Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2005.
This is the twenty-seventh story in the Falling into College series.
Lost Eagles Found
Jane Lane bounced into the apartment she shared with Daria Morgendorffer and hunted down the petite girl seated at the computer desk in her room. Jane threw her arms around her friend. "I did it! I made it through finals."
Daria swiveled the chair around. "You seem to be particularly excited about that."
"Daria, I've caught up with my classmates. When we start school again in a month, I'll be a sophomore instead of a trailing freshman."
"Summer will do that."
"So did you. Thanks."
"No problem. Having you bounce off the walls around here helps to preserve my sanity."
"Well, then. Glad to be of service." Jane's vision stopped on a painting of Daria in a swimsuit and resting in a lounge chair, with a bespectacled young man looking up at her. She pointed to it and said, "Damn. Can you believe it's already been a year?"
Daria looked up. "Our roadtrip to the beach. That was fun."
"I wonder what Greg and Will are up to these days?"
"I hope they found another nice pair of girls to spend the day with."
"I hope so, too."
"No, I'm not going to the beach this week."
"Ahh. Come on."
"No, I'm busy."
Daria looked back to the computer. "Shopping. God, I even hate online shopping." After a sigh, she said, "Why the hell did I wait until the last minute? Oh, yeah. Play performance last week and finals all this week."
"Whatcha looking for?"
"A birthday present for Michael. It's a week from today."
"You call this last minute?"
"I need to take shipping time into account, so I don't risk missing him. He leaves for Lawndale the next Monday to meet me there."
"Ah, yes. Seeing Quinn off to California and then a caravan back here. Hey, it might be a little late, but why not give it to him in Lawndale? You know; the personal touch." Jane winked. "And maybe get a few personal touches in return?"
Daria scratched her chin. "You may have something there."
Jane stepped back. "I just made a sexually suggestive remark, and you didn't react to it?"
"I did. I said, 'You may have something there.'"
"Jane, I am growing up some, you know."
"I cut you some slack about your trip to see Michael a month ago. I'm disappointed."
Daria gave her a slender smile. "Let's just say that there are some advantages to not wearing earrings."
"Okay, Morgendorffer. I want details."
"You know, it is going to be so much fun grilling you...when you start seeing someone. Wait, I won't have to: you spout off so much information my head will explode. Forget I said anything."
Jane wagged a finger. "Don't try any of your verbal tricks. Come on."
Daria gave Jane just a tiny, wicked smile. "It's a satisfying way to wake up."
"You're building up a resistance."
"Dammit. Okay, no beach and no teasing you about your almost sex life. I guess I'm helping you shop."
Daria pointed to the living room littered with fast food packages and other debris left over from a week of finals. "After you help me clean this mess up."
Jane wandered out of her room holding her head. Her black shorts were on crooked, and the widely stretched neck of her brown shirt was shifted over to one shoulder. "Errgh."
Daria stood near the bathroom in a long, green nightshirt, scratched her still-uncombed hair and asked, "Bad night?"
Daria yawned and stretched. "So, what else is new with you?"
"Just...one of those that seemed extra real."
"Look, I don't care about who you dreamed of molesting, I don't want to hear about it."
Jane shook her head and felt her lips. "Just plain weird. Anyway, enough with my dreams. Have you had any good ones lately?"
"None that I'll tell you about."
"Whose turn is it for breakfast?"
"Good, I wouldn't want to eat anything I'm able to cook right now."
"I wouldn't either."
"Another fruitless day of shopping planned?"
"After work. I'd rather pull my toenails out with pliers. If this weren't for Michael..."
"You wouldn't have put this much effort into it and you wouldn't be in this position."
"Daria, are you sure you know where we're going?"
"You don't have to come with, you know."
"But it's so much fun watching you get frustrated."
"Don't you have to drive that painting of my cousin and her husband down to Grandma Tess?"
"Not until tomorrow."
They came up to a small shop in one of the older commercial quarters of Boston. The building was aged and worn looking.
Jane said, "This place is so creepy, it looks like it belongs in a Stephen King novel."
Daria checked the small sign.
Reproductions You Thought You'd Never Want.
"This is the place. I suck at shopping; I'm hoping to find something odd here to pique his interest. I do kind of want this to be special."
"Daria, you're once again involved with a kook."
"In we go."
The room looked like a time-traveler's junk room. Reproductions of all manner of items filled every nook and cranny of the store. Furniture, clothes, weapons, armor, jewelry, tapestries, and tools. Jane's eyes had widened and she began to paw through things at a furious pace. "Okay, I changed my mind; this stuff is too damn cool."
A fortyish gentleman with light brown hair, grey eyes and silver framed glasses sat behind a counter, reading. He nodded to the two. "Anything in particular you're looking for?"
Daria looked around some. Jane was already off on a creative scavenger hunt. "I'm looking for a gift...for my boyfriend."
"Must be a history buff if you're looking here."
"Well, that is his major."
"Hmm. Is he interested in any particular time period?"
The man looked toward one corner. "Does he have a sense of humor?"
"About as twisted as mine."
The proprietor showed Daria a staff about seven feet tall. At the top was a golden eagle, beneath was a plaque with 'SPQR' on it in raised letters. Beneath was a second plaque with a number, then several discs and wreaths.
"How about a bronze and ash replica of a Roman Legion standard? Completely useless to most people, but an interesting conversation piece. If he's a big history fan, he'll get the joke."
Daria looked closer at the number on the second plaque. It was marked, XIX. "Nineteen. Perfect, that's how old he'll be."
"It is a little pricy, but each component is hand cast in bronze using ancient techniques. Two-fifty."
Daria whistled. "That was a bit out of my price range. We're both college students."
The man looked over and noticed Jane was already carrying a couple small items. "It looks like your friend is finding things of interest. Tell you what: that is a kind of prototype and there are some things I want to improve on. Two twenty-five."
"Eh, it hasn't moved in six months. Deal."
Jane held a paper bag in one hand and the door of their apartment open with the other. Daria carefully moved the long standard into the living room and set it in a corner. "Okay, I'm definitely not shipping this. Michael gets it next Monday."
Jane set her bag down on the table and looked at Daria's burden. "Okay, tell me again: what the hell is it?"
"It's a battle standard, kind of like a flag. One soldier would carry it up near the front so the rest could see it."
"Okay, so what's the stuff mean?"
Daria scratched her head. "Okay, the eagle was one of the symbols of Rome. 'SPQR' is a Latin abbreviation for Senatus Populus Que Romanus, or 'The Senate and People of Rome.' The number I guess is the legion number. I don't know jack about the rest."
"I heard the guy say something about a joke."
Daria shrugged. "No clue."
"Two hundred is a lot for one present."
"It was more than I'd planned, but I couldn't resist." Daria dropped her head. "Oh, God, I just sounded like Quinn."
"Love will do that to you, huh?"
"It also means I'll be eating cheap for the rest of the month. Good thing I'll be mooching off Mom and Dad most of next week."
"You want my 'Ramen Noodle Surprise' recipe?"
"Jane, my digestive tract and I are still on speaking terms."
Jane tossed her round suitcase into the front passenger seat of her car and hung a garment bag from a hook by the back seat. She then turned to Daria. "I'm off."
"You're always off; I assume you're leaving, too."
"Don't get mushy on me."
"Drive safe; there are lots of crazy people on the road."
"I'll try, since I'm one of them. I'm going to drop by to see Trent and Lindy and crash for the night on my way down. Tomorrow, I'll head to your grandma's place and drop the painting off, and back to Casa Lane again for the night. I'll start back Monday, but you'll be on your way to Lawndale by then. I'll see you when you get back. I can't miss that much work."
Daria traced the flame pattern on the side of Jane's car with a finger. "Yeah, see you next weekend. Life sure is getting complicated. Good luck with my grandmother. She can be really strong-headed."
Jane climbed in and started the black car. She smiled and waved again to Daria before starting out. The painting for Daria's grandmother was safely wrapped and packed in the back seat. "For the money she's paying, I don't mind the drive down to Virginia to drop it off. Besides, it'll be nice to see Trent and Lindy for a couple nights."
Jane stretched and groaned as she got out of the car. She cautiously checked the mailbox. "Okay, still says 'Lane' on it." She turned again to look at her lifelong home. The color was the same as always...but it was fresh and clean. "Lindy, you're being a bad influence again." Jane grabbed her bag and went to the door, giving it a quick rap as she reached it.
Trent opened the door, still a bit sleepy. "Janey?"
"Yeah, Trent. Your little sister is home for a couple nights."
"Cool." Trent turned and yelled, "Lindy! Janey's here."
Trent's blond girlfriend came in from the kitchen. "Hi, Jane."
"Hey. I bet that fresh paint out there is your doing."
Lindy grinned. "Guilty."
"I'm curious, but afraid to ask how you motivated Trent into painting the house."
"I didn't. I paid some professionals to come out." She teasingly squeezed Trent. "Even I couldn't motivate him into house painting."
Jane said in surprise, "Lindy! How could you afford that?"
"My new job is paying really well, and I thought it would make up for Amanda not charging me rent. Besides, I like living here and want it to be nice."
Jane was relieved the inside was still mostly unchanged, though neater than when she was in high school. One important difference was a state of the art computer placed on a solid desk in one corner. Above it was a poster advertising "Cyber Doo. Film and Multimedia."
She asked, "Lindy, yours?"
"Yeah, when I'm on a creative roll, they let me work on stuff at home."
"Any you can let me see?"
"Only if you let me see that painting you're delivering."
Lindy sat down and cleared the screensaver by swirling the mouse. She opened up an animation program and started a file. "I like this one, since it's using an old jingle that Trent wrote."
Jane immediately recognized the Honest Herb's jingle from a couple years earlier. The original stiff live action of the commercial was replaced with some nice, simple computer animated sequences. Jane smiled at Lindy. "That is some cool stuff."
"Thanks. I know I'll be stuck doing commercials and things if I stay in Lawndale, but the pay is still good, and I have a lot more job security than if I made a shot at Hollywood."
"And Trent is here."
Jane set the wrapped painting on the floor. "With how humid it's been lately, I really don't want to leave a canvas in the car overnight." She removed the wrapping to show a lifelike portrait of Erin and Brian.
Lindy squatted down to look. "Did you mean to include that hint of sadness in her eyes?"
"It was in every photo that was provided as a reference. I'd started feeling sorry for her."
"It looks like something is really getting to her."
"I just realized; I have seen that look before."
"That's the look of someone who just wants a friend."
The elderly, red-headed woman answered the door. "Hello."
"Mrs. Barksdale? I'm Jane Lane."
"How wonderful. Tess Barksdale. Please, enter."
"Thanks." Jane maneuvered the painting and easel into the spacious and elegant home. She looked around and thought, This woman has seen "Gone With the Wind" way too many times. She set up the easel and placed the covered portrait on it. "Let me get changed and I'll be ready. Do you want a sneak peak?"
"Oh, dear no. That would be cheating. My guests will be here in a little under an hour. Please use the downstairs guest room to change."
"Boy, I'm glad I'm still flexible," Jane said to herself as she looked over her shoulder into a mirror to see while pulling up the zipper on the back of her gown. It was the same one she bought the previous summer for the honor society luncheon. "At least I'm getting a second use out of this thing." Befitting Jane, it was all in red, from the full skirt to the short sleeves and v-neck. Jane put on the dress shoes and wobbled slightly. "Freaking heels."
She went back out to the parlor and waited with Mrs. Barksdale, who had set out fine china and tea service, as well as delicate pastries, for the anticipated guests. Over the next forty-five minutes, about a dozen ladies assembled, all of similar age and status. One exception was Erin, who quietly sat to the side while the others conversed. Jane worked her way over. "Hi."
The redhead looked up. "Hi. You must be the artist of the day."
"Jane Lane, Artist Extraordinaire."
"My cousin's friend. How is she? I've hardly seen her since the wedding."
"She's doing pretty well for herself. Four-oh after three terms at Raft."
"She was always the smart one of the family. But what about the rest of her life? I never hear much." Erin pointed to a middle-aged woman with blond hair. "Mother said she has a boyfriend. What about him?"
"I have to admit they seem to go well together. They make a cute couple."
"I hope she's happy."
Erin looked into the distance. "I'm glad to hear that."
"I don't see your husband here."
"He's off on some 'hot' job interview...again."
Tess Barksdale tapped a glass. "Welcome, everybody. I hope you're having a pleasant time."
Murmured agreement came from the guests. Jane whispered, "I guess that's my cue."
Tess waved a hand toward Jane. "May I introduce Miss Jane Lane, currently of Boston."
Jane uncomfortably smiled and said, "It's good to be here."
"Ladies, I've had this talented young artist prepare a portrait of my granddaughter, Erin, and her husband. Miss Lane, if you will do the honors."
Jane removed the cover to reveal the portrait. Pleased clapping arose among the guests, and Tess looked on with satisfaction.
The guests approached closely to examine the work, and to make small talk with Jane. Several asked for business cards, which Jane handed out while thinking, Thank you, Lindy.
During the activity, Jane saw Erin slip out of the room. Dammit. It looks like she really could use a friend.
Daria quietly pulled a steamer trunk out from the closet and opened it. "Theresa, I'm sorry I haven't visited lately. To make up for that, you have me all to yourself today. We've got a lot of catching up to do."
The trunk, a bequest from Mrs. Blaine containing the woman's diaries, had been with Daria since Theresa's death almost a year ago. Daria removed a volume marked "1931" and began to read.
Tony was able to read a full sentence today. I was so proud of him. He was so happy to see the words and understand them. The feeling I had was one of intense happiness and satisfaction. My doubts are now gone, I'm staying with Education as a major. Will all this dreadful unemployment, It feels good to help these poor people learn to read, and maybe have a chance to work again.
"Well, teaching probably is still on the agenda; I know the odds are against me making it solely as a writer." She looked up for a while. "From some of the things Jane said, I'm starting to have a little more respect for the crew at Lawndale. At least for what they had to put up with, if not their assorted and sordid personality flaws."
Daria set the volume back in its place and removed one marked "1980." She flipped through the pages and said, "I wonder..."
It looks like Phil and his family will make it here for Thanksgiving. Len can't make it. He was very disappointed. I think he also suspects, as I do, that Mark won't last to another. My dear husband is finding it harder to breathe every day. A cylinder of oxygen doesn't last anywhere near as long as it used to. I should be happy for the forty-seven years we've had together, but feel that I'm being cheated.
Daria closed the book. "She told me she'd lost her husband in eighty-one. He didn't make it. She also lost her son, Phil, only a couple years later. It's too bad they weren't able to get together. I wish my extended family could get together without all the bickering."
The displaying of Jane's painting and the conversation over it lasted for another half-hour. During that time, Jane was approached by Erin's mother, Rita. "Miss Lane. That is a wonderful likeness of my daughter."
Jane nodded. "Thanks."
"Mother is very pleased with it."
"Erin has a very photogenic face. It made my job easier."
"But it is a mark of talent that you were able to make Brian look good."
"He was a little more difficult to fit in the composition."
Rita frowned a bit. "Difficult is a good word for him." Rita looked toward one of the guests. "Please excuse me."
Jane watched with dismay. "The more I meet other families, the more I like the benign neglect of my upbringing."
Once the final guest had departed, Jane excused herself to go change back into her regular clothes. The parlor was empty when she returned. She looked around and took a seat on the ornate sofa, draping her garment bag on the arm. I wonder where Erin got off to. I'm still hoping to talk some more.
A couple minutes later, Tess came back with fresh tea. She placed the tray on the coffee table and sat next to Jane.
She poured tea into two fine porcelain cups and asked, "Cream and sugar?"
Jane looked at her momentarily. "Oh, yes, please."
Tess finished preparing the tea and handed the cup and saucer to Jane. "I understand you share an apartment with my granddaughter."
"At her parents' wedding anniversary, she said you were her best friend."
"And she is mine. Ever since tenth grade."
Tess set her cup on the table. "Helen and I have not gotten along well for many years, and I've had much less contact with my granddaughters than I'd have liked. What is Daria like?"
"I could tell she's strong-willed and loyal. The way she stood up to everybody."
"Oh, strong-willed and loyal is a good description of her."
"So much like her mother."
"If you don't mind hearing it, Daria used strong-willed to describe you."
Tess half-smiled. "Why do you think I recognize it so well? Helen is a lot like me. That's why we don't get along. I suspect the same between Daria and Helen."
"They've gotten better in the last year." Jane felt distinctly uneasy. "Mrs. Barksdale, why are you telling me all this?"
"Since they moved to Texas all those years ago, I've seen Daria and Quinn maybe a dozen times. I hardly know who they are."
Well, I've hardly seen my grandmother is the last few years. No loss there.
Tess went on. "To be blunt, I'm not getting any younger. I'd like to know her and Quinn better."
"Well, Daria is majoring in English and Education. It's no secret that she plans on grad school. I wouldn't be surprised if we're calling her Dr. Morgendorffer by the end of it all."
"That would be nice."
"She's had two stories published and she's been writing more this summer."
"Helen made sure I got copies."
"I think she bought a case of each and sent them to everyone she could think of."
"You probably don't know as much about Quinn."
"She's leaving for Pepperhill in about a week. She's planning on a Marketing major. I think she's also planning on taking the male population of California by storm."
"Oh, dear. I hope she isn't..."
Jane laughed. "No, she's not. She dated a lot, but kept firm control of what happened."
"Good." Tess dropped her voice to a whisper. "I wouldn't want what happened to Rita to happen to her. I love Erin, but her father was...I don't want to talk about it."
"Oookay." Jane felt even more uncomfortable. "Mrs. Barksdale, I think you really should be asking them, instead of me."
"I should. Thanks for your time, and thank you for that wonderful painting."
"Thanks for commissioning it."
"I do have some business I need to tend to." Both rose and Jane picked up the garment bag with her dress. After escorting Jane to the door, Tess said, "Please, have a good day."
"Okay, Mrs. Barksdale."
As Jane walked around her car, she saw Erin sitting on the ground. She had changed from her formal wear to jeans and a blouse. Jane said, "Hey. That doesn't exactly look like a comfortable spot."
Erin stood up. "Hi. It looks like you survived Grandma's mob."
"I've encountered worse."
"I'm sorry you got pulled into this."
"Uh...pulled into what?"
"That really is a nice portrait."
"I'm missing something here."
"Your painting is Grandma's latest ploy to keep me and Brian together."
"I'd heard Daria mention that you two had problems."
"Marrying him was a huge mistake. One that Grandma's doing everything she can to keep from admitting. I should have gone through with it over a year ago when Mother asked Aunt Helen to help. Now she can harp on how much money she spent on this lovely painting, and how can I possibly think about a divorce."
"Let me get this straight: your mother has been divorced...Tess doesn't want you to be like your mother."
"Exactly. It wouldn't look good for her 'perfect' granddaughter to get divorced. I have to make up for Mother's faults."
"And you want to get a divorce."
"Brian's a slimeball. Oh, he worked for the CIA...as a mail clerk. He's a drunk, he's been out of work since we got married, he gave me herpes, and he's probably sleeping around."
Jane stood in silence, clueless of what to say.
"He's also very charming. I've fallen for that often to believe that he'll treat me better." Erin struggled to control her tears. She pulled a slip of paper from her pocket and gave it to Jane. "This is my email. Could you please write me?"
"I guess so."
"Thanks." Erin began quickly walking toward her recent model white sedan. "I appreciate it."
Now visibly crying, Erin got in, waved and backed away, leaving Jane standing in mild confusion. What just happened?
Quinn opened the door with a broad smile. "Daria!"
Tired from the drive, Daria gave a "Hey, Quinn," in response.
"Don't be so excited."
"I'm tired, my butt's sore, the burger I had for lunch is fermenting, and my patience is thin after the road construction on the interstate through New York."
"I don't care." Quinn hugged her sister.
Daria limply responded.
Quinn grabbed Daria's suitcase from her hand. "I'll get that."
Daria watched her sister move up the stairs. "You're being awfully nice today."
"I'm just glad to see my sister."
"Uh-huh. What's up?"
Quinn turned at the top of the stairs. "Daria. I am glad to see you. I...um...have been starting to realize just how much I'll miss you this fall."
"We'll be seeing each other about as much as we did last fall."
"But, we'll be a lot farther away. And...I'll be alone."
Daria reached the top. "And I'm sure you'll find new friends there. But don't worry; I'm keeping the new cell phone. You can still call."
Daria turned and headed back down the stairs. "That's what I get for talking with you and not paying attention. Could you just drop that in my room? I still need to get Michael's present out of the car."
"Wasn't his birthday last Friday?"
"Yeah, but I didn't find anything good until then. I called him and let him know it would be here waiting. Besides, shipping it would have been a pain."
"Daria...did you get him something weird?"
"Depends on your definition of weird."
"Oh, God. You got something really weird."
Daria opened the trunk of her car. "I'm glad the back seat folds down to open the trunk into the cab." The standard was already wrapped and diagonally stretched from the trunk, past the folded rear seat and into the folded back front passenger seat. She carefully extracted it and took it to the house.
Quinn looked wide-eyed at the unusually shaped object as she held the door open. "I'm afraid to ask."
"Trust me, it's a guy thing." Daria looked around the living room before resting it next to the entertainment center. "I don't feel like dragging it upstairs. Michael can do that for himself."
"When is he going to get here?"
"It will be another three hours or so. We talked on the phone just before both of us left this morning."
"So we have a little free time. I got a package from Amy. I think you might recognize it." Quinn gestured for Daria to follow.
In Quinn's room, Daria read the note she was given.
Belated congratulations on graduation and the Honor Society placement. Sorry I'm running even later than usual this year. I'd hoped to give this to you in person at your parents' party, but just couldn't get everything together in time. I'm turning into an absent-minded professor. Since it only seemed fair, you're getting the same survival kit I sent Daria. Hopefully, you'll also get a livable roommate. If not, remember, getting all A's for the term if your roommate dies is only an urban legend.
Dorm Survival Kit Contents:
White noise generator ear covers
Sauce pan, lid and serving spoon
Table knife, fork and spoon
1001 Dorm Recipes for Hot Plate, Microwave and Toaster Oven, Rev. Ed.
2 Bath towels, 2 hand towels, 2 wash cloths
Single cup water heater
Box of English Breakfast tea
1 Gross No. 2 pencils
Electric pencil sharpener
Travel mug with lid
Daria smiled. "Trust me, you'll appreciate this."
"I can see some of these, but nose plugs?"
"Believe me; sometimes your roommate may come in a bit...ripe."
"That'll be your reaction."
Quinn flipped through the book. "And God, the fat content in these recipes."
"You'll also appreciate them. Meal plan food can be even worse."
"Daria, don't joke about things like that."
"I'm not joking."
"Now, you're scaring me."
"Good. You should always fear meal plan food."
Michael Fulton smoothed his bright red hair and cleaned his glasses on a tissue. He stuffed the tissue into his pocket and opened the door. Greeting him was a young, attractive, African-American woman in a conservative business suit, who said, "Good afternoon, sir. May I help you?"
"Hi. I don't have an appointment, but is it possible to see Mr. Morgendorffer?"
"I believe he is free right now, your name please?"
The woman raised her eyebrows. "Michael? Daria's mystery man?"
"I guess so, unless she's seeing another Michael."
"She better not. I'm Jodie Landon."
"Oh, her friend from high school. She said you were working with her father this summer. Pleasure to meet you."
"So, what brings you here?"
"I effectively hid from Mr. Morgendorffer when I was in town back in May. I want to get on a better footing with him."
Jodie grinned. "Yeah, he can be animated at times. I'm sure you two have plans for tonight, but I'm inviting you and Daria to pizza with Mack and me tomorrow."
"I'll let Daria know."
"Thanks. I'll ring you in." She picked up the phone and pressed buttons. After a moment, she said, "Mr. Morgendorffer, you have a visitor."
Jake closed the two-handed solitaire game, Rotten four of clubs, and rose to greet the opening door. "Jake Morgendor...Michael?"
Michael entered and closed the door behind him. "Hi, Mr. Morgendorffer. I hope you don't mind."
Jake walked to the young man and extended his hand. "Come on in." After a brief handshake, Jake got a worried expression. "What's up? Is anything wrong?"
Michael shook his head. "Everything's fine."
Jake continued to get agitated. "If everything's fine, then why did you come here?"
Michael held his hands up defensively. "I avoided you the last time I was in town; I want to make up for that now."
Jake looked quizzically at him. Michael continued, "It was clear that you were...very nervous about me and my relationship with your daughter."
Jake's shoulders tightened.
Michael looked at him with concern. "Having just patched things up with her, I didn't want to risk any kind of confrontation."
Jake's eyes narrowed.
Michael swallowed. "I can tell you're very protective of her. To be honest, so am I."
Jake relaxed minutely.
Michael approached a little closer. "Mr. Morgendorffer, there is no way I could ever hurt, or take advantage of Daria."
Jake relaxed more, but remained uncertain.
Michael looked down briefly and shuffled his feet. "I love your daughter. I cannot change that, and don't see any possible reason that would make me want to."
Jake finally spoke. "I remember college, and the tricks guys would use on girls." His eyes smoldered again.
Michael stepped back. "No trick. I was fascinated by her the first time I noticed her; we had a class together last fall." Michael smiled as he remembered. "Bright, witty, and...so beautiful."
Jake looked at him, but seemed to focus inward.
"I never dated in high school; all the girls said no, but they were also cruel, and sometimes would play tricks on me before saying no."
Jake's eyes glazed and his voice came out in a bark. "I know what that's like. One date the entire time I was in high school and she left with old Big Jerk on Campus..."
Michael quickly continued before Jake could build to a full rant, "It took me a month to get the courage to ask her out, right before Thanksgiving break. She turned me down, but was just...honest and polite. However, the Monday after the break, she asked if I was still interested."
Jake smiled a little at the story, remembering how he nervously first asked Helen under almost the same conditions, when they were college freshmen. He also remembered telling Daria the story as they drove to Lawndale from Boston for Thanksgiving. Jake put a hand on Michael's shoulder. "Son, I exactly know that feeling."
Michael looked at the suddenly friendlier Jake in surprise. "Um...thanks."
"Let me tell you a story..."
"God, I thought I packed a lot of stuff." Daria looked around at Quinn's preparations. "Don't forget, this has to fit in your car. You're not taking Mom's SUV like we did going to Raft. I pity your poor roommate."
"Daria, I'm taking only the bare essentials."
"I checked the website; the dorm closets look to be about the same size as I had at Raft. You'll never fit all this in there, unless you find some convenient extra-dimensional space to use."
"I can't believe I'm doing this...Daria, will you help me figure out what to take?"
Daria opened a large box on Quinn's makeup table. It was filled with cosmetics. "How could you possibly need or use this much makeup? This is better stocked than the Raft Theater Department."
"Makeup is an art; you need to have the right tools available."
"Take the real basics. If nothing else, buy fresh when you get there. Save you the trouble of moving it."
Quinn's eyes brightened. "Daria! That's a great idea. I'll need to learn where all the good stores are anyway."
Daria slowly shook her head. "Remember; don't break the bank on the first weekend."
"Daria...Mom's been making me pay for a lot of my stuff all year. Don't worry."
"Well, just extend that to the rest. Take the basics, you can get more there."
"Even more shopping! Daria, you're a genius."
Daria anxiously looked at her watch. Four hours. I hope nothing happened. She waited in the living room, watching the local news on television. Her head turned quickly upon hearing the door open and her father's voice saying, "It's starting to look like a used car lot out there. I'll leave the door open; just grab your stuff and come in."
Jake looked over and noticed his oldest daughter. "Hey, Daria. Welcome home. Michael's right behind me." He went over and gave her a hug. "How're you doing?"
"I'm fine." She saw Michael walk in. "Excuse me," she said to Jake.
He released her. "Sure thing, Daria. Go say hi to your fella."
She put her arms around Michaels's shoulders and kissed him. "I was starting to get a little worried."
Michael responded in kind. "Sorry. I stopped by to talk to your Dad, to smooth things over. He got a little long-winded."
"That was a brave thing to do."
"I'm hoping my ears recover soon." He lifted his suitcase to make it more visible and asked Jake, "Mind if I take this up to the guest room?"
Jake gave him a thumb's up. "Sure thing."
Daria followed Michael upstairs to the guest room. Near the top, he said, "That was a uniquely strange experience."
"My Dad; one-on-one and unfiltered. An occurrence not normally survived by someone not blood-related."
"I wanted to make sure I got on his good side. The scary thing is, I think it worked. He likes me."
"He's wanted a little more male influence around here. Living in a house full of women has gotten to him at times."
Michael set his luggage down inside the room and turned to Daria. He held her cheeks in his hands and said, "I love you," before giving her a long, soft kiss.
She warmly responded with, "I love you." She gave him a hug. "I've missed you."
"This last month has really crawled, waiting to see you again."
"I was a little worried. I have a cell phone now; you can call if you're going to be sidetracked."
"I'll let you off easy, this time. Bonding with my father was probably a traumatic enough experience as it was."
"Let's say I have a lot more respect for your patience."
"He does seem to like you. Just a warning: if he wants to teach you how to cook, run away."
"I think I better remember that. Speaking of cooking, I have a cooler in the car with a little present from Mom for you. By the way, everyone says, 'hi,' including Gina and Natalie."
"Why don't we go get it, and then you can open your birthday present."
As they passed the living room on the way out, Jake waved from the kitchen. "I've had a great idea for a Japanese Goulash. I'm going to whip a batch up for dinner."
Daria turned away to hide the slight fear on her face. "Sounds...interesting, Dad."
Jake was correct about the automotive crowding. Daria and Quinn's cars were parked next to the garage, Jake and Michael's behind them.
As they walked to Michael's car, Daria said, "I hope cooler implies something edible. I'll share it with you."
He pulled out the small cooler and handed it over. "I ate my share for lunch on the road."
Daria opened it, and found a block of Mrs. Fulton's lasagna next to the small chill pack. "Your mother is trying to spoil me, and she's succeeding." Daria looked at the house. "Do you mind if I eat it here? I don't want to hurt Dad's feelings."
Michael moved away from the driver's seat. "Only place to sit. The car's otherwise packed."
Daria sat down and used her fingers to eat the homemade pasta. "This is so good."
"She offered to email the recipe to you."
"That is intriguing, but I would also be tempted to eat too much of this, and I swore to cut back on lasagna in college."
"It would also make a good motivator..."
"You are one evil bastard at times, you know that?"
Their attention was diverted by her mother, Helen, parking her SUV at the end of the driveway. Daria mumbled around a mouthful of food, "This could be awkward."
Helen slammed the door shut in frustration. "This is my vacation! That arrogant son of a..." Helen noticed the two of them. "Daria, Michael. I'm so glad to see you."
Michael stepped forward in front of Daria and said, "Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer."
Daria used the screening to finish and close up the cooler unnoticed. She waved around Michael, "Hi, Mom."
Helen gave each a brief hug. "I'm happy you're both safely here. Let me get some dinner ready."
Daria warned, "Mom, Dad's already on a roll."
"Oh, dear. And we have a guest." She started a fast walk toward the house. "I better do something quick."
Once she was inside, Daria pulled Michael's arms around her and kissed him. "Thank you, that was very thoughtful."
Quinn was in the living room when they went back inside. Helen and Jake could be heard negotiating dinner in the kitchen. Quinn said, "Hi, Michael. So you're what all the fuss is about."
He said, "I guess."
"I'm glad you made it. Daria would have been unbearable otherwise." She moved to go back up the stairs. "Did you see the video of her play?"
"Wasn't Daria pretty in it?"
"She's always pretty."
Daria could still feel a faint blush rise.
Quinn rolled her eyes, "Oh, yeah. You're so far gone; you'd think she looked good in a burlap sack." She started up the stairs. "Daria...oh, never mind."
Michael was a little confused. "What was that all about?"
Daria felt a bit more blush, and frustration at her sister. "She's just being Quinn, nothing to worry about. Why don't we get you to your gift?"
He rubbed his hands together. "Goody."
"Let's not show too much maturity."
"It's my birthday; maturity is optional."
Daria shook her head and picked up the gift, handing it to him. "Happy birthday."
Michael looked suspiciously at the large package and dubiously began removing the paper. As the shapes became clear, he energetically finished the job. He looked it up and down. "Wow. This is really cool." He looked closely at the gift. "And really nice work." He set the standard aside and suddenly grabbed Daria in glee. "Thank you!"
They kissed and Daria said, "I'm glad you like it."
He spun the emblems around to read the number. "Nineteen." He started to laugh. "So this is where it ended up."
Daria narrowed her eyes in mock frustration. "Okay, the guy said you'd get the joke. Now, fill me in."
"One of the Lost Eagles of Varius."
"Which tells me - squat."
"Three legions under Publius Quinctilus Varius that tried to conquer the land west of the Rhine were wiped out in the Teutoberg Forest by a force led by Arminius. The eagle standards of the legions were captured and afterward referred to as the 'Lost Eagles.' The Nineteenth was one of those legions, so it looks like you found a lost eagle."
Daria shook her head. "History geek humor."
He kissed her again, very gently. "This really works, and means a lot. I don't know how you found something like this, but I'm thrilled you did." He set the gift back against the wall and held Daria, caressing her hair.
Helen stopped at the edge of the living room and looked at them. She felt happy for Daria, but also a touch of jealousy. I remember when Jake and I were like that. "Excuse me."
Daria and Michael separated, but held hands.
"Jake and I couldn't exactly agree on what to fix for dinner, so we're compromising and going out. Do you have any preference on where to go?"
Holding hands, Daria and Michael entered Pizza Prince the next evening and found Jodie and Mack seated at a booth. Jodie waved them over and said, "Since this was my idea. Michael Fulton, meet my boyfriend, Michael MacKenzie, or Mack. Mack, meet Daria's boyfriend, Michael."
Mack and Michael shook hands. Mack said, "Clearly a man of distinction. Why else would he have such a noble name?"
"And obviously a man of excellent taste," Michael said in return.
Jodie and Daria looked at each other and thought, What have we done?
As Michael and Daria took a seat across the booth, he said to Jodie, "So now I understand that comment earlier, when I stopped by to see Mr. Morgendorffer."
Jodie squeezed Mack's hand. "I will admit that I'm a little possessive."
Daria looked at Jodie and Mack. "Sorry I didn't get to see you on my last trip."
"No big deal."
"No riding gear. Still have the motorcycle, Mack?"
"After running into a couple large swarms of June bugs, I opted for changing transportation."
Jodie flicked an imaginary bug off his shoulder. "I'm glad I was behind him. But, I could see his point."
Daria made a face. "Sometimes having an active imagination is detrimental."
Mack also made a face. "Considering how hard it is to clean leather, the reality was still worse."
Daria said, "Tell me, Jodie, how did you survive working with my Dad?"
"Compared to what I'd done the last couple years, your Dad is a piece of cake to deal with."
Unnoticed, Tom Sloane sat at a table and had watched Daria and Michael enter. We almost never held hands like that. He also noted how closely they sat together and sighed. Cindy was right, the feeling of romance just wasn't there. He finished his slice, walked over and said, "Hi, Daria."
All four looked at a young man with dark brown hair and green eyes. Daria said, "Tom."
Tom nodded and said, "Jodie, Mack. Nice to see you again. You must be Michael."
Tom extended his hand, which Michael shook with caution and said, "You must be the Tom that Daria dated in high school."
Daria pointed to an empty chair, nearby. "Would you like to have a seat?"
Tom pulled the chair over and sat in it reversed, leaning against the backrest. "I won't stay long. I just wanted to say hello, and to be honest, it is nice to actually see you again, Daria. It's been over a year."
"Thanks. It is nice to see you again, too."
"Is Jane in town?"
"No. She's in Boston."
Mack noticed Michael's unease and diverted some attention. "I think I've seen enough ice cream to last me a lifetime this summer. Tom, what have you been up to?"
"I made it through my first year at Bromwell. Not doing too badly. Spent another summer working for my Dad. At least Elsie is filing the earnings reports now. I've been moved up to tracking stock prices. You weren't stuck in that ice cream truck again, were you?"
"Warehouse and inventory. So I saw a lot more, and felt like it was still winter."
Jodie smiled. "But, I made sure he was warmed up."
Daria eyed them. "I'm sure." Under the table, she found Michael's hand and gently squeezed it.
Tom looked over to Daria. "How did that play work out?"
Daria said, "Not too bad. We got mostly good reviews."
"That's cool. Is Quinn excited about college?"
"She's looking forward to California, all the new shopping, and all the new boys."
"Sounds like her."
"She'll be a senior this year. I haven't had to lean on any boys too badly. So, pretty good." Tom hesitated, and said, "Michael, you've brought out something in Daria I never did. I sincerely hope you two stay happy."
"Thanks, Tom. I'm hoping that, too. Daria has always spoken well of you. Here's hoping to your success in life."
Tom rose and put his chair back. "I won't take up more of your time. Good to see everyone."
Daria said, "Tom, it was nice to see you again. I am glad we have stayed friends."
"So am I. And, I'm glad you found somebody better for you than I was. Good night."
All four said their goodbyes to Tom as he left the restaurant. After the door closed, Tom took one last peek. She's happy with him. That's one wish that came true. Although, a part still wishes that was me in there. He got into his trusty old Jaguar and pulled away.
Mack observed, "That went pretty well. It can't be easy meeting your girlfriend's ex."
Michael released a breath. "I'll admit that meeting Tom was a little unsettling. However, he does seem to be a nice enough guy." He leaned and kissed Daria. "I'm aware that there's no threat. Intellectually knowing and emotionally accepting don't always come at the same instant."
Jodie said, "That you and Tom are still friends is impressive. Not many people can do that."
"I think that admitting we had grown apart before something bad happened helped."
Jodie grinned. "Hey, Tom mentioned the play. I got the pictures Jane sent. Damn, Daria. You looked good."
"Not you, too."
"Come on, that dress did something for you."
"I yield; thanks. All the girls on the cast said the same thing."
Michael made the belated connection. "Oh, that's what Quinn was talking about. I'm sorry I didn't catch it sooner. Too bad I didn't get to see it in person."
Be careful of what you wish for. "That's all right. I'm sure Jane will make plenty of copies for you. Back to where we were. Jodie, how have your parents dealt with the internship?"
Jodie said, "Once Dad figured out what was going on, he was happy. Mom came around, finally, after seeing what we've been able to do this summer. Plus, being able to take Evan with occasionally gave both her and Rachael much needed breaks and improved her attitude."
"How did Dad deal with that?"
Jodie smirked. "I think it broke him of any illusions of wanting a young son around."
"So, my Mom owes you, big time."
"I'll collect if I ever need legal advice."
Daria nodded. "Dad said that he doubled his business, because of you."
"We were able to exploit a fresh niche. All of the minority marketing was to younger customers; we aimed for the older demographic. Being black, I was able to get the initial contacts going. Your Dad, being closer in age, was able to build on those because of shared experiences from the sixties and seventies. Once that got started, word of mouth did the rest. I got such great experience out of this summer. I'm glad you talked your dad into letting me intern there."
"Jodie, you also got him feeling like he was doing something useful again. He and Mom are two old hippies who once wanted to change the world and lost their way. You helped Dad find part of the way back. Thanks."
Jane sat on her bed with one of her sketchpads, drawing an image of a forlorn Erin sitting on the ground next to Jane's car. Oh, hell.
She got up and started her computer. While it booted, she went to the kitchen for a glass of water and returned to open her email.
Why do Trent and I seem to attract lost souls? Must be genetic, it does seem to apply to other Lanes.
She pulled the note from her pocket and started a new message.
To: Erin Chambers
I hope the rest of your day went better. I stayed at my parents' Sunday night and got safely back to Boston on Monday. I've been thinking about what you said, and how you looked.
I don't know how much it will help, but I've have always had good ears.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.