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
This is a sequel to Falling Into College.
Seated on the sofa in their Virginia apartment, Michael Fulton watched his wife, Daria Morgendorffer, place a plate of sushi-grade tuna on the floor in front of a black cat with a white nose and forepaws. He said, "I'm glad you didn't ask me to wear that costume again."
Ignoring her husband for the moment, Daria said, "Happy tenth adoption day, Bump."
"Meow," Bump said cheerfully before starting on her treat.
"Maow!" another, tortoise-shell cat said, impatiently watching the proceedings. Daria placed a small dish of tuna in front of the second cat, saying, "Don't worry, Sissy. You're not being left out."
As Sissy ate her fish, Daria stood and said, "You never complain when I wear my old costume."
"Yours doesn't have the cheesy wings."
Playful, Daria said, "So if I got some more realistic wings..."
"Or just ditched the wings and let me wear the toga."
"That's a possibility."
"I wonder if BFAC still has those Halloween parties."
"I'm sure Jane could tell us. Or, CC or Nell."
"We should ask the next time we see them."
Daria said, "If we remember."
"You're pushing thirty and they say that short-term memory is the first thing to go."
Daria shrugged her shoulders and sat next to him. "Thirty is like twenty-nine, only with different numerals."
"No 'twenty-nine and holding' for you?"
"No. I don't get all the drama about the simple change of decade in your age." She looked over the top of her glasses. "But that doesn't give you an excuse to skip things altogether. It's still my birthday and I still expect a present."
"How about a plate of tuna?"
"I know where you sleep."
"I should hope so."
Daria kissed his cheek and said, "Do you want to prove it?"
Propped up on the sofa with one arm around her stomach, Quinn said on the phone, "What plans do you have for your birthday?"
"I don't have a clue. Probably go out for dinner. The usual."
"Daria, Daria, Daria."
"Quinn, Quinn, Quinn."
"You need to do something big."
"It's a birthday. Dinner, presents, and, uh, other things."
"I don't even want to talk about other things right now."
Daria said, "Beyond that, how is the pregnancy going?"
"Everything is on schedule. You know, it would be kind of funny if I went into labor on your birthday."
"As my husband would say, 'it would be easy to remember.' Speaking of remembering, have you decided on a name yet?"
"We're still talking about it. The only thing we have agreed upon is that his name will have nothing to do with the letter Q."
"I see, two Qs was enough. Now for the next question. How goes the wedding planning?"
"Completely under control."
"Okay, you know I'm not that much on fashion."
"That's an understatement."
"How are you fitting your dress?"
"I have all my old measurements, and we're going to have a couple of well-placed adjustable panels for the final fitting."
"Judging from Karen's experiences with Eve, I still think you're insane getting married only a month after giving birth."
"I admit the timing could've been better, but how was I to know I'd get pregnant the first month we tried?"
"Just lucky. Which is why we moved on to more secure contraception."
"You mean Michael moved on to more secure contraception."
"Okay, but it is a simpler, less costly technique with lower risk of complications."
"But it's permanent."
"Mostly, and we're comfortable with that."
"But what if you change your mind?"
"Not very likely."
"It's okay, Daria. I'm just making sure."
"You're excused. You have babies on your mind and it's clouding your judgment."
"I wouldn't say clouding my judgment; just, well, I tend to see things in a different light."
"Lighting – clouds, eh, it's mostly the same."
"I never could beat you at this game," Quinn said with a laugh, followed by a burp. "Sorry, things are kind of squished around inside."
More serious, Daria said, "I hope your baby isn't born on my birthday. He should have one of his own, not one shared with his aunt."
"I like that. Now, let's get away from my condition and back to yours. What's the story with your book?"
"I've bounced it off of a couple of professors and other adjuncts and tried to work in a lot of their suggestions. It's about ready to go."
"I need to find a good literary agent."
"If I'm going to do this, I need someone with experience in the business to help sell my writing. That's why you find a good agent. They know the business, they know the people and the publishing houses. And I've learned to appreciate years of experience that others may have."
"Oh, that makes sense."
"So, I've been investigating agents, trying to find one that I think will be a good fit and will hopefully take me on as a client."
"Ooh," Quinn said, struggling to stand. "Look, Daria, I gotta go."
"I thought you said you were going to be home for the rest of the day."
"I am, but I gotta go. My stomach's not the only thing squished into a tiny corner inside me."
"Gotcha. Well, take care, Quinn."
"You too, Daria."
Michael was in the small lab he shared at a Smithsonian annex with two other post-doctoral associates, analyzing the distribution of finds from a recent dig. He faintly smiled, thinking about how much time he spent on a computer. Long gone were the days of painstakingly drawing site grids to show the spatial relationship of artifacts to one another. Now, they were processed on computers with greater precision and speed.
Michael looked to the door to find a young intern standing there. "Yes?"
"Delivery for you."
Michael waved at the top of a pile on his desk. "Set it over there."
The intern placed the package at the desired location, pausing for a moment to make sure it wouldn't slide off the pile. "Books by the Ton Online. More references?" he said with the hope of peeking at new material clear in his voice.
"Not this time, Matt. That's my wife's birthday present."
"Don't worry; I'll let you have dibs on my next work shipment."
"Thanks, Dr. Fulton."
He continued to smile as he watched the undergraduate leave and thought back to when he was that age. "I hope you're getting as much out of this as I got working the Freedom Trail in Boston."
He rolled his chair to the desk and opened the package, inspecting each of several books for possible damage. Finding none, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and brought out a green and gold gift bag. He placed the books inside, opened a package of green tissue paper and packed that on top. Pleased, he placed the entire thing back in the drawer and closed it.
"Gift bags and online wish lists. Two of the greatest inventions for married men."
Seated in a comfortable chair in her aunt's office at Tennyson University, Daria said, "I know I haven't been stuck in adjunct hell as long as you were, but it's still frustrating. I feel like our lives are on permanent hold."
Amy Barksdale said, "Don't worry; you're preaching to the choir. I keep arguing in the faculty senate for more tenure track positions and less reliance on adjuncts, but the bean counters over at admin keep winning out. Have you looked much outside of academia?"
"Some, but I don't want to give up too early, either."
"Despite all the faculty politics, I'm glad I'm here. Any word yet from your last interview?"
"San Marcos College?"
"That's the one. You said the position seemed to be almost written for you."
"Nothing yet. All of the interviews and the seminar went over well with the faculty and the students, which are usually good signs."
"I have a good feeling about it."
"A good feeling?"
Amy chuckled. "Just saying. Nothing scientific about it."
"To be honest, I feel good about it, too. Like I mentioned, it was almost as if it was written for me."
"Sometimes, we get lucky." Amy glanced across the office at a photo of her husband. "Not often, but sometimes."
"Yeah, sometimes, we do."
"I was just thinking. Since San Marcos is in Florida, you'll be closer to Karen."
"Oh, I've thought about that. According to online maps, it's about two hours' drive. Karen is excited about it, though Jane and the rest of the Art Chicks less so."
"You trade being close to one friend with being close to another."
"That's part of growing up that sucks."
"Yeah, it does," Amy said. "Speaking of growing up, do you think it's safe for me to visit you on your birthday?"
"Considering what happened last time?"
"That was eleven years and two presidents ago."
"You want to be careful based on past experience."
"Besides, Michael and I like to spend things like birthdays together."
"Oh, okay. You win that one. How about if I send a disgustingly expensive present instead?"
"Cash or gift cards work just as well," Daria joked.
"I'm sure I can negotiate something with Reese," Amy said. "How does a million sound?"
"It will play hell with our taxes."
"Hmm, good point."
"I'll settle for a good book or two."
"What about e-books?"
"I still prefer print books."
"Avoiding the latest technology is a sure sign of getting old," Amy said.
"Personal preference. I have no problems with selling my novel formatted for any and all e-readers out there."
"I see. You're a situational Luddite."
"What's the status of your book?"
"Shopping around for an agent. Any suggestions?"
"Sorry, all of my publishing experience is academic, but I can ask around."
"When it gets published, I'll make sure the local English professors assign your book as required reading."
"Oh, really? How could you 'make sure'?"
"I've been around this campus for a while now. I know where a few skeletons are buried. I helped bury a few of them."
"Ah, good old blackmail."
"I so prefer extortion."
Daria thought for a moment. "You're much more of an extortion person than a blackmail person. I stand corrected."
"You learn well, my young padawan."
"I didn't think that applied to the Sith."
"Eh, close enough. You'll know for certain when we give you your lightsaber."
"Considering how clumsy I can be, are you sure that's a good idea? After all, what is the accidental amputation rate with those things?"
Amy shrugged. "Why do you think they got so good at making artificial limbs?"
Daria laughed. "That explains it."
After hearing a knock on the door, Amy said, "Come in."
Amy's friend Paula stepped in and said, "Oh, hi, Daria. I didn't know you were in town."
"I had to get away to bend the ear of someone who understands."
"Yes, the adjunct merry-go-round," Paula said.
Amy said, "What's up, Paula?"
"I came over with, well, a proposition."
Joking, Daria said, "Should I leave, now?"
Serious, Paula said, "Only if you can't keep something completely confidential."
"Um," Daria said, starting to rise from her chair.
"I trust Daria," Amy said.
Paula nodded and said, "Okay, then. As you know, I've been working with the Comprehensive Review Working Group on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The final report will be issued at the end of November."
Amy said, "Good news?"
"They're going to recommend repeal."
"It's about time," Daria said.
Paula nodded and sat down. "If all of this goes through..."
"You and Sammi can be together in the open," Amy said.
"Among other things," Paula said. "And that's where you come in. This is going to sound a little strange, but I have a good reason."
"Go on," Amy said.
Driving her green compact car home, Daria said, "Good luck, Amy. You've got guts to try and Paula is a real friend to offer."
With a smile, she added, "I hope you succeed. You deserve it."
When the Simple Gifts segment of Copland's Appalachian Spring started playing on her cell phone, Daria touched a button on her earpiece and said, "Hi, Michael."
Waiting at home, he said, "Let me guess. You and Amy were a little long-winded today."
"Yeah, and it didn't help when Paula showed up, either."
"I guess that means I need to start making dinner without you."
"I'd appreciate it. I'm still at least half an hour away."
"Will do." Michael walked to the freezer and opened the door, looking at marked paper packages. "How about chicken?"
"It's not squab, but it'll do in a pinch."
"I could cook it in spiced rum."
"Done. I'll start things and it should be almost ready when you get home."
"What about the brats?"
"Already served. I know my priorities."
That caused a short laugh. "Yes, you do. Thanks, and I'll see you in a bit."
"I'll be here."
Daria touched the earpiece again to disconnect. "It's good to be spoiled."
"Maoraor!" Bump greeted Daria at the front door.
She placed her satchel on the floor and squatted to pet the cat. "Your dedicated servant is home after earning adequate funds to properly supply you with your daily sustenance."
"Welcome home," Michael called from the kitchen. "Dinner needs another five minutes."
Standing, Daria said, "That'll give me time to change out of these clothes and into something comfortable."
Walking past the kitchen, she smirked and said, "But not that comfortable. Yet."
"I can wait," Michael said.
In the bedroom, she saw the apartment's second feline overlord asleep on the bed. Sissy opened one eye and said, "Mew."
"I know, your chief of staff is busy fixing my dinner. He should be in later to give you your proper belly rubs."
Seemingly satisfied, Sissy closed her eye and fell back asleep while Daria changed to some casual sweat pants and a sweater.
On the way back to the kitchen, she saw the gift bag on the table and said, "I see what you did there."
Holding two plates, Michael walked over and kissed her cheek. "Dinner is served." He set the plates on the table and sat down, nodding at the present. "No peeking."
Daria returned his kiss and sat down. "If I must."
"So, what are Amy and Paula up to this time?"
"I promised not to tell anyone."
"Anybody – until the time is right."
"Sounds serious," Michael joked.
"Actually, it is, but not in a bad way. Trust me."
"Okay, okay. Any clue about the right time?"
"Probably the middle of next year."
Daria smirked and said, "There seems to be a lot of it going around lately."
Michael playfully facepalmed and said, "That's what I get for marrying a smartass."
"Was there anything interesting in the mail today?"
Michael's mood deflated. "I got a rejection letter from Lincoln State University."
"Damn, I'm sorry."
"I'm beginning to wonder if either of us is ever going to find a faculty position."
"Me, too. I'm starting to look at more non-academic openings. I hate to give up, but..."
"We need to be realistic."
"Dreams don't always come true."
"No." He sat up straight and said, "But, we've still got some time to keep the dreams alive."
"A little. I don't know how long I can keep up this commuting hell, especially with how gas prices keep bouncing up and down."
"Let's at least give our outstanding applications a chance. Then, we'll seriously look at other options."
Coming up behind the sofa where Helen was sitting, Jake wrapped his arms around her shoulders and said, "What's wrong, honey?"
Helen sighed and rested her head on his arm. "Nothing, really."
"Don't try to fool old Jakey. I know something is bothering you."
"I feel like a third wheel helping to plan Quinn's wedding."
"But you two are on the phone with each other every other day."
"Mostly, it's Quinn updating me on the latest news." Helen gently laughed a moment and said, "I suppose that's what we get for raising two confident, intelligent girls."
"That's a good thing, right?"
"Yes it is, dear."
Jake said, "So what's the problem?"
"I wish they still needed me."
"Of course they need you, honey. You're their mother."
Helen sighed. "But not like they used to."
"No. But doesn't Quinn ask you things about having a baby?"
"Daria still asks you about...what does she ask you about?"
Helen smiled. "How I made it through life without killing all the idiots."
Jake laughed and then stopped, worried. "I'm not one of those idiots, am I?"
Helen snuggled back and kissed him. "Don't worry, Jakey. There are some things you really know how to do."
"You don't talk about things like that with Daria, do you?" Jake said, near panic.
Helen closed her eyes, shook her head and still smiled at her husband. "She would be mortified. Your secrets are safe with me."
Standing in front of a room of freshmen students, Daria pointed to a date written on the whiteboard and said, "Don't forget that your term papers are due next Tuesday."
One student raised his hand. Daria said, "Yes, Trevor?"
"Why don't you have the paper due on the following Tuesday? That way, we can work on it over the Thanksgiving holiday."
After hearing several murmurs of "Yeah," Daria said, "One – I know that most of you won't actually work on it over the holiday, opting instead to cram all your work into the Monday after. Some things about college life never change. Two – I'm planning on grading them over the holiday weekend so that I don't have them hanging over my head while making up your final. Any more questions?"
When nobody lifted a hand, Daria said, "Class dismissed," and watched the students file out. After checking that nothing was left behind in the classroom, Daria left and closed the door behind her to await the next instructor. Walking out to the parking lot, Daria took her cell phone from her belt and checked the messages.
"Fran? Why did she call?" Daria pressed the voicemail button, entered her access code and listened.
Fran's voice said, "Hi, Daria. It's Quinn's friend, Fran. It's a little after noon here, so that would be about three o'clock your time. Q asked me to call and let everyone know that the baby is on the way." Fran giggled. "After all of Quinn's preparation, it seems that she's a little freaked out and not up to calling everyone with the good news."
Daria smiled and hit the return call button.
Finishing her lunch in a small café across the street from her office, Fran answered her phone. "Hello."
"Hi, Fran. It's Daria."
"Hey, good, you got the message."
"I was in class when you called, but yeah. I assume that you've called my parents."
"Something told me to call your mom's cell, but instead, I called their home phone."
"And he's a bit excited."
"I thought my Uncle David was excited when my little sister was born, but your dad...wow."
"You heard about how Dad reacted when Quinn told us she was pregnant?"
"The purple teddy bear?"
"I'm picturing him picking up another one."
"He also said something about getting online to name a price on airline tickets."
"I hope he gets something better than Billy Bob's Budget Airline or Mom's going to kill him."
"Quinn's freaked out enough without your folks flying in."
"She's a big girl; she'll survive." Daria smiled. "Besides, if they're in California, they won't be around to make too big of a deal for my birthday tomorrow."
"Oh yeah, happy birthday."
"That didn't sound too enthusiastic."
"Everyone making a big deal over me turning thirty has gotten old."
"Oh, well, I wasn't thinking about it."
"Thank you," Daria said with more enthusiasm. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"I guess not."
"What's it like having a little sister that's young enough to be your child?"
"Is your mom considering having another kid?"
"No," Daria said," but I know someone who is considering having a child that would generate some interesting generational issues."
"I see. Um, it's kind of like being half big sister and half aunt. It was also weird since David and Beth never went through the whole infant and toddler stage with me; they had to learn it all after I graduated from college."
"I still have a couple of Q's friends to call, so I need to cut this a little short."
"Thanks for letting me know, Fran. Bye."
After disconnecting the phone, Daria grinned widely and said, "Congratulations, sis."
"This is your Quinn News Network update," Fran told Daria over the phone. "Jacob Henri Morgendorffer was born at 3:42 PM, Pacific Time. He is twenty-one inches and weighs eight pounds, nine ounces. Mother and child doing well and father succeeded in not passing out."
Daria said, "Now I know why Quinn was keeping the name a surprise. I'm sure Dad was thrilled to hear that."
"I'm surprised you didn't hear his 'yahoo.' After all, you're in a neighboring state."
"We had the windows closed."
Daria heard a beep on her phone. "I have another call coming in and it's probably my parents. Thanks for calling, Fran."
"My pleasure. Anyway, I still have more calls to make. Bye."
Daria closed the connection and checked the incoming call. "Yep." She opened it and said, "Hi, Mom. Yes, I just heard the news from Fran."
Helen said, "Then you know why your father is dancing in the living room."
"It was a nice gesture from them. How does it feel to be a grandmother?"
"Is that all?"
"I can't hide things from you, can I, sweetie? It feels like just yesterday I was the new mother. It's hard to believe that thirty years have passed by."
Thinking quickly, Daria said, "Well, you had thirty years before becoming a mother and then thirty years as a mother. That means that you have thirty years to look forward to as a grandmother."
Helen smiled. "Thank you for putting things into perspective."
"How does it feel to be an aunt?"
"Good. I'm looking forward to being a bad example."
"I know you better than that. You've already bought him his first book."
"You're going to be a good example, no matter how hard you try."
"You're using that maternal superpower of yours again."
"You'd be surprised at how handy it is around the office."
Daria said, "I bet. It was pretty effective on us."
"I think both of you turned out all right."
"Despite our best efforts."
Michael watched Daria rummage through old folders in her desk and said, "What are you looking for?"
"Something I haven't thought about in a long, long time."
"That tells me a lot."
"Found it," Daria said. She held up a sheaf of papers with faded handwriting on it.
"What is it?"
"One of my most annoying class assignments in high school."
"And you're interested in it now?"
"It seems relevant. If you're really nice, I'll let you read it over my shoulder."
Michael kissed her neck and said, "Nice enough?"
Settling with his arms around her waist, Michael read the top of the paper and said, "Hearts. Simple enough title."
"Happy birthday," Michael whispered to Daria after hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock.
"It's a birthday," Daria said, still wrapped in their blankets. "Happy is still to be determined."
Sissy chose that moment to climb on top of Daria and begin grooming herself.
Daria shifted to look at the cat. "Like I said."
"You're being blessed."
"I'm being used as a bathtub."
"A chosen bathtub."
Sissy gave a soft meow and then crawled forward to lick Daria's cheek. She smiled and started to scratch the cat behind the ears. "Damn telepathic cats."
Michael reached over and also petted Sissy. "Bright girl."
While eating breakfast, Michael said, "Too bad you couldn't take the day off."
Seated next to him at the table, Daria said, "Sure I could. But I wouldn't get paid for either of my lectures today."
"Almost worth it."
"Almost doesn't cut it."
He said, "Sorry. I am going to get off early so that dinner will be ready when you get home."
"You're spoiling me."
"No more than you spoil the cats."
"That's pretty spoiled."
"I know, but then, so am I. After all, I have a real-life wife that likes me in a Roman centurion costume."
Daria smirked. "And we can ask each other, 'What is it, Doctor?'"
Daria mused that at times on the interstate, she understood her father a bit more and, on a few occasions, sounded off at traffic much like he did years before. Today, the hour drive to Daria's first class of the day had about the average number of idiots sharing the road and there was no need for such outbursts.
Though the new SUV parked across four spaces in the faculty parking lot made her seriously consider an outburst. However, thought of the fifty-dollar fine when the ever-vigilant parking police saw the truck gave her a slightly evil smile as she pulled into another spot to park.
In many ways, she liked the small community college campus. There was a park-like feel. There were broad, landscaped areas between buildings. Green in season, but now they held the last vestiges of fall colors before the onslaught of winter, which would turn the spaces into white vistas that often reduced college students to children with the irresistible pull of snow.
Too bad the administration is filled with self-serving jerks, she thought. Hire us as real faculty and see how much more we can do. But no, it's all about the short-term bottom line and adjuncts are cheaper.
In all fairness, her first class wasn't bad. Thirty students, and even though most were not what she would consider the cream of the crop, they could've been far worse. Some were focusing on practical two-year degrees and viewed Freshman Composition as something to be survived; others were there because they had little idea of what to do after high school. Some simply couldn't afford to start at a higher-cost institution and were doing the best that they could within their means. And yes, a few she wondered why they were even there.
But the spark ignited years before, when Ms. Li's unorthodox move to have Daria cover her English class, continued to burn. She enjoyed the motivated students, and she savored the rare moments when she got through to the unmotivated ones.
Being a small campus, faculty and students ate at the same food court. Daria sat alone at a small table and looked at the different franchises represented among the vendors, each catering to a different taste. As did the students, she liked the variety, but the thought of her stand against Ultra Cola advertising on campus at Lawndale High rolled through her mind. Did I really make a difference?
"Dude, Fitzgerald was such a poser," a young student said to his friend as they walked past the table, each carrying a lunch.
The companion, one of Daria's students, said just as forcefully, "He hit right at the heart of his generation."
Yes, I made a difference. I make a difference. And, if it's all to mean anything, I have to keep trying to make a difference.
The office space allotted to adjuncts was barely large enough for two chairs and a small desk. The way the young woman in front of the desk curled her blond hair around her finger reminded Daria of her old high school classmate, Brittany. When the student said, "Dr. Morgendorffer, I think your analysis of Steinbeck was full of it," Daria smiled. Not exactly the reaction the student was expecting.
"If you think I'm full of it, then you've been paying attention. I look forward to reading about it in your term paper."
The girl held up a thumb drive. "It's all right here."
"Don't forget to back it up," Daria warned.
"Don't worry, Dr. Morgendorffer. I have three copies."
Daria nodded and glanced at a wall clock. "If you don't have any more questions, you need to get busy on your paper and I need to clear out of here to make room for Dr. Peron."
The girl stood and gathered her things. "Oh, I won't be too busy. The paper's done. I just need to let it rest and then proofread on Sunday."
"Then enjoy your weekend."
Daria packed her laptop case and was exiting as a man in his mid-thirties approached. She said, "Good afternoon, Dr. Peron."
"Dr. Morgendorffer," he replied. "Any unexpected surprises in the room today?"
"None that I found, but I didn't look in the desk drawers."
"I'll pass on looking in them myself. Have a good day."
With a start time later in the afternoon, Daria's next class had a larger proportion of older, nontraditional students. She liked their motivation and how it seemed to rub off on the younger students. Daria had also observed how students took others under their wing; older students helping to guide through the complexities of adult life while the younger students helped guide the older ones through the maze of college life and youth culture.
Standing in front of a whiteboard covered in notes, Daria said, "That wraps up our coverage of The Tempest. We have a few minutes left for questions."
None of the students moved.
"Term papers? Final?"
"Life, the Universe and Everything?"
One of the younger students said, "Hey, why don't we read books like that?"
"Because the powers that be have given me a curriculum to follow. If I could design my own course..."
"That would be cool."
"And the estate will appreciate the royalties."
After several laughs, one of the older students said, "I'd pay extra for a course you designed."
"Thank you," Daria said. "Make sure you write that on my evaluation. Anything else?" Hearing nothing, she said, "Then we get out a little early today. Have a good weekend, everybody."
While the students walked out of the room, Daria checked her phone and found a voicemail message.
"Dr. Morgendorffer. This is Dr. Morrison of San Marcos College. Please give me a call at your earliest convenience. 904-555-9387. Thank you."
Daria waited until she was comfortably seated in her car before she brought her cell phone out again and dialed. After a couple of rings, a voice said, "Dr. Morrison."
"Good afternoon," she said. "This is Daria Morgendorffer, returning your call."
"Ah, excellent. I have good news for you. The search and screen committee has ranked you as the top candidate for the opening in the English Department of St. Marcos College."
It felt like a massive weight had fallen away from Daria.
Dr. Morrison said, "Therefore, I called to see if you are still available for the position."
"Yes. Yes, I'm still interested."
"Very good. In that case, I will e-mail details of our starting offer to you."
"One question," Daria said. "During the interview, we had discussed a spousal hire for my husband. Will that be included?"
"We can't take money from the endowment that's funding your position and the best the History Department can offer is a lecturer position. There isn't enough free money in the budget for a tenure-track position."
"I see. I'll be very interested in seeing your offer and I'll need to do some thinking. Thank you for calling."
"Thank you for applying. Have a good day, Dr. Morgendorffer."
Seated at the table next to a pizza with 30 candles set around the perimeter, Michael said, "Happy birthday," when Daria came through the door.
Already smiling, Daria said, "So much better than a cake."
"I thought you'd like it," he said as he lit the candles. "How was your day?"
"I'll wait until you're done playing with fire and can sit down."
"Can't be bad; you're smiling. Or, it was bad and you've already buried the body." He sat down and said, "Okay."
Daria sat opposite and said, "San Marcos made an offer."
"That's great!" Michael yelled.
Daria nodded, but her lips were pressed. "It looks like a good offer, except..."
"They can only offer you a lecturer position."
"Take it. We agreed. You got the first offer; you get dibs."
"You gave up your chance to go to Rome all those years ago because of me. I don't want you to always be the one giving up something."
"I'm not giving up anything right now." He came around the table and hugged Daria. "And I won't let you give up such a great chance."
"Are you sure?"
"Daria, we'll be in the oldest continuously occupied city in the US. Part of the Atlantic shoreline in Florida is called the Treasure Coast for a good reason. Mel Fisher found the Atocha off the Keys. I think that there will be a few opportunities for me."
She hugged back. "I'm glad you can find a bright side. I really want the job."
He shrugged. "I might have to learn SCUBA diving."
"You'll be heartbroken over that."
"Check to see if they'll give me leeway to do research if I bring in the grant money."
"I can't see them turning down grant money. Especially in today's funding climate."
"Then we have a deal and you have a new job. Now, blow out your candles before they drip all over the pizza."
"In a hurry?"
"The sooner you deal with the candles, the sooner you can open your present."
He smirked. "And then we can move on to other things."
"Since it's my birthday..."
"Your wish is my command."
Daria took a deep breath and blew out the candles in one go.
"You've got a faculty position and Quinn's a mother," Jane said through her hands-free phone while painting in her studio. "I guess that means the Morgendorffer girls are grown up now."
"Don't tell that to Mom," Daria said. "She still thinks I'm sixteen and we've just moved to Lawndale."
"I promise to break the news to her gently." After a pause, Jane said, "It's going to suck having you living that far away."
"That's also the price of growing up," Daria said. "I guess that means we'll need to find more art shows in Florida so that you have an excuse to visit."
"Make sure to find a place with crash space."
"Of course. Do you think I'd leave you to the tender mercies of the hotel industry?"
"Deal. So, what kind of time frame are you looking at?"
"They want me to teach spring semester."
"Wow. That gives you, what, a month and a half to find a place?"
"Something like that."
"Ah, man, that means that you have to break your lease."
Daria said, "Michael's post-doc runs through the end of April. He needs to finish that off before he can move to Florida. We'll have to do the long-distance relationship thing for a few months."
"That was our thought."
"What about his job?"
"The administration agreed to hold off on starting him until the summer session. It works out, but not the best way possible."
"You two are tough; you'll make it."
Daria said, "We don't have a choice."
"Anyway, congratulations on finally landing a job."
"And it only took me until I was thirty."
"All of us can't be prodigies."
"Make sure you swing by when you're in town for the holidays. If you're heading down to the tropics, I want to see you as much as I can before you leave."
"Jane, I think that can be arranged."
Amy was seated on a comfortably-stuffed recliner while she heard the news from Daria on the phone. "Congratulations on dodging the bullet, Daria."
"Now, you have to worry about getting tenure."
"And thanks for keeping things in perspective," Daria said.
"I do it so well."
"Publish, publish, publish."
"I'm working on it. I finally hired a literary agent. She's looking over my novel as we speak."
"That's a good start."
"Keep your nose clean. There are a lot of hungry Ph.D.'s out there and until you have that tenure, you are very replaceable."
"You can be a pain in the ass once you have tenure. By that time, it'll feel real good to let it all out."
"Is that something to look forward to?"
"Oh, yes." Amy glanced across the room at Reese. "My other half is starting to look bored, so I'd better tend to him before he finds something to break the boredom that I'm going to regret."
"Yeah, husbands do that. Talk you to later, Amy."
"You too, Daria."
Amy set the phone down and went over to Reese, sitting down on his lap. She kissed him and said, "Thanks again."
"My pleasure. What's money good for if you can use it for good from time to time?"
"Though if Daria ever finds out..."
Thanks to Louise Lobinske and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.