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. 2008.
This is the sixty-fifth story in the Falling into College series.
Arrivals and Returns
Jane, CC, and Nell all knelt on the floor working on a yellow banner that stretched from the front door to the kitchen that said, "Welcome Home, Derek."
Inside the kitchen, Karen said, "I feel like I should be doing more of that."
CC dipped her brush in a pot of paint and said, "You're feeding us real food. And cake, we can't forget the cake."
"That's what you get for trying to survive on the BFAC meal plan," Nell said.
Jane laughed and said, "That's good, coming from someone with every delivery within five minutes of your place on your phone's speed dial."
Nell shot back, "Hey, you've seen that tiny excuse for a kitchen I have. There's no room for my crutches."
In the kitchen helping Karen, Daria said, "What's your excuse, Jane?"
"Why should I cook when I have you two?"
"Or have your latest boytoy buy dinner?" Karen said.
"Hey, I like good food."
Daria said, "You know, if you start double-booking dates, I'm going to check you for red hair."
"Let the girl have some fun," CC said. "You two have your private squeezes. We have to fend for ourselves."
"I'd say you're doing okay," Karen said. "I don't have to worry about waiting for new episodes of Sex and the City when I can watch you three and Clarice."
The telephone rang and Daria said, "I'm free; I can get it." She wove past the banner to the dining room and answered the phone, "Hello."
Standing in his kitchen, Trent said, "Oh, hey Daria. Happy birthday."
Daria warmly smiled and said, "Thanks."
"Got any plans?"
"We're helping Karen get ready for Derek's homecoming and we've got a cake for later. After that, Michael is going to pick me up for dinner."
"Cool. Can I talk to Janey?"
"I'll get her." Daria held up the phone and said, "Jane, it's Trent."
Jane jumped up and ran over. She took the phone and excitedly said, "So, oh brother of mine, are you a father yet?"
"Ah. So, what's up?"
"Um, I kinda need a little advice."
"Well, this pregnancy thing has Lindy a little cranky."
"She's been carrying around a bowling ball and was due three days ago. I can see that."
"What should I do?"
"Whatever she says," Jane replied.
"Um…do whatever she says, without question."
"Any time, big brother."
After Jane finished her call, Karen said, "It sounds like your brother's still waiting."
"Yeah, and Lindy's getting antsy."
Quinn sat on a stool at Pacific Coast Smoothie and listened on her cell phone as Lindy said, "I just want this to be over with. My feet hurt, my back hurts and I can't pass a bathroom without stopping."
"I'm sure you'll feel a lot better once he arrives."
"Me too, but the waiting sucks."
Quinn giggled and said, "It would be funny if it happened today."
"Why would it be funny?"
"It's my sister's birthday. You know, that whole irony thing."
"That would be just too weird."
After a pause, Quinn said, "How is Trent holding up?"
"Not too bad, considering how bitchy I've been lately."
"Things any better with your mother?"
Lindy sighed heavily and said, "No. She offered to stay with us to 'help' after the baby is born. Now that is something that would drive me back to drinking."
"Nice as always and just as flighty. If your mother wasn't around, I think I'd have gone nuts before now."
"That's funny, because I'd have gone nuts if I'd stayed home."
Lindy laughed at that. "Are you coming home for Thanksgiving?"
"You bet, and I expect to see your baby when I get there."
"If he's not out by then, he's going to be evicted. So, no worries about that."
Nervous from waiting, Karen opened the front door and hugged Derek's parents. "Miriam, Tony."
"Good morning, dear," Miriam said.
Behind the couple, Derek's brother Jason said, "Hiya, Karen."
"Hi," she said.
"Are you ready?" Tony asked. "And do you need any help?"
"Can you and Jason grab the big banner?" Karen said. "It's folded up on the table."
"Sure," Tony said. "Be careful, son."
"I will," Jason said as he followed and picked up one end of the folded banner as Tony got the other.
"His room is ready for him, too." Quieter, Miriam said, "Of course, you're welcome to stay anytime."
"Thanks, I really appreciate it."
"You're family now."
Walking past, Tony said, "We should be going; the traffic reports around Logan sounded pretty bad."
"Let me grab my purse," Karen said, "and I'll meet you in the car."
Miriam said, "We rented a minivan to have room for everyone. I didn't want Derek to be too squeezed in."
Joking, Jason said, "Plus, it gives you and Derek a seat to yourselves."
Karen looked at the banner hanging between two stands provided by a maintenance crew at the airport and said, "That was really nice of them to help out."
"It's not Vietnam," Tony said. "Everyone wants to welcome our soldiers home."
"After all he's been through, I'm glad."
Miriam checked the status board and said, "His flight is still on schedule to land in five minutes."
A dozen soldiers in dress greens arrived at the terminal, and in formation, marched over to Karen and the Adlers. When they stopped, a black soldier with 1st Lieutenant bars on his collar stepped forward and said, "Family of Sgt. Derek Adler?"
"Yes," Karen said, still warming to her husband's new rank. "I'm his wife, Karen. These are his parents, Miriam and Tony, and his brother, Jason."
"Lt. Bester, 21st Infantry Regimental Command, Massachusetts National Guard, Camp Edwards. We're here to provide an honor guard for Sgt. Adler."
"Wow," Karen said.
Jason said, "Cool."
"Our pleasure, ma'am."
A couple of minutes later, a television camera crew and a couple of other reporters arrived and surrounded the waiting family.
Thankful for prior experience with the press and Daria's advice, Karen stepped forward to keep herself between the press and Derek's family. She first targeted a young man she recognized as a reporter for The Mast. "I'll take a few questions, starting with you."
The student reporter asked, "What are your plans to celebrate Sgt. Derek Adler's return?"
"We're going to have a private party at his parents' home tonight and tomorrow, the student government at Raft is holding a short ceremony on the Quad."
One of the television reporters asked, "Any long-term plans?"
"We're doing our formal wedding next month on the 21st and getting Derek back up to speed in college. He's missed an entire year of classes. I'm hoping to be accepted into the graduate program at Raft's vet school so that we don't have to deal with two different schools."
"Is that a change of plans?" another reporter said.
"Well, I had planned on grad school closer to where I grew up in Georgia."
"What will you miss the most staying in Boston?"
"I miss my family and my horse. I'll get to see my family for the wedding, but I don't know when I'll get a chance to see my horse. Spring break is probably the earliest chance, if we can swing things."
One of the television support staff said, "The plane's here," causing the reporters to begin reshuffling for a better shot of him coming off the boarding ramp.
The honor guard commander firmly ordered, "Attention!" and the troops formed two lines facing inward from the ramp to the family gathering.
Karen looked around and realized that most of the people at the terminal were watching them as much as they were watching for their loved ones coming down the ramp.
After several minutes, the first passengers appeared exiting the plane, an elderly man in a wheelchair pushed by a stewardess and a woman who was clearly his wife beside. Derek, though looking drawn and tired, was still impressive in his greens as he walked on the other side of the wheelchair. He was talking with the man, who looked up at Derek and said, "This is your time. I had my parade back in '45."
"Take care of yourself," he said to the old veteran and then, "and you too," to his wife. He straightened and walked directly to the honor guard, pausing to accept their salute before passing between the two lines to where Karen waited.
The members of the press idly looked around as they waited for the couple to come out of their embrace and kiss. When they did, the student reporter said, "You're obviously happy to be home. What do you plan on doing first?"
His right arm still around Karen, Derek said, "Hold my wife close all the way home."
Under his breath, the student said, "I'm not going to ask the second thing."
A television reporter said, "You were awarded the Silver Star. How does it feel to be a hero?"
"If you ask me, Pfc. Collins was the hero that day. He pulled Pvt. Petersen and me out of the wrecked humvee while still under fire and got us to safety. Our medics never get enough credit."
"But you're the one that gave up your armor to protect a mother and child."
"Let's just say that I did what I felt was the right thing to do."
Another reporter said, "I hope you don't mind that everyone else considers you a hero."
"I can't really stop you."
"Are you willing to go back?"
"I'm no longer eligible for combat duty, but I will do what is asked of me."
"What's your opinion on the rising tensions between our government and Iraq?"
"Like most soldiers, I hope things can be settled diplomatically." Derek looked over his shoulder at his parents and then back to the reporters. "If you don't mind, I'd like to spend time with my family. Thanks for welcoming me home."
The reporters looked at each other for several seconds and then silently agreed. One said, "Thank you, Sgt. Adler. Welcome home."
As one of the honor guards closed the back of the rented minivan after placing luggage and the banner inside, Derek said to Lt. Bester, "I look forward to standing with your men when the rest of the regiment returns."
"It will be an honor, sergeant."
"I’m still getting used to sergeant."
"You've earned those stripes, and I don't just mean the fancy medal."
"Now, this is a direct order. Go spend time with your family and have fun."
Lt. Bester saluted him once more, and then turned to his detachment. "Follow me."
Jason opened the side door and motioned. "You can have the back seat."
"Thanks," Derek said, climbing in with Karen following. Jason sat on the middle seat and closed the side door while Miriam and Tony sat up front.
Miriam said, "How are you really feeling, son?"
"Tired and sore. My side still hurts most of the time."
"Get some rest and let your father drive."
"No problem," Derek said, leaning against Karen as she put her arms around him.
Standing in Jake's office, Trent gave his acoustic guitar a last strum and said, "Yeah."
A thirtyish brunette seated across the desk from Jake said, "I like it." She turned to Jake. "We have a deal, Mr. Morgendorffer."
"Thank you, Mrs. Wilson," Jake said. "It's a pleasure to serve you."
"Call me Ashley. Trent, when can you have the jingle recorded?"
"I can do it tomorrow, unless…"
"Unless I'm at the hospital having a baby."
She looked amused and said, "Aren't you a little skinny for that?"
"Huh? Oh, um, no, my wife's going to have a baby."
"I'm kidding with you. Your first?"
"It shows. Look, I can wait if you get distracted."
"Cool. Um, thanks."
She rose and shook both men's hands. "I'm looking forward to seeing the ad campaign. Have a good day."
"Have a good day!" Jake said, a little over-excited.
After Mrs. Wilson left, Jake said, "Way to go, Trent! That jingle was great!"
Trent randomly plucked at his guitar. "I don't know. It feels like I've sold a part of myself every time I do one."
"And then you reach a point where you feel there's nothing left to sell!" Jake said, becoming agitated.
Not rising to Jake's emotion, Trent said, "Um, yeah. I hope I'm doing the right thing. It is for my kid and all."
Trent's comment snapped Jake out of his rant and he put his arm round the younger man's shoulders. "When your kid smiles at you, it's all worth it."
Working in her home office, Lindy took her hands away from the computer and looked down at her stomach. "You better come out soon or my arms won't be long enough to reach the keyboard."
Walking by, Amanda stopped and said, "Did you say something, dear?"
"Just talking to my baby."
"It's good for him to know that he's loved."
"Right," Lindy said, not bothering to explain what she'd actually said.
"Trent was such a big boy when he was born."
"And Jane was so tiny when she was born. You should've seen Trent watching after Jane. He was so cute."
Lindy smirked at the new information she would use to tease her husband. "So the parenting instinct got an early start with him."
"He always took care of Jane. I never had to worry about her when I was working on my pottery."
Lindy mentally shook her head but let no outside sign show. "I'm sure he'll look after our child just as well."
"Just look at how Jane turned out."
"You, too?" Jane said in surprise, talking to Daria as they and Karen sat around the table. "First Karen and then you. I feel like I'm being abandoned."
Daria said, "I'm sorry, Jane. Michael's roommate, Lewis, defended his dissertation and will graduate next month. Michael has to move or find another roommate…so we decided it would be easier all around if I moved in with him."
"So what am I supposed to do?" Jane said. "I can't cover the rent on this place by myself."
"That's why I'm telling you now," Daria said. "To give you time to find new roommates."
"From the way Nell talks," Karen said, "I'm sure she'd love to get out of that oversized closet she lives in."
"And I think CC is about to kill the RA supervisor over at BFAC, so I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to talk her into moving here."
"Three art chicks in one building? Wouldn't that be a little harsh on poor Mrs. Lyndon?"
"Come on," Daria said. "You're not that bad."
"Entertaining, but not bad," Karen said.
Jane looked at the table for several seconds before saying, "I knew we would go our separate ways; I just didn't expect it quite this soon. As much as I like CC and Nell, it won't be the same as you two."
"Jane, we're still going to be in Boston," Daria said.
"I know, but let's be honest. It's the first step. None of us know where we're going to be after graduation. I feel that you and Karen are my sisters more than Summer and Penny ever were. As much as I'm glad Trent was there for me when we were growing up, I’m glad I've spent my college years with you."
Daria said, "You're starting to get all soft and mushy on us, Lane."
"Maybe I am. Is that a problem?"
"No," said Karen. "I'm always going to remember this place and the three of us living here. I know I wouldn't have made it through the last couple of months without you and Daria to keep me hanging on."
Daria surrendered to the mood. "It looks like all of us are getting mushy."
Karen got up and started toward the kitchen. "If we're going down that way, I need a beer. What about you two?"
Daria stood and said, "If we're going to act out a chick flick scene, a margarita would hit the spot."
Jane followed them. "I think I'll try some of that absinthe I had brought over the border from Canada."
Quickly under the influence, Daria, Jane and Karen lounged around the living room while the Forecast Channel played, ignored, on the TV. Daria shook her head and said, "Being Maid of Honor opposite a laptop computer is going to be really weird."
"I know, but Derek insisted that he wanted Lyle Collins as his Best Man. The whole brothers in arms thing."
"I think it's cool," Jane said. "Broadcasting your wedding by webcam to Afghanistan so that Derek's unit can watch."
"Are you missing Jane Cam?" Daria said.
"I wouldn't mind seeing Tom Sloane shake his butt again…" When Daria raised an eyebrow, Jane said, "Hey, he had a cute butt. I didn't say I wanted to go out with him again."
"Point granted," Daria said.
Karen said, "That reminds me. Daria, do you and Michael have a place for your wedding yet?"
"Um…we're still working on it."
Karen shook her head. "You better do something before your mother decides for you."
"Don't remind me," Daria said before taking a drink. "It's just that we haven't found what we want yet. I can't describe it, but, that's it."
"You want it to be exactly right," Jane said, smiling. "You can't hide your romantic streak; we know you too well."
"Okay, okay. I'm still looking for the perfect place and haven't found it yet. Are you happy?"
"Yep," Jane said. "And that calls for another drink."
Inside the Zon, Trent stopped by the bar and said, "Water."
The bartender produced a glass and said, "How's Lindy?"
"You're not staying with her?"
"She told me to play tonight. You know; responsibility."
"I hear ya, man."
Trent drained the water before he reached into his pocket for the cell phone that Lindy had recently bought for him and pushed a control to mute the ring so it wouldn't disturb him during the performance. "Time to play."
He hopped up on stage, slung a guitar over his shoulder and leaned against a stool. "Hey, I'm Trent Lane and I want to welcome you to the Zon for a night of alternative grunge."
Arms around each other's waists, Derek and Karen stepped out of a restaurant and onto one of Boston's busy sidewalks. He said, "Finally, a real date again. Just the two of us."
"And a couple hundred pedestrians," Karen said.
"That's what I get for hanging around Daria and Jane."
"I'm not sure you can entirely blame them."
"Oh, I suppose I have a natural talent."
As they walked, Karen noticed Derek regularly glancing from side to side and upward. Finally, she asked, "Looking for something up there?"
"Oh, um, no. Habit, I guess."
Karen nodded, understanding and mildly concerned. "Anyplace you want to go?"
"How about a club of some kind? We're both twenty-one now."
"Okay, but one that's not too loud."
"Agreed. I've had more than enough loud noises to last a while."
Lindy rested against the door frame and called into the pottery shop, "Amanda. Amanda."
Carefully painting glaze onto some bisqueware, Amanda looked up and said, "Yes, Lindy?"
"It's time. I need a ride to the hospital."
"Oh dear," Amanda said. "I just started painting the glaze on this plate. Can you wait a few minutes?"
"No, I can't wait. I'm going into labor."
Amanda looked at Lindy but was clearly seeing memories instead. "Oh yeah, I was so nervous my first time." She rose and took off her apron. "I'll wash up and meet you at the car."
"Thanks," Lindy said, glad to get such a quick response. On her way to the car, she said, "I hope she doesn't get distracted."
After getting into the car, Lindy checked her watch and said, "Damn, Trent's set has started." She took her phone from her purse and dialed.
After several rings, Helen said, "Hello."
"Hi, it's Lindy. I need to ask you for a favor."
"Of course, what do you need?"
"I'm going into labor and Amanda's going to drive me to Cedars of Lawndale. Can you or Jake run over to the Zon and tell Trent?"
"Didn't you get him a new cell phone?"
"He always turns it off when he plays and the bartender can't deliver a phone message properly to save his life."
"We'll go," Helen said. "Hmm, I better be the one to go inside since Jake's starting to like Trent's music and might get distracted."
"Thanks a million."
"We'll follow Trent to the hospital just in case either of you need anything."
"If I'm not in my right mind when you get there, I'm going to say 'thanks' now."
"Our pleasure, Lindy. Oh, have you called your mother yet?"
Lindy sighed and said, "I'll call her when I'm done. The last thing I need is her hovering around while I'm having a baby. Especially if she's been drinking again."
After Lindy finished talking to Helen, the intervening minutes felt like hours before Amanda got to the car. She slowly and methodically adjusted the seat and the mirrors while saying, "Make sure to wear your belt. You need to keep the little one safe."
Getting impatient, Lindy said, "I'll worry about the belt, just drive."
Leaving a small theater with Michael, Daria heard her cell phone ring. After giving Michael a contrite look, she answered it. "Morgendorffer's Mobile Meat Market. We bring the butchery to you."
Karen said, "Hey Daria."
"Karen, what's up?"
"Um, are you and Michael real busy right now?"
"Not that much, why?"
"I need a little help. Derek and I stopped at a little nightclub and, well, he's had one too many and I can't walk him back to my truck by myself."
"We'll be there," Daria said before covering the phone and asking Michael, "Do you mind if we give Karen and Derek a hand?"
Back to the phone, Daria said, "Okay, where are you?"
Trying to remind herself that she was that age at one time, Helen pushed her way through the crowd to reach the stage just as Trent finished a song.
"Trent!" she said, trying to be loud enough without yelling.
Trent said, "Okay, this next song is an old Mystik Spiral classic."
Louder, Helen said, "Trent!"
That got his attention and he looked at her in surprise. "Hey, Helen. What are you doing here?"
"Lindy's gone into labor."
"Lindy went to the neighbor?"
"What? She's not supposed to be working hard."
Helen yelled, "She's having the baby!"
"Oh." Trent strummed his guitar once and then his eyes massively opened. "Oh!"
A drunk in the audience said, "Trent, you got two old ladies. You da man!"
Helen gave him an angry stare before turning back to Trent. "Jake and I are here to make sure you get to the hospital."
Trent looked around, stunned, and mumbled, "Yeah, hospital. Um, I think I better get going."
"Trent," Helen said.
Trent set his guitar aside, fumbled with the mike stand and then said, "Um, hey. I've gotta like, go now. Sorry to cut things short but, um, I gotta go have a baby. It's kinda important." With very uncharacteristic haste, he bolted from the stage and out of the back door to where his big black SUV was parked.
Another of the drunks yelled, "Hey lady, are you going to finish the set for him?"
Lindy reached out and grabbed Trent's hand as he entered the room. "You haven't missed anything important yet."
"Holding up?" he asked.
"So far, so good," she said as she felt a new contraction. "Oh, things seem to be going quickly though."
The attending nurse checked her watch and said, "At this rate, it won't be long. This little guy might be a little late, but he definitely wants out now."
"He must've heard about the eviction notice," Lindy said, still managing to keep her humor.
"Good one," Trent said.
"You're pretty calm," the nurse said.
"Hey, it's cool and happens all the time."
"You're a lucky girl," the nurse said before stepping away.
Lindy softly said to Trent, "You got here fast. How many stop lights did you run?"
Watching the entrance carefully, Karen immediately saw Daria and Michael to wave them over to the booth she shared with Derek. He had pushed himself back into the corner as tightly as possible and sat with his hands clasped together in front of him, staring at the table.
"Karen, what's going on?" Daria asked.
Reaching across the table to hold Derek's hands, Karen said, "He's feeling guilty about being home while his unit's still overseas."
Michael nodded and asked, "What do you need?"
"Daria, can you drive Derek and me home in your car while Michael drives my truck home?"
"No problem, right Michael?"
"Just let me know where the truck's parked," he said.
"It's about eight blocks down the street near Rudolf's Steakhouse. Derek wanted to celebrate a bit. Here's the keys."
Michael took them and said, "Got it."
"Thanks, now to coax him out." Karen moved to the other seat and sat next to Derek. "Honey, time to go."
He looked around nervously but didn't move. Karen stroked her hand along his forearm and said, "It'll be okay. We're going to my place, where it's nice and quiet."
He looked into her eyes and seemed to come around. "All right."
Slowly, Karen drew him out and began to escort him out. Along the way, she quietly told Daria, "Don't worry; I already paid the check."
"Are you going to need any help getting Derek out?" Michael asked.
"I think he'll be fine."
"Okay, I'll go ahead then and meet you at the apartment." Michael stopped to kiss Daria and said, "See you in a bit."
Lindy screamed, "Trent! This is all your fault!" as she struggled to push.
"My fault," he reassuringly said, holding one hand over where she had a tight grip on his other hand.
"Next time, you're doing this!"
The doctor said, "One more push, Lindy. One more."
"You better be right!"
"Here he comes," the doctor said, gently cradling the newborn in his arms. "Perfect."
Exhausted, Lindy said, "I'm done?"
Trent kissed her hand and said, "All done."
While the delivery team checked and cleaned the baby, Lindy turned to Trent. "Thank you. Thank you."
"So it's not my fault any more?"
"Oh, it's still your fault, but it was worth it."
"So you don't want me to go through this next time?"
"If we can find a way, you're not getting out of it."
A few moments later, the doctor returned and placed the infant in Lindy's arms, saying, "He's healthy and happy, Lindy. Congratulations."
Lindy turned to show off their child. “Trent, say hello to our son.”
His eyes widened just a tad as he said, “Whoa,” and then proceeded to drop to the floor in a dead faint.
The attending nurse knelt down next to Trent and cracked open an ammonia vial to wake him up. "I thought he was too calm."
The doctor said, "He was there when it was important."
Karen quietly left her bedroom, pulling the door almost shut before going out to the living room, where Daria and Michael waited. She said, "He's sleeping."
Michael said, "I can't imagine what he's feeling."
"He's been through a lot and I know that there's stuff he hasn't told me," Karen said. "The guys out there depended on each other for their lives. It's going to take a while for him to accept that he's not letting his buddies down."
Daria said, "Is he going to be able to get help from the Army?"
Karen sighed. "When I visited him down at Walter Reed, the doctors warned me that the bureaucracy is still gearing up for combat veterans and that he probably won't be able to get psychological help quickly."
"He needs help soon," Michael said, "Before things get worse."
"There's not much I can do to speed it up and he doesn't have insurance otherwise. His parents' coverage ended when he turned 21."
"Hold on a second," Daria said, getting up. "I want to check on something." She went to her room and came out with a Raft student handbook. She thumbed through it until she found what she was looking for. "Derek's preregistered for spring semester, right?"
"Yes. He's anxious to get back."
"Do you know if he has the money to pay his tuition early?"
"We've been saving his active duty pay, sure."
Daria showed the book to Karen and pointed to a sentence. "Because he was on Inactive-Returning status, if he pays his tuition, he'll be changed to Active status."
Karen caught on. "Which means he can use the Student Health Center."
"Exactly. He can get good treatment there. I know."
"Daria, you're a genius."
"Yep, she is," Michael said.
"I'm looking out for my friends," Daria said.
Into the phone, Jane said, "Thanks for calling and I can't wait to see. I'll be down next week, so have pictures."
She hung up the phone and looked at Daria, Michael and Karen sitting in the living room, where they had been ever since she'd gotten home half an hour earlier after a night out with CC and Nell. She shared their concern, but hoped her news would improve the mood. "Hey guys, can I share a little good news to cheer you up?"
"How?" Karen asked.
"Andrew Sean Lane. Six pounds, nine ounces. Born at 9:55 PM."
"Congratulations," Karen said. "That is good news."
"That's cool," Michael said.
"Next time you talk to Trent and Lindy, send my best," Daria said.
"Wow," Jane said.
"Any difference when your nephew feels more like a nephew instead of a little brother?" Daria asked.
"Yeah, that must be it. It feels good."
While they talked, a dark shape silently slipped into Karen's room. In the darkness, Bump hopped onto the bed and nuzzled Derek's face a couple times before settling next to him, purring.
Having served the deli-prepared Thanksgiving dinner to her family, Helen sat down and looked around the rarely used dining room table. Wistful, she said, "This is the last time we'll do this."
"It's not like I'm going to abandon you, Mom," Daria said.
"I know, sweetie. I mean Thanksgiving with just the four of us. Next year you'll be married and either Michael will be here with us or you'll be with his family or you may even decide to have dinner for two. And Quinn, the same might go for you in the future; you've been with Q for a while now."
"Don't start making plans for us, Mom," Quinn said. "We're dating. Steady dating, but that's all so far."
"You can't blame a mother for being hopeful for her daughter."
Quinn glared at Daria. "This is all your fault."
"You're the one getting married in six months and putting ideas in Mom's head."
"Quinn, as much as I enjoy giving you a hard time, that's not a good enough reason to get married."
"Speaking of weddings," Helen said. "How are your plans coming along?"
Daria sighed but said, "I like the drawings Isabelle has shown me, but she won't finalize the designs until after she's finished with altering Karen's dress."
"I can't believe you're letting some student design your wedding dress," Quinn said. "I mean, you want professionals for this."
Daria said, "Number one, when she graduates next spring, Isabelle will be a 'professional.' Number two, I've worked with her before and know that she does good work, and number three, she's doing this as a friend and the price is far more reasonable that I could get at any boutique."
"Okay, Daria, we trust your judgment," Helen said. "Now, what about finding a place for the ceremony?"
"You haven't," Helen said, disappointed.
"It's not like we haven't tried," Daria said. "The Old North Church isn't available."
"I warned you that you need to think ahead. A lot of people get married in June and the good venues fill up quickly."
"Mom, it's not even that. We're trying to find a place that feels right and we haven't succeeded yet."
"Daria, time is running out."
"I know, Mom."
Jake cleared his throat and said, "You want a small ceremony, right Daria?"
"How about here? I'm sure the managers can be talked into making it available."
"Here?" Helen said.
Remembering what first made her admit to her love for Michael, Daria said, "I like it. I like it a lot."
Sitting at the dinner table with Derek and his family at Thanksgiving, Karen cocked her head as if listening. Miriam asked, "Is something wrong?"
"No, just noticing that it's…quiet. With my family, there are so many people around that it's always noisy and the one year I had Thanksgiving with Daria's family, well, they tend to be rather animated."
Tony said, "Too quiet for you?"
"No, I think I could get used to this."
Derek said, "I like the quiet also, but it's too bad we can't go horse riding like we did at your folks' place last year."
Karen sighed. "I miss riding."
Derek said, "What about the stable where Michael found those horse rentals for Daria last year?"
"That's a great idea, thanks."
"I figure I owe you."
"We owe each other."
Holding Andrew, Quinn said, "Lindy, he's so adorable."
Proud, she said, "So's his father."
Looking from the side, Daria said, "It's an evolutionary adaptation so that parents don't kill them when they scream for food at three in the morning."
"Daria, always the romantic," Jane said.
"You're cooing over him a lot yourself, Jane," Daria said.
"What can I say?"
Teasing, Trent said, "So Daria, does he give you any ideas of having one of your own?"
Daria's emphatic, "No!" caused everyone in the room to chuckle. Seeking to divert attention, she said to her sister, "You've taken quite a liking to the baby. What are your plans?"
Quinn said, "To enjoy little Andrew's company now because who knows if or when you'll make me a real aunt."
"The odds are more on 'if' for now," Daria replied.
"Then it's a good thing Lindy and Trent asked Mom and Dad to be his godparents. That should keep them off of both of our backs."
"I'll ask and get back with you. I love you, too. Bye," Michael said, hanging up the telephone. He left the kitchen and went to the living room, where his parents and sister were watching White Christmas as they had for several years as a way to start the Christmas season.
Gina said, "How was Daria?"
"Good. I think we might have a place for the wedding."
"Really?" Samantha said. "Where?"
"If you don't mind traveling, her parents' house."
"It's Daria and your wedding, whatever you decide will be fine with us," Ron said. "Though I suspect you won't permit Jake and me unsupervised access to the grill."
"None of us will," Samantha said.
"But you're okay with it?"
"We're okay," Samantha said.
"Inside their house?" Gina said. "What about music? Please tell me you're not planning on a boom box. I would have to kill you."
Michael smirked. "As a matter of fact, I seem to remember that someone around here is going to one of the best music conservatories in the country with a specialization in voice…"
Her eyes brightened at the offer. "I'll do it. What do you want me to sing?"
"Oh, something simple."
The yard swing in the back yard swayed gently as Karen and Derek sat together after Miriam had shooed them outside after dinner, saying, "We'll take care of everything."
Karen asked, "How are you holding up?"
"Better," he said, "I think."
"Take your time; I'm right here with you."
"Thank you for waiting for me."
"Thank you for coming home."
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.