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. 2006.
This is the 50th story in the Falling into College series.
A Matter of Priorities
Following the information sign that said, "Vance University", Jane slipped the minivan she was driving onto the interstate exit. She said over her shoulder to the four passengers behind, "You know, we're all going to feel like hell in the morning."
Curled up in the arms of her boyfriend, Derek, Karen said, "Not as bad as some of the 'responsible adults' at Amy's bachelorette party."
Seated in the back seat with Michael, Daria pictured several of her aunt's fellow Tennyson University faculty members and grad students as they threw aside the slightest attempt at decorum to offer crass bribes to the waiters for various extra services. She said, "After seeing her coworkers and students, it makes me afraid of what Raft's faculty really must be like."
Michael said, "At least we didn't come off too badly this time, right Mike?"
From the front passenger seat, Mack grunted, thumped his chest and said, "Ungh. We learn lesson. Evolve to Neanderthal."
Derek said, "I'm not going to make any more snide remarks about how much booze pilots can hold. Reese's air force buddies could put it away."
Mack chuckled and said, "They'd drink my fraternity brothers under the table...and then dance on top of it."
Remembering the image of the wedding's best man and several of his buddies line dancing like showgirls while singing the Air Force Anthem caused Michael to squeeze his eyes shut. "I was hoping to burn that image from my memory."
Picturing her roommates on the small stage of the party's rented ballroom, Karen giggled and said, "I'll never forget Jane and Daria singing a duet."
Jane stopped the van for a traffic light and tried to shake the image of her and Daria playing air guitar. "Whoever brought that karaoke machine should be shot."
"And I wonder who brought a CD copy of Freakin' Friends to the party..." Daria said, with her eyes glaring holes in the back of Karen's head.
"It didn't take that many wine coolers to bring out the party girl in you," Karen shot back. "Hate to see you under the influence of Great Uncle Rick's corn liquor and paint remover."
Mack said, "Karen, I heard that one of your stories made a big...splash..."
Mentally seeing Mrs. Wyatt trying to accomplish a hasty, but still dignified, escape to the bathroom caused Daria to chuckle. "Making the mother of the groom sick is generally considered to be something not done in polite society."
"Hey!" Karen retorted. "She asked how I broke my arm last summer. I was only trying to explain the procedure old Doc Westerman was doing to that horse..."
"I think the problem was the graphic detail," Jane said and started the van forward after the traffic light changed to green.
"I toned it down."
"And Amy made sure you gave her the unaltered version, 'for future use,'" Daria said.
"Yep. I have a feeling that those two are in for some interesting times," Karen agreed.
Sporting a smirking, half smile, Mack said, "Can you imagine how much this whole weekend would've blown the minds of our old high school classmates?"
Quinn looked through the crowd gathered at the airport terminal and found Fran waving. Rolling her carryon suitcase behind, she hurried over and hugged her friend. "Thanks for picking me up."
"No problem. How'd the big wedding go?"
Quinn giggled and said, "Oh, my God! Talk about a fairy tale wedding." She swung a small, purse-like case to easy reach and removed a digital camera. "Take a look. That's not all; I had to send somebody out to buy a new memory thing when I filled up the first one."
Fran looked at the images on the camera's small display screen as they walked to baggage claim. "Wow. Everything is so beautiful."
"It was incredible."
"I recognize you, your sister and your mother, and that one must be Amy. Who are the rest?"
"Oh, they lined up all of the girls in the bride's family. Daria's boyfriend took the picture for me. That's Aunt Rita, Grandma Tess, and my cousin Erin."
"Damn, girl. Setting up for that shot must've turned every guy's head in the room."
"Yeah, we got a lot of attention."
On another image, Fran asked, "Who's this with your sister?"
"Her roommates." Quinn pointed. "That's Jane and that's Karen."
Flipping through several more images, Fran stopped in surprise. "He was at the wedding!"
"Mrs. Wyatt knows a lot of people."
"I am sooo jealous. You know I love that show."
"I got an autograph for you. It's in my carryon."
Fran hopped and clapped. "Thank you!"
Quinn playfully shouldered Fran. "I got a kiss."
She lightly slapped Quinn in return. "Rub it in."
Pleased with both her daughters, Helen set a hinged, double picture frame on her dresser and turned to Jake, already settling into bed. "Amy is in for some big lifestyle changes, marrying someone with two little girls."
Jake said, "They were such little darlings."
"So were Daria and Quinn, at four. Can you imagine dealing with our children if they were just now entering their teens? That's what Amy's going to deal with."
Helen crossed the room to her side of the bed. "I'm sure she's going to have much worse to say from time to time."
After his wife sat down, Jake said, "Sure they drove us a little batty, but look at how well Daria and Quinn came out."
"I sometimes wonder how. Looking back, we missed so much of their lives. Now, we have this big house all to ourselves. I wish I had more time to spend with our little ones."
Jake put his arm around Helen. "I miss them, too."
Letting out three sharp meows, Bump bounced across the living room when Daria opened the apartment door. She looked at the cat and said, "Don't give me that, I know Mrs. Lyndon took good care of you while we were gone."
Next in the door, Karen said, "I can't believe that to make sure that Bump didn't miss her 'Fish Day', you bought a small pack of salmon for Mrs. Lyndon to feed her this morning."
"You said it's important to keep familiar routines for a pet," Daria answered.
"Daria, you just spoil the cat," Jane said.
"I feel sorry for your kids," Karen said, going into her room to toss her suitcase on the bed.
Carrying luggage to her room, Daria said, "I believe in spoiling cats; it's much less trouble and mess than children. Plus, it avoids all the pain and inconvenience of childbirth."
After Daria closed the door, Karen shook her head and said, "I bet she would be a good mother, if she gives herself a chance."
"I bet you're right," Jane said, leaning on her door frame. "But I think that aunt is the role she's going to be happier with."
"Break time, let's get out of here for a few minutes," Shelly said to Daria as she rolled her chair back from her workstation.
Daria saved and closed the document she was proofreading and also rolled her chair back. "Okay."
They joined several other staff members heading outside to enjoy the pleasant September afternoon, instead of the cramped break room inside. Shelly asked, "So, did the weekend festivities give you any ideas?"
"It gave me several ideas," Daria said, evading what she knew Shelly was really asking about.
"What about your boyfriend? He get any ideas?"
"None that I'm going to tell you about."
As they exited the building, Daria withdrew a cell phone from her pocket and turned it on. "Don't say I'm turning into my mother. Michael was supposed to leave a message to let me know his work schedule this week, so we can plan things."
"I was going to say that you're turning into a regular college student. Why would I say you're turning into your mother?"
"Oh, because she almost lives on hers. Hmm, two messages."
Daria tapped out her password and listened to a message from Michael. "Hi. I've got two to six Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday and then eight to five on Saturday. Lewis told me about a new French place about ten minutes from campus. The accents are outrageous, but the food is good. How's that sound for lunch tomorrow? Think it over and give me a call tonight. I love you. Bye."
"Judging from your smile, he must have a good schedule for the week," Shelly said.
Daria sighed and said, "Yes, and we're going to check out a new restaurant tomorrow for lunch. But, there's a second message; he must've forgotten something."
Daria pressed a button to hear the next message. The voice said, "Daria, this is Marianne, your mother's secretary. Please call me at her office as soon as possible. It's...urgent."
Daria swallowed hard and pressed the speed dial for the phone number. When Shelly started to say, "What?" Daria waved her off.
At the law office, Marianne quickly answered the phone when she saw the Caller ID display. Breaking with protocol, she said, "Thank God you got the message."
"Marianne, what happened to Mom?"
The blonde secretary took a breath and said, "She collapsed during court and was taken to Cedars of Lawndale. Mr. Schrecter told me that the paramedics were treating her for a stroke."
Daria stepped back against the building wall for support.
Marianne continued, "Your father is with Helen and I told him that I'd contact you and your sister."
Daria barely found her voice. "Any word on how Mom's doing?"
"She's in ICU and hasn't woken up yet. I'm sorry I don't know more."
Shelly placed a hand on Daria's shoulder and waited with patient concern.
"She's trying to get a flight back."
"I'll try to get one, too. If not, I'll drive."
"I'll tell your father."
"Daria, I know your family is not very religious, but I'll say a prayer for Helen, if you don't mind."
"Oh, um, no, sure."
"I'll let you know if I hear anything."
"Drive carefully, Daria."
"I will. Bye."
Shelly said, "That didn't sound good."
"My mom's in the hospital."
"I'm sorry. Anything I can do?"
"Turn my computer off? I'm going in to talk to Dr. Findlay."
"I'll get it for you."
Dr. Findlay raised an eyebrow before saying, "Your mother's had a stroke and you need to drive down to Maryland to be with her. On the Monday after you took Friday off to attend your aunt's wedding."
Still shaken from the news, Daria leaned on his desk. "Exactly. Dr. Findlay, I didn't come in here to ask permission to go. I came, as a courtesy, to let you know that I'm going."
"If you place a higher priority on having an extra day or two off..."
"You're right; this is a matter of priorities. Being with my mother is more important."
"I thought you enjoyed your work."
"Most of the time, I enjoy working here. It's a challenge and I've learned a lot." She sighed and stood up. "It's a long story, but I've learned not to place work too much ahead of family. Dr. Findlay, I'm going. I'm hoping you'll understand, but if not, I'll clean my desk out when I get back."
The editor leaned back in his chair and tapped a pen against his fingers. "What about your classes?"
"If you're going to Maryland, what are you doing about your classes?"
"I'll have to call my professors and arrange for notes. I'm sure I can borrow lecture tapes from some of the other students."
"Hmm. Okay, I believe you. You better get going."
Quinn frantically looked at her computer screen while still talking on her cell phone. "Please? Can't you find anything sooner?"
Fran, Tammy and Grace waited patiently together for their sorority sister to get an answer.
Quinn listened for a few more seconds before sighing and saying, "Thanks. Sorry, I'm worried." She grabbed a pen and started writing on a scrap of paper. "9:05 tomorrow morning, Flight 1123. Got it. Bye."
Fran said, "Sounds like you found something."
"But not until tomorrow morning. I don't know if I can take the waiting."
"We'll do what we can to help," Tammy said.
Grace ran out for a few moments and returned with a notebook. "Write down all your classes and stuff. We'll make sure somebody's there to take notes or whatever."
Fran told Quinn, "I know the way; I can drive you to the airport."
"You're great, guys."
As Bump nervously watched from the window sill, Daria threw items into a suitcase as she talked on her phone. "Your plane arrives at 7:15 tomorrow night? I'll make sure someone is there to pick you up."
Quinn replied, "If only I'd had a little more credit left on my card, I could've gotten an earlier flight."
"I wish I could've found a flight sooner, too. By the time you add in the flight time, baggage claim, renting a car and driving to Lawndale from the airport, it's faster to drive straight from here."
"I'm worried too, Quinn, and I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything. If you don't hear from me, it's because nothing's changed and I haven't learned anything either."
Quinn softly said, "Okay."
Following a knock, Michael's voice called into the apartment, "Daria!"
She covered the phone and replied, "In my room." Daria switched back to the phone, saying, "Michael's here and I've almost finished packing. I promise to call back."
"Thanks. I love you, Daria."
"I love you, Quinn. Bye."
Daria closed the phone and wrapped her arms around Michael, burying her face against his chest. "Mrs. Blaine died from a stroke."
While Michael drove, Daria listened to her mother's doctor on the phone, "Helen's collapse was caused by a cerebrovascular accident, or more commonly, a stroke. We determined it was an embolic, meaning that an object from another part of the body blocked a cerebral artery. It responded to anticoagulant treatment, so we believe that it was a blood clot. We still need to determine the source of the clot."
Daria carefully asked, "Do you know if there was any damage?"
"Your mother received prompt treatment. She's resting, breathing well on her own, and her heartbeat is regular. Beyond that, we don't know, but her odds are good. We'll have to run tests when she wakes up. But, we don't know when, and, you should be aware that there is a chance that she may not wake up at all."
Eyes closed in fear of the answer, Daria said, "As in, she might be in a persistent vegetative state?"
"That's a worst-case, but yes. Daria, the odds are very good that's not what's going to happen."
"Thank you, doctor."
"You're welcome, Daria. Do you want to speak to your aunt again?"
"I'm okay, but tell her thanks for calling. Good bye."
Michael glanced to the side, afraid for her. "Daria?"
Switching the phone off, she reached for his hand, gripping it tight. "They got to her early, so that's a worse case scenario."
Quinn sat cross-legged on her bed, turning her cell phone over and over in her hands. "It was scary when Dad had his heart attack. But, nothing ever seemed to stop Mom or even slow her down."
Facing Quinn, Fran reached out to her friend's hands. "I know what you're going through with waiting and not knowing. After the accident, it was several days before they told me what happened to Mom and Dad and Donna."
"I'm sorry; you've been through so much worse."
"And there are people who've been through worse things than me. It doesn't lessen how much you're hurt and worried."
Tammy knocked and stuck her head in the door. "Quinn, just to let you know, the whole house pitched in and we're sending flowers to your mother. If you're up to it, I can show you on my computer the bouquet we ordered."
Tearing up, Quinn said, "I wish I could be with Mom now. But since I can't, I'm glad I'm with all of you."
Jane sat on the sofa with Bump in her lap, slowly petting the cat. "Helen always seemed like a force of nature. It's hard to believe something like this happening."
"It'll make you think," Karen said, sitting on one of the living room chairs. "I'm learning how to care for animals when stuff like this happens, so I understand all the biology. But it does nothing to prepare you for when it happens to somebody you know."
"Considering all the not-so-safe places that my folks have traveled to, we were lucky nothing ever happened to them. I don't know what we could've done."
"I'd freak out if something happened to Mom or Dad. Growing up on a farm, bad accidents were always possible. Being all the way up north, like this, makes me nervous at times."
"It's so weird. Our parents do stuff that's really dangerous, and then Daria's mom collapses in a courtroom."
Karen rolled out of the chair and headed for the dining room. "I'm going to call my parents."
"Don't take too long; I'd like to call mine...if I can track them down."
Daria was exhausted by the time that they finally reached Cedars of Lawndale hospital that night. She looked at her watch and said, "10:10. I hope that they at least let me in to see Mom for a few minutes."
Michael walked around the car and clasped her hand. "I hope so, too."
Still holding Michael's hand tight, Daria stopped at the ICU nurse's station and said to the attendant, "I'm here to see my mother, Helen Morgendorffer."
"Name, please," the nurse said.
She checked a note. "Okay. It is after regular visiting hours, but I was informed you were on the way. We tend to bend the rules a little around here. She's in room IC-3." To Michael, she asked, "Husband?"
He faintly blushed and said, "Um, no. Boyfriend."
The nurse winked and said, "Husband. But, we do enforce a policy of no more than two visitors at a time. Daria, your father and grandmother are in there now and your aunt is in the waiting room. I suggest that you go in first."
"I understand," Michael replied. To Daria, he said, "Go on in, I'll be right there if you need anything."
Reluctantly, Daria released his hand. At a loss for words, she smiled in gratitude and nodded before moving a curtain aside to go into her mother's room.
Inside, Helen peacefully rested with Jake on one side and her mother on the other. Jake was the first to look up. "Daria, you made it."
She embraced him and said, "I got here as fast as I could."
Tess stood and said, "It's good to see you. Did you drive down alone?"
"The nurse said family only, so Michael's in the waiting room."
Patting the chair, Tess said, "You can have my seat. I need to step out for a minute."
Tess stepped out of the room, looking back briefly at father and daughter before closing the door.
Daria's father seemed to have aged ten years since she'd seen him the day before. She asked, "How are you holding up, Dad?"
With one of Helen's hands held within both of his, Jake said, "I don't know."
"Damn, damn, damn, Amy. This is not a time for your tricks," Rita said to her phone, not noticing Michael enter the waiting room.
He said, "Rita?"
She spun around. "Oh! Oh, Michael. You startled me."
"I'm sorry. Daria and I just got here. She's in with her mother."
Rita held up her phone. "I can't get a hold of Amy. Neither she nor Reese are answering their phones."
"They might have them turned off. Have you tried the hotel they're staying in?"
"That's why I'm mad at Amy's tricks. They're not at the hotel she told everyone they were spending their honeymoon at."
"Amy...Amy always had her own way of doing things. A bit like Daria, from what I understand."
"Daria is her own person."
Rita gazed in the direction of Helen's room and she fought back tears. "I don't remember; do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"A sister. Gina turned seventeen last week."
"Do you get along with each other?"
"We tease a lot and have had some good fights, but overall, I'd say pretty good."
Rita struggled with her emotions, sucking on her lower lip. "Helen really likes you. She talks about you and Daria as if you were already family."
"That's Rita's idea of a hint," Tess said from the door. "Good evening, young man."
"Hi, Mrs. Barksdale," Michael answered.
Tess sat next to Michael and opposite Rita. "I'm relieved Daria didn't make the trip alone."
"It, uh, felt like the right thing to do. She's worried."
"Rita, any luck with Amy?" Tess inquired.
Rita shook her head. "No, Mother."
An audible gurgle made Tess look at Michael. "Did you and Daria have dinner?"
"No, ma'am. We were more concerned with getting here and didn't think about it."
"Rita, will you please be a dear and find some dinner for these two down at the snack bar?"
"Sure, Mother." Rita asked, "Michael, do you have any preferences?"
"Not really. I doubt if Daria has any, either."
Rita picked up her purse and said, "I'll be back in a little while. I'll pick up something for Jake, too. Just in case we can coax him into eating something."
"Thank you, dear."
Tess and Michael sat in uncertain silence. She studied the young man learning forward with elbows on knees, rubbing his hands together, and thought of another young man she'd met over thirty years earlier. The young man her oldest daughter had brought home from college.
"I owe Jake an apology," Tess faintly said.
"What was that?"
"I owe Jake an apology. From the beginning, I thought he wasn't good enough for Helen. But, they've been together for as long as Simon and I were together." Tess nodded her head toward Helen's room. "Jake hasn't left her side all night. Sure, Helen could've found somebody 'better', but I don't think she could've found somebody more dedicated."
Daria had moved the second chair next to her father's and was seated with his head resting on her shoulder and her arm around his. Jake continued to gently hold Helen's hand, the physical contact just as important to him as it was hours earlier.
"I miss sitting at the table and reading the paper with you."
"Me, too. I don't even get much of a chance to read the paper before leaving in the morning. I have to read it in bits and pieces during the day."
"That's too bad."
"I need to get back in the habit of reading it before I leave. I'll just have to get up a little earlier."
Jake lifted his head and looked at his wife's face. "That should be me."
"I'm the one that cheats on my diet and doesn't exercise like I'm supposed to. Helen always took care of herself. It's not supposed to happen."
"Dad, it's not your fault."
"But it's not fair."
"No, it's not."
Jake lifted one hand from Helen's and brushed her cheek. "She deserved someone better than me."
Daria thought for a few moments before saying anything. "Dad, Mom's an intelligent, confident woman who knows what she wants and how to get it."
"She sure is, and I'm a rambling almost-success."
"Dad...it seems to me that if Mom wanted to find somebody else, she would've."
"You should've seen the heads turn at Amy's wedding."
"But, I don't think she's looked and I'd guess that it's because she's not interested in looking."
"So, you must be the one Mom wants to be with and I'm sure she has what she feels are good reasons."
"She always liked the way I could..."
"Dad, there are some things a daughter should never learn about her parents."
For the first time in hours, Jake managed a slight smile. "No, kiddo, I suppose not."
Not particularly interested in the magazine in her hands, Rita looked over the top of it at Daria curled up under Michael's arm. The paper wrappers of vending machine sandwiches and empty soda cups from their dinner were still on the low table in front of them. Above, the clock said that it was after midnight.
A stab of jealousy caused Rita to fidget as the geeky-looking young man gently stroked Daria's hair. She wished and hoped that her daughter Erin would find someone again. In the foreseeable future, Rita knew her personal life was inexorably tied up with her mother's, as it had been for years. They were dependent upon each other. However, Erin had broken the chain and made a new life, free of a man Rita had never liked, but also free from her. Knowing Erin's chances were better outside of her and her mother's shadow, the jealousy faded.
Wrapped in a bright yellow bath robe, Grace crossed the suite's darkened living room to the kitchen. "Don't you think you should get some sleep?"
Seated on the sofa with her legs pulled under her, Quinn said, "Could you?"
Grace stopped. "I guess not."
Quinn patted her phone, next to her on the sofa arm. "Besides, Daria promised to call if they hear anything new."
Dressed in a nightshirt and with her hair pulled into a ponytail, Fran came in and planted herself on the sofa. "I'll keep you company."
"You know you don't want to be alone."
"In for a penny..." Tammy said as she entered, wearing shorts and a half t-shirt. "We'll all stay up."
Grace shrugged and joined them, carrying a diet soda. "I don't think sleeping's going to be an option."
Michael stepped into Helen's room and said, "Mrs. Morgendorffer has always been kind to me. I'd like to spend a little time with her, also."
It took two attempts for Tess to rise from her seat. "Of course, young man."
He said, "Are you okay?"
Tess tapped his shoulder as she walked past. "I am getting a little old for this, but I'll make it."
"Michael," Jake said with a slight nod.
The young man sat in the vacated chair. "Hi. I don't really have any experience with anything like this." He looked at Helen's face and added, "I hope you get better, soon."
Jake said, "She appreciates it, son."
Michael's chest tightened as he sat beside the hospital bed. The thought of his mother, or of Daria, in Helen's placed filled him with dread and made him confront, for the first time, the idea that those he loved were mortal.
Tess stopped outside Helen's room to listen to the eerie, early morning quiet of the hospital. Only the faint sounds of medical devices in the ICU and the pen scratching of the duty nurse doing paperwork broke the silence. She and Jake were at peace for the first time. Nothing more would ever be said, nor needed to be.
When Michael entered the waiting room, Rita was curled on one chair, asleep. Tess looked up with one eye from her old magazine and Daria yawned as she stood up. He said, "Your dad wanted some time alone with your mother."
When Daria hugged him, he noticed the clock and said, "If we were back in Boston, it would almost be time for my alarm to go off."
She turned and looked also. "We've been up all night. No wonder I feel so tired."
"Why don't I try to find some coffee?" Michael asked.
Daria said, "Yes, please."
"I know how you like yours. Mrs. Barksdale, would you like some coffee?"
"Oh, thank you, young man. About a quarter full of cream, or whatever dreadful stuff they have instead, and two sugars, please."
"I love you, Helen," Jake whispered.
Labored and slow, Helen said, "Jake?"
"Helen!" Jake shouted, jumping up at the same time.
"Don't shout," she struggled to say.
Hearing her father's shout, Daria spilled her remaining coffee as she rushed to the room. "Mom!"
"Daria?" Helen blinked and tried to focus. "Where?"
"You're in the hospital, Mom."
"Hospital?" Looking down at the hand Jake held, she said, "It won't move."
Daria picked up Helen's other hand. "Mom, you had a stroke yesterday."
Alarmed, Helen squeezed Daria's in return. "Stroke?"
The duty nurse pulled the room curtain back and said, "Excuse me, is Mrs. Morgendorffer awake?"
Jake vigorously nodded. "Yes!"
"It sounded like it." She stood behind Jake and placed her hands on his shoulders to start directing him out of the room. "Sir, I've called the doctor on duty and he'll be here shortly. We need both of you to please wait outside while we check your wife's condition. I promise that we'll let you back in as soon as possible."
Daria said, "The doctors can give you better details than I can, Mom. Come on, Dad. The sooner they can check on Mom, the sooner we can see her again."
Jake said, "Don't worry; I'll be right back, Helen."
The nurse reassuringly told Helen, "We'll be as fast as we can."
"Better," Helen said, with a hint of her old firmness.
Michael, Rita and Tess met them just outside the waiting room. Tess said, "Helen's awake?"
"She's awake," Jake confirmed.
"Mom's speech is slow," Daria said. "And, she couldn't move her left hand. The nurse said that they'll check her condition and let us back in as soon as possible."
"Daria?!" Quinn asked after flipping the phone open in the dark. "Oh my God! Is Mom...?"
Fran, Grace and Tammy jumped at hearing Quinn's exclamation.
Daria said, "Mom woke up a few minutes ago."
"Oh! Oh, thank goodness. She's okay?"
"Mostly, it looks like."
"Mom's having some problems. We don't know if they are temporary or not. The doctor's just finished looking at her."
"She's having trouble speaking, and...and she might have some paralysis on her left side."
"Oh God, I thought you said she was okay."
"Quinn, all night, I've been afraid she wouldn't wake up."
"I'm sorry, I haven't slept either. It's...well, you're there and I haven't been able to see or talk to her."
"They're letting us back in. Grandma and Aunt Rita are with Mom right now."
"Can you bring the phone in for me to talk to Mom?"
"I can do that."
"Thanks, that would be great."
A couple minutes later, Daria and Michael went in. The bed had been adjusted so that Helen was sitting slightly upright. Her voice was still slurred when she said, "Daria, Michael."
"Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer," he said. "I hope you don't mind that I came along."
Her smile was uneven as the left side of her face barely responded.
"Told you we'd be back." Daria held her cell phone close to Helen's ear. "And, Quinn would like to talk to you."
"Mo-om! I was so worried!"
"I'm sorry. I'll be better even...tu..." Frustrated at being unable to finish the word, Helen said, "...in time."
"Won't stop me."
Daria said, "Mom..."
Helen slowly nodded and Daria took the phone back. "Quinn, we only have a short time with Mom. You'll need to say goodbye."
She placed the phone back next to Helen, who said, "Bye, Quinn."
Reclaiming the phone, Daria said, "Goodbye, Quinn."
"Thanks a million, Daria. Bye."
Daria closed the phone and pocketed it. "I'm so relieved to talk to you."
Trying for humor, Helen said, "A first."
That prompted a short laugh from Daria. "Good one."
The doctor brought Jake out of Helen's room and addressed the family. "You've been here all night, and must be exhausted. We need to run tests to determine the extent of the damage that occurred, and we still need to find the source of the clot that caused the stroke. Since you can't be with Helen during the tests, I recommend that you go home and get some rest. All of you. We should be done by about three this afternoon, or so. I'm sure she'll be glad to see you then."
Tess said, "Yes, doctor. Jake, may Rita and I please stay in your guest room?"
"Oh, oh, of course,"
"Then, we better get out of the way and let this gentleman do his work."
The sun had barely risen when they left the hospital for the short drive to Jake and Helen's home. Michael was struggling to stay awake as he parked his car behind Rita's. Jake had already opened the door as Tess and Rita carried overnight bags inside. They all moved mechanically as they separated to the different rooms and prepared to get some rest.
Stepping out of the bathroom, Michael saw Tess, and was suddenly self-conscious of making the short walk to Daria's room. Tess quietly told him, "My granddaughter should be with the man she loves at a time like this. It's the right thing to do."
He nodded once in appreciation and went on his way. Inside, Daria was already in a black nightgown and she embraced him immediately.
"Thank you so much," she said. "I don't know how I would've made it without you."
He held her in return. "You're so very welcome."
They separated after a long, soft kiss. Michael said, "I think the doctor had a good idea. Sleep."
"Go ahead, I want to write in my diary a little," Daria said.
"Sure, I understand." Michael crawled into the bed and closed his eyes.
Daria pulled her hand-made, leather-bound diary from the suitcase and opened it on the desk. After taking a silver fountain pen from a slender box, she looked back at Michael. Picking up the book and pen, she left the desk and climbed onto the bed next to him, sitting up against a pillow. She pulled the sheets over her legs and said, "I also want to stay close to you."
"No problem," he sleepily said, wrapping his arms around her waist.
"I won't take long." She started to write:
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.