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-eighth story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

The Parents Are At Rest

Frustrated at herself, Helen Morgendorffer stuffed a stack of papers into her briefcase. I'm on vacation. What am I doing reading these? She set the case down beside the bed, shifted her pink nightgown for comfort and settled under the sheets.

Her husband, Jake, lightly snored next to her. Helen looked at him and smiled. At least things are going better for him.

She turned and looked up at the ceiling. We will need to be here for each other more. Our children have grown and will be gone at the end of the week. Hard to believe twenty years have passed by so fast.


Exhausted, sore, sweat-soaked and elated, thirty-year old Helen took the tiny girl from the attending nurse and cradled her. Helen gently stroked the faint wisps of red-brown hair that graced the infant's head and said, "Daria. Welcome to the world. I hope you'll find it a better place when you grow up."

Jake entered the room at a run and slipped trying to turn at the bed. He managed to catch himself, and stopped. "Dammit!"

The nurse lightly chuckled. Helen looked toward her husband and sighed. "The overly excited man is your father."

Jake scrambled over to Helen and looked in utter amazement at his daughter. The frustration and rage at being made to wait vanished at the sight of Daria grasping her mother's hair. "She's beautiful," he whispered.

Helen looked up. "Oh, Jake, she is."

Jake made a face at the baby and said, "Goo-goo."

Unsteady, Daria's head turned vaguely in his direction and she smiled.

Jake grinned. "She likes me."


Helen sat cross-legged on the carpet and held a squirming newborn with bright red hair. Across the small apartment living room, her other daughter looked in a picture book. Helen called, "Daria, come here."

Responding her mother's voice, eighteen-month old Daria started to crawl, wobbled upright and took two steps before falling. Frustrated at her failure to walk, she crawled the rest of the way over.

Helen smiled and said, "This is your little sister, Quinn."

Daria pulled herself up to look. "Babba."

"Yes, baby."

Daria reached over and felt Quinn's cheek and nose. "Babba."

"You have somebody to play with."

"Pay." Daria smiled at her sister. "Pay."


After a sigh, Helen turned the nightstand light off. It doesn't seem that long ago.


What a waste of a sunny, August afternoon. Eighteen-year old Quinn sat on a sofa in a small, comfortable living room. To her right was Kathy Sullivan, a brunette with a flowing, easy to hear voice. To her left was a lean, well muscled young man, Benjamin Needham. They faced a small table set with drinks and a bowl of chips.

Standing beyond the table was a young woman with blond hair that spilled over her shoulders and completely covered her back. Rhiannon Jenkins clasped her hands together and said, "That about wraps everything up. Thank you all for making this summer so enjoyable and productive for the honor society. I'm sure our predecessors would be proud of what we have done."

Quinn's eyes were glazed in boredom. The honor society she had been inducted into at her graduation had turned into a summer-long ordeal. She wondered, What have we done?

Kathy finished the chips she was munching on. "Rhiannon, this has been such a wonderful experience. Thank you all for taking part."

In what?

Ben stretched and said, "This has been really cool. I hope we can stay in contact with each other."

I don't.

After several seconds of silence, Rhiannon asked, "Quinn, were you going to say something?"

"Oh. It has been a real learning experience for me." I think I learned just how pompous people can be. And I thought we were bad in the Fashion Club.

Rhiannon spread her hands wide. "It certainly has."

Kathy said, "I hope everyone has a good time in college."

Ben nodded. "I really hope so."

Quinn gave each a pleasant smile. "I'm looking forward to it." She looked at her watch. "Folks, I need to get going. Good-bye." Amid farewells from the group, she prepared to leave.

Just as Quinn reached the door, Rhiannon said, "I look forward to seeing everyone next June, when we return to Lawndale High to announce next year's members."

Quinn pivoted and said, "I'll see everyone then. Bye." She quickly walked to her red Vexer and got in. "I don't get it. Daria and her friends looked like they had so much fun with this club."


Balancing a tray of celery and carrot sticks, Quinn paused at the door and looked at the friends gathered in her room with warm fondness. Sitting together were Sandi Griffin, Stacy Rowe and Tiffany Blum-Deckler. In her mind, she thought of how each was attractive in a different way; Sandi was always the regal one, Stacy the girl next door, and Tiffany the exotic. Quinn had been the cute one of the group. She sat among them and set the tray down.

Stacy anxiously pulled at one of her braids. "I'm going to miss you guys. It'll be weird to only have Tiffany around."

Sandi said, "I'm only going to be about four hours away. I can visit on the weekends."

"That's wonderful, Sandi. What about you, Quinn?"

Quinn shook her head. "I'm sorry, but I'll probably only be back for the holidays. I'm expecting the drive out to Pepperhill University to take four days. I'm planning to fly back for the holidays; it'll be faster. But, I can't afford to do that too often."

Stacy continued to look sad. "We're going to miss you."

Quinn twirled a piece of celery in her hands. "I'm going to miss all of my friends. Each of you has been great."

Tiffany picked up a carrot stick. "You've been great, too."

Sandi said, "Excuse me." She got up and went to the door. "I'll be right back."

She closed Quinn's door, walked across the hall, and knocked on the partially open door. "Um…Like, Daria?"

Daria saw Sandi's head poke into her room. "That's me."

"Remember when you said if I needed some help, to ask?"

"Yes, I do. I like to keep my word, but please don't ask me to do anything illegal."

"That's…uh…kind of why I want your advice."

"Okay, what do you have in mind?"

Sandi removed a folded sheet of paper from her purse. "Could you, like, do something to my mother? Like you did to Upchuck?"

Daria inwardly shuddered to remember the stalker-like website that Charles Ruttheimer III had made. It was filled with candid shots of her all through high school in Lawndale, including one taken from a never-broadcast television tape. Daria had managed to get an anonymous complaint made about the last image, which got the site closed down as a Terms of Service violation. An unintended consequence was that Sandi lost her job at the television station.

Daria looked at the paper and thought, I've got a bad feeling I don't want to see what's on that. Daria took it but didn't unfold the paper. "Sandi…why do you want to do this?"

"Because my Mom blamed me for misplacing that stupid videotape and the television station fired me."

"Okay, she was wrong and hurt you."

Sandi nodded.

"Do you want that job back?"

"I'm leaving for college this weekend. No."

"Will this make your mother feel better about you?"

Sandi snorted. "No."

"What will this do for you?"

"I'll get even with Mom."

"Uh-huh. That's it?"

"Yes. Are you trying to get out of helping me?"

Daria shook her head. "I promised to help you. But, I didn't promise to be at your beck and call."

Sandi glared in confusion.

Daria motioned with the paper. "This will only hurt your mother, right?"

Sandi thought for a moment. "Yeah."

"Then using this would make you like her. How would you like to be better than your mother?"

"Better? How?"

Daria added another fold to the paper and handed it back to Sandi. "Don't use it."

"Huh?"

"Fighting back to right a wrong, or to prevent more wrongs, is the ethical thing to do. Fighting back only to harm, is not."

"I don't know."

"Destroy that paper and never mention it to anyone. You'll know you had the chance to hurt her and walked away from it, because you're a better person."

"But, she won't know."

"That's right." Daria tapped her head. "However, you will. Sometimes, the greatest victories are those that only you know about."

"What good is it if nobody knows about it?"

"It will always be yours…and nobody can take it from you."

Sandi stood in silence for a while and quietly said, "She can't take it from me." Sandi pocketed the paper. "Thanks."

Daria gave her a brief smile and nodded. I hope this helped Sandi as much as it looked. Because I fear that I just shielded Mrs. Griffin from some serious criminal charges.


Michael Fulton noticed Sandi about to go into Quinn's room and pointed his thumb back the way he'd came. "Bathroom's clear. Sorry you had to wait."

Sandi looked at him without registering what he said. "Oh, sure." She went in and closed the door.

"Curious."

Going into his girlfriend, Daria's, room, he asked, "Was…um…" He snapped his fingers while trying to remember. "…Sandi…just in here?"

"She was collecting on an old debt."


Sandi sat back among the old Fashion Club members and relaxed more than she could remember. I know I won't be like you. Mother, you lost.

Quinn said to Tiffany, "I loved how you looked in that fall catalog. I knew one of us would do some modeling."

Tiffany blinked. "Thanks Quinn. It's a lot harder than it looks."

"I'm kind of jealous after we all had that modeling class as freshman," Stacy said. "But with starting the Business program at Lawndale Community College next Monday, I'll be busy with that and the racing circuit."

Sandi smiled and listened. Quinn tapped her hand. "Are you okay?"

"I'm among my friends; how could I not be?"

"So, when do you leave for Northern Coastal State?"

"I'm going up on Sunday."

"After managing us all those years in the Fashion Club, Human Resources makes so much sense as your major."


Jake vigorously shook Jodie's hand. "Ms. Landon, it has been a pleasure working with you."

"Ms. Landon?"

"You're a business associate. It's only proper to call you that." He winked at her. "Unless you plan on becoming Mrs. MacKenzie some time soon."

"Oh, uh…no immediate plans for that. Probably wait until we graduate. The distance thing."

"Oh, right. That must be hard on you two."

"At times. But, we manage. Even then, it'll be Landon-MacKenzie."

"Ah."

"Mr. Morgendorffer, thank you for giving me this chance. I've learned so much of the real business world this summer." And a hell of a lot more than I ever did shredding documents for that congressman or playing gofer for my Dad.

"If you ever need a letter of recommendation, give ol' Jake a call."

"I will. Thanks. I need to get going. Mack is waiting for me. We're going out to dinner before we both have to go back to school."

"Okay, take care."

"Bye."


In response to a series of loud clangs and bangs, Quinn looked in the garage. Her father was digging out a toolbox. She asked, "Daddy? What are you doing?"

He looked up with a broad grin. "I'm going to check out your car before you leave for the big trip tomorrow. We wouldn't want you to break down, would we?"

"Um…no. Mind if I watch?"

"That would be great! Let the old man teach you a few things about your car."

Quinn gave him a charming smile. Mr. Rowe already checked it out yesterday at his auto shop and showed me what to check regularly. But, I better keep an eye out in case Dad breaks something.


Daria turned her head and kissed Michael under the chin. They sat on her bed, with his arms wrapped around her waist. She said, "It's been much nicer with Mom and Dad relaxed more around us."

"I'm glad I'm not trying to avoid your Dad anymore."

"That was a brave act. Facing him alone like that."

"Or foolish. I was hoping that Jodie being in the next room would help to calm him."

"It's a good thing you brought up how you first asked me out, or he may have forgotten she was there."

He drew a line of kisses along her forehead. "I've been wondering about that. Did they have any influence on your change of mind of going out with me?"

Daria raised a hand to his cheek. "Guilty. The crack appeared when Dad said how scared he was to first ask Mom out and how painful rejection can be. I realized that the same thing happened to you. It never occurred to me that somebody would be frightened of me like that. When Mom confirmed the story on the way back to Raft…my mind was changed." She pulled his face down and kissed his lips, lingering for several seconds. "I'm glad I did."

"Same here."

Daria rested her head back. "Speaking of Mom and Dad, I'm a little worried about them."

"Being here alone?"

"This is kind of a big house for just the two of them. Except for the last time they sent Quinn and me off to camp, seven years ago, they've had at least one of us around."

"They were together for something like twelve years before you were born. They might enjoy going back to that lifestyle."

"They had idealism back then, which I wouldn't mind them finding again. Like what Dad's done with Jodie's help this summer. But, they were also products of their generation. If they go back to…" Daria shivered. "…I'll have doubts about every horizontal surface in this house."

"From some of your comments about them, I'd also worry about a few of the vertical ones, too."

"I didn't need to consider that. Besides, that's not what I'm mostly worried about."

"Then, what?"

"Without having Quinn or me around to focus on, they'll focus on each other. That will either bring them closer."

"A good thing."

"Or they will explode."

"Bad thing."

"They've always had fights. Very rarely anything big, but you could tell. They've always made up. Without us around, Mom might be tempted to work even more. This could make Dad feel neglected, and the making up part gets missed."

"All that overwork can't be good for your mother's health, either."

Daria slowly shook her head. "No. Dad's had one heart attack. I hope Mom doesn't drive herself to one, or worse."

He held her tighter. "You are worried."

She wrapped her arms around his.

He pressed his cheek against hers. "Too bad I don't have any profound words of wisdom. I can only promise to be here for you."

She kissed him. "That helps."

"Just think; we can go through this again in two years with my parents."

"Ergh."


Helen sat on her bed and gently shook her husband. "Jake…Jake." She shook harder. "Jake…Jake."

His eyes shot open and he sat up. "What! Huh?" He looked around before settling. "Oh, hi Honey."

"Are we ready for tomorrow?"

"Of course we are. The girls and Michael are all packed for an early start. I personally checked out Quinn's car."

At least it was checked by a professional first. Quinn said you didn't break anything. "Thanks, she appreciated that."

"All we have to do is make breakfast for them."

"Jake, I meant after."

"After?"

"Yes, Jake. After."

"Oh, after. I don't know."

"Our little girls will be gone."

Jake sagged. "Gone." He looked at Helen. "College. We did a good job raising them, didn't we?"

"I hope so."

Silence passed between them as they thought. Eventually, Helen leaned toward Jake, "This could be our chance to spend real time together again."

"But we…oh. Yeah, we could."

Helen traced a finger along his chest. "Jake, I am proud of you. It may have taken twenty-five years, but you have a business doing something positive. I'm glad one of us was able to fulfill that wish."

"Helen, you'll make it too, some day."

"If I don't kill myself first."


Helen ladled batter onto the countertop griddle as Daria and Michael entered the kitchen together. She smiled and said, "Good morning. Your egg white pancakes will be ready in a minute."

Michael blinked. "Sounds good."

Daria went to the coffee pot and poured a mug. "It's official. Having you take a whole week off from work turns you into a totally different person."

Helen flipped a pancake. "Honey, it must seem that way. I haven't been able to spend this much time with my darlings in…I can't remember."

Daria handed the first mug to Michael and poured a second for herself. "Not since we moved here."

Helen's shoulders dropped and she looked at Daria. "Has it been that long?"

Daria finished adding milk and sugar to her coffee and went to Helen. "Mom, how often have Quinn or I hung around, either?"

Helen half-smiled. "Not that much."

"If we had, how often would you have been tempted to kill us?"

Helen smiled. "I'm still tempted."

"Good one."

Quinn called from her seat at the table, "Hi, Daria, Michael."

Jake waved and said, "Good morning."

Daria and Michael accepted plates from Helen and went to the table. As she sat, Daria looked out the window into the predawn light. "I don't think this place has ever seen this many people awake this early."

Quinn said, "Really. Daria, I know you two didn't get up early just to see me off. What's up?"

Daria shrugged. "We also want to head out right after breakfast. That'll give us the afternoon to get Michael settled into the dorm, and then show him my place."

Jake asked, "Michael, what are your plans between now and when classes start?"

"Job hunting. I had a one-shot scholarship that helped me keep my head above water last year. I need something else this year."

The remainder of breakfast fell into the familiar Morgendorffer silence. While Daria and Michael were putting their dishes in the washer, the doorbell rang.

Quinn rushed over and opened the door. "Lindy! I'm glad you made it."

The blond woman entered and hugged Quinn. "Told you I'd stop by before you left."

Lindy waved to the rest. "Hi."

Daria looked over. "I bet Casa Lane still isn't used to having somebody who willingly gets up in the morning living there."

Lindy laughed. "Not really, but I thinks it's adapting."

"Thanks again for having us over the other night."

"I had fun, and Amanda appreciated seeing you again."


Half an hour later, Daria looked down at her watch and then at Quinn, sitting beside Lindy on one of the sofa sections. "We should be going. I suggest leaving at the same time, to keep Mom and Dad's long good byes to a minimum."

Quinn sighed. "Yeah, you're right."

Daria stood up and held Michael's hand. "Mom, Dad. We're ready."

Helen looked at Jake and took his hand. Daria could sense their feelings of loss.

At a slow pace, all went to the driveway. After a "Good-bye," Michael waved to all, got into his silver-gray car and patiently waited.

Daria hugged both her parents and said, "Once more unto the breach."

Helen said, "Drive careful, Sweetie."

Jake said, "Have a safe trip."

Daria told both, "That's my intention."

She went to Quinn, hesitated, and hugged her little sister. "You really need to be careful. Four days is a long trip by yourself."

"I'll be careful, and I'll miss you, Sis."

"Hey, with that phone you gave me, I'll be even easier to contact than last year."

"But, I'll know you won't be as close."

"I understand. I hate these long good-byes."

Daria waved to Lindy, got into her black sedan and started it. After Michael backed into the street, Daria followed suit. With her in the lead, they headed toward the interstate.

Quinn wiped a tear. "Bye, Sis."

Lindy tapped her shoulder. "Daria was right. Please drive carefully."

Quinn hugged her friend. "I promise. I'll also call you when I'm settled."

"I'd appreciate that."

Lindy smiled toward Jake and Helen. "I'll head on out so you can have a few minutes with your folks. Bye."

"Bye, Lindy." Sniffing back more tears, she watched her friend also drive away. A couple moments later, Quinn turned to face her parents.

Both hugged her tightly for several minutes. Overlapping admonitions to be careful and to please call every night she was on the road filled the time. Finally, she disengaged. "Mom, Dad. I'll be careful. I have a real long day ahead; I need to get going. I'll miss you."

Helen said, "We'll miss you, too."

Quinn's shoulders dropped a bit and she quickly hugged her parents again. "I love you."

Both said, "I love you," in return.

Quinn held them a bit longer before she also went to her red Vexer. She squeezed into the stuffed vehicle. Even with Daria's help to cut down on what I'm carrying, I can barely get in. She waved and yelled, "Bye!" as she drove away.

Helen waved to her youngest a last time and stared down the empty street. Upon hearing a sniffle from Jake, she turned to ask, "Are you okay?"

"Sure, Honey. Our last little girl has officially left the nest. Why wouldn't I be okay?"

She moved one hand over to hold his. "Because, you already miss them as much as I do."

"It's going to be a long autumn."

Helen turned and kissed Jake. "But, we still have each other. Now, we have more time to work on that. Like we talked about last night."

"We do still have the rest of the day off…"

"…And the house to ourselves."


"No damn wonder they had ladies in waiting," Daria grumbled.

Late that afternoon, her roommate, Jane Lane, pulled tight on the back lacing of a yellow and blue quartered cotehardie that Daria had worn a couple weeks earlier for Raft's summer production of Henry V. Finally, Jane tied it with a bow knot. "I bet they would have killed for a zipper."

Daria squirmed around. "Still tight around the middle. Oh well."

"If I could get you out running with me, you wouldn't have that problem."

"It's bad enough that I walk for exercise nowadays; I won't fall that far into the abyss."

"There's not another reason you may be a bit large around the middle, is there?"

"Jane, I'm going to rejoice when you finally drag your butt up to the gutter. No, we have not put the pills to the test."

"Just checking."

Daria turned and looked in the mirror. The close fit and clean lines of the dress gave her an elegant beauty, even with the slight bulge around the midsection. "Okay, this will be a first. I'm intentionally wearing something special to look good for a guy."

"After spending six hours on the road and two hours helping him move into his room."

"I am a little nervous about this."

"You'll be fine."

Daria looked down. "And a little excited."

Jane smirked. "And you gave me hell for wearing retro clothes for Nathan."

"Crap."

"Gotcha."

"However, I'm not going out in public."

"Crap. Wait, you got up on stage."

"True, but that was for a class, not for Michael. You took foxtrot lessons for Nathan."

"Hey, those were fun, even if he was a jerk."

"Um…actually, the play was fun."

Jane shook her head. "Okay, I'll go tell your boy-toy you're ready and then make a tasteless departure."

Daria put a hand on Jane's arm. "Ask him to give me a minute."

"Sure, later." Jane went into the hall and Daria could hear her say, in a bad, fake British accent, "Her highness needs another couple minutes to prepare. I'm off for a run."

Daria pulled a zippered bag from her closet and opened it. The smell of moth balls drifted up to her nose. Inside, on hangers, were a black skirt, a dull orange shirt and a green jacket. I've gone through a lot since your retirement, but you will never be forgotten. Michael would have seen through you just as easily as he saw through my baggy sweatshirts. Even as much as my therapy sessions, his kindness has helped me accept how I look. He deserves this. She closed it the zipper and returned it to the rack.

Daria opened the door to her room. "Okay, you can come in now."

Michael came in, said, "Wow," and gave her one of the gentle hugs she enjoyed. After a few moments, he took a step back and looked at her. "The dress doesn't make you look beautiful, you make it look beautiful."

She held his hands and felt a blush. "Thank you."

"Thank you for going to the trouble of showing me. I bet this wasn't easy for you. I appreciate it."

"It's still hard for me to dress up. You've always been able to see me, despite what I might wear. You even told me I was beautiful on our first date. With the way everyone said I looked in this, I wanted you to see in person."

He drew her close and kissed her. "One of the interpretations for the meaning of 'Daria' is 'Queen.' Like the dress, it fits you perfectly."


Showered and relaxed after a long day's drive, Quinn sat on a bed and brushed her hair. The mid-priced hotel off the interstate in Indiana was about what you'd expect. A basic room to wash up and sleep. Certainly not Le Grande. And that restaurant. Brr. How much fat do they expect people to eat? At least they had salads.

Quinn set her brush down and walked more to work out the stiffness in her muscles. She interlaced her fingers and stretched her arms up over her head and leaned back. As she did, she recoiled back and said, "Eww! What is that stain on the ceiling?"


Helen slid under the sheets with a smile and a bit of embarrassment. I suppose that was a little excessive for our first day with the house to ourselves.

She settled down with her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. Even though she knew the house really wasn't any quieter than before, the silence was suddenly overwhelming. Helen curled against Jake and listened to his breathing for reassurance. They're really gone. Where did all those years go? I wish I had spent a little extra time with them.


"I don't care if this exit doesn't have a big-name hotel. I'm tired of driving for the day," Quinn complained. The sun was low in the sky ahead as she exited the interstate and followed the road signs to the nearest hotel.

Big Bill's Road Ranch looked like the refugee from late 60's tourist kitsch that it was. From the fake hitching posts to the worn stucco, it had seen better days, but still looked to be at least regularly cleaned.

"Howdy, ma'am!" the desk clerk greeted as she came in. She tiredly walked over.

"I need a room for one."

"One night?"

"Yes."

"Cash or card?"

Quinn handed over her credit card and waited while the transaction was completed. After accepting the key card from the man, she asked, "Is there a restaurant here?"

"Yes, ma'am. Right around back. Best barbeque pork ribs in Oklahoma!"

"Pork ribs?"

"Yes, ma'am. We use only the finest local raised porkers. Make sure you get a bib, they are juicy."

Quinn gave a queasy smile. "Do you have a fruit plate?"


Jake stood in the upstairs hall and looked between the two open doors of the bedrooms. I've hardly ever seen open doors in the last four years. Quinn's room looked almost lived in. Only if you knew Quinn would you recognize that the almost-full closet was comparatively empty, or that some of the stuffed animals were gone from the canopy bed.

Jake leaned on the doorframe and said, "I would've stayed in that old apartment if I'd known just how much of your lives I would miss." He turned and went to Daria's old room. It was almost bare; she'd moved everything with her earlier in the summer. "Girls, I'm sorry."


Sandi tore the letter from her mother's files into small fragments and scattered them into a trashcan at a highway rest stop. That job complete, she returned to her yellow convertible.

As Sandi sat down, she looked over at the heavy manila envelope holding the information on her college trust fund and remembered her private questions to the family accountant on the previous Friday.


She said, "So…only you can write checks from the fund and only to the school for tuition, books, room and board."

"Yes, Ma'am. Your parents made sure this was a very tightly controlled trust. Even they cannot withdraw funds during the four school years of the contract."

Because they've been on the edge of divorce for years and don't trust the other not to raid it.

"But remember, little lady, that puts a time limit on how long you can take to graduate. Don't dawdle. Unless you pay out of pocket for something else, you'll have to live in the dorms and use the school meal plan all four years."

"I understand."


"I understand." She started the car and backed out to resume her drive to North Coastal State. "You lost me, Mother. I'm gone and will never return to your house. Never." As she accelerated down the road, Sandi thought, I'm glad I warned Sam and Chris, so she won't be able to do the same to them.

The wind blew a fragment out of the trashcan and across the driveway.

From the desk of:
Linda Griffin
Vice President of Marketing
KSBC Television
Lawndale, MD.

Dear Principal Li,


The desert air of New Mexico felt like a massive blow dryer on high as Quinn rushed to the hotel lobby. How can anybody live here without stock in a moisturizer company?

After a brief exchange with the desk clerk for a room, Quinn had dropped a suitcase off and was back on the road to find the New Age diner that he'd told her about. After the first relaxing meal that wasn't a salad or bowl of cereal since leaving Lawndale, she enjoyed the ride back to the hotel.

The lot was dark when she parked near her room. Quinn grumbled, "Idiots can't keep the lights on," as she firmly gripped her pepper spray and locked the car. She gazed up and stopped. Stars blazed in the clear desert sky like she'd never seen before and the opalescent glow of the Milky Way astonished her. Minutes passed by as she stared up. The sound of another car broke her concentration and she walked quickly to her room. Inside, she went to the window and stared out from her darkened room for many more long minutes. "Wow."


Helen rested her briefcase on the kitchen counter and double-checked the contents before snapping it shut. She looked at Jake quietly reading the paper and drinking coffee at the table. Without even Quinn around, the Monday morning had seemed empty and without event. Helen looked at her watch and said to him, "Back to the old grindstone. I don't want to be late the first day back from vacation."

Jake grunted a reply without lowering his paper, just as he'd done for many years.

Helen started out the door and stopped. She turned and went back to her husband. Helen placed two fingers on his cheek and turned his head to kiss him. "I love you, Jakey. Have a nice day."

Jake sat in surprise with his eyes wide. "Oh…Have a nice day. And…I love you, too."


Quinn followed the small map she'd picked up at the parking kiosk to find her dormitory and a place to park, though the space was quite a distance from the building. Supremely annoyed at her stiffness, she rose and stretched. If I ever hear Daria bitch about her six hour drive from Boston again, I'll kill her. She grabbed one bag, locked up, and went inside.

Several women were at the front desk and many other young women milled around and talked. After waiting in line for about ten minutes, she made it up to one of the ladies. "Hi, I'm Quinn Morgendorffer. I need to check in."

A tanned girl with platinum blond hair snapped some gum and said, "Spell that."

"M-O-R-G-E-N-D-O-R-F-F-E-R"

"Okay, girlie." She ducked under the counter and came up several seconds later with keys. "Here ya go. You're in room four-thirty-one. Sign here." She pointed to a page on a clipboard covered with names and room numbers.

"Thanks." Quinn signed and wrote "431" beside her name.

She went to the elevator and joined the crowd of freshman waiting. Soon the car arrived and they herded into it. Each freshman carried some bag, box or other item. When Quinn exited on the fourth floor, she waved back. "Bye, Patricia, Zoe, Lisa, Cassie. I'll see you around."

Several replies of, "Bye, Quinn," came from within.

She smiled and went to her room, unlocking the door. Inside, Quinn saw a tiny, thin girl, dressed all in black, sitting on a bed. She was facing away and sorting through a suitcase.. Her brown/black hair fell to the bed and spread out a foot around her.

Quinn smiled and said, "Hi, I'm Quinn Morgendorffer."

The girl waved a hand without looking. "I'm Fran Lawrence. Looks like we're roommates."

"Looks like it."

Fran's hand fell and she said in a quieter voice. "Before I turn around…I was in a very bad accident when I was ten. I had to be cut out of a crushed car. My face can be unsettling."

Fran turned. Quinn first noticed soft, gray eyes with long, even lashes under delicately arched brows. Below, scars crossed the lower half of Fran's face, with the left side flattened and pressed back and a slight droop to that side of her mouth.

Quinn let out a weak, "Ee," and raised her hand to her mouth.

Fran looked down for a moment. "That's why I warned you."

"I'm sorry."

"I've had eight years to adapt to it. It is a natural reaction."

I bet Daria would've reacted better. "I'm still sorry."

Quinn placed her bag on the other bed and looked around. Fran had also arrived well supplied: her shelves were almost full of books and the open closet was heavily filled with clothes, almost all of them black. A computer was already set up on her workdesk.

"I still need to bring up my stuff. How about we go out for dinner after that?"

Fran gave her a smile. "I could eat. Thanks."

Quinn said, "I'll be back," and bounced out of the room. As she rode the elevator down, she thought, That poor girl. She has such lovely eyes, but hardly anyone will see them because… The door opened and she headed for the parking lot. But, what can I do?

Quinn saw several young men walking by the parking lot and waved to them. "Hi. Could any of you help me move my stuff up to my room?"

Fifteen minutes later, everything was in the room. Quinn grinned and waved to the departing men. "Thanks Rod, Tony, Larry and Alex. I'll see you around."

Calls of, "Bye Quinn…Nice to meet you, Quinn…Call any time…" came down the hall.

Quinn looked at the dumbfounded Fran and pulled out her cell phone. "I need to check in with my Mom, and let a good friend know I made it. Then, we'll go out. My treat."


"Thanks for calling, Quinn. I'm relieved you made it without any problems. Please call in a couple days after you get settled. Good-bye."

After hanging up the phone, Helen looked at the remaining stack of briefs on her desk and groaned. "And people wonder why I don't go on many vacations. Almost a full day back and it looks like I haven't made a dent in it."

Eric Schrecter entered the office and stood before Helen with a broad grin on his face. "The vote was unanimous. Congratulations, partner."

"What?"

"Partner. You made it."

"I did?"

Eric grinned more. "Yes, you did. All your hard work has paid off. I'm assigning Becker, Wilson and Collingsworth to deal with these backlogs. You can cut back your hours to something reasonable. Get some rest. Spend extra time with your kids. I must get going. Once again, congratulations."

Helen stared in shock for a minute before saying with a bitter laugh, "Get some rest."

She slid down in her chair. "Spend extra time with your kids."

Quietly, she began to cry.


Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.

February 2005