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. 2005.
This is the Thirty-ninth story in the Falling into College series.
And the Bubble Burst
Outside the door to her apartment, Karen Myerson stamped gray, slushy snow from her boots while she scanned through the mail in her hands. "Hmm. That looks interesting."
She stepped inside and quickly closed the door before peeling her coat off. She hung it on the rack near the door and, raising her voice, said, "Mail call!"
Her roommate, Daria Morgendorffer, shuffled out of her bedroom. "Hey, anything interesting?"
Karen shuffled three envelopes onto the table. "Two 'once in a lifetime' credit card offers, and a letter from Fantastic Science Fiction magazine."
Daria picked up the latter. "Hmm. Small and thin, not good." She opened the letter and read it. With an accepting sigh, she said, "Looks like they weren't interested in a human adopting three alien children."
"Another for the reject pile. Keeps my head from getting too big."
Sticking a paint brush behind her ear, Jane Lane, Karen's other roommate, came around the corner from her room. "God knows we don't want that brain of yours to have any more room to exercise. Anything good for me?"
Karen held up one letter. "Boston Athletic Association?"
Jane sprang forward and grabbed the letter. "Cool!" She tore it open and after a moment, jumped up and down yelling, "Yes!"
Karen stepped over to Daria. "I think she's excited."
Daria folded her arms. "Could be."
"I'm in." Jane held the letter up in front of her roommates. "The Boston Marathon. They accepted that rinky-dink one I ran in Oakdale for my qualifying time."
Daria lowered her letter. "Was that the marathon you ran out of boredom while waiting to come to Boston?"
Karen leaned against the table. "Damn. I knew you liked running, but I didn't think you had it that bad. Good luck."
"Thanks. I'm looking forward to it."
"When?" Daria asked.
"The seventeenth of next month." Jane smirked at Daria. "I wouldn't mind you being there."
"I will, as long as you promise not to splash mud on me."
Todd Baker looked over his roommate's shoulder at the computer monitor. "Damn, dude. They call those cabins? Look more like honeymoon suites. But then, I don't suppose you'd want to take Daria to some place that I would picture as a cabin."
Michael Fulton turned and said, "Your idea of a cabin has several cots, poker table, a dozen fishing rods, and a massive gas grill. Oh, and a large cooler of beer. Running water is optional."
"Well, yeah. Like I said, someplace your girlfriend wouldn't want to be."
"Well, enjoy your trip to Florida for Spring Break. What was that place again?"
"Daytona. Going down for Black College Reunion. It is the place to be for hip-hop music this time of year."
"And the girls there have nothing to do with it?"
Todd raised both eyebrows. "No, not a thing."
"Just like a romantic setting has nothing to do with the places you're looking at for next week."
Daria sat in the computer chair next to Jane's IMac while Jane packed her suitcase. Daria said, "Three hours isn't that long of a drive."
Jane smiled. "Especially for who's waiting for me."
"You should get there by lunch time tomorrow. Tell Mack 'hi' for me."
"Don't worry, I will. So what's Michael got planned for you?"
"He said he found some nice bed and breakfast cabins in New Hampshire."
Daria looked down and smiled. "They look like it."
Karen leaned against the door frame. "Well, enjoy your trips. Having the place to myself for a week is going to be nice."
Jane wagged a finger. "Don't tell me you're going to stay here alone all week."
"Just make sure Derek puts the toilet seat down before he leaves."
"I'll remind him." Karen laughed and went into the dining room. She called back, "Hey, has anybody checked the answering machine today?"
Jane shook her head and Daria called back, "No."
"Well, there's a message here."
Karen hit the playback button and Daria's cousin Erin's voice came on, saying, "Um, hi guys. Things have really gone downhill here and I'm about to head out of the door for Boston. I'll fill you in when I get there. If you can put me up for a couple days until I can find a place, I'd really appreciate it. Anyway, it's eleven in the morning, so hopefully I'll be there by something like nine or so. Thanks again for the offer. Bye."
Karen looked at the wall clock. "Um, she should be here any time now."
Daria and Jane looked at each other and Daria spoke first. "She's my cousin. I'll stay to help."
"Inviting her was my idea. I'll stay."
Daria looked toward the dining room. "Karen's an innocent bystander. We both better stay."
"Yeah. There go our grand plans for spring break. I'll call Mack and let him know."
Daria pulled out her cell phone. "I hope Michael's reservations were refundable."
"Wow, I wasn't expecting such a crowd," Erin Danielson said as Jane opened the door. Behind her, she could see Daria and Karen, as well as Michael and Derek Adler, Karen's boyfriend, gathered around three boxes of pizza on the dinner table.
Daria said, "I hope you don't mind, but I assumed you brought as many of your belongings as possible."
"Well, I have a small rental trailer and my car is stuffed," Erin replied.
"This neighborhood is safe enough to leave a locked trailer down there, but you'll want to unload your car for driving around to find an apartment."
Derek cracked his knuckles. "That's why we've been recruited." He stooped over and let his arms hang akimbo before he grunted and said, "Strong back. Weak mind."
Michael said, "That, and I picked up the pizza on the way over. Dig in. We have a carnivore special, a veggie, and a basic pepperoni."
Behind Erin, Jane closed the door. "You've had a long drive. Take it easy and we'll get your stuff carried up."
Karen took the small suitcase from Erin's hand. "Please, grab a slice and a soda and have a seat."
Dumbfounded, Erin walked to the table and selected a slice of veggie pizza. "Did you get any diet?"
Michael shrugged. "Oops. Didn't think of it."
Erin smiled back. "I shouldn't complain." She picked up a lemon-lime soda and a napkin. "Thanks everybody."
Karen waved her hands. "Okay you mules, get to work!"
When everyone started to the door, Erin said, "Daria, could you stay a minute?"
Daria looked at the rest, who all waved toward Erin. Daria nodded and said, "Sure."
Once they were alone, Erin said, "Daria, there's a lot more going on than me divorcing Brian."
The ringing telephone caused Helen Morgendorffer to get up from the sofa. "I'll get it honey."
Behind his newspaper, Jake Morgendorffer said, "Thanks. I'll get the next one."
Eric, this damn well better not be you. I'm not an associate anymore, Helen thought as she walked to the kitchen. She picked up the phone and sweetly said, "Hello?"
Sitting nervously in an ornate chair in her immaculately kept home in Virginia, Tess Barksdale said, "Hello Helen. How are you?"
"Mother, what a wonderful surprise. I'm doing fine."
"Oh, that's good to hear."
In the background, Helen could hear her sister, Rita, say, "Has she seen her? Or even heard anything?"
Helen's eyes narrowed. "Mother, what's going on?"
"Oh, nothing much. Your sister was wondering if you've talked to Erin lately."
"Why would she want to talk to me?"
"To keep in touch with her family?"
Tess sighed and said, "Rita and I returned home about an hour ago and found that Erin had left, taking her close personal belongings. She left divorce papers for Brian."
"Oh, dear. No, Mother, I haven't heard from her. Do you think she was looking for legal advice?"
"No, the papers she left look to be well prepared. I think she hired a lawyer without telling me."
"Oh. How did Brian react?"
"He's insensate drunk."
"Since you seem to have examined the papers, what kind of settlement is Erin proposing?"
"A strict adherence to the prenuptial agreement."
"If I remember correctly from when they almost got a divorce a couple years ago, that prenup was his idea. If so, it'll be very hard for him to fight. To be honest, it sounds like Erin just wants out."
"I'm just heartbroken. After all I did for them."
Helen scowled. "Yes."
"Helen, don't start. I'm worried about her."
"Have you contacted her friends?"
"Yes, the only one that would talk to me said Erin told her she'd be in contact sometime next week with her new address."
"Well, it sounds like Erin is trying to make a clean break and move away. This also sounds planned, not something spur of the moment."
"Thanks, Helen. Please let us know if you hear from her."
"I will, Mother. Tell Rita to relax, I'm sure Erin is okay."
"I will, good night."
Helen shut off the phone and stared out of the window. Jake said, "Oh God, what's the bad news this time?"
She set the phone down and faced him. "Erin's getting a divorce and already moved out. Nobody knows where she is."
"Please, don't tell me they want you to handle the divorce!"
"Relax, Jake. Erin already took care of that."
"Whew. I don't think I could deal with a visit from them without Daria around."
Helen sighed. "She has developed a knack for handling my family. Better than I do."
"Yeah, she ran my life all these years," Erin explained to Daria, "But she also did a lot for me. I wanted to make sure that Brian couldn't get a claim on anything of hers, only our actual joint possessions."
"I can see that. So what did you discover?"
"Besides the house, Grandma has almost no real assets left to protect."
Daria's jaw dropped. "Huh?"
"The accounts are all but empty. The only cash assets left are your college trust fund and Quinn's."
"It took a while before she would admit it, but day trading."
"Grandma lost it all on the stock market?" Daria sat in shock. "I didn't even know she had a computer."
"One of Mom's old boyfriends set one up for her."
"What's Grandma going to do?"
Erin slowly shook her head. "I don't think she knows. Daria, I've covered a lot of expenses the last couple months. With me gone, Mom and Grandma have no real income."
"Have they told my mom or Amy?"
"Have you heard your mom explode?"
"Damn. We need to tell them."
"Tomorrow. I'll need to be well-rested."
Embarrassed, Erin looked away. "We've never been close, and you're going to do all this to help me."
"Jane calls you a friend. That's good enough for me."
Michael set a box on the floor and then sat next to Daria, gently putting an arm around her. "Done."
Erin struggled to maintain her composure as Daria naturally leaned against Michael, faintly remembering when Brian made her feel the same way. "Thank you. Look, I need to use the restroom."
She barely closed the door before a silent, shuddering sob hit her.
"Wake up, you drunk-assed bastard!" Rita screamed as she kicked Brian. Her son-in-law was asleep on the sofa of the old guest house that he and Erin had lived in since their marriage.
"Nnugh. Keep it down, Rita. I feel like crap," he mumbled without opening his eyes.
Rita slapped him with the divorce papers. "Erin's gone and here are your walking papers!"
Brian opened his eyes. "Waddaya mean, gone?"
"She's divorcing you!"
Brian sat up and grabbed the papers, trying to read them.
Rita planted both hands on her hips. "I want you out of here tomorrow."
"Well, that bitch! We had a prenup and she's not getting out of it!"
"She's not fighting it. Get out."
"I'll get out when I'm ready."
Tess appeared at the door and calmly said, "You will vacate my property by eight PM tomorrow or I will have Sheriff Mason escort you off."
He charmingly smiled. "Grandma, after all you've done for us?"
"Exactly. After all I've done for you." Her eyes smoldered from her renowned temper. "So my granddaughter would be happy. It's clear even to my old eyes that she isn't happy."
"Come on, Grandma."
"Fine! You miserable old hag! I've had enough of your crap!" He staggered up and stomped past Tess. "I'll go get some help."
He got into his car and tried to put the key in the door to unlock it, but failed. After scratching the paint several times, he threw the keys on the ground and started walking up the driveway.
Rita started looking around and said, "Oh, my."
Tess also felt the effect of all Erin's personal items missing.
Rita went to the bedroom and stood before an empty closet. She whispered, "Mother," before crying.
Tess joined her and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry."
After a minute, Rita snorted and said, "I need a tissue."
After a brief search, she saw a box next to a computer and pulled several out. After drying her eyes and blowing her noise, she tossed it toward the trash can, missing.
Tess held up a hand. "I'll get it." She gingerly picked up the tissue and dropped it in the can. She stared at a rumpled sheet of paper. She retrieved it and stood, looking at the driving directions map printed above an ink smear where the paper had jammed during printing.
Erin put a box of pizza remains in the refrigerator while Jane dealt with the dishes. Erin said, "I'm sorry you had to put off visiting Mack. I forgot that you mentioned next week was spring break."
"I'll live. But what about you? How are you going to get by?"
"I've got enough money saved to get into a small apartment. Between any left over and a credit card solely in my name, I hope that will tide me over until I get my first paycheck."
"Gutsy, and scary."
"You won't believe how scared I am."
"Wait a minute. You said 'first paycheck' like you already have a job."
Erin nodded. "That's why I'm moving now. I start a week from Monday. One of the resumes I dropped off last fall paid off."
"Cool, what'll you be doing?"
"Personal assistant for an executive at Boston Products."
The telephone rang and Jane went out to answer it. "LMM Pizza. No topping too disgusting, no delivery fee too outrageous."
Tess said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I was trying to reach my granddaughter. Must have the wrong number."
"Yes, oh, wait. You sound like Miss Lane."
"That's me. I'm sorry, but Daria left on a date with Michael about ten minutes ago."
"Oh, well, maybe you can help me. Have you heard from my other granddaughter, Erin?"
Jane looked at Erin, who stared back in worry.
Sensing the pause, Tess said, "Is she all right?"
Jane sighed and gave Erin an embarrassed shrug. "She's fine."
"Thank goodness. Her mother and I have been so worried. Please put her on."
Jane held a hand over the phone and handed it to Erin, who kept the microphone covered and said "It's freaky how she can do that." Into the phone she said, 'Hi Grandma."
"Erin! You had us worried sick. How could you just leave like that?"
"Because I wanted to leave quietly."
"Why would you want that?"
"Because that's the only way I could!"
"That must mean you didn't really want to leave."
"No! It means that every time I tried before, either Brian talked me into staying or you did." Erin closed her eyes tight. "I wanted out."
"But you didn't have to leave."
"Yes I did!" Erin sat at down on a dining chair and tears started flowing down her cheeks. "I have to start over. I can't stay down there any more."
"Look, dear. Brian will be gone by tomorrow night. Come home and we can talk about it."
"I can't. I already resigned my job."
"You did what?!"
"So I can start my new one up here."
"You did all this without telling anyone?"
"Grandma." Erin sobbed and fought back a little control. "It was the only way. If you knew, you would've stopped me. I had to. I'm sorry. I know you've done a lot for me, but I couldn't take it any more."
"Some gratitude, young lady."
"Gratitude? If it hadn't been for me paying for groceries and the utilities, you would've charged those on your cards, too. How long do you think you can keep that up?"
Tess was silent.
Erin sniffed and wiped the tears from her face with her free hand. "Grandma, I couldn't stay."
"You've hurt your mother a lot. We'll talk about this later. Good-bye."
A deputy sheriff dialed the phone and leaned back in his chair. After waiting through several rings, he said, "Good evening, Mrs. Barksdale. Sheriff Mason wanted me to tell you that Mr. Brian was picked up along Tullenburg road. He's…"
The young man nodded solemnly for half a minute before he said, "Yes, ma'am. I'll tell the sheriff that. Have a good evening, ma'am."
He shrugged and put the phone down before yelling to the holding cell down the hall, "Well Mr. Brian. Looks like Granny ain't in a good mood and ya get to spend the night with us." The deputy laughed. "And remember, if ya puke on the floor, ya get to clean it up."
A groan from down the hall was the only response. The deputy picked up a hunting magazine and started reading. He muttered, "What a dumbass. Married into the Barksdales and blew it. Hell, for that kinda money, I'd have learned what fork to eat with."
On the landing outside the apartment door, Daria returned Michael's gentle embrace. "Thanks for being understanding about everything." She pressed her cheek against his chest. "I was looking forward to it, too."
"Not to sound crass…but I hope your cousin finds a place soon and we can spend part of the week up there."
He softly kissed her. "I love you."
She slid a hand around the back of his head and returned the kiss. "I love you."
After another long kiss, Daria caught her breath and said, "I wish…"
"So do I."
"Good night, Michael."
They held hands for a few moments longer before he slowly walked down the stairs. Daria entered the apartment and found Erin sitting on the sofa with a blanket wrapped around her, watching television.
She tilted her head to invite Daria over. "I don't know how, but Grandma figured out I was here."
Daria leaned over the back of the sofa. "We'll just have to deal."
"Do you get a paper?"
Daria nodded. "It's delivered out front with Mrs. Lyndon's, the landlady."
"Good. I can start looking tomorrow morning."
"And I'll talk to Mom and Aunt Amy. We better get some sleep, we've got a lot to do tomorrow, and I smell a lot of stress attached to it."
"I just hope Grandma doesn't decide to fly up to talk to me."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
"Yippee!" Karen's loud exclamation echoed through early the next morning. Daria stumbled out of bed and pulled down her nightshirt and wandered out to join Erin and Jane, also clad in sleepwear, at Karen's door.
The printer was already running when Karen turned the computer monitor to face the others, revealing a picture of a ruddy-faced newborn. "Wayne Edward Myerson. Born at nine-fifty-two last night. I'm officially an aunt."
Jane smirked. "Cool. Now you can really be a bad influence on somebody."
Karen read part of the email attached to the photo. "Jill's doing good. She was in labor for three and half hours and there were no complications. Terry says all bets are off, he didn't pass out."
Erin wistfully looked at the image. "He's cute. Sorry if I don't remember who Jill and Terry are."
"Terry's my brother and Jill's the saint that married him. You'd have to be a saint to put up with him." Karen put her hand to her mouth. "Sorry."
Oddly, Daria felt a softness toward the image of the baby. "Well, congratulations. Although, has anyone else noticed that most newborns look like Winston Churchill?"
Everyone glared at her.
"Well, they do."
"Make sure you look at them first." Karen shook her head. "Some of the places we saw that looked good in the paper were some real dives."
"I'll remember that." Erin circled a possibility in the paper. "This will be kind of weird; I've never lived in an apartment before."
"Hey, I grew up in a farmhouse in the middle of six hundred acres. And then I moved into a dorm room. You'll survive."
Daria sat down with the phone. "I'll take care of the easy one first."
Daria read from an address book and dialed a number.
Amy Barksdale opened one eye to look at the ringing telephone in her bedroom. "Shut up, you spawn of Satan."
After several more rings, she swung an arm over and grabbed it, fumbling for a second before bringing it to her ear. "Hello? This better be good, because I'm not in the mood."
"Hi Amy, it's Daria."
Amy blinked and tried to clear her head. "Daria? What are you doing up this early on a Saturday?"
"Long story. Are you sitting down?"
Amy got her glasses from the nightstand and put them on. "I'm still in bed."
"I don't like the sound of that."
"Have you talked to Grandma or Aunt Rita much?"
"Once or twice since Helen and Jake's anniversary. Why?"
"Um…Okay. To start off with, Erin is divorcing Brian."
"From what I hear, good move on her part."
"And she's about ten feet away from me looking at apartment ads in the paper."
"She's actually getting away from Mother and Rita? I didn't think she had it in her. Probably do her a world of good, especially with the three of you as guides. Though that means she will get a uniquely distorted view of things."
Daria inhaled and braced herself. "Now the bad news."
"Mother blew a gasket and is making threats about removing her from the will?"
"No. She's almost broke."
"Well, moving on short notice will do that. Hopefully Erin can get on her feet soon."
"No. Grandma's almost broke."
Amy sat up straight. "Please say that again."
"Grandma is almost broke."
Amy rubbed her eyes and blinked in confusion. "I did hear you right. Do you know what happened?"
"From what Erin told me, online stock trading. Probably combined with all the tech stocks tanking."
Amy whistled. "A lot of people got nailed by that. A senior prof over at the Statistics Department lost most of his retirement that way. What's she doing about it?"
"I think she's still in denial and living on credit cards."
"Mother would do something like that. Oh, damn. I just thought of something. What about the college funds?"
"They haven't been touched."
"Thank goodness. Have you told Helen yet?"
"Daria, wealth and status have always been major parts of Mother's life. Admitting she no longer has them is going to be a major blow."
"She'll probably need to be pushed into seeing it. I don't think Rita is that capable of standing up to Mother…and I doubt if she'll listen to Helen or me."
Daria winced. "Thanks, Amy."
"I'm really sorry. I've burned bridges that Mother still hasn't forgiven me for." Amy shook her head. "I don't believe I'm about to say this. If it helps…I have some cash tucked away. Comes with being a tenured professor and single. But only on one condition."
"That you absolutely don't let anyone touch those trust funds. I mean it."
"All right. Are you sure Grandma won't…oh, what am I saying?"
"Good luck with telling Helen."
"Thanks, I'll need it."
"Keep me updated."
"I will. Bye."
"Daria, I know I'm leaving you to do a crappy job. I owe you."
"Now that I'm fully awake, I need to get out of bed and take care of things my body insists on. Bye, Daria."
"Thanks, bye Amy."
After Daria turned the phone off, Erin said, "That didn't sound too bad."
Daria tilted her head down and looked back. "Amy recruited me to get Grandma to face what's going on. And I thought her call would be the easy one."
Daria took a drink of coffee and started dialing again. "I better get this over with."
Cleaning a bit of egg from his forehead after some overzealous mixing, Jake picked up the phone. "Hello."
"Hey Kiddo! What's up?"
"Um, quite a lot, really." Daria stopped and thought for a moment. He'll feel a lot better if I don't skip over him and go straight to Mom. "Um…Erin is getting a divorce and staying with me for a couple days while she finds an apartment."
"Oh, so that's where she ran off to!"
"You knew? Oh, Grandma must've called looking for her."
"Last night. Why'd she go up to see you?"
"Long story. Look, can I talk to Mom?"
"Oh, sure. I need to get back to fixing breakfast."
Daria closed her eyes and pictured the disaster the kitchen must be. "Thanks, Dad."
Jake held the phone out for Helen, who was at the table examining some briefs. "Daria wants to talk to you. Erin's staying with her."
Helen took the phone. "That's odd." She spoke into it, "Daria, good morning."
"Sounds like you heard."
"Thanks to Mother's call."
"Yeah, she somehow figured out Erin is here and called last night, too."
"Out of curiosity, how did Erin end up with you?"
"Well, she got to know Jane during the unveiling of that portrait Jane did. Jane told her she could stay if she ever needed a place."
"So, she's leaving Brian."
"She's leaving everyone. Erin's already got a job and we're trying to find her a place to stay."
"That's nice of you."
"Thanks. Mom, that's not the reason I called."
"Grandma did a lot of online stock trading the last couple of years. She lost almost everything but the house."
Helen exploded. "She what!"
"Bad trades and falling tech stocks. She's living on credit cards now."
"Mom, we need to do something."
"Never could listen to anybody. Pig-headed…"
"Mom. It's too late for that."
"We need to get her to a bankruptcy expert as soon as possible."
"I'm kind of hoping you could help with that end. After talking with Amy, I agreed to try to talk Grandma into getting help."
"You already talked to Amy?"
"Right before I called you."
"You called her first?"
"I thought both of you should know and I wanted to have more time to talk to you."
"Oh, well, good thinking. Did she say anything else?"
"That she can help out, money-wise, if needed."
"Oh. Well, I suppose we could help, too. We have several good associates in bankruptcy law I can get onboard Monday. I won't be an Eric and call them on the weekend."
"Thanks, Mom. Now for the real hard part: calling Grandma back and trying to convince her to get help."
"Are you sure you're up to that?"
"I don't know, but I think I have the best chance."
"Oh." Helen looked out the window in surprise for a minute. "Good luck then, you'll need it."
Helen set the phone down and continued looking out of the window, a mix of surprise and frustration growing on her face.
Daria shut the connection and started dialing immediately. "Better get this done before the better part of valor kicks in."
After several rings, she heard, "You have reached the residence of Mrs. Tess Barksdale. I am not at home or am occupied with other business and cannot answer the telephone at this time. Please record a message and I will reply in a timely manner. Thank you."
A deputy pushed on Brian's shoulder. "Wake up. This ain't no hotel."
Feeling wretched, Brian sat up. "Ugh."
"Get up. The sheriff wants me to escort you over to Mrs. Barksdale's place to move your stuff out."
"I can get it myself. Stuffy old bitch."
"Mrs. Barksdale and Mrs. Rita had to go out of town today. The sheriff told me to keep you out of trouble while you move."
"Good. I didn't want to look at them anyway."
Jake watched his wife absently pick at her breakfast. "Honey?"
Unfocussed, Helen mumbled, "Mmm?"
"You've hardly touched your scrambled eggs. Are they that bad?"
"Hmm? Oh, no dear. I'm thinking about Daria."
"She'll find Erin a place in no time."
"Yes. Jake…" Helen pushed back her chair and stood. "Dammit! I just agreed without a word! I'm letting my little girl walk right into the lion's den!"
"I'm calling Mother. Right now." She grabbed the phone and dialed.
After several rings, Helen also heard, "You have reached the residence of Mrs. Tess Barksdale. I am not at home or am occupied with other business and cannot answer the telephone at this time. Please record a message and I will reply in a timely manner. Thank you."
"Mother, this is Helen. We need to talk right away. Call me at home or on my cell."
Helen turned off the phone and sat back down. "Well, Mother's not home. I hope that means Daria hasn't talked to her either."
Helen found a little more appetite and started on her eggs. When she was almost done, the phone rang and she picked it up.
Brian leaned against the payphone and wadded up the number he'd written down from directory assistance before tossing it into a trash can. "I want to speak to that miserable old bat."
Helen said, "I'm sorry, you have the wrong number."
"Helen Morgendorffer? My soon to be ex-wife's stuck-up aunt?"
"Brilliant. Must be why you're the lawyer."
"There's no need to be rude."
"I want to ask your miserable mother what the hell is the deal of getting Sheriff Mason's goons to watch over me while I move out?"
"She's not here. But with the way you're acting, I can see why she'd want somebody to keep an eye on you."
"Well, she went somewhere for the weekend and I know she wouldn't go near the Ice Queen."
"I told you, Mother's not here."
"Well, where is she?"
"How should I know?"
"Yeah, how should you? At least you two had the good sense to stay away from her. Must be off with one of her snooty friends."
He hung up the phone and the deputy walked over from the car. "Any luck getting some help?"
Brian shook his head. "No." He motioned back to the police car. "Ah, screw it. I just want to get my clothes and the TV. I don't want the rest of that crap to remind me of her."
The deputy followed him back. "Just want out, huh?"
"Hell, the old lady's money is gone and Erin was just getting bitchier every day."
"Mrs. Barksdale's money is gone?"
The deputy whistled.
Helen stared at the phone harshly for several seconds. "Good riddance." She put it down and picked up her fork to finish breakfast.
Jake asked, "Who was that?"
"Brian, looking for Mother. Seems she's out of town for the weekend." Helen stopped her fork in mid-motion. "And Mother knows Erin is in Boston."
"So, she knows…" Jake gulped.
Helen picked up the phone and dashed to the cabinet to quickly look through a telephone book. She dialed and impatiently waited for an answer. "Hello…This is Helen Morgendorffer…M-O-R-G-E-N-D-O-R-F-F-E-R…You have my information on file…Yes, that's it. I can get to the airport in about an hour. I need the soonest flight to Boston after that."
Jake spun in his chair. "Boston!?"
Helen waved him off. "Don't give me that, young man, I've got enough miles on my gold card to cover it…Don't give me that, either, I have read every bit of the contract…I went through a lot of effort to find one without blackouts…I am a lawyer and I completely understand it…Yes, that's right, thank you. One hour and forty minutes? Fine, one please, with a return tomorrow night…One carryon…Good day."
"What are you doing?"
"Jake, I'm not letting Daria stand up to Mother alone."
Daria wrapped her arms around Michael's chest and pressed her cheek against him. "Thanks for coming over. I didn't want to face this alone."
He softly placed his arms around her shoulders and felt her relax a bit. "Any time, but where's everyone else?"
"Erin didn't want to face Grandma. Jane and Karen took her out apartment hunting."
Michael picked up a grocery bag and they stepped inside. "You expect things to be that bad?"
"Getting Mom's family together is always a powder keg. Everyone will be irritable from the flight and I know things will get very ugly. You have to remember that Mom and Aunt Rita started a small riot at Erin's wedding and Grandma Tess started an argument with my Grandma Ruth when Mom and Dad renewed their wedding vows."
He set the bag on the dining table. "Are you sure you're related to them?"
"I haven't done any DNA testing, but otherwise, yes."
"What's the plan?"
"I'm guessing Mom will be here in about two and half hours. I don't know when Grandma will be here or if Rita is with. She has a longer flight, but I'm sure she got started earlier."
Daria spoke into the telephone. "I don't know specifically where they are at or how long it'll take. You and Aunt Rita are welcome to come here and wait for Erin…Okay, put her on…Hi, Aunt Rita, I'm fine…Two-Seven-Eight-Five-Bee Silversmith Drive, that's correct. The driveway goes around the side of the house and the stairs to our apartment are in back….Okay…Uh-huh…Uh-huh…Fine…Be careful, the construction that way is awful…No, you'll want the to turn left at the third light past there. It's five blocks to Silversmith, turn right and we're the third house on the right…With traffic, about forty-five minutes from Logan…Good-bye."
Daria set it down. "That answers who'll be here first. Hopefully I can use the time to get Grandma to do something about her situation before Mom shows up."
Michael held her hand. "Good luck. I'll try not to say anything stupid."
She leaned over and kissed him. "If you stay through all this, I know you love me. And I'll owe you big time."
He slid closer and returned the kiss. "That's incentive."
"Grandma. Aunt Rita. Come in." Daria held the door open for them.
Tess entered and looked around the apartment.
"Good afternoon, Daria."
Rita followed and said, "Daria, how are you?"
"I'm fine, Aunt Rita."
"Thanks for seeing us on short notice."
"Um, no problem."
Tess glared at Michael. "Who are you, young man?"
He extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Michael Fulton."
"Ah, Daria's suitor."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Barksdale, Mrs. Chambers."
"You're presentable and you have some manners. Pleased to meet you." She looked around at the smooth plaster walls and wood wainscoting of the apartment and gave Daria a smile. "I must say you have excellent taste in housing."
"We were lucky to find this place." Daria moved to the table. "I have some hot water ready, and Michael picked up some English Breakfast tea for you."
Tess looked at the aluminum kettle and unmatched ceramic cups. "Hmm. Perhaps I should find you a proper tea service."
Daria poured water for everyone. "The cups are all hand-made by Jane's mother."
Tess accepted her cup and delicately dipped the tea bag into it. "I see creativity runs in Miss Lane's family."
Rita took her cup. "Please tell me Erin's all right."
"She's fine and stayed here last night."
Tess looked at the stacked boxes. "I can tell. And you say she's out looking for an apartment now?"
"With Jane and my other roommate, Karen. Jane is good at discovering things in places you wouldn't expect to look, and Karen is practical enough to balance Jane."
"How cute." Rita bent over and came back up holding a black cat with white paws.
"That's Bump." Daria reached over and scratched the cat's head. "She adopted me about five months ago."
Tess briefly looked at the cat before retuning her attention to Daria. "Can't you call Erin or your friends?"
Daria shrugged. "I'm the only one with a cell phone. Erin said she left hers in Virginia."
Rita asked, "Did she really tell you she wanted to get away?"
"Yes. Rita, has Erin ever been separated from you and Grandma for any length of time?"
"She's twenty-five. I think it's time you let her have a life of her own."
Tess rolled her eyes. "You sound like your mother. Helen wanted to have a life of her own and she got it."
"Coming here was Erin's choice. I support it." Daria held her temper. "If she wants to speak to you about it, I'll also support that."
"Then I guess we wait. Tell me, Daria, why didn't you sound surprised that we were in town?"
Daria frowned. "Mom called earlier today and said she thought you were coming. She'll probably be here in an hour."
Peeved, Tess said, "And you waited until now to tell me?"
Daria sighed. "Grandma, I was hoping to talk to you about something beforehand."
Rita looked up from petting Bump. "Helen's not coming here about Erin, is she?"
Daria shook her head. Now comes the real hard part. Feeling the stress in the air, she said, "No. Grandma, Erin told me about your financial problems."
"I guess Erin is angry at us to say such things," Tess said.
"No, she was concerned."
"And you told your mother."
"Yes, and Aunt Amy."
"I'm sure they're gloating."
"Mom offered to get some bankruptcy specialists at her firm to look at your situation and Amy offered her savings."
"They must be enjoying that."
"Excuse me." Michael said. "It sounds like they're trying to help out."
Tess snapped back, "This is family business. Why are you even here? Are you planning on becoming part of the family?"
Michael blanched as Tess and Rita looked at him.
Tess persisted. "Well? Are you?"
He whispered, "I hope…some day." Louder, he said, "I love Daria. She asked, so I'm here for her."
Daria gave him a warm smile of thanks. After tapping her finger on the table, she said, "Grandma, Mom and Amy are willing to help. When you recognize that you need it."
Tess's eyes started to burn with anger. "Erin exaggerated things."
Daria held firm. "Please tell me that you aren't using cash advances or courtesy checks from one credit card to pay another?"
Rita said, "Mother?"
"It's only a temporary setback." Tess angrily explained. "Stocks go up and down. You can't panic when you have some difficulty."
"Erin said you were doing online trading." Daria stood up. "Why don't we go to my computer and take a look at your portfolio?"
"I don't need to prove anything to you, young lady."
"How about to reassure?" Michael asked.
"Grandma, I would like nothing better than to be wrong. If your portfolio has only suffered a setback - the discussion ends and I'll apologize." Daria said. "If it shows you're in trouble, will you please talk with me?"
Tess looked between the others. "Daria, you negotiate like Helen. And after what you did at your parent's anniversary, I know you can be as stubborn as I am."
Michael waited in the hallway while Tess and Rita gathered around Daria at the computer in her bedroom.
Feeling like both women's eyes were boring into her, Daria pushed her chair back, turned and said, "Go ahead and enter your password."
Tess tapped in the code and hit enter. "Done."
Tension knotting her stomach, Daria spun back around and studied the displayed stock values and trends. I never knew she had that much money. "Bought at sixty-seven and currently one and a half. Bought at one-twenty and currently at three. Bought at eighty-three and a half and sold at a half."
"Those are not representative. I've been managing money since before you were born."
"Ninety three and a quarter down to eleven. Fifty six to thirty. One-hundred and seven to fifteen. Grandma, this…"
"Daria, how dare…" Realizing she was caught, Tess sat on the bed and stared at the wooden floor. "You're right."
"Almost everything Simon worked his whole life for."
"Mother?" Rita stood in shock.
Tess looked up at Rita. "Daria's right. I lost it. Everything but the house. That was always inviolate."
Daria quickly got up and let Rita sit in the chair. Rita said to Tess, "W-what are we going to do?"
"She gave me herpes. Yep, the gift that keeps on giving."
"Wow, I never would've expected that." The deputy shook his head.
Brian closed the trunk of his car and leaned against it, working several keys off of his key ring. "These are the keys to my old place and the main house. Can I run in and leave them? I can lock up on my way out and we can go our separate ways."
The deputy yawned. "I'll follow you in. Don't want you torchin' the place."
Brian unlocked the door and went in with the deputy trailing. He tossed the keys onto a small table. When Brian turned, he saw the portrait of him and Erin that Tess had commissioned the previous summer down. "I need to go to the bathroom."
Brian went into the bathroom and waited a moment. He cracked open the door and saw the deputy aimlessly looking at the artwork and knickknacks in the house. He quietly walked out, pulled a folding knife from his pocket and slashed across the portrait. With a satisfied smirk, he returned to the bathroom and flushed the toilet.
Calmly walking out, he said, "Let's go. The door will lock when we close it."
Seated on the opposite side of the couch from Tess, Michael nervously explained as he petted Bump. "You're right, archeology positions are scarce. I learned surveying from my father; that's almost always in demand. Plus, I've applied for a work-study position at the new GIS lab opening this summer."
Tess queried him, "GIS?"
"Geographic Information Systems. A method of using computer databases to look at geographic patterns and trends of almost anything. The learning curve on the software is the pits, but it'll be worth it. Plus, the technology is making the shift into archeology, so I'll get dual-use experience."
"Sounds like you have everything planned."
"Email or call if you have questions," Daria said as she entered the living room with Rita.
Rita carried a folder of papers and a diskette. "Are you sure it's all right to use those club offices and committee memberships on a resume?"
"You don't have any formal employment experience, but they show what skills you have."
"I'm almost forty-nine. Who'll hire me?"
"I don't know and I'm betting it won't be easy." Hearing a knock, Daria said, "That must be Mom."
Daria opened the door. "Hi, Mom."
Stressed from worry during the flight, Helen grabbed Daria. "Sweetie, how are you holding up?"
"I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner."
"Hello, Helen." Rita said.
"Rita." Helen looked inside. "Mother. Michael?"
"Helen." Tess stood and faced the door. "Daria said she was expecting you."
Michael waved. "Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer."
Helen released Daria and marched to Tess. "What in the hell happened? Did Erin decide to run away because you're broke?"
Daria moved over to them. "Mom, things are…"
Quickly, Helen turned her head toward Daria. "I'll handle this now." She turned back to Tess. "Well, what happened?"
Tess bristled. "I don't need you barging in here trying to lecture me!"
Helen stepped directly in front of Tess. "I don't need you coming up here to intimidate my daughter!"
Rita chuckled. "I don't think anybody could intimidate her."
Daria placed her hand on Helen's upper arm. "Mom, please."
Helen ignored Daria and turned to Rita. "And your daughter finally decided to get a life of her own and you can't stand it, so you fly up here with Mother to browbeat Erin into coming home."
Michael moved the cat aside and joined them. "Mrs. Morgendorffer, Daria was working stuff out with them."
"What the hell is this?" Helen was furious and confused. "All of you?"
"Damn, Helen." Tess was directly in Helen's face. "You still get so tied up in yourself you can't see what's going on around you."
"Dammit Mother! You lost a fortune! What the hell are you and Rita going to do with yourselves now!"
"On Daria's suggestion, I was going to talk to some of the bankruptcy experts at your law firm." Tess shouted. "But now, I think I'll go find my own."
Daria grabbed Helen's arm and pulled. "Mom!"
"Come with me, please."
Helen blinked. "Where?"
Daria tugged gently. "My room."
"Okay." She glared at Tess and Rita. "I'm not done yet."
Daria led her mother into her room and closed the door.
Helen folded her arms. "Well, what do you want? For some strange reason, you seem to be siding with Mother and Rita."
Daria kept her voice low, but the fury was clear. "Mom, things got a little tense for a while, but I managed to get things calmed down. Until you stormed in."
"Are you telling me that you got my mother to listen to you?"
"It wasn't easy, but she did."
Helen exploded. "Then why in the hell did I waste my time coming up here!? I thought you'd need my help to deal with Mother."
"I appreciate the thought, but like Amy suggested, there hasn't been as much bad blood between Grandma and me, so she was finally willing to listen."
"Oh, and you're taking advice from Amy now. What am I? Chopped liver?"
Daria lost her control and yelled back, "Why are you so mad at me?"
"Because I'm jealous!" Helen screamed.
Daria was shocked. "Mom?"
Helen sat down hard, but spoke quietly. "I'm jealous of you."
"Look at your life."
"You're happy. Going to what was really your first choice college; having a young man who loves you; good friends who care for you; and you already have a good start on your career. You're doing what I had hoped to do in college."
"But you met Dad in college."
Helen nodded. "Don't get me wrong, I love Jake. But you have to admit, he's high maintenance."
"You live in a nice place with good people. I lived in a crude bunkhouse that had some unsavory characters."
"What about Coyote and Willow?"
"Daria, they were the only two there that really believed. I thought I believed, but it all went away."
"But Mom, what about all you've done since college? After years of hard work, you finally made partner and broke the glass ceiling."
Helen sadly sighed. "At fifty. If I hadn't stubbornly stayed with that awful firm in Highland so long, I'd have been a partner somewhere years ago. And what has it gotten me? Sure, the workload is less, but now I get to see firsthand the backroom politics of the firm and how decisions are made about clients."
"Oh, kind of a sausage factory?"
"More like potted meat."
"I'm sorry. After all of your hard work, to be so disappointed."
Helen looked at the cell phone next to Daria's computer. "And, you get along with your sister so much better than I get along with mine. Hell, you get along with my family better than I do."
Daria cautiously sat beside Helen and rested a hand on her mother's. "But you still have Dad, Quinn and me."
Surprised, Helen looked at their hands before placing her other one on top. "I do. I guess I have done something right."
"Mom, you weren't perfect, nobody is. But, when it really counted, you were there for me. If I ever have kids of my own, I know I'll make mistakes too. I just hope I remember to be there when I'm really needed."
Helen smiled warmly. "Daria. That's the first time you ever mentioned an interest in children."
"Don't get your hopes up yet. I'm only admitting the possibility instead of rejecting the idea outright."
Helen hugged Daria. "If you decide to, I know you'll be a better mother than I was."
"Uh, yeah. Maybe for a bunch of aliens."
"Sorry, joke about my last rejected story."
Helen gently laughed. "Oh."
"Mom, if we smooth things out, Grandma will consult with those bankruptcy guys and will accept some help from Amy. I helped Rita put together some resumes so she can try to find a job."
"That'll be a first."
Daria sternly said, "Mom."
"Did you know Grandma and Rita have been active in a lot of social and community activities?"
"They might be able to parlay that experience into jobs. Let's hope."
"Daria, how bad are Mother's finances?"
"Very bad. She's going to need those experts."
Helen squeezed Daria's hand and stood up. "Time to go eat some crow."
"At least you won't have to do a lot of vacuuming," Karen said as she climbed the stairs with Jane and Erin.
"That's fine with me. I'm not used to doing a lot of housework." Erin stopped at the landing. "There are two rental cars down there and I don't hear fighting. I hope they're not all dead."
Jane patted Erin's shoulder. "Daria's probably figuring out where to dispose of the bodies."
Erin straightened her back. "Let's get this over with."
She pushed open the door and all three stood in surprise. Helen, Tess, Rita and Daria were at the table going through a pile of paper. Michael stood behind Daria with his arms around her shoulders.
"They're not trying to kill each other," Erin said.
Jane closed the door. "I'll take that as a good sign."
Daria said, "Grandma, Rita, you know Jane, and that's my other roommate, Karen Myerson."
Karen stared at Rita for long seconds.
Rita cocked her head. "You look familiar."
Karen said, "Didn't you date my uncle Paul several years ago?"
"Yes. That's where I saw you. At the family Thanksgiving."
Karen looked at Rita, then Erin, and then Daria. "You mean that's the wedding you and your aunt told me about?!"
Daria scratched her head. "I seem to remember something about Dad saying he knew Paul when they were kids. Scouts or something. I thought most of your family was in Georgia."
"If you want to get technical, he's one of Dad's cousins," Karen explained. "We called him uncle because it was just easier than trying to keep track of what kind of cousin he was. He knew your Dad?"
Daria shrugged. "Seems so."
"Weird," Karen concluded.
Erin said, "No, what's weird is Mom, Grandma and Aunt Helen sitting here now and not trying to kill each other."
Daria said, "We negotiated a temporary cease-fire."
During the conversation, Rita had walked over to Erin. She embraced her and said, "I've missed you."
"Mom, it's only been a couple days."
Rita sheepishly smiled. "It has, hasn't it?"
Tess said, "Have you found a decent place to stay?"
"It's a small efficiency apartment," Erin replied. "Over a nice flower shop."
Rita struggled to hold back tears. "You really want to stay in Boston, don't you?"
"Please be careful. I'll worry about you."
Tess said, "If you need anything just let…"
Helen warned, "Mother."
Tess glared at Helen but held back. She asked Erin, "Can we see your new place before we leave?"
"Sure." She asked Michael, "Would you mind helping move stuff again?"
"Yeah, I can be a pack mule again."
"I'll ask Derek," Karen said. "Between the six of us, we can get you in pretty fast."
Daria's cell phone rang. She went to her room and grabbed it, answering on the way out. "Hello?...Hi, Dad. The pigeons are at rest…Oh, forget it. Mom's here…They're here, too…Looks like we might have a plan…No Dad, they're not…Really, they're not…No…Dad, you don't have a wrong number…Dad? Good, you didn't hang up…Mom can fill you in when she gets home…I'll tell her…Okay, bye."
Daria closed the cell phone. "Dad wants you to call when you get to the hotel."
Embarrassed, Helen looked at Tess and Rita. "Do we really fight so much that everyone expects it?"
They looked back at Helen, and then at Daria and Erin. Both nodded.
Along the street in front of Langston Flowers, the store below Erin's new apartment, Rita stood at the open driver's door of her rental car and said to her daughter, "Please call me when you can."
"I will Mom." Erin hugged Rita and said, "I'll miss you."
Seated in the passenger seat, Tess said, "Are you sure you have enough room?"
Erin leaned down to look at Tess. "I won't be having any parties up there, but there's enough room for me and it'll be easy to keep up."
Inside the flower shop, Derek held a single, tissue-wrapped red rose in his hand and waited for his change from the clerk. "Better you than me," he said to Michael. "Those women are scary."
Holding a similar rose in one hand while he put his wallet in a back pocket, Michael said, "I suppose it comes with the territory."
"And I thought my family got dysfunctional at times."
"I don't think I'll gripe about my little sister as much after this."
"Eh, don't let her off too easy."
"She's starting to date; there are other things I'm worried about."
"Good luck with that."
Michael held his arms out to the side. "Considering how intimidating I am, I'll need it."
Tess and Rita drove away and Helen hugged Daria. "You take care of yourself."
Daria pulled her jacket close for warmth after Helen released her hug. She said, "Have a good trip home."
Helen opened the rental car's door. "Thanks, Sweetie." She sat in the car and buckled the seat belt. "I'm proud of the way you handled things. I hope Mother will be grateful for everything you've done."
"Thanks for helping, too."
Helen started the car. "I'm…sorry I was angry with you. I guess I'm still stressing too much."
"Take it easy, then. Better get going if you want to catch your flight."
"Okay. Good-bye, Daria. I love you."
"I love you, Mom. Good-bye."
Helen waved and drove away. After the car disappeared down the street, Daria continued watching. I'm worried about you.
Gentle arms wrapped around her and a rose was held up in front of her. Daria turned and kissed Michael. "Thanks, I needed that."
Jane folded her arms and watched the couples. "Mack damn well better have some flowers waiting for me when I get there."
"I've said this before," Derek told Karen, who was cuddled against his chest. "You three are a force of nature when you set your minds to something."
"Shh. We have the place to ourselves for the rest of the week. As much as I like Daria and Jane, I'm thinking about us now."
Derek held her tight and kissed her forehead. "I can take a hint."
Incredulous, Jane looked at the colored pencil drawing on craft paper framed on Mack's work desk. "I gave you that in seventh grade!"
"My dad found it for me and mailed it here. Your little delay dealing with Daria's family gave me time to have it framed."
Jane planted her hands on his cheeks and kissed him. "Okay, you redeemed yourself for not having flowers."
Clad in a long, black satin nightgown, Daria stepped out of the bathroom. The cabin was as cozy and romantic as the website presented.
Michael lit two candles on the table and set the tray and plate covers aside from the dinner delivered by room service. Self-consciously, he smoothed the deep blue robe he was wearing. "You look beautiful."
She silently embraced him, feeling herself sink into his gentle arms. Daria remembered what he said during the conversation with her Grandmother and Rita.
"I hope…some day."
She softly caressed his cheek. Some day.
Thanks to Ipswichfan, Mr. Orange and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.