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. 2010.
Autumn leaves fell around the entrance to Fenderson Hall, one of the women's dormitories on the campus of Raft University. From the parking lot, a young woman with dark blond hair walked slowly, her hands in her jeans pockets and a light jacket over her plaid shirt. At one of the low, stone planters on either side of the entrance, she stopped and looked out over the Quad.
"Hi, I'm your host, Karen Myerson," she said. "Right here in front of Fenderson Hall, what seems like the best place to start our show. That, and it is one of the cheapest."
Karen began a leisurely pace back and forth in front of the entrance. "My agent told me that hiring on to fanfiction wasn't the best career move, but considering my complete lack of career at the time, I decided to ignore him. After all, I was picked up for more episodes than most TV actors get in real shows."
Turning, Karen pointed to a window and said, "Anyway, enough about me for now. Up there is room 316. That's where I first met Daria Morgendorffer."
Looking around, she thought for a few minutes. She walked back to the desk, placed the padding on the left side, and leaned it against the wall. Daria sat at the chair and was pleased to notice that the padding and Kafka poster would both be within view when working at the desk. A comforting reminder.
Heavy-soled footsteps stopped outside and something was set down. Daria heard keys in the lock. She turned in the chair to face the door and said, "It's open."
The door opened outward and a feminine voice replied, "Thanks."
Moments later, a tall girl with darkish blond hair walked in. She had a large backpack on; two heavy satchels were slung over her shoulders, the straps crossing in the center of her chest. In each hand was a suitcase. Though straining some, it was clear she carried the burden with little difficulty.
"Well, looks like this is my side of the room." The newcomer said with a clear, southern accent.
Dropping the suitcases and peeling off the attached luggage revealed a young woman about six inches taller than Daria, with a solid body frame, wide hips, and somewhat larger bust line than Daria's. She wore patched blue jeans, round-toed cowboy boots and a short-sleeved plaid shirt.
"Hi. Karen Myerson." She extended her hand to Daria.
Daria rose and accepted the handshake. "Daria Morgendorffer."
"Okay, I only saw her wear it once, but the rest of you fans out there saw Daria wear that green jacket and black skirt plenty of times," Karen said, walking down the dorm hallway, stopping at the door to room 316 and opening it. "It was in here that she retired it."
Karen left and Daria sat on her bed. She felt a lump by the pillow and pulled out a wrapped package.I'm going to miss you. You'd better enjoy college for putting me through this. You won't be able to wear it now, but you should enjoy it this fall.
Daria opened the package to find a dark green sweater inside. The color matched her old jacket perfectly. Daria felt the delicate softness of the fabric as she removed it from the box. She read the label.
"Cashmere. Just like you, Quinn. This must have been expensive; I hope you used your employee discount to buy it at Cashman's. Not what I would have chosen, but thanks."
Daria folded the sweater and placed it in one of her dresser drawers. She went to the basket and withdrew her clothes from the day before. She went to her closet and pulled out a tiny ironing board and clothes iron. She lightly pressed each item as needed. She clipped the black skirt to the lower edge of a wooden hanger. She slid a second hanger through the neck of the ochre t-shirt and placed the jacket over that. She zipped up the jacket, placed the two hangers together and fitted a garment bag around them. She closed the bag and gently hung it in the closet.
"Thank you. You have served me well and earned your respected retirement. Now rest."
Daria closed the closet door, walked to her bed and sat. She rested her arm on the window sill and stared out into the residence hall's inner quad. A couple students were lying on beach towels, sun-bathing. Some were throwing frisbees around. Others were talking, getting to know each other. A contented smile spread on her face.
"I made it. I'm a college student. I'm in a world that is dedicated to learning and not just paying lip service to it." Daria yawned and shook her head to clear it. "I hope my roommate doesn't keep waking up at six in the morning."
Laughing, Karen said, "Of course, I kept waking up at six in the morning." Mind you, life went on in Lawndale as well as in Boston. While Daria and I were learning to tolerate each other, an odd romance started back in Lawndale, much to the shock of Daria's friend Jane and sister Quinn.
They entered Casa Lane to find Lindy awake, her legs curled under her, leaning against Trent. Trent held one arm protectively over her shoulders. Lindy nursed the glass of water that Jane had set out earlier.
Jane shook her head and smiled at her brother.
Quinn, relieved, rushed forward. "Lindy! You're safe!"
Lindy squinted through pale blue eyes that were not yet focusing properly. "Quinn?"
"Yes. I was so worried."
"Why? Oh, wait a minute. We're going shopping today. What time is it?"
Quinn whispered, "Lindy, did you have too much to drink last night?"
"Guess I did. I'm sorry."
"Please be careful."
"I will. Have you met Trent? She leaned her head against his chest. "He's the gentle knight that rescued me last night."
Quinn had a mental image of Trent leaving the Morgendorffer home with Monique, almost two years before. Daria was watching from the hall window, almost in tears. "We've met."
"One of the joys of dorm living is finding out your new roommates quirks and issues. Well, I've known since I reached puberty that I inherited my mother's butt and learned to live with it. Daria, well, she had her own twist on body image problems. Which, lead to my first real conversation with Quinn.
Karen said, "Quinn, you are currently my only source for good information."
"Why should I trust you?"
"I'm your sister's friend, and I'm worried. Please hear me out for a while. I'll back off if you ask me too, but could you please try to help me some?"
Suspicious, Quinn said, "Okay."
"How long has she been hiding her appearance?"
"She hasn't worried about how she looked for as long as I can remember. Not that I haven't tried to help her."
"I'm not talking about worrying; I'm talking about outright hiding what she looks like." "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said. She wears shapeless clothes that hide what she looks like. The only people here that have a clue to her real appearance are the girls on this floor that she has to share a bathroom with."
"I never thought of it that way. I just pictured it as a kind of cluelessness on her part."
"Quinn. This may not be easy to talk about. Did somebody attack her?"
"Was she assaulted? Or something that would make her ashamed or afraid of how she looks."
"No. Nothing like that ever happened."
"Something happened. Nobody develops a self-image problem like this in a vacuum."
Quinn's face paled and she sat down at the table. "I think I know what happened."
"Quinn couldn't take the whole credit, no matter how hard she tried. But, Daria finally started on the path to accepting that it was okay to be appreciated for her looks and not just her mind. Not that it made things that much easier for Daria when a certain someone asked her out for the first time.
A young man with straight, red hair stopped next to her. Michael Fulton stood a little less than six feet tall, with a medium build. He wore a woodland camouflage, army surplus field jacket, jeans, and black work boots. He held a dark green backpack in his left hand by the shoulder straps. He pushed up his large, aviator style glasses and nervously shuffled his feet.
She looked up at the man. She recognized him as fellow student from biology. Quiet, but always with the right answer when asked.
"Oh. Hi, Michael."
Daria nodded her head toward him a tiny amount as she finished tying her boot. "Yes?"
"Could I ask you something?"
Daria pulled down the pant leg over the boot, and stood up. "Go ahead."
Michael swallowed. "W...would you like to go out with me sometime?"
Daria looked at him, speechless.
Michael looked at her eyes, expectantly.
Daria sighed. "I...I'm going to have to say no. Nothing against you, I'm just not ready to date anybody now."
Michael deflated. "I understand. At least you were nice about it." He sadly walked away.
Daria watched the receding figure for a minute, confusion on her face. Finally, she pushed her hands into her jacket pocket and, head down, resumed her course to the dorm.
Karen smirked and leaned against a wall. "Of course, everyone knew she was going to change her mind as soon as they read that."
Coming down the hallway, a red-haired man with aviator-style glasses and a worn, camouflage jacket said, "You might have known, but they wouldn't let me see the end of the story until the last minute and I didn't know if I was going to be a one-shot or a regular character."
"Come on," Karen said. "It was two-by-four to the back of the head obvious."
"Don't blame me for having a few esteem issues, I was written that way."
Karen squeezed her eyes shut and said, "Don't do that again. I just had a flash of you dressed up like Jessica Rabbit."
"I'm glad I've learned not to visualize what any of you girls say," Michael said. "Sometimes, it's not what someone sees that's important, it's what they finally hear, like Daria's father hearing a voice from the past.
Jake's hand lightly quivered as he set the CD into the player. He sat on the nearby sofa end and put earphones on. With a quick jab, he hit the play button on the remote and listened. Several times, he stopped and reversed the CD to replay sections of the interviews. His reactions varied from surprise, shock, disbelief, and finally, great sadness.
Quinn came in from work tired and ready for a light dinner. She saw her father sitting in the living room, intently listening. Curious, she went to him and did a double-take when she saw the tear on his cheek.
Jake jumped in surprise. He unplugged the earphones, reversed the CD to a spot he'd already learned, and hit play.
Nathan's voice came from the speakers. "Ruth, I love you. I promise to take care of myself and get back to you. Bruce, Jacob, I love you. Damn, I hate being not being able to see them. I miss all of you."
Jake looked at Quinn. "That's the first time I heard my father say he loved me."
Karen craned her head forward and said, "Okay, when did this franchise pick up advertising?" "I think it's part of the syndication deal," Michael said.
Karen rummaged around and found a clear bag filled with a green material. She held it up and said, "This segment has been brought to you by Meowui Wowie Catnip. Give your cat a taste of the islands."
Michael looked at the package and said, "Didn't Bump call this stuff dog weed?"
Karen and Michael stood in the quad at Boston Fine Arts College. She said, "Welcome back, you're just in time to see the introduction of one of our more unusual friends and Jane's first college roommate.
Jane checked the door, finding it unlocked. She opened and said, "Hello."
A voice responded from inside. "If you're not my new roommate, get the hell out of here."
Inside was a young woman with dark blue hair that fell to mid-back, wearing black leather riding pants and a sleeveless grey, buttoned shirt, which hung loose. She pushed small, oblong glasses back into place and rose from the lower section bunk. The bunk beds were to the left far corner of the room. Two storage units were visible under the beds. A single window was in the far wall looking out over the BFAC campus across the street. Closets and dressers filled the left wall between the door and the beds. The right wall was divided in the middle by a door to the bathroom shared with the next room. On either side of the bathroom door were worktables built against the wall, each longer than a regular desk but with the space underneath open. The surfaces were streaked and spattered with a kaleidoscope of colors and textures. Shelves and cabinets covered the wall above each. A rolling chair sat in front of each.
The woman approached. "Hey, I'm CC, which of you two is my new victim?"
"Jane Lane." She extended her hand. "CC mean anything in particular, or were your parents feeling real lazy on the birth certificate?"
CC snorted and grinned. "Cecilia Czernicki." She shook Jane's hand. "Since you're the latecomer, you get the top bunk. I hate climbing. I left you half the closet space." She thumbed the unused section of closet. She nodded to the work area at the far end of the room. It was scattered with several in-progress drawings in silverpoint. "That workbench is mine. Touch anything; I'll break your fingers."
Jane tossed her bag into the closet. "This is Daria Morgendorffer. She attends Raft, so you'll probably see her around a lot, whether I like it or not. The tall one in back is my brother, Trent. Probably only see him if he's mooching crash space."
"Hey, you two."
Daria set her luggage down more carefully. "Hi, CC."
Trent followed and unloaded. "Hey."
CC dropped back onto her bed. "I'm easy to get along with, don't screw around with me, and I won't screw around with you."
Jane rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, you're not my type."
A squeak came through the wall next to the beds. CC laughed. "Good one. You may survive after all." She pointed toward the walls. "The elevators. Noisy little buggers."
Jane looked dubiously at the wall. "Charming."
CC nodded. "Welcome to Purgatory."
Joining them, though with her hair returned to its natural blonde state, CC said, "Hey, good to be back to the land of my torment as a RA in the dorms. Jane doesn't know how good she had it, only staying there one semester.
Michael said, "You know, I still like that trick you taught Daria to do with her glasses."
"I never want to know," Karen said. "But there are some things that you need to know, no matter how icky it might be, as Daria learned from the fans of her Melody Powers stories.
Checking the link, Daria found the Lawndale Sun-Herald photo of her family at the State Bar Association Dinner they attended the previous summer. Helen had been chosen to present an award, so the entire family attended in formal wear, including Daria in an elegant black gown. "This is getting really weird."Ladiesman: Look and weep boys, I've got the goods. Here's a color screencap from a TV broadcast of that event, plus a selection other candids of our fair temptress.
Feisty - Mysterylady – Revealed
"Candids?" Daria clicked on the next link. She found an image gallery of her days in Lawndale. Next to a video screen capture of her at the Bar Association dinner, was a photo of her at the Café Lawndale reading, labeled 'The true debut of Melody Powers'. Others included a shot of her graduation speech, getting off the bus in her "Okay to Cry Corral" shirt, sitting with Jane on the knoll outside Lawndale High, plus many others around school.
Reading the full URL of the link, the domain name caught her eye and she said, "Feisty? Damn, I wonder." She hit the home link to Ultrasuave Universe, a site devoted to misguided female worship, merchandising collectables, and an online wasabi gummy fish store. "Upchuck." Daria shivered as she realized that there were three school years of photos displayed. "That SOB had been photographing me since I started at Lawndale High."fullmetaljacket99: Dude! Where did you find pics of her in high school?
Ladiesman: We went to school together, and I've always had a penchant for photography.
commiekiller: You lucky dawg. Got anything juicier?
Ladiesman: Are you kidding? I draw the line at risk to life and limb.
"You've got that right, Upchuck. I'm still considering numerous unpleasant things to do to you, if I had any idea of where you were."
"Needless to say, we were all happy when Upchuck was arrested," Michael said.
Officer Parks mumbled, "I thought only ladies selling cosmetics owned pink cars." The older-model convertible and its plates matched the description of a person wanted on multiple arrest warrants. With one of the warrant charges a violation of the anti-stalking law, Parks unsnapped the safety trap on his sidearm and got out of his police cruiser.
The red-headed man in the car sat still as Parks approached, and presented his driver's license as soon as Parks reached the door. The young man said, "What's the problem, officer?"
After a brief check that the ID and driver matched, he said, "Mr. Ruttheimer, please step out of the car and place your hands on the hood."
Using his old stage magic skills, Upchuck slipped the palmed cash out to his fingertips and discreetly flashed them at Parks. "Is that really necessary?"
Parks carefully took the money and said, "Yes, it is. Please step out of the car."
"But, you just..."
"Officer. I really need to be..."
"Slowly opening the car door and getting out."
Upchuck gulped and said, "Sir, perhaps we can arrange for a more...um...generous compensation package?"
Parks leaned forward and growled. "Get out of the car before I remove you from it."
Upchuck started to look in his rear-view mirror and to the sides.
"Don't even go there. I'm really not in the mood for a car chase."
Confused, Upchuck looked around more.
"Get out of the car you stupid little punk!" Parks barked.
"Ah!" Startled, Upchucked tumbled out of the car.
Parks grabbed his arm and swung him around, shoving him hard against the car hood. "Spread 'em."
Parks patted Upchuck down and handcuffed him. "You're under arrest."
"Come on, what's with all the seriousness?" Jane Lane said as she barged into the scene. "People have seen all this stuff before, they want the good stuff. The dirt. They want the bloopers."
"Oh, you mean like what they first brought out for your birthday cake?" CC said.
In their swimwear, Daria, Michael, Karen and Derek exited Jane's room, and Daria went straight to the box she had left on the table. The cake within was decorated with four individual line drawings of Jane, done in an Andy Warhol style of assorted, bright colors. Daria pulled a small lighter from the paper bag and lit nineteen candles on the cake. For a few seconds, they burned normally and then each started to oddly spark.
Jane said, "I don't think they're supposed to do that."
In rapid order, each candle exploded as a small firecracker, splattering cake over everyone watching.
Daria said, "I guess I shouldn't have trusted candles labeled 'birthday surprise.'"
Quinn Morgendorffer and Stacy Rowe, each dressed comfortably, leaned against a race car, still looking like fashionable young women.
Quinn said, "While Daria was having such a wild party life in Boston, some of us were having birthday surprises by seeing the side of a friend we'd never seen before.
After a giggle, Stacy said, "As if I'd have ever been able to tell you three earlier."
Quinn also laughed. "Or that we'd have believed you. Anyway, you did things out there that would've made Tiffany or me faint dead away."
Seventy-five miles and three quarters done. Stacy allowed a little smile. She was doing well: ninth in a race of twenty-five. She was able to keep her position, but was not gaining on the lead cars. She pushed down a little harder, but there was nothing more for the engine to give. Three cars ahead, two racers tapped corners, driving both cars into spins.
Stacy let out an "Eep!" and felt every muscle in her body tighten. She slipped her car in directly behind the car in front and followed it past the spins. Just as she thought she was clear, she felt a sickening crunch and the car jerked to the side.
The car began to spin as she remembered her father taking her out onto that old wet clay road. He said, "Turn into the spin to gain control," as he locked the brakes and threw the car into a spin, and then recovered. "Your turn." Stacy completed one spin and felt control returning. She had lost time, but regained speed and continued back into the pack.
Tiffany stared wide-eyed at the track. "Oh...my God."
Quinn's hands went to her face. "Stacy!"
Both slumped back in visible relief as Stacy recovered and continued, albeit with a horribly mangled rear quarter-panel.
Quinn looked over at Tiffany. "We're getting too old for this."
Tiffany cocked her head. "But...huh?"
Stacy said, "Come on, Quinn. From what you've told me, that's nothing compared to California freeways at rush hour."
"Speaking of rush hour," Quinn said and took a device from inside the car. "Don't get on the freeway without the True Travel Information Navigator. Forget all those pesky things like exit numbers and miles, this GPS unit will tell you the location of the nearest clean bathroom and hotels where you don't want to sleep hovering six inches above the bed because you don't even want to think what's been done on it."
"And don't forget the new Outlet Shopping feature. Don't pass by another great shopping opportunity," Stacy said.
Karen walked across the main Quad and said, "From time to time, we managed to have a little bit drama around here, like the first time Michael asked Daria to marry him. Nice thought, lousy timing."
Daria moved his chin up so she could look directly into his eyes. "Why did you ask me to marry you?"
"I love you. I want you to be there with me. I...I was hoping you would want to come with me."
Daria swallowed to steady her voice. "Did you ask because I am the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with?"
Michael hesitated several seconds. "I...I wanted you to come with me to Rome."
Daria quietly closed the box and gently pushed Michael's hand back. "Then you weren't asking for the right reason. I'm sorry."
Michael looked at the box. "I don't understand."
"You should be asking because you want to be with me for the rest of your life, not just the next three years."
"I guess I was kind of thinking..."
"No, you weren't. Either we go to Rome and give up my dreams, or we stay here and give up yours. I can't give up my dreams, they've been too important to me for too long. My conscience won't let met ask you to give up your dream."
"We recognize." Daria whispered. "We recognize that we've reached the end. We almost had what it took, but it wasn't quite enough. Circumstances intervened. Either route we take now will leave one of us resentful."
"It sounds like you want to break up."
Daria barely nodded. "I'm afraid so." She closed her eyes and braced herself. "It'll be better to stop now, before we make a bigger mess...that will hurt even more." With her jaw held tight against trembling, she whispered, Good bye, Michael."
Daria rose from her seat, and walked away at a slow, even pace; her face an iron mask of control.
Michael joined Karen and said, "You're right, my timing really sucked. But then, my timing to leave campus sucked even more."
The RA looked up from his desk. "He moved out this morning."
Daria stared, incredulous. "No."
"He had everything already packed when he got back from his last final. Grabbed a couple of spare hands and carried it down to a cab in about fifteen minutes. Said he was able to get an earlier flight home," the RA looked at his watch, "Should be leaving about now."
Her stomach dropped. "Damn."
Daria noticed a medium-height, somewhat overweight blond man approach, whom she recognized as Michael's roommate. She asked, "Ken, did Michael say anything before he left?"
Ken glared at Daria with unrestrained malice. "Way to go. I hope he at least passed his finals. You screwed with his brain real good. I've never actually seen somebody puke over breaking up with a girl before. Congratulations." He turned and walked away before she could respond.
Daria joined Michael and Karen. "Since everyone keeps talking about me, I figured I should join the party."
"We were just talking about one of the big dramatic moments in your life," Karen said. She gave Daria a light punch in the arm and said, "But after a nice comedy of errors, you set things straight."
"With a little help from our moms," Daria said.
Later that evening, Helen answered the telephone, "Hello...That's me; may I inquire to whom I am speaking?...Oh?...The same here..." As Helen spoke, a conspiratorial smile spread across her face. "I think that can be arranged...Very well, thank you...Goodbye."
Michael said, "Our mothers can be frightful conspirators when they put their minds to it."
Michael kissed the top of her head. "I've missed holding you. I'm glad I made the drive to finally talk to you."
Daria gave him a small smile. "I am, too." She raised an eyebrow. "How did you know I was here?"
Michael produced a sheepish, crooked smile. "My Mom...got tired of me moping around. She...talked to yours on the phone last night."
Daria raised the second eyebrow. "My Mom?"
"Right after, mine gave me this address and said, 'If you think you made such a mistake, here is your chance to fix it,' I took it and set my alarm for this morning. Here I am."
"My Mom?" Daria closed her eyes and murmured. "She was remembering her past."
"Nothing. But, that would explain why Mom suddenly had to go into work this morning instead of taking me out looking for a car. And made sure I was here by three."
"Clearly a plot. I think we should be worried, they like each other."
"My mother is a professional plotter. How bad is yours?"
"Daria, she set this up."
"This could be bad." Daria briefly kissed him again. "I'm glad they did."
Quinn walked along a palm-lined path and lifted her hand to show her college campus. "After a year of being the only daughter at home with Mom and Dad, I finally made my escape here to Pepperhill. That's where I met my best friend in college.
She went to the elevator and joined the crowd of freshman waiting. Soon the car arrived and they herded into it. Each freshman carried some bag, box or other item. When Quinn exited on the fourth floor, she waved back. "Bye, Patricia, Zoe, Lisa, Cassie. I'll see you around."
Several replies of, "Bye, Quinn," came from within.
She smiled and went to her room, unlocking the door. Inside, Quinn saw a tiny, thin girl, dressed all in black, sitting on a bed. She was facing away and sorting through a suitcase. Her brown/black hair fell to the bed and spread out a foot around her.
Quinn smiled and said, "Hi, I'm Quinn Morgendorffer."
The girl waved a hand without looking. "I'm Fran Lawrence. Looks like we're roommates."
"Looks like it."
Fran's hand fell and she said in a quieter voice. "Before I turn around...I was in a very bad accident when I was ten. I had to be cut out of a crushed car. My face can be unsettling."
Fran turned. Quinn first noticed soft, gray eyes with long, even lashes under delicately arched brows. Below, scars crossed the lower half of Fran's face, with the left side flattened and pressed back and a slight droop to that side of her mouth.
Quinn let out a weak, "Ee," and raised her hand to her mouth.
Fran looked down for a moment. "That's why I warned you."
"I've had eight years to adapt to it. It is a natural reaction."
I bet Daria would've reacted better. "I'm still sorry."
Quinn placed her bag on the other bed and looked around. Fran had also arrived well supplied: her shelves were almost full of books and the open closet was heavily filled with clothes, almost all of them black. A computer was already set up on her workdesk.
"I still need to bring up my stuff. How about we go out for dinner after that?"
Fran gave her a smile. "I could eat. Thanks."
Quinn said, "I'll be back," and bounced out of the room. As she rode the elevator down, she thought, That poor girl. She has such lovely eyes, but hardly anyone will see them because... The door opened and she headed for the parking lot. But, what can I do?
Quinn saw several young men walking by the parking lot and waved to them. "Hi. Could any of you help me move my stuff up to my room?"
Fifteen minutes later, everything was in the room. Quinn grinned and waved to the departing men. "Thanks Rod, Tony, Larry and Alex. I'll see you around."
Calls of, "Bye Quinn...Nice to meet you, Quinn...Call any time..." came down the hall.
Quinn looked at the dumbfounded Fran and pulled out her cell phone. "I need to check in with my Mom, and let a good friend know I made it. Then, we'll go out. My treat."
Daria walked in front of her mother's old law firm and then stopped in front of the door. "Back here in Lawndale, Mom had a surprise waiting for her...and a reason to think."
After hanging up the phone, Helen looked at the remaining stack of briefs on her desk and groaned. "And people wonder why I don't go on many vacations. Almost a full day back and it looks like I haven't made a dent in it."
Eric Schrecter entered the office and stood before Helen with a broad grin on his face. "The vote was unanimous. Congratulations, partner."
"Partner. You made it."
Eric grinned more. "Yes, you did. All your hard work has paid off. I'm assigning Becker, Wilson and Collingsworth to deal with these backlogs. You can cut back your hours to something reasonable. Get some rest. Spend extra time with your kids. I must get going. Once again, congratulations."
Helen stared in shock for a minute before saying with a bitter laugh, "Get some rest."
She slid down in her chair. "Spend extra time with your kids."
Quietly, she began to cry.
"Meow!" a black cat with white nose and paws said, dropping down from a windowsill of the Silversmith Drive apartment Daria and company had shared. The feline went to the open closet and playfully batted a paw at an orange and black Halloween costume. "Meow!"
Standing near the ladder, Daria could hear a series of soft thumps as something came down it unseen in the darkness. She whispered to Michael, "Please go get one of those light sticks."
"Sure, Daria." Michael walked away just as Daria felt something brush against her boot and walk around her legs. She held still while waiting, and felt something settle onto her feet.
Michael returned with the light stick and giggled. A black cat was lying on Daria's feet, with a dead rat in front of its paws as an offering. He said, "Now we know what was going bump in the night."
Just as Daria looked down, it looked up and softly meowed. The cat's nose was white, as were both front paws. Daria slowly reached down to it. Mom and Dad always avoided letting us have pets. Now it looks like one found me.
From above, Joe said, "Okay, I've got it cleaned up. Throw the breaker."
Cal flipped the breaker switch and the lights came back on.
Daria picked the cat up, saying, "Hello, Bump."
Karen, Derek, and Jane walked over to Daria. Karen said, "It looks like you've been adopted."
Jane smirked. "And gifted. I think it likes you."
"I think so." She looked at the dead rat and then at the cat. "While your gift is appreciated, no more of them will be necessary."
CC looked at the two men coming back along the scaffold. "Cal, it looks like we found your fearful beastie. It's kind of cute."
Daria looked down at the purring cat in her arms. "Okay, Bump. I need to scrape together a pet deposit for Mrs. Lyndon so you can stay in the apartment."
Bump nuzzled the underside of Daria's chin and meowed.
Trent Lane sat on a stage and strummed a guitar. "Hey, performing before a crowd can get messy, like when they throw beer bottles at you. To insure my axe, I use Guitar-Guard. No muss, no fuss replacement for performance-related damage.
Trent scratched his neck and said, "I don't think that came out right."
Daria sat on the landing of the apartment she had shared with Jane and Karen. "Back home in Lawndale, things did get a little weird when I got caught up in the unraveling of the full story behind Ms. Li's scheme with Lenard Lamm and Linda Griffin to promote Ultra Cola. And the big surprise was the help from Sandi Griffin."
Inside the near-empty courtroom, Linda's eyes burned with pure malice. "I don't believe my own daughter did that. After all I did for that miserable bitch."
"Look." Mr. Stevens told Linda, "It really is in your best interest to try a plea bargain."
"What the hell did you say?"
"They just completely connected the dots, and our civil case has been shot out of the water. The station now has a legitimate case to dismiss you completely separate from the kickback scheme. You should've told me about that videotape and forging your daughter's signature on the log. It's in your best interest to turn before someone else does."
Linda glared at him.
"We'll also be able to negotiate a better deal if you do it before the grand jury returns the indictment. At this point, I can guarantee one. If we move fast, we might avoid jail time for you."
Linda looked at Ms. Li and Mr. Lamm plotting with their lawyers. Resting her head on arms folded on the table, she said, "Make the deal."
Jane joined Daria and leaned against the railing. "Being the drama queen we all know and love, you even made a great internal debate about finally hitting the sack with Michael."
Daria shook her head. "You always know how to keep the romance in things, Lane."
"And you still needed outside encouragement."
"Saturday already?" Daria stared up at the ceiling over her bed and remembered making a similar statement a couple years earlier while dating Tom. After putting her glasses on, she slipped out of bed and walked to the bathroom. "Maybe just letting things happen would've been a lot easier than this drawn-out planning and waiting."
Later, still in her warm, long nightshirt, Daria sat at the table, eating a bowl of oatmeal. "No, that might have been easier up front, but..." Daria gave a short laugh and smile. "...I'm enough of a romantic to want something more. Something like that I'd regret for a long time."
Putting the dishes in the washer, Daria still felt nervous. "Maybe a voice from the past might also help."
She opened a steamer trunk and sorted through different volumes marked by year. "Mrs. Blaine, I've often found good advice by reading your life."
A couple hours later, she found an entry in the "1936" volume.July 15
Sorry I didn't have time to write yesterday, but Mark and I were just so busy. Our wedding was delightful. I think keeping it simple was the right answer. Reverend Tyler was a bundle of laughs before we started and helped to calm my nerves. Much to my relief, I didn't trip over my dress on the way down the aisle. I don't think I've seen Dad so thrilled in my life, or that Mom would ever stop crying.
Diane caught the bouquet during the reception. Boy, did she eye Ronald afterward. He better get on the ball soon. Stu caught the garter. Maybe this means he'll find somebody this year.
Mark's car made it to Niagara Falls without a problem and we found our hotel after only getting lost for a while. The honeymoon suite is very nice, though we can only afford to stay in it for a couple days.
Yes, I was scared when we went to bed. Mark was very patient and in the end, I was very happy. I guess some people would consider me a bit naughty, but I'm looking forward to a lifetime in bed with him.
Daria closed the book and gently put it back in place before sealing the trunk. "Once again, thank you."
She pushed the trunk under her bed with a grunt. "One more thing," she said before getting her cell phone from on top of her computer desk.
After dialing and waiting for a response, she said, "Mom?"
Helen replied, "Hi, Sweetie. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. Um, you once said you wanted me to talk to you first. Well, I wouldn't mind a little advice."
"Why, sure. What did you want to ask me about?"
"So I was a little nervous," Daria said. "It was a big step for me."
Jane laughed and said, "You know what I still can't believe was that of the three of us living here, I was the last one to lose my virginity.
Tired from the long trip, Jane went straight to her room, tossed the suitcase on top of her laundry hamper and immediately changed into sweatpants and a shirt. Coming out of her room, she noticed Daria on the sofa, a soft smile on her face as she looked out the window.
"Morgendorffer, what are you grinning..." Jane's eyes widened in surprise. "So that's why you didn't mind having the place to yourself all weekend."
Daria blushed, but didn't lose her smile.
"Come on girl, give me details!"
"We had an excellent dinner, watched The Nutcracker and came back here to spend the night together."
"And that's all I'm going to get, right?"
"Until I write my autobiography."
Jane laughed until a realization hit and she leaned back against the table. "I don't believe it! You mean that out of the three of us, I'm the last?"
Daria said, "And it didn't take you long to solve that little problem."
Daria yawned hard and blinked her eyes after stopping the car in the Lane driveway. "Next time, we're bringing your car and you can chauffeur me around."
"Deal. It's almost three, I'll let you get home." Jane opened the car door.
"Kind of unsettling about Mack and Jodie. They've been together the whole time I've known them."
"Well, I've know Mack since grade school. But yeah, he and Jodie had been together since not too long after she moved to Lawndale."
"Hmm." Daria thought. "It does make you think."
Jane eyed her friend. "Hey, you okay?"
"Oh. Um, yeah. Just...when I consider some things that might've happened...I appreciate the way things did work out. I think it made us appreciate what we have more."
"All right. Good night."
"Night. See you sometime tomorrow afternoon."
Jane closed the car door and watched Daria back away. She crunched through the thin snow to the front door. On hearing a car, she turned, saying, "What'd you..."
Mack slowly opened his car door. "I hope you don't mind."
"No. Do you want to come in?"
Daria stood on a busy Boston street, wearing her old pair of glasses. "For years, my patented 'Manstopper' glasses have been bestsellers for women who want to avoid unnecessary male attention. Well, to meet an increasing demand..."
Daria takes off the old glasses and puts on a pair of new glasses that look exactly the same. "I present my new 'Nerdattractor' glasses. For that special nerd in your life."
Daria walks away holding her forehead and shaking her head. "I'm not doing the boot commercial."
Hands in pockets, Michael walked along the dock in front of the USS Constitution. "One of the downsides of working this gig was that the Powers That Be discarded more outtakes and alternatives than the BBC threw out Doctor Who episodes. Only a couple of things survived, like this cut scene from Dividing Spiral."
Trent leaned back and rested his head against one of the upright supports of the gazebo. He remembered a conversation he had with Daria years before. There were sitting on the side of the road where the old Tank had broken down on the way to Alternapalooza.Faintly uncomfortable in his presence and self-conscious of the duct tape holding her glassed together, Daria made the observation, "Umm, you know Trent, it takes a lot of guts to go after a dream, especially when you know that failure can mean spending the rest of your life playing LA Woman. In public."
Holding his acoustic guitar, he'd only replied, "Hmm, I guess."
Daria went on to explain, "And even if it doesn't work out, at least for now you're doing exactly what you want to."
Cheered, Trent said, "Yeah, that's true."
"A lot of people never even get that far," Daria said with a certain note of respect in her voice.
The memory jumpstarted more thoughts, so Trent folded his hands over his stomach and let his mind wander about his recent experiences.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Lindy asked, sitting beside him and touching his shoulder. Trent moved his arm around her and said, "Thinking about our dreams, and how we're doing exactly what we want to."
Sitting on the railing of the gazebo in the back yard of their house, Lindy held her son on her lap and said, "Speaking of cut lines, I'm still bummed out that this didn't make the final version of Arrivals and Returns."
Amanda paused, turned and asked, "Lindy, did you loose weight?"
Lindy chuckled inwardly and said, "Yes, eight pounds, seven ounces."
"That's nice, dear."
Daria leaned against the front door of her parents' home. "For a while, the script called for Michael to hold off on proposing to me again until May Day of our senior year and me waiting until graduation to tell Mom."
Daria led Helen aside. "Mom, can I ask you to change any plans you have for your anniversary?"
Helen looked at Daria with some annoyance. "We've already made reservations for that night. It better be for a good reason."
Daria blushed slightly. "Will my wedding be a good enough reason?"
Helen's face went white. "Wedding?"
Daria held up her ring.
Helen quickly hugged her daughter. "I'm so happy for you!"
"I'm a little happy myself."
"Oh, my God! That's less than two months away! How do you expect to have time to plan anything?"
Jane sat at one of the kitchen chairs in Casa Lane with her feet propped on one of the other chairs. "You know, I put a lot of effort into this scene from Lindy Lane and the damn thing ended up on the writer's thumb drive. Oh well, I get to show it off now, at least."
A loud squawk greeted Jane as she entered the Lane residence. In the corner to her right, a green parrot grumpily sat in a large cage. "Good, I won't have to check the chair backs for surprises."
From the kitchen, Jane's sister, Summer, yelled, "Do you have any idea of how much this place must've appreciated?"
"Yeah," Penny interrupted, "And all you'd do is borrow money with it as collateral. It'd be foreclosed in no time, with how well you handle money."
"Oh, coming from the woman who's gone broke in more businesses than you can count." Summer snapped back.
"But what about..." Jane's brother Wind spoke up.
Penny yelled back, "And you're next ex-wife would get it!"
"You don't know that," Wind weakly retorted.
"Sounds like they got the news about the house." Jane sighed and went to the kitchen. Summer and Wind were facing off against Penny, but nobody else was present.
Summer noticed and said, "Here's the other one making out like a bandit."
Jane's eyes narrowed, "You mean, that I'm getting my college expenses paid for out of the money Mom and Dad are getting from Trent and Lindy?"
"Like you or Wind had the slightest interest in college," Penny said.
"We grew up here, too. Why should Trent get the house?" Wind complained.
Jane stepped directly in front of Wind and pushed her face up to his. "Because he's the one that stayed here and held things together for the last eight years. Your only interest in the place has when one of your wives kicked you out." She spun and faced Summer, "Or when you needed babysitters."
Anger still rising, she went on, "But now you're oh-so-worried about Trent getting the house? Or me getting help for college?"
Karen and Daria walked along the edge of Raft campus, near Sorority Row. Karen said, "Writers don't always listen to us."
"You mean that writers hardly ever listen to us," Daria corrected.
"Either way, after Daria once mentioned the specialty boutiques behind the chapter houses, I always wanted a scene where we visited one."
"This was a PG-rated gig, you know," Daria said. "But at least we got to see some of the sleepwear you bought there."
"Come on, you know the look on your face would've been priceless. And don't give me that PG-rated stuff after you did that R-rated bit."
Daria blushed and said, "Well, um..."
"Oh, come on. You enjoyed it."
"It didn't suck."
Karen laughed and said, "I'm not going to touch that one."
As Jane joined them, Daria said, "Besides, wouldn't it have been a lot more fun to go shopping with Jane after she became a free agent after that cruise?"
"Shopping for what?" Jane cautiously asked.
Karen pointed to one of the shops visible down the street. "Guess."
"Aw, man," Jane said. "That could've been hilarious."
Daria shook her head. "On that note, a word from our sponsor." She turned and handed a card to Jane. "Screw it, I'm not doing this one. Your turn."
As Daria walked away, Jane read from the card. "This segment was brought to you by Eau de Angst, makers of fine perfumery, such as...um...uh...Penguin Amore..." Jane's face twisted in shock and she said, "That's just...that just made little Janey's head hurt. Bad. Real bad. Ouch."
Jane sat in the living room of their old apartment with her feet propped up on the sofa. "Not even the Powers That Be around here could keep everything going right. Like the time when Daria got a new boss for her job at the Raft University Press. Mind you, the bastard had the lousy timing to make Daria late to my birthday party."
After lunch, Daria had barely settled down at her workstation at the Raft University Press when the Editor in Chief, Dr. Killarny, entered with a large, balding man sporting a thin mustache.
Dr. Killarny said, "Everyone, your attention please."
The room quieted as the staff turned and/or stood in their cubicles to see them.
Dr. Killarny continued, "As most of you know, the Dean of Liberal Studies resigned last week. I have been named as the Interim Dean until a candidate search can be completed."
There was mixed clapping and yelling from the staff.
He motioned for silence. "I have grown to know and respect all of you. It has been a pleasure to work with everyone. Regrettably, my acceptance of the Interim Dean position means I cannot continue my duties here."
Silence filled the room, disturbed by some low, sad murmurs.
"Dr. Findlay will be my successor, starting tomorrow. Dr. Findlay has been with Raft for twenty-six years and has been editor for two major professional journals. Please give him a warm welcome."
The staff clapped, though some hesitancy was noticeable, particularly among some of the older employees.
Dr. Findlay stepped forward. "It will be a pleasure to continue my good colleague's work. I'm looking forward to a long and successful term as Editor-in-Chief."
Nearing five-thirty the next day, Daria saved the file she was proofreading and started to shut down her computer. Dr. Findlay stopped at her cubicle and said, "I hope you didn't have any plans tonight. We're a little short-handed and I need you to work until eight so we don't fall behind."
"I wouldn't mind a few extra hours, but I can't tonight. It's my roommate's birthday."
"I wasn't asking if you could work late tonight. I was telling you that your work hours are until eight o'clock."
"Dr. Findlay, I was supposed to pick up her cake on the way home."
"You can still do that."
"Young lady, don't argue."
Daria's shoulders drooped. "Yes, Dr. Findlay."
After he left the area, Daria called Michael's dorm room with her cell phone.
"Hey," Todd answered.
"Hi, Todd. Can you leave a message for Michael?"
"I have to work late tonight. Please ask him to pick up Jane's cake at Dottie's Deli and take it to my place. It'll be after eight-thirty before I get home."
"Ow, girl. What's going on?"
"We're short today and the new boss looks like he wants to make a good impression by not falling behind schedule."
"New bosses usually suck. Trying to make a name for themselves."
"Thanks for taking the message, Todd."
As soon as Daria closed the phone, Dr. Findlay said, "In the future, I would appreciate it if you limited your personal calls to break times."
Daria joined Jane in the room and sat against the back of the sofa. "And only a few weeks later, I had the most spiritually uplifting experiences with school bureaucracy possible. Just when I thought I had them beaten back, they hit me again. Possibly the only time I've considered fire-bombing a library.
Still tired, Daria rested her head on the table next to her sub sandwich. "I had to run down signatures for two more overrides to get into filled classes, but I made it. Four freaking days to get my summer classes. I'm glad that ordeal's over."
Michael reached across the table and stroked her hair. "You can rest now. You've beaten back the bureaucracy."
"I'd like to beat them with a stick," Daria grumbled, but also let out a soft sigh in response to Michael's touch.
"Wouldn't do much good; their hides are too thick."
Daria lifted her head just enough to look at him. "Probably the only way to live through the office politics. Survival of the fittest."
"Or should that be thickest?"
"Well, let's forget about that for now. My full-time hours start next week and I won't be able to get over here for lunch for the summer. Let's enjoy this while we can."
Arriving home the following Monday, Daria picked up the mail and started to scan through it on her way up. She stopped on the landing outside the door when she saw a letter from the university library.
"What now?" Daria asked while she tore open the letter.May 18, 2001
Our records show that DARIA L MORGENDORFFER has been assessed a fine of $1.00 – ONE Dollars and ZERO cents - for overdue library materials. Please remit payment to the Circulation Desk as soon as possible. If payment is not made within 4 (four) weeks of the above date, the fine will be reported to the Financial Services office and a hold placed on your account until payment is made.
Thank you, Raft University Library Services
Lindy walked up to the stage of The Zon and stopped at a stool. She lifted Trent's guitar from it's stand and after taking a seat, strummed a couple of novice chords. "Trent helped me through one of the toughest times of my life, so it seemed only right that I'd be there for him."
In the morning sunlight, a tall man with brown hair pulled into a ponytail connected a cable to Max's car and started winching it onto a service truck's lowered deck. Printed in an arc along each truck door was a logo proclaiming, "Rowe Custom Automotive."
Standing beside Trent near the tall yard sculpture, Max said, "It had a good life, but it's time to say goodbye. Mr. Rowe's going to give me a good scrap price for the old car."
"You're not gonna fix it?"
"Trent, it's dead."
"Mmm. Means I'm gonna have to give everyone rides."
Max scratched the back of his neck and said, "No, you're...not."
"New rig? Cool."
"No, Trent. Between Nick and the car, it got me thinking. You, me and Jesse have been together for ten years. And, we haven't gone anywhere."
The bald man nodded. "I'm leaving the Spiral, too. Maybe see if I can get a job with Mr. Rowe."
"Max, what about 'eyes on the prize'?"
With a clunk, Mr. Rowe leveled the cargo deck of the service truck and walked around to complete securing the car.
Max said, "There's no prize for Mystik Spiral." He started walking to the loaded truck and added, "But dude, you did find a prize. Don't pull a Nick and lose her over us."
Lindy opened the front door and said, "Hey, Jesse. Trent's downstairs getting his gear."
Hands in pockets, Jesse absently said, "Hmm. Good timing."
Aware of his mood, Lindy said, "Sorry about Max. But, Trent says that the band started with you two."
Lindy stopped and leaned against a wall, watching. She said under her breath, "This doesn't look good."
She waited for several minutes until Jesse reemerged from the basement. Looking at the floor, he rushed by and said, "See ya later, Lindy."
Trent followed seconds later, forlornly carrying his guitar case. Lindy took his free hand and asked, "Was that what it looked like?"
"I'm sorry. I know how much the music meant to you."
"Jesse and me had been playing together for twelve years."
Putting her arms around his waist, she asked, "What are you going to do now?"
He moved his arm around Lindy's shoulder and held her close. "A gig's a gig."
"Okay, okay, I can get behind this one," Daria said as she walked in front of her high school home. "Are you tired of watching me on tired old VHS tapes, shaky DVD dubs of those VHS tapes or the occasional upload to YouTube? Well, the real DVDaria is finally here. For when you need a break from this stuff."
Sitting in the bedroom of the apartment Daria shared with Michael their senior year, Quinn lifted a scarf from a drawer and said, "How in the world did you get this?"
Sitting on the bed, Daria said, "That was from our first guest writer, Ipswichfan and his story, A Night at the Soccer Game. One of the few people able to believably have me develop a liking for a sport."
"You? Like a sport, come on, Daria."
Daria shrugged and said, "Roll 'em."
As the four were walking out of the stadium, Scott asked, "So what did you think?"
Michael shrugged. "I've seen worse live performances."
Jane's response was similar. "It wasn't quite as loud as my brother's band...and made a little more sense." Too bad those guys run around so much. It's hard to appreciate their buns from the stands when they won't keep still. If I go again, I'll have to bring binoculars.
Daria smiled and said "That was fun. This was a good idea. Uh, hold on a second."
She rushed over to a souvenir stand, then returned a couple moments later with a blue scarf around her neck. The scarf had the word "Revolution" in large white letters on the blue background.
Michael asked, "What's with the scarf? Getting ready for winter already?"
Jane said, "An accessory? Shouldn't you get Quinn's opinion on this first?"
Daria looked at the scarf, shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, you know...we just want to change the world."
Amy Barksdale sat at her office desk on the campus of Tennyson University. "Speaking of guest writers, I'm certainly not one to complain about landing this gig, even if I got married off, as introduced in the story, Past Influences."
As the last bit of Freakin' Friends finished, Jane turned off the CD player and said, "In the end, the whole thing gave my brother the idea for the one CD single that his old band actually managed to sell."
Having listened to the story intently, Elsie said, "Wow. That says something that you two are still friends. But, Tom's in deep trouble the next time I see him."
Karen pointed her thumb at Daria and joked, "Don't look at me; I'd have gone Jerry Springer on her ass."
"Don't let her fool you. She's a softy at heart," Daria said.
"Hey, we're even on that, remember?" Karen replied. Actually, I think you're a little ahead with getting me an invite to your aunt's wedding down around D.C weekend after next. That is going to be so cool."
Elsie said, "I feel for your aunt, trying to get a wedding planned down there then, what with that big Barksdale-Wyatt wedding going on at the same time."
Jane asked, "You've heard about it?"
"I couldn't help but hear about it. It's the talk of high-society types along the mid-Atlantic. Everyone involved in the wedding business has been trying to angle in on a piece of it and getting an invite is like getting a golden ticket. Mom's been planning on what to wear for months."
Jane and Karen covered their mouths to unsuccessfully hide their laughter. Elsie held up her hands and said, "Okay, what am I missing this time?"
Karen pointed at Daria. "Bridesmaid for her Aunt Amy."
"Amy?" Elsie's eyes grew wide in surprise. "Amy Barksdale is your aunt?"
"Um, yeah," Daria said. "I had no idea of how rich Amy's fiancé's family was or what a spectacle this was going to turn into when I agreed."
"Wait...bridesmaid? Oh, my God."
"I'm figuring this will be the pinnacle of my career, so I'm planning on retiring when it's over."
"Almost makes me wish I were going."
Karen said, "You're not?"
"I'm taking an overnight flight to England after dinner. I'm not in the mood for four trans-Atlantic flights in two weeks. Or, to run into my parents. They would love to try to find me a nice boy among the guests. Besides, I didn't exactly leave on good terms."
Jane rubbed her chin. "Ouch.
"It wasn't pretty and I don't want to think about it. Please?"
Jane nodded. "Agreed, off limits. So, is Tom going to be there?"
"No. He still thinks weddings are too corny and boring."
Jane and Daria exchanged gazes and the latter said, "Some things don't change."
Elsie said, "I've heard rumors about the dresses. Can I see?"
Daria replied, "I don't see what it will hurt, though they have been keeping these stupid things under wraps. But since I don't see any cameras on you..."
"I promise not to tip off the paparazzi."
"In my closet," Daria said as she pushed off the sofa.
All three women crowded around Daria as she took a zippered, leather garment bag from her closet and opened it to pull out the palest of green silk gowns. It was Edwardian style with a form-fitting blouse topped by a high collar, long sleeves tapering to a cuff and a full, flowing skirt. Embroidery in green and yellow softly accented the collar and sleeves.
Elsie gasped at the designer original and said, "That would make all those stuffy girls at the Starry Night Ball keel over, green with envy. By the way, Daria, be glad you got out of that snooze fest."
"Thanks. I have to admit that it's beautiful." A motion caught her eye, making Daria look at her cat lazily watching from the window. She said, "Bump, you and your stray fur need to stay put."
Bump gave her a momentary glance, licked a paw and proceeded to wash her face.
"Give it up, Daria," Karen said. That cat's fur is already everywhere. Hell, I took enough of it home with me to Georgia."
"Not surprising, with how much time that cat spends on your laundry," Jane said. "Must be all the interesting smells you bring home from work."
Ignoring Jane, Karen said, "Damn. If that's the bridesmaid's outfit, what does the bride's look like?"
"Except for Amy, a select few, and the battalion of tailors assembling it, nobody knows."
Still seated at the desk, Amy rose and walked around, placing her hands on her hips. "And someone still needs to finish telling my adventures in Brother Grimace's story, A Path of Roses and Thorns.
With all of the effort and chaos over the past year that bringing Amy Barksdale to the wedding chapel had entailed, one thought kept circling through Paula Trainor's mind: Anyone who keeps this wedding from happening will simply have to die.
"Stop thinking like that, Colonel Trainor. You're scaring the civilians."
"The Posse Comitatus Act does not have a provision for weddings, smarty. They screw this up and I'll turn them into vapor."
Amy Barksdale shook her head, and smiled. "Okay - what's the deal with the camera crew again?"
"They're filming all aspects of the wedding, dummy - your wedding, remember? Follow along; your boy-toy's folks are connected and loaded, your people are connected - did you really think that no one would bring a camera along?"
"You are enjoying this a little too much, Zoomie Smurf. You know that, don't you?"
"In all fairness to the greatness that is me, I did find you a husband. You made it a difficult process, castrating the braver souls with that acid glare of yours and scaring away the rest on personality alone... You in a bridal gown was something I was resigned to seeing only on Halloween."
Jake stood behind the kitchen counter, stirring a large pot. "You know, when I get a hankering for some Kitchen Sink Stew, I've found a new friend to give it just the extra kick that it needs."
Jake picked up a small bottle and unscrewed the cap. "Just a dash of Brother Brimstone's Blazing Brew is all it takes."
After Jake shook a small drop into the stew, a small mushroom cloud billowed up from the mix. "One Million Scoville Units. Guaranteed!"
Jake stirs the pot more and then takes a taste from the wooden spoon. He falls back, barks and stamps his foot while shaking his head.
Helen enters, looks at the stew and then the bottle. She sighs and says, "Oh, Jakey..."
Seated at her desk in the Bar Association offices, Helen said, "Despite the anticlimax I felt at making partner in the law firm, it required something a little more drastic to get me to start looking at how I was spending my life. Fortunately, the lesson had already started dawning on Daria when I had my stroke in A Matter of Priorities.
Dr. Findlay raised an eyebrow before saying, "Your mother's had a stroke and you need to drive down to Maryland to be with her. On the Monday after you took Friday off to attend your aunt's wedding."
Still shaken from the news, Daria leaned on his desk. "Exactly. Dr. Findlay, I didn't come in here to ask permission to go. I came, as a courtesy, to let you know that I'm going."
"If you place a higher priority on having an extra day or two off..."
"You're right; this is a matter of priorities. Being with my mother is more important."
"I thought you enjoyed your work."
"Most of the time, I enjoy working here. It's a challenge and I've learned a lot." She sighed and stood up. "It's a long story, but I've learned not to place work too much ahead of family. Dr. Findlay, I'm going. I'm hoping you'll understand, but if not, I'll clean my desk out when I get back."
The editor leaned back in his chair and tapped a pen against his fingers. "What about your classes?"
"If you're going to Maryland, what are you doing about your classes?"
"I'll have to call my professors and arrange for notes. I'm sure I can borrow lecture tapes from some of the other students."
"Hmm. Okay, I believe you. You better get going."
Daria entered Helen's office and leaned against the desk next to her mother. "And when it comes to family, you can sometimes miss what's going on in the rest of the world."
The doctor brought Jake out of Helen's room and addressed the family. "You've been here all night, and must be exhausted. We need to run tests to determine the extent of the damage that occurred, and we still need to find the source of the clot that caused the stroke. Since you can't be with Helen during the tests, I recommend that you go home and get some rest. All of you. We should be done by about three this afternoon, or so. I'm sure she'll be glad to see you then."
Tess said, "Yes, doctor. Jake, may Rita and I please stay in your guest room?"
"Oh, oh, of course,"
"Then, we better get out of the way and let this gentleman do his work."
The sun had barely risen when they left the hospital for the short drive to Jake and Helen's home. Michael was struggling to stay awake as he parked his car behind Rita's. Jake had already opened the door as Tess and Rita carried overnight bags inside. They all moved mechanically as they separated to the different rooms and prepared to get some rest.
Stepping out of the bathroom, Michael saw Tess, and was suddenly self-conscious of making the short walk to Daria's room. Tess quietly told him, "My granddaughter should be with the man she loves at a time like this. It's the right thing to do."
He nodded once in appreciation and went on his way. Inside, Daria was already in a black nightgown and she embraced him immediately.
"Thank you so much," she said. "I don't know how I would've made it without you."
He held her in return. "You're so very welcome."
They separated after a long, soft kiss. Michael said, "I think the doctor had a good idea. Sleep."
"Go ahead, I want to write in my diary a little," Daria said.
"Sure, I understand." Michael crawled into the bed and closed his eyes.
Daria pulled her hand-made, leather-bound diary from the suitcase and opened it on the desk. After taking a silver fountain pen from a slender box, she looked back at Michael. Picking up the book and pen, she left the desk and climbed onto the bed next to him, sitting up against a pillow. She pulled the sheets over her legs and said, "I also want to stay close to you."
"No problem," he sleepily said, wrapping his arms around her waist.
"I won't take long." She started to write:September 11
Michael stood on the fantail of the USS Constitution and looked over the bay. "That fall made more of us think about priorities and who was important in our lives. You learn that you simply must do some things, no matter how much life tries to get in your way, or how stubborn your loved ones may be, like in Another Day in Paradise.
Daria burped queasily and pushed her plate away. "I think we found where Speedy Lube gets rid of their old motor oil."
Michael looked at his half-eaten dinner and had to agree. He placed his silverware on top and took a long drink of tea to wash away the aftertaste. "I seem to remember it being better than this."
Daria looked around for the waitress. "And the service has been almost as good as the food."
"Yeah," he replied, though the waitress hadn't been that bad, just overworked in a crowded diner.
Daria dropped her head on the table. "Ah well, a crappy ending to a crappy day."
"I'm sorry about the dinner. I have something that may..."
"Michael, stop." Daria sighed in anger as she looked up. "I'll appreciate your attempts to cheer me up in the morning, but right now, they're making matters worse."
"I'll get the check and then I can take you home, how's that?" he asked, irritated.
"Um, yeah." Michael caught a glimpse of the waitress and waved.
The college-aged girl hurried over. "Yes?"
Michael said, "Can I have the check, please?"
"Would you like to-go boxes?"
Daria stared at her plate and growled, "My landlady frowns on me bringing home toxic waste."
The waitress clenched her teeth and walked away.
Michael glared at Daria. "She didn't have anything to do with the food other than bringing it out."
"Look, I'm in a bad mood and not fit to be around people, okay?"
"Yeah, I can see that."
The waitress dropped off the check without slowing or looking at them. Michael grabbed it and said, "Be right back."
"I'll head out to the car...fewer people out there. If I'm lucky, I'll run into a mugger and I can shove my boot up his ass."
Michael parked his car behind Karen's pickup. "Looks like your partners in crime are home."
"Hopefully they'll be busy and won't bother me. I think Bump is the only company I can stand right now," Daria said as she opened the door.
Michael stood and looked over the car roof. "Dammit, I know you had a bad day, but couldn't you have at least given me a chance to cheer you up?"
"You've been trying...very trying. It probably would've been best just to have come straight home from work."
"I was really hoping to make this a special night," he shouted more than spoke.
"You should know by now that when I get like this, just don't try to make things better."
"Yeah, and you know I normally do, but tonight was different!"
"Yeah, it was the anniversary of our first date. Look, they all can't be winners."
"It wasn't just that."
Michael came around the car, pulling the box from his pocket. When he got to Daria, who was starting to back away, he dropped quickly to one knee, flinching as the gravel dug into the skin.
"What are you up to?" she asked, still angry, but also surprised and curious.
God, please don't let me mess this up and hurt Daria again. Michael calmed his voice and said, "A year and a half ago, I really screwed up and almost lost you. I might be screwing up again, but I really mean this: I love you and want to spend my life with you." He gently pressed the box into her hand and opened it. All of the day's anxiety vanished as Michael focused on his words. "Will you marry me?"
Daria stared at him and slowly gulped. Starting to breathe raggedly, she raised the box to her face as the emerald glinted in the moonlight. She hoarsely whispered, "Marry you?"
"This is beautiful, but how did you find another?"
Michael smiled. "I didn't."
Daria's eyes went wide in realization. "You've had this the whole time?"
"I never had the heart to return it after you called it perfect."
Chewing on her lower lip and blinking back tears, Daria asked, "This is what you had planned for tonight?"
"Yes. I've been carrying it with me all day."
She gulped again and slipped the ring onto her finger. "Yes."
Michael stood and embraced Daria. Feeling herself relax under his gentle touch, she whispered, "You win; you managed to make the day better."
Lounging on the sofa with one leg thrown up on the back, Jane whistled and said, "That took a while for you to finally come upstairs, steam up the car windows or something?"
Lying on the floor reading a book, Karen looked up and said, "You wanna talk about looking like a deer in the headlights; that must've been something."
"Yeah, Morgendorffer," Jane said, "I haven't seen you looking this out of it in...hell, I never have seen you like this."
Daria slowly lifted her hand, turning it to show the ring. Spotting it first, Karen spun up and off the floor, dashing over. "Holy crap!"
Jane crawled over the sofa back and joined Karen. "Damn, Daria. He really did it."
Karen finished the thought. "She did, too."
Jane grabbed Daria's hand. "Wow, the boy knows your taste. That's gorgeous."
Karen said, "Jane, I think we need to give her some room to breathe."
"Oh, yeah. Damn, I can't wait to tell Trent."
Daria placed a hand on Jane's shoulder. "Don't say anything yet. I want to tell Mom and Dad in person."
"That's sweet," Karen said.
Daria gave them a wry grin. "The looks on their faces should be priceless."
Looking slightly nervous, Fran Lawrence walked along the beach near Pepperhill. "Timing can be a funny thing. Just when Daria gets ready to tell her family about Michael, Quinn has an interesting encounter on her way home to Lawndale.
Merry Freaking Christmas, Quinn thought as she inched her way along the crowded aisle of the airliner while scanning the seat numbers for hers. She glanced down at her carryon suitcase. Thirty freaking dollars worth of gift wrapping ruined. Did those security guys have to open everything? A malodorous man in an ill-fitting suit before her finished shoving his luggage into the overhead bin and squeezed past a young woman to sit heavily in the window seat. Quinn gave the woman a glance of sympathy as she stepped past and found her seat. The aisle seat was still empty, so she was able to easily duck in and take her place at the window, sliding the suitcase underneath.
She spent the next ten minutes watching the many different people on board, longing to ask some where they found such cute clothes and hoping that others would have a sudden attack of good taste. A young man with blond hair stopped and put a small suitcase into the overhead. A pair of wraparound sunglasses was perched on top of his head and he wore a buff-colored t-shirt that said, "American Entomology" above an image of a US flag formed from patterns of colored insects. Next, he nodded to Quinn and sat down next to her before removing a paperback book from his laptop case, which he then placed under the seat.
Quinn observed as he started reading the book, a recent spy thriller. Cute, with a nice tan. I like his hair, cool sunglasses, but that shirt is so weird. Seeing that he was absorbed in the book, she pulled the in-flight catalog from the seat pocket and started to browse while waiting.
After takeoff and tiring of the catalog, Quinn turned to the young man. "Oh, a spy story. Is it any good?"
He straightened and faced her, placing a worn marker in the book and letting it rest on the open tray table. "Not too bad, though it's a bit formulaic in places. The author's written better stuff, but also a lot worse."
"I see." Thinking of Daria's stories, Quinn asked, "Do you read the magazine, Literature in Action?"
"That hack rag?" He shook his head. "They stumble on a few good stories now and then, but most of what they publish is crap."
She quietly acknowledged, "Oh."
"You're not a regular reader, are you?"
"No, not really, but they published some of my sister's stories. Daria Morgendorffer, have you heard of her?"
He shrugged. "Doesn't ring a bell, sorry."
"No problem, I was just curious."
The pilot announced, "We have reached our cruising altitude. You may now use your portable electronic devices and are free to move around the cabin."
"Ah, good," the man said and reached under the seat. He took his computer from its case and set it on the tray table. "Excuse me, I'm hoping to get a little work done before we reach Salt Lake City."
Curious about the man's apparent immunity to her charm, Quinn spent a couple of seconds watching him start the computer before looking out of the window at the scenery far below. Moving on to another mystery, Quinn thought about the last couple of phone conversations she had with her sister. Daria seemed almost...excited...about something and was most insistent about arranging to pick Quinn up from the airport. Curiosity about what could have her in such a state made Quinn wish that the flight back east was almost over instead of barely beginning.
Quinn's attention was caught by a colorful orange and black pattern on her neighbor's computer monitor. "That's pretty. Is it some kind of tribal pattern?"
"Um, no. That's the markings on Acrocinus longimanus, the Harlequin Beetle."
"That's on a bug?" she said in surprise.
"So, why are you looking at it?"
'"It's what I study." He pointed to his shirt, where the smaller print read "Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting, San Diego. December, 2001," and said, "I started my master's this past semester."
He changed images on the monitor. "That's Aristobia approximator, another longhorn beetle. I'm on a project looking at the evolution of markings on that family of beetles."
As he flipped through more colorful images, Quinn was surprised that instead of repulsion, she was fascinated with the patterns. She said, "Some of these would look great on swim suits. Give them a wild and natural look."
The man chuckled. "That would be a great way to turn on all the young entomologists in the area. Could've sold a bunch at the meeting last week. I had a blast."
She said, "Did you spend some time sightseeing after the meeting?"
"No need; I'm local. I go to UC-Lakeside."
"I'm on the other side of LA in Malibu and go to Pepperhill. By the way, my name's Quinn."
Giggling, he said, "You're kidding."
Offended, she said, "No, I'm not kidding; my name's Quinn. What's so funny?"
He managed to stop laughing. "Hi, I'm Quinn Gilstad."
She looked directly into his blue eyes. "Your name is Quinn?
"That is funny."
"This should provide a nice story once I get to my grandparents'."
"You live with them?"
"Nah, just spending Christmas with them in Florida. My mom will meet me there, and after the holiday, it's back across the country to Redding, up at the north end of the Central Valley."
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?" she asked.
"I'm an only child."
"What about your dad? Will he be there?"
"I haven't seen him since I was 12. My parents had the classic nasty divorce, yelling, screaming, throwing things, police visits, restraining orders, the whole works. Their lawyers made a killing before it was over. After that, he hit the road and good riddance."
"Old news. So, are you on your way home?"
"Kind of, my parents live in Lawndale, Maryland."
"You mentioned a sister. Any others in your family?"
"Just her. I don't think Mom and Dad would've survived three kids."
He laughed. "I need to tell that to Mom. Is your sister still at home?"
"No, she goes to school in Boston, but plans to pick me up at the Baltimore-Washington International on her way to Mom and Dad's."
"Isn't it a pretty long drive from Boston to Maryland?"
"Six or seven hours."
"Boy, she must really like you."
"We've gotten better, but I also think she's up to something and wants to talk to me before she faces our parents."
"Hope it isn't bad news."
She shook her head. "No, Daria's excited, which is really strange for her."
Jake sat on one of the sofas in the living room, flipping through a white-covered photo album. "I'll let you in on a little secret. Despite her cool outer appearance, my little Daria likes to be the drama queen on occasion. When she does, you can be sure it's something special."
Helen watched her daughters with mild suspicion, knowing that they were planning something. Thinking that she would just have to wait for things to play out, Helen followed Daria to the middle sofa, where her daughter patted the seat, inviting her to sit.
Jake sat on the next section and Quinn walked around with her camera. "Okay everybody, I want a picture. Smile."
Thanks, Quinn, Daria thought as she faintly smiled.
"Great," Quinn said after snapping the picture. She sat down on the remaining sofa with the camera in her lap.
Jake said, "Don't you want a picture with you in it?"
"In a minute, Daddy."
Helen's eyes darted between daughters as she resisted the temptation to ask what they were up to. With Daria sitting beside her and Quinn nonchalantly holding the camera on the other sofa, Helen deduced that Daria was behind it all. She inquired, "What's new with you, Daria?"
"Since you asked," Daria said, raising her left hand. "Michael and I are engaged."
Quinn swiftly raised the camera and captured Jake and Helen's look of surprise and glee, along with Daria's satisfied smirk.
Starting to cry, Helen hugged Daria tight. "Sweetie."
"That's great, Kiddo! Who's the lucky guy?" Jake said.
Everyone turned to face him as Jake's face broke into a silly grin. Helen sighed and said, "Your father has rediscovered his sense of humor." Helen looked at the ring and said, "That's beautiful and I'm very happy for you."
Helen turned a little more to face Daria. "You're not rushing into this, are you?"
"I'm not pregnant."
Helen shook her head. "That's not what I meant."
"I know my stroke has affected you in a lot of ways."
Nodding, Daria said, "It has."
"I'm recovering very well and should be able to return to work after the holiday."
Quinn asked, "What's that have to do with Daria and Michael getting married?"
Helen said, "I'm hoping that they're not rushing because they're afraid something else might happen. You can't live your life that way."
Daria said, "Actually Mom, we're thinking about waiting until after graduation, so you have a year and a half to prepare."
Helen visibly relaxed and then suddenly said, "Oh my, a year and a half? We have to start planning!"
Excited, Quinn said, "Tell me about it. I got so many good ideas from helping Lindy, and wow, the stuff that Amy did at her wedding..."
"Mom, you and Dad prepared for your wedding in less time," Daria said.
"You're my daughter and that changes everything."
Quinn said, "Daria, you're going to be surprised at all the things you'll have to worry about. Mom, what do you think about using the reception hall at Le Grande?
Jake reached over to place a hand on Daria's shoulder. "I have the newspaper over on the table."
She looked at Helen and Quinn already deep in conversation. "Dibs on the Arts section."
As both stood up, Jake said, "It's already by your chair."
"Any time, Kiddo."
Walking through the kitchen, Daria asked, "What do you think?"
"I'm happier than you can imagine," Jake said. He sat at the table and politely handed the Arts section to Daria before withdrawing his hand to rub tears from his eyes.
"Sorry Daria, it's...oh, you don't want to hear it."
"Yes, I do."
"It's only a little piece of my heart breaking."
Daria slowly walked in front of the Raft University Press offices. "Sometimes, even when you have a good thing going, you have to step forward and do the right thing instead. Boy, did I get to have the full weight of that idea drop on top of my head like a steaming pile of...you get the idea."
Just before Daria reached the office door at work, it was opened and an oriental man in his mid to late forties stepped out. He spoke with a precise and formal accent cultivated by years at some of Britain's best universities. "Miss Morgendorffer, I'm most pleased to meet you."
"Oh, hi, you must be Dr. Cho. I wasn't expecting you so quickly."
"I was informed that 3:00 PM was your starting time today and I wished to complete our interview right away to minimize any disruption to your work. If you will please follow me, we may begin."
The trim professor led Daria to a small conference room and closed the door before pulling out a chair. "Please have a seat."
Surprised by his formality and manners, Daria said, "Thanks," and sat down.
Dr. Cho took a seat directly facing Daria and removed a folder from a briefcase resting on the table. "In the last ten years, only six student employees at this university have been reclassified to career service positions."
"I knew that it was very unusual; I didn't know that it was that rare."
"Please explain how you earned this promotion."
"In simple terms, I crawled into the dumpster behind the building and found a disk containing a valuable manuscript that someone had intentionally thrown away." Daria opened her backpack and removed the diary. "If you want full details, I wrote everything in here."
"Most intriguing. Do you mind if I look?"
Daria hesitated before she opened the book to the relevant page and turned it for Dr. Cho to see. "I used bookmarks for the pages with the relevant entries." Starting to blush, she asked, "If you will please skip the parts that are, um, personal, I'd appreciate it."
"That would be very rude of me to do otherwise. Don't worry, young lady." After an examination of the volume, he said, "This is excellent craftsmanship. Yours?"
"No, that was a gift from my boy...fiancé."
"A touching gesture." He started to read, and after a couple minutes, he said without stopping, "What do you think about Dr. Findlay and Dr. Killarny?"
Daria remembered her meeting with Superintendent Cartwright during the Ultra Cola incident at Lawndale High. This felt similar, except that Daria was confident in her stand this time. "I think that they are using the system as a tool in a long-standing and bitter rivalry. They don't care who they harm in the process; all that really matters is that they score points against the other, as if this was some kind of game. Dr. Cho, to be honest with you, I can't be certain who really did what any more. The writer in me can picture Dr. Findlay as the one who put the disk in the trash and then leaked the word to Dr. Killarny. Then there's the fact that the disk was taped inside an envelope and put in a plastic bag so that after a week in a dumpster, it wasn't ruined. Maybe Dr. Killarny did take it and expected to retrieve it, or have someone retrieve it for him. However, I got there first."
Dr. Cho nodded, but didn't stop reading and, in fact, started taking notes.
Daria continued, "There are too many odd occurrences. Like the fact that there wasn't a backup copy of the file on my hard drive like I habitually keep. Granted, it could've been a mistake on my part, but it also could've been deleted without my knowledge. The more I look at it, the more everything looks like a spy novel with several important pages missing."
Looking up from the diary, Dr. Cho said, "Everyone else I've interviewed either remembered nothing, or only remember one particular side. Between your writing and what you just said, I've probably come closer to the truth than I had with all of the other interviews. The details you recorded in your diary have helped me to fill in some missing information and your observations have helped to confirm some of mine. I'm very appreciative."
"So what happens now?"
"I'll present my findings to the Ethics Committee and they will present a recommendation to the Senate."
"What could happen to them?"
"With a committee, there are no guarantees. They might agree to anything from nothing to a demotion to regular professor."
"Which leaves me rather exposed, doesn't it?"
"Regrettably, yes, Miss Morgendorffer. Neither one of them can take overt action against you, but there are unfortunate loopholes in the university's whistleblower protections."
You did the right thing, Morgendorffer. The price was high, but at least you're the only one who'll have to pay it.
Conciliatory, Dr. Cho said, "I wish I could offer you more. They will probably try to make your life difficult."
Fully resolved, Daria said, "Dr. Cho, for many years when I lived in Highland, I dealt with two moronic boys who tried to make my life miserable. If I can survive them, I can survive anything these two can throw at me. I know what I have to do."
After the meeting, Daria wordlessly went to her desk and started the word processor on her computer. Shelly leaned around the cubicle wall to say something, but stopped, sighed silently and went back to her work.
Several minutes later, Daria walked over to the network printer, read the page and signed it. Still without a word, she went to Dr. Findlay's office and knocked.
When he told her to come in, Daria squarely placed the letter on Dr. Findlay's desk and said, "As per university policy, here is my formal, one-week notice of resignation."
He looked up in annoyance, knowing she didn't play the game as she was expected. Coldly precise, Dr. Findlay said, "Accepted, but also by university policy, I'm granting you one week of terminal leave and will make your resignation immediate. Clear your desk, complete your time sheet and be out of the building within the hour."
Michael walked through the alley behind one of the small theatres in Boston. "It may come as a surprise to you, but I can be a bit clueless at times. Especially, when things go wrong and I'm worried about something, like making up to Daria after almost killing her in a car crash and breaking my hand."
After midnight, Clarice and Michael sat in a booth for two at the Buffet Raft, an all-night restaurant across the street from campus. Other students seeking food or coffee during their early-morning academic toil dotted the room, some reading, some taking notes and others focused on refueling.
Clarice raised her soda glass and said, "To an 'A' project."
"To an 'A'," Michael said, tapping her glass with his to complete the toast.
"I hope we can do this again."
"Yeah, I've had fun," Michael said. "You've been a remarkable partner."
Clarice leaned forward over the table, the motion accenting her form under her tight shirt. "Do you mean that?"
"You're not so bad yourself."
Slightly embarrassed, Michael rested his arms on the edge of the table, his broken hand cradled on the other. "Um, thanks."
"When I came here as a freshman, I was hoping to meet people like you."
"And our friends Jack and Sean..."
"But you're different."
Clarice learned forward more. "Under that plain exterior, you're smart, warm and kind. Some of us like that."
He smiled and said, "Underneath your somewhat flashy exterior, you're a lot like that, too."
That brought a bright smile to her face. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Michael said, pleased at Clarice's smile and finding himself relaxed in her presence.
Clarice glanced down at Michael's left hand and saw that the ring was still missing. She looked up directly into his green eyes and felt that things couldn't be better. Still fixed on his eyes, she leaned forward the last couple of inches between them and brought her lips up to his.
At the barest touch of their lips, Michael whispered, "No, I...Daria." That caused Clarice to gasp, "Oh, my God," as she turned away in response. Both sat back heavily, staring as they tried to grasp what had happened.
Michael started to say, "Clarice, I'm..." but she held up her hand, stopping him.
Fighting back tears, she grabbed some cash from her purse and set it on the table. "This should cover me," she said, standing. "I've got to go."
Before Michael had a chance to say anything, Clarice was running away, crying. In the laid-back atmosphere of the eatery, her exit caused only a couple of customers to momentarily look before going back to their business.
Michael looked down at the crumpled bills and thought about a few moments before. Now I know the meaning of temptation.
Daria joined Michael and said, "Yeah, as I'm sure some of you thought, I got a taste of my history. Bit me right on the ass."
Daria nodded. "You stopped." She appeared to settle down slightly and said, "Okay, Michael, this is going to take me a little while to digest."
"I understand. I'm really sorry. This is a lot to deal with first thing in the morning, but I knew that I had to tell you and I knew that I couldn't try for a better time, because there wouldn't be one. I have to be honest with you."
Daria looked up into his eyes for a couple seconds, then closed hers and bowed her head as the events of four years ago came back. She whispered, "Tom."
"What?" Michael asked.
She slowly lifted her head as the anger melted away. "I said, 'Tom.' I was remembering when I first kissed him. Now I know how Jane felt."
"Tom and I didn't stop; we kissed again. And then, I was the one that told Jane; he didn't." Still holding Michael's hands, Daria felt the ring. "You put it back on."
"I had to show where my heart lay."
Daria said, "I have to admit that you made a good recovery."
Wearing a tropical print shirt, Jake mixed a fruit-laced drink and said, "You know, I hardly ever get a change to really cut loose and just have some fun. But I have to admit, we had fun on that cruise."
The announcer said, "Next, we have a group called The Beach Bums. How about a big welcome for Jake, Michael, Mike and Quinn!"
Jake looked at the others, grinned and stood along with Michael, Mike and Q. Each wore surfer shorts and bright, tropical print shirts. Scattered, polite clapping came from the gathered audience, most apparently there to watch some participant or a participant themselves.
Daria lifted a hand to cover her eyes. "Oh, God."
In almost the same pose as Daria, Helen said, "I was the one who told Jake to try something different."
Quinn looked at her friends gathered around the table. Fran had barely looked up before returning to her conversation with Gerald, while Tammy returned a grin that said she wouldn't forget and Grace pointed a camera to record the evidence.
Also ready to record the evening's events, Jane adjusted her camera to the light level and said, "This has got to be good. Maybe not the singing, but I know I'm going to get some great shots out of this."
The four took the stage and Michael moved to one mike stand while the others gathered around a second. Michael nodded to start the music and his tenor voice chimed in on cue:
We come on the sloop John B
My grandfather and me
Around Nassau town we did roam
Drinking all night
Got into a fight
Well I feel so broke up
I want to go home
The others joined in to harmonize on the chorus:
So hoist up the John B's sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up
I wanna go home
More confident, Michael started the next verse,
The first mate he got drunk
And broke in the Cap'n's trunk
The constable had to come and take him away
Sheriff John Stone
Why don't you leave me alone, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up I wanna go home
Buoyed by Michael's singing, the second chorus came in louder and clearer.
So hoist up the John B's sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don't you let me go home
(Hoist up the John B's sail)
Hoist up the John B
I feel so broke up I wanna go home
Let me go home
The poor cook he caught the fits
And threw away all my grits
And then he took and he ate up all of my corn
Let me go home
Why don't they let me go home
This is the worst trip I've ever been on
So hoist up the John B's sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don't you let me go home
Amid the applause from the audience, Jane said, "They better not quit their day jobs, but damn, they sound better after a week's practice than Mystik Spiral ever sounded after years of practice."
Daria said, "It could've been a lot worse and they didn't embarrass themselves."
Helen found herself happily applauding, which, when he saw it, made Jake give her one of his goofy grins.
"They even look kind of cute in those shirts," Quinn said as she clapped. "I only hope he doesn't make a habit of it."
Looking thoughtful, Jane stood next to the boarding ramp of a cruise ship. "One of the things that really sucks about growing up is doing what you have to do, no matter how much it hurts."
Sitting on her carry-on just outside Mack's gate, Jane leaned forward and asked Mack, standing beside her, "Did you really enjoy being on the trip with me?"
"Huh?" Mack said. "I had a good time. The karaoke last night was a blast and watching Michael bring in that fish was a hoot. I thought the tour guide was going to have a cow when he let it go, but hey, I wouldn't want to pay that much to cold ship a big fish to Boston, either."
"That's nice, but I meant with me."
"Oh, um, yeah, I had a good time."
"Really? I was expecting something more but this felt like...almost any other time we've been together lately."
Mack shuffled his feet. "We have been a little preoccupied with other things."
Jane swallowed hard, stood and looked directly at Mack. "I'll be the first to say it this time. We're getting bored with each other. It happens."
"I wouldn't call the sex boring."
"Okay, the sex is always great. But everything else..."
"Then why'd we come on this trip?"
"A last grasp at something big...a last chance to push away the boredom. Come on, Mack. You know I'm right. You weren't even that sure about coming at first."
"Mack, I'm sorry. It's not your fault, it's not my fault; it's just not there."
He shook his head. "That's almost exactly what Jodie said, and you're right, dammit."
Jane went to him. "This doesn't mean that I regret seeing you."
"I have no regrets, either, except that things have worked out this way."
Finding tears close to flowing from her eyes, Jane said, "So, what do we do now?"
Just as saddened, Mack said, "We go our separate ways and save our friendship." With that, he grabbed his bags without saying another word. Jane stood watching him disappear into the crowd moving toward his gate. "Damn."
Holding a box, Jane stood next to an easel and yelled, "Not just no, hell no! I'm not going to do it. No freakin' way!"
With a shake of her head, Jane slung the box and stormed off the set. The box bounced off a sound stand and came to rest face up, so that "Jane Lane Paint-By-Numbers Set" could be clearly seen.
From somewhere else on the soundstage, a voice said, "Okay, we scrap that one."
Lying on a fluffly blanket set in a bay window and warmed by a sunbeam, Bump casually looked up. "Merrrow nrrw eow." Humans can be so amusing at times.
She rose and streteched, arching her back. "Rawror meo roewr nraw." That's one of the things that make them so endearing. Plus, the food is good.
Perched on a windowsill in the living room, Bump watched the play of life in the outside world. The humans' half-tamed, great armored beasts rumbled and roared down their broad path. Other humans, some foolish enough to be accompanied by dogs, followed one or the other of the smaller paths alongside that of the great beasts.
Behind her, a thud and groan announced the awakening of the Window Maker.
"My leftover pizza better be in the 'fridge," Jane Lane said as she shuffled to the kitchen. "I'm starving."
Sitting on the sofa watching TV, Karen said, "Not even my brother would touch that pizza."
"I'd rather risk my dad's kitchen sink stew," Daria added, also on the sofa.
Moments later, Jane emerged from the kitchen with pizza box. "At least I've found something safe from you two scavenging." The lanky woman sprawled on the floor with her back braced against the sofa between her roommates. Opening the box, Jane said, "Mmm, breakfast."
The enticing scent emerging from the box caught Bump's attention: a mix of the tomato-smeared bread that the humans often consumed and several mouth-watering fish. Curiosity fully aroused, she effortlessly jumped down and quietly slinked over to the edge of the box, sniffing.
"Mine," Jane told the cat. "Sheesh, nothing's safe around here."
Karen chuckled and said, "What do you expect when you parade sushi pizza in front of her? On fish day."
"Mreow?" May I try some?
Jane pulled the box back. "Daria, can you call this beast off?"
"Like she'll listen." Daria reached down and picked up her cat told her, "Remember, Jane and Karen are not obligated to share with you."
Bump looked up at Daria's face. "Mreow?"
Daria entered the room and went over to where Bump at the window. "Hey there, what are you up to?"
"Mraowr." Just thinking.
Watching the running motions of her slumbering cat as she lay on the floor of the living room, Daria Morgendorffer said, "I wonder what Bump's dreaming about."
"I bet she's thinking about hunting big game," her fiancé Michael Fulton replied gazing over at the cat. "Maybe she imagines herself as a jaguar, or a black leopard."
"I swear that sometimes, she reads over my shoulder while I'm writing. Who knows what she's imagining?"
Just like an ordinary delivery driver on a busy street in Rome, Grigori got into the panel van and closed the door. Feeling a slight pinch when he sat down, he brushed the back of his leg and came up with a small, shed claw. "Damn alley cats," he grumbled in Italian before flipping it out the window and turning the ignition key. Before he could, the fast-acting toxin reached his heart and paralyzed it. Gasping, he opened the door and collapsed onto the street when he tried to get out.
After watching the gathering crowd from a nearby rooftop, a black cat with a white nose and forepaws slinked back into the shadows and padded silently away. Invisible and unnoticed, Meowlody Powers made her exit and back toward her hotel. She hoped there was time for a nap before HQ called.
A handsome African-American man wearing a stylish white suit walked with the assistance of a cane down a Boston street. "Yeah, yeah, it's Archangel. I'm sure that you're all wondering why I'm making an appearance here. Well, it's because even this reality is part of a larger multiverse, and in, if I must say, one of its most closely guarded Jurisdictions."
Across the busy Boston street, Robert Nelson watched Daria Morgendorffer come out of a small apartment building holding hands with a young, red-haired man. At a small, black sedan, the couple separated with Daria going to the driver side and the young man getting into the passenger side after unlocking the door with his own key.
She looks happy, Robert thought as they drove away. Since the death of the Daria he'd known on his homeworld, he had made it a point to check in on her on every new world he had been assigned. Every time was difficult, but it helped to ease his mind that she lived on in so many places.
A voice with a slightly nasal, southernish accent behind him said, "Robert Nelson?"
Since nobody on this world should know his name, Robert flexed his hands and carefully turned. "Yes, that's me."
A fortyish man with long, brown hair and glasses offered his hand to shake, saying, "Pleased to meet you, Ringbearer."
On guard for any move, Robert said, "Who are you? What do you want?"
The man chuckled. "I'm neither a Vorlon nor a Shadow. My name is Richard. You can say that we're in the same business. Why don't we stop for some coffee so that we can talk about it?"
"Okay, you know who I am, what I am and saw through my cloak. Why should I trust you?"
Richard pulled his hand back a couple inches, making the ring on Robert's finger slip off and fly over to rest a couple inches above Richard's hand. "As you can see, I mean no harm to you or others."
Alarmed, Robert said, "How?"
"Like I said, I mean you no harm and the ring knows it." With equal ease, Richard sent the ring back to Robert, who put it back on with visible relief. "Can we please get some coffee? Call it a weakness, but I always need some after I travel."
"Okay, let's talk," Robert said.
Archangel shrugged and said, "So that even when things go wrong, they get set aright, even if it takes three heroes to do it."
Michael felt overwhelming relief when Daria opened the door. He gently and softly embraced her, holding the rose behind her back. For some reason, he had the certainty that he would do anything for her. She returned the embrace, whispering, "You're trying to spoil me."
Michael brought a hand to her cheek and kissed her. "Well...yeah."
After returning the kiss, Daria said, "Come on in. I just have to finish up a couple things before we leave."
"No hurry." He placed the rose vase in her hand.
Daria gently smiled and set it in the center of the dining table. Michael started for the sofa, but stopped and followed her to her computer. He whispered in her ear, "I hope you don't mind, I don't want to miss any of your company tonight."
She turned and kissed his cheek. "Not at all. Just let me close what I was writing. I'm trying a little science fiction."
Seated at her computer desk, Daria looked over her shoulder and sighed. "You know, after all this time, I should be used to the weird feeling that someone is about to do something very strange to me. Alien adoptions, supernovas, long-term amnesia. You name it, someone's done it to me."
Daria finished turning around. "That's why I subscribe to Angst Guard. So that no matter what is done to me, I can bounce back in the next story as good as new."
Derek Adler, wearing his dress greens, sat on a bench near the Raft Chapel. "I rather liked the distinction of being the only real action hero of the series, even if the process was a little painful. My only regret was how much things weighed on Karen, and how hard it was for her."
"What's burning up this desert highway? Aliens in drag! Next, on Sick, Sad World!"
Daria and Karen lounged on opposite ends of the sofa, each with stocking feet propped up on their small, magazine-covered coffee table. Daria said, "You know, they really seem to be lame this season."
"Yeah," Karen said. "I guess real life's doing a better job of weirding us out than they are."
The phone rang and Daria leaned forward, fishing it out of the pile on the table. "Hello." In response to the man's question, she said, "I'm sorry, but you have the wrong number; there's no Mrs. Adler here."
Karen turned white and slowly turned around.
Daria listened more and said, "Yes, that is this number and a Karen lives here..."
Karen croaked and asked, "Is that a call from the Army?"
Daria shot Karen a quizzical look and then said, "Are you from the Army?"
When Daria nodded yes after hearing the answer, tears started to roll down Karen's face and she said, "It's for me."
Daria passed the phone to her roommate, concerned for her friend's obvious distress and confused by the call.
The young brunette said, "This is Karen." She gasped and slumped back as she listened to the phone. After a couple minutes, she said, "Thank you," and hung up.
Daria asked, "Karen, what's going on?"
"Derek's been hurt...badly. He's at a hospital in Germany. Once he's stable, he'll be sent to Walter Reed."
"I'm so sorry, Karen."
"Thanks. At least...at least he's alive."
Daria moved next to her friend and wordlessly held her as she cried.
When Karen's sobs had worked themselves out, she said, "Thanks."
"That's what friends are for." After several seconds of silence, Daria asked, "Why did that officer call you Mrs. Adler?"
Karen looked surprised for a moment before abruptly standing and going to her room. After taking something from a drawer in her jewelry box, she came back out and said, "I haven't been completely honest with you." Karen hesitated, and then confidently put a white gold band on next to her engagement ring. "Derek and I weren't just engaged before he shipped out, we were married."
Stunned, Daria said, "What?"
Karen came back to the sofa and sat down. "It's best if I tell you the whole story."
Karen joined Derek at the bench and sat down, cuddling against him. "I have to admit that it's fun to look back at the look on Daria's face when I told her."
"I bet it was almost as good as the look on your face when you saw your parents surprise at our public ceremony."
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."
Holding a copy of Val between finger and thumb as if it were a dead rat, Daria tossed it in the garbage and said, "I guess we couldn't get away without a final set of annoyances. You know, I still wonder if we didn't get some unexpected help. As much as I appreciate it, the idea is still..."
Quinn examined the images that Daria had e-mailed and said over the phone, "I'm proud of you, sis. You really clean up well."
"Yeah, it's amazing what happens when you use a little soap with your water," Daria replied as she sat on a bench on the Quad waiting for Wendy to arrive for their walk.
"Seriously, it looks good on you."
"So, are you and Mom going to get off my back now?"
"About the dress, sure. About everything else, no."
"Have you decided on who to ask to be your maid of honor?"
Quinn snorted. "Right. Now, what kind of romantic Valentine's Day evening does Michael have planned for you?"
"No idea. I'll find out when I get home."
"Daria, Daria, Daria."
"And he'll find out what I have planned..."
"That's better. So, one more thing before I have to go, Fran's waiting. What happened with that Val thing?"
"It just kind of ended. No big explosion, no lashing out, nothing. I'm guessing that she didn't want to give me any more press and so cut things off. Which is fine by me."
"My sister, stopping Val right before Valentine's Day. That's got to mean something."
"It means that you're picking up a bad pun habit. I need to go, too. I see Wendy on her way. Bye."
Daria pocketed her cell phone and joined Wendy as they started their walk.
From across the Quad, Charles watched Daria and said, "I hope we're even, now." He then lifted his camera and took a single photo before turning and walking away.
Looking through a white photo album and sitting under a large, framed wedding photo mounted on the wall, Daria and Michael almost seemed oblivious to the world around them until Daria glanced up and said, "Yes, we had a good time."
Michael said, "It's good when a plan actually comes together."
Daria gave him a mischievous smile and said, "And we still have lots of plans together."
Despite all of Daria's protestations of things growing out of hand, it was a close circle of guests that waited: Ruth Morgendorffer, Jake's brother Bruce who was a last-minute arrival, Tess and Rita Barksdale, Amy, Reese, their two girls, Jodie Landon, Nell, CC, Sean, Mike MacKenzie, Trent, Lindy, their infant son Andrew and finally, Quinn with Q.
After listening to a couple moments of shuffling and whispers upstairs, Gina got the signal from her brother and, with a wink back, she began to softly sing with the voice that earned her a place at Berlioz Conservatory:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Arm in arm, Samantha and Ron were the first down the stairs. They smiled to the audience as they walked down to their front row places and took their seats.
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come 'round right.
Helen and Jake came down, also walking arm in arm. An observant watcher could see that Jake was in a grinning stupor and guided to their seats by Helen.
'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and bend we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come 'round right.
Daria and Michael arrived with the third verse, holding hands as they descended the stairs and walked up the aisle together.
'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and bend we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come 'round right
As Gina repeated the last lines of the first verse, Daria and Michael turned to face each other in front of Mrs. Murphey.
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Mrs. Murphey said, "Welcome, dear friends and family, as we celebrate Daria and Michael's vows of marriage."
She took a moment to gaze at each of their faces. "Marriage is the loving commitment of two people to share their lives while each grows as a person. It can be the most important commitment they will ever make. Daria and Michael, are you ready to proceed?"
Daria and Michael said, "Yes," in unison.
Mrs. Murphey reached to a small stand behind the arch and picked up the waiting rings. She gave one to Michael and he lifted Daria's hand to place it on her finger.
Mrs. Murphey said, "Michael, with this ring, do you promise to love and honor Daria as your wife and companion? To support when in need and forgive when in error? To bring her into your life as she brings you into hers?"
Michael firmly said, "I do."
Mrs. Murphey gave the other ring to Daria and she prepared to place it on his finger.
Mrs. Murphey said, "Daria, with this ring, do you promise to love and honor Michael as your husband and companion? To support when in need and forgive when in error? To bring him into your life as he brings you into his?"
"I do," Daria confidently said.
Mrs. Murphey held their hands together. "By the power vested in me by the State of Maryland, I now pronounce you married. Congratulations."
She released their hands, allowing Daria and Michael to come together for a kiss.
Daria sat on the bed of her her old room, as it appeared when she was in high school. "After looking back on all that's happened to me, it only seems appropriate that we finish with where this story really started, Saving One Last Summer."
Summer daylight shining through a gap in the curtains formed a bright slash across a sleeping figure that slowly progressed with the passing of morning toward an auburn haired head. Upon reaching her eyes, the advancing sunlight elicited a soft groan from Daria Morgendorffer and a whispered, "Dammit," as she reached for her glasses. "If it's late enough for that little ray of sunshine, I better move before Helen of Lawndale launches a thousand ships to wake me," Daria muttered as she moved aside the sheet and adjusted the Mark Twain nightshirt she wore.
Daria, Michael, Jane, Karen, Derek, Quinn, Fran, Jake and Helen gathered in front of the entrance of Fenderson Hall. Daria glanced from side to side to look at each and then said, "Thank you for reading. We hope you've enjoyed our lives as much as we have living them. Don't worry, we'll still be around."
April – May 2010.