened and she started purring.

"I thought so." When Daria brought the brush close, Bump stretched her head to meet it, rubbing her face and neck against the brush as Daria slowly drew it through the cat's coat. As Daria worked, Bump rolled and moved under the brush, savoring every moment. "Nah, you don't enjoy that at all."

When she finished brushing the cat and setting the large accumulation of cat hair on the stand next to the brush, Daria held Bump in her lap to pet the feline while she looked out of the window at evening settling on the neighborhood. She thought of how much Boston had become a home to her. Even with those closest to her away, she felt content. She'd grown much in the last years and had left much of the old insecurity behind. She lightly chuckled and said, "Jane would be proud of me, and Quinn was right about me not being alone surrounded by cats."

When Bump looked up at Daria, she said, "Now that I have you, I don't need any more cats."

Fran closed the textbook she'd been reading and pushed away from her desk. "Enough's enough." She threw off her old t-shirt and went to her closet to search for something different to wear. Soon, she located a blue blouse with a tantalizing neckline. She put it on and then made a trip to the mirror to check her makeup. After a couple of careful corrections, she was happy. Practice and help from Quinn had almost perfected the makeup, covering her scars and with the careful use of shading, providing the illusion of roundness on the flat left side of her face. Finally, a little creative lipstick diminished the apparent droop of the corner of her mouth. She knew it was a façade, but it was one that had given her the ability to be out in public without the fear she'd felt for so many years.

Fran bounced out of her room and into the adjoining bedroom. "I'm bored. Let's go out somewhere."

Quinn rolled her chair back from her computer and said, "Yeah, I can use a break. Mall?"

"Twist my arm."

"I better make myself presentable."

"And I'll grab a snack." Fran whistled a pop tune as she went to the kitchen to get an energy bar from her stash in the cupboard. A knock drew her to the suite door, where she had to stand on her toes to look through the door peephole to see a young brunette woman standing outside. Fran opened the door and said, "Hi."

The woman said, "I'm, like, looking for Quinn. Is this the right place?"

"Yeah, Quinn lives here. She'll be out in a second. I'll let her know you're here." Fran let the woman inside and asked, "You are?"

"Sandi. Sandi Griffin."

"Sandi?" Quinn exclaimed as she came out of her room. She ran over and gave her old friend a hug. "It's great to see you!"

"It's good to see you too, Quinn," Sandi said, also hugging back. She looked around and said, "This is really a nice place. A lot better than that old dorm room I had as a freshman."

"The sorority really takes care of its members. Oh, I'm sorry. Sandi, this is my roommate, Fran. Fran, this is my friend from high school, Sandi."

Fran said, "I've heard a lot about you."

"Oh?" Sandi asked.

"Good stuff," Fran said.

"What are you doing here?" Quinn asked.

"I moved to California."

"What about college?"

"I finished my AA at the end of summer term. Let's be real, college isn't for me," Sandi said.

"So what are you going to do?"

"Make a life out here and, I thought, maybe find an old friend."

Fran said, "Hey, we were about to go out to the mall. Want to join us?"

At Quinn's eager smile, Sandi said, "Sure."

On seeing his old friend, Jake immediately grabbed his hand to shake it. "Coyote, good to see you, man."

"Jake, good to be here," Coyote replied.

Helen embraced Willow and said, "Welcome back."

"I can feel the vibes," she said.

Jake noticed the car in the driveway and said, "Wow, that's a new car."

Coyote proudly said, "Yeah, we finally got rid of that old polluting VW. I can't believe how much damage we were doing to the environment by keeping that old hunk of junk on the road."

"Hey, that's one of those new hybrid cars, right?"

"Wave of the future, man."


Helen said, "Willow, how has that bread machine worked for you?"

"It so changed my life, Helen," she said. "I have time for an extra set of yoga every day."

The old friends had gathered around the sofas in the Morgendorffer living room. Coyote said, "Things really picked up after we bought out Rainbow Hammocks last year."

"All natural behavior," Jake said, grinning.

"Online sales are so much easier than taking them over the phone," Willow said. "And we've really cut down on misspelled addresses."

Helen said, "It sounds like things have really changed for you."

"They have," Willow said. "And your soul says things are changing for you."

Helen tapped her cane on the floor. "Some things make you reconsider your life."

A little sad, Willow said, "I hope Ethan reconsiders."

Coyote shook his head in disbelief. "Working for an oil company in Texas. Where did we go wrong?"

"Aw, he's just going through a rebellious stage," Jake said.

"I hope so," Willow replied.

Thinking of the path her life had taken, Helen said, "Though it might take a while."

Realizing who else was missing, Jake said, "Hey, what happened to Leary?"

"He's staying at the Wolfspirit Dog Retreat," Willow said. "Where he can get in touch with his inner nature and run with a pack. Leary really enjoys staying there when we have to go out of town."

When Fran stepped out of the dressing room wearing a low-cut, black evening dress, Sandi said, "You look so cute, you have to get it."

"You think so?"

Quinn chimed in with, "It's a must-have."

"Sold!" Fran said, happily spinning around once, causing the short shirt to rise up and reveal more of her slender legs.

Quinn giggled and said, "Better be careful doing that unless you want a lot of attention."

"Is there a problem with that?" Fran jokingly asked.

"No, not really," was Quinn's answer.

"Speaking of attention," Sandi said. "Where do you go for fun and to meet guys?"

Fran cocked her thumb at Quinn, saying, "She's not looking right now, but I'm sure we can come up with a few places to take you?"

Shocked, Sandi said, "Not looking?"

"Oh, you haven't heard?" Fran said. "Quinn snagged herself a nice boytoy from UC-Lakeside. Grad student on top of that."

Sandi tilted her head and said, "Quinn's dating a brain?"

"He's a really nice guy," Quinn said in Q's defense. "And yes, he is smart, which has its own advantages."

"Do you mind if I'm a little bit jealous?"

Daria answered the door to find her landlady outside. "Mrs. Lyndon, is there a problem?"

"Just checking on you, dear," the woman said. "I was worried that you might be ill."


"You're home alone on a Friday night."

Daria said, "Oh. No, I'm not sick, just taking advantage of a break in life. Since you're here, why don't you come in?"

"Thank you."

After Daria closed the door, Bump silently came over and started to rub against Mrs. Lyndon's ankle. "Mrow."

She knelt down to scratch the cat's head. "Ah, you're not alone; your sweet little kitty is up and about."

"Yeah, she makes sure that I know I'm not the only one here."

After Bump was appeased, Daria led Mrs. Lyndon to the living room, where both took a seat on the sofa. Bump hopped onto the sofa between them, rolling onto her side and inviting both to continue petting her.

Mrs. Lyndon said, "You girls have been some of my best tenants."

"We're only trying to get through college."

"I haven't had to call the police or do any major repairs."

"So we're boring, too."

"I wouldn't say boring, just less...rambunctious. But that does bring to mind something I've been wondering about."

"That is?"

"With Karen's beau back from overseas and since they are married, I assume that they will be finding a place of their own soon."

Daria nodded. "Depending upon when Derek is released from the hospital. Right now, they're planning on their ceremony after school lets out in December and will probably find a place after that."

"Are you going to be searching for a new roommate?"

"I suppose, though we haven't talked about it yet."

"I see. Speaking of ceremonies, how are your plans coming along?"

Daria forced back the urge to run away at the slightest hint of the subject. "Not much progress, yet. Every time I go into a bridal shop, my brain shuts down. Everything just seems to run together and become a blur. And expensive? Karen's even had a hard time finding someone that she can afford to make alterations to her dress."

"People like to make it a special day."

"What was yours like?"

"It was nice, but you have to remember that it hadn't been that long since we'd gone off wartime rationing for lots of things."

"So you had a nice wedding without paying an arm and a leg."

Mrs. Lyndon smiled at Daria. "You're right."

"So, what were some of the things you did to keep things within a reasonable budget?"

"Well, back in those days, many girls knew how to sew. I chose the patterns and all the girls made their own dresses."

"That kind of leaves me out. I'd probably sew myself to the fabric."

"Don't you know anybody who can sew?"

Daria paused for a moment and then said, "As a matter of fact, I do."

"See if she'll help. That is, assuming it's a she. You never know these days."

"'She' is correct, and she might just be able to help Karen, too. Thanks, Mrs. Lyndon."

Seated on the living room floor and stretched far to the side doing yoga, Willow watched Helen come down the stairs wearing what looked like a comfortable old jogging suit. She said, "Good morning, Helen. Going for a walk?"

"Yes. I can't speed walk anymore, but I've been better at getting out every day instead of skipping days like before."

"Hold on," Willow said. "I'll put on my shoes and come with you."

Helen stopped at the door and waited only a minute before Willow joined her and said, "Ready."

Willow patiently adjusted her walk to keep pace with Helen, who was still making a solid, if slower pace. After they had gone a block, she asked, "I always admired you for things like this. You were the one pushing us to go ahead, no matter what."

"I don't feel like I've been pushing ahead that much lately."

"Look at how you've bounced back from your stroke. It's only been a year."

"Thanks, but that's not what I meant. I mean...I was co-opted by the system. You managed to stay true to the cause."

"Helen, staying put isn't staying true to the cause. We were stuck in the sixties while the rest of the world grew up around us."

"Part of me admires that."

"After our last visit with you, Coyote and I knew that we had to change and not keep doing the same things we'd been doing for the last 25 years."

"I wish I could say the same," Helen admitted. "I guess we've made some changes, but compared to you and Coyote...not so much."

"I don't know. Jake's made a big change with his consulting business and you said you've brought in more women as clients."

"I know, but ever since my stroke, my heart's not been in it as much."

"Maybe you need a change."

"Daria said the same thing to me."

"From what you say, she kind of reminds me of you at that age. Perhaps your old self is talking to you through her. I thought she had an old soul."


In their Tri-Theta house suite, Quinn and her roommates were gathered around the TV watching a Buffy videotape. Quinn and Grace were on the sofa, Tammy was seated on the floor and leaning back against her arms and Fran was seated on the single armchair. When the doorbell rang, Quinn jumped up and ran to the door. "I'll get it!"

Opening it, she said, "Hi, Sandi."

"Hi, Quinn," Sandi said in return.

Grace paused the video, twirled a lock of her curly hair around a finger and said, "So you're the famous Sandi."

Stepping inside while carrying a grocery bag, Sandi said, "I'm going to get that a lot, aren't I?"

"I'm afraid so," Quinn said. "I've talked about you and Stacy and Tiffany a lot."

"And talked and talked and talked," Tammy joked. "Long distance runners would love to have your breathing control."


"She's got you," Fran said.

"Good thing they never met Stacy," Sandi said.

Quinn laughed and said, "Have you heard from her? I got a note that she'd graduated from Lawndale Community College and was still racing cars."

"That's as much as I know. I kept a low profile in Lawndale because...you know."

"I still can't believe your folks would do that to you."

"It didn't do much for them, either. They split up about six months ago. Dad and my brothers moved to Indiana."

"I'm sorry."

"It got my brothers away from Mom, so I guess that's a good thing."

"Hey, how's Fluffy?"

Sandi smiled. "She's home at my apartment. Fluffy stuck with me through everything."

"I wish we could keep pets," Quinn said. "Even my sister has a cat."

"Um, how is Daria?"

"Pretty good. She's getting married next June, right after graduation."

"Lucky her."

"Yeah." Quinn then said, "What about Tiffany?"

"She like, disappeared to someplace like Florida to model swimsuits. I guess she likes it there."

"Oh. Well, I hope she's happy."

Sandi looked at the TV and said, "I brought popcorn, carrots and celery sticks. Where can I put them?"

Fran got up to lead Sandi to the kitchen. "In here."

"Thanks," Sandi said. While she started unpacking the bag, Fran put a small saucepan on the stove over a low heat. Sandi asked, "What's that for?"

"Oh, you brought low-fat popcorn like the kind Quinn eats, right?"

"Um, yeah."

"I'm melting butter to make it a little more filling."

Sandi watched as Fran cut a chunk off of a stick of butter and dropped it in the pan. She enviously sighed and went back to unpacking the carrots and celery sticks.

Finishing off a glass of juice, Tammy said, "You know, I really liked Willow more when she was the cute computer geek rather than Little Miss Uberwitch."

"You're just jealous that she hooked up with Tara," Fran said.

"I liked it better when she thought her way out of problems instead of using magical brute force."

Grace groaned, "Here we go again."

"Hey," Tammy said. "We have a neutral party. What do you think, Sandi?"

"Well, um, even though she has the goth thing going on now, she's definitely dressing better," Sandi said.

"Not what she's wearing," Grace said. "What about her being a computer geek in the early seasons and a brat witch in the last season?"

"I never really got the girl computer geek thing. I mean, why would a girl go into computers, anyway?"

Tammy said, "Because some of us like the challenge of coming up with clear, elegant code." Then to tease, she said, "That, and fifteen guys for every girl in class. The odds of finding a date are really good."

Quinn said, "Though as my sister would say, some of the goods are really odd."

Tammy laughed and said, "Some of them. Others are complete gentlemen that can appreciate a girl who looks hot and can out geek-talk them."

In what her sister would consider a rather unladylike fashion, Daria had her bare legs propped on the corner of her computer desk and her body twisted so that she could type on the keyboard. Her worn nightshirt was comfortably loose and Daria hadn't felt the need to put on anything else. Bump was curled on her lap, softly purring as she snoozed. All in all, it was a day of lazy contentment.

Daria saved the file and leaned back from the keyboard and dropped one hand down to pet Bump, who nuzzled Daria's side and purred louder. Daria said, "Too bad this can't be the regular life of a writer. I could really get used to this and it looks like you could, too."


"I suppose you consider me to be the lap of luxury."


"Oh goodie, I have a purpose in life."

The ringing of her cell phone prompted Daria to shift just enough to reach the device. "Excuse me," she said to the cat before opening the phone. "Hello?"

Daria listened for several seconds and then said, "Thanks for calling back. You're interested, great. How about tomorrow afternoon? I'm being a slug today while working on a story for my Fiction Writing class. Figure I can try to sell it after I get it graded. I'd hardly call it free editing when you consider how much we're paying for tuition. So, tomorrow? Five sounds good, see you then, and thanks. Bye."

Bump fidgeted and nudged Daria's hand. "Reow."

"Yes, your majesty," Daria said after she set her phone on the computer desk and went back to petting the cat. "I know my place."

"Trent, Lindy, come in. We're still preparing dinner, so I hope you don't mind a little wait," Helen said as she held the door open for Trent and Lindy to enter the house.

Lindy awkwardly moved her large belly through the door, smiled and said, "No problem, Helen. It'll give us time to meet these friends of yours."

"Yeah, they sound kinda cool," Trent said.

"Everyone's in the kitchen, helping to make dinner."

Lindy said, "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"It levels everyone out," Helen said. "But, it also slows things down."

"Okay, as long as you don't mind me sitting. Junior is getting heavier by the day."

"You must be Lindy," Willow said, coming over and grasping the young woman's hand. "Helen's told me so much about you."

"She's been a big help," Lindy said. "I don't know what we'd do without her and Jake."

"When are you due?"

"Another month, if I don't go insane before then."

Trent gently hugged her and said, "You'll be fine."

Teasing, she replied, "Coming from the man who fell asleep during Lamaze class."

"I didn't drop you," he said. "So it still counts."

She kissed him and said, "Maybe that's why I like you. No matter how freaky I get, you never get flustered."

Willow said, "Your soul is so bright, but there's a darkness behind you."

"Behind me is where I want it to stay," Lindy said, starting to walk to the kitchen. "What's cooking?"

Joining the others in following, Helen said, "I'm not sure yet; Jake and Coyote are in charge."

"Cool," Trent said. "Hey, can we grab some leftovers? You know, for Lindy's midnight cravings?"

"No problem, Trent," she answered.

After cutting an onion, Coyote noticed the label on the vegetable bag and said, "Organic. That's really good, Jake."

"We have Daria's roommate's parents ship them to us," Jake said. "And Helen's been buying other organic stuff, too."

Willow said, "I thought you weren't making many changes."

"It's not much of a change," Helen said. "There's a new farmer's market on Dega Street, not far from my office."

"It's making a difference, Helen," Coyote said.

"I suppose, though I've been doing it more because I like the taste."

Excited, Jake said, "And they have really great, fresh habaneros!"

Concerned, Helen said, "You're not using any of them today, are you honey?"

"No, I'm not. For some reason, I couldn't find them."

Helen turned slightly away and whispered, "Good."

Lindy caught her look and snickered.

"Oh, don't worry so much, Quinn," Sandi said. "I've got a date for tonight."

Quinn said, "I didn't want you to feel left out."

"I won't."

The two women sat in the living room while the others were scattered to their rooms preparing to go out for the evening. The day had gone well with the five women making small talk while watching TV and comparing notes on guys, clothes, makeup and careers, though through it all, Sandi was quieter than most when it came to career.

After the pause in the conversation, Quinn said, "So what do you think of all this?"

Sandi's voice betrayed some of her sadness. "You have good friends."

"Sandi, you're my friend, too."

"Not in the same league. You and your friends are more like what we wanted the old Fashion Club to be."

Admitting that Sandi was right, Quinn said, "We were kids back then. We did okay, but we've learned."

"You've learned."

"So have you, or you wouldn't have noticed."

"Can't you let me be a little bit jealous?"


Sandi rose and prepared to leave. "You're doing what all of us in the Fashion Club thought we would be doing. One out of four isn't bad, really."

"Please don't run off," Quinn pleaded.

"I'm only going home to get ready," Sandi said. "I really have a date tonight. See you tomorrow?"

"Sure, Sandi."

Sandi took a movie stub from her purse and quickly wrote on it. "Here's my address. My turn to play hostess."

"Okay, your place."

Bump looked up at the couple embracing just inside the door and loudly meowed at them. Daria slowly turned without breaking away from Michael and said, "As if you haven't had exclusive attention from me all day."

"Not spoiled at all," he said.

Bump trotted to them and began to wind her way around and between their legs.

Daria said to the cat, "Will you be happy if we sat down so that you can join us?"


Michael said, "We have our orders."

It took several careful steps for them to get over to the sofa without stepping on Bump as she continued to twine herself between their legs. Once they sat down, she didn't hesitate to jump up and sprawl across both of their laps. With a loud purr, she closed her eyes and settled down.

Daria settled herself under Michael's arm and said, "It's been nice having the day to myself, but I'm glad you made it over. Did you finish your paper?"


"I still can't believe that you have an 'Analysis of Historical Alternatives' class. It sounds more like historical fiction writing than history."

"It is; that's why we have a couple of creative writing students. But to get a good grade, you have to know your history or you're toast. No Confederates with AK-47s."

Daria lightly laughed and said, "Okay, so what did you write?"

"'What if Rawlings' Division Hadn't Been Ordered to Withdraw During the Maryland Campaign? A Possible Turning Point in 1862.' And I blame it all on you," he said with a faint tease at the end.

"Me? How? I have no clue who you're talking about."

"Hardly anyone has, but he was a fascinating character. In September of 1862, General Richard Rawlings and his division stopped near Lawndale while scouting and detected three advancing Union corps. If they had been allowed to stay and hold, Lawndale could've been the site of a major Civil War battle, possibly on par with Gettysburg or Antietam. Rawlings had a reputation for leadership and stubbornness and was nicknamed 'Reckless.' He was later killed at Fredericksburg."

"So Lawndale missed its chance at history."


"Somehow, that seems fitting." After remembering something, Daria said, "I wonder if that has anything to do with the statue in the town square. Nobody seems to even remember who he was."

"I remember you showing it to me and that's what gave me the idea to investigate Lawndale. Rawlings' division passing through the area was the only Civil War action I could find."

"Leaving the mystery statue still a mystery."

He nodded. "What about you? Did you get your story done?"

Daria petted Bump. "With someone's expert help and commentary."

"I see. What would you do without her?"

"Well, for one thing, I wouldn't be on a first-name basis with the owners of the fish market."

After a short laugh, Michael said, "Anything in particular you want to do tonight?"

Daria snuggled a little closer to Michael. "This is good."

Not too early on Sunday morning, Jake, Helen, Coyote and Willow gathered around the Yeagers' car for their goodbyes. Coyote said, "Yeah, we need to get back and keep an eye on things. Bills to pay and all that."

Jake said, "I thought you were never going to get caught in the money trap."

"Hey man, hybrid cars don't grow on trees."

"Nor do low-volume toilets," Willow said.

Coyote said, "But it's so great to flush every time without wasting water."

Jake and Helen exchanged a glance and shudder.

Willow hugged Helen and said, "You need to come out and visit us sometime."

"You're right, we really need to plan to do that," she said.

Willow also whispered, "Listen to your daughter; you know she's right."

Coyote shook Jake's hand and said, "Great to see you again, old buddy. The girls are right. Next time, you need to come out to our place."

Jake grinned and said, "That would be great!"

"And thanks again for the business advice."

"Any time, man."

Willow and Coyote climbed into their car with Willow in the driver's seat. Both waved and said, "Goodbye," before she backed the car down the driveway.

Jake and Helen returned the gesture and watched the other couple drive away. When the car was out of sight, Jake said, "Looks like they're moving into the future."

His comment made Helen think hard about the choice she faced. She'd driven herself hard to make partner and had paid a high price for that position. That price included her stroke only a little over a year after making partner and now, two years later, she had a chance for new life and to pass through another glass ceiling. It wasn't going to be easy to decide, but this time, Helen wasn't going to do it alone. She took her husband's hand and said, "Jake, there's something we need to talk about."

"I know it's small," Sandi said as she showed Quinn her apartment. "But I like to think of it as cozy." The efficiency was little larger than Quinn or Sandi's old bedrooms in Lawndale. A futon served as sofa and bed, the kitchenette was against one wall and the only interior division was to separate the small bathroom. Despite its size, Sandi had made the place into a cozy and comfortable place to live. Even her white-haired Persian cat Fluffy seemed content.

Quinn said, "I really like this, Sandi. You always had such a good eye for coordination."

"Thanks, I try."

Quinn opened the paper bag that she'd been carrying and said, "I brought something for your new apartment. Kind of a housewarming gift."

Sandi accepted the bag and slipped a nice looking tabletop candle holder and candles from the bag. "They're pretty. Thanks."

"Maybe you can use it for a romantic dinner with someone."

Sandi looked at the gift for several more seconds before setting it down on the kitchen counter. "It's a nice thought, Quinn. Almost like we're still good friends."

"Sandi!" Quinn exclaimed. "We are good friends."

"But I really don't fit in with your new friends. I couldn't even follow half of the things they said about their classes."

"I don't either, but that doesn't mean anything."

"It's more than that, Quinn. They're in a totally different world than me. Don't get me wrong, they're nice people, but I just can't see me getting along with them or them getting along with me. I don't want to leave you stuck in the middle."

"You don't have to. Sandi, nobody says that all of our friends have to get along with each other all the time. I can have friends separate from my roommates and you can have friends separate from me. We don't have to be one big club. I think that's part of what happened with the Fashion Club. We tried to be too exclusive and we missed out on being friends with other people."

Sandi sighed and said, "Maybe."

Quinn moved to comfort her friend. "You're my friend. Fran's my friend. But I won't hold it against you if you're not friends with Fran and I won't hold it against you if you have other friends, either."



Sandi looked back at the candles. "There are a lot of cute guys around here. I guess I should learn how to cook."

"Or hide the takeout packages," Quinn said with a laugh.

Watched by Daria, Karen and Jane, a tall, blonde woman sat at their table and added finishing touches to a drawing of a wedding dress.

"Damn, that's good," Jane said, while Karen nodded.

Daria nodded approvingly and said, "I'll go with that one."

"Cool," Isabelle said. "Do you mind if I use the pattern for my portfolio?"

"Knock yourself out," Daria said. "It's not like I'm going to get upset if someone else wears the same design. Especially at the price you're asking."

"I won't let you down."

"Can you do those alterations for me?" Karen asked. "Daria's aunt gave me her wedding dress. Kind of an 'army wives' thing. It's beautiful, but we really don't have the same shape."

"Sure. Let's take a look," said Isabelle.

Karen led Isabelle to her closet. She opened a hanging storage bag and then moved the full gown to her bed. "Here it is."

Isabelle stared at the dress displayed on the bed with her mouth hanging open as she recognized the style. "Is that...?"

Daria said, "It was made by some famous designer that's a friend of Amy's original Maid of Honor ...long story."

Isabelle checked the label and faux-dramatically fell back against the wall. "It is. How rich is your aunt?"

"He's rich and, well, things were a little extravagant."

"A little?"

"Okay, a lot," Daria admitted.

"How much did that set your aunt back?"

"From what I understand, the dress was a gift."

Isabelle whistled in appreciation. "That's some gift."

Karen said, "Can you do the alterations?"

Isabelle looked straight at Karen. "You want me to make alterations on a Sammi Rudolph original?"

"It won't fit otherwise."

"You want me to be able to look at exactly how one of her originals was cut and to see the seamwork? To open the seams and change things as needed?"

"Assuming that's part of the process."

"Yes, I'll do it!"

"That was easy. How much?"

"This isn't something you want me to rush. After all, this is a work of art and you can't start hacking and slashing. If I botch the job and word gets out, my name is mud in the business." Isabelle held up her measuring tape and said, "Your turn for some measurements. I need an idea of what kind of alterations to make. Adjusting the hem of the skirt is easy, changing the hip and waist is going to be tougher."

"The hips are one thing that really needs to be changed. With her tiny hips, I hope Amy never tries to have a kid."

"Hold still."

Isabelle quickly measured Karen and the dress. "Not as bad as you think. The hips are under the skirt and I'll really just need a little change to the waist and bust line. Say, a hundred bucks, plus whatever it costs to match the fabric."


Catching a questioning look from Isabelle, Jane said, "Don't look at me, I'm not in the market."

She shrugged and said, "Gee Daria, a full wedding dress commission and an alteration. I hope you call me out of the blue more often."

"No offense, but I hope I don't have the need for another wedding dress."

Karen said, "Same here."

"Damn," Isabelle jokingly said.

Daria stood and headed for the kitchen. "Well, that's one major hurdle down. Now to figure out someplace to have it."

"You don't have the place for your wedding yet?" Isabelle said in surprise.

"No. We keep putting it off."

"Better get your ass in gear if you want a June wedding."

"I know, I know. It's...sometimes I think running off to Vegas would just make things a hell of a lot easier."

"You. Vegas. No way," Jane said.

"What about you, Karen?" Isabelle said.

"I got the chapel at Raft."

"I assume it's nice. I've never been in it."

"It has that old college feel. It's nice."

"Good. Now, work on Daria before she has to have her wedding here in the living room."

The first thing Monday morning after arriving at the office, Helen set a folded paper on the desk just in front of Eric. He asked, "What's this?"

"My formal resignation. I'll do everything that I can over the next two weeks to ensure a smooth transition for all of my cases. I have good associates in mind for most of them, but a couple will require the attention of a partner."

Eric seemed dumbstruck for while before saying, "Helen, you can't resign."

"Yes I can, Eric. I know this must seem sudden, but it's been building for a while."

"We'll bump your salary five percent. Wait, make that ten."

Helen shook her head. "This isn't about the money."

"Then what can it be about?"

"Eric, I've gained a lot of valuable experience with the firm and I appreciate it, but I have to admit that my heart isn't into it any more. Ever since my stroke, I've been reexamining my life."

"Helen, you can't let a little health problem derail your career. Look at me."

"I have, Eric and I'm afraid of what will happen to me if I stay."

Becoming angry, he said, "What are you going to do? This isn't exactly the best market for partners."

"I've already accepted a position."

Truly angry, Eric said, "May I remind you of the non-competition clause in your contract? You can rest assured that this firm will enforce the terms of that contract to the letter and to the full extent of the law."

"I would expect no less, but there will be no competition."

"No competition? You're a lawyer, Helen. It's in your blood and you can no more stop being a lawyer than you can stop breathing."

"Very true, Eric. I can't change being a lawyer, but I can change what I do as one."

"Non-competition, Helen," Eric warned.

Helen fixed his eyes with hers. "No competition, Eric. But rest assured that you will see me around at every State Bar Association conference. You can look for me at the directors' meeting."

Helen enjoyed the look on Eric's face as she calmly turned and left the office.

Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.

September 2008.