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. 2004.
This is the nineteenth story in the Falling into College series.
Daria Morgendorffer sat on the edge of her dorm room bed. The young woman's auburn hair was tangled from sleep, and she still wore an inside-out blue t-shirt. She picked up the telephone from the wall mount between her and her roommate's beds. Halfway through entering digits, she stopped and pressed down the cradle. She slowly breathed for thirty seconds before releasing and entering numbers quickly. Holding her breath, she counted as the phone started ringing.
Daria's heart sunk with each ring, her features appearing to wilt at regular intervals.
At his parents' house outside Detroit, Michael Fulton dozed in a recliner.
Sleep had proved too elusive for the red-headed young man, so he'd spent the previous night watching old movies and infomercials. "Hmm? Phone?"
He crawled out of the recliner and shuffled toward the noise.
As he reached for it, he recognized the incoming number on the Caller ID display. His breath caught and hand froze.
"It can only be her." He moved his hand to the handset.
Nine…I can't take this. "Damn." Shaking, she hung up the phone.
"Hello?" Michael heard a dial tone. He placed the phone down. After a couple minutes, he reached for it again, stopping inches away. He sadly shook his head and went back to the recliner.
Karen Myerson returned from the bathroom and looked at Daria sitting on her bed, arms wrapped around her knees. Karen walked over and sat next to her dear friend. "Daria, you didn't say a word at all last night. Please tell me what's going on."
Daria looked over with exhausted eyes. "He's gone."
Karen knew this referred to Michael, the boyfriend that Daria had broken up with earlier that week. "Today's only Friday. You told me he wasn't leaving until tomorrow. I think you still have time…"
Daria cut her off. "I went over yesterday. To talk, just like you, Jane, and Tom said I should. He was already gone."
"He got a flight yesterday, probably paid a huge premium, just to make sure he could run away." Daria looked at Karen with accusing eyes. "So damn much for talking."
Daria gave her a weak smile. "You were right; I took too long to try." She closed her eyes tightly. "Saying no to his proposal and breaking up right after. Tom was right; I emotionally kicked him in the balls." Daria opened her wet eyes. "Do you blame him for running?"
"Daria…Don't give up yet, please?"
Daria nodded. "I just tried to call his parents…no answer. I almost lost it waiting." She unhooked her arms and straightened her legs. "I'm not going to give up yet."
Karen was relieved. "Good. Now, why don't we start calling around about apartments and making appointments?"
Daria again gave a weak smile. "Keeping busy would probably be a better option."
"My brother should get here about four or five this afternoon. That will give us plenty of time to get things set up."
"Did you find him a place to stay?"
"My boss at the zoo is willing to let him stay in their spare room for a couple of days. The student living there moved out last weekend, so it's clear."
"That's real nice of her."
"I thought so."
"Fine." Daria began to get off the bed. "I remember you talking to my sister last night a couple times, thanks for putting yourself in the line of babble. Let me guess, panic over the prom?"
"Something along those lines. I did tell her about you and Michael."
"I heard, and appreciate it. I don't know if I would have been able to."
"She was worried about you."
"I knew she would. I hope she doesn't spend too much time worrying about me tomorrow."
"She was also stuck for a prom date."
Daria gave a half-hearted snort. "She was complaining about a lack of datable males last time I was in Lawndale. It seems she ran through all of them in her first three years of high school."
"She was contemplating somebody named Kevin Thompson, said you knew him."
"How are the mighty fallen. Picture a shaved Neanderthal…with repeated brain trauma."
"Well, I told her it was only for one night…"
Daria gave Karen a tiny smile. "Thanks. I needed a little cheering. Quinn going to the prom with Kevin…at least I know someone else is in misery."
"Terry!" Karen yelled as she jerked the door open and jumped at the large man standing outside. Terry Myerson stood six foot, three inches and supported 250 pounds of muscle. She hung from his neck with no visible effort on his part. He smiled under a light brown mustache that matched his short cropped hair. He hugged his sister tight and spun around. In a strong southern accent, he called out, "See, told you I could make the drive." Terry set Karen down, looked inside and tipped his cap. "You must be Daria, glad to meet you."
Daria gave him a weary smile. "Hi."
"Please, don't be overwhelmed on my account."
Karen lightly slapped her brother. "Lay off idiot, she's having a rough day."
Daria shook her head. "It's all right Karen, he couldn't know."
Terry looked confused. "Um…sorry. Don't worry about us, Lil' Sis is just acting like normal. Tell you what, you pick the place, I'll pay for dinner to make up for my bad manners."
Daria slowly got up. "Considering I haven't eaten since lunch yesterday, dinner is probably a good idea."
Karen spun to face Daria. "Dammit. Don't' do things like that."
Daria shook her head. "I haven't been hungry."
Terry interrupted. "If you're hungry now, come on. You can tell me who to beat the crap out of later."
Daria gave him a curious look.
He smiled. "You have all the looks of someone with a broken heart."
He waved for her to follow. "Let's see if this good ol' boy can offend enough people to take your mind off things."
"Mind if we wait a bit? I would like Jane to come with. If I call her, she could be over in half an hour."
Terry grinned. "Not at all."
"What kind of pancake house doesn't serve grits?" Terry asked the waitress.
The fortyish waitress shook her head and responded in a strong native Boston accent. "Because we don't get much call for that stuff here."
"Can I at least get some hash browns?"
"That, we can do." The waitress looked at Daria, Jane, and Karen. "Anything else?" With no answer, she retreated toward the kitchen.
Karen looked sheepish. "Guess I should have warned you. You just can't get good grits in Massachusetts. That is, when you can find them at all."
Terry shrugged. "Oh, well. When in Rome."
Daria closed her eyes and sunk down in the seat a couple inches.
Terry looked at her with concern. "What did…?"
Jane waved a hand in front of him. "Ssh."
Karen leaned over and whispered to her brother. "Her…um…ex got accepted to a college in Rome. That's…what…"
Terry told Daria, "Just kick me next time."
She looked up. "It's a common phrase. You meant no harm."
Jane nudged Daria. "What's this I hear about your sister and Kevin? The Princess of Pleather and Mr. Dumb as a Box of Rocks?"
"I almost…almost, feel sorry for her. But, don't let that get out."
"You are getting soft."
"I'm not at my best."
Terry asked Karen. "While those two are at it, what is the plan for tomorrow?"
Karen rolled her eyes at Daria and Jane. "Show up at the dorm about eight tomorrow. Jane's going to stay over, so we can make sure she doesn't oversleep."
Jane looked over. "Hey! I resemble that."
"Daria and I culled through the for rent ads, made appointments to see what looked the best."
"Please tell me you have some clue of how to get to them. Driving my rig through some of these streets is no picnic."
"We plotted them all out on a map for you. But, we can't guarantee how wide the streets will be."
A little after eight AM Saturday, Jane let Terry into Daria and Karen's room. She asked, "How's the accommodations?"
"Pretty good, Karen's boss and her husband are nice folks."
Karen got up from her desk and looked at a sheet of note paper. "We were able to get four appointments today. The first is at nine, so we better get going soon."
General assents greeted her, and soon everyone was on the way out. Just as she was about to lock the door, Daria turned to the others. "I forgot some of my notes. Go on ahead, I'll be along shortly." The rest nodded and went down the hall toward the elevator. Daria went back into the room and straight to the telephone. She stopped in front of it, rubbing her eyes. "Mom, I'm glad you called last night. This has been so much harder than breaking up with Tom. Now, I can keep trying…"
She breathed in and picked up the handset. Quickly, she dialed as fast as she could, before her motivation evaporated. The same sinking feeling hit her with each ring of the phone.
Michael vaulted from the bed in his old room as he realized the phone was ringing. In haste, he left his glasses on the nightstand.
With his vision blurred, he slipped while running down the stairs.
Scrambling to his feet, he rubbed his bruised hip as he completed the trip.
With a sigh of relief, he saw the ID.
He steadied his hand and grasped the receiver. "Just be honest."
Eight. Daria felt a wave of nausea at the lack of response. In frustration, she hung up the phone.
"Daria?" The dial tone mocked back at Michael. He slammed the handset down. "Dammit, I though you were at least a little more mature than that. This hurts enough as it is." He sat down next to the phone, shaking.
She slowly walked out of the room and locked up. "Now I have to try to put on a functional face for the day."
"Dammit, don't be afraid." Michael picked up the phone and struggled to key in each number. He could feel his heart beating as it began to ring.
He fell back in the chair.
He placed the phone back.
The four sat at a booth in a pizza joint. The remains of a pie were scattered on a platter in the middle of the table. Jane looked at the pizza bone in her hand. "Boston obviously has a definition of roomy different from the rest of us."
Karen shook her head. "At the zoo, we put small mammals in larger enclosures than the rooms in that last place."
Daria was slowly working on her first slice. "Let's hope the next one on the list works. Or we are going to have to get real friendly with each other. We're supposed to vacate the dorms by Monday."
Karen said, "I've had nine months of sharing a room with you, that's friendly enough for me."
Terry kept looking out at his truck. The full-sized truck didn't fit well in the small parking space, the back stuck out into the lot's traffic lane. "Don't they believe in real parking spaces around here? I keep expecting one of these maniac drivers to try to take the back bumper off my truck."
Jane smirked. "That could be messy; it looks like you have a chunk of railroad track for a back bumper."
"I do, it gives me a little extra back weight for traction, and it's good for pushing farm implements."
Karen pushed his shoulder. "Plus, you use it as an anvil."
"Well…it is handy."
Daria moved her hand along the wall in the living room of the upstairs apartment. Apartment? It's the second floor of a house. History seeped from every corner of the 150 year old place in south Boston, from the wood wainscoting to the tall ceilings. They'd entered via an outside staircase to a door that opened into the living room, one corner of which was filled with a walled-off stairwell and access door. Past the living room was a small dining room, just beyond was the kitchen (resplendent in early seventies appliances), and attached laundry/half bath. To the left, a short hall ran parallel to the living and dining room, with one bedroom at each end and the remaining bedroom and full bathroom between. The rooms were still on the small size, but more like rooms than prison cells. Karen and Jane were wandering around in amazement, Terry stood with bemused patience.
The owner, Mrs. Lyndon, said to them, "You three seem like nice girls. Just remember, I live right underneath. I will hear any loud parties. One will get you a warning, two will get you evicted." From the sound of her voice to her poise, you knew she was from a long line of Bostonians. Every strand of her silver hair was in place, framing a thin face centered on small, round, gold-framed glasses. Her simple white blouse and blue skirt gave her understated elegance.
Daria gave her a smile. "That is something I don't think you will need to worry about with us."
"I hope so."
Daria walked over to Mrs. Lyndon. "Will there be a problem if we have an extra cable line brought in?"
"Never could understand the attraction of that cable stuff, but if you want the extra TV's…"
Daria gave her a small smile. "Sure…thanks." She walked to Karen, grabbed an arm, and pulled her over to Jane. "I take it we're all in agreement."
Jane looked around, "Are you kidding?"
Karen smiled. "This place is so cool. We have to get it."
All three turned to Mrs. Lyndon. Daria said, "We'll take it."
The older woman smiled and removed a sheaf of paper from a folder. "I'll give you a few minutes to read over the lease while I run next door to Mrs. Dillon. She's a notary."
Daria read through the lease. "She certainly believes in making sure her tenants behave."
Jane looked over her shoulder. "Yeah, a party girl like you has to be careful."
Karen looked over the other shoulder. "Is there anything really weird in there we need to worry about?"
Daria shook her head. "It's mostly standard boilerplate, plus no loud noises, unsanitary conditions, or inoperable cars in the driveway."
Jane frowned a little. "It is going to be tight. This is at the high end of our budget."
Daria looked at her. "Would you rather paint in a broom closet?"
Jane smiled back. "I said it would be tight, not that I wanted to back out."
Karen said, "I like this neighborhood, the others looked…on the scary side."
Daria took the papers to a kitchen counter and waited for Mrs. Lyndon to arrive with the neighbor. A few minutes later, the lease was signed, notarized, and three keys handed over. Mrs. Lyndon smiled. "I hope you make good neighbors. You can start moving in at any time."
Jane looked around. "You know Daria; this might be a good time to start thinking about furniture."
Terry spoke up. "There are more colleges around this town than you can shake a stick at. There have to be used furniture stores, you can get what you need there cheap. As long as you don't care that nothing matches."
Karen gave her brother a slightly disgusted look. "Or what has been done on the mattresses."
Daria put the lease papers into a folder and matched Karen's face. "I'll agree to a used frame, but a used mattress is not an option."
Terry smiled. "I won't argue with that. Hey, why don't I drive ya'll around to get some of your basics, while I'm here with my truck."
Jane smirked and raised an eyebrow. "And your strong back."
Karen slid up next to Jane. "He is married."
"I know, but I can still enjoy the view."
Karen opened her eyes as she and Derek broke off their kiss. She gave him a smile. "You take care of yourself."
He smiled back. "I will. I'll be reporting to Ft. Benning June fifth for my month of National Guard training. As soon as I can cop some leave, I'll let you know."
"I'll be there."
"I'm looking forward to meeting your parents when it's done."
"I'm going to like having you down home for a week."
"My cab is waiting to take me to the airport. I've got to go. Bye."
Karen gave him another quick kiss. "Bye"
She watched him leave with a touch of sadness. Terry walked up beside her. "We better get back up to finish getting you packed."
"I like Derek. I think I'll let you keep him."
Karen punched him in the arm. "As if I would give you a choice."
Daria laid the phone down on the cradle. "Why isn't he there?" Forcing down her emotions and rubbing her temples, she gently wrapped paper around a blue glass vase containing twelve miniature silk roses and put it in a box. "Michael, that was such a touching gift." Daria gazed upward. "Why did you have to get that damn acceptance? I'm so sorry I didn't…"
Karen walked in with her brother. "I just ran into the building super. He was letting everyone know that he'll be turning off the phone extensions at ten, except for those rooms to be occupied over the summer."
Daria looked at the phone. "I don't think we'll be getting any more calls."
Karen sat next to her. "Still no answer?"
"Have you tried emailing him?"
Daria inhaled and sighed. "We've never used anything but our Raft emails, his was deactivated. I don't know if has any others, and he doesn't have my Lawndale email."
Michael walked in front of his parents and sister as they entered the house after Sunday morning services. In anticipation, he made directly for the phone. Disappointed at the unlit display, he asked, "Who forgot to turn on the answering machine?" He heard no response from the others.
With a shrug, he sat down next to the phone and looked at it. The familiar sick feeling in his stomach returned. Looking down at his hand, Michael remembered the last time he touched Daria's.
Taking a deep breath, he picked up the phone and dialed. Maybe it was only bad timing. You can't make the assumption she hung up on you. Michael's heart raced as he heard the line connect after the first ring, "Hello!"
"We're sorry. The room you are trying to reach has been vacated for the summer and the extension deactivated."
He quietly placed the handset down. "She said she was going to look for an apartment. Guess she found one. How will I….?" He slapped his forehead and rushed to the family computer. "I'm an idiot!" He made a connection and began to type after opening the email program.
To: DLMorgendorffer @ raft…
Daria folded the flaps on the box in front of her. "Last one. Let's go."
With Terry's help, they had everything moved to his truck without a hitch. The last thing Daria picked up was the section of wall padding that she'd preserved from her old bedroom in Lawndale. "I've grown a lot in this room. I'm going to miss it."
Karen put an arm around Daria's shoulder. "I found a great friend here. I'm going to miss it, too."
They quietly locked the door and went downstairs to turn in their keys. Soon after, they were seated in Terry's truck. He looked to his sister in the passenger seat. "What about Jane?"
"I'll give you directions; it's only a couple miles. I hope she's not still asleep."
"Okay. We're on the road again."
Karen frowned. "Terry, don't even think of singing."
Jane was barely dressed when they arrived. Her blue-haired roommate, CC, looked up from the box she was packing and said, "Hmm, you're right. He could be tasty."
Terry looked between the two in confusion. "Tasty?"
Karen elbowed her brother. "Be careful, or I'm telling Jill that you have a stripper lusting after you."
Terry looked more confused. CC came up and ran a finger along his arm. "Don't worry, I know better than to poach." Terry looked to his sister with wide eyes.
Karen snickered. "CC's a dancer."
Jane laughed along. "And as a good artist of the human form, appreciates quality when she sees it."
Karen laughed louder. "I wish I had a camera. Your face…"
Terry looked at his sister with a rapidly serious face. "Am I going to have to file a sexual harassment suit against you lot?"
CC burst out laughing. "Oh, he's good. Don't worry; I have a boyfriend I'm very satisfied with."
Daria quietly entered the room and picked up a box. "Is this one ready to go?"
Jane turned. "Hmm? Ah…yeah."
The general laughter died down. Karen looked at CC. "So, where are you going?"
CC pointed down. "First floor. These morons hired me as an RA for the summer. Free room and board. And, they said that 'outside employment' is not a problem as long as I put in my four hours a day at the front desk."
Jane smirked. "What a scam. Getting paid to sit on your butt and study."
CC pointed at Jane. "Hey, ex-roomie. Expect to see my arse over at your place; I will need to get out of this place on occasion."
Daria had her desktop computer unpacked and placed on an inexpensive workstation she'd purchased the day before. It was functional, if not visually pleasing; portions of veneer had pulled away to reveal the pressboard underneath.
Daria said to Jane, "We won't be able to get the cable and cable modem hooked up until we get back from Lawndale. No email until then. But, we can network the computers together and work off of a single high speed connection. With the three-way split, it'll cost each of us less than a dialup."
Jane said, "Nice. I'm beginning to like that Morgendorffer mercenary bent, when it is working in my favor. How are you going to get everything hooked up?"
"I talked to one of the techs at the school's computer lab. If we buy the parts, he'll put it together for thirty dollars and a bag of jelly donuts."
Jane raised an eyebrow.
"Jane, I told you before, throwing in the donuts gives the deal a personal touch."
She smiled at the reference to the botched hair dyeing job near the end of their junior year of high school. "I wish I'd taken your advice then."
Karen walked in, her hair tied back in red and white checked bandana. "That's all my stuff that's coming up here. Not having to take everything back to Georgia is nice. Just don't trash my computer while I'm gone."
All three were tired and sweaty from carrying their possessions upstairs. The apartment had been minimally furnished by their furniture-hunting foray the day before. Each room was supplied with a single bed, dresser and computer desk. The dining room had a small dinette set. Four folding camp chairs were in the living room. The kitchen was stocked with the array of small appliances Daria and Karen had used in their dorm.
Terry entered, tossed a sleeping bag on the living room floor and placed a cardboard box of Chinese takeout on the dining table. As the three women came out of the hall, he said, "Figure I might as well sleep here tonight instead of trying to remember the route from your boss's place." He started pulling the food out. "I really hope I got everyone's order right."
The drive from Boston to Lawndale had been uneventful, though Daria was frustrated at being unable to get to a working telephone at their fuel and lunch stops. The conversations had focused on summer plans, like Daria and Jane in summer classes, or Daria starting her new job with Raft University Press. Jane had a stack of paintings to drop off at Gary's Gallery for some extra summer cash. Karen would be working for her home town veterinarian again, only this time, she would be getting work-study credit for it. They exited the interstate and first went to drop off Jane.
Lindy's brown sedan was in the driveway as they pulled up to Casa Lane. Jane hopped out of the back seat, said, "I'll run in to see if Trent is mobile, if not, I'll make him mobile," and jogged into the house. Daria and Karen stepped out and stretched, while Terry opened the tarp over the truck bed and got Jane's luggage out.
Within a couple minutes, Jane returned with Trent. "What do you know? He was awake."
He nodded and shook hands when introduced to Terry, followed with a brief hug to Karen. He gave Daria a warm hug, and pulled away in concern. "Hey, what's wrong?"
Daria kept a straight face. "What makes you say that?"
Trent raised both eyebrows. "You know I'm sensitive to shifts in mood."
Daria wilted. "Michael and I…"
Trent shook his head and gave her another hug. "You're with friends."
"You tried to warn me."
"He did something romantic and stupid?"
"On a grand scale."
Daria and Karen stood next to each other in the Morgendorffer driveway. Daria set her suitcase on the ground and leaned into the truck toward Terry. "Thanks for the ride."
He gave her a broad smile. "No problem for my kid sister's friends. Hope the boyfriend problem works out for you."
Daria turned toward Karen and gave her a hug. "Take care of yourself. I would've had a hard time this year without you."
Karen returned the gesture. "And I wouldn't be coming back if it weren't for you. Thanks for holding the room for me. It has to be hitting you hard to cover two-thirds of the rent."
"Jane's also on a tight budget, but I can just pull it off. This way, I can keep my friends close."
"Do me a favor, don't give up."
Daria looked directly at Karen. "I won't. I hurt him and I will…I will do my best…"
Karen smiled. "Just don't do anything rash."
"I'll keep that in mind." Daria turned more serious. "If I can save this mess, be ready for me to be gone at times. I…will have to travel to see him; I can't expect him to do all the traveling."
"So, you are considering a long-distance relationship?"
Daria sighed. "I am. I know it can be done, my friends Jodie and Mack have."
"I know it's not the best thing."
"But, what choice do I have?"
"If it makes you feel any better, I'm going to miss Derek this summer."
Daria softly said, "I was afraid…the distance would cause us to drift apart. I couldn't face that, so I ended things then."
"So that was it?"
Daria closed her eyes. "It made sense…I thought it made sense. But, it doesn't. I can't continue to…reject someone because I'm afraid of being rejected."
"So, what are you going to do now?"
Karen gave her a strong hug. "I'm going to be thinking about you."
Daria had a slight smile. "I'll be doing the same about you. Don't forget to be nice to Derek."
Karen grinned. "Oh, I'll be nice to him."
"Karen, you still have a long ride ahead of you, and I want to try calling Michael. I haven't had a chance today."
Karen released Daria. "I understand. Keep me posted?"
"I have your email, and phone number."
"Good. See you later."
The both waved and Karen climbed back to Terry's truck. Daria grabbed her bag and headed toward the house. Karen watched Daria with concern as they drove away.
Daria looked at her watch. "Almost four." She unlocked the door and entered, walking directly to the kitchen and grabbing the cordless phone. She looked at the wall calendar that still said May 12 and rubbed her forehead before speaking to it, "You'll be right again this Friday." Daria went to the table and took a seat. After a moment, she placed the phone down and went to the refrigerator, returning with a glass of cold water. She sipped it a few times and dialed. Once again, she counted the rings.
Fifteen year-old Gina Fulton looked at the strange phone number on the ID screen. "What the?"
She picked up the phone book and checked the area code.
"We don't know anybody in Maryland."
She shrugged and walked away. "Stupid telemarketers. I've got homework to do."
Again saddened, Daria turned off the phone and looked out the sliding glass doors at the back yard.
Only a few minutes later, voices from the front of the house broke Daria's reverie. Quinn was telling her mother, "I found the perfect car. It's a red Vexer, low mileage, the price is good."
Helen's voice came back. "That's wonderful Quinn."
Daria walked around the corner. "Hi Mom, Quinn. I'm home."
Helen rushed to Daria. "Sweetie!" She pulled Daria into a tight embrace. "How are you holding up?"
"I'll live. Providing, you don't crush my lungs."
Helen released her grip. Quinn approached and more carefully hugged her sister. "I'm so sorry."
Daria returned the hug. "Thanks, Quinn. I heard about who your prom date was. Did he survive?"
"I managed to get him trained to an acceptable level."
"He's not a bad guy, when you get him away from his old influences."
"Don't tell me…"
"Get real. But, he can be nice. I hope he finds a good girl someday."
"You're getting soft."
"And the sooner, the better."
Helen said, "Daria, how would you like to get started on some car shopping? Quinn has a good place to start. I've got pre-approved loans from our bank for each of you, and I've made provisions on our insurance policy."
Daria shrugged. "Sure, I'm not doing much of anything else."
It was rapidly clear that Happy Herb's Used Cars held nothing of interest for Daria. She leaned against a white Camaro as Quinn negotiated with the salesman. Helen stood nearby with a mixture of concern and admiration. Daria allowed herself a small smile. Quinn certainly can be charming. He doesn't stand a chance. A few minutes later, Quinn motioned Helen over, and after a few more minutes, all three headed inside to sign papers.
Not long after, a smiling Quinn came out with a set of keys, while the salesman attached a temporary tag to the red Vexer. Helen spoke to Quinn. "Remember, you'll have to go by the insurance agent tomorrow to get the final details added to the policy. Drive safe now, dear."
Quinn waved. "I will Mom. See you at home!" Quinn was in the car and heading out of the lot in seconds. Daria went over to her mother. "How badly did she manipulate that poor guy?"
Helen rolled her eyes. "That price was almost embarrassing."
Daria nodded. "Now that we've convinced her it's okay to think, we may have made her even more dangerous."
"True, but she'll be able to take care of herself. That was something I was concerned about two years ago."
"You have a point."
"Sweetie, where do you want to look next?"
"I'm kind of beat, why don't we pack it in and try tomorrow?"
Helen looked at Daria's tired eyes. "Oh, of course we can. I'm so sorry; you've had a busy weekend and a long drive. We'll pick up some takeout on the way home."
Jake looked up from his paper and beamed. "Hey, Daria. Welcome home." He put his paper aside and walked over. "Hmm. Cluster Burger. That could really hit the spot right now."
Helen frowned. "Jake, we got you a grilled chicken sandwich."
Jake muttered a dejected, "Helen…"
Daria gave him a small smile. "The chicken's better for you, and for some reason, we want to keep you around, Dad."
Jake smiled again. "You're right Daria. How can I enjoy my darling daughter if I'm not here? How was your trip?"
Daria began to get plates and glasses out for dinner. "No problems."
Jake took the bags from Helen and started to unpack them on the table. "Did you find an apartment?"
"We found a place in south Boston. The second floor of a pre-Civil War house."
Helen said, "That's fascinating."
"It's been in the owner's family since it was built. The rent's at our budget limit, but it was the best option we could find."
Quinn made her appearance, and after Jake had a chance to thoroughly inspect the new car, everyone returned to the kitchen. Soon, each Morgendorffer had fallen back to old dinner habits. Jake read the business section of the paper, Daria the arts section, and Quinn a magazine. Helen started to say something, developed a wry smile, and watched as they ate.
Daria sat on the bed in her old room, dressed in a long nightshirt. She was getting used to the carefully selected greens and wood tones her mother had chosen for the redecoration. She put a hand against the wall. "It would have helped if the old padding were still here."
Helen knocked and cracked the door open. "May I come in?"
Daria shrugged, "Why not?"
Helen entered, sat down close by Daria and placed a hand on her knee. "Going to bed early?"
"You've been putting on a brave face all evening. Care to talk?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"Not really, but a mother can tell."
"We really messed up."
"Honey…that happens sometimes. What you two do now…will say volumes about your feelings for each other."
Daria looked to her mother to continue.
"It is very easy to make mistakes and get mad in a close relationship. Anyone who tells you that they haven't either has just started, is lying, or is one of the luckiest people on Earth. The hard part is picking up afterwards and saying you're sorry. By the time a problem gets serious; both parties are usually to blame. When they both make the effort to set things right, the relationship is solid. When both don't, it will eventually fail."
"I want to make things right. But, I don't know if Michael does."
"Don't make assumptions. Trust me."
"Do you remember when the Yeager's visited us?"
Daria looked confused. "Yes."
"You asked me about being arrested in Boulder, Colorado in August 1969?"
Still confused, Daria nodded.
"Your father and I had a terrible fight during our first summer together in the group house. He left for California after I told him to go away."
Daria was surprised at the sadness in Helen's eyes.
"I've never felt so sick in my life. I knew as soon as he was gone that I had made a horrible mistake. Coyote, Willow and I piled into my Dart and we headed off after him."
Daria listened in fascination.
"What I didn't know was that he also felt terrible. He kept calling the group house and was told, 'She's not here,' with no more explanation. He thought I was avoiding his calls."
"They also forgot to tell me when I called there. Finally, I called his parents. Thank God I talked to Ruth and not Nathan. I found out Jake had been picked up for vagrancy in Boulder. Nathan refused to pay the fine, but Ruth wired me the money. We took shifts driving 'round the clock to get there. I was tired and didn't notice I'd run a red light. The cop saw the envelope of cash on the seat and thought we'd stolen it. When he tried to arrest us, I…punched him in the face. I wasn't thinking clearly, I just wanted Jakey out of jail. The officer fell right over, but his partner pulled his gun and finished the arrest."
Daria was wide-eyed at the story.
"We were held overnight for a Monday morning arraignment."
"How did you get out of it?"
"I bawled my eyes out in front of the judge explaining to him the money was for Jake's fine, and I was afraid that getting arrested and losing it would cause me to lose him."
"I guess the judge was an old softie, or feeling generous. He asked me if I would take responsibility for Jake, to make sure he didn't sleep in the park again. I said yes, and he told the bailiff to accept the money as Jake's fine, and release all of us. With the specification that he wanted us out of Boulder in an hour."
"We both apologized, and learned to make the effort after that. We still fight, and still are trying to find ways to avoid that. But, we also remember to say, 'I'm sorry.' to each other, even if it takes overnight, like that time when you were in first grade."
"Mom…you've given me a lot to think about."
"That was the idea, Sweetie. Good night." Helen exited the room while Daria watched.
After a few minutes, Daria pulled her laptop from her bag, connected the phone line and booted it up. She opened the browser and worked quickly. Without a printer, she took notes of the results and closed the browser. "Oops…oh, forget it. I can check my Raft email later." She turned off the computer and crawled into bed, feeling a little better about herself than she had in a week. "Now, I only need a car."
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."
Helen came down the stairs in her business suit and went straight to the kitchen. Daria was sitting at the counter, dressed in a green t-shirt and grey slacks, idly turning over a sugar-tart wrapper. Helen said, "Honey, I'm sorry. I can't car shop with you today, but I can reschedule for tomorrow."
Daria was not pleased. "What?"
Helen placed her hand on Daria's. "Something last minute, that can't be avoided."
"I'm sorry. Oh…if you go out, could you please get home by about three? I'm expecting a delivery and need you here for it. Quinn has to go straight to work from school."
Daria glared at her mother. "I think I can handle that."
Helen gave Daria s warm smile. "Goodbye, Sweetie. Maybe…something interesting will turn up. I'll see you tonight."
Almost like a scene from their high school days, except the difference in clothes, Daria and Jane talked in Jane's room. Jane was gathering up odds and ends into boxes, Daria lay on the bed, head hung off the foot, and arms outstretched. "That was a wasted effort. Ten of ten cars that we looked at today that 'need a little work' don't run at all."
Jane said, "Hey, maybe the great Helen is sneaking off today to surprise you with a car."
"I wouldn't bet on it, though that would be her way to try to cheer me up."
If not, hopefully we'll have better luck finding you a car tomorrow. Trent and Lindy were talking about going to some government auction in Beltsville, we could tag along."
Daria's face was determined. "I will get a car by tomorrow, one way or the other."
"Why so certain?"
Daria turned her head to face Jane. "I'm going to drive to Michael's. According to MapsOnline, it looks like it will take about nine hours…if I don't make unnecessary stops."
Jane stopped her packing in surprise. "Have you gone mad?"
Daria sat up on the edge of the bed. "I can't leave things like this. I shouldn't have broken up with him so fast."
"Then why not call him? That is the reason they made telephones."
"I've been trying since Friday and haven't been able to get an answer. As close as I can tell, the Fulton's are rarely home and are the only family left in America without an answering machine. I don't have a good email for him, and he hasn't emailed me."
"So you're going to drive halfway across the country instead?"
"You can blame my mother."
Daria enjoyed the walk from the Lane residence back to her parent's house. She found herself thinking of the many times she'd walked these sidewalks, and fond memories of escapades with Jane. Approaching the house, she noticed a figure was hunched with arms wrapped around knees, on the back of an unfamiliar silver-grey car parked in the driveway. The figure was dressed in a brown shirt and blue jeans, and a red-haired head hung down between knees.
Michael looked up upon hearing a quiet gasp. Hesitantly, he quietly said, "Hi."
He rose as Daria cautiously approached. With a combination of wariness and hope, she said, "Michael? What are you doing? How did you get here?"
"My folks let me borrow a car. If you only stop for gas, you can make the trip in about…"
"Uh…yeah. I left about five this morning. Been waiting out here for about an hour."
"You made that drive to talk to me?"
"Y...yes." Michael struggled to maintain an even voice. "Daria…please allow me a couple minutes. I…"
"Only…if you do the same for me."
"I'm not going to Rome. I'm staying at Raft."
"Why? What about your dream to study there?"
"I…had a long, complex speech ready to explain. But…"
"But, it boiled down to simply comparing two dreams." He held his hands like a balance, nodding to each in turn. "Going to Rome to study, or being with you. I can't have both, so which is more important?" He lowered one hand and whispered, "You."
"Do you mean that?"
"Yes." He closed his eyes. "I love you. If I had any doubts before, this last week has eliminated them. I have missed you more than I thought possible."
"I…I told you, I can't bear you giving up on your dream for me."
"Daria…for the last week, I haven't been thinking about that school, I've been thinking about you. Going there is not worth losing you. Yes, I'm giving up that dream, but I'm trying to save the more important one."
"Oh. But, you don't have to...I was considering how to fly…"
"I understand what you're saying. It means a lot. But, this is my choice. Being with you is more important. Not once every few months, but…like we were. I can still go on with my original plan. Degree from Raft, go on to grad school. I'm not losing the core dream, just…a little frosting."
He reached for her hand and lightly held it, remembering the first time he did, at the Raft art gallery. Daria looked down and made no attempt to move. Michael spoke carefully and slowly, while watching Daria's reactions. "I'm still new at this whole relationship thing." He swallowed. "I made a bunch of damnably huge mistakes and did the thing I most feared doing, I hurt you. By not thinking about you or what you thought, only what I wanted." He raggedly inhaled and closed his eyes for a few seconds before looking into Daria's. "I stupidly asked you to marry me so I could have both the things I wanted. I didn't honestly think about what you wanted. I'm sorry I did that. You…were right. I asked for the wrong reason." He shook his head. "I…don't want you to consider that question to be hanging over you. You answered, and did so truthfully."
Daria could see deep regret in his eyes.
With hands beginning to tremble, he forced himself to continue. "Finally, I fled Boston without…even trying to talk to you again, like a coward. I'm here…to apologize. My hope is you…can…somehow forgive me."
Daria gently squeezed his hand. "Forgiven."
A wave of relief passed over his face.
Daria spoke, also slowly. "And, a certain question will be…not under consideration…at this time." Daria weakly smiled at him. "I overreacted, also. I should have tried to talk things over with you instead of breaking up." Her shoulders fell as a sad look descended on her face. "That must have hurt you terribly."
Michael's expression told her it was true.
She went on, "I lost track of how many times I broke up with Tom, because I wouldn't talk, because I didn't want him to reject me. I…damn…I promised myself I wouldn't do that to you…and I still did it. So much for keeping my word. I…went to your dorm last Thursday and ran into your roommate, Ken. He really chewed me out."
"You tried to see me?"
"Yes, after much browbeating from my friends. I missed you by a couple hours."
He slumped back against the car. "Damn. If I had only waited…" After a pause, "Ken was probably just acting from guesswork, I didn't tell him much, except that we had broken up."
"Well, it was still a shock, which I think I deserved."
"Sorry. I know he can be rather crude."
"He was. Um…did you really…get physically sick?"
Embarrassed, he gave a nod.
"I'm so sorry, Michael. I apologize for letting my stubbornness and fear of rejection get the better of me. I thought you wouldn't want me for saying no to your proposal. I shouldn't have run away when you asked. And I certainly should have tried to talk to you sooner."
"I…hell…" He wiped a distracting wet streak off of his cheek. "I accept. Um…what do we do now?"
She placed her free hand around his neck and pulled his head down. "This, I think," and she kissed him.
He used his free hand to pull her close. "Does this mean we've made up?"
"It looks like it."
"Thank you." He noticed something when he slightly pulled away to look at her face. Daria was surprised when he gently lifted her glasses and wiped a single tear from the corner of her eye. "Are you okay?"
She gave him a warm smile and leaned the side of her face against his chest. "Yes." After a couple seconds, she raised her head to look at him, continuing the smile. "That…is the first time I've had a tear of joy."
He wrapped his arms softly around her. "I hope it's not the last."
Daria felt her muscles relax as he held her. "I missed your embrace."
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."
"Daria, how did you know how long the drive would be?"
"I…was planning on making the trip after I got a car. I could never get an answer at your house. Don't you people believe in answering machines?"
He released her. "Yes, but you kept hanging up before I could answer."
Daria looked down. "Sorry. I held on as long as I could. I almost got sick each time I called." She looked up and asked, "Do you have the phone in the basement? I'd called every day since Friday, mornings all but yesterday and let the phone ring eight or nine times."
"I know about Friday and Saturday. I called back Saturday, what did you do, call and run?"
Daria looked at him in disbelief. "I called…while everyone was waiting on me to go apartment hunting. After I didn't get an answer…crap…I left right after to catch up with Jane and Karen. I called Sunday before we moved everything to the new apartment. The super disconnected the phones that morning."
Michael slapped his hand. "Dammit. We forgot to put the machine on when we went to church, Sunday. When we got back, I called, and your phone was disconnected." He furrowed his brow in frustration as he recalled, "Oh, shoot. My sister saw a Maryland number on the caller ID yesterday and thought it was a telemarketer, so ignored it."
"Caller ID, so you really did know it was me?"
"Yes, and don't you check your email? I sent one Sunday."
"We won't have an internet connection in the apartment until next week." Daria shook her head. "And I blew off checking last night because I was tired."
Daria stared at him in annoyance, softened, and started to join in.
Michael shook his head. "This has been one fine comedy of errors."
Daria laughed a little more. "This could only happen in life, nobody would write this kind of crap."
Michael wrapped his arms around her and began to laugh much harder. "We've spent five days…going nuts…all because…of bad timing?"
Daria laughed again. "Fate hates us."
"O Fortune. Dost thou wax and wane. And you waxed us good."
Daria smiled. "Only you...why don't we go inside instead of making a spectacle for the neighbors?"
Michael blushed slightly. "Ooh. Right."
They walked to the door holding hands. Daria looked at Michael as she opened the door. "Um…don't get any ideas, but, that ring…if I had said yes…would have been perfect."
Michael weakly smiled. "I'm glad you liked it."
She gave him a questioning look. "So, what did you do with it?"
"I got a refund…well, more like my plastic credited." He thought of the ring nestled in its box, inside the glove compartment of the car. Michael had no idea of why he still had it, or why he had carried it with. Perfect? Maybe…I can use you in a couple years.
Helen held the cell phone against her ear with a shoulder and tuned the radio in the red SUV to static. She moved the phone next to the crackling speaker and spoke loudly. "Eric, I'm loosing the signal. I can't hear a word that you're saying. I'll have to try calling you back later." She shut off the phone and smiled at herself as she reset the radio. Her smile broadened as she saw the silver-grey car in the driveway with Michigan tags. Samantha, I see your son is here. I think we're going to get along just fine.
She quietly let herself in the house and noticed two people close together on one of the sofa sections, and facing away from the door. Her oldest daughter's familiar auburn hair rested on the shoulder of a young man with bright red hair. She cleared her throat and said. "I thought something interesting might turn up."
Thanks to: Ranchoth, Kristen Bealer, Mike Nassour, Mahna Mahna, Isa Yo-Jo, Steven Galloway, The Angst Guy, ipswichfan, Lawndale Stalker, and Hiergargo at PPMB for comments and commentary.
Thanks to Ipswichfan, Mike Nassour, Mr. Orange, Cheshire Cat, and Deref for beta reading and other commentary.
Revised February 2005