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. 2007.
This is the fifty-sixth story in the Falling into College series.
Between the Lines
Brushing some errant snow from her blue "Revolution" scarf, a souvenir from an old double date with Jane, Daria halted at the door to her boss's office. "I'm sorry, Dr. Findlay, but between my student teaching and my class schedule, I can only work about sixteen hours per week this semester."
The older professor looked up from the letter that he was scanning. "You're only a junior; isn't this a little early for student teaching in the Education program?"
"Um, by the number of credit hours earned I'm a senior. While it seems a little early, I'm actually doing my student teaching on schedule in relation to the prerequisites."
He nodded and said, "I have to admit that you're an ambitious young woman. Okay, Ms. Morgendorffer, sixteen hours per week."
"Hopefully, you can arrange your summer schedule for twenty-four to make up the difference."
Daria withheld a sigh. "I'll see what I can do."
Almost cheerful, he said, "Very well. Oh, you have an assignment waiting on your desk."
Daria nodded and went to her cubicle. At the next station, Shelly turned her chair and said, "Welcome back, Daria. How was Christmas?"
"Good. Michael and I told our families and now everyone is obsessing and making plans for us even though the wedding is eighteen months away. What happened around here? Dr. Findlay almost seemed…cheerful."
"He's been holed up in his office during the intersession, working on something. He's hardly said a word, but I've seen him smile a couple times. It's…freaky."
"If you tell me he bought everyone a goose, I'm going to worry."
Shelly rolled her chair close and whispered, "I wish. Come on, we both know Dr. Findlay thinks that Scrooge wimped out. He's up to something and if it makes him grin like that, we better watch out."
Daria pushed the power button on her computer. "Hmm, I just told him that I have to drop down to sixteen hours a week this semester and he went along without much more than a comment about making up the time during summer."
"Girl, do you need any more evidence that he's up to something?"
"Well, now I know what could be worse than teaching an eighth grade English class at 8:30 in the morning."
Taking a break from shoveling breakfast cereal into her mouth, Jane looked across the table at Daria. "What are you nervous about? Just face them down like you did while subbing at Lawndale."
Eating her cereal, Daria said, "Back then, I knew that I was only filling in for a couple days. I'm going to be these kids' teacher for the rest of the school year."
"Ah, the whole responsibility thing."
"That's a big part of it. Plus, a lot of them will be at the age of just discovering hormones."
"Oh, yeah, say goodbye to their attention span."
Grinning, Jane said, "Wear something low-cut. That way, at least half the class will give you their undivided attention."
"It's a good thing I don't have anything like that."
Jane pointed her spoon at Daria. "That you wear in public. I've seen some of your hand laundry."
Daria glared back. "Only one person gets to see me in any of that. Oh, and speaking of hand laundry..." She leaned back in her chair and called out to the kitchen, "Karen, has Jane returned your saddle soap?"
Karen closed the dishwasher and stepped into the dining room. "She can keep it. I'll buy some more."
Unperturbed, Jane said, "Thanks. That industrial-sized can should last a while."
"Some of us actually use it to clean saddles." Karen quickly and pointedly added, "For riding horses," before Jane could make a comment.
Daria walked down a middle school corridor beside a handsome man with long, dirty blond hair pulled into a short ponytail. He adjusted his narrow, silver-rimmed glasses. "Ms. Morgendorffer, don't forget, I won't be far away if you really need help. The lesson plans are straightforward, but are open to adjustments to fit your teaching style."
"As long as I don't push things too far, right Mr. Lambert?"
"If you made it this far in the program, I doubt if that will be a problem."
He stopped at a classroom door and waited while a couple of students wandered in. After the school bell rang, Mr. Lambert nodded to Daria and then stepped inside, striding confidently to the front, center of the room. "Good morning, students, and welcome back. I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable holiday."
Disinterested mumbling came from the students in reply.
"For the rest of the year, you will have a new teacher, an intern from Raft University. Everyone, meet Ms. Morgendorffer."
The mumbling changed tone slightly as Daria stepped forward to stand near Mr. Lambert. Drawing on her theater experience, she suppressed her anxiety and confidently said, "Good morning, class."
A weak chorus of "Good morning," from the class greeted her in return.
Daria scanned the class, about two-thirds of whom were paying attention or pretending. Several were whispering among themselves, others were staring out of the window and a couple more were reading something.
Near the back of the room, one boy giggled and raised his hand. "Ms. Morgendorker, can I go to the bathroom?"
Several students around him chuckled while the rest of the class watched Daria calmly walk between the rows of desks. As the class grew quiet, the steady tread of her boots on the tile floor became ominous. Daria stopped in front of the boy's desk and said, "Excuse me, I didn't catch your name."
"Um, it's Kevin," he gulped and answered.
Why me? "Kevin, would you care to repeat what you said?"
"Uh…Ms. Morgendorffer, can I go to the bathroom?"
"That's what I thought you said. Yes, you may. Pick up the hall pass on your way and come right back."
As Kevin made a fast retreat from the room, Daria went back to the front of the class, pausing to pick up a spiral-bound book from the teacher's desk. "Now, I'm going to take roll so that I can place names with faces. If I mangle your name, please correct me. Trust me, with a name like Morgendorffer, I know what it feels like."
After a brief laugh from the class, Daria started reading, "Marisa Aikens?"
"Employee parking, one of the best perks of my job," Daria said to herself as she hurried across the staff parking lot near the University Press building. Near a corner of the Quad, she stopped at a box and picked up a copy of The Mast to read on her way to class. The top headline caught her attention immediately.
Faculty Senate to Investigate A&S Dean
Based on an anonymous tip, Faculty Senate President Dr. Don Welsh instructed the Ethics Committee to begin an inquiry into the activities of Dr. Roland Killarny, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. While not disclosing any details, Dr. Welsh said, "We take reports like these very seriously and will thoroughly investigate the matter." When contacted, Dr. Killarny said, "I have not had a chance to examine the allegations in detail, so I cannot answer any specifics. However, I feel that I have held this office to the highest ethical standards."
Daria lifted an eyebrow and said, "Highest ethical standards? I wonder if I'm going to need a flak jacket?"
Having walked twice around the Quad, Daria stopped and sat against the back of a snow-dusted bench. "I'm starting to feel like a mail carrier," she said to her walking partner.
Looking up at the falling snow, Wendy said, "That doesn't look like sleet."
"It's still cold," Daria said, rubbing gloved hands together.
Seeing Michael approach from behind Daria, Wendy said to him, "Hey, you need to warm somebody up."
Wrapping his arms around Daria's waist, he said, "I can do that," before kissing the base of her neck.
She leaned back and kissed his cheek. "That would work even better inside a heated building, perhaps someplace that serves lunch."
"Lunch sounds good." Michael then looked over Daria's shoulder to ask, "Wendy, are you going to join us?"
She smirked and said, "Sorry, I'll have to take a rain check. There's a cute little redhead waiting to warm me up. Speaking of whom, I better get going before I'm late. Seeya!"
After watching her friend hurry away, Daria said, "I think a bowl of chili over at Big Bean would be a nice warm-up; what do you think?"
"That works for me, but since I'm interviewing for that new position this afternoon, I'd better skip the beans and stick with a beef burrito."
Walking to the line of eateries across the street, Daria jokingly said, "Considering your reactivity to beans, that would be a good idea."
Sarcastic, he said, "Uh-huh, as if you're not affected in the least."
"I'm not the one trying to get a new job." After some thought, Daria tentatively said, "But I'm beginning to wonder if I might need one."
"Oh?" he said, worried.
"Did you catch the article in today's paper about an investigation of Dr. Killarny?"
They stopped at a street corner and Michael pushed the call button for the pedestrian light. "I saw it. Do you think that it has anything to do with his grudge against your boss?"
"Maybe. If it does, and knowing how much those two hate each other, I wouldn't put it past Dr. Findlay to be involved. Especially since he was acting awfully smug yesterday. If things blow up, there could be a lot of collateral damage."
"Please don't get mad; I know we've gone over this before. Is the job worth it?"
Sadly, Daria admitted, "Working there has been great experience, but now I'm having serious doubts. Even so, I want to see if I can ride it out and hope things get better."
When the light changed, he grasped her hand, knowing the futility of arguing against her will on the subject. Instead, he only said, "Be careful, okay?"
Half serious and half joking, she squeezed his hand and said, "Yes, dear."
Several feet short of turning a corner to reach the front of the University Press building, Daria heard Dr. Killarny say, "Daria, do you have a moment?"
Dammit, dammit, dammit. I don't like this. She answered, "Hi, Dr. Killarny. I only have ten minutes between my last class and when I have to start work, so I don't have long."
"I'm sure that you've heard that the Faculty Senate is looking into my activities. I wanted to let you know that I'm not the only one being investigated. There's been talk among certain people about personnel issues at the University Press, both past and present. Included in that talk is speculation about why Dr. Findlay upgraded your position from student employee with no benefits to part-time career service with benefits. That's very unusual."
Cautiously, Daria said, "Are these people implying something?"
"They could," Dr. Killarny warned. "I would suggest that you distance yourself from Dr. Findlay. When I was the Editor in Chief, you were one of the most reliable students I ever had the pleasure to work for me. Because of that, I don't want to see anything happen to you because of somebody else's actions. I can assure you, though, that I'll be happy to put in a good word for you if needed."
You son-of-a-bitch. "Thank you for your concern, but I'm only trying to do my job and complete my studies. Excuse me, I really must get going or I will be late."
"Of course, Daria. Please, keep what I said in mind."
Walking away, Daria said, "I will."
Around the office, staff members were intent on their work or discreetly talking among themselves, producing an air that something was going on. Daria barely had a chance to sit down before Shelly said, "Put your creep-o-meter on maximum. Dr. Findlay's as happy as a cat in an aviary and Dr. Killarny was snooping around the staff during lunch looking for dirt. They must be at it again."
"Dr. Killarny talked to me on the way here. He was waiting like he knew my schedule."
"He probably does. More than a few people would love to see Dr. Findlay canned. I wouldn't doubt that they're feeding info to Dr. Killarny."
Daria started her computer. "I hope we can stay out of the crossfire."
"I hear you. God, I don't need this kind of stress."
Watching her monitor while the system loaded wallpaper and icons, Daria said, "Shelly, do you remember the manuscript that disappeared last summer and that I had to find or else I'd lose my job?"
Shelly replied, "How could I forget about you dumpster diving? That's still an office joke about dedication to your job."
"I haven't said anything, but I have a good reason to suspect that Dr. Killarny was the one who took the disk. I have a bad feeling that I'm going to get pulled into this mess, one way or the other."
"Do you think that is part of what has Findlay grinning so much?"
"It could. Shelly, you sit next to me and I don't want anything spilling over on you."
"I'm a big girl. We can watch each other's backs." After a glance at the cubicle divider, Shelly said, "Or each other's sides."
"Thanks, but…thanks," Daria said, accepting the honest offer of support. "We better get to work before the boss notices."
"Don't want to push his good mood too much," Shelly agreed.
Daria opened the document she'd been proofreading the previous day and scrolled down to her temporary bookmark to start again. Even though she tried to concentrate exclusively on the manuscript, a part of her mind continued to worry. Dr. Killarny was right: my job reclassification looks like favoritism, even if I didn't ask for it and didn't have a chance to decline except by resigning. I know part of Dr. Findlay's reason was to make me feel obligated, but why would he do it in such an obvious way?
Hmm, maybe I'm bait that he's dangling in the water to see if his target will take a bite. Or…maybe I'm a throwaway misdemeanor for which he can plead guilty, say he was sorry, and then fire me as a distraction from something else. Damn, damn, damn.
From another part of her memory came an old saying: "Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill."
She gazed at Dr. Findlay's office and whispered, "Not this time, old man. I don't know how, but not this time."
"Besides your academic interest and background, what makes you think that you are the best candidate for this position?"
Michael took a second to form his thoughts and said, "To begin, I worked four separate summers for my father as a surveyor. On the archeology side, there is my field experience during the summer of 1999, when I worked on a project in northern Michigan on a Native American midden site along the shore of Lake Michigan. Finally, there is my recent experience as a Park Service employee on the Freedom Trail. In my opinion, the combination of my surveying, field archeology and specific knowledge of the project site makes me a strong candidate for this position."
Satisfied with the answer, Jack dropped his chair forward to land flat on the floor. He tossed a set of sample questions on the table and said, "You've got this down, solid. No need to worry."
Also seated, Sean spun his sample question page on the table. "If you have the cojones to ask a girl to marry you, you're gonna fly through this. Good luck, dude."
Michael said, "Thanks for the dry run, guys. I hope that they don't come up with any really weird or surprising questions."
Clarice, the last occupant of the history department's small meeting room, said, "Then fake it. In this department, you should be used to that by now. Did anybody have a real answer for the last question on Prof. Blum's final exam last semester?"
The others in the room all shook their heads.
"But all of us passed, proof-positive that we know how to fake it," she said with a confident, single nod of her head.
"Can't argue with that logic," Sean said. "Though I'm confused about how Clarice came up with it."
"Trust me, every girl knows how to fake it," she snapped back. "Oh, I'm sorry; you haven't had a chance to discover that yet."
Jack put on his trench coat. "I'm not going near that one."
"Don't look at me," Michael said, standing and stepping back.
Sean said, "Hey, a little backup here, huh guys?"
"You got yourself into that mess," Michael said, "We're not going to get you out."
"You're on your own, buddy," Jack said.
Clarice went over to him and gave Sean a one-armed hug. "Tell you what - some of the girls on the fourth floor of my dorm…"
He ducked away, saying, "Thanks for the offer, but if I'm going to crash and burn, it's going to be on my terms."
She shrugged. "Suit yourself."
After a fast knock, the department's graduate affairs secretary entered and went straight to the coffee machine. She started to prepare a fresh batch and said, "Sorry, kids, time's up. There's a doctoral committee meeting here in five minutes and I need to get the room ready."
Michael said, "We're done and not getting anything else accomplished. Thanks for letting us use the room."
A harried man in his mid-twenties ran into the room carrying a box of donuts. "I hope these are okay."
The secretary opened the box and glanced inside. Pointing and counting, she said, "Three jelly, two creams, three crullers, two éclairs and two bear claws. That should keep the beasts at bay, as long as they're not stale."
The new grad student said, "I made sure that they're fresh."
As the undergraduates left the room, they could hear the secretary, sounding like a mother hen, saying, "Good, now relax. The main goal of this meeting is to prepare your basic program of study. Every one of your advisors will insist that you take their courses…"
On their way down the hallway, Jack lightly slapped Michael's shoulder, "Good luck. You've got a good shot at this."
"Yeah, good luck," Sean said. "With your big pay raise, we can hit you up for the pizza more often."
Clarice quickly hugged Michael and said, "Good luck."
Michael said, "Thanks again, everyone. See you tomorrow," as he turned a corner to one of the exits.
After Michael departed, Sean said to Clarice, "Hey, why did he get a two-arm hug and I only got one arm?"
"He needs the good vibes today; you only need a good brain transplant."
"What did I do?" Jack said. "I didn't even get one arm."
Shaking her head in disbelief, Clarice hugged Jack and then Sean. "I swear that you two are worse than a couple of brats."
Feeling butterflies in his stomach, Michael stepped into the conference room and closed the door. Seated at the table were his boss and a slender man with deeply tanned skin and blond hair that was sun bleached almost white. Mr. Morrison said, "Mr. Fulton, this is Prof. Daniels."
"Nice to meet you, sir," Michael said.
Prof. Daniels remained seated but extended his hand. "Good afternoon, young man. You have an interesting resume."
"Please, be seated," Mr. Morrison said.
Following the cue, Michael sat and said, "Thank you."
Prof. Daniels said, "Your resume adequately addresses your background and qualifications, though I'm curious about one thing."
"You were accepted into the Cerretti program and slated to matriculate a year and a half ago. Why are you still in Boston?"
Michael spun his ring around his finger. "My girlfriend, now fiancée, wouldn't have been able to come with me. Even if it set my career back, I feel that I made the right decision."
The Bromwell professor nodded wordlessly and looked back down at Michael's resume.
"Mr. Fulton, most of your academic interest is in European archeology, particularly Imperial Rome, and your practical experience is with Pre-Columbian Native American," Mr. Morrison said before asking, "What do you know about the history and archeology of Colonial New England?"
"There's a lot that I've learned on the job between the park service staff, some of the living history staff and the naval crew of the Constitution. That's led me to independently read up on the time period, both for my own curiosity and to help answer the occasional guest question."
Prof. Daniels said, "I don't see anything on your resume about GIS. Do you have any experience?"
"No, sir. I know some of the basic ideas, but I don't have any practical experience," Michael replied, flustered about the gap in his knowledge.
The professor nodded silently and continued to examine the resume.
Half an hour later, the interview was over and Michael slumped in a chair in the break room, emotionally tired, but satisfied. Nguyen saw him through the door window and stepped in. "How did the big interview go?"
"I kept my foot out of my mouth and otherwise think I did okay. Hopefully, more okay than the other candidates."
Nguyen fed quarters into the soda machine and came back with two colas. "Sounds good, but looks like you could use a drink to wind down."
"Now that you mention it," Michael said, accepting the can. "Thanks."
"How long until you hear anything from them?"
"Prof. Daniels needs to get back to Bromwell, so they said that they'd have a decision within a couple of days."
The next morning, Daria walked from her car to class while taking a quick look at the short essays she'd had her class write that morning. "These don't look too different from the tests I gave to Mr. O'Neill's class. Considering those were tenth graders and my class is eighth, they're doing pretty good."
She stopped at one and read it a little closer before letting out a chuckle. "You're going to have to do better than that if you want to shock me. Angst should be applied with precision, not randomly splattered." Looking up before proceeding, Daria noticed the newspaper box and groaned when she saw the headline.
University Press Under Investigation
Reports have reached the Faculty Senate concerning personnel problems at the Raft University Press. These include experienced staff replaced by lower-paid new staff members while other employees have received uncharacteristic promotions or bonuses. When asked about possible cronyism or favoritism, Editor in Chief Dr. Ian Findlay replied, "There are staff changes any time a new leader takes over the reins of an institution and the University Press is no exception."
Daria grumbled, "Round two has started, and I'm sure to be looked at as someone who received an 'uncharacteristic promotion or bonus.' Terrific."
Sighing, she put the essays in a folder, slipped her backpack from her shoulders and placed them in a wide pocket. "I hope I can concentrate on them after work; my mood's gone now."
During their daily walk, Wendy said to Daria, "You're not walking, you're stomping. Are you that worried about stuff at work?"
"Yes," Daria said. "I could really be in a bind. Maybe I should've quit when Dr. Findlay first started. It would've saved me a lot of grief."
"Hey, how could you know he was going to be more than an ordinary ass?"
"I couldn't, but he was still enough of an ass to be a good reason to leave then."
"Then why didn't you?"
"I thought I had a better reason to stay. Looks like I was wrong."
Trying levity, Wendy said, "College is about learning from your mistakes."
"And it gives you so many opportunities to make them."
"What's your plan?"
"The truth. I'll explain what I know and what I don't know to anyone who asks. I've been caught in the middle once. I'm not taking either side. I'm taking mine."
"That'll probably piss off both of them."
"Yeah, probably, but I'll be able to live with myself."
Wendy half-smiled in admiration. "In the end, you can't ask for more than that."
The University Press was oppressively quiet when Daria entered that afternoon. The only conversations heard were in concealed whispers. Taking her seat, Daria nodded to Dr. Findlay's office and whispered to Shelly, "I know he's in a bad mood; how bad?"
"Worse, he's acting like everything's normal even though Dr. Cho from the ethics committee has been in and out interviewing staff."
"Dr. Cho asked about you earlier."
"I'm not surprised. Remember my reclassification?"
"Oh yeah…oh crap."
"Yeah. Is Dr. Cho still around?"
"He left about half an hour ago. You might be off the hook for today."
"I hope so."
About an hour later, Dr. Findlay opened his office door and said, "Daria, a moment, please."
"Yes, Dr. Findlay." Daria saved her work and stood.
Shelly whispered, "Good luck."
Daria gave her a brief nod of thanks before going into her boss's office. Dr. Findlay was already seated at his desk and motioned for Daria to sit in one of the office chairs. He said, "I'm sure that you've already heard the office scuttlebutt about Dr. Cho interviewing staff members."
"I have," she answered.
"He had a prior commitment and couldn't complete his interviews today. You will be one of those he will interview tomorrow."
"He'll want to know about how you became career service. Simply tell him about how you went above and beyond duty to find a valuable, missing manuscript."
"All of it?"
"Yes, all of it. I have a reputation for being a hard taskmaster that is well earned. I was very serious when I said that if you hadn't found that file, you would've been terminated. Instead, you found the file and were rewarded for your work. Simple as that."
"What about your decision not to tell the campus police?"
"That hasn't changed. Since you and your boyfriend handled the disk, there was no confirmed chain of custody and the police wouldn't have been able to use it for evidence against anyone. With no evidence, why bother? I'm sure Dr. Cho would agree."
Daria asked, "If you want me to tell the truth, why the pep talk?"
"I didn't want you to be tempted to gloss anything over. Something like that would look bad for you and we wouldn't want that."
"Okay, then. Go on back to work and we'll see you tomorrow."
Daria politely left Dr. Findlay's office and worked hard to keep her smoldering anger from showing. "Something like that would look bad for you and we wouldn't want that." Funny how you have the same concern for my well-being as Dr. Killarny.
"Hey, Daria," Lewis said as he opened the apartment door. "Michael's in the kitchen. How are you doing?"
Tired, Daria said, "I've been better."
"Is it the Creeping Collegiate Crud that's going around?"
"Eww. I'm almost afraid to ask."
"Just my asshole boss and his asshole boss with me in between."
"No wonder loverboy over there's been working extra hard at making dinner."
Carrying a casserole to the dinner table, Michael said, "I hope you like it, Daria."
"I'm glad just to be with you tonight," she said, going to him.
Waving goodbye, Lewis said, "I'm not going to be a third wheel and I have a paper revision that I need to get back to my advisor first thing in the morning. I'll be in my room, so don't make too much noise."
"We promise," Daria said while gratefully embracing Michael. "Thanks for dinner."
Dropping the oven mitts on the table to free his hands, Michael wrapped his arms around her. "You're welcome, but you haven't even tried it yet."
"If it's good, I'll enjoy a nice meal. If it's bad, maybe it'll kill me and I won't have to go to work tomorrow. A win both ways."
"I assume that has something to do with Dr. Findlay also being investigated."
"I know those two bastards are just using the system to get at each other and screw anyone that gets in their way or that they need."
"Are they trying to get the other fired?"
Daria released him and said, "I don't think so. If either one had sufficient evidence to get the other's tenure revoked, they'd have pulled it out already."
Stepping back into the kitchen, Michael picked up a holder with two tall taper candles. "Then what do they have to gain?"
"More like what they can make the other lose, such as their prestigious positions of dean and editor in chief. Hmm, I thought of something. If they both succeed, they're both screwed. Nicely symmetrical Pyrrhic victories and I'll get a new boss out of the deal."
Michael looked closely into Daria's eyes. "You're really mad at them, aren't you?"
"Both of them are too well practiced at using people. Who knows how many have already been hurt by their little rivalry."
Michael lit the candles from a match and said, "Can I take your mind off of that for a little while tonight?"
Her tense muscles suddenly relaxed. "Please." Remembering, she said, "You said last night on the phone that you made it through your interview. How did that go?"
He pulled out a chair to let Daria sit. "I can confidently say that I didn't put my foot in my mouth."
Leaving her room, Karen stopped and stared at the hand-bound book that Daria carried out of hers and said, "Don't you normally keep that thing booby-trapped?"
Bleary-eyed, Daria looked at her diary and said, "I wrote about everything that happened. With the advanced notice, I can bring this along to back up my memory."
"Ah. You know, you look pretty wiped out this morning."
"I was up late last night, or more accurately, early this morning, grading essays. I guess I shouldn't have stayed at Michael's so long."
"I'm sure he was a lot more interesting than the essays."
Daria yawned and shook her head. "He was, but I'm going to have to plan things better. This student teaching is going to take a lot more time that I originally thought."
"You're the one who wanted a double major."
"Guilty," Daria said, following Karen into the kitchen. "There is one thing I miss about high school."
"Oh?" Karen asked, intensely curious.
"I had plenty of time to lounge around and be lazy. Things just seem to keep building up and I have less and less time."
"Doesn't life just suck at times?"
"Yeah, but as my mother once said, it's better than the alternative."
Hoping that the students were in their assigned seats, Daria walked through the class returning the essays while continuing to match faces to names. "These were some interesting essays. You'll notice that there isn't a grade on them. After you have a chance to look, I'll pick them back up. At the end of the semester, they will be returned and you will re-write the essay for a grade. Any questions?"
A girl with her brown hair in a single braid raised her hand. "Ms. Morgendorffer?"
Daria quickly checked the seating chart. "Yes…Katherine?"
"Everyone calls me Kath."
"Okay, Kath, you had a question?"
The girl held up her paper for Daria to see. "What's this weird little loopy squiggle?"
Daria walked over to look. "It means that comma wasn't needed."
"Why didn't you just draw a line through it?"
"I could, but would you be able to tell if it was a real line, or an accidental mark?" Daria crossed back to the final row of students and returned the last papers on her way to the whiteboard. "That's why I used a proofreader's mark, so that you can see it is not a random pen scratch. Some people might say that you're too young to learn these, but I don't think so."
Picking up a marker, Daria wrote some common proofreader's symbols on the board and started to explain them.
Just before Daria reached the office door at work, it was opened and an oriental man in his mid to late forties stepped out. He spoke with a precise and formal accent cultivated by years at some of Britain's best universities. "Miss Morgendorffer, I'm most pleased to meet you."
"Oh, hi, you must be Dr. Cho. I wasn't expecting you so quickly."
"I was informed that 3:00 PM was your starting time today and I wished to complete our interview right away to minimize any disruption to your work. If you will please follow me, we may begin."
The trim professor led Daria to a small conference room and closed the door before pulling out a chair. "Please have a seat."
Surprised by his formality and manners, Daria said, "Thanks," and sat down.
Dr. Cho took a seat directly facing Daria and removed a folder from a briefcase resting on the table. "In the last ten years, only six student employees at this university have been reclassified to career service positions."
"I knew that it was very unusual; I didn't know that it was that rare."
"Please explain how you earned this promotion."
"In simple terms, I crawled into the dumpster behind the building and found a disk containing a valuable manuscript that someone had intentionally thrown away." Daria opened her backpack and removed the diary. "If you want full details, I wrote everything in here."
"Most intriguing. Do you mind if I look?"
Daria hesitated before she opened the book to the relevant page and turned it for Dr. Cho to see. "I used bookmarks for the pages with the relevant entries." Starting to blush, she asked, "If you will please skip the parts that are, um, personal, I'd appreciate it."
"That would be very rude of me to do otherwise. Don't worry, young lady." After an examination of the volume, he said, "This is excellent craftsmanship. Yours?"
"No, that was a gift from my boy…fiancé."
"A touching gesture." He started to read, and after a couple minutes, he said without stopping, "What do you think about Dr. Findlay and Dr. Killarny?"
After a minute or so, he asked while continuing to read, "What do you think about Dr. Findlay and Dr. Killarny?"
Daria remembered her meeting with Superintendent Cartwright during the Ultra Cola incident at Lawndale High. This felt similar, except that Daria was confident in her stand this time. "I think that they are using the system as a tool in a long-standing and bitter rivalry. They don't care who they harm in the process; all that really matters is that they score points against the other, as if this was some kind of game. Dr. Cho, to be honest with you, I can't be certain who really did what any more. The writer in me can picture Dr. Findlay as the one who put the disk in the trash and then leaked the word to Dr. Killarny. Then there's the fact that the disk was taped inside an envelope and put in a plastic bag so that after a week in a dumpster, it wasn't ruined. Maybe Dr. Killarny did take it and expected to retrieve it, or have someone retrieve it for him. However, I got there first."
Dr. Cho nodded, but didn't stop reading and, in fact, started taking notes.
Daria continued, "There are too many odd occurrences. Like the fact that there wasn't a backup copy of the file on my hard drive like I habitually keep. Granted, it could've been a mistake on my part, but it also could've been deleted without my knowledge. The more I look at it, the more everything looks like a spy novel with several important pages missing."
Looking up from the diary, Dr. Cho said, "Everyone else I've interviewed either remembered nothing, or only remember one particular side. Between your writing and what you just said, I've probably come closer to the truth than I had with all of the other interviews. The details you recorded in your diary have helped me to fill in some missing information and your observations have helped to confirm some of mine. I'm very appreciative."
"So what happens now?"
"I'll present my findings to the Ethics Committee and they will present a recommendation to the Senate."
"What could happen to them?"
"With a committee, there are no guarantees. They might agree to anything from nothing to a demotion to regular professor."
"Which leaves me rather exposed, doesn't it?"
"Regrettably, yes, Miss Morgendorffer. Neither one of them can take overt action against you, but there are unfortunate loopholes in the university's whistleblower protections."
You did the right thing, Morgendorffer. The price was high, but at least you're the only one who'll have to pay it.
Conciliatory, Dr. Cho said, "I wish I could offer you more. They will probably try to make your life difficult."
Fully resolved, Daria said, "Dr. Cho, for many years when I lived in Highland, I dealt with two moronic boys who tried to make my life miserable. If I can survive them, I can survive anything these two can throw at me. I know what I have to do."
After the meeting, Daria wordlessly went to her desk and started the word processor on her computer. Shelly leaned around the cubicle wall to say something, but stopped, sighed silently and went back to her work.
Several minutes later, Daria walked over to the network printer, read the page and signed it. Still without a word, she went to Dr. Findlay's office and knocked.
When he told her to come in, Daria squarely placed the letter on Dr. Findlay's desk and said, "As per university policy, here is my formal, one-week notice of resignation."
He looked up in annoyance, knowing she didn't play the game as she was expected. Coldly precise, Dr. Findlay said, "Accepted, but also by university policy, I'm granting you one week of terminal leave and will make your resignation immediate. Clear your desk, complete your time sheet and be out of the building within the hour."
The staff around the editorial office studiously watched their computer screens while Daria cleared her files from the computer and emptied the few possessions from her desk. Well before her hour was up, Daria turned the computer off and pulled her backpack onto her shoulders and walked to the door.
Shelly hurried after her and sadly whispered, "Good luck, Daria. I wish I was heading out with you."
"You can. I should've left long ago. Nothing's stopping you."
Shelly furtively looked back and then said to Daria, "I've been looking, but I really can't afford to leave until I have something else. Wish me luck, please?"
"Keep in touch."
"Okay." Daria nodded her head toward Dr. Findlay's office. "You better get back to work before he blows his stack."
"Oops, yeah. Good-bye."
Shelly closed the door and left Daria staring at the building. "Why does doing the right thing still have to suck so often? It's a safe bet that I won't get any glowing letters of recommendation from my time here." She harshly laughed and added, "But my schedule is going to be a lot easier to work around."
Slowly, she turned and walked through the parking lot to her car. She stopped and stared at the parking decal on the back bumper before picking at a corner to start pulling it off. "It was nice while it lasted, but Findlay will have parking enforcement notified by morning that I'm no longer staff. Looks like I might have to start taking the subway."
"Okay, not that I'm complaining, but I wonder what Michael's doing here," Daria said to herself as she parked her car. Tired but still feeling like a great weight had been lifted from her frame, she hustled up the stairs and entered the apartment.
Seated at the table with Karen and Michael, Jane said, "It's about time you got here. Now we can eat." Without further delay, Jane opened one of the large pizza boxes on the table and pulled two slices free.
"What's the occasion?" Daria asked.
Already reaching out to embrace her, Michael said, "Well, I figured that if you had a good interview today, you'd want to celebrate and if you had a bad interview, pizza might cheer you up. Plus…I got the job. I start next week."
Daria let him hold her tight as she whispered, "Congratulations."
One morning the following week, Daria crossed the street from a subway station and stopped at a paper box to grab the day's issue of The Mast.
Two Professors Censured by Faculty Senate
Following a confidential report of the Ethics Committee citing "behavior unbecoming of a professor and gentleman" as well as "misuse of official university procedures," the Faculty Senate voted to formally censure Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Roland Killarny and the Editor in Chief of the Raft University Press, Dr. Ian Findlay. The censure means that they will be denied a pay increase at the beginning of the next fiscal year, will be ineligible for any Raft University Foundation grant support, and must work with an Ethics Mentor for the next twelve months to restore their eligibility for grant support.
Daria folded the paper and continued toward her class. From a corner of her mind, she started wondering how she would've chosen if she'd been responsible for two daughters. Mom, I hope Quinn and I were worth it.
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.