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. California Dreamin' by John and Michelle Phillips.
This is a sequel to Falling Into College set in summer and fall of 2013.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND GOOD LUCK, HELEN
Seated under the banner, Helen Morgendorffer smiled and accepted the sincere wishes of her fellow State Board Association coworkers. Retirement. Part of me doesn't believe that I made it.
"Enjoy yourself, Helen," one of the board members, a woman in her late forties, said to her. "I'm jealous that you're able to retire early."
Helen smiled back. "I will Cindy, I will." And it's hard to believe that I'm 63.
"I'm sure that you have all kinds of things planned."
Helen shrugged. "Not that much. For a while, I'm going to do something I haven't done much of for a long time. Nothing."
Cindy laughed. "I'll believe that when I see it."
A framed photograph of her husband Jake was the last item Helen took from her desk and placed in the packing box. After folding the top closed, she nodded to the young intern waiting at the door. "This is the last one, Tonya."
She lifted the box with a smile. "I've enjoyed working with you, Mrs. Morgendorffer. I hope I can be as successful as you've been."
Leading the intern from the office, Helen said, "Would you like a little advice?"
"It would mean a lot to me."
"Keep your family close. In the end, they are the ones that will give you the strength to keep going. I never would've made it without mine."
"It was cool meeting your daughter a couple of weeks ago, and even cooler that you share wedding anniversaries."
"That was Daria's idea."
"You have a cool family."
Helen smiled brightly. "Yes, I do."
The horrible traffic on the way home reminded Helen of why she normally rode the train from Lawndale to Baltimore. It also gave her closer insight into some of Jake's old driving rages. The bright red car was also something new, a gift to herself that she'd given with a sense of Daria's irony: one of the new Dodge Darts. Sure, she could have afforded more, but there was something about the new model that appealed to her after all of the shortcomings of her first car.
However, all of those thoughts slipped away as she pulled into the driveway and parked her car. Jake promised to have dinner ready when she got home. Not wanting a delay, she left the boxes in the car.
The smell of hazelnut-crusted grouper drew Helen from the front door to the kitchen. "Oh, that smells divine, Jake," she said.
"Welcome home, honey!" Jake said with a huge grin. "You timed it perfectly."
"Which is amazing since traffic on the interstate was dreadful."
Jake hugged her. "That's okay, Helen. You're home and you don't have to face it again if you don't want to."
Hugging back, she said, "I only care about interstates if it involves seeing our children or Amy's little girl."
"Talk about a cutie."
"Almost as cute as our little girls."
Jake chuckled. "Daria would still die of embarrassment to hear us say that about her."
Leaning against the counter, Helen said, "I really did it. I'm retired."
"We're retired, Helen."
"Yes, dear. We're retired." Helen gave him a warm smile. "Dinner, and then I'm sure we can think of something."
Without being ostentatious, Amy's living room reflected the wealth that she and her husband Reese enjoyed. Though bleary-eyed from interrupted sleep, Amy smiled as she rocked the newborn in her arms. "There are times at about three in the morning that I wonder if I know what I'm doing, raising a baby at my age."
Seated across a low table from Amy, Helen smiled back. "Trust me; I had the same thoughts when Daria was an infant. It's all part of motherhood. Speaking of which, how are her namesakes, Paula and Sammi?"
"In about the same shape as I am."
"Meaning that they wouldn't trade it for the world."
"Not at all. My little Paula means everything to me."
Helen turned and glanced out of the window toward the driveway. "I know Reese is still active in the Air Reserve, but is there a reason for that drone to be parked in the driveway?"
Amy chuckled. "It's a quarter-scale mockup of a Predator. With the twins starting to date, Reese likes to tell the boys, 'Don't forget, I know how to fly one.' Of course, the girls are mortified every time he does it. Personally, I think he just enjoys watching the poor boys’ faces when he casually mentions it."
"I'm glad that Jake wasn't that paranoid when Daria and Quinn were dating in high school. Well, Quinn. Daria really didn't date except that one boy, um, Tom, that was his name."
"Jake was always kind of a special case."
"As much as he infuriated me at times, he is."
"Like Reese, only in different ways."
"That is a mockup, right?"
"Well, Reese says it is."
Helen sat back in her seat with a slight frown, causing Amy to ask, "What's up?"
"Oh, this talk of children reminds me of how much I miss my girls. Now that I have plenty of time, they have their own lives on opposite sides of the country."
"Move to a halfway point?"
"West Texas or New Mexico? I don't think so, not after how long we lived in Highland."
"Hmm, that could be a problem."
Helen sighed. "It is a problem."
"Any idea of what you are going to do?"
"Jake and I are going to visit each of them and talk it over. Maybe they'll think of something that we haven't."
"You're also worried about Mother, aren't you?"
"After we patched everything up, I feel guilty about leaving Rita alone to watch her."
Amy shook her head. "Mother is getting excellent care; we're all making sure of that. Staying close was Rita's choice, especially with Erin still up in Boston. Besides, I'll be here to look in on Mother, too."
Helen looked at the floor. "The last couple of times I visited, she didn't even know who I was."
"Same here," Amy said. "And the doctors say that her dementia is not going to improve."
"I feel guilty."
"Of course you do. But you also have to think about yourself and your children. Rita and I will keep you informed. Trust me."
"Okay, I will."
"Good luck, Helen."
Helen nodded to the sleeping child. "You too, Amy."
Seated near one of the luggage carousels at Oakland International Airport, Quinn Morgendorffer-Gilstad watched her two-and-a-half year old son play with a picture book while she waited. Leave it to Daria to get him hooked on books so early. Thanks, sis.. She also kept an eye on the escalators bringing passengers from the arrival gates.
She saw her parents and waved to them. It was still strange to see her mother letting gray show in her hair, though Quinn had to admit that it did add an air of dignity, just as the gray did for her father. Jake enthusiastically waved back and the couple started in Quinn's direction.
"Come on, Jacob," Quinn said, helping him to his feet. "Grandma and Grandpa are here."
The toddler looked up with a big smile while holding his book. "Grampies!"
She reached her parents and hugged them, saying, "Mom, Dad. I'm so glad to see you."
"It's a pleasure, Quinn," Helen said. "And a pleasure to see little Jacob."
"Hey there, Kiddo," Jake said while bending down toward the child.
"My book!" Jacob said, showing Jake.
"Well, we can look at it together," Jake said. "Right, Quinn?"
"Dad, how could I stop you?"
"Where is Q?" Helen said.
"In the car, circling the arrival lanes. I'll call him and he will meet us right outside. Are you ready for your visit?"
"More than ever," Helen said. "More than ever."
With hands covered in disposable rubber gloves, Jake reached into a plastic tote box and removed a large, yellow card. He peeled away a plastic coating and then, holding it by the edge, passed it to Q, who also took it by the edge. He then slid the plate into a frame attached to a metal pole at the end of a row of grapes and secured it with a clip.
"There, this vineyard is done," Q said. "How are you holding up, Jake?"
"Hotter than I'm used to," Jake said. "But I'm managing as long as I don't try to grab my water bottle with sticky gloves."
Q chuckled. "That's why they call 'em sticky traps. You should hear some of the old timers talk about when they had to clean and recoat them with glue after doing the insect counts."
"How do you clean cardboard?"
"Oh, they were metal back then. License plate blanks, from what I was told. The glue got everywhere, and I mean everywhere."
Jake shuddered. "Ew."
"I sometimes wonder if they're pulling my leg."
"I bet they are, the bastards," Jake said.
"Except, I found a slotted, wooden box full of plates in the back of an old storage shed. It was still a little sticky even though the label said 1984."
"1984," Jake said with a smile. "That's when Quinn was the same age as little Jacob. You know, I recently found a picture of Quinn in her Easter dress from back then. I need to scan it for you."
Q grinned. "Oh, I've got to see it."
"I'll do it right after I get back."
"Hmm, I wonder how Quinn and Helen are doing?"
"Oh, I'm sure they're enjoying a little mother-daughter bonding."
"I hope it goes better than what Quinn said they were like in high school."
Quinn watched her mother cradle her sleeping son. "You miss it."
Helen smiled back. "This part, anyway. I'm not sure I could take the rest of the Terrible Twos at my age."
Quinn chuckled. "Jacob can be a handful at times."
"Don't think that you and Daria weren't, either."
"Well, with your retirement, you have more time to visit."
"Yes, I'll have more time. If only we were closer together."
"I'm sorry that we ended up so far away."
"Oh, honey, it's not your fault. You found the life you wanted and I'm acting a little spoiled."
"Mom, I really wouldn't mind if you moved closer."
"And then I would be even further away from Daria. I like to see both of my daughters, as well as my grandson."
"Talk Daria into moving out here?"
"Do you know about a faculty position she could move into?"
It was Quinn's turn to sigh. "No. But I can wish."
"So can I."
While he chopped vegetables in the kitchen, Q asked, "What is it with women and the need to show off their ability to cook to their mother? After all, from what you told me, your mother served a lot of frozen lasagna when you were in high school."
Stirring a pot on the stove, Quinn said, "I don't know, maybe trying to show that they weren't a failure?"
"You work with a company that provides medical prosthetics, reconstructive surgery and other support for traumatic injury. I'd say you were successful."
"Mom ran the education program of the State Bar Association for ten years."
"But what was she doing at your age?"
"Attending law school while Daria was a baby. Oh, and getting pregnant with me."
"You're still successful, Quinn. You know it and I know it. And I'm sure your mother knows it. Relax."
"Oh, if you insist."
"Are your parents still talking about moving out of Lawndale?"
"Yes, and trying to figure out how to move Daria and Michael out here."
"I can't see that happening, not with how she's fitting in at her college."
"I know, but I want Mom and Dad to move here."
"That would be nice. Well, mostly nice. After all, no guy gets along completely with his in-laws."
"But it wouldn't be fair to Daria."
"No, it's not, but there isn't a lot to be done unless your parents want to live halfway."
"That close to Texas is out of the question."
"Especially since Mom has only gotten more liberal with age."
"In a lot of ways, she would fit in with California."
"Both of them." Quinn took a quick look to the living room to make sure Jake and Helen were busy with Jacob. "When they fly to Florida tomorrow, I'm going to call Daria. We're going to figure this out."
"When you and your sister put your mind to something, I've learned to stay out of the way."
Quinn gave him a kiss. "I've trained you well."
"Trained. Learned. Close enough."
Back at the airport, Quinn held Jacob while walking her parents from the baggage check to security. "I hope you have a smooth flight," she said.
"So do I," Helen said.
Jake uneasily said, "Aw, what's a little turbulence?"
Helen said, "Tell that to the guy that has to take your handprints out of the armrests."
"That's why they make them so tough in first class."
"Jakey," Helen said.
Quinn said, "And keep Daria out of trouble. You know how she gets every summer with the beach right there."
"Oh, I'll try my best," Helen said.
They stopped just before security. "Mom, Dad, I hope to see you again soon. So does Jacob."
Jake said, "We'll get back as soon as we can so I can see my grandson."
"Have a safe drive home, Quinn," Helen said. "I'll give Daria your message."
"Good. She needs it."
Helen sighed. "We need to go. Goodbye, Quinn. Bye, Jacob."
"Bye-bye!" Jacob brightly said while waving.
"Bye!" Jake said, waving back.
"Goodbye," Quinn said. "I'll miss you."
Helen gazed approvingly at the two long walls covered with bookshelves, along with a pair of comfortable chairs and reading lamps at the far end of the converted garage. "Leave it to you and Michael to have a personal library."
Daria said, "We had to do something or the books would have overrun the rest of the house."
"And a sign that you're not planning on going anywhere."
"Not if we can help it. I'm on a solid track for tenure and my book was well-received, even if it wasn't a New York Times bestseller."
"Even if the summer heat is almost as bad as Texas?"
"I'm glad I got used to things back then, so it wasn't that hard to re-adapt. Besides, it's nicer here on the coast. If you want real summer heat, go to Karen's place in the middle of the state."
"How is she doing?"
"She's getting cranky."
"I can imagine. She still has a couple of weeks before the baby is due, right?"
"I'm sure her parents are excited."
"Oh, yeah. Her brother is going to keep an eye on the farm while they come down to be with her this time."
"Hey kiddo, that's some grill you two have," Jake excitedly said as he joined them. "I can't wait to give it a try."
"Grill?" Helen said.
"You should see it, Helen. There's room to cook a whole pig and it's made from that concertina rock they made that old fort out of."
"Coquina," Michael said with a laugh. "I couldn't resist, though the firebox and flue are lined with proper firebricks."
Daria said, "Before you even ask, yes, go out and get something for the grill tonight so that you and Dad can get it out of your system."
"All right!" Jake said.
Helen said, "I'm glad that we don't have to keep fire extinguishers on hand anymore."
"Or have our phones ready to dial 911," Daria added.
"Any preference?" Michael said.
"Nothing too heavy," Helen said. "We want to get up early for our trip tomorrow." "Chicken then," Michael said. "I have a great Caribbean jerk sauce to use."
The reminder about the trip caught Jake's attention. "I can't wait to see Atlantis!"
"Yeah," Michael said, "I'm excited to see her, too."
Daria said, "And the crowds should be down from the opening last month."
After an hour and a half on the road the next morning, Daria drove her car along the NASA Causeway over the Indian River, a ribbon of road flanked by wide swaths of grass edged by emergent plants and along the water. You could almost sense the crowds of years past that had regularly gathered along the way to watch spacecraft launches.
Michael pointed to the Vehicle Assembly Building in the distance. "Do you remember seeing that when we went on that cruise?"
"That was a great trip," Jake said. "Yeah, I remember."
"I was a little bummed that we couldn't make the side trip then, but we've made up for it since."
"I've wanted to go since I was a teenager. I thought that maybe my time in military school would help me become an astronaut."
"I bet a lot of guys your age thought about that."
"And a few girls, too," Helen said. "Amy was so fascinated with space back then."
"I can see that," Daria said. "What about you?"
Helen shook her head. "It'll be a long time before a lawyer is needed in space."
"That didn't answer the question," Daria said.
"I would never have had a chance."
"But you thought about it?"
"Okay, a little."
"I knew you had a little dreamer in you."
The introductory movie completed, the crowd gasped as they stepped forward, directly facing the nose of OV-104, the space shuttle Atlantis. The orbiter was poised at an angle with a viewing platform that swept around the vehicle, giving a clear view into the cargo bay and then the massive main engines at the rear.
Up close, the black thermal tiles were transformed into a fantastical pattern of new and old, with streaks of various grays showing the path superheated gas followed as the vehicle re-entered the atmosphere. Along the rest of the orbiter, what looked like solid white was a quilt of tiles, panels and blankets, each one a slightly different shade and texture.
The open cargo bay was another quilt of metallic blankets lining the inside, while bright silver radiator panels covered each of the massive doors. Looking down on the port wing, the NASA logo was proud on the wing.
Mesmerized, Daria stood and took in the view. Helen leaned over her shoulder and whispered, "There always was a bit of Amy in you. Maybe they'll have a Professor in Space program like the old Teacher in Space."
"Okay, there's a bit of dreamer in me, too."
After Michael and Jake had tried out each of the interactive displays on the upper level, as well as having their photos taken seated in the cockpit mockups, all four followed the ramps down to the ground level where they could see Atlantis as if flying overhead.
After examining the International Space Station display and a quiet moment at a memorial to the crews of Challenger and Columbia, they passed through the gift shop and stepped back out into the Florida sun, shaded by mockups of the shuttle main fuel tank and solid boosters.
Jake checked his watch. "Hey, just in time to head over for the tour."
"I'm actually a little excited about this," Daria said.
"Be careful, dear," Michael said. "You wouldn't want to overdo it."
"As if you're not excited."
"Hey, I'm known for excited, remember."
"Oh yeah, but I married you anyway."
"I'm glad to see you two still able to do that," Helen said. "It's a good sign."
Michael shrugged. "Eh, we make do."
"Mutual patience," Daria said. "Lots and lots of mutual patience."
Helen took Jake's hand. "I see something rubbed off on you."
When Daria raised an eyebrow, Helen added, "We have a special kind of patience."
Wide patches of flaked black covered portions of the rough, rust-tan colored bricks that paved the fire trench apron under Launch Complex 39A. Members of the tour group took turns taking photos of each other in front of it while a security guard stood by. Above the wide trench sat one of the shuttle launch platforms and the iconic launch tower.
Looking up, Michael said, "Imagine how tall the Apollo launch tower must have been."
Jake looked up and his eyes filled in the details of the old launch tower. "For a moment, they brought the world together. Too bad it didn't last."
"I remember watching on that old TV in the commune," Helen said. "I also remember someone saying that maybe we could start one on the moon someday, but that was probably the pot talking."
"Helen?" Jake said, surprised.
"Come on, Jake," she replied. "I think it's safe by now to admit to the obvious."
"Oh, I guess so."
"Your secret is safe with us," Daria said. "Though I can't vouch for the rest of the tour group."
The cheerful tour guide said, "I'm sorry we can't stay longer, but it's time to continue. We still have a drive-by of Pad 39B, which we are preparing for the next generation of launch vehicles, and then our final stop, the Saturn V Center, where you can see the real thing."
Helen said to Daria, "Imagine the stories this place can tell."
"Imagine looking down at that," Michael said, looking down the length of the preserved Saturn V from a vantage point next to the Apollo Command Module. The base of the rocket was over three hundred feet away at the entrance to the building.
Jake shivered a little, thinking about the open-mesh deck on the crew gantry arm on display at the Rocket Garden. "That's something I hadn't thought about."
Hardly above a whisper, Helen said, "A white and black spire rising in the Florida sun."
"What was that, Mom?" Daria said.
"Oh, nothing, sweetie; just thinking out loud."
Carrying two large shopping bags, Jake led the way back to the car at the end of the day. Behind, Daria said to Helen, "I think I know where Quinn got her shopping gene from."
Helen said, "Your father is having fun."
"I can't believe the price of those desk models."
"At this point in our lives, we can afford to indulge ourselves sometimes."
"You didn't do too bad for yourself with that leather jacket, either."
Helen shrugged and smiled. "Like I said, indulge."
Michael said, "So, was it worth the trip?"
"Oh, it was definitely worth the trip," Helen said. "Thank you."
Seated at the dining room table while taking in their morning coffee, Daria and Jake shared the local major newspaper, the Jacksonville Times-Union. Each of them appreciated the old habit, though they rarely had the chance anymore.
Smiling, Helen watched them for a minute before turning back to the living room, where Michael was seated, playing a console game.
Catching the movement from the corner of his eye, he paused the game and looked up. "You look like you have a question."
She sat down and said, "You've learned to read me pretty well."
"Survival instinct. So, what's on your mind?"
"What are my girls planning? I know they're up to something."
Michael sat back and chuckled. "I can tell where Daria gets it from, but then, I shouldn't be surprised."
"Very good, but you didn't answer me."
He glanced at the dining room. Satisfied, he said. "I'll plead overwhelming pressure. They think it would be best for you to move out to California so that you and Jake will be closer to Jacob. You know you want to be close to see him."
"That way, you will be. Besides, it's easier for us to travel there than for the Twin Qs to come here. It works out. And, on the off chance Daria doesn't get tenure, we have bases in California to look at other options."
"Oh, I'm sure she'll get tenure. Daria's stubborn like that."
"Don't I know it."
"Now you're trying to change the subject. What do you think of the idea?"
"Logically, it makes sense."
"I want to be certain Daria is comfortable with us being all the way across the country, just like I have to know if Quinn will be comfortable if we stay on the east coast."
"I'm across the country from my parents, going north to south. You've lived across the country from Quinn for what, thirteen years now? If you want to be fair, I'd say that it is time for you to be closer to Quinn than to Daria."
"You're not just trying to get more distance between you and your mother-in-law, are you?"
Michael's throat tightened. "Um…"
Helen smiled. "I thought I'd get you with that one."
"Well played. So, what do you think about California?"
"You're stubborn, too. No wonder Daria likes you."
"I can be, and you're still not answering."
Helen sighed. "It all makes sense. It's all perfectly logical. I don't like having to choose between my girls. It wasn't easy, but I was okay with them choosing where to go to school and where to settle down. Even if it meant one was further away than the other. Now, it's very different when the decision is mine and Jake's."
Michael nodded. "I see. But if Daria and Quinn also agree with the move, how is that a problem? You're agreeing with both of their wishes."
"Well played, yourself. You're in on this with them, aren't you?"
"I'll talk to Jake about it. I don't think it will be hard, considering how fond he is of Jacob."
"It works out for everyone."
Helen studied him closely. "You just earned a lot of husband brownie points, didn't you?"
Michael clasped his hands behind his head and smiled.
Looking around at the small antique shops that surrounded the open court café in the basement of the Lightner Museum, Jake looked up at the expanse above where he and Helen were seated. "Can you believe this used to be an indoor swimming pool?"
"It is amazing," Helen said. "I'm glad that the kids pointed us this way while they're at work."
"They picked an amazing place to live. I just can't get enough of it."
"I enjoy being here, too. How do you think it compares to Napa Valley?"
"Oh my, I wouldn't want to pick between the two."
Helen reached across the table and held Jake's hand. "Honey, we may have to."
"Oh yeah, I guess we do."
"Now, I had a nice conversation with Michael yesterday."
"You did? When?"
"While you and Daria were reading the paper."
Jake smiled. "One of my favorite things."
"I know; that's why we didn't disturb you. From what Michael said, the girls think that it would be best for us to move to California to be closer to Jacob."
"That sounds good, but…"
"I know. Daria and Michael agree that it will be easier for them to travel than for Quinn and her family to travel, and they're right. You remember how hard it was to travel when the girls were that age."
"And Michael brought up a very good point. We've been further away from Quinn ever since she left for college. It would be fair for us to be closer to her now."
"Do you remember how Dad wanted us to move out to California? What did he say? Something like, 'How about ten miles west of the coast?'"
"We don't need to go into that now, dear."
"I must admit that Michael made a good case, especially with us being closer to Jacob."
"I like that. How did we end up with such reasonable kids?"
Helen chuckled. "I honestly don't know."
Giving Michael a teasing glance, Daria said, "So I worked out this long, convincing argument and my husband beat me to it."
When the phone rang, Michael said, "I'll get it."
"Escape, smart move," Jake whispered to him.
Enjoying the situation, Helen said, "Michael was most convincing. Maybe I should've tried to talk him into law school."
"He'd never make it past the discovery phase of a case," Daria replied, "though he would be good if you literally need to dig up a body."
"Knowing your sister, she already has some houses scouted out for us."
"Of course, and then adding in Fran's inside track with California architects and builders, you can bet that they won't fall apart on you. The information will probably be in your e-mail when you get home."
"With how well you and Quinn plan things, I should be glad that I stayed on better terms with you than I did for all those years with my mother."
"I'm glad we did, too. I don't know how I would've made it through grad school if I couldn't bounce things off you from time to time."
"Excuse me," Michael said, holding the phone. "It's Derek. Everyone is okay, though Clive Louis Adler arrived early, as in 6:10 this morning."
Daria said, "Just what Karen needs, someone who's as much of an early riser as she is."
Jake said, "Clive. That's an interesting name."
Daria said, "Pfc. Clive Saunders was the soldier that pulled Derek from the burning vehicle in Afghanistan. I see it."
"That's so nice of them," Helen said.
"Derek has always said that he deserved more recognition than he did," Michael said. "I suppose this means we'll be making a trip over to see them earlier than we anticipated. The delivery was uncomplicated, so everyone should be home within a couple of days."
Daria said, "We know what we're doing next weekend."
"So many changes in our lives," Helen said. "Beginnings, endings, transitions, all joining together – it can almost make your head spin."
"Mom, if you start singing The Circle of Life, I'll have to do something drastic," Daria warned.
"Don't worry, Sweetie, no singing. Just starting to wonder what I'm going to do."
Daria nodded. "I see. You've been on the go your entire life."
"I don't know if I can learn to cook the way Jake has."
Michael said, "You don't have to cook. Do something else?"
"That's the problem; I don't know what to do. I don't really have any hobbies. I'm going to enjoy seeing Jacob, but I can't do that all the time, no matter how much you think I'm going to spoil him."
"Oh, we're going to spoil him," Jake said. "It's in the contract."
Daria sat back and stroked her chin in thought. "Mom, years ago, when we were packing to move to Lawndale from Highland, I read some of your old essays."
Helen dismissively said, "I wrote those so long ago."
"Mom, I know where my writing talent came from."
"Oh, but you've spent all that time improving your talent. I've let mine go."
"It's still in you. Give it a chance."
"I don't know. I've spent so many years with legal writing, I don't know if I can write for anyone else."
"Mom, you can. You need to work on it."
"I suppose I could try."
Daria smiled. "If you try hard enough, you might convince a certain professor who teaches creative writing to share a few tips. Just a thought."
"Do you really want me as a student?" Helen said.
"You know me; I can't resist a challenge. Find a new home and get settled. We'll get you started."
"Okay, Daria, you have a deal."
Walking past the sculpture in the front yard of the Lane home, Helen asked Jake, "I see that Jane's work van is here, so this should be a nice gathering. Why did Trent ask us over?"
"He didn't say. I think he forgot," Jake said. "You know how he can be."
"Lindy has the patience of a saint."
"She just loves him, like you love me."
Helen smirked and kissed Jake's cheek. "Good one, Jakey."
"I've learned a few things over the years."
"Whatever the reason, I appreciate the timing. With the movers starting work tomorrow morning, this will be a good time to say our goodbyes."
Jake knocked on the front door and they waited for a moment before Trent answered it. "Hey, come on in. Oh yeah, Lindy and Jane kinda set up a party for you."
Inside, Helen and Jake could see Lindy and Jane, plus Jane's business partners CC and Nell, plus Jodie Landon. They waved and Jane said, "You didn't think you were getting away from us that easy, did you?"
Helen chuckled. "I suppose not."
"Sorry that Mom and Dad aren't here," Jane said. "But, you know."
"Some things never change. Where are they this time?"
"Dad is somewhere in Finland photographing reindeer and Mom's at the Southwestern Kiln Arts Festival."
Lindy said, "But you get to see the rest of us."
Jake said, "Where's Andrew?"
"Oh, he's upstairs working on his Space Camp application. He's been so excited ever since you mentioned it to him after your trip to Florida. I'm looking forward to it, too. It will be our first vacation in years."
Trent said, "Maybe I can get some new song ideas down there."
"Semi-vacation," Lindy said. "Some people are never off the job."
Trent grinned. "Eyes on the prize."
"Come on," CC said. , "How often do you get called a 'spawn of Satan' by a U.S. Senator?"
"We thought about changing the company name, but we'd just bought new business cards," Nell said.
"Needless to say, we didn't get a big influx of customers from DC from his visit, but he sure gave us some inspiration," CC said. "I'm almost tempted to e-mail him a copy of my latest work to get his reaction."
Jane said, "Are you trying to get federal laws written against us?"
CC shrugged. "Think of the publicity."
"Good point," Jane replied, smiling. "Do it."
Jodie said, "Do I need to keep two sets of client lists, one with you guys to show my regular customers and one without to show my DC ones?"
Nell said, "Hey, we're your oldest client."
"In that case, I guess I'll keep you on the list," Jodie said with a chuckle. "After all, over half of small businesses fail within five years and you guys have been at it for ten. You're a success story."
"Barely," Jane said. "And that was with us taking second jobs."
"You're still in business, and I know that you keep teaching art because you enjoy it."
"Okay, you got me there," Jane admitted.
Nell said, "Don't let her fool you. She's training new artists as clients. Get 'em when they're young and before the other galleries get a shot."
Jodie said, "See, you have been listening to me."
As she escorted Jake and Helen out to their car, Lindy said, "I'm going to miss you guys. So will Trent, though he'd never think to mention it."
"You're more than welcome to visit," Helen said.
"We have to scrimp and save for Andrew's Space Camp trip. You know how tight things can get for us. I'm glad Trent and I agreed to only one kid. I don't know how we could afford two."
"Oh, I understand," Helen said. "No matter what, the offer still stands."
Lindy nodded. "If we get the chance, we'll be there."
Helen gave Lindy a hug. "Take care of yourself."
"You too, and don't forget to enjoy your retirement. You've earned it."
"I hope I remember how."
Jake cheerfully said, "Don't worry, Helen, I'll remind you."
Helen closed her eyes and whispered to Lindy, "That's what I'm afraid of."
Helen accepted a glass of wine from Jake before both sat down in their new living room to enjoy the view of the sun setting over Lake Berryessa, a reservoir that filled the valley below. Though smaller than their old place, the main living area combined living room, dining room and kitchen into a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired expanse with continuous picture windows along the west wall to provide the lake view. A single hallway to the south led to a master bedroom on the west that also featured the large windows, plus two small bedrooms and a bathroom to the east. Outside was a detached garage that had been converted to office space by the previous owner.
Many moving boxes stacked along the wall still required attention, but for now, the couple were happily done with their efforts and decided to settle in for the evening. Each had a comfortable recliner with a small table between.
Jake picked up a remote and said, "Let's see if I got this thing working."
Helen warned, "Don't worry about it if you haven't."
"Sure, Helen." Jake pressed a button and, after a moment, the sound system came alive and music played.
All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I've been for a walk on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.
"That song takes me back," Helen said.
"Same here, and after all these years, we're together in California to enjoy it."
"As long as you don't get nostalgic for Altamont."
Jake chuckled. "I'm over that."
The doorbell disturbed their reverie. Jake rose and said, "I'll get it."
"Thank you, dear."
After checking the spyglass, Jake opened the door to see Quinn's old college roommate and her husband. "Fran. Trey. How good to see you."
The tiny woman's dark hair was even longer than in college, reaching to her knees. Though not much taller than Fran, Trey's muscular frame would never be considered tiny. Fran said, "Hi, Jake. I wanted to stop in and see how you were doing in your new house."
"Come in! Do you want a drink? We just opened a bottle of wine."
"Thank you, but one glass only," Fran said. "I'm still an easy drunk."
"Coming right up!" Jake said, heading toward the bottle on the kitchen counter.
"Thank you for all your help," Helen said as she walked over. "We never could have found this place without your help."
Fran shrugged. "I knew a few people."
"Are you finding room for everything?" Trey asked.
"Barely," Helen said. "And only because we donated so much stuff to the Cedars of Lawndale Volunteer's Thrift Store before we left Lawndale."
Jake laughed as he poured two glasses of wine. "I bet we gave them a month's inventory."
"Quinn said that you shipped a lot of stuff to her," Fran said. "I'd have thought that she had everything by now."
"Oh, we all leave things at home. I'm sure that your aunt and uncle have things in the garage that belong to you."
"Yeah, come to think of it, you're right."
Helen said, "Good thing we cleared the sofa. Care for a seat to watch the sunset?"
"I've always liked sunsets," Fran said.
"Sunsets and cool music. I'm good," Trey said.
Jake handed them wine glasses as they sat down and then returned to his seat. "I can get used to this."
Helen said, "I have to ask, Fran. How do you manage your hair? It's gorgeous."
"A lot of work," Fran said. "You can't let it dry out or you'll have a frizzy mess. Conditioners, oil, careful washing, it all adds together. Patience is a virtue when it comes to brushing. You can't force things. All in all, a pain in the butt at times, but worth it."
"You have far more patience than I do."
"That patience certainly helped with the real estate crash," Fran said. "I spent two years looking for work after my old firm went bankrupt."
Trey said, "Though she kept busy designing, building, and selling doll houses."
"Yeah, learning to build old-style architectural models paid off there. Not that I was making as much as a full-time job, but it helped to keep the bill collectors away."
"Did you keep any?" Jake asked.
Laughing, Fran said, "Oh, no. I have been threatening to finally getting around to making one for myself."
Trey said, "That's why the spare bedroom is full of supplies."
"Like the garage is full of fly-fishing gear?"
"Anyway, once I got back to work, it was for a company that specializes in renovation design. Granted, there are whole new challenges, but it's not the same as creating originals. That's how I learned about this place. My firm was called in to design the office. When it went on the market, several potential buyers contacted us for background information. So, knowing that you were looking, all I needed to do was make a call."
"We certainly appreciate it," Helen said. "This is the kind of house we only saw in magazines when I was in college. I know it's not a real Frank Lloyd Wright design, but close enough."
"And it's in good shape for its age. Better than many Wright houses that are known for having maintenance issues."
"Kind of like us, Helen," Jake said. "In good shape for our age."
"Oh, Jake," Helen said with a mild blush.
"Besides watching sunsets, have you made any plans yet?"
"Not much yet," Jake said. "Hey, can you teach me about fly fishing?"
"Sure, Jake. I'm always willing to make new converts."
Fran said, "What about you, Helen?"
"I think it's time to fulfill my promise to Daria and try my hand at writing."
"Sounds like fun."
"Right now, it's more terrifying."
"Oh, come on. Don't let that stop you."
"Don't worry, it won't."
Seated on a lounge chair under an umbrella in the back yard, Helen deleted a file, set her tablet computer aside and rolled her head back in frustration. "Ugh! That was worse than Twilight fanfiction."
Seated at the other chair under the umbrella, Jake said, "You read that?"
"Oh my, no. It's an expression I picked up from one of the writer groups Daria recommended."
"Oh. So, what's wrong?"
"Everything I write is awful. Bloated, pretentious, and overwrought. That's when it's not as dry and boring as a legal brief."
"Now, Helen, I didn't learn to cook overnight."
Appreciating the gesture that improved her mood, Helen said, "I hope it doesn't take me that long."
"And you won't need hazmat disposal for your failures."
"I'm still holding you to your promise – no making your own ghost pepper sauce."
"How was I supposed to know it would be like pepper spray? Besides, I'm the one that opened the lid, remember?"
"And I had to lead you out of the house."
"Hey, you could write about that."
"What do you mean?"
Jake laughed. "Come on, thinking back, it's funny. What about when Michael's dad Ron and I have fired up the grill?"
"Samantha was wise to recommend Nomex fire suits." Helen closed her eyes and softly said, "If you really want to be honest, be truthful about what happened. That's the challenge."
"What was that?"
"Something similar to what I heard many years ago with Daria. It might be time for me to take the same advice. I hope the girls will understand."
Standing in her kitchen, Quinn plaintively cried over the phone, "Daria, she submitted it to Musings!"
Still in her college office and trying to grade papers, Daria replied, "Good for Mom."
"Have you read it?"
"Of course. I promised Mom that I would help her get started and free editing was part of the deal."
"And you don't mind what she wrote about you?"
"It's all true."
"Admit it, Quinn. What we did in high school was pretty funny."
"I was a brat."
"And I was much better?"
"No, not really."
"We're even, then. Besides, it's been twenty years since the Nineties. It's the current nostalgia decade. Mom has a good shot at selling her story."
"You don't have a child who may read it someday."
"No, I have students who may read it right away, especially if they get wind about it. Relax; if the Fashion Club and Self-Esteem Class are the darkest skeletons in our closet, we don't have that much to worry about."
"I blame you."
"Guilty," Daria said. "Look at it this way; Mom is only getting a little payback for what we put her through. Someday, you'll do the same to Jacob. The Circle of Life."
"Ah, so the Circle of Life is generational humiliation?"
"That sounds about right."
Quinn smiled. "Okay, I get that. Patience."
"That's the spirit."
"But what about you?"
"Oh, I get payback on my students every time I grade a paper."
Over a video chat connection on her tablet, Helen read the e-mail, "Dear Mrs. Morgendorffer. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your work. It’s not right for us at this time, but please keep us in mind for future submissions."
At her home desk, Daria smiled at the familiar sound. "So, they're still using the same stock rejection letter. They sent the same one to me years ago when they rejected my first story."
Helen smiled. "That's what I was thinking. If their rejection was good enough for you, it's good enough for me. I think I see a future here."
"A very good one," Daria said with satisfaction.
Thanks to Louise Lobinske and Kristen Bealer for beta reading. May-July 2014.