Chapter 1: Good Morning!

Tom opened one eye and was enjoying just lying there in the bed. The cool air in the room and faint smell of bleach in the hotel sheets filled his senses. He was lying on his side and observing Daria as she slept. The steady sound of her breathing was calming. He traced the line of her oval face with his eyes. He knew behind those sleeping eyelids were gorgeous brown eyes. Tom's thoughts drifted to the years he had known her. It still struck him how he had managed to meet and fall in love with his beautiful, auburn haired introvert, for whom outward appearance was something nearly irrelevant. It did seem a bit odd, especially since he was so much better in social situations. Yet, the object of his love had such an amazing mind and had read so much more than he ever hoped to read in a lifetime. He sometimes felt a little intimidated by her intellect. But, that is when he reminded himself that even though she had read so much and understood so many things, she would never be part of the world of accounting and work with numbers the way he did. He had his areas of expertise and she had her's. Yet they had those overlapping areas of interest that included so many things. There was their mutual love of reading and the new things they had discovered they did well together and enjoyed, such as cooking. Now here they were in this room waiting for the sound of the alarm clock. Today was a day which would potentially change the course of their lives. Today was the day they both had job interviews here in New York City. Both of them had to report to their prospective employers at 9:30 am. The alarm clock was set to jolt them awake at 6:00 am.

The alarm clock buzzed and Tom rolled over to turn it off. By the time he rolled back toward Daria she was up and out of the bed heading for the bathroom. Tom thought that this was probably the first time he had ever seen her leap out of bed like that. Usually she was the one that wanted to hit the snooze alarm three or four times before grudgingly putting a foot on the floor. Today was obviously going to be different. Tom just turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling. As he heard the shower start he grabbed the TV remote and turned on the morning news and weather. It looked like the weather at least would be nice today.

A while later Daria came out of the bathroom wrapped in two towels. She had blow-dried her hair and even used conditioner and mousse. She looked at Tom and said, "Now you go and do what you need to do so that I can get dressed!"

Tom traced the lines of her lithe body with his eyes. He replied to her comment with a sly grin, "Gee, I am kind of enjoying myself right here. The bed is comfortable and the view is fabulous."

"Cool your jets, mister," Daria responded. "This is not the time for fooling around. Maybe if we both have great interviews we can celebrate tonight. Now you need to get going so that we both have time for a decent breakfast. Who knows when we will get a chance to eat next?"

Tom jumped out of bed. He couldn't help but go up to Daria and hug her. She put her arms around him and they shared a kiss. She whispered, "I love you, Tom. But, I am really focused right now. Please just get ready for your interview." Then she very gently pushed him away.

"OK," Tom replied. "I'll be out in about 20 minutes or so." With that he grabbed clean underwear out of his suitcase and went into the bathroom.

...

As they walked into the hotel restaurant for breakfast, Tom was stealing glances at Daria. He couldn't help but be impressed with how good Daria looked. Her make-up was perfect. She was wearing a bohemian print dress with colors that absolutely highlighted her hair. The dress came ever so slightly above her knee. Over the dress she wore a deep brown suede blazer. The plain blazer contrasted well with the intricacy of the pattern on the dress. It blended well with the colors in the dress as well. The scoop neckline was attractive, but not too revealing. On her feet she wore short brown boots with about a two inch (5 cm) heel. To say that she looked fantastic would have been an understatement! Clearly she must have had Quinn's help putting together the outfit. Quinn was ever the fashion maven and Tom knew that Quinn had friends majoring in fashion design. They may have helped as well. Daria's outfit was just the right blend of sexy and business for an interview to be a writer for Sick, Sad, World. Her look complimented the idea that she was a creative person. Tom felt like telling Daria again how great she looked, but decided not to say again how great she looked. He had already done that in their room.

While Tom was musing about Daria's outfit, she was thinking how handsome Tom looked in his blue pinstripe suit, white shirt, and Maroon striped tie. He had a brand new pair of black shoes on this morning. The suit clearly fit him perfectly and enhanced every feature he had yet made him look more mature. He could certainly be at home in anyone's boardroom even at such a young age. Even though she admitted it was kind of a shallow feeling, Daria was happy to be seen with this handsome man! She had even told him that he looked really good before they left their room!

Once seated at the table both Tom and Daria ordered coffee. Tom took a moment to take in the surroundings before looking at the menu. The tables in the restaurant all were covered in white linen tablecloths. The china was of high quality, as was the stainless steel, and there were flowers on the table. The room itself was brightly lit through both the chandeliers and windows on the street. There were plants around the room and that helped keep the noise under control despite the high ceiling. Tom started going over the menu.

"What looks good to you?" Tom asked Daria.

In total deadpan Daria answered, "I'm not sure. They don't have sugar tarts on the menu."

Tom smiled and said, "You don't want those today anyway. You need protein, some complex starches, and maybe a little fruit to give you some quick energy to start. You need to be awake and focused for the long haul today. You do not want to be suffering from sugar shock!"

Still deadpanning Daria replied, "OK Mr. Nutritionist, what do you suggest that I have?"

"Look at this special, it is two poached eggs over asparagus with hollandaise sauce and hashbrowns. I would add a fresh fruit cup topped with yogurt on the side. Make sure that you drink at least a full glass of water along with your coffee. Drink the majority of your coffee after you have eaten the eggs. Altogether that will mitigate the rate at which the caffeine, sugar, and carbs are absorbed. The protein and fats will keep you feeling full."

Daria looked up from the menu and stared at Tom for a moment and then asked, "Where and when did you become an expert on nutrition? I thought you were an accountant."

"I am. Bromwell's public health program is strong in the area of nutrition. One of my friends was in the program, was really into nutrition, and he was also an athlete. He made it a point to tell all of us who might not eat in a way to maximize our classroom focus just what to do!"

Daria chuckled. "In other words, he was one of those people who made themselves a total pain by telling other people what to eat."

"That is correct." Tom replied. "The only thing is that he was absolutely right. So, when you asked I gave you the sum total of my wisdom gained from him."

"Gotcha," Daria said. "I will follow your advice, but that means I am holding you responsible for my blood sugar levels today!"

"Yes Daria," Tom said with a note of resignation and a wry smile. He thought to himself, 'My God she is beautiful today.'

Daria ordered what Tom suggested. Tom had a mushroom and vegetable omelet with whole grain toast, jam, and fruit without yogurt. Now both were set if lunch turned out to be meager or non-existent. Tom had already taught Daria to keep a granola bar stashed in one of her jacket pockets just in case she needed fuel right away.

As they ate Tom asked, "So, what do you think this interview will be like?"

"From what I have been able to gather from our Raft alum there it will be a mishmash of things. We are going to have some of the usual 'sit and ask questions' type of interview, but there will also be at least some writing required today. The whole thing may not even fit in the standard business day. So, if I am not back here for dinner, then don't starve to death. Get yourself something and I will be along. We should be able to ultimately eat together. After all this is New York. This is the city that never sleeps!"

Tom commented, "OK. When I get back I will scout out nearby late night places and ones that are open 24 hours. I'll also make certain that there is at least some minimal thing for you to eat when you get back here. If it is truly late and you have not eaten, then you may be really hungry."

"Thanks, Tom. I may not say it very often, but I do appreciate it when you take good care of me."

"I do it because I love you. Now we need to get going. The subway is only a block away, but we need to allow plenty of time to get to our destinations. After all we don't want to be late for our interviews!"

"No kidding."

The morning was bright and sunny. Daria switched from her glasses to her sunglasses for the walk to the subway. She her purse strap slung over her head for security. The two walked to the platform and got on the train. Tom got off to change trains one stop before Daria's destination. He gave her a quick kiss a moment before the doors opened. Then he was gone.

...

The offices of Lucky 12 Communications would certainly not count as glamorous by anyone's standards. The building was older and the floors did not seem to be totally even. The reception area was fine, though Daria thought the walls could probably use a fresh coat of paint. The receptionist sat behind a large wooden workstation and a large version of the Lucky 12 logo hung on the wall behind her.

Daria walked up to the receptionist and said, "Hi. I'm Daria Morgendorffer. I'm here to interview with Mr. Bergen."

In a thick New York accent the receptionist replied, "Sure. Sign in here and take a visitor's badge. Then go over there and sit. I'll call Mr. Bergen's secretary and she'll come get you." Daria did what she was directed to do. As she turned to go and have a seat she overheard the receptionist say on the phone, "Yeah, Judy. The first of the fresh meat is here. Are you gonna come get her? Sure. OK. Bye." The receptionist went back to looking at her magazine without saying anything else to Daria.

It was about 15 minutes before Judy Gold came out and introduced herself to Daria. The woman was about average height and Daria guessed in her early fifties. Her black hair was about half gray and pulled back in a tight bun. In Daria's opinion she wore way too much make-up – probably to try and hide all of the lines visible in her face. She wore black pants and a white top.

Daria followed her back to Mr. Bergen's office. "Sit here. Mr. Bergen will let me know when he is ready for you." That was all she said to Daria. Clearly idle conversation was not something that interested her. Daria sat and waited in a chair clearly older than she was. Looking around she thought the office furniture might be as old as Ms. Gold! Maybe that was stretching the point.

"Is there a schedule for my interview today?" Daria asked.

"Probably," Ms. Gold replied. "But I don't have it. Around here you will have to get used to adjusting to whatever is in the production schedule. That drives everything. Now if you'll excuse me I have work to do." She turned away from Daria, looked at her computer screen and began typing something.

After about a half hour Mr. Bergen walked out of his office, turned to Daria and said, "You Morgen-whatever?"

Daria looked up at the man standing there in a pair of worn suit trousers and an open white shirt, which appeared to have some kind of stain on one cuff. She stood up and replied, "Yes. I'm Daria Morgendorffer." She then extended her hand to shake Mr. Bergen's hand.

Mr. Bergen just sort of looked at her hand and said, "Follow me." And then he started walking down the hall. Daria lowered her hand and followed. The two entered a large conference room with a multi-piece conference table and chairs that didn't match. Most of the chairs were already filled. Along the wall were some wooden folding chairs. Mr. Bergen motioned Daria to sit in one of the chairs. Three others were already sitting in the folding chairs – 2 men and another woman. Based on their dress, Daria surmised that these were the other interviewees. She wondered about the whereabouts of the fifth person who was supposed to be interviewed.

Daria's momentary thoughts were interrupted by Mr. Bergen's rising voice. He was looking at one of the older men at the table. Daria guessed him to be mid-forties.

"Howard, you haven't written a decent thing in six months," Mr. Bergen said loudly.

"Morry, you have never really liked my style. You simply aren't taking a close look at what I am writing. You never give it a chance!"

Mr. Bergen's face got visibly red as he spat out, "Suck is not a style Howard. You're fired. Monte in HR has your last check and will watch you put your personal items in a box and walk you out. Now get outta here."

The room was completely silent. Howard was visibly in shock as he got up and walked out of the room looking something like a robot with no facial expression.

Looking at the row of interviewees along the wall Mr. Bergen said, "Let that be a lesson to all of you. You cannot get complacent in this job. Every day is a battle for ratings. Ratings only happen when you have good writing that catches peoples' attention and holds it. Their attention span has been dwindling since microwaves started appearing in people's homes. Now you have a minute at most to capture them. Howard got complacent, wrote crap, and you see where it got him. The good news for you kids is that there are now two openings you are competing to fill. Since the fifth guy never showed it means you each have a 50% chance of getting hired – assuming write equally well. Now let's get this production meeting started."

Daria's first thought was that this guy could give her mother lessons on office tirades. As the meeting moved forward Mr. Bergen's demeanor didn't improve. He was curt, rude, and belittled his staff of writers and producers. Some argued with him, which he seemed to enjoy. Others just sat there in silence and took notes. This was likely to be a long day! All she could think of was 'Bull in a china shop versus bull from an executive – tonight on Sick, Sad, World.'

After an hour the meeting wound down and Mr. Bergen selected four writers and handed each one some papers. He said, "Each of you take the person on the paper and keep them on schedule for today. Bring them to me to interview at the time on your sheets. Understand?"

All four writers responded with 'yes.'

Hattie Blum was given Daria's name. She came over and said, "You're Daria?"

Daria stood up and responded, "Yes. I'm Daria Morgendorffer." She extended her hand and Hattie shook it.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Hattie Blum. Looking at this schedule, the next item for you is a tour of the writers' suite and then the production facilities. Follow me. We will look at the writers' suite first."

As they walked along the dingy hallway Daria said to Hattie, "That was some meeting."

Hattie responded, "Ah, it was worse than most. Bergie doesn't usually fire people in a meeting. But, clearly the ratings were down from last week. You can always tell by looking at the credenza."

"How's that?" Daria asked.

"Donuts," Hattie replied. "If we are up over the week before, then Bergie buys donuts for the meeting. If we are up over last week and the year prior, then he buys sweet rolls. Those always get placed on the credenza. If we are down over last week, then we get nothing. So, the moment you walk in the room it is usually possible to tell what kind of meeting it will be."

As they walked toward the writers' suite Daria looked around. She would describe the surroundings as shabby - maybe even grimy. Clearly the walls all needed a coat of paint. It was hardly the glamorous surroundings one would expect from TV shows. It was pretty much the opposite.

...

While Daria was watching Howard get fired, Tom was sitting in his third meeting with an executive at Doodle, Bottom, and Potts. Accountants were not known for being especially outgoing or chatty people, so these meetings as part of the interview process were almost scripted. Tom would go into an office. He would shake hands with the person he was meeting. Then they would exchange some introductory banter and finally settle down and discuss accounting issues. According to the schedule, Tom would be meeting with each of the partners in the office. He would end his day by meeting with the most senior partner.

Tom had already had the office tour. On the tour he basically saw the endless sea of cubicles. There in the tiny spaces the people below the rank of partner toiled over their endless screens of data and tiny pieces of paper like modern day Bob Cratchits. The air conditioning was a little on the cool side today. Tom had wondered if someone would beg a partner to throw another lump of coal on the fire! That was probably doubtful. At least there were windows on the outside of the building to let in natural light.

As the partner went about extolling the virtues of his area in the office Tom's mind wandered just a bit. Cost accounting for large non-profit institutions was not his area of interest. Tom wondered how Daria's day was progressing. Surely writing for a TV show would be more exciting than accounting. Tom had to admit to himself that he liked accounting and that he was nowhere near as creative as his auburn haired love. The truth was that the term 'creative accountant' had a certain negative connotation to it.

The meeting continued with the partner asking Tom numerous stock questions, which Tom answered feigning excitement about the partner's area. Then their 20 minutes ended. The partner stood up. They shook hands, the secretary escorted Tom to the next partner, and the process repeated itself. Rinse and repeat was clearly the order of the day.