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. Little Miss Magic lyrics by Jimmy Buffett. You Can't Always Get What You Want lyrics by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
This is a sequel to Falling Into College.
The ornate wedding decorations meshed perfectly with the elegant wood beams and Mediterranean décor of the Vineyard Society Ballroom in Napa Valley, California. If there were a thing called perfection, everything for the day was as close to that ideal as possible. While the new bride and groom danced, their families watched from their reception table.
Daria Morgendorffer said to her mother, "It looks like Quinn created the event of the season like we always expected her to do."
Beaming with pride, Helen said, "She certainly did."
Rita Barksdale said, "Quinn's beautiful. Everything is beautiful."
Grinning himself, Jake said, "And it didn't cost a fortune."
"You have to admit it, Jake," Amy Barksdale-Wyatt said. "All those years as a shopper paid off for Quinn. I don't think anybody could've pulled off the deals she did."
Seated beside Daria, her husband Michael said, "She's a professional. Don't try this at home."
Daria chuckled and motioned to the matron of honor, Fran, and bridesmaids Grace and Tammy. "All of them."
Nadine Gilstad had straight blond hair fading to gray, but still had a modest elegance in her simple dress. "I understand that all of them were my new daughter-in-law's college roommates."
Daria said, "And all in the same sorority."
"Was your wedding as wonderful as this?"
Daria held Michael's hand. "We were happy with it."
"Quinn and Maria look so happy together," Nadine said.
"Maria. I was wondering how you dealt with the matching name issue," Michael said. "I couldn't picture you calling your son Q like the rest of us."
"Quinn used to hate her middle name," Daria said. "Congratulations on getting her to accept it."
Seated on the other side of Nadine was her mother, Celeste Navarre. A small-framed woman of about seventy, she said, "Daria, I heard that you were moving to Florida."
"Michael and I will fly to St. Augustine from here and meet the movers at our new house."
Celeste said, "It’s a pretty town."
The final guest at the table was Celeste's husband Henri. Though slowed with age, he still had an enjoyment for life, saying, "If you are ever down in the Naples area, we would enjoy the company."
"Um, thank you," Daria said.
Henri gave her a smile. "We live with a bunch of old farts; having some young blood around from time to time does us some good."
When the dance ended, Quinn and Q accepted the guests' polite applause and then made their way to their table, where Fran, Grace and Tammy were gathered around a white bassinet. Quinn said, "How is he doing?"
Looking down at the month-old infant wearing a tiny tuxedo-print jumper, Fran said, "He's getting more attention than he knows what to do with."
Cooing over the child, Tammy said, "He's such a cute little baby."
Beside Tammy, Grace said, "Leave it to you to have the world's cutest baby. Not that I'm jealous or anything."
"Of course not," Quinn said, gently lifting and cradling the child. "How's my little Jacob doing?"
Jacob smiled and reached out to touch Quinn's chin.
Fran's husband, a stocky man only slightly taller than her small frame, joined them. Trey joked, "He's surrounded by a bunch of pretty women; of course he's happy."
"He needs to spend a little bit more time with our families or we'll never hear the end of it," Quinn said. Walking toward the next table, she said, "At least everyone's getting along."
"My family is pretty laid back – as long as my father isn't around," Q said.
"It wasn't your family I was worried about."
Following, Fran said, "I saw it with my aunt and uncle – everyone is on their best behavior so that they can spend time with the baby."
"That, I can believe," Quinn said.
While the grandmothers bonded with Jacob, Quinn took the chance to have a seat and said to Daria, "Well, sis, what did you think?"
"I think you have what you wanted, and that's a good thing," Daria replied. "Though I'm sure that some fashion magazines would want to know how you managed to have a dress that fits so well only a month after childbirth."
Quinn grinned. "It's magic. Well, more like a sufficiently advanced technology."
"Like I said," Daria said, appreciating that her sister would make such a reference.
"With all that's been going on, we've hardly had a chance to talk. Tell me about your new house. Is it on the beach?"
Daria laughed. "Even in this economy, oceanfront property is as expensive in Florida as it is in California. Michael and I would both need to sell a kidney to afford to live even close to the beach."
"So, what did you find?"
"We're renting a two-bedroom house in an older part of town. It's in good shape and, I can't believe I'm saying this, it's in a nice neighborhood."
"We're getting older, Daria. But I promise not to tell anyone you said that."
"Your discretion is appreciated."
Quinn sat back and smiled. "Wow. I’m married and have a child and you're going to be a real college professor. If we're not careful, people are going to think that we've grown up or something."
"Shh," Daria said. "We really don't want that getting out."
"I think they'll notice."
"Only the observant ones." Daria hesitated, and then said, "Do you mind if I ask you something?"
"By now, you should know I'm ready for anything from you."
"Good one, Quinn. Anyway, isn't it going to be a little strange taking Jacob on your honeymoon?"
"Not really," Quinn said. "We've had romantic trips before and another one wouldn't be that different. But sharing it with our new baby – that's going to be special."
Daria nodded. "Don't let anyone say you don't have a romantic streak."
Quinn smirked and gently poked Daria with her finger. "Just like you."
After the limousine drove off and the guests began to scatter, Daria noticed Amy standing and wiping her eyes. "I've never seen you get this emotional at a wedding before."
Amy folded the tissue and smiled. "Can I claim to be getting soft in my old age?"
Moving close, Daria quietly said, "It was the baby, wasn't it?"
"Soon – hopefully."
"The waiting is what really sucks."
"I bet, especially with why you have to wait." Daria gave her aunt a hug. "Good luck."
"Thanks. Good luck with your new job."
"Yeah, thanks." Looking around at the other guests, Daria said, "I wouldn't have said this years ago, but it’s too bad Grandma Tess and Grandma Ruth couldn't make it."
Before anything else was mentioned, Helen and Rita joined them with Helen saying, "It looks like you're going to be next, Amy."
"Next?" Amy said.
"Hosting a wedding," Rita said.
Daria said, "Jocelyn and Jerica are fourteen. I think Amy has a few years before she has to worry about that."
"I'd better have a few years," Amy said.
Wiping a tear from her eye, Helen said, "They'll be grown up before you know it."
"They certainly do," Rita said.
As her mother and aunts gathered into a group hug, Daria said, "Now that you three are about to go into your patented Barksdale Family Emotional Bonding Ritual, I'm going to track down my husband."
The sun was setting beyond the front door of the building as Daria patiently accepted hugs from her mother and father.
Jake said, "It's been great seeing you."
"I wish we could spend more time with you," Helen said.
"I know, Mom," Daria replied. "But my first classes start in the beginning of January, we still need to finish moving in to our new place, and Christmas is only a week away."
Helen nodded. "I know, but that doesn't mean that I have to be happy about it."
"It would've been our year to spend the holidays with the Fultons, so they're going to miss us, too."
"Try not to let yourself get isolated like we did in Highland."
"Trust me, Mom, that's not going to happen. Karen's only a couple hours away and Jane comes down to Florida a couple times a year for shows."
Michael said, "And, of course, you are welcome to visit. I understand staying with relatives is a Florida tradition."
Jake let go of Daria and hugged Michael. "You bet we will."
"Have a safe flight, sweetie," Helen said.
Holiday travel is rarely fun and, as Daria and Michael learned, travel to popular destination states can make things even more of a challenge. The overnight flights were long and crowded, and the layover boring. Sleep was poor and fitful, providing little rest. But finally, it was morning and they had arrived at Jacksonville International Airport.
After a stop to pick up their checked luggage, they were at the long-term parking and loading Daria's car. "Almost home," she said.
"Remember when we used to look forward to flying?" he said.
"That's been a while."
"It has," he said, closing the trunk while Daria opened the driver's door.
Daria climbed in and unlocked the other door for Michael. As he entered, she said, "One more stop to make before we get to our new home."
"Think we should pick up some tuna on the way?"
"That would be a good idea."
The house was characteristic of Florida architecture during the sixties: cinder block construction, large windows that allowed free air movement through the house and a shallow, shingled roof. Saplings planted when the house was new were mature trees, providing shade and adding character.
As soon as Michael closed the door to their new house, Daria opened the doors to the two pet carriers placed on the floor of the cluttered living room. Sniffing with curiosity, their cats Bump and Sissy crept out of the carriers and started to investigate the tangle of boxes and still-to-be-placed furniture.
Their curiosity was immediately set aside as soon as they sniffed tuna fresh from a coastal fish market. Bouncing over each other, they were at their dishes as soon as Daria placed them on the floor. Standing up, she said, "Appeasement for staying at the boarding kennel started."
"Barely started." Wandering among the boxes, Michael said, "We should start trying to find everything."
"Are you really that interested in work after the trip?"
"Good. We have a perfectly good bed waiting for us and I think we should get some sleep before we try to accomplish anything more."
As he followed Daria, Michael said, "I must be tired if I'm agreeing with the sleep part."
"We can do other things – after we sleep."
Daria and Michael slowly circled a small, artificial Christmas tree, hanging ornaments. He said, "I already like it here."
Daria said, "It is nice."
"Glad you found that position."
"I feel a little guilty that all they could offer you was a lecturer position."
"It's a start." He stopped and grasped Daria's other hand so that he faced her. "We're in the oldest town in country. As an archeologist, this is one of the best places for me to be. It oozes history."
Daria smiled. "Keep the ooze off of my boots."
"I'll do my best."
"I wish you didn't have to go back to Virginia."
"Me, too. But it will only be four months. And I promise to drive down here at least once a month."
"Pardon me if I'm a little nervous," Daria said.
"You'll do fine in your new job."
"It's not the job."
"I've never really lived alone before. As much as I used to dream of an isolated cabin in Montana, the idea now doesn't sit so well. I'm not as antisocial as I used to be."
"And for the most part, I will be alone. We're new in town and the only people I've met are at the college. Sure, Karen's not that far away, but she's got her life and…"
"I have faith in you. You'll do fine."
"I hope you're right."
His feet propped on an empty packing box, Michael sat in the living room with Sissy purring on his lap while talking on the telephone. Torn wrapping paper occupied the space under the tree that had contained presents a couple of hours earlier. "No snow, Gina, just a bit of rain," he said. "But I think I can get used to not freezing in the winter."
Back at their parents' home outside Detroit, Michael's sister Gina said, "You're already turning into a wimp."
"Do you have a problem with that?"
"Nothing beyond a reasonable case of jealousy."
"You and Ashton are more than welcome to come down here, once we're settled in."
"Don't think we're not going to take you up on that, goofball."
"Good, just don't do it on the same weekend that Mom and Dad come down; things would get a little crowded."
Quieter, Gina said, "They're a little sad that things are not more crowded up here."
"I know. I miss them, too."
Teasing, Gina said, "So, how does it feel to be the trailing spouse?"
Michael laughed and said, "A lot better than splitting post-doc and adjunct salaries. We're going to have real health insurance again."
"Good thing you're not one of those overly macho guys."
"Daria would've never married one of those overly macho guys."
"Yeah, you're right. But then, I'm still trying to figure out why she married you."
"Dumb-assed luck on my part."
"I'll buy that. What about you teaching? I'm having a hard time seeing that, you've always liked the field work more."
Despite his effort, some of his disappointment came through as Michael said, "It's not what I've dreamed about, but it's what we have right now. It's still a big improvement."
"I guess we have to take what we can get," Gina said. "Mom's waving that dinner is almost ready, so I'd better hang up and join them. Merry Christmas, Michael."
"Merry Christmas, Gina." Michael turned off his cell phone and set it on the arm of the chair. "I suppose that we're really out on our own, now."
Sitting on the floor playing with Bump, Daria said, "All grown up and no idea of what to do with ourselves."
"Of course we know what to do," he said. "Serve our feline overlords."
"How could I be so forgetful?"
Situated just south of the historic district, San Marcos College was centered on the Menendez Hotel, a historic, nineteenth-century resort. From the bell tower, you could clearly see the college's current namesake, the Castillo de San Marcos symbolically guarding the sea approaches to the city.
Still showing its Victorian grandeur, the old hotel was now called Menendez Hall. Additional buildings, most built in the same style, spread away to the north and west. All told, the school buildings looked like they had been transported directly out of the past.
Though the morning was cool, Daria felt pleasant, internal warmth as she entered what was formerly the hotel lobby and now the administrative foyer. The receptionist stood and said, "Good morning, Dr. Morgendorffer. Dr. Morrison is waiting for you in his office. Do you remember the way?"
"Thank you," Daria said, taking a moment to remember the woman's name. "Holly. I think I remember. Through the lobby and out those doors to the next building. His office is just inside and to the right."
Holly nodded and smiled. "Welcome to San Marcos."
Her footsteps echoed in the mostly empty building. This place really empties out during Christmas break, she thought.
In the enclosed colonnade that connected the building to Flagler Hall, Daria felt her pace quicken in anticipation. There, Dr. Winston Morrison, a pleasant man in his sixties with a ring of silver hair around his bald head, was waiting for Daria just inside. "Good morning."
Dr. Morrison held up a set of keys and said, "Dr. Morgendorffer, how would you like to start by seeing your office?"
"I think it would be a good start."
She followed him down the hall and then up a flight of stairs. On the second floor, they turned and walked down two doors. Daria couldn't help but smile to see "Dr. Daria L. Morgendorffer, Assistant Professor, English," neatly painted on the door's large, frosted window.
"Looks like you want me to feel at home."
Dr. Morrison unlocked the door and gave the key ring to Daria. "That also includes keys to your desk, one filing cabinet and the staff entrance."
Daria accepted and stepped inside. Originally a staff office from when the building was part of the hotel, most of the furnishings fit in with the overall feel of the college. At first, the exposed electrical conduit seemed odd until Daria remembered that the building predated regular use of household electricity.
To cool such a room in the days before air-conditioning, the office had been built with wide, tall windows. Outside and maybe a quarter of a mile away, Daria could see the Bridge of Lions crossing the inlet to Anastasia Island. "Nice view," she said.
He looked and said, "That's one of the reasons I've stayed here."
Daria looked around the rest of the office. Though not an antique, the desk was older and well-built from solid wood, along with the leather-upholstered chair and matching filing cabinet. The only things that looked out of place were the modern phone and computer.
"I'm…almost overwhelmed. This is very nice."
"We like to treat our faculty and staff well," he said. "We find that they treat us well in return."
The knock on the door startled Daria and then she noticed that it was almost noon. "Come in."
Michael stepped inside and said, "Whoa, nice office."
"I'm almost embarrassed, but over time, I think that I can grow into it."
"I hope so. Are you ready for lunch?"
Daria checked the stack of paper she had been reading and said, "Now that I think of it, I'm starved. Lesson plans can wait until I get back."
She quickly rose and joined him. "Let's go."
"Lead on," he said. "Anywhere in particular?"
"I don't know. Let's find something close and find out if it is a fit place to eat. I can try out the college cafeteria after you leave."
"Sounds like a plan."
They found a pleasing little French-themed bistro only about five minutes' walk down the street. Several "San Marcos Conquistadors" pennants told them that it was probably a student hangout.
"Good food, good coffee, reasonable price. Looks like you found a winner."
Still sipping her coffee, Daria said, "Depending on how crowded it gets during the semester, that is."
"I can only talk about the food, not the eventual atmosphere."
"True. It's nice to find a place with real onion soup. It reminds me of that café that used to be near your parents' home."
Michael nodded. "In that case, I'll have to try the onion soup next time."
After another sip, Daria sat back and asked, "Am I dreaming?"
Michael leaned forward. "No, you're not. You're officially Professor Morgendorffer."
"It's hard to believe."
"Believe it or not, it's real. Which reminds me, we should check out the Ripley's museum before I leave."
Daria nodded, but her smile faded a little as she looked down at her coffee. "We will."
In some ways, it seemed as if Daria's first week at her new job had flown by. Her computer was operational and she was fully connected to the college network. Her lesson plans were complete and sitting on the dean's desk for approval. Finally, she had mostly settled into her new office. All that remained was a single stack of boxes in the corner alongside an antique steamer trunk.
I am allowed to treat myself, Daria thought while watching two facilities management staff move a wooden barrister bookcase into place.
The supervisor said, "All ready for you, Dr. Morgendorffer. Will you need anything else?"
"Thank you, and I'm okay for now."
"Have a nice day."
After the two left, Daria slowly opened each of the glass shelf covers and slid them back. "I wish we could afford these around the house," she said, turning to the boxes. One or two at a time, she took books from those boxes and transferred them to the shelves, taking care to keep them in her preferred order.
Two hours later, all that remained was the trunk. "You still have some good advice," Daria softly said before sliding the catch and opening it. Inside were two orderly rows of books of many different sizes and colors. However, each had a year neatly written on the spine, starting at 1923 and going to 1999. "I hope you approve of their new home."
Kneeling on the floor, Daria moved one volume of Theresa Blaine's diary at a time, reading a passage or two before placing it on the shelf. She was at volume 1986 when there was a knock at the door. "Enter."
A very tall blond woman with striking blue eyes entered the room. "Good morning. Do you mind if I call you Daria? I hate being formal in private."
Daria put the book in its place and stood for her fellow English professor. "Um, sure, Dr. Handel – excuse me, Catherine – no, Cat."
"Good memory. I like the bookshelf," Cat said.
"I figured I could splurge with a little of my startup money since I don't need a lot of other office equipment."
"That's also a nice antique trunk. How much did you pay for that?"
"It was given to me."
"Oh. Take care of it; something like that in this town is worth a pretty penny."
"Trust me; I'm going to take very good care of it. It has a lot of sentimental value."
"I see. Daria, I stopped by to see how you were doing and to start my official role as departmental mentor."
Daria said, "Do you mind if I finish up?"
"Go ahead; I can wait."
Inwardly sad that she couldn't take a look at the remaining volumes, Daria completed her task and closed each of the shelf doors and the trunk. "There." Turning, she said, "Where do we begin?"
"How about by sitting down?" Cat said.
"Sure," Daria said and sat behind her desk.
Cat took one of the two guest chairs. "I remember from your interview that you have considerable front-line classroom experience, so you shouldn't have any shocks there."
"Adjunct teaching was good for something."
"Next is publishing. You have a good start already. How are things going with your novel?"
"I found an agent and he's shopping it around to publishers. Hopefully I will hear something soon."
"Excellent. Finally, there's the paperwork."
"There's always paperwork."
"No job is complete without it. One of my jobs is to make sure you are familiar with all of your administrative duties and to help you accomplish them."
"I think this will be the first time in my life that I've ever been in a position where I wasn't just thrown into paperwork and told to sink or swim."
Cat gave Daria a fun smirk. "It's expensive to hire new faculty, so we want to keep you around."
"Well, I want to stay around."
"Good, then stay off the roads tonight. The drunks get pretty stupid."
"Don't worry. I have an old friend coming to visit and spend the night."
"She lives in Ocala."
"Not too bad of a drive. Now I just have one more question before I leave. Why do you have a fake cheese wedge on top of the filing cabinet?"
After opening the door and exchanging greetings, Daria glanced past her friends Karen and Derek to see their new car. "A mini-SUV?"
Grinning while holding her daughter, Eve, Karen said, "Hey, at least it's not a minivan."
"If that had been a minivan, I would be checking for neck implants." Daria backed away to let her guests into the house. "We still have a little unpacking to do, but we've at least made crash space for you."
Carrying a diaper bag, Derek said, "Don't worry. You should've seen how long it took us to unpack after moving down here."
Michael said, "I'll take your word for it. How are things going?"
"So far, so good," Derek said.
Seeing Bump saunter into the room, Eve excitedly said, "Kit!" while stretching her hands toward the cat.
After Daria nodded, Karen lowered Eve to the floor, saying, "Be nice to the kitty."
Arms still outstretched, the little girl toddled over to Bump. "Kit."
Cautious, Bump lowered herself to the ground and watched the tiny human approach. She relaxed when Eve unceremoniously sat on the floor and, with a clumsy motion, started to pet Bump's back.
Folding his arms and glancing down the hallway, Michael said, "Jealousy in three – two – one."
On cue, Sissy bounced out of the spare bedroom and ran over to Eve, purring and brushing against the toddler.
Eve happily squealed and started to pet Sissy, who immediately rolled over onto her back so that she was getting a belly rub.
Karen said, "That should keep them busy for a while."
"That should give us time for the grand tour – or at least what passes for it," Daria said.
Derek placed the diaper bag on the floor and said, "Let's go."
While Daria, Michael and Karen sat around the living room, they could faintly hear Derek singing to Eve in the spare bedroom.
Karen said, "His coworkers turned that poor Boston boy into a parrothead. I grew up around them, but Derek was an innocent until he started working in Gainesville."
"That's another reason I'm glad we don't have kids," Daria said. "Michael can sing, but I can't carry a tune in a bucket. One lullaby and a child would be scarred for life."
Derek stopped singing and, after a moment, emerged to join the others. "Let's hope she sleeps through the night. Or at least most of it."
Karen said, "If she's going to wake up tonight, I hope it's around midnight."
"Sure, she can join the celebration," Daria said. "Never too young to start."
Karen said, "I'm afraid I'm going to be saying that way too soon anyway."
"Aren't I supposed to be the one saying that?" Derek said.
Michael lifted his beer bottle and gave a faintly enthusiastic, "Woo-hoo," as he and the others watched a televised New Year celebration.
"Another year shot to hell," Daria said.
"Hey, we're here," Michael said. "So it didn't suck too badly."
"Karen, he's trying to make an optimist out of me again," Daria said.
She said, "He'll never succeed, but it's sweet that he's still trying."
"We're such party animals," Derek said.
Karen nudged his arm. "Daria was never a party animal."
At full speed, Sissy charged through the living room, banking off of the sofa between Michael and Daria. In pursuit, Bump made the same bank and both cats again disappeared toward the back of the house.
"Okay, they're the party animals," Michael said.
Derek lifted his beer. "To the party animals."
"Cheers," everyone said, joining the toast.
"You have a nineteen-month-old child and you still manage to wake up first and start cooking," Daria said as she stumbled into the kitchen.
Preparing pancakes for everyone, Karen turned and said, "Paying back a little of your hospitality. Besides, you know how cranky I get if I'm not fed first thing in the morning."
"Almost as bad as Jane without coffee. Proceed."
"I didn't think you'd complain too much."
Fondly remembering, Karen said, "This is a lot easier than cooking something in our old dorm room."
"I can't believe what we managed to do in that tiny room."
"We were good."
Daria smirked. "We still are."
Karen expertly flipped a pancake onto a plate. "Oh, yeah."
Daria went to the coffee maker and poured a cup. "Funny how many people talk about high school as being their great formative years, but for me, it was college at Raft."
Karen nodded. "Yeah, me too. It was fun showing off Derek and Eve at my ten-year reunion, but all in all, I felt like it wasn't a big deal. You know, like high school was just the four years between middle school and college."
"That's a good description. Jodie Landon is still a little mad at me for skipping ours, but let's face it. I had even less of a connection. I only lived in Lawndale for three years. You grew up with most of your old classmates."
Karen flipped another pancake onto the plate. "And we went very different ways. It worked out. I found a good friend or two in the process."
"As much as I loathe admitting it, so did I."
"That's because I didn't give you a choice."
Daria smiled. "That's you. Always pushing yourself on others."
Daria and Michael watched their friends drive away. After the car was out of sight, Michael sighed. "Now I need to get ready to go."
She rested her head on his shoulder. "This is the part of the new job that sucks."
"I wish I could cut my post-doc short, but then I would be unemployed and that would suck, too."
"As well as hurt your chances to find another position in your field. I know, I know. I still don't like it."
"Nobody thought that you would." Holding hands, they turned and walked back inside the house. Seeing the two cats asleep on the window sill, Michael said, "They're not going to be happy, either."
"Sissy is closest to you and I want someone I trust up there to keep you in line."
"You're afraid I'm going to go back to my wild, bachelor ways?"
"Yep, and Bump's going to keep an eye on me."
"Yeah, you can really get out of control when left alone."
"Meow?" Bump sniffed and looked at the pet carrier holding Sissy.
Michael squatted and stroked his hand along Bump's back. "We'll be back at least once a month."
Quietly watching, Daria said, "They've been apart even less than we have."
"I hope that they understand."
"They're smart. They'll take care of us," Daria said.
Michael stood and put his arms around Daria's waist. "I love you."
"I love you, and I'm going to miss you."
"This is a lot worse than when we used to say goodbye for the semester breaks."
"Much worse, and we're not in an airport diner."
"We need to find an excuse to fly to Boston so that we can drop by that place again," Michael said. "If it still exists."
Daria touched the worn pendent necklace she still wore. "Maybe we can talk the English Language Association into having a conference there."
"That would be a start."
Michael glanced down at Sissy. "I think someone is trying to tell us to shorten the goodbyes."
Daria hugged and kissed her husband. "Drive carefully."
"I will," he said, returning the kiss. "I'm not the same driver I was as an undergrad. I'll call you when I reach the apartment."
"I'll be here waiting."
Michael nodded, picked up Sissy and went to the door. "I will miss you."
"I'll miss you."
Daria watched Michael place Sissy in the passenger seat and then get into the car himself. After they exchanged waves, he backed out and drove away.
Daria turned and picked up Bump. "They're on their way and you're going to have my undivided attention."
Bump purred and nuzzled Daria under the chin.
Late that night, Michael unlocked the door of their old apartment and, carrying a suitcase and Sissy, he entered and closed the door behind him. Right away, he placed his burdens on the carpet and opened the door to the carrier.
After a few sniffs, Sissy stepped out and looked around the apartment.
"Kind of bare, isn't it, kiddo?" Michael said.
Bare was an understatement. They had chosen to leave an absolute minimum of furniture in the old place. A single chair, small table and an old tube television connected to a console game placed on a small cart was all that there was in the living room. Besides a mattress on the floor of the bedroom, the only other furniture in the house was a carpeted entertainment stand for Sissy featuring several platforms, cubbies and spring-mounted toy balls placed in what had been Daria and Michael's shared office.
"Priorities," he said, running back out to the car and coming back with a couple of bags. Within a few minutes, the litter box was filled, the water bowl had fresh water and Sissy was happily consuming a pack of tuna.
Watching, he stepped back and tapped a speed dial button on his cell phone. "Hi, we made it in one piece."
Back in Florida, Daria rested on the bed with Bump snoozing beside her. "Congratulations, we won't have to forfeit our deposit. How was the drive?"
"Mostly boring, though the Sick, Sad World voice on the GPS helped to pass the time."
Closing her eyes, Daria said, "I miss you."
Michael nodded to himself. "I miss you. It's going to be a long four months."
"Hey, Dr. Fulton. How was Florida?" his intern asked as Michael arrived at the lab.
"I didn't want to leave," Michael replied. "How was your holiday, Matt?"
"The time with my girlfriend's folks was cool. My parents on the other hand…the trophy spouses behaved particularly badly."
"I think that's what they are paid to do, well, besides, you know."
"At least you can keep some humor about the situation."
Matt said, "Otherwise, I can only scream."
"Are you ready to get back to work?"
Michael sat at his desk and switched his computer on. "Let's see where we were at in the work schedule."
"I checked a few minutes ago. The next thing on the agenda is cleaning the small finds from Williamton grid 13-22."
"In that case, please get started while I clear out my backlogged e-mail."
While Michael ran through e-mails, Matt carefully lifted a soil-crusted button from a box and placed it on the platen of a stereo microscope. After adjusting the focus, he gently ran a soft brush over the button to remove a few grains of sand at a time.
Michael turned to look at his wall calendar, specifically to one circled date: May 5. Four months. Four months until I have to face the fact that I may never get a field position again. At least I've had a good run. At lot of people never even get this much time doing what they really want to do.
Daria pushed thoughts of waking alone in her bed away when she opened the classroom door. Grateful that the room was empty, she turned on the lights, placed her briefcase on the instructor's desk and opened it.
She turned, picked up a black dry-erase marker and wrote on the large whiteboard, "ENC 1102 – English Composition II. Dr. Morgendorffer."
Next, she took a stack of papers from the briefcase and placed them on the corner of the desk.
Then, she sat down and waited.
Five minutes later, the first students began to flow into the room. Over the next ten minutes, more and more entered and, talking freely among themselves, found seats.
At exactly 10:00 AM, Daria walked to the door and closed it. The background murmur decreased a little, but not by much. A few students watched her as she walked back to the whiteboard while most remained focused on their conversations.
Daria stopped and faced the classroom. In a clear and forceful voice, she said, "Good morning."
The room fell silent and all attention was turned to her.
Inwardly, Daria thanked her old theater experience and a few drill sergeant tips from Derek for giving her the ability to gain attention with her voice.
Continuing, Daria said, "This is ENC 1102. If you are registered for another class, you're in the wrong place."
Three students rose and made a quiet exit from the room. There always seem to be a few that end up in the wrong room.
"I am Dr. Morgendorffer." Daria picked up the papers and began to distribute them to the front student of each row. "This is your syllabus. Become familiar with it."
A young man in the second row said, "Registration had instructor as TBA. Are you regular faculty, or a rent-a-prof?"
"I'm regular faculty," Daria replied, "though I've spent time as an adjunct instructor. Now, on to class business. This is a Gordon Rule course and we will fulfill the writing requirement of six thousand words."
A few groans rose from the students.
Daria almost had a twinkle in her eye when she said, "I like creative, and I'm going to give each of you the chance to be creative. If you think that you hate writing long, boring assignments, trust me when I tell you that I hate reading them even more."
Daria walked behind the desk and turned. "Since I hate bloated writing – all of your writing assignments will be short, except for your term paper. That way, you won't be tempted to pad anything. I want you to learn how to say something clearly and concisely. For your term paper, you will apply what you've learned to a more complex subject."
She turned and wrote, "How was your morning?" on the whiteboard while saying, "This is your first assignment."
"How was your morning?" a girl in the third row asked.
"It's a simple question," Daria said. "Has it sucked? Kind of, 'meh'? Whatever you've experienced and the answer is due before the start of next class through Net-Board. At least two hundred and maximum of three hundred words. If you do not yet have an active Net-Board account, let me know. All of my contact information is on the syllabus. Otherwise, get started."
A student in the back said, "Can I work on my laptop?"
"I don't care if you carve runes into a stone," Daria said. "As long as the final product gets to me on Net-Board by the deadline. Before anyone asks, spelling and grammar count. Double-check your spell-check. Assess and asses are not interchangeable."
Daria was pleased to see the students get to work. Maybe I have found myself in a place just right.
Cat poked her head into Daria's office and said, "Do you want to grab some lunch?"
Daria rolled her chair back and stood. "You know, I was just thinking about food, sure."
The conversation continued as they walked down the stairs toward the exit. Cat asked, "Any preference?"
"Have you been to Bill's Barnacles yet?"
Daria lifted an eyebrow. "No."
"Great seafood. Come on, you won't regret it."
"Famous last words."
"Yeah, that's usually a bad sign. But, well, why don't you judge for yourself?"
Bill's Barnacles had the well-aged atmosphere of a seacoast eatery that had survived on good food and good prices for decades. Savoring a bowl of conch chowder, Daria said, "Okay, this is good. This is very good."
"Ah, another convert." After she ate a bite of her blackened flounder, Cat said, "How were your brats today?"
"Pretty good, so far. But I'm sure things will change after they turn in their first assignment Wednesday."
Cat smirked. "Giving out homework on the first day usually doesn't go over very well with students. I like your style."
"I look at it as the academic version of swimming in cold water. You might as well jump in and not prolong the agony."
"I think you're going to do fine."
Michael placed his empty dinner plate on the small table next to his chair. "Here's to another exciting night alone," he said, picking up his game controller.
Michael looked down at Sissy and patted the arm of the chair. "Come on up."
Sissy jumped onto the arm of the chair then settled onto his lap, facing the television. "Mew."
"Ready to frag some zombies?"
Michael pressed the start button on the controller. "Let's go."
Seated at a desk in the spare bedroom they had converted to a home office, Daria used her desktop computer to log in to her Net-Board instructor's account. "Let's see what the unwashed masses are going to subject me to tonight."
Lying on the desk, Bump meowed and washed a paw.
"Someone has to pay for your tuna habit," Daria said.
Daria read the first submitted assignment and frowned. "And boy do I pay for it at times. If Tolkien were alive today, he'd write, 'In a hole in the ground, there cowered an English professor.'"
"Yeah, I know you miss Sissy, too, but Michael made the right call. That snowstorm over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend was too dangerous for him to drive through. We'll have to be patient and wait until they come down for Valentine's weekend."
"But you'll get to see Jane and the girls next weekend."
Daria nodded. "I'm sure she won't forget. Until then, I have to wade through writing that would make Noah Webster spin in his grave."
"Packed to the gills" was the best way Daria could think of to describe the minivan that pulled into the driveway, along with, "The only people I know that can get away with a minivan". There was a luggage carrier on top and spread across the side was a colorful "Three Art Chicks" logo. Three women were crammed inside along with everything they needed for an outdoor art festival.
The driver's door opened and a blond-haired woman rolled out. CC said, "Finally."
The passenger door opened and Jane stepped out. "We would've been here sooner if we didn't make all those stops."
The side door slid open and, after a moment to set her arm crutches in place, Nell got out. "Some of us don't have quart-sized bladders."
"It's why the Lanes have been such successful wanderers."
Daria said, "It's good to see all of you, too."
"Oh, hi Daria," Jane said. "I thought we'd stop in for a little bickering and complaining. I hope you don't mind."
"The place has been too quiet for the last month; I can use some hardcore complaining," Daria said.
"We're just what the doctor ordered," CC said. "Speaking of bladders, can I use your bathroom?"
"Yeah, down the hall, first door on the right. The other bathroom is through the bedroom at the end of the hall."
"Sounds good to me," Nell said. "Thanks for putting up with us, Daria."
Jane reached back into the car and brought out a stack of pizza boxes. "We bring burnt offerings – including a personal sushi pizza for her highness."
"I told Bump that she wouldn't be disappointed."
Following Daria into the house, Jane said, "So, I'm finally going to get you to see the Mt. Dora Art Festival."
"Your evil plan has come to fruition." Daria sighed. "Too bad Michael won't be able to make it."
"There will be plenty more times. This time, it's us girls. Look out, Mt. Dora."
After a very unladylike pizza burp, Jane said, "You and Karen meeting us Saturday sounds great. It's been way too freakin' long since we've had a big girls' night out."
The four women were seated around Daria's living room, along with the empty pizza boxes.
Nell said, "Yeah, you'd think that some of us had gotten all serious and stuff."
Daria snorted a laugh. "Coming from three women who have run their own business for over seven years?"
CC said, "Jane! She's using logic on us again."
Jane said, "Sorry, home field advantage. She's allowed."
"Dammit," CC said.
"Remember, with the expected crowd, the parking sucks." Jane laughed. "It'll remind you of Boston."
"Wonderful," Daria said.
Nell said, "Don't let Jane get to you. You'll have a spot to park at the hotel. It comes with the reservation. You made the reservation, right?"
Daria said, "Yes, I made the reservation. Kind of pricey, but I suppose you get that with big events."
Jane said, "You're going to be in walking distance of everything interesting. It's worth it. Trust me."
"Why do I still get nervous when you say that?"
"Find something interesting that's keeping you here on a Saturday, Dr. Fulton?" a voice said behind Michael as he looked through a microscope at a brass button.
He looked up and turned to see the lab director, a fit, middle-aged man with a full head of silver hair. "I wanted to get a little extra work done, Dr. Prentiss."
"Uh, huh," Dr. Prentiss said. "Or are you avoiding an empty apartment?"
"A little of that, too."
"I know it's not easy, son. Why don't you give your wife a call?"
"She's on a trip with a bunch of her friends from our undergrad days. I don't want to disturb her."
"Then why don't you go on a trip of your own? Go explore some other parts of the museum. It'll do you some good."
Michael switched the microscope light off and covered the button. "Sounds like a good idea, sir."
Not entirely sure why, Michael ended up at the Air and Space Museum. As he walked around the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, he thought about being a young boy of eight or nine reading about the space program. Back then, he wanted to be an astronaut. Probably just like millions of other young boys at some time in their lives.
"Unless they find an alien civilization on the Moon, I doubt if they'll need anyone with my training," he said.
A ping rose from his cell phone. Michael tapped controls to bring up the new text message.
Arrived safely. Karen and I have checked in to the hotel and are off to find the Art Chicks. Hope you're having a good day. Love, Daria.
He smiled. "I guess I can't really complain. Just a couple more months."
Jostled by the dense crowd squeezed into a narrow street between rows of artist displays, Daria told Karen, "Still too many people and not enough exits."
"But a lot of neat stuff," Karen replied. "Hey, there they are."
Daria looked to where Karen was pointing to see the familiar logo on a pop-up pavilion. "Finally. I hope that they have some reserve space hidden back there."
Jane saw them first and waved. "It's about time you made it."
Karen said, "The traffic sucked big time."
"Well, yeah," Jane replied. "What do you expect when you cram about a hundred and fifty thousand people into a town of ten thousand?"
"That's one hundred and fifty thousand customers," CC said. "Per day."
"With deep pockets," Nell said.
The pavilion was filled with paintings and sculptures by all three artists, plus more material neatly stacked behind the main display. Daria said, "It looks like you brought your entire inventory."
"Almost," Jane said.
CC said, "If early sales hold up, we'll sell a big chunk of it before we close up shop tomorrow."
"Making the trip totally worth it," Nell said.
Daria said, "So it's all about the money?"
"Yeah, and getting the hell out of the frozen north for the weekend," CC said.
A well-dressed lady carried one of Jane's paintings to the display and, handing over a stack of bills, said, "I'll take this, please."
"Thank you," Jane replied, taking the money and counting it out. After placing it in a lock box, she picked up a receipt booklet and quickly filled out the top page. "Here you are, ma'am."
As the woman left, Jane grinned and told Daria, "Damn does it feel good to get paid for our art."
After closing up for the evening, the girls found themselves seated at an open-air Cuban restaurant named Fernando's. Following their meal, a waitress placed a tall cup of coffee at the center of the table, along with five demitasse cups. After she walked away, Jane filled each demitasse cup and said, "These people know how to make coffee. I try to grab some every time we come down here."
Daria tasted the strong, sweet espresso and said, "It's good."
Karen said, "It figures your coffeedar would find Cuban coffee."
Jane said, "Coffee is the water of life."
"I bet that there's enough caffeine in this to keep me up half the night," Daria said.
"Is that a problem?" Nell asked.
CC said, "I hope not."
Karen said, "We're not going to let you go without at least having some fun tonight."
"I'm still working on that whole 'fun' thing," Daria replied.
CC grinned. "Don't worry. We're professionals."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
CC twirled a headband on her finger while singing as many of the other artists in the crowded nightclub clapped along.
Seated with the others at a table, Daria said, "Where does she find these songs?"
Sipping a frozen drink, Nell said, "She has connections in strange places."
After a laugh, Karen said, "It's a good thing she's not an engineer."
Jane said, "Hey, Daria, can you imagine Trent and Mystik Spiral singing that?"
Daria said, "Nah, you know that they never sang covers."
"Forget that part."
"I could see them attracting stranger groupies than they did."
"Outside of you, they never had groupies."
"I rest my case."
"Damn you, Morgendorffer."
Back in their shared hotel room, Karen said, "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. We were a little worried about you."
Daria nodded. "I can see why you would, but Michael told me to have a good time. Sometimes, he gives me good advice, so I thought I'd go out on a limb and take it."
"You are getting better."
"Besides, you put up with a much longer separation from Derek, and Michael's not in any real danger."
"Yeah, but you're more of a drama queen than I am."
"That's just my old theater experience coming out."
Michael's notebook computer rested on his lap while he surfed a few favorite websites. Reaching the Archeological Association website, he clicked on the "openings" link out of habit.
"Crap," he muttered upon seeing the newest entry.
Assistant Professor of Colonial Archeology – Tenure Track Position
The Archeology Department of Bromwell University is seeking an Assistant Professor of Colonial Archeology. Successful candidates should have field and laboratory experience in Colonial America archeology, with emphasis on the New England area.
For more information, contact Prof. Ian Daniels.
"Too late, now."
After breakfast the next morning, Daria went for a walk while the rest of her friends prepared for another busy day at the art festival. Her stroll took her past the town marina and along a scenic sidewalk around the eastern end of the lake that eventually brought her to a boardwalk that extended out over Lake Dora.
She walked out along the boardwalk until she reached a gazebo. Leaning on the rail, she let the pleasant scene sink in. The rising sun behind her illuminated the town rising up along the shoreline as herons and egrets fished for their breakfast among the reeds.
"Michael and I need to stay here some time," Daria said out loud while thinking about her tremendously improved income. "We can afford some indulgences for a change."
Daria felt more at ease than she had for a long time. I have what you could almost call a dream job. I like my new home. I have good friends and good family. The only thing keeping things from being perfect is that I have a good husband – who is too far away. I can't wait for him to be done and finally get to join me down here.
The day proved to be as enjoyable as the one before and after breaking down the pavilion, the girls gathered in a small house converted to a restaurant, seated in a nook surrounded by bookcases.
Karen said, "I never would've thought of eating at some place called the Gnome Market."
Daria said, "Yeah, but not a single gnome on the menu. I'd call them on false advertising if the food wasn't so good."
A little tipsy from the wine she was sharing with CC and Nell, Jane held up her glass, saying, "Here's to selling out."
CC and Nell raised their glasses and said, "To selling out."
Karen said, "Call me silly, but I think they're happy."
Jane said, "Hell, yeah! We sold everything we brought. We're complete sell outs!"
"And we feel good," CC said. "More wine."
Nell poured CC a glass and said, "Daria. Karen. We're bringing you back next year. You're good luck."
Daria looked at Karen. "I can live with that."
"Don't torture yourself," Michael said, closing the browser on his computer. He didn't need to keep looking at the position announcement.
"Mew." Sitting on the floor next to a cat toy, Sissy watched him.
Smiling, he went over and picked up the string toy, dangling the brightly-colored feather over Sissy.
"Mew!" Sissy leapt at the feather. Michael deftly lifted it just out of the cat's reach and then dropped it to the floor. Sissy landed and immediately chased the feather as Michael dragged it around the room.
You still have a lot going for you.
In class Monday morning, a pretty brunette student said, "But Dr. Morgendorffer, I spell-checked everything."
"You spelled everything correctly," Daria said, going to the whiteboard to write out the pertinent words, "but 'there,' 'their,' and 'they're' are not freely interchangeable."
Daria said, "Any other questions about your grades?"
A young man said, "I still don't understand why I got a C."
"Because," Daria said. "'My girlfriend's Dad said so,' is not a convincing argument, no matter how big he is."
"It was pretty convincing to me at the time. I certainly wasn't going to argue."
"Sometimes, context is everything. But it still doesn't work in your essay."
Walking through the parking lot with Daria, Cat said, "You seem to be in a good mood."
"Michael will be home for the weekend."
"Ah. This is the first time he's been back since the semester started, right?"
"Valentine's weekend. Nice timing. I hope you have a good time. Any plans?"
"I'm still working on that. I want to do something special, to show off how much I like it here."
"I'm sure you'll think of something," Cat said, stopping at a silver Corvette. She unlocked the door and said, "See you Monday."
"Thanks, Cat," Daria said. "See you."
When she opened the door, Daria wrapped her arms around Michael's neck and said, "Welcome home."
He kissed her and said, "It is so good to see you."
"Mew!" came a meow from the carrier.
"Priorities," Michael said, bringing the carrier in and opening the door. Sissy bounded out and ran straight for Bump. Without slowing, Sissy jumped on the other cat and the two were soon playfully tumbling around the living room.
"I think they missed each other, too," Daria said.
"I have a few hints." After a kiss, Daria stepped back and said, "How are you holding up?"
"Surviving. I've probably played way too much GameStation 3."
"I have to admit to more than a bit of James Bond Online myself."
Michael sniffed and said, "I smell pizza."
"What would life be without a traditional welcome home meal?"
"It would suck."
"Exactly, and I've scouted around town. The consensus is that Casillo's is the best pie in town."
"You're very good to me."
Daria kissed him again. "Yeah, and I want to keep you around."
Eating a slice of pizza, Michael pointed to a painting on the wall and said, "When did you pick that up?"
"At the art festival last weekend," Daria said. "Something about it spoke to me."
Michael rose and walked to the painting. It featured a panther kitten reclining in a palmetto stand. "Going native?"
"Maybe. And it's a cat. You can't go wrong with cats."
"I'm glad you got out to wander some last weekend. I hope you had a good time."
"Yeah, I did, though it sounds like it was quieter than yours."
"You know how the girls can get."
Michael sighed and said, "But…"
"Back when we were at Raft, do you remember that joint research position I had with the Park Service and Bromwell?"
"Yes. You said it was one of the best experiences you could've had as an undergraduate."
"And, do you remember Prof. Daniels?"
"He was your Bromwell advisor. Why?"
"That experience fits in perfectly with a position that Bromwell just advertised. Prof. Daniels is the contact."
"Oh," Daria said, realizing what the ad must be.
Michael shrugged. "I've been a little bummed about it and I thought you should know why."
Daria nodded. "I appreciate you telling me. You…you have the right to be disappointed."
"I wanted you to know why I might be a little off, but we're not going to let it spoil the weekend. Right?"
Daria put her arms around his neck. "I haven't seen you in six weeks. We're not going to let anything spoil the weekend."
Spooned against Daria, Michael said, "This is much better than waking up alone."
Daria hummed and said, "Much better."
Daria said, "Not exactly alone. The rest of the family has spoken."
"The most important members."
"Do you mind a hypothetical first thing in the morning?" Michael asked.
"Sure, why not?"
"If things had been different, do you think you'd have liked moving to Bromwell?"
"Considering that they turned me down as an undergrad, there would be weirdness, but also some triumphant satisfaction – especially if I picked up a faculty position, too."
"Still wondering about that opening?"
"Are you going to be happy here?" Daria asked.
"I think so. Look, you found a good job and you're happy so far, right?"
"Well, freshmen can still be freshmen, but yes."
"Good. That will go a long way to making me happy."
"But you're going to have to put up with me learning Spanish. If I'm going to try to do research around here, I'll need it for reading the original documents."
"You have a deal." Daria gave him a long kiss and said, "Now why don't we forget about that for the moment and concentrate on something more interesting."
Michael kissed her in return. "And you have a deal."
Daria parked her car and looked over. "We're here."
Michael said, "We finally leave the house and you bring me to the marina an hour before dark?"
"I have a cunning plan."
"A cunning plan, huh?"
"Walk," Daria said.
After a short walk, they reached a pier marked with a sign that read, "Schooner Sea Sprite. Cruises and Private Charters." Tied up to the slip was a two-masted schooner. One man was busy on the deck preparing it for the evening cruise.
Michael said, "Ah, my little romantic is at it again."
"Damn right I am."
"That's one of the things I love about you."
"Besides the great sex?"
"Two great tastes…"
A woman with light brown hair pulled into a neat bun met them and said, "Ms. Morgendorffer. We're all ready for you. Please follow me and we can depart as soon as you're settled."
"You got a private charter?"
Daria reached over and held his hand. "I don't want any distractions."
"Planning and foresight?" Michael said.
"Just the two of us. We can afford it, finally."
Michael shook his head. "Wow. This is going to take some getting used to."
"Yeah, but I think you're up to it."
The hostess stopped at the gangplank. "After you."
After the couple boarded the ship, the hostess raised the gangplank and then made the short hop to the deck. She said, "Welcome aboard the Sea Sprite. I'm your hostess, Jan, and at the wheel is your captain, Tom."
From his place at the ship's wheel, Tom tipped his hat and said, "Welcome."
Between the masts was a solid table set with a chilled bottle of wine, two glasses and a plate of cheeses.
Jan picked up the wine so that Daria and Michael could see the label. "Silverwater Riesling 2008, as you requested. A good choice. Are you a wine connoisseur?"
"My new brother-in-law works in the field. He and my sister have passed on a few good suggestions," Daria said.
"You reserved the wine?" Michael asked.
"I wanted to make sure we liked it."
He nodded and grinned. "Yep, planning and foresight."
The schooner gently rocked at anchor near the mouth of the barrier island inlet while the sun set behind old St. Augustine and the Castillo. The table was lit by a single lantern that gave a warm glow to the cool evening. By necessity, the dinner was light: cheeses, fruit and finger sandwiches, along with the wine. The crew remained quiet, but attentive, at the stern.
"This is great," Michael said. "Thank you."
Daria reached over to touch his hand. "My pleasure."
Looking back at the town, he said, "There's a lot of history here. I can feel it."
Joking, Daria said, "Yeah, you can't walk around town without tripping over it."
"There's potential here. I like it."
"Besides, look at the weather. If we were up in Virginia or, worse yet, Newtown, we'd be freezing. Here, we need a jacket. I can get used to this."
"You can't fool me," Daria said. "You want to be able to dig in the dirt year-round."
Daria lifted her glass. "Then here's to digging in the dirt."
"To the dirt," Michael said.
Despite the messy, melting snow on the ground, Michael felt warm when he returned to work. Matt arrived only a few minutes later and said, "How was your trip?"
Michael replied, "Wonderful. It was hard to come back."
"Cool. You know, since you've laid a claim to Florida, I'd better start looking at the southwest. Lots of cool stuff out there and none of this lousy winter weather."
"Good luck with that."
"Out of curiosity; when you were in high school, did you ever expect to end up in Florida?"
"It never crossed my mind. Back then, it was all Rome, all the time."
"Wow. I have a hard time picturing you as a Roman scholar, what with all you know about Colonial America."
"Things change. What about you?"
"Well, I was originally into Gallic and Celtic archeology, but hey, not much opportunity on this side of the Atlantic."
"Are you happy with how things came around?"
Matt shrugged. "Sure. I have an internship at the Smithsonian. I mean, how cool is that?"
"It's very cool."
"And I'm getting to do what I want to do. At least, so far."
Michael nodded. So far.
At her office desk, Daria looked up from grading an assignment on the computer to see Cat at the open office door. "What's up?" Daria asked.
"It's the start of spring break and time to celebrate," Cat said. "You can grade papers next week while all our students are out drinking themselves into stupors."
"We take spring break seriously around these parts," Cat warned. "Now, I'm not going to expect you to get sloshed and featured on the next 'Faculty Gone Wild' DVD, but you will get out of the office for an hour or so with the rest of us."
"If I must," Daria said, closing out her grading session.
"Oh, you must. It's in your contract."
"I don't remember seeing that."
"It's in invisible ink. You don't think we'd make it that easy to find, do you?"
"Of course not."
Daria followed Cat to the college's meeting hall, where the entire faculty was gathering. Bright streamers arched across the ceiling and there was already a line at the open bar at one end of the hall.
Daria said, "Official booze?"
"Actually, President Albrecht pays for it personally. It's his gift to the faculty."
"Considering what this crew can put away, it's not cheap. So come on. You can have one drink."
"One drink. Maybe two, if they're good."
Leaning back in her chair, Daria said, "This is good. My dad drinks martinis. Now, I can see the attraction."
Beside her, Cat said, "As long as you don't make them with rotgut booze. Those can be bad. Very bad."
"In that case, I'm glad I missed out and went straight to the good stuff."
"Life is too short to spend it with bad booze."
"Yes, it is, and a little unwinding after the students take off for break is just what we need."
Cat smiled. "That's why we're here."
"This is nice, but I am drawing the line at two. I'm a lightweight drinker and I want to drive home tonight."
"Okay, we can cut you some slack on that. Hey, is your hubby going to be home?"
Daria shook her head. "No. He used up the last of his leave time when he caught that cold a couple of weeks ago. I'm not going to see him until he's finished up there."
"Aw, I'm sorry."
"Do you have any plans, then?"
"I'm going to visit my friends in Ocala, but other than that, I think I'm going to explore the area some more."
"That's better than sitting around the house surfing the Internet."
"I'll probably do some of that, too. What about you?"
"My husband and I are going to Texas to see his family."
"I grew up in Texas; you have my sympathy."
"You must've grown up in what my husband calls one of the armpits of Texas."
"Armpit would be an improvement for Highland."
"Houston is a lot different from rural Texas. You'd probably like it."
"You know, it's been over fifteen years since I left Texas. Maybe I should give it a second thought, now that I don't feel so trapped."
The last one remaining in the lab, Michael was finishing up when the phone rang. He picked it up and said, "Dr. Fulton speaking."
"Good afternoon, Michael. This is Ian Daniels."
"Professor Daniels. This is an unexpected surprise. How are you?"
"I'm doing very well, thank you."
"What can I do for you?"
"I was curious," Prof. Daniels said. "Are you aware of the faculty opening in my department?"
"Yes, I'm aware of it. Unfortunately, my wife just accepted a faculty appointment at San Marcos College. I'll join her there at the beginning of May."
"Will you receive a spousal appointment at San Marcos?"
"I've been offered an Lecturer position, but not full faculty."
"Here at Bromwell, we historically offer qualified spouses full faculty appointments."
"I'm sorry, but we've made a commitment."
"I understand, but please, think about it. Where would you rather be, at one of the leading Ivy League schools in the nation, or at a small liberal arts college that's almost unheard of outside of Florida?"
"Thank you for the offer. I'll – think about it."
"That's all I ask. Have a good day."
Michael hung up the phone and took a deep breath. "Damn."
He stared at it for almost a minute. "I have to do something."
Seated at the dining table of her home, Karen said, "So why didn't you drive up to visit Michael?"
"With how much he's working to finish up the project, he wouldn't have that much time to spend with me, so we called the trip off. It's only another five weeks and he'll be back." Daria shrugged and smiled. "He's worth the wait."
"Yeah, the 'back together after being apart for a while' sex is always great. You were always good for ulterior motives."
"That, and I am catching up on grading." Daria sipped from a glass of iced tea that Karen had provided. "I've gained a new appreciation of my old teachers. I'm glad I don't have to interpret bad handwriting on top of bad spelling and grammar in student essays."
"Hey, don't diss bad handwriting. That was one of my hardest classes in vet school."
"Oops, you let the secret out."
"It's the trimmed down version of what they teach in med school, but I think you can keep the secret. Didn't you get the PhD version?"
"English majors are exempt, but Michael excelled at it. I swear that there are times it looks like he uses hieroglyphs."
Karen laughed. "Derek tries to use nucleotide sequences for words. He swears it makes sense to him."
Daria drank some more tea and settled back in the chair. "It's weird to hear myself say it, but I'm looking forward to Michael coming home so that we can really settle down."
"You're becoming an old, married couple. Join the crowd."
"Mew," Sissy meowed from Michael's lap.
Looking down from the monitor, he said, "Sorry there, I guess I was spacing out. I put a lot of work into this and I don't want anything to be out of place. It has to be perfect."
"I was thinking."
"I know what I'm doing. I have to try for it."
"Yes, I'm sure. This is going to work."
"Okay, I'm going to do it." Michael moved the cursor over the send button and clicked the mouse button. "Done."
Michael scratched Sissy behind the ear. "Well, I hope it works."
"Your moral support is greatly appreciated."
"Only two more weeks of class, Quinn," Daria said over the phone. "And Michael will be home in three."
Sitting in a wooden rocking chair with Jacob held in her other arm, Quinn said, "You must be getting excited."
"That would be a safe bet. I really miss Michael and the only thing that has kept me from going stir crazy is how well things are working at San Marcos."
"I'm glad you finally found someplace like I have."
"It's kind of funny, but I always pictured you to be the one living in a beachside town."
Quinn laughed, "Now I'm the one living in a farming valley and you're near the beach."
"A fancy farming valley."
"They may be fancy, but the mud Q brings home on his shoes is just as dirty."
Quinn heard her husband in the next room and said, "I think I'm being called back."
"That's okay; go back to your party and once again, happy birthday, sis," Daria said. "Enjoy twenty-nine while it lasts."
"Don't worry, I will. Bye."
Lying on a sunny window sill, Bump opened one eye and meowed.
Daria nodded and said, "I fully agree."
Entering the lab, Matt said, "Dr. Fulton, I…oops, sorry."
On the phone, Michael held up a hand, telling Matt to wait a moment. He then said, "Thank you for the interview. I look forward to hearing your decision. Have a good day."
He hung up and stood. "Yes, Matt?"
"I have the metallurgical analysis on those buttons. The alloy is an exact match to the one from grid 12-18."
"Very good," Michael said. "We can tie them to the same batch of metal. Certainly, they were made by the same metalsmith and probably the same casting group."
"If you don't mind, what was the call about?"
"I thought you had an Instructor position waiting for you."
"I do, but sometimes, you have to make new opportunities for yourself."
"Well then, good luck."
One at a time, students walked up to the front of the class to drop off their final exams. Many made brief comments to Daria as they did.
"You're pretty cool for a last-minute replacement."
"This is the first class where I didn't feel like I needed to pad my essays."
"I pre-registered for your class in the fall."
"You sucked a lot less than the guy that taught Comp I."
"Dammit, you made me learn something in your class."
"You made me think. I like that."
When the last student had closed the door, Daria sat back in her chair. "That went a lot better than I anticipated."
Smelling fresh salmon, Sissy twined around Michael's feet after he entered the apartment. He looked down and said, "We're celebrating tonight."
"Why, thank you." As soon as he unwrapped the small fillet and set it in Sissy's bowl, the cat eagerly attacked the fish.
"Enjoy." Going to the refrigerator, Michael took a beer bottle out and popped the cap off using the opener attached under the cupboard. Patting the letter in his pocket, he took a deep drink. "And I'll enjoy it, too."
Cat opened Daria's office door and leaned in. "It looks like my apprentice has survived her first semester relatively intact."
Tidying a few things on her desk, Daria said, "All of my grades have been submitted and my evaluation report looked good. I am relatively intact. I'll be completely intact tomorrow."
"Ah yes, your hubby will finally be home to stay. Oh, and congratulations on him finding another position."
"Excuse me?" Daria said, very confused.
Aware that something was amiss, Cat said, "Dean Xao said that your husband had declined the lecturer position that he had been offered with your hiring, stating that he had employment elsewhere."
"That's news to me," Daria said.
"Oops. I'm guessing it's a big surprise and he wanted to surprise you."
Daria said, "It had better be a good surprise, because Michael knows how much I dislike surprises."
Matt caught up to Michael in the staff parking lot. "Hey, Dr. Fulton."
"I just wanted to, you know, wish you luck."
"Thanks. You, too."
"Thanks for the letter of recommendation."
"You earned it," Michael said.
"When I finish up, I hope I can pull off what you did."
"You'll never know until you try. Stay in touch. Who knows, maybe I'll have an opening some day."
"Sure thing, Dr. Fulton. Thanks."
"Thank you, Matt."
Matt shook Michael's hand. "Have a safe trip."
"I hope so. Good luck with grad school."
The remaining furniture already donated to a thrift store, Michael was ready to go as soon as he placed Sissy's carrier in the front seat and strapped it down. "Be a good girl, okay?"
A less than enthusiastic, "Mew," was the reply.
"Yeah, I know you don't like traveling, but this will be the last trip like this for you." He closed the door and walked to the driver's side. After settling in, he opened a CD case sitting on the center of the front seat. Inside was a collection of classic rock albums.
Remembering that it was a birthday gift from the year before, he said, "Thanks for the traveling music, Jake," as he selected the first and put it in the player.
"Mom, I have to admit to being worried," Daria said. Cell phone to her ear, she watched the driveway through the front window.
At her home office, Helen said, "I'm sure he knows what he's doing, sweetie."
"Usually, but you know how he can be impulsive at times. This is really sounding like one of those times and, well, they don't always end well."
"I've been married to your father for thirty-five years. You don't have to tell me about impulsive."
"I wish he'd kept me in the loop. I have no idea of what he's been up to, other than turning down the lecturer position at San Marcos. Whatever he has in mind, it had better be good."
"I'm sure that he thinks it is."
Daria sighed. "I know you're right. But…"
"But the rest of the human race may not think it was good."
"Thanks for listening, Mom."
"Any time, Daria. I don't get to do it near as much as I'd like. That's not a bad thing, but there are times when a mother still would like to be wanted."
"You're always there when I need you."
Tired, but happy, Michael sang along with the music as he drove down the street and pulled into his driveway.
Stopping the car, he said, "Perfect timing, right Sissy?"
He reached over and unbuckled the carrier. "Home at last. Come on, kiddo. Let's get inside."
Carrier in hand, Michael took a moment to stretch before jogging to the door. When he reached the door, Daria opened it.
"We need to talk."
"I'll release the beast and then we can talk. I've got some great news for you."
"Yeah, that's what I want to hear," she said, closing the door behind him.
Picking up on her mood, he set the carrier down and opened the door. "Go for it, Sissy."
Sissy jumped out and ran over to Bump, who was calmly waiting on the sofa. The two sniffed each other for a moment, and then Bump started grooming Sissy.
"I see that they're happy to be back together," Michael said. "But you're upset at me about something."
"You turned down your appointment to San Marcos."
He sighed. "You weren't supposed to hear about that."
"Well, I did. Now, what is going on?"
"It's good news."
"I'll be right back." Michael sprinted out to the car, grabbed a large folder and sprinted back into the house. "I have everything here."
"What is it?"
"Do you remember that opening at Bromwell?"
"You didn't," Daria warned.
"No, I didn't. But it made me think about what I wanted and what I've passed up. I knew that I wouldn't be happy with being just a lecturer. So, I got creative."
"With the state budget cuts, the Florida Archeological Service had to leave a State Archeologist position open."
"I used my connections at the Smithsonian to develop some grant sponsors and – you're looking at the new State Archeologist for the Northeast District."
"I pulled together grant funding for three years. So, I've got that long to regain state funding or bring in new grants. But until then, I get to keep playing in the dirt and," Michael grinned, "I'll be paid twenty grand a year more than a lecturer and I'll work out of St. Augustine."
"You did all that?"
"I wanted to be here with you and I wanted both of us to be happy."
Daria wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "You incorrigible oaf. You had me so worried."
"I wanted this to be a big surprise."
"You know I hate surprises."
"I thought I could get away with it this time. I guess I didn't."
Daria kissed him again. "Okay, you gave me a nice surprise; just don't do it again."
"Good." Daria took a step back and pulled Michael along with her. "Now, I guess I can welcome you home properly."
He glanced over his shoulder while she pulled him to the bedroom. "I can unload the car later."
From the sofa, the cats watched as they disappeared down the hallway.
Their humans back together, Sissy curled up against Bump and closed her eyes.
It was good to be home.
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.
July – September, 2011.