School Days: Coffee Talk
This story is part of my “Avenging Shadows” Universe and more specifically, my “Rise of TheWolfpack” stories. They’re posted here on the site – find and read them. Try it – you’ll like it. If you’re not familiar with the characters featured, Barnabas Collins is a vampire, from the series “Dark Shadows”, who, in this world, is the Co-Headmaster of a private school for youngsters with super-powers. This school is run under the auspices of Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the X-Men. Dolly Donahue is a minor character in the Marvel Comics Universe, who serves as housekeeper and cook (and occasional teacher) for this private school. All the characters are the property of either Dan Curtis Productions or Marvel Comics. They’re not my characters. I just like to play with them. Enjoy the story…
The Stoddard Institute
Barnabas Collins sighed and looked at the clock as he sat in his office at the Stoddard Institute, formerly the Windcliff Sanitarium. Noting that it was nearly 3:00am, Barnabas stretched and stood up.
“I’ve spent enough time tonight trying to catch up on paperwork”, he thought to himself. “It’s a lovely morning and this would be a nice time to take a stroll on the grounds of the school.”
Barnabas got up and walked from his office. Using his vampiric senses, he listened carefully to determine if anyone else was up at this early hour. Dolly Donahue, the housekeeper and cook hired for the school was up and moving around in the kitchen, but Barnabas could not detect anyone else awake. Barnabas walked through the large building. Once it had been a hospital and Sanitarium, owned by his colleague and lover, Dr. Julia Hoffman. But recently, the place has underwent major renevations and now served as the Stoddard Institute for Higher Learning… a private school for gifted youngsters, gifted meaning mutants, shape-shifters and children with other unusual abilities.
“With myself and Quentin as the Headmasters”, he laughed to himself. “What was Charles Xaiver thinking?”
Barnabas continued to walk through the large estate, checking to make sure the students were in their rooms and that was all well within the brick walls of his new home. He continued his walk and went down to the kitchen area. As he as noted earlier, he saw Dolly reading the newspaper and sipping on a cup of coffee.
“Good morning, Miss Donahue”, Barnabas spoke.
At the sound of the voice, Dolly glanced up to see who had interupted her early morning solitude.
“Good morning, Mr. Collins”, Dolly smiled as she looked up. “Can’t sleep, can you?”, she asked.
“No”, Barnabas smiled. “But then again, I rarely can sleep for very long at night. And please… call me Barnabas.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right”, Dolly frowned. “I had forgotten that you were a… night person.”
“Indeed”, Barnabas smiled.
“Well, I’ll call you Barnabas if you can remember to call me Dolly”, she said. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No, thank you”, Barnabas smiled. “Too much caffeine doesn’t mix well with the serum I take each morning.”
“Well, that’s just it, you know”, Dolly said. “That serum. It’s why I keep forgetting your curse after seeing you bee-bop around here so much during the day.”
“Bee Bop?”, Barnabas asked with a slight smirk.
“You know what I mean”, Dolly snapped back. “I’ve seen you teaching the kids, breaking up fights, even riding horses with Dr. Hoffman… not what anyone would expect from a vampire, don’t you know.”
“You’ve had prior experience with vampires, Miss Donahu… Dolly?”, Barnabas asked.
“Not with vampires, per say”, Dolly said. “But being the housekeeper for The Defenders, as well as dating The Gargoyle and being associated with Dr. Strange and Damion Hellstrom, I’m not unfamiliar with them.”
“You’ve had quite the experiences”, Barnabas noted. “No wonder you accept and can handle the atmosphere and students here so well.”
“After living in the suburbs with The Hulk”, Dolly remarked, “as well as having the Son of Satan as an in-law, nothng these kids can do can phase me too much. Although cleaning up Mickey’s room sometimes can be rather frightening at times.”
“He’s that bad?”, Barnabas asked with a smirk.
“His room is disgusting”, Dolly noted. “Hard to believe that he and Link are such good friends. Link is so neat and meticulous about everything and Mickey is the total opposite.”
“Would you like me to talk to him?”, Barnabas asked.
“Nope”, Dolly said. “As long as he does the chores I assign him and keeps the trashpile confined to his quarters, I’m okay. I’ve got Akiko working on him.”
“Akiko?”, Barnabas raised an eyebrow in amusement.
“Mickey has a crush on Akiko. She likes him too, but won’t acknowledge him until he cleans up his act. And we all know how intimidating that Akiko can be”, Dolly laughed.
“Very well”, Barnabas smiled. “She may only be Wolverine’s foster daughter, but she’s far more like him than anyone has a right to be.”
“She’s stubborn, feisty, argumentive and usually right”, Dolly noted.
“Just like Wolverine”, Barnabas smiled as he stood up.
“Leaving already? Am I boring you that much”, Dolly asked.
“No”, Barnabas said as he walked to the coffee pot. “I just decided to get a cup of coffee.”
“I would have gotten that for you”, Dolly said. “And what about the caffeine?”
“I’m fine”, Barnabas smiled. “And I just remembered that I have to go over budget reports with Julia and Quentin later this morning. I’ll need the caffeine to stay awake.”
“Tell me about it”, Dolly laughed. “I remember how I could feel my eyes glaze over when Warren and Candy would start talking business and budgets over breakfast. A necessary evil, but I didn’t want to hear it.”
“Warren and Candy?”, Barnabas asked.
“Warren Worthington III, also known as the Angel, from the X-Men and Candy Southern, his long time girlfriend and business partner”, Dolly answered. “From my time in New Mexico with the Defenders.”
“Dolly, if you don’t mind my asking”, Barnabas started to say.
“How I ended up with the Defenders?”, Dolly finished for him.
“Exactly”, Barnabas smiled. “You’re a former school teacher and then you were a housekeeper. That doesn’t generally sound like the types of careers that one would associate with being around The Hulk, The Gargoyle, and super-heroes in general.”
“Like having coffee at 4:00am with a vampire”, Dolly laughed.
“Exactly”, Barnabas laughed back.
“There’s really not too much to tell”, Dolly said.
“I’d love to hear it though”, Barnabas smiled. “I’m curious.”
“Well, let me put on a fresh pot of coffee and I’ll tell you”, Dolly said as she got up.
“Would you like some help?”, Barnabas asked.
“I’ve heard stories from your man, Willie about how you are in the kitchen”, Dolly sighed. “Just sit right there and wait. This won’t take but a few minutes.”
“Willie has told you about my kitchen experiences?”, Barnabas asked.
“The way he described it was that having you attempt to cook a meal is far more terrifying than watching you vamp out on someone”, Dolly said.
“My cooking skills are somewhat limited”, Barnabas admitted.
“Well, you didn’t eat real food for what? Two hundred and fifty years? That’s to be expected”, Dolly remarked.
“In my time, the men didn’t cook”, Barnabas admitted. “And now…”
“Now, you don’t need to worry about it. Willie can cook over at Collinwood and I can cook here. We have it covered”, Dolly said.
“I should try to learn”, Barnabas said.
“If you want to learn, I’ll teach you”, Dolly said.
“That would be most excellent”, Barnabas said.
“Well, we’ll talk about it”, Dolly said as she sat down, cup of coffee in hand. “Now, what did you want to know?”
“How a former school-teacher and housekeeper from New Jersey ended up here”, Barnabas smiled.
“Well, I was raised in Montvale, New Jersey and worked for twenty-five years as a school teacher. My best friend was Dorothy Walker, who’s the mother of Pasty Walker, the super-heroine known as The Hellcat. Dorothy created a media empire built around her daughter, Patsy and her friends.”
“A media empire?”, Barnabas asked.
“Dorothy was a writer and wrote comic books based on Pasty. Eventually, the characters exploded into other forms of media and was quite the big thing for many years”, Dolly explained.
Barnabas nodded in understanding and Dolly continued her story.
“As Dorothy spent more and more time pushing Patsy to be a model and writing her books, she began to have less and less time for her husband and her child. Finally, her husband, Joshua Walker, had enough and left. And Dorothy changed drastically. She became cold and unfeeling and began to push everyone away. I had to step in and after quitting my job as a teacher, I stepped in as Dorothy’s housekeeper, so I could be there for her and Patsy.”
“That’s a very noble thing to do”, Barnabas noted.
“Not really”, Dolly said. “Dorothy, despite how she was acting, was my friend. And Patsy needed someone there too, to look after her and help her cope with everything.”
Dolly stopped to take a drink of coffee.
“Finally, Patsy had enough and married an Air Force soldier named Buzz Baxter. She claimed it was love, but I knew it was just her way of escaping and trying to get away from her mother and the whole life her mother had created for her. Pasty left and I just stayed there with Dorothy, who became more cold and distant than ever. More than once, I thought about leaving myself, but I couldn’t do it. Dorothy had driven everyone else away and I knew that I was the only friend she had left. So I just stayed and worked as Dorothy’s housekeeper for several more years.”
“What caused Mrs. Walker to become so bitter?”, Barnabas asked.
“Part of it was she felt that Patsy was ungrateful for the life she had. And part of it, as we discovered later, was that Dorothy had gotten involved with the occult. She had become cold and selfish and distant.”
“Dealing with the occult is not always a wise thing”, Barnabas said. “If one is not absolutely sure what they’re doing, it’s far too easy for evil to gain a foothole and corrupt a soul, turning a once pleasant being into a being of pettiness, corruption and evil ways.”
“That sounds like what happened to Dorothy”, Dolly observed. “Although to be honest about it, she was never the most friendly or welcoming of persons anyhow. She could be cold and petty at times. And that’s even when we were children.”
“So Patsy Walker had left and you stayed on as Mrs. Walker’s housekeeper?”, Barnabas asked, trying to get Dolly to resume her tale.
“Well, Dorothy started getting sick. It was cancer. And it was terminal”, Dolly started.
“I’m sorry”, Barnabas said.
“Thank you”, Dolly said. “The doctors didn’t give her much time to live, so I contacted Patsy, who by this time had started wearing yellow leotards and had become a genuine super-hero called The Hellcat. She was living in New York and hanging around with a group called The Defenders.”
“That would be Dr. Strange and The Hulk at this point, correct?”, Barnabas asked.
“Plus Valkyrie, a genuine Norse goddess from Asgard, and Kyle Richmond, who liked to put on wings and call himself Nighthawk”, Dolly remarked. “There were a couple of others in the group at the time. A guy called Devil Slayer and of course, Damion Hellstrom, who I mentioned earlier. And I think Prince Namor of Atlantis was hanging around then too.”
“Quite a collection of characters”, Barnabas noted.
“And Pasty was right at home with them, in her element”, Dolly sighed. “But I had to bring her back to reality to let her know about her mother.”
“That had to be hard”, Barnabas said quietly.
“It was. Patsy came to see her mother, but it didn’t go well. Dorothy was full of bitterness and so miserable. And Patsy was immature as well. It was not a good scene at all”, Dolly said sadly.
Dolly sat for a moment, her eyes full of memories, as she took another sip from her coffee.
“Well Dorothy died and Pasty and her friends came to Montvale for the funeral and stayed on for several days afterwards. It was quite the experience having Patsy, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and The Hulk living in the house with me. Finally, The Hulk and Kyle left and Valkyrie vanished. We found out later that she had been transported back to Asgard for some reason, so it was just Patsy and I.”
“I would imagine that things were extremely difficult trying to adjust”, Barnabas said as he took a sip of coffee.
“It was”, Dorothy said. “Pasty and I were arguing like cats and dogs. But we were both in mourning and I guess that’s to be expected.”
“I would think so”, Barnabas agreed.
“Well, one night, I was downstairs in the kitchen washing dishes when I heard a loud explosion from upstairs, where Patsy was in her room. It was some creature attacking Patsy. I later learned it was Issac, the Gargoyle, under the influence of some demon lord. But he was kidnapping Patsy. I screamed and caught his attention and he fired some kind of energy blasts and the house just exploded around me.”
Dolly stopped, lost in her memories of the explosion. Barnabas noticed this and placed his hand on hers.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stir up bad memories. Would you like to stop?”, he asked.
“No, I’m fine”, Dolly said. “So where was I?”, she asked.
“The explosion”, Barnabas said.
“Oh yes”, Dolly remembered. “After that, I spent a long time in the hospital, barely alive. While the doctor’s cared for me, Patsy and her friends defeated the demon that had ordered her kidnapped and Issac, no longer under that creature’s control, joined their group. Pasty visited me in the hospital regularly, even though I had no awareness of what was going on. And after much convincing and pleading by Issac, she allowed him to come with her to visit me as well. He was truly remorseful of his part in my injuries and really wanted to make amends to both Patsy and myself. Finally, Patsy brought Damion Hellstrom to visit me and Damion has some kind of healing powers which he used to accelerate my recovery. It was a long and hard recovery, but eventually, I was released from the hospital and went to New York to live with Patsy and her friends at Dr. Strange’s Brownstone.”
“That’s right”, Barnabas noted. “Your home had been destroyed.”
“And the insurance wouldn’t pay for a new one because apparently demon attacks weren’t covered by our policy”, Dolly said angrily.
“Imagine that”, Barnabas smiled grimly.
“So from there, I was just part of the Defenders family. Patsy married Damion and they moved to Los Angeles. By this time, I was beginning to have feelings for Issac Christians and remained with the team when Pasty left. We moved from New York to New Mexico not long after Hank McCoy, who you know as The Beast, and his friends Warren, who I mentioned earlier and Bobby Drake, the Iceman joined the team. We also had Moondragon and a young girl named Cloud as part of the team then.”
“I know Hank and Bobby”, Barnabas smiled. “And I’ve met The Angel. I’ve heard of Moondragon as well, but I don’t recognize this Cloud you’re speaking of.”
“She was a young lady that the team rescued from a group called The Secret Empire. She could turn into a cloud, complete with lightning bolts and everything”, Dolly smiled.
“Amazing”, Barnabas said.
“She was. Turned out that she wasn’t even a real human. She was a star… literally.”
“Like a star from space?”, Barnabas asked, confused.
“Exactly”, Dolly explained. “It turns out that Cloud was actually a living, sentinent star from another galaxy who came to Earth seeking help. She took human form and for a while thought that she was human. The Defenders managed to help her regain her true memories and return to space.”
“That is incredible”, Barnabas said.
“I still have trouble believing it myself”, Dolly said. “Those were some crazy times. I stayed in New Mexico, acting as the housekeeper and cook for The Defenders team. And my relationship with Issac became even stronger. I was as happy as I can ever remember. And then it all fell apart.”
“What happened?”, Barnabas asked.
“Moondragon”, Dolly said. “She came under the influence of some evil creature called The Dragon of the Moon. And she was so powerful. It’s hard to describe. Val was killed. Warren was blinded. And Issac… Issac vanished as well. Moondragon was like a creature possessed. She destroyed our home and nearly destroyed the entire team. In the end though, the team managed to defeat Moondragon and save the world. But Val and Issac were gone. Moondragon was gone. And a new ally, a woman named Andromeda, was gone too.”
“I’ve met Andromeda when I was associating with the Avengers in London”, Barnabas said. “Both her and Issac.”
“Yes, luckily for all of us, death doesn’t seem to be as final for people in their line of work, thank God!”, Dolly said. “It was just like Dorothy dying all over again, but worse. Patsy invited me to come stay with her and Damion. And Charles Xaiver offered me a job at his school in Weschester, but I wasn’t ready for any of that. Warren loaned me some money and I just traveled for a while. Traveled and mourned Issac, Val, Cloud, Moondragon and everyone else. I just tried to stay active and find myself again.”
“That’s understandable”, Barnabas said. “But eventually, you ended up here. How did that happen?”
“Well, after Issac managed to come back, he contacted me through Patsy. We spoke, but I was just tired of everything and still traveling. He understood and gave me my space. I continued to travel and was on a cruise in Alaska when Issac called me and told me that Patsy was dead. Suicide!”
“Oh no”, Barnabas said. “I’m so sorry. But Hellcat is alive. I’ve met her!”
“More of that revolving door for heroes”, Dolly said. “She was rescued by the Thunderbolts from Hell, much the same way you and the Avengers rescued Dr. Hoffman. But make no mistake about it. She was as dead as dead can be. And if I was lost before, that was the final straw. I totally snapped and just wanted to die myself.”
“Obviously, you got better though”, Barnabas said.
“It took a long time. I continued to travel for a bit and finally settled down in a small town in Virginia. I did volunteer work and worked as a librarian. It was a quiet little life and I managed to pull myself together. The healing took a while, but it happened.”
“Did you keep in touch with Issac during this time?”, Barnabas asked.
“I spoke to Issac regularly. I also talked to Hank on occasion, but he was always so busy being an X-Man. I saw the others when Candy died and we had a small service for her. But for the most part, I was rebuilding my life and I kept the contact with the craziness that you people seem to live for to an absolute minimum. I kept busy and I thought I was happy. I missed Patsy dearly though.”
“So what happened? Why did you come back into all of this if you were so happy?”, Barnabas asked.
“Well, first of all, Patsy came back from the dead. She was alive.”
“That had to be quite a shock”, Barnabas said.
“It was, but in a good way. She stayed with me for a short while, but eventually left to go rebuild her own life. And went back to my own life, content in my own little world. And then I had a visit from Moondragon.”
“Moondragon?”, Barnabas repeated.
“I was shocked to see her too”, Dolly said. “But one day when I got off work from the library, there she was in my apartment. She said that she had been keeping tabs on me and was unhappy that I was wasting my life. How did she put it? I was ‘denying my destiny’, I believe is what she said.”
“But how would she know what your destiny is? She sounds somewhat arrogant”, Barnabas said.
“Arrogant doesn’t even begin to describe Moondragon”, Dolly laughed. “She truly believes that she is a goddess among humans and that her telepathic abilities make her our better. She always has the best of intentions, but somehow intentions and results didn’t always work out to be the same thing.”
“And she was trying to tell you how to live your life?”, Barnabas said.
“She was, but actually I didn’t mind. It’s kind of strange actually, but Moondragon… Heather gave voice to what was actually going on in my mind.”
“How so?”, Barnabas asked.
“I was keeping busy and doing so much, trying to convince everyone that I was happy and content. I was trying to convince myself, but deep down, in my heart, I knew something was missing from my life. There was an emptiness there that I was trying to deny. Heather was right. And I just needed someone to point out what I already knew. I didn’t belong there. I had been through too much over the past few years to just fade away and retire to a quiet non-existence.”
“I’m sure it was more than that. Think of the people you were helping”, Barnabas smiled.
“Maybe so, but I wasn’t happy. How much help could I be for others when I wasn’t helping myself?”, Dolly asked.
“So what happened next?”, Barnabas asked.
“Well, Issac called me and told me that you and the others were starting this school. And it was like a light came on in my head. It just felt right.”
“You don’t know how relieved we were when Issac called Professor Xaiver and told him that he knew someone who could come here and help us with these children”, Barnabas smiled.
“They’re a handful at times”, Dolly admitted, “but so was Pasty when she was a child. And so was living with Hank, Bobby and Warren. I swear, those three, when they’re together, make the Three Stooges look like respectable, mature adults.”
“Who are these Three Stooges you mentioned?”, Barnabas asked.
“For someone so old”, Dolly smiled at Barnabas, “you sure are clueless at times. They’re three slapstick comedians from the fifties. Ask Quentin about them sometimes. He watches them in his office quite regularly.”
“I will”, Barnabas smiled.
“And well, to end the story, you needed a housekeeper and cook here at the Institute as well as a part time teacher. I needed a place to feel like I was making a difference. And here we are”, Dolly said.
“And here we are”, Barnabas smiled.
“And that’s enough talking”, Dolly said. “Look at the time. The students will start getting up soon and I haven’t even started breakfast yet.”
“I didn’t realize that we had been talking so long”, Barnabas replied. “Is there anything I can do to help.”
Dolly just threw a scowling look at Barnabas before breaking into a smile.
“Go do whatever it is that you do in the morning”, Dolly said. “Go watch the sun come up or go take your serum.”
“In other words, get out of your kitchen so you can get to work”, Barnabas smiled.
“Exactly”, Dolly said. “Now shoot.”
“I’m leaving”, Barnabas smiled. “But before I go, I just want to say thank you, Dolly Donahue.”
“Thank you? What kind of rubbish are you speaking over there?”, Dolly asked.
“Thank you for being a part of our school… our family. You’re an incredible person”, Barnabas said.
“You’re not so bad yourself, Mr. Collins… I mean, Barnabas”, Dolly smiled. “Now what did I tell you to do?”
“Leave so you can get breakfast started?”, Barnabas said.
“So why are you still here?”, Dolly smiled. “Don’t make me stake you.”
“That won’t be necessary”, Barnabas smiled as he walked to the door. “Until our next encounter then.”
Dolly just glanced over at Barnabas and gave him a nod and smile.
Barnabas smiled back and walked out the door.
“It is a lovely morning”, he thought to himself as he walked down the hall. “I believe that I should go take my serum and then go enjoy the beauty of the new day.”
THE END (?)