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.
This is a prequel to the Falling Into College series.
Amy sat down on a leather chair and looked at the diploma she had just hung on the wall. A calendar on the desk reminded her that it was August, 1991, and that she had three weeks until Tennyson University was again filled with students. For now, the halls were mostly quiet, with only a few staff members, other faculty and the occasional graduate student wandering the halls. More than time enough to settle into her new tenure-track position. She smiled and said, "Finally."
Her auburn hair was pulled into a ponytail and her t-shirt was half-soaked with sweat from moving into her office at Tennyson University. Amy turned the chair to let a breeze from the open window blow across her, providing welcome cooling from the summer heat. "I hope that they get that air conditioner fixed soon."
It wasn't the largest of offices, but it had enough space for a solid desk with chair, a pair of file cabinets, a large, hardwood bookshelf that she'd love to have at home, and still enough space for two guest chairs.
She heard someone shuffle through the empty boxes in the hallway and looked up to see a young man of about twenty. Amy said, "Can I help you?"
"Dr. Barksdale?" he said.
"Hi. I'm Tony from IT and I’m here to hook up your computer."
Amy pushed back from her desk to clear space. Waving her hand at the computer, she said, "Hook away."
While the technician started to work, Amy went to her bookshelf. Methodically, she pulled books and moved them to new locations, thus restoring them to their proper order.
The technician said, "What are you teaching this fall?"
"Nothing," Amy replied. "My position is one hundred percent research."
Amy held a worn paperback copy of Foundation in her hand. "I think so. As close to my dream job as I'll ever find." She opened the page and smiled at Isaac Asimov's signature on the title page.
"I bet landing a job like that was tough."
"You could say that."
"What kind of research?" the technician asked.
"Statistical trends in human group behavior."
The technician noticed the book and said, "I think I've got it."
"I won't deny that I had inspiration."
The tech continued to work in silence for several more minutes until he started a computer reboot. "Any family?"
Amy squeezed her eyes shut for a second before answering. "No."
"None, at all?"
"Well, two sisters and three nieces. I don't think any of the nieces have had kids."
"You don't know?"
"I haven't seen them in a while."
"Ah. Husband? Boyfriend?"
Amy closed her eyes again and was glad her back remained to the technician. "No."
"Well, there's plenty of fish in the D.C. area. I bet you can find something."
"Sure," she said, hoping he would be done soon and leave her alone.
The technician made a few more checks before saying, "There you go. Your username is ABarksdale and the password is August. You'll be prompted to change the password after your first login. Pretty standard stuff."
"Sure thing. And give us a call if you have any issues."
"Have a good day."
Amy watched the young man leave and she closed the door behind him. She sat down on the chair, closing her eyes, thinking about how tough it had been to find her position – and how dearly it had cost her. Looking out of the office window, Amy remembered how it had all started two years earlier. Like many newly-minted doctorates, she was in what her fellow sufferers called "adjunct hell," meaning that she was balancing three adjunct teaching appointments at three different colleges. No leave, no benefits, and no insurance. Also, it meant almost no support or respect.
The last student had finally left the tiny room that Amy used as an office at East Virginia Community College. "Office?" she grumbled while packing her books into a backpack and grabbing her purse. "More like a closet."
Amy checked her watch and groaned. "Lunch on the run." She closed and locked the door and hurried down the corridor to a nearby student lounge. Beside a pair of tables next to a window, there was a line of vending machines. A few coins later, she had a can of Ultra Dew in her hand. Moving to the next machine, she scanned the products through the window and fed more coins into that machine. The dispenser hummed and whirred, but left a chocolate bar hanging from the spiral rack.
"Give me my Snackers Bar!" she said, kicking the machine.
A gentle voice behind her said, "Let me try."
Amy turned to see a handsome man with short, black hair and wire-framed glasses waiting behind her. "Sure, why not?" she replied.
He stepped forward and carefully placed one balled fist against the side frame of the vending machine. Satisfied with the placement, he gave the machine a sharp rap that shook it just enough to free the candy bar. He bent over, withdrew the chocolate and presented it to Amy. "I believe this is yours."
"Thank you so much," Amy said. She peeled the wrapper away from the candy and said, "Sorry, but I have to teach a class at Williamstown University in a little less than an hour."
The man nodded, but offered his hand. "Oh, don't let me hold you up. Doctor?"
She shook it. "Yes. Oh, um, Amy Barksdale."
"Anton Davidson. And don't worry, I understand. I have a class to teach in five minutes myself. So, have a good day."
Alternating between the sugar-loaded candy bar and the caffeine-loaded soda, Amy rushed toward the exit, wishing she had time for a real meal. But she still glanced over her shoulder at the gentleman walking the opposite direction.
Amy hurried past the restaurant hostess, saying, "I see my friend right over there," and went directly to a table where a stately-looking African-American woman in an Air Force uniform was seated. Amy sat down at the free chair and said, "I'm sorry, Paula. Traffic on the beltway was the worst today."
"No, Amy," Capt. Paula Trainor said. "On a good day, it's the worst."
"That I can believe."
"So, how's life in the wilds of academia," Paula said.
Amy shook her head. "Right now, it sucks. I'm running my ass ragged and I feel like I'm going nowhere."
"You know, I'm sure with your background, you could get a nice commission…"
"Paula, you know I'm not the military type."
"It was a thought."
"Anyway, how about something more interesting? Like, how was your trip to Switzerland?"
Paula smiled. "It was great. The Swiss Air Force really knows its stuff."
"I hope you had time for a little fun."
"Oh, I did. And don't worry," Paula said, reaching down for her purse. "I found something for you."
Eyeing the box, Amy said, "It's too small for a cute guy."
"No, but the next best thing."
"Yes, and not those nasty Snackers Bars you live on. This is real chocolate made the way chocolate is supposed to be made."
Amy noted the name, Sprugli, on the box, as well as a date several days previous. She joked, "Let me guess, out of date so you picked it up on discount."
"No, Amy. That's the date it was hand made."
"With the same care and precision that the Swiss make watches."
Their waitress appeared and handed them menus while asking, "Would you care for something to drink?"
Paula said, "Water, with lemon."
Amy said, "Sweet tea."
"I'll be right back with those drinks," the waitress said and then walked away toward the kitchen. Paula opened the box and said, "Go ahead, try one."
Amy lifted the delicate chocolate treat from the box and took a bite. The high-cocoa chocolate melted, releasing an intense, but not overly sweet flavor. Amy's eyes opened and she said, "It's not better than great sex, but it's as good as good sex."
"Now, where can I get more?"
"They're not imported?"
"No. They're a local, hand-crafted product."
Amy said, "Hmm, I'll see about that."
Paula slowly shook her head. "I've created a monster."
"Yes, you have."
"Besides your new addiction, anything else new in your life? Like, meet any cute guys."
"Well, I kind of met a guy today."
"He rescued a candy bar for me from a machine."
"I was wondering what he could've done to stick in your mind. Who says chivalry is dead? This time, did you remember to get his name?"
"Anything less formal or did you stick with proper Victorian introductions."
Amy chuckled. "Anton."
"That's an improvement. Now, how about a phone number?"
"I'm sure I'll run into him again. He's adjuncting at EVCC like I am."
"That's better. Though next time, remember to get a phone number."
"Okay, okay. You silly little yenta."
"Hey, I resemble that remark."
Anton was waiting for Amy before the next time he taught his class. The smile on her face when he held up an Ultra Dew and a Snackers Bar told him that he'd made a good impression. "Hopefully, you have a couple more seconds to talk today."
Amy accepted the snacks and said, "Why, thank you. I can spare a few moments."
Amy opened the soda can and took a drink. "Pardon me, I needed that after office hours."
"You mean closet hours, right?"
Amy tilted her head and smiled. "Or that. So, Dr. Davidson, what have you been roped into teaching?"
"Statistics 204. What about you?"
"Sociology 110. So, you're a statistician, huh?"
"Yeah, I'm a geek. What can I say?"
"I think it makes you interesting. When is your indenture over tonight?"
Anton smiled. "Is that an invitation?"
"Yes, if the timing is right."
"I'm out of here at five-fifteen."
"Do you know the Southern Cracker off the Fredericksburg exit?"
"I've been there."
"You have a date, Dr. Barksdale."
"Thank you, Dr. Davidson."
Driving south on the interstate toward Williamstown, Amy said, "I don't believe you did that. You've known the guy for maybe thirty seconds."
"Oh, you did," she replied to herself.
"I blame it on Paula egging me on."
"If that makes you happy."
Amy let herself smile. "He is cute, smart, and not to mention that he has a nice accent."
"Okay, Paula. I owe you one."
Despite being five minutes late, Amy hesitated outside the simulated rustic-looking building. "You can do this, Amy. It's only dinner. If things go wrong, you leave and that's the end of it." Her resolve fortified, she took a breath and entered.
"Dr. Barksdale," Anton said as he rose from a chair in the anteroom. "It's a pleasure," he said and took her hand.
She gave him a smile and said, "Laying it on a little thick?"
"Is it working?"
"I'll let you know."
He laughed. "That's only fair."
Together, they stopped at the hostess station and Anton said, "Two, please. Non-smoking."
"This way," the hostess said, taking two menus from a rack and walking toward the dining room.
He said to Amy, "I hope you don't mind me asking for non-smoking."
"I'm glad you did. I inhaled enough assorted smoke products as an undergrad and I'm over it."
"Only as an undergrad?"
"Tobacco was still big in Virginia when I grew up, but other things…nah. What about you?"
"Trust me, there was even less in Louisiana."
"So that's the accent. I was trying to place it."
The waitress seated them and said, "Would you care for anything to drink?"
"Sweet tea," Amy said.
"I'll have the same," he said.
The hostess said, "I'll be right back with your drinks and your server will be with you shortly."
Anton said, "So you're a Virginia girl."
"I try not to dwell on it too much. How about you? Did you do all of your college time in Louisiana?"
"Undergrad. I went to grad school at Union University."
"Upstate New York. That must've gone over well with some of the locals back home."
"It didn't make a difference to anyone who matters. What about you?"
"Central Virginia for my undergrad and Master's. Then, New Cornwall for my doctorate."
Amy shrugged. "Not impressive enough to land me a faculty position yet."
"I know the feeling."
Amy lifted her glass in toast. "Here's to adjunct hell."
He returned the toast with, "May we escape from it soon."
Amy glanced at her watch. "Oh, God. It's after midnight. I'm going to feel like crap in the morning."
Anton checked his watch. "Ouch. I guess time does fly when you're having fun."
"I'll take that over not having a clue."
"I'll take that as a sign that you had fun, too?"
"We've been here for almost six hours. Yes, I've had fun."
"Does that mean I have a shot at a second date?"
Amy rubbed her chin. "I have it on good authority that the suggestion would be taken favorably."
"How about a show on Saturday? The EVCC drama department is pretty good and they're doing A Streetcar Named Desire."
"I could watch a classic. It's a date."
Anton picked up his check. "Um, how much extra do you tip for camping out this long?"
Amy looked at her check. "I don't know about any hard rule, but it better be good."
Anton took a bill from his wallet. "I'll just tip the whole amount."
"Sounds like a plan to me."
Over lunch the next day, Amy said, "It's not like I boinked him on the first date. I accepted a second date."
Paula slowly twirled pasta onto her fork. "Boinked. You've been reading too much Calvin and Hobbes again. When was the last time you went on a second date, let alone accepted it on the first date?"
"I'm not going to answer that without my lawyer present."
Amy shook her head. "I haven't seen Helen since I helped them move to Texas five years ago. She's been busy with work and her kids and, well, you know how busy I was in grad school."
"You and me, both. You should probably try to get out to see them sometime."
"Probably, when I have my head a little above water."
Paula ate a small bite of her lunch. "Back to the main subject. You accepted a second date. That's encouraging."
"We had a good time. I think he's worth a shot."
"Damn, Amy. You're starting to sound almost optimistic."
"Maybe I finally got lucky."
"Maybe. I hope so."
And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...
Amy stopped singing and smiled at the sight of Anton bringing the breakfast tray into their room.
He whistled the melody line and said, "Happy anniversary," as he set the tray down over Amy's lap. "One year since our first date."
"I like a man who can remember dates."
He kissed her and said, "I like a woman who appreciates the effort. Be right back."
After Anton had jogged back to the kitchen, Amy tasted the blackberry and cream-filled crepes, letting the flavor linger as she slowly chewed. "I also like a man who can cook."
He returned with another tray and sat down on the other side of the bed, placing a copy of The Higher Education Chronicle between them. "I'll even give you dibs on the job ads."
"Oh, thank you," she said, picking up the magazine. "Maybe there's some opening we can make work this time."
"Maybe," Amy said, leaning over to kiss him. "At least when you're around."
"I'll take that as a positive development."
She smiled. "You should."
As they ate breakfast, Amy read through the professional magazine while Anton started on the newspaper. "Mmm," he said. "Do you think the President is going to go to war over Kuwait?"
"The Air Force has been working Paula's ass off the last month or so. I bet they're going to do something. They don't put this much effort into saber-rattling."
"So much for optimism."
"Being an optimist doesn't mean I have to leave realism behind."
"So I could say you're optimistic about them doing something."
After another minute of mutual reading, Amy said, "Hey, this looks promising."
"A research position in Sociology at Tennyson University. That's close by."
Amy smiled and waved the magazine. "One hundred percent research. No teaching."
"Wow. How are they pulling that off?"
"It's an endowed position. No fancy titles like Endowed Chair, but it specifies full research. It's like they wrote the position for me."
"That's wonderful, Amy." Anton leaned over and kissed her. "Good luck."
"Thanks. Wouldn't it be great if we can get positions in the area?"
"It would make life easier."
Finishing her breakfast, Amy eyed her alarm clock. With a sigh, she said, "I wish we could stay here all day."
Anton looked at his clock. "Wish we could call in sick of work."
"Those undergrads won't teach themselves. Trust me, I've already tried."
Anton lifted his coffee cup. "Here's to us finding positions this year."
"Hear, hear," Amy said, lifting her mug in response.
To give himself extra time to look through his National Statistical Science Association newsletter, Anton grabbed his lunch at the Potomac College food court. Years of practice enabled him to zone out a room full of loud students talking over their Walkmans to concentrate on his journal.
"I can't believe it," he said when he saw a new job announcement. "A full tenure-track position outside New Orleans. I can't wait to introduce Amy to some real Cajun cooking down in the Quarter. I can't believe it. It's perfect."
The clatter of the daisy-wheel printer greeted Amy when she arrived at their apartment that evening. She called out, "Save some ribbon for my CV, will you?"
Anton jumped up from their computer and ran over to Amy, grabbing her in a hug. "This has to be our lucky day."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I’m printing up my CV for a job, too."
"You found an opening?"
"Pontchartrain College. It's perfect for me."
"My turn to say, 'Wow.'"
"One of these positions has got to pan out. I can feel it. Once one of us gets settled, we can work on getting the other hired on."
Amy said, "Sounds like a plan to me."
"Hmm, what if we both get offered jobs?"
Amy laughed. "Yeah, like that's ever going to happen."
In the darkened lecture hall, Amy tapped a telescoping metal pointer at the slide projected on the screen next to her. "With the continued improvements in computing power, it is becoming more and more feasible to quantify and analyze the details of human group dynamics. In the near future, it may even be possible to do similar computations as I've demonstrated today on a desktop computer."
She clicked the tethered remote for the slide projector and brought up the closing slide. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make this presentation. Any questions?"
A graduate student in the second row raised his hand. "Do you really think that you can describe a human mind as a simple set of algorithms?"
Amy said, "That is beyond the scope of my research. I imagine that trying to statistically predict the behavior of a single individual would be like trying to predict the motion of a single molecule of water in a beaker. We can make accurate predictions about how the water will flow if the beaker is tipped, but cannot know how an individual molecule will move."
An assistant professor toward the back of the room said, "What do you see as some practical applications of this work?"
"For example, a better understanding of crowd behavior during a crisis would be useful for designing safer emergency exits."
Another student said, "But couldn't this be subverted for some kind of mind control technique or weapon?"
Congratulations, you win the Moronic Question of the Day Award. If humans put their mind to it, they could weaponize toilet paper. "Hypothetically, maybe. However, the potential benefits outweigh the smaller chance for misuse."
An older professor stood and walked to the front of the room. "Thank you for that fascinating seminar, Dr. Barksdale. It will be my pleasure to invite you to dinner with the rest of the Search Committee."
"I'll be honored, Dr. Salt," Amy said. Real food, thank God. But then, the graduate students didn't leave anything on the snack table. Some things never change, so it's good that they're springing for dinner.
When she got home, Amy found Anton asleep on the sofa and a single white rose in a vase on the table. The attached card read, "Best of luck."
Amy leaned over and kissed Anton. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Hmnn?" he mumbled, waking up. "Hey, Amy."
Amy sat on the edge of the sofa and smelled the rose. "That's sweet."
"How did the interview go?"
"A few awkward questions, but overall, I think it went well."
"How was your day?" Amy asked.
"About the usual, cramming a few morsels of knowledge into young minds. Oh, Paula called. Since the President called a halt to fighting in Iraq, the Air Force let her have a few minutes free. I told her about the interview and she sends her best."
"In that case, hopefully I can talk to her tomorrow. Bring her up to speed and all that good stuff."
"I also told her about our trip next week to New Orleans for my interview."
Amy smiled. "I'm sure she had a few choice quotes about that."
"She did. Too bad we missed Mardi Gras. It's a lot of fun, even if you pass on the more exotic entertainments."
"Well, if we end up there, we'll have to catch it next year. That should really make Paula jealous."
Thoroughly enjoying the Key Lime pie she was having for her lunchtime dessert, Paula said, "I've heard some good things about the Military Sciences program at Tennyson. When we finish winding things down in Iraq, I might look into getting an assignment there."
"Not that I won't appreciate the company," Amy said, also enjoying a slice of pie, "but I need to tell you about how jealous I am of your connections."
Paula shrugged. "It comes with the territory. You know, I could still…"
"No, Paula. I've got a good shot at Tennyson and I think that Anton has a good shot at Pontchartrain. Besides, could you really see me in uniform?"
"I know a lot of people would love to see you in uniform," Paula said.
Amy shook her head and chuckled. "You and your gutter."
"It's warm, friendly, and the view is terrific."
"But could you really see me following military discipline?"
"Yeah, that could be a problem. Generals usually don't like lieutenants telling them to bugger off."
"Neither do university deans. I think I might have to rein in my attitude for a while."
"Until you get tenure?"
"And not a minute later."
Paula lifted her glass of lemon tea. "Good luck. To both of you."
Amy lifted hers. "And good luck to you, my friend."
Hand in hand, Amy and Anton slowly strolled down Bourbon Street. She let her head rest on his arm and said, "Feed me more of that shrimp étouffée and I'll do almost anything you want."
He smiled. "Almost?"
"A lady has to have some limits."
"Any hint about where those limits are?"
"I'll let you know if you get too close."
"Is that encouragement?"
"If you wish."
As they continued to walk, Anton said, "Do you think you could live here?"
"If we don't end up at Tennyson, I could make do."
"So New Orleans is an adequate second choice?"
"Yeah, adequate. What do you think about Tennyson?"
He shrugged. "I'll have to go with adequate."
"So we're in agreement."
After a couple more blocks, Anton said, "I have a really good feeling about my interview. Everything seemed to click. The department is great. The chair wrote one of the best textbooks I've ever used. Wonderful benefits. Low student to teacher ratio."
"Just the occasional hurricane and living below sea level to worry about."
He laughed. "Exactly. Compared to living near D.C. and knowing that if the bombs fall, we're going to be among the first to go?"
"Good point. Anyway, when does the committee expect to make a decision?"
"Probably right after the end of the spring semester. About another month and a half."
"About the same time as Tennyson. The waiting is going to suck, you know that, right?"
"Of course it is. That's part of the ritual." He looked around at the classic architecture. "Speaking of which, I can't wait to bring you here during Mardi Gras."
"I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun, but I'm warning you now. It's going to take some great beads to convince me to show anything."
"I think that can be arranged."
"I mean really great beads."
Anton smiled and winked. "Don't worry."
In the registrar's office of East Virginia CC, Amy placed a folder on top of the inbox stack of the receptionist's desk. "All final grades present and accounted for," she said.
The middle-aged woman looked up and gave her a friendly smile. "Thank you, Dr. Barksdale. Any plans?"
"A whole week break before I start the Summer C term."
"You've made it popular."
"Then why doesn't the administration offer me a position?"
The receptionist shook her head. "You know that they're too cheap for that."
"Well, hopefully, they won't have me to exploit for much longer."
"Have you heard anything?"
"Not yet, but soon. I hope."
"Good luck. I'm going to miss you when you leave."
"Thanks. I'm glad somebody here will."
At home after the long, weary commute, Amy kicked the apartment door closed after scooping up the day's mail. Sorting through the various bits of junk, her throat tightened when she saw the letter from Tennyson University.
Unlike student admission letters, there wasn't a difference between acceptance and rejection letters for faculty positions. Nervous, scared and intensely curious, Amy dropped the rest of the mail onto the kitchen table and stared at the letter. "Come on, Amy. You can open it."
Even with the self-encouragement, it took almost a minute for Amy to tear the letter open and unfold it.
Dear Dr. Amy Barksdale,
On behalf of the Search and Screen Committee, it is my great pleasure to inform you that you have been selected for the position of Associate Professor of Sociology. Please contact the departmental office at your soonest convenience with your decision and if you accept, to finalize details of your compensation and startup packages. We look forward to hearing from you.
Amy jumped into the air while throwing the letter at the ceiling. "Yes!"
Dear Dr. Anton Davidson,
The Faculty Search and Screen Committee is honored to offer you the position of Associate Professor of Statistics at Pontchartrain College. At your earliest convenience, please inform the Committee Chair of your decision. If you accept, the Committee Chair will negotiate your compensation and startup packages. We look forward to hearing from you.
Feeling dread, Anton lowered the letter and looked across the apartment toward Amy. "They're offering me the job."
"Oh, god," she said, letting out a heavy sigh. She rose from the dining table where she had been looking through faculty literature for Tennyson and went over to Anton. "I'm sorry, honey. Congratulations."
When she sat on the sofa, he put his arm around her. "Don't worry, 'Oh, god,' was the first thing through my mind, too."
They watched each other for several moments before Amy said, "You really want the position at Pontchartrain."
"As much as you want the position at Tennyson."
Anton brightened up and said, "Hey, maybe one of them will offer a spousal appointment. If push really comes to shove, I could live with a faculty position at Tennyson as long as I stay with you."
"I could live with that, though we might have a little problem. We're not married."
"We argue that we're life partners. We're going into academia; there's a good chance that they'll understand."
Amy kissed him. "Let's do it."
The gracefully aged gentleman folded his reading glasses and looked up from the request to Amy, seated on the other side of his desk. "Dr. Barksdale. I will forward your request to the Statistics department with my recommendation to hire Dr. Davidson."
"Thank you, Dean Chattarray. Along with the rest of the startup package, I'm very pleased."
"Please keep in mind, though, that the Statistics Department has the final decision. If they don't wish to hire your significant other, there's nothing I can do for you."
"I appreciate it. Though I have to be honest with you and say that if that happens and Pontchartrain offers me a spousal appointment…"
"Though I will be disappointed, I will understand. You should have a decision by the middle of July."
"I hope we can work things out to all of our benefits."
Carrying a box up a flight of stairs, Amy said, "Paula, I'm not even going to ask how you found an apartment like this in D.C."
Following Amy and carrying a box herself, Paula said, "But I'm going to tell you anyway."
"As long as it doesn't involve 50-year-old single malt scotch and a panda costume."
"I only did that once."
"Good, then I won't have to hear it again."
"I made some good contacts while working Desert Storm and I heard about this place through the grapevine. Owners like to rent to officers like me."
Amy glanced over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow.
Paula coughed and said, "Hard-working, reliable, neat and able to pay rent on time."
"And you never have wild parties…at home."
"Of course not. That's how I keep on the good side of my landlords."
They reached the apartment and placed the boxes on the floor next to several previous stacks of boxes. Paula looked around and said, "I could use a few of my connections to find you and Anton a place. Any word yet on Tennyson hiring him?"
"Nothing, yet. Nor anything from Louisiana." Amy unceremoniously plopped down on the sofa and said, "I bet that they're going to make us wait until the last minute."
Paula continued walking to the kitchen. "You know how committees operate. Never decide today that which can be put off until next Thursday."
"And you know how patient I am with waiting."
"Amy, you and patience aren't even in the same room."
"At least we're in the same house. That's a lot better than when I lived with my parents."
Paula returned with two cans of soda. She passed one to Amy as she also sat on the sofa. "And I'm very proud of that improvement."
"Anyone will have to learn patience around you."
Paula tipped her can in a toast. "Everyone needs a purpose in life."
Anton sadly folded the letter. He couldn't bring himself to look up at Amy. He whispered, "Request denied due to lack of funding."
"We still haven't heard from Tennyson," Amy said.
"I know," he said. "But…well, I had been hoping to go home to Louisiana. I've been away for a long time and I miss it."
Amy stood, walked behind the sofa and then wrapped her arms around his chest. "I know you miss it. I'm sorry."
He put his arms over hers. "Thanks."
"Once we're settled, we'll make sure we get there as often as possible."
"I hope that's not the same 'often as possible' for visiting your family."
"You have a motivation to visit. I don't."
"I still don't understand."
"I don't think anybody outside the family can understand Barksdales."
"Though it's weird that I haven't met any of them."
"Trust me, you haven't missed much. Well, besides Helen's kids. They were kinda cute when I last saw them."
Anton reached up and pulled Amy over and onto his lap, resulting in an "Eep!" from her as she landed.
He said, "And when we're settled, we'll make time to see them. You know, so that I can see if they're real."
"Smartass." Amy kissed him and said, "Deal."
"I'll get it," Amy said as she weaved around Anton in the narrow kitchen.
He deftly moved aside and continued to stir a pot of pasta sauce. "I'll keep an eye on dinner."
Amy picked up the phone and said, "Hello." She listened for a moment and then said, "Dean Chattarray, it's good to hear from you."
The color fading from Amy's face told Anton everything. He turned the stove burner off and quietly went over to her. When Amy croaked, "I understand. Thanks for letting me know," he put his arm around her.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Still on the phone, Amy said, "We'll have to make a decision. I'll let you know as soon as possible. Good-bye."
Anton said, "So what do we do?"
Amy closed her eyes. "We have to decide who loses their dream."
The early morning hours found Amy and Anton still awake and frustrated. Anton said, "I know it shows the general sexism still prevalent in academia, but let's face it, Pontchartrain is offering me a higher starting salary than Tennyson is offering you. We'll be close to my family and, well, being close to your family is clearly not that important. The logic says that we go to New Orleans."
Amy said, "But we'll have to move halfway across the country and the job opportunities for me in the area are terrible. You still have a chance to find a tenure-track job in statistics if we stay here."
"That's just speculation."
"You've sent out plenty of applications along the Mid-Atlantic and I've only sent one or two applications to the Gulf coast. Small sample size, but pretty damn convincing."
"I know this is hard for you."
"No kidding. I'm in a new and still small specialization and you're in a broadly employed field. We should go with the opportunity that's harder to hit. You have a better chance of finding a professorship here than I will there."
"But we'll be in a better financial position if I take the job."
"Short-term. Even with my lower starting pay at Tennyson, we'll be doing better than we are now and we have a better chance for more pay later."
"Amy, you're just being stubborn."
"Anyone who manages to get through a PhD program is pig-headed. You know that as much as I do."
Anton shook his head and walked toward the bathroom. "We're not getting anywhere. Why don't we get some sleep and work on this later?"
Amy nodded. "Okay. But we can't take too long. Both schools expect final answers within a couple of days."
When she woke up, Amy put her arm around Anton's shoulders. "I hope we can come up with a solution today."
"Mmm," he said, rolling to face her. "Me too. Why don't we give ourselves the day to settle our minds and try again tonight?"
"Yeah, last night was…bad."
"I'll make breakfast," he said while rising from the bed. "As a peace offering."
"Offer accepted," Amy said. "I'll take care of dinner tonight."
"It's a lousy situation," Paula said. The small diner where she was eating lunch with Amy was homelike and comfortable.
"I know that," Amy said.
"Have you considered flipping a coin?"
Amy glared at Paula. "Not exactly the most reasoned way to make a decision."
"Amy, reason isn't cutting it."
With a sigh, Amy said, "Agreed."
"So go with emotion."
"What do you mean?"
"What is going to make you happy?"
"Research at Tennyson. It's like the position was written for me."
Paula covered up the pang of sadness she felt at hearing the answer. "Then make sure Anton knows."
"I…I'll do that. Thanks, Paula."
Paula looked down at her plate.
"That's your decision?" Anton said.
Facing each other in the living room, Amy said, "Yes. I'm sorry, but Tennyson will make me happy. I know you want to go to New Orleans, but I have to be honest and tell you that I don't think I'll be happy there."
"That's really not fair, Amy."
"I'm being honest. Aren't you happy here?"
"Virginia's okay and I'm happy I met you, but I really would like to go back home."
"Even if I won't be happy?"
"I told you that was unfair. You're forcing me to make a choice I don't want to make."
"Well, Anton. Sometimes, you really have to choose. So, what will it be? Staying here with me or going to Louisiana?"
Anton walked over to the window and looked out onto the street below. "I guess I'll have to choose what makes me happy."
Amy brushed a tear away from her eyes and looked away from the window. Brought back to the present, she started to organize her new desk.
Very quiet, she sang,
September – October 2010 Lyrics to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Eric Idle.
Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.