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. 2009.
This is the sixty-ninth story in the Falling into College series.
In the Channel 12 newsroom, Blythe Lincoln paused for a moment at the door to her producer's office. Being called into the office right after he'd handled a lengthy phone call was usually a sign that something was up and, in this case, Blythe had a good suspicion it was her latest story proposal.
She took a deep breath and opened the door. "Yes, sir?"
"Blythe, come in and have a seat," the balding man said. He held up a printout of her proposal and said, "How strongly do you feel about this story?"
"How much confidence do you have with this..." He read from the proposal, "Debbie Cawthon-Shelski?"
"As much as I have in myself."
"I see. In that case, I'm sure that you can imagine who just called and what kind of mood they were in."
Blythe nodded and said, "How bad?"
"She said that if we ran the story, when she was done with us, we might get work at a community access channel in the backcountry of Alaska."
"Sounds like quite a threat."
With delicious slowness, a predatory grin formed on the producer's face. "I really like threats. They give me a great reason to run a story."
Blythe said, "I've got a green light?"
"You've got a green light to expose Val."
Michael Fulton and his friends Jack, Sean and Clarice sat around a table of a Boston pub. There was a round of drinks on the table along with a jumbo-sized bowl of smothered nachos. Clarice playfully said, "So it's mid-afternoon and Daria actually let you out of the house on your own. What's up?"
"I don't need her permission," Michael said in protest. "I'm not that whipped."
"Come on," Jack said. "This is the first time you've been out with us since she moved in with you."
"It's only been a month."
"You can tell us," Sean said.
"Go out to have a good time with some friends and what do I get? Abuse," Michael said.
"That's what we do," Clarice said.
"Anyway," Sean said. "What is up? How are you two settling in and all that good stuff?"
Jack said, "He's getting laid on a much more regular basis."
Clarice gave him a very brief glare and said, "Besides what gutter-brain mentioned."
"Actually, Daria's friend Isabelle is coming over to test fit the wedding dress."
Clarice laughed and said, "Don't tell me that Daria is one of those 'don't let the groom see the dress before the wedding' types."
"No," Michael said. "But Isabelle said that she'll be damned if anyone else sees it before the fit is right. I took her threat about gouging eyes out pretty seriously."
Sean said, "So you were kicked out of the apartment for the afternoon. I feel so flattered."
"Used," Jack said.
Michael said, "So I decided to spend the time with you drama queens."
"You need some excitement in your life," Clarice replied.
Sitting on the sofa with Bump on her lap, Isabelle said, "It's not that hard to put on! After all, I made it easy to take off for your honeymoon."
"Almost there!" Daria called from the closed bedroom. "I'm being careful."
Isabelle giggled and said, "It's not made out of crystal."
"I should've gone in there to help you. It's not like I haven't seen your underwear before, or did you forget all those costume changes?"
"Done," Daria said, opening the bedroom door. The sleeveless wedding dress was sleek and smooth with shapely lines from shoulder to ankle. Over that was a short jacket with long sleeves, somewhat reminiscent of military dinner wear. Everything blended together with no sign of buttons, zippers, or even ornamentation. The simple motif set off the malachite pendant around her neck, the mount freshly polished and suspended on a new chain.
Bump stood up and cheerfully meowed at Daria.
"I told you the cat had good taste," Isabelle said, getting up and going over to inspect the fit. After walking around Daria twice, she said, "Yep, I've got it."
"This is really wonderful," Daria said.
"Thanks for giving me such a break."
"It's mutually beneficial," Isabelle said. "As long as you don't back out on the photos."
"If there's one thing you can be sure of out of a Morgendorffer, is that we follow through on our deals. Nothing gets done in my family without them."
"I'll let you know when I have the photographer set up."
Daria let out a light laugh and said, "Me modeling a dress. My sister's never going to let me hear the end of it."
Isabelle pointed at Bump and said, "Oh, and can you make sure she keeps her distance? I don't want black fur showing up in the pictures."
When Bump meowed in protest, Daria said, "Don't give us that; you know how much you shed."
Still inspecting the fit of her handiwork, Isabelle said, "Do you have any plans for Friday?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
"Valentine's Day before your wedding and you don't have plans?"
"I'm sure we'll do something," Daria said. "But between planning the wedding, school, work and looking for grad schools, we have to leave everything else loose. God, I sound like Jane."
"Loose can be good."
When Daria's cell phone rang, Isabelle picked it up off of a small table and looked at the caller ID number. "It says, 'ADA Kyle Sullivan.'"
Daria paled and said, "I need to get that." She took the phone from Isabelle and answered. "Hello."
"Daria? This is ADA Sullivan," the man said. "I have some important news for you."
"Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
Mr. Sullivan said, "You've got good instincts. A review panel has determined that Charles Ruttheimer III has made sufficient progress to be released from the State Psychiatric Hospital and the judge has agreed."
Daria slowly nodded and said, "When?"
"What's your take on the situation?" Daria asked.
"Hopeful, but wary."
In her office at the State Bar Association in Baltimore, Helen listened on the phone for several moments and then said, "Thank you for keeping us informed, Mr. Sullivan. I think it will be best if I tell my husband. As you remember, he can be rather...excitable. It's not a problem; I have a fair amount of leeway on my hours." She checked the clock on her wall and said, "I'll catch a train back to Lawndale and can be at his office in about an hour and a half."
After listening a few seconds more, she said, "I will. Have a good day," and then hung up the phone. "I'm not looking forward to this."
ADA Sullivan placed his phone down and thankfully looked up. "She's going to take care of it. Thank God."
Jake shouted, "You're a lawyer! Can't you do something about it?"
Glad that she'd convinced Jake to leave the office a little early to avoid disturbing his workplace neighbors, Helen said, "He served his sentence. There's nothing I can do about it except make sure that the probation stipulation that he have absolutely no contact with Daria or us is rigidly enforced."
"But what if he doesn't?" Jake demanded.
Helen's eyes narrowed. "He'd better hope that I don't find him first."
"I'm not going to change a damn thing I do," Daria firmly said while rummaging in the refrigerator for dinner. "If Upchuck is better, then there's no reason to change and if he isn't, I'll be damned if I let him control any aspect of my life."
Standing nearby, Michael said, "I think I'll still watch the crowds more closely."
Daria emerged with a container of leftover stir-fried chicken. "Okay, I'll probably do that."
"The timing really sucks."
"I don't think any time would've been good."
Michael took his turn at the refrigerator. "Changing the subject; how did the dress fitting go?"
"It fits and I promised to take it to the photographer tomorrow."
Michael smirked and glanced at Daria. "I'm marrying a model."
Looking at the most obvious target, she said, "I should kick you for that."
"I favorably compare my fiancée's looks to a model and she threatens me," he teased. "What did I do to deserve that?"
"You were crazy enough to want to marry me," Daria said.
"Trust me, that's not crazy."
At the State Psychiatric Hospital early the following morning, Charles Ruttheimer II signed a final paper and slid it back to the waiting clerk. She neatly placed it in a folder and said, "Your son will be out shortly, Mr. Ruttheimer. Thank you for your patience."
A man in his late fifties with hair faded to silver, Mr. Ruttheimer waited for several minutes until Charles Ruttheimer III was escorted through the locked security doors and into the visitors' lobby.
The young man was leaner than he'd been when first admitted and his formerly curly red hair had been trimmed to a buzz cut. He stopped in front of his father and said, "Thanks for coming to pick me up, Dad. I was worried that you wouldn't after how angry you were when I was arrested."
"You admitted you were wrong and paid your debt, son. It's time to bring you home."
"Home will be nice," Charles said, looking briefly over his shoulder as they walked out of the building.
"Your old room is ready and when you can, we'll start the paperwork to get you back into school. With a little luck, you'll be able to enroll in the summer semester."
"I've missed college."
"But first, we'll work on getting your life started over."
"Yeah, a new start. I like that."
While Daria, wearing her wedding dress, stood in front of a neutral-color backdrop, the photographer said, "Turn your head a little to the right. A little more, I'm still getting some glare from your glasses." After she complied, he said, "That's it! Don't move."
The photographer began rapidly clicking the shutter on his camera as he carefully moved around Daria to catch as many angles as possible from the single pose.
To the side, Isabelle took a few pictures with her camera and seemed very pleased. She said, "You're doing great, Daria. Almost done."
"Okay, now twist at the hips and look this way," the photographer said. When Daria did, he added, "Clasp your hands together over your thigh. Perfect," and started shooting again as she held the pose.
He made a circle around Daria and then lowered his camera. "Done."
She relaxed and said, "No offense, but I'm glad that's over."
"I bet," he said. "You weren't bad and it won't show in the photos, but I could tell you weren't happy posing."
"I'll get over it," Daria said.
After a laugh, he said to Isabelle, "I'll burn the images to CD and have them to you tomorrow."
"Can you burn two?" Isabelle said. "I want to give Daria a set."
"No problem," he said.
Daria's cell phone rang and she said, "Excuse me." She didn't recognize the number and hesitated before responding. "Hello?"
This is Blythe Lincoln with Channel 12 News. We spoke briefly a couple months ago at your friend's ceremony."
"Well, I followed up your lead and found a very interesting story. I'd like to schedule an interview with you at your convenience."
I do not need this right now, she thought, but knowing that procrastination would only draw out the discomfort, Daria said, "How about when I get off of work at six tonight?"
"The Mast office building will make a good visual, thank you, Ms. Morgendorffer. Six tonight."
"Sure. I'll see you then."
Daria closed her phone and rubbed her forehead. "Just what I needed."
"Bad news?" Isabelle asked.
"More like, bad memories coming back to haunt me."
"Bad memories make appointments?"
When she arrived at work, Daria stopped off at the chief editor's desk and said, "Carly, heads up, again."
Carly swiveled her chair. "What's up this time, Miss Popularity?"
"I'm really not looking for all this," Daria said.
"I know," Carly said with a laugh. "Go on."
Daria explained about Debbie's previous visit and modified story, Val's actions and slipping the information to Ms. Lincoln after Karen's ceremony.
"Oh, the tangled web we weave when others practice to deceive," Carly said. "Are you up to it?"
"As much as I'll ever be and I don't have to worry about my mom this time."
"The paper stands behind you."
"Thanks. It helps."
Daria made sure her scarf was tight and warmly wrapped around her neck before she stepped out into the cold to meet Ms. Lincoln. Snowfall earlier that day had given the building a fresh, winter appearance. She met the reporter and her videographer on the building steps and said, "Are you sure that you wouldn't prefer to do this inside where it's warm?"
"We'll have a better visual out here," she said, though her videographer had looked longingly at the door and clearly had hoped for an interior shot.
"Where do you want me?"
Ms. Lincoln spent a couple minutes working with the camera operator to get what she deemed an acceptable composition. "That's it." To Daria she said, "Ready?"
With a nod to the operator to start recording, she said, "This is Blythe Lincoln with Channel 12 News and I'm on campus at Raft University. With me is senior Ms. Daria Morgendorffer, copy editor for the campus newspaper, The Mast, and a bit of a local celebrity known for her tenacity and dedication to her friends. We recently learned that a little over five years ago she was the subject of an unusual feature article in Val Magazine."
The Channel 12 News producer looked at his watch and said, "By my estimate, Ms. Lincoln should be interviewing Ms. Morgendorffer right about now, so you're a little too late, Val. You really should've saved yourself the plane trip."
On the other side of the desk, Val tried to tower over the man to intimidate him. "You, your reporter, and that stupid girl Daria are going to regret it if you even try to run that story. I have connections and I'm not afraid to use them."
"Go ahead," the producer calmly said. "The network has more lawyers than you do and I'm told that they have wet dreams over these kinds of cases."
"Think about it," Val said. "Do you really want to go through that long and painful process? One that's especially painful for the subject of the story?"
"We're not some timid, small-scale publishing house that can be frightened into submission and, personally, I hope you hit back. Hard." The man gave Val an almost evil grin. "It'll make a great follow-up story."
In a lavish hotel room with a wonderful view of the Boston skyline, Val sat at the room worktable and worked at her laptop. Satisfied, she said, "Hmm, Helen Morgendorffer is no longer listed as an associate at Vitale, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter." After a little more study, she said, "According to the cached web pages, your name was removed from the company website early last November. I guess you couldn't hack things after your stroke. Poor baby. Let's see if we can find what you're up to now."
After a couple minutes of searching, Val found an entry at the State Bar Association website: Lawyer Assistance Director – Helen Morgendorffer. She double-checked the information and muttered, "Dammit."
Remembering her earlier conversation with Carly and how she could be able to properly slant the young woman's comments about wishing Daria would work for the school paper, Val looked up the newspaper's website and was pleased to see that Carly was the Editor-in-Chief. Reading further on the staff listing, she again muttered, "Dammit," when she saw Daria's entry as Copy Editor.
"Hmm, what else did I have on her? Oh yes, her standing date with that lesbian. But I seem to remember something..." Val searched online some more and found an article about a case going before the Massachusetts Supreme Court the next month arguing that the state couldn't ban two women from getting married. "Dammit."
Val pushed herself back and looked out at the skyline. "Calling her a tease or saying she has her guy wrapped around her finger isn't going to do a thing. I'm going to have to be creative."
From her Seattle office, Debbie Cawthon-Shelski spoke on the phone. "I'm really glad the story is getting out, though I'm still disappointed it's not my story," she said. "But we're expecting interest once the news story runs and what we published is ready to go up on our website. I won't mind a second-run of interest."
Daria said, "I'll admit to being nervous after what you said she could be like. I really have enough going on in my life without having to worry about a thirtysomething teenage wannabe."
"Forty," Debbie said.
"What was that?"
"I know her real birth date. She's forty."
"Too bad we can't pass that little tidbit of information on."
"Who says I didn't?" Debbie said.
"Val's really going to lose it over that."
"I'm hoping. Anyway, let's change the subject to something more interesting. How're the wedding plans coming along?"
Daria faintly groaned and said, "Why does everyone with a pair of X chromosomes ask me that?"
"Because you never know what you're going to hear. Either it's great ideas, or a train wreck of epic proportions."
"I've been able to avoid the train wreck so far," Daria said. "And I got the dress out of the way earlier today."
"I don't expect an invite--God, you probably have enough of those to worry about already--but I hope you'll send pictures."
"Jane's trying to contact her dad to do them, but, well, he's not the easiest person to track down, and so we might have to go with trying to hire someone from the BFAC photography lab. Jane says they work cheap if you provide the beer and pizza."
"You're really trying to keep this thing simple, aren't you?"
"After that over-the-top blowout my Aunt Amy had to endure and even what Karen went through last fall, I'm all for simple. Mom can plan her event of the season wedding with Quinn, if or when that ever happens."
His breakfast finished, Charles rolled his fork between his fingers and stared at it, pleased to eat real food with real utensils instead of finger foods and dull, plastic dinnerware that was carefully counted and recovered after every meal. His sleep the night before had been refreshingly restful without the regular bed checks that, no matter how quiet the staff tried to be, frequently woke him in the hospital. The ability to sleep late was a luxurious bonus that he hoped to repeat as often as possible until he went back to college.
"I'm off to work, Charles," his father called from the front door.
"Okay, Dad," he replied. "I'm going to just hang out and take things easy today."
"Don't hesitate to call the office if you need anything."
"I'll call if anything comes up."
After he heard the car drive away, Charles sat and listened to the silent house. He was alone and unsupervised for the first time since his arrest. It felt good.
Daria leaned against Michael as they rode the subway to school. She said, "From what Ms. Lincoln said, the story should run tonight."
"Yes, dammit. I don't want this attention. I just want to finish college and move on to grad school like any other career student."
"I hope getting married is in those plans, too."
"I'll think about it," Daria said, her concern slightly eased.
"Good enough," Michael said, holding her tighter. "Changing the subject, it's my turn to make dinner tonight, isn't it?"
"Yes," Daria said, her tone playfully warning him not to try to get out of it.
"Any preference in case I need to run by the store on the way home?"
"Pizza. I'm probably going to be late, so lots of pizza."
"Everything. We should at least try to make a balanced meal out of it."
Startled by the phone ringing, Charles cautiously answered it. "Hello."
A woman said, "Is this Charles Ruttheimer III?"
Wary, he said, "Yes."
"Great. This is Val."
"I'm sorry, but I don't know anybody named Val."
"Of course you know me. I'm Val, from Val Magazine. I was hoping to ask you a few questions about your old high school classmate, Daria Morgendorffer."
"Oh yeah, I remember you. When I was in high school, you spent a day there with..." Charles paled and then violently slammed the phone down. He yelled at it, "Don't torture me! I know I can't be with her! Don't rub my face in it!"
Angry, he ran to the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator. He snatched a wine bottle from the interior rack and took it to a cork puller built into the counter top. After removing the cork, he took a long drink from the bottle before going back to his room. Downstairs, the phone rang again and again.
Isabelle caught up with Daria as she was making her daily walk around the Quad with Wendy. "Hey, the pics look good," she said, producing a CD.
"Thanks," Daria said, accepting it. "Now my mom and sister will get off my case about the damn dress."
Wendy said, "Were they worried about how it looks?"
"Convinced that it doesn't exist and I've been procrastinating the whole time."
Wendy laughed and said, "Not like that's out of character for you."
"Hey, I only employ selective procrastination," Daria said.
Isabelle said, "Speaking of not procrastinating. How did the interview go?"
"You should be able to see it tonight," Daria said and shook her head. "Right now, I just want whatever is going to happen to happen."
"Do you think Val will do something?" Wendy asked.
"Without a doubt and it will probably be something very public." Daria stopped, causing the other two to pause and look back. She then said, "Dammit, why didn't I think of that before?"
"Think of what?" Isabelle said.
Wendy added, "Yeah, what?"
"Val lives by the idea that all publicity is good publicity," Daria said, a faint smile on her lips. "She's been relying on my reluctance to be in the spotlight. It's not going to work this time."
"Time to put some of your theater experience to use?" Wendy asked.
Daria slowly said, "O, for a muse of fire..."
Michael watched the story on the evening news from the kitchen while spreading toppings over a pair of pizzas. He smiled and said, "That's my girl."
Happy with how the toppings were spread, he put the pizzas into the oven and set the timer. "I'm glad that vindictive bitch finally got something back."
When the phone rang, he jogged around the counter and to the sofa to grab it. "Hello."
Helen said, "Michael, can I speak to Daria? Jake and I just saw her story on TV and she's not answering her cell phone."
"She watched the interview at work since she couldn't get home in time to catch it here. How did you see it?"
"The Baltimore SBC station ran it as a local interest story."
"Oh. Well, what did you think?"
"I wish I could talk her into law school."
Michael snickered and said, "Do you really want me to tell her that?"
"Of course not," Helen said. "She'd never forgive me."
"Your secret is safe."
"Getting on your future mother-in-law's good side early; I knew Daria would find a smart man."
"But more seriously, how worried is she about Val?"
"She has a plan, and that's probably why she didn't answer her cell phone. If they timed the press release right, she should be doing more interviews about now."
"More interviews? That's not like Daria."
"She called me this afternoon and said the best way to fight fire was with kerosene."
"I see," Helen said. "I wish I could talk her into law school."
Carly and the rest of the editorial staff had gathered around the office television with Daria to watch the story. As the story ended, Ms. Lincoln said, "Daria Morgendorffer. Not a loser icon of a Val's 'Bummer Culture', but an intelligent, independent woman creating her own future."
Jeff said, "Way to go, Daria."
"I remember that article in Val Magazine. You know, all the Goth kids and the underground types thought you were cool," Mira said.
When the phone rang, Carly answered it, saying, "Editorial office. Just a moment." She covered the phone and said, "Daria, ready for your next interview?"
"The Boston Planet. Line One."
"Okay." She went to her desk and picked up the phone. "This is Daria. Can I help you? Of course I have a few minutes. What would you like to know?"
The phone rang again and Carly answered. "Editorial Office. I'm sorry, she's on another line right now, do you mind holding? Thank you." She put the line on hold and said, "I think this is going to be a busy evening."
In her hotel room, Val turned off the television and called her office. "Who's lined up for interviews?" she asked.
After hearing the answer, Val angrily said, "Nobody? Didn't you send out the press release?"
When the poor office assistant replied, Val's face burned a furious red before she screamed, "What do you mean she sent out a press release half an hour before? That bitch!"
Val slammed the phone down and stormed around the room. "That bitch!"
Still feeling a slight hangover headache from the morning wine, Charles watched the news and then turned off the television. As he walked to his room, he whispered, "That bitch."
Once there, Charles sat down at his desk and started the computer. "That bitch," he repeated.
Finally home, Daria quickly finished off a slice of pizza and looked at the remainder. "You made enough for breakfast, too. Thank you."
"There should always be enough pizza for leftovers," Michael said. "Isn't that one of your commandments?"
"I really need to get them written down some time. Can you snag me a couple of stone tablets from work?"
"Probably, but the ark thing might be a challenge, what with getting one out of that warehouse and all."
"Dammit. Nothing's ever easy."
Michael put his arms around her waist. "Nothing worth having, anyway."
Daria leaned back and said, "So you think my commandments are worth having?"
"As long as you're included in the package."
"You've really gotten good at buttering me up, haven't you?"
"What do you expect after all of your positive reinforcement? Besides, I know it helps you de-stress."
"And get you laid. Not that I'm complaining." She kissed him and said, "You know, I'd rather think about that than worry about tomorrow's papers. What do you think?"
"I think I can go along," he said, returning the kiss.
Lit only by the monitor glow, Charles smiled at his computer and sat back with his hands behind his head. "My dear, Val, I really hope you haven't overpaid your cyber security guys, because they've let you down."
He worked a little more on the computer and then turned it off for the night. "If someone who is a couple of years out of practice can get in that easily...think of what the latest hotshots can do after I let them know."
Karen caught up with Daria after class the next morning. "Boy, leave you alone for a month and you turn into a media diva."
"Hey, Karen. I know, but it was something that had to be done."
"There's always blowing up her car."
"Explosives aren't cheap and I'm trying to pay for a wedding, remember?"
"Oh, yeah, I heard something about that. When are you going to show me and Jane the dress?"
"As soon as I can get the three of us to agree on a time, which, I might remind you, hasn't been easy."
"We've been busy, between Derek getting used to school again and..." Karen said and then caught herself. "Listen to me make excuses. I'll find the time."
Daria put her hand on Karen's shoulder. "Me, too."
The terrified concierge held out a newspaper and said, "This just arrived. It's the last one, ma'am."
She angrily yanked it away and closed the door in the young man's face. He took the lucky break to make his escape before she had a chance to vent her wrath on him.
Not bothering to sit, Val pulled the paper apart and found the style and fashion section. A quick scan located the article, which she read with great speed. Like the others, it portrayed Daria as a hip, articulate and intelligent young woman with media-savvy that Val had completely misidentified.
"At least that hack printed one quote from me," she said, the sting of local reporters calling her for comments only after they'd lined up to interview Daria still burning.
Val tossed the paper aside and it fluttered down on top of all the other morning papers she'd read that morning. Looking at the pile, she suddenly laughed and said, "Okay girl. You beat me. You played by my rules and you beat me. Debbie never could."
Val walked to the window. "Daria, I'm not going to give you any more press and your fifteen minutes will fade." She shook her head and faintly laughed again. "But you'll carry that toughness for the rest of your life. It'll do you well, though you'll never thank me for it."
Going back to her desk, she sat down and said, "Enough of that. It's time for me to suck it up and move on. I have a magazine to run."
When Val tried to log on to the staff-only section of the Val Magazine website, she got repeated errors. "Dammit, I don't need this today."
She then called her office and said, "What's going on with the website? I pay good money for that thing to work when I want it to work."
Her administrative assistant gulped down some coffee to strengthen her nerves before saying, "The IT guys say that we've been hacked multiple times by some hacker listserv group."
"Hacked!" Val shouted. "I let those fashion failures hang around the office to keep that stuff from happening. Get that head geek on the line. You know, the one that always wears the 'I only work here for the money' t-shirt."
"Yes, Val," the assistant said. She entered the extension onto the telephone keypad and waited. When she hit his voicemail, she cut it off and tried another extension. When that one did the same, she tried a third, with the same result. At that moment, her E-mail inbox chimed and she saw three new mails appear, each with "Resignation" in the subject line.
The assistant took another deep drink of coffee and switched back to Val. "I'm sorry, but, um, I just got E-mails from all of them that they're resigning."
"Oh, no, they are not going to do that! Don't open the E-mails and use the standard termination with prejudice letter on each of the little rats. I'll fill in the details when I get back to New York."
"Yes, Val," the assistant said.
"I'm taking the next flight back. Start checking around for some new computer geeks to get the website back up and running. And make sure these cretins know what they're doing."
"Thanks!" Val said, almost sounding cheerful. "I'll be there as soon as I can. Bye!"
"Bye," the assistant said. After closing the connection, she dialed another number on the phone. "Hi, Mom. Do you and Dad still have that job opening in the deli? I can start right away. No, I haven't forgotten how to run the slicer. Sure, I can get there in time for the lunch crowd."
Quinn examined the images that Daria had e-mailed and said over the phone, "I'm proud of you, sis. You really clean up well."
"Yeah, it's amazing what happens when you use a little soap with your water," Daria replied as she sat on a bench on the Quad waiting for Wendy to arrive for their walk.
"Seriously, it looks good on you."
"So, are you and Mom going to get off my back now?"
"About the dress, sure. About everything else, no."
"Have you decided on who to ask to be your maid of honor?"
Quinn snorted. "Right. Now, what kind of romantic Valentine's Day evening does Michael have planned for you?"
"No idea. I'll find out when I get home."
"Daria, Daria, Daria."
"And he'll find out what I have planned..."
"That's better. So, one more thing before I have to go, Fran's waiting. What happened with that Val thing?"
"It just kind of ended. No big explosion, no lashing out, nothing. I'm guessing that she didn't want to give me any more press and so cut things off. Which is fine by me."
"My sister, stopping Val right before Valentine's Day. That's got to mean something."
"It means that you're picking up a bad pun habit. I need to go, too. I see Wendy on her way. Bye."
Daria pocketed her cell phone and joined Wendy as they started their walk.
From across the Quad, Charles watched Daria and said, "I hope we're even, now." He then lifted his camera and took a single photo before turning and walking away.
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.