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-sixth story in the Falling into College series.
The verbal explosion startled Jane, causing her to splash a streak of red across her current canvas. With a groan, she cleaned the brush and set it in a jar before going to Karen's room. "Are you practicing to scare Derek's fellow drill sergeants or dealing with wigged-out relatives that didn't get invited to the wedding?"
"Relatives. I swear that my family's been infiltrated by aliens."
Leaving her room, Daria said, "Hey, that's one of my lines."
"Why, in God's name, does my second cousin want to go to the wedding? I see her once a year at Thanksgiving and we might've said ten words to each other since we were kids."
"Looking for a guy?" Jane suggested.
Daria said, "Or maybe angling for the bouquet to browbeat some guy back home."
Karen covered her face with her palm. "Damn, I can see some of my relatives doing that."
"Look at the bright side," Daria said, "Girls fighting over the bouquet can be cheap and enjoyable entertainment."
Jane wagged her finger between the two of them. "Hey, we're going to be in the middle of that. Hmm, maybe I can borrow CC's chainmail for protection."
"I plan on getting well to the back and moving away as soon as Karen turns her back."
"Coward," Karen said.
"Reasonable precaution for preserving life and limb," Daria replied.
"How about if I just stand behind you?" Jane asked. "After all, I have to survive on my own six months later when you get hitched."
When she heard a knock at the door, Jane said, "I'll get it and leave you two to settle proper bouquet etiquette."
Opening the door, she found Daria's theater friend, Isabelle, holding a box. The tall newcomer said, "Hey there, Jane. Special delivery for Karen."
Jane hurriedly motioned for Isabelle to come in out of the December cold and called over her shoulder, "Karen! Your dominatrix dress is here."
She came out and saw Isabelle. "It's ready?"
"As ready as it'll ever be," Isabelle said. "Damn is this a work of art. Every seam was hand stitched with silk thread, even the internal seams that nobody but a costume geek will ever notice. No wonder every Sammi Rudolph original goes for five figures, at least."
"Thank you so much."
Isabelle passed the box to Karen and said, "Try it on before you thank me. I want to make sure everything is perfect."
"I'll be right back," Karen excitedly said before disappearing into her room.
Isabelle turned to Daria. "I need to get some measurements from you."
"I hate being measured."
Jane couldn't help but laugh when Isabelle said, "So what else is new?"
Daria held out her arms and stood still. "Let's get this over with."
"You know I work fast," Isabelle said, pulling a tape measure and notepad from a pocket before efficiently setting about her task.
By the time Isabelle was done taking measurements, Karen was coming out of her room. The dress was cut in an Edwardian style from fine white silk and velvet. The close-fitted blouse had a lace collar, while the sleeves tapered to the cuff and the full skirt evenly and perfectly fell to just below her ankles. The sleeves and skirt were daintily embroidered with 24kt gold thread. Karen said, "Wow, the fit's perfect."
Isabelle gave her a grin and said, "Yep, I can cook."
"No ego there," Jane playfully said.
"No bigger than yours," Daria said.
Jane said, "Seriously though, it looks great."
"Thanks," Karen said, thoroughly relieved at having one less thing to worry about.
"Out of curiosity," Isabelle said. "What's Derek wearing? His dress uniform or a tuxedo?"
"He's wearing a tux. He said that he'd seen enough army green to last a while and so have all the guys at Camp Raptor."
"Karen," Daria said. "The guys want to see you, not Derek, on that webcam."
Smirking, Isabelle said, "And that gives them something to look at."
Brig. Gen. Paula Trainor sat on the corner of Asst. Prof. Amy Barksdale's desk at Tennyson University and flipped an invitation in her hands. "She's really a sweet kid for inviting me, but I'm afraid that I can't make it. Between here and that building with the extra wall, I just can't get away."
"I'll give them your regards," Amy said. "How can I pass up a chance to see my niece squirming around in her bridesmaid dress again?"
Paula gently laughed and said, "I had a couple of my cadets talking about her for a couple of weeks after your wedding. Not to mention your youngest niece. Hell, one cadet asked to be transferred to Naval ROTC in San Diego for a shot at her. I do not like the idea of losing good cadets to the Navy."
"You'll have to break their hearts and say that she's taken, too."
"Too bad you and Sammi can't make it. I'm sure she'd like to see her dress in action again."
Paula shook her head. "Sgt. Adler is too high of a profile right now. Too many questions would be asked if I showed up with Sammi and a reporter noticed."
"No offense, Paula, but that is still such a stupid policy."
"Stupid or not, it's the reality I have to work around." After a moment's thought, Paula slowly said, "What do you mean by, 'dress in action again?'"
"I gave Karen my wedding dress. I have no plans on using it again, my biological clock has stopped ticking and I'm not about to ask the twins to share it. She's a good kid and I figured she could use a real morale boost to help her through Derek's recovery."
Paula's eyes grew wide. "That was custom fitted to you. How does Karen plan to wear it?"
"Daria knows a good seamstress from her theater work who agreed to do the alterations."
Paula's hand went to her mouth. "Oh damn. Dammit, dammit, dammit. Sammi's going to have a fit."
"She's...very protective of her work. In her mind, doing alterations to that dress would be like retouching a painting to match your new interior décor."
"But it's still the same dress, just adjusted a little to fit someone new."
Paula looked up. "Amy, you're coming home with me because I'm using you as a human shield when I tell Sammi."
Lewis Berkheart stomped into the apartment he shared with Michael Fulton carrying a paper-wrapped bundle under one arm. "Two hundred freaking bucks for graduation regalia. You'd think that with all the money they've charged for graduate tuition, they'd throw it in for free. But nooo, they have to stick it to us one more time."
Studying at the kitchen table, Michael said, "Sounds as bad as a wedding. A bunch of money for something you'll only wear once and then stick in a closet."
"I don't even get to do that. It's three-fifty to buy the stuff; I'm only renting it."
"And I didn't even get kissed."
Michael closed a textbook and said, "Clothes rental. What a racket."
"Oh yeah," Lewis said. "You're going to that wedding the same day as my graduation. How's that coming along? Or have you expressed the better part of valor and not inquired?"
"Trying to lay low and observe so that I can see things to avoid with mine."
"Is it working?"
"I'll let you know in six months."
Lewis laughed and dropped onto the sofa while turning on the TV with the remote. "Just in time to worry about what to avoid when you go to grad school."
Tall, athletic, attractive and with a long, blonde braid pulled over her left shoulder falling to her waist, Sammi Rudolph glared at Amy and Paula with unmitigated fury. "I can't believe you did that!"
Standing in front of Paula, Amy said, "I thought it was a good idea."
"And why the hell did you think that?"
"Her husband was hurt pretty bad over in Afghanistan and I thought it would help cheer her up and give her one less thing to worry about."
"Okay, I get that, but why didn't you come to me about alterations?"
Amy shrugged. "I'm sorry, but I didn't think about it."
"Figures, but then, this girl could've called me, too."
Amy rubbed her forehead. "Right. Someone you've never heard of calls up out of the blue, says she has one of your originals and would you please do some alterations. Even supposing that your receptionist didn't hang up on her out of hand with what to her would sound like a preposterous story, would you have been able to take time off to run to Boston for a couple days?"
Sammi had to admit, "Probably not."
"Karen's a college senior helping a soldier get back on his feet, so I doubt if she had the time or money to come down here, either."
"You should've said something."
"Yes, I should've and I'm sorry. Paula can tell you how I can be a little socially clueless at times."
"She's right about that," Paula said.
"Besides," Amy said. "It's a beautiful dress that gets to be used again instead of hanging in a closet. That should count for something."
Sammi nodded. "I suppose."
Amy took a step closer. "On top of that, I know Karen has a sentimental streak that means she'll keep it to pass on to her daughter, if she has one. Daria told me that the service star Karen hung in her window had been the one her grandmother had in WWII."
"No, I'm not."
Sammi reluctantly nodded. "Okay, how about this? I'll go up there and take a look at the dress, fixing anything that I think needs to be fixed. Free of charge and no drama. Well, maybe a little drama, but not much. Do you think we can agree on that?"
Paula shrugged and said, "It looks like I'm going to the wedding anyway."
"Next week is finals week," Amy said. "Karen will have enough on her mind between last minute planning and exams. Besides, Paula and I will have our hands full watching over finals in our classes, and, uh, I know you said only a little drama, but..."
"You'd rather be there, just in case. Okay, how about we go as soon as you two are free?"
"That'll be noon on Friday for me," Amy said. "Paula?"
"No exams, but I have a meeting at the Pentagon until after lunch," she said.
"Unless the seamstress is a total hack, the night before should be enough time to fix any damage she did. Okay."
Amy nodded. "I'd better call Daria and Karen."
Seeing Daria turn off her cell phone, Jeff Olson rolled his chair clear of his cubicle at The Mast editorial office and said, "Damn, what was that about? I could almost hear it all the way down here."
Daria rolled her chair out of her cubicle so that they could see each other clearly. "I was talking Karen down from another wedding mini-crisis."
"That's a mini-crisis? I'd hate to hear a full-blown one."
"That was over the weekend. You remember I mentioned that my aunt gave Karen her wedding dress."
Mira Chu came out of her cubicle and said, "The aunt that had that real big wedding down in D.C, right?"
"Yeah. Anyway, Amy called and said that when she comes up on Friday, the designer who made the dress will come along to check the alterations Karen had done to it." Daria paused to remember the name. "Um, Sammi Rudolph. A friend of Amy's planned maid-of-honor."
Mira whistled. "Your aunt had a Sammi Rudolph original and then your friend had it altered? Gutsy."
Daria shrugged. "It wouldn't fit right, otherwise."
"If what the tabloids say is even half true, the real drama is going to be when she shows up."
"I hope not, for Ms. Rudolph's sake. Karen's under so much stress right now, if she blows, I'd put money on her taking down a hungry lion."
"Thanks," Daria said to the delivery driver as he walked back down the stairs. Holding two pizza boxes in her hands, Daria stepped back inside and softly kicked the apartment door closed. "Dinner's here!"
Both looking frazzled, Karen and Jane emerged from their rooms as Daria placed the boxes on the table. Karen said, "I miss Cheap and Cheesy delivering to the dorms every half hour, though I suppose it's a good thing I'm not eating as much pizza as I did when we were freshmen or I wouldn't fit into my dress."
"Hey, Daria, do you think we should've ordered her some cheeseless pizza?" Jane said as she opened the top box and grabbed a slice.
Before Daria could answer, Karen said, "I would have to kill you," as she also grabbed one.
"Don't do that," Daria said. "I don't know if I can raise bail for you before Saturday."
"Hey, can't you hit up your rich aunt?"
"She's giving finals this week and is probably crankier than we are."
"Speaking of cranky," Karen said. "I hope that Ms. Rudolph isn't going to be over the top Friday. That's something I really don't need."
"Amy wouldn't intentionally bring anyone who would upset you, but considering some of her friends..."
"I don't get it," Karen said.
Jane said, "It's an artist thing. You get attached to your work like it's a part of you or something. Daria, think about how you would feel about someone changing your stories."
"I don't think it's the same, Jane. I've had to make editorial changes to every story I've published."
"Well, what if somebody out there somewhere rewrote your Melody Powers stories and posted them online?"
"I'd say that if they're writing Melody Powers fanfiction, they need to really get a life."
"I think I understand," Karen said. "I'm hoping that she understands that the changes are only to make it fit so that her work can be seen again instead of moldering in a closet. Kind of like changing the frame on a picture to hang in a new place."
Daria waved her co-workers over and said, "Jeff, Mira, I want to work out a deal with you."
"Deal?" Jeff said.
"Yes, a deal to help keep the press at a safe distance from Karen and Derek Saturday."
Mira cocked her head. "That's a big favor. What's in it for us?"
"Exclusive photos. Karen hired one of our photographers, Aaron, and agreed to let the paper have the first pick of photos if you can prevent her from being disturbed."
"That's going to be tough," Jeff said.
"It's better than Derek's suggestion of setting up a ring of off-duty Guardsmen around the chapel."
Mira made a face and said, "That wouldn't look good."
"Exactly. They understand the PR interest and simply want the illusion that they're not under a microscope. We all know that with telephoto lenses, news crews can get good shots as they go to the reception hall without disturbing the party."
"They'll want interviews."
"Trust me when I say that would be a very bad idea. Karen would not be in the mood and I don't want their day ruined by some reporter that makes her out to be a bridezilla. Look, I'll even talk to reporters if they want and I'm sure that their parents will talk...after Karen and Derek have left for their honeymoon."
Jeff scratched his chin. "Exclusive photos."
"Come on," Daria said. "You know the photographers use the paper's computers to process their side projects. You might as well get something out of it this time."
"It's not going to be easy," Mira said.
"That's why I asked the two of you. If anyone can do it, you can."
With Michael and Derek looking over his shoulder, Lewis completed the webcam hookup on the laptop and said, "All set for tonight."
Scattered around the living room of Michael and Lewis's apartment, drinking beer and eating chips, were various friends of Derek's who had been invited to the party.
In the Enlisted Personnel Club at Camp Raptor, an army technician checked the connections at his end and said, "Sgt. Adler, Pfc. Collins and the rest of your platoon are here and ready, along with anyone else in camp that's free. There aren't exactly a lot of strippers in Afghanistan. Have you seen her? Is she any good?"
Lewis laughed and shook his head. "Not my type."
Michael said, "I haven't seen her, but my fiancée's friend CC is a stripper and vouches for her."
The technician asked, "Your fiancée knows a stripper and is cool with you hiring one?"
"It's a long story about how they know each other and CC has assured us that the dancer has a very strict hands-off, no lap dance policy for private performances. Considering both my fiancée and CC, someone would violate that policy only at great and very personal risk."
Derek said, "That's also the only way the bride would allow us to hire one. And trust me; you don't want her mad at you. I'd rather face half a dozen insurgents on patrol than her when she's on the warpath."
"I'll take your word for it, though I'm still a little surprised that they went along."
Derek leaned forward and said, "Hey, we're trying to be traditional and strippers are traditional for a bachelor party." In a brotherly tone, he added, "Besides, she's here more for all of you back at Camp Raptor than she's here for us."
"In that case, Sergeant, you can tell her that all of us here really appreciate it."
Along with friends of Karen's from college and work, Daria, Jane, CC and Nell were gathered in the apartment starting their own celebration. Karen nervously paced and said, "This really isn't necessary."
"Yes it is," Jane insisted. "Yeah, yeah, you're already hitched, but that doesn't mean that you can cheat us out of a night of fun at your expense."
Glad for the humor, Karen overdramatically lifted her hand to her head and gave her best Scarlett O'Hara imitation while saying, "Oh dear, how could I ever be so rude as to deny my good friends their due?"
"Now you're getting into the spirit," CC said before taking a drink from a wine cooler.
Nell nudged CC. "You got a good stripper, right?"
"Hey, would I steer anyone wrong?" she retorted. "Jimmy is wonderful eye candy and is perfectly safe."
Seeing Karen and Daria again looking doubtful about the entertainment, Jane said, "Hey, you two have guys. He's going to be here for the rest of us poor saps to drool over."
"The things we do for friendship," Daria said.
Hearing the doorbell, Karen checked her watch and said, "I hope that's Amy and her friends. It would be really awkward if the, um, entertainment got here first."
"I really don't think they would object," Jane said. "Don't forget about Amy's party."
Upon opening the door, Karen was relieved, but still also very nervous to find Amy, Paula and Sammi on the landing. "Come in, please."
After the three newcomers had removed their winter coats and exchanged pleasant greetings, Amy looked around and said, "Definitely a step up from your old dorm room."
"Damn," Paula said. "I couldn't find an apartment this good until well after I graduated."
"Nice place," Sammi said. "Karen, I hope you can understand if I'm a little impatient..."
Nervous, Karen nodded and said, "This way."
Her face expressionless, Sammi examined the gown, closely inspecting an inset that expanded the waist. "Hmm. I wouldn't have done it like that, but...it's a good job, including the stitching."
Her pent-up annoyance coming out in her voice, Karen sharply said, "So it passes your inspection?"
After being Amy's captive audience for the trip between Washington and Boston and hearing in great detail about how Amy came to give Karen the dress, Sammi felt warmth and admiration for Karen. So, she said, "I'll admit to being overly protective of my work because my reputation relies on how it looks and I...sometimes forget about the person underneath. Karen, can we call a truce? Tonight, I want to make sure that you look great. It's all about you."
Wary, Karen said, "I can do truce."
Sammi nodded. "The person who did this is good, very good, but I'm better." She gently passed the dress back to Karen. "Can you put it on, please? I'll wait outside."
While waiting, Sammi ignored the others in the room and retrieved a compact sewing kit. After a couple minutes, Karen cracked open the door and said, "Ready."
Sammi hurried in and closed the door. The dress fit Karen very well, much to Sammi's relief. She walked around and carefully observed how each panel and detail flowed over the young woman's shape. To her more experienced eye, she could see the fit was almost perfect, but still needed a tiny adjustment. At the same time, she said, "I hear that you insisted on getting married before your young man shipped out. That took a lot of guts, not to mention being very romantic."
"There was a lot going through my mind that night. I..." Karen shrugged. "I thought it was the right thing to do."
"And then you took time off from school to be with him when he got back."
"I couldn't stay away, and besides, I had a lot of help."
Sammi stepped back and said, "It's looking good, only one small...." At that moment, something caught her eye and she stepped forward to pluck a black hair off of Karen's shoulder. "Oh yeah, you're a pre-vet major."
Karen looked close at the offending follicle and said, "That's from Bump, Daria's cat."
Sammi looked back toward the door and firmly said, "Until you leave tomorrow, that cat is barred from this room. No excuses."
Karen finally relaxed and laughed. "Good luck with that. You remember that Daria was plucking hair off of her dress moments before going out at Amy's wedding."
"Yeah, I should've known better. Back to business, I know a little trick that will make this fit the curve of your waist better. I didn't include it originally because Amy, well, doesn't have your curves."
Out in the living room, Paula accepted a drink from CC and said, "Don't worry about us driving; all Amy has to do is call the limo service and they'll send someone out to pick us up. We couldn't see leaving some poor driver outside to freeze in this weather, so we sent him on his way."
Jane peeled away from the crowd to answer the door. A very handsome and well-built young man stood on the landing. He read from a card and said, "Myerson party?"
Jane hungrily grinned and said, "Come on in," as CC and Nell moved in closer.
Amy looked at the new arrival, at Paula's amused smirk and then at Daria. "My little niece is growing up."
Amy's husband Reese relaxed on a chair near the laptop, alternating between watching the stripper, the young men in Michael's apartment and the computer image of young soldiers (including several women) enthusiastically watching from Camp Raptor. That latter caused him to think back twelve years to his stay in Saudi Arabia as an F-15 pilot during the Gulf War.
Derek slid a chair over next to Reese and sat on it, resting his arms on the chair back. "You're the old married man around here. Any advice?"
The question not only made Reese think of Amy, but also of his late first wife and mother of his twin daughters. "Hold onto her every chance you get."
The next morning, Daria scanned the apartment and was glad that nothing appeared to be broken, though it clearly showed the aftereffects of the previous night's festivities, including Nell asleep on the sofa and CC curled up in a sleeping bag on the floor. Clutching a large mug of coffee and looking somewhat the worse for wear, Jane watched from the kitchen and was clearly not yet capable of communication. Daria made her way to the door to answer it, finding Karen's mother and grandmother. "Hi, Mrs. Myerson, and, um, Mrs. Myerson."
"Hi Daria," Maddie said, "How are you?"
"Okay, considering last night."
A lightly built woman in her seventies stood behind Maddie and said, "Good morning, young lady. I'm so happy to meet you again, and please call me Alice."
"Nice to meet you again...Alice," Daria said as she took their coats. "Karen's in her room getting ready. Don't worry; she's dressed. Oh, and, um, excuse the mess."
"And don't you worry; I've seen worse," Maddie said.
Daria knocked on her roommate's door and said, "Your mother and grandmother are here."
"Send them in," was Karen's reply.
Both women stopped moments after entering. Maddie caught her breath and said, "That's...incredible."
Karen, already wearing her wedding dress, slowly spun and said, "I'm so lucky." Sammi had been right, her minor adjustment tastefully accented the curve of Karen's waist and hip.
"That really is a wonderful gown," Alice said.
Karen stopped turning and dashed across the room to hug both of the women. "I'm so excited." After lingering for several seconds, she said, "Where's Daddy?"
"I sent him ahead to make sure things are ready at the chapel and the hall. Don't worry; I sent Terry and Jill along with to keep him out of trouble."
"He's a little nervous, isn't he?"
Maddie laughed. "Just a bit."
"He's as bad as my father was when I got married," Alice said. "It happens to all of them."
"I have something for you." Reverent, Karen took a folded flag from her dresser and placed it in the old woman's hands. "Thanks for letting me use it, Grandma."
Alice smiled and pushed the folded cloth back. "I passed it on to a new generation. Keep it, dear, with the hope that your daughter or granddaughter will never need it."
Wearing a good suit, cup of coffee in one hand and leaning against the kitchen counter with the other, Michael surveyed the wreckage in his apartment, including the numerous casualties scattered about on the furniture and floor attempting to wake up. "Whose bright idea was this?"
Standing in the bathroom fumbling with his tie, Derek said, "Yours. Well, it was Lyle's idea and you volunteered the space."
Mention of the best man made Michael glance at the laptop and he saw that the webcam was still on. The Camp Raptor Enlisted Club looked almost as disheveled as his apartment, though a couple of soldiers were busy cleaning it up. Michael said, "I hope they don't get in trouble."
Derek came out and looked at the screen. "Don't worry; they never would've been allowed to set up the webcam without approval going way the hell up the chain of command. The base XO said it would be a good morale booster, and judging from the looks of things, I think it worked."
"Are you ready for this?"
Lewis, in good shape because of his lack of drinking the night before, said, "I'll handle the stragglers, you two better head out so that you're not late. I suspect that the consequences would be drastic."
"Very," Derek said. "Are you up to driving?" he asked Michael.
"I'm good...I think."
As they walked to the door, Derek said, "Do you think I should've taken Reese up on his offer to send a limo?"
"Nah, I think you made a better deal saving it for the getaway."
One of the original nineteenth century buildings of the Raft campus, Cadfell Chapel faced the quad exactly opposite of Founder's Hall, the main administration building. Light snow fell as guests made their way inside. Huddled together about fifty feet away were a group of local newspaper and television reporters, including Mira and Jeff from The Mast.
Mira held out her hand to stop the TV crews from moving forward. "Show a little bit of class, will you? I'm a reporter and even I wouldn't be happy about a news crew barging in to my wedding."
When one TV reporter started to argue, Jeff said, "You have telephoto lenses and can get the shot from here."
"I'd like to get a few words."
Jeff snorted and said, "Trust me, if you stick a camera in the bride's face, you won't get anything that can be put on the air outside of late-night cable. We'll go in and talk to the guests later. That should give you enough sound bites for the evening news."
"Don't go there," one of the other reporters warned when the first looked like he still wanted to continue. "War hero's bride...you're going to be the one that looks bad and the next thing you know, the best assignment you can get is the Prairie Dog Calling Festival."
Inside the chapel, Karen shivered from the cold as she waited in the vestibule with Daria and her father. "Okay, maybe having a December ceremony wasn't the brightest idea."
Just as cold in her matching dress of pale green with silk embroidery, Daria said, "I'll forgive you as long as the heat is on inside."
Even in his tuxedo, Geoff Myerson felt the chill. "You girls are pretty tough, holding up in this weather."
"As long as we don't have to wait much longer," Karen said.
To their relief, the chapel organist started playing. Geoff went to the double doors leading to the sanctuary and said, "Are you ready, princess?"
"You haven't called me that in years."
"This is the last time I can."
Karen nodded and said, "I'm ready."
Geoff opened the doors and paused. When Karen stepped up beside him, he linked arms with her and both started slowly walking down the aisle. Clean, white ribbons and bows with a small, glass snowflake in the center decorated the end of each pew.
At the other end of the sanctuary, a spray of white roses sat on each side of the altar, with a large, white ribbon and bow like on the pews decorated the face. In front, Derek waited alongside the chaplain while on a stand nearby was a laptop with webcam. On the screen, she could see the best man, wearing his best field uniform, standing at parade rest while the rest of the company watched in the background.
Geoff silently let go of Karen's arm as he reached the front pew and sat down beside Maddie. Next was Alice, sitting straight and proud. Finally, there was Jill, and then Terry on the far end with little Wayne squirming between them while trying to see everything at once.
Seated on the other front pew were Derek's family, Miriam, Tony and Jason, as well as all four of his grandparents. The rest of the guests in the sanctuary were a modest number of friends from the Boston area, plus Amy, Reese, Paula and Sammi. Michael was seated among Jane, CC and Nell, who had apparently appointed themselves the task of keeping other unattached females away from him.
When Derek and Karen held hands, the chaplain said, "My dear brothers and sisters, we are gathered together," then with a glance to the laptop, added, "here and far away, to witness Karen and Derek as they reaffirm their wedding vows."
As Karen and Derek joined hands, the chaplain said, "When they entered into the covenant of matrimony months ago, life's circumstances did not allow them to share their joy with family and friends. Today, they can."
Mira looked at her watch and said, "They should've started by now. We can relax for a while."
A camera operator said, "Any idea of what kind of ceremony? Short? Long? Lasting until sunset?"
"Daria helped them write it and, knowing her, she tried to keep things under control."
Leaving his camera hanging by its sling, the operator blew on his hands to warm them. "Good. The only thing that's worse than a long wedding is waiting outside of one and not even getting to people watch."
Karen and Derek had faced each other and clasped both of their hands together in front of the chaplain. From her place near Karen, Daria said, "I stand for Karen and will witness to her sincere love for Derek."
"Thank you, Daria," the chaplain said.
From his place at Camp Raptor, Lyle Collins said, "I stand for Derek and will witness to his sincere love for Karen."
The chaplain said, "Thank you, Lyle." He then said, "Karen and Derek, do you proclaim before all your vow of love and devotion to each other throughout all of the challenges of your lives?"
They answered together, "We do."
Mira spotted two men leaving the chapel and said, "Isn't that Karen's father and brother? They can't be done with the photos yet."
"I wouldn't think so," Jeff said. "I wonder what they're up to. If we all slide over a bit, we can see down the side of the chapel."
As a group, the reporters shifted their position until they could look past the side of the building. Mira was the first to speak. "That is so cool."
One of the reporters mumbled, "Man, that's going to give my girlfriend ideas."
Jeff said to the camera operators and photographers, "That's why we're out here instead of inside."
Glowing with happiness, Karen stood with Derek at the back of the sanctuary and accepted good wishes from the guests and waited as everyone put on coats against the cold. Looking around, she noticed something and said, "Mom, where's Daddy and Terry?"
Maddie was unable to contain a smile as she said, "They're waiting outside with a little surprise."
"A surprise?" Karen said, glancing at Daria and Jane.
Daria shrugged. "Don't look over here; I don't know a thing."
"Me either," Jane said. "But I'm curious, too."
Wearing a long coat loosely pulled over her dress, Karen said to Derek, "The sooner we head out, the sooner we'll get to the reception hall. Let's go."
As soon as she and Derek stepped past the chapel doors, she stopped and stared. Geoff held the bridle of a very familiar black horse, hooked up to a two-seat buggy and wearing a blanket the same pale green as Daria's dress, as if Elvira were a bridesmaid. Geoff said, "I didn't want you to ruin that beautiful dress by walking through the snow."
Terry waited beside the buggy, holding the reins. "Besides, how could we leave a member of the family at home?"
Karen rushed down the steps and hugged her father. "How did you...?"
"We had to leave home a little early," Geoff said. "I pulled the horse trailer and Terry pulled the flatbed with the Wilsons' buggy. Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson send their best. We snuck out a little early to get everything ready and waiting for you, so your video guy better not have missed anything."
Derek said, "Trust me, Karen would kill him if he did. Thank you, Geoff."
As Karen petted Elvira's nose, Geoff said, "I suppose this is a good time to tell you. For your gift, your mother and I found a place to board Elvira and prepaid for six months. She's missed you."
Back hugging him, Karen cried and said, "You're the best."
As his camera operator filmed Karen and Derek climbing into the buggy and beginning the ride across the quad to the reception hall, the reporter that had grumbled about his girlfriend getting ideas said, "I wonder how much a horse and buggy will cost to rent."
"I bet a lot of guys are going to be asking that in this town," Mira said with a smirk. "The buggy operators are going to be happy."
"This is not fair," Nell said as she sat down on a stool and freed her hands from her crutches. "All of you get to move around and I'm stuck in one spot."
Among the other single women gathering, CC said, "None of us want your crutches flailing around while you try to catch the bouquet. But I'll make a deal with you. If that thing comes my way, I'll swat it over toward you."
"I've got your other side," Jane said.
"I'm only asking for a level playing field, not to be made a target," Nell said.
A tinny-sounding voice came from the laptop speaker as one of the women at Camp Raptor said over the webcam, "Hey, what about us?"
Jane shrugged and held up her hands. CC looked over, wagged her finger and said jokingly, "You know you're not supposed to be fraternizing over there."
"Hey! I've got a squeeze back home I'm after," the woman replied.
Daria joined the group and stood behind them.
CC said, "I thought you'd be up front."
"I know I'm getting married, so there's no sense in risking life and limb."
"That's okay," Jane said as a couple of Karen's classmates formed up in front. "I think they're the ones gunning for the flower bucket."
A thought crossed Daria's mind and she said, "I'm going to start practicing so that I can hit whoever I want at my wedding."
Jane gave her a friendly glare and said, "You can be an evil bitch when you want, can't you?"
"Okay, nervous. Look, that whole thing with Mack...I'm not ready for anything permanent."
Daria lowered her eyes. "Sorry."
"But that doesn't mean that you can't target Quinn."
Daria looked back up and grinned.
"Okay, girls," Maddie said as she made sure everyone was in place. "It's time. Karen, are you ready?"
Her back to the gathered young women, Karen said, "Here goes," and threw her bouquet over her shoulder without additional warning. It flew high over the front rank of guests and slightly to the side. CC casually hopped up slightly and tapped the bouquet to the side so that it dropped straight down on Nell.
"Ah!" Nell cried out in surprise as she grasped the flowers. "Um..."
Daria said, "Congratulations, Nell. Happy hunting."
While Karen and Derek danced to Sentimental Journey, she smiled and gave a quick wave to her grandmother, who nodded in warm approval at them. Derek caught the motion and whispered, "I think it's a good choice for our dance."
"She also insisted the music also counted as 'something old.'"
Seeing Michael and Daria at the drink table, Derek said, "I'm surprised you haven't drafted them to lead the next dance."
"They're on a different mission."
At the table, Daria used a ladle to transfer warm wassail from a punch bowl to an insulated pitcher and said to Micheal, "Can you put some of those cups on a tray and follow me?"
"What's up?" he asked, gathering the cups.
"We're taking something out to warm up the press and keep them happy."
"They're going to try to get something from you."
"I know; I'm running a little interference for Karen. Oh, and you better expect a few questions, too."
"It shouldn't be that bad. They're looking for fluff."
"I don't feel particularly fluffy, but okay."
They found the press waiting in the lobby of the reception hall. Daria held up the pitcher and said, "A little wassail to keep everyone warm and to thank you for your patience."
"Blythe Lincoln with Channel 12 News. Can we have a few words?" one of the television reporters asked.
"Yes," Daria said as she started pouring cups and passing them out.
"Neal Caskins, Channel 7," the reporter who had tried to get closer earlier said as he took a cup from Michael. "And you are?"
"Michael Fulton, Daria's fiancé."
Some time later, Daria shook her head while answering, "They've been absolutely silent on where they're going for a honeymoon, sorry."
"Michael," Mira said. "Considering you're going to marry Daria in six months, how do you feel about all this?"
"Um, I guess you could call it early warning," he joked. "No offense to Karen, but I'm glad we're aiming for something simpler."
"Interesting," Ms. Lincoln said. "Ms. Morgendorffer, besides being the maid of honor today, you were the last minute maid of honor at the Barksdale/Wyatt wedding last year. Overall, you've become a bit of a local celebrity among Raft students. You've published several short stories, you were front and center during the dispute between Professors Findlay and Killarny, and even organized the students who helped Mrs. Adler stay with her husband when he came home."
Daria felt embarrassed and said, "It's not like I've been out looking for attention."
"Which makes me curious about rumors of Val, from Val Magazine, asking about you around Raft last fall. Is she planning a story about you?"
Daria was stunned for a moment as she remembered her frustration at the situation and its unsatisfactory conclusion. Finally, she gave the reporter a faint smile and said, "Do you have a pen and piece of paper?"
Ms. Lincoln quickly produced a pen and notepad. "Here."
Daria wrote, "Debbie Cawthon-Schellski - West Coast Journal," on the pad while saying, "I think she can give you the details you're seeking."
Jane poked her head out of the door behind them and said, "Hey, the renewlyweds are ready to make a run for it. They're heading out the side door to the limo, so you need to get over there. Oh, and Karen said to bring your new friends."
Daria said, "Limo?"
"From your uncle," Michael explained. "He said that his mother keeps a service on retainer and, since he wasn't using it this weekend, someone else might as well get her money's worth."
"Just to be clear," Mira said. "By 'uncle', you mean Mr. Reese Wyatt."
"I better get over there," Daria said. "And wish Karen off."
Daria, followed closely by Michael, led the others to the side exit of the hall. While the reporters hung back to allow the camera crews to get shots, Daria and Michael grabbed handfuls of rice from a bowl and joined the line. Under the thrown rice, Karen and Derek made their way. Karen paused for a moment next to Daria and reached out to squeeze her friend's hand. "Thank you."
Outside, a silver limousine was parked nearby with the chauffeur holding the door open. After the couple ducked inside, he smoothly walked around the car and got in. Karen snuggled against Derek and pulled his arm around her waist. "Thank you for putting up with a little girl's dream."
"Thank you for becoming my dream come true...again," he whispered back.
As the limousine pulled away, all of the guests could see a small sign with elegant script on the back window that read, "Honeymoon bound, with a wish for a Merry Christmas to all."
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer, Ipwichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.