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 Thirtieth story in the Falling into College series.
A Part That's Gained
The tantalizing smell of lasagna wafted through the three-bedroom apartment Jane Lane shared with Daria Morgendorffer and Karen Myerson. After a day of class at Boston Fine Arts College and work at the arts and crafts program of the Boston Children's Hospital, Jane relaxed in her room and checked email.
She clicked on a message from Daria's cousin, Erin Chambers.
Happy to hear your classes are going well. I miss college.
At least Brian won't be wandering around on me as much now. He was picked up for another DUI and lost his license. But then, that means I get to drive him around whenever. At least I'll have a better idea of where he's at.
I have an interview for a new job on Wednesday. I have a really good feeling about it, and it will mean at least $2 an hour more. Plus, get me out of this hell-hole I'm working in now. Wish me luck.
"Good luck, kid," Jane said to the monitor.
Jane had just hit the reply button when the front door slammed open and Karen's voice rang through the house. "Only me. Stay where you are and don't breathe for a few minutes." Rapid footsteps echoed through the apartment. "I don't want to talk about it. I only want a long shower."
Jane yelled toward the hallway, "Fall into something?"
From the hall came, "Not exactly."
Daria's voice yelled from the kitchen. "Good thing you got the cast off your arm last week, or you'd be soaking in it."
Karen started the shower and replied, "Thanks for that wonderful visual. I like you, too."
Toweling her light brown/dark blond hair dry, Karen emerged from the bathroom. She had a green towel wrapped around her, covering from breasts to upper thighs. Through the hallway door that opened into the living room, she could see a red-headed man in a Park Service uniform sitting on the sofa.
Karen sniffed and recognized the recipe Michael's mother had sent Daria. Karen said, "Daria's making lasagna; figures you'd be here for dinner."
Michael Fulton turned and quickly turned away. "Call it a weakness."
Karen chuckled. "More like an addiction. Has Daria said that you're cute when you blush?"
Jane looked in from her room. "What's he blushing about? He's seen you in less with your swimsuit."
Karen shrugged as she turned into her room. "Maybe because this looks like it could fall off at any moment?" She closed the door.
Jane snaked her head around the hallway door to look toward the kitchen. "I think his innocence turns Daria on."
Still pointedly facing the other direction, Michael said, "Sheesh, try to behave yourself."
Daria entered from the kitchen and looked at Jane. "Let's say I appreciate it very much."
Jane laughed. "When's dinner ready?"
"That's what I was coming in to tell everyone: it's ready, but self-serve. I am not my mother."
Jane rushed to the kitchen. "We're all grateful for that."
Daria folded her arms and looked at the empty doorway. "Should I be pleased, or concerned?"
Barefoot and pulling down a t-shirt over sweat pants, Karen walked up behind Daria. "Yes." Without pausing, she went into the kitchen.
Michael walked up to Daria and softly put his arms around her waist. "I'll wait until the she-wolves are done fighting over the kill."
After a quick look that Jane and Karen were still in the kitchen, Daria turned and lightly nibbled on Michael's neck. He closed his eyes in pleasure as Daria whispered in his ear, "You do realize that Jane is right."
He very gently moved a fingertip along her spine. Daria arched her back in response and he whispered, "You have the same effect on me."
He reluctantly released her and waved a hand toward the kitchen. "Shall we join them?"
"We better, or they'll only make more rude comments."
Jane was the first out of the kitchen with a full plate. "Michael, how's your new job at Boston National Historic Park?"
He shook his head. "Emptying trash cans is such exciting work."
Karen followed Jane. "On days like today, I'll trade ya."
Jane sat and asked, "So, what happened?"
Karen looked at her plate. "The hell with it, you asked. The chimps were not happy campers, and had surprisingly good aim."
"By the time I graduate, I'll fully understand the feeding strategies of vultures," Jane observed as she slowly drove through the parking lot of BFAC, looking for evidence of an open space. She spotted a student walking toward a car and pulling keys from his pocket. She sped up and got behind him, slipping in just ahead of another car attempting the same thing. His exiting car was barely clear of the space when the phoenix-decorated hood of her black sedan moved into it.
She checked her watch and said, "Crap. I'll barely be able to make it." Grabbing a backpack, she slid out of the car and locked it. Still working the pack onto her back, she started a fast jog across the lot.
Desperate to stay awake in the mind-numbing boredom of her Business Math class, Jane reached her left hand behind her thigh and pinched hard. In response, her blue eyes opened slightly wider. I ran for this? Only a couple more minutes. Think straight C's in math. Come on Lane, you can do it.
The wiry, gray-haired professor teaching the class said, "Miss Lane. What is the answer to question twenty-seven?"
Swallowing, Jane forced her eyes to focus on the homework in front of her. She scanned down and found the question. "Um...three percent interest?"
"So, I see you're at least partially on this planet. Very good. Okay class, I can see most of you starting to nod off, that must mean the hour is almost up. Complete questions thirty-one through sixty for homework. Review on Thursday, your first test next Tuesday. Have a nice day."
Jane closed her notebook and dropped it in the backpack. She took her time closing the pack and putting it on. As she approached the door, she slowed to fall in step with a young woman with dark brown hair, walking with the aid of elbow crutches. Jane asked, "Nell, how's things?"
Jane's dorm neighbor from the spring before, Nell Girard, yawned and shook her head. "Wonderful."
Jane yawned and said, "Don't start that."
"Call it a gift."
"That keeps on giving. You need a ride today?"
"If you could."
"I'll get my car and meet you in front of Young Hall."
Jane double-parked in front of a grocery store. Nell clambered out of the passenger door and adjusted her crutches. "Have fun with the kids."
Jane smiled. "Don't I always? Don't kill the customers."
"Eh, the boss frowns on that. However, I might consider killing one of the baggers if they miss my register and the customer expects me to get up to bag for them."
Jane laughed and shook her head. "Don't work too hard. See you Thursday."
"I'll try not to. Later."
After Nell closed the door, Jane accelerated away before the drivers backed up behind her became too disgruntled.
The arts and crafts room of Boston Children's Hospital was a minor maelstrom of activity. Jane walked through the diverse group of kids, each working on different projects. Though it was hectic at times, Jane eschewed group projects and encouraged every child toward their own creations. Painting, drawing, and sculpting were all fair game for the children.
Like the time in high school when she helped with the local children's ward, Jane found the work enjoyable and immensely rewarding. I can't believe they're paying me to have so much fun.
She turned to see a bald, nine-year old boy, who was a chemotherapy patient. He looked paler than usual and swayed as he stood. Jane said, "Stan? Are you all right?"
He looked up and said, "I don't feel good."
She took his hand and said, "Why don't we go sit down for a bit?"
He slowly nodded and started to walk. After only a couple steps, Jane had to swoop down to catch him as he fell forward. "Damn!"
She carefully eased him to the floor and said to one of the other children, "Alicia, please push the call button for the nurse."
The red-haired girl looked at Jane and Stan for a moment with worry. Breaking her stare, she went to the call button and pushed it.
Jane mentally went through the emergency training she'd been given when she started. The boy was limp and his eyes had rolled back. Oh, God. This is bad.
Jane took a deep breath to calm her nerves. His skin was clammy to the touch. When she didn't see motion in his chest, she fumbled with his wrist. After several attempts, she pressed fingers against his throat. No...no.
She pulled up on the underside of his neck and pinched his nose. She gave him two quick puffs of air before locking her hands together over his chest. Working in fear of breaking his small ribs, she began the chest compresses. Somebody, please get here soon.
The duty nurse walked down the hall and into the room. Once she saw Jane, the nurse yelled, "Hang on!" and ran over.
She motioned for Jane to briefly stop and Jane reluctantly did so. The nurse took only seconds to assess the child's condition and said, "Can you keep up the CPR for a couple more minutes?"
Jane nodded and started administering it again. The nurse said, "I'll be right back to help after I call this in."
Jane nodded again and concentrated on keeping her counts straight.
Maybe a minute later, the nurse was back. "I'll take over the ventilation."
Jane said, "Thanks," and nodded a couple times in pace with her compressions. "Now."
After the nurse breathed into the boy's lungs, Jane started the next set of compressions, this time giving a verbal count.
A doctor and several nurses rushed in with a gurney. The doctor said, "Let me in."
Jane crawled aside as the trauma crew began working over the boy. She staggered back and sat in a chair as her surroundings once again fell into focus.
The room was mostly clear and Jane saw her boss, Mrs. Isabel Marquez, ushering the last of the children from the room. The older woman turned and noticed Jane. She came over and sat next to the young woman.
Jane said, "Thanks, 'Bel."
'Bel put an arm around her. "No, you deserve the thanks. You kept your head and did the right thing."
"I hope he'll be okay."
"That I can't tell you."
The doctor said, "I've got a pulse. Get him up and on."
'Bel pulled Jane a little closer. "You've had quite a shock. Take the rest of the day off and recover."
"I don't know...I'm worried about him."
"He's in good hands. I'll call you when we hear anything."
Jane gave a weak smile. "Okay. You better call."
Stan had disappeared behind the medical team and Jane couldn't see him as they rushed out of the room.
Jane came home to an empty apartment. Daria and Karen were still at work, so she had time to herself. She looked at the easel in her room and shook her head. "Nah, I need to run." She shed her work shirt and slacks and put on her trusty running shorts and shirt. Track shoes replaced boots and in moments she was jogging back down the outside stairs.
The run turned into a long one. Jane found herself dragging and heavily winded as she slowed at the front of the driveway and walked the rest of the way to cool down before going inside. She pulled mail from the box and began to idly sort it. Her legs felt limp as she pushed up the stairs. Damn, that was a harder run than I thought. She noticed the return label on one large envelope: Literature in Action. Looks like Daria made another sale. Good for her.
Inside the house, Jane finished sorting the mail and checked the answering machine. She saw that there were two messages and hit the play button.
"Hey, Karen. Derek. I'll be running about half an hour late tonight. Sorry."
Jane pressed the 'Save Message' button and played the next.
"Jane, this is 'Bel. Stan is still critical. The doctors are still trying to figure out what happened, but they say you starting CPR right away probably saved his life. Close calls like this are part of the job; you handled yourself like a pro. Thanks. I wish I had more news for you. Good night."
Jane breathed a sigh of some relief. In the aftermath of the run, she felt sore muscles in her legs and her sticky skin. "Bath."
She went straight to her room and tossed the sweaty clothes into the hamper. After walking naked to the bathroom, she started water in the tub and said, "I could use a little extra to relax. Karen, I owe you." Jane picked up a bottle and poured borrowed bubble bath into the hot water.
Jane climbed in and slid down, enjoying the relaxing heat. Once the water was deep enough, she reached up with a foot to shut off the water and closed her eyes. "Ahhh."
Looking at her prune-like hands, Jane heard a quiet, "Yes!" come from the dining room, which was just about the most demonstrative her best friend was about things.
Jane sat up and loudly said, "Congrats, Daria."
"Thanks. You're home early."
"You feeling okay? I know the hospital doesn't want you around if you're sick."
Jane stood and let the water drain off before grabbing a towel. "Daria, give me a minute, will you?"
Combing her still-damp hair, Jane left her room and heard her stomach growl. "It's my turn for dinner, isn't it?"
"We wouldn't, by chance, have any of your lasagna left over, would we?"
"Are you kidding?"
"More like hoping."
Daria looked closely at Jane. "I'll give you a hand, but you need to tell me what's bothering you."
"Damn, Morgendorffer. It's getting hard to hide stuff from you."
"Practice. Come on, pretend I've brow-beaten you into talking, like you would me."
"Because it will save you the effort?"
"And you the annoyance."
Pulling a covered dish from the microwave, Daria said, "That's a hell of a story. I don't know what we would have done if Dad's heart had actually stopped three years ago."
Jane stirred hamburger and onions in a skillet. "If they hadn't made me take the course, I wouldn't have known what to do."
"How does it feel to be a heroine?"
"What do you mean?"
"Heroine, feminine form of hero."
"Daria, I was scared to death."
"And you did the right thing. Sounds like a heroine to me."
"Heroines are supposed to do something dangerous."
Daria checked the vegetables in the dish. "Not necessarily dangerous, brave."
"And I still don't know if it was enough." Jane looked in the skillet. "This is ready," she said as she drained off the excess grease.
Daria put the dish in front of Jane. "Just dump it in and stir."
"And don't call me ma'am."
Partway through dinner, Jane set her fork down. "Daria, when I said I was scared to death, I don't think you really understood what I meant."
Daria managed a "Hmm?" past the food she was chewing.
"All of those kids end up meaning something to me. I was scared that I might lose one of them."
Daria finished what she was chewing on. "That's understandable."
Jane looked at her plate. "Daria...maybe I wasn't so much scared of what was happening to him; I was scared of how it would hurt me."
Daria pondered a second. "Self-interest is often a strong motivator and it could have been part of why you helped so fast."
Jane looked blankly at her friend.
Daria asked her, "Why did you think it would hurt you?"
"Because he's a really nice, talented kid that I care about."
Daria smiled. "Exactly. Because you care. That, above all, is the reason you were so fast to help. Part of you may have wanted to avoid being hurt...the reason for that was how much you care for the children. That is an honest motivation, and something to be proud of."
Jane smiled back. "Thanks, I think I needed that. But, 'Bel said it's something I need to prepared for. Close calls are part of the job." She stopped and swallowed. "Someday, we are going to lose one of those kids, maybe even Stan. I don't know if I'll be ready."
"Jane, I would be worried if you ever were truly ready for something like that."
The warm and genuine praise not only from Daria, but from Karen and her boyfriend, Derek, had felt good and compensated some for her continued worry over Stan. The latter two had gone off on their date, while Daria had to be shooed away to go through the editor's comments on the story the pulp adventure magazine had accepted. Jane found she still couldn't concentrate on painting and had mindlessly watched a couple hours of television before deciding to give up.
"Good night, Daria," Jane said down the hall.
Daria leaned back in her desk chair and said, "This is early, are you okay?"
"I'm a bit drained after everything."
"I can see that. Get some sleep. You did something wonderful today. You deserve the rest."
Jane crawled into bed and shut off the light. I hope Stan's going to be all right.
Jane skipped her last class of the day and made an early trip to the hospital. 'Bel intercepted Jane in the hall and handed her a bundle of paper. "I figured you were going to come in early. I hate to do this, but you need to fill out an incident report for what happened yesterday."
Frustrated at not being able to see Stan, she said, "Why me?"
"You were the first staff member to respond."
Jane frowned in frustration. "Paperwork."
"It's a way of life around here. Be glad you don't have to put up with the reams the nurses go through every day."
"Great, let's get it over with."
"Use my office. I'll hold the fort until you're done. Just drop it in my box."
"They don't want this typed, do they?"
"Semi-neat printing is sufficient. The administrators can read doctor's handwriting; yours is nowhere near that bad."
Jane shook the mild stiffness from her hand and tossed the forms into her boss's mailbox. She went to the room and immediately noticed the large banner suspended from the ceiling.
Each letter was done differently, some painted, one glitter, some strips paper. One child's hand for each.
Mrs. Marquez and the assembled children broke into applause when Jane entered. She stood still, staring and once again finding herself having an unusual reaction. She was speechless.
The more mobile patients moved up and buried Jane in a group hug. Jane stood still, a warm smile growing on her face and her eyes becoming moist. After a few moments, she slowly bent her knees and lowered herself among the group, hugging each one.
Clearing the first group, Jane moved to those in wheelchairs or who movement was too unsteady to risk in a cluster of children. She went to the raised arms and smiling faces, and each embrace warmed her a bit more. At the end, she faced 'Bel.
"You had to make sure I filled out the paperwork right away."
"I should've made you do it yesterday, but I decided to let you slack off a little."
Jane looked over her shoulder. "Thanks."
"It was their idea. I only organized it and kept you distracted."
Jane turned and looked at the assembled children.
'Bel put a hand on Jane's shoulder. "They really care for you. I haven't had anyone who seems to touch them like you do."
Jane's voice caught with emotion for a moment. "The feeling's mutual. Each one of them touches me."
'Bel took over the room for her and said, "I got word that Stan was moved to regular room, five forty-one. I think it's about your break time."
Jane's face brightened as she said, "Thanks," and rushed to the supply room and emerged soon after with a small case. A bit of walking and an elevator ride later, she stood outside room 541.
After a moment to collect her wits, Jane took a deep breath and went in. "Hi, Stan."
The tired-looking boy looked over from his bed. "Miss Jane?" An IV was hooked up to his left arm and supplemental oxygen tubing crossed under his nose.
Jane felt a great sense of relief at hearing his voice.
An equally-tired looking woman in her early thirties sat in a chair next to the bed. Her eyes registered some kind of recognition. "Hello, miss."
"Hi, you must be Mrs. Rollins. Nice to meet you. He's a great kid."
Jane rolled the bed table over and placed the case on it. "I work in the arts and crafts room. Stan, I brought something for you."
After flipping the case open, she removed the watercolor Stan had been working on and placed it on the table. Inside the case was a set of watercolors, brushes, a rag and a small cup. "Be right back." Jane smiled and took the cup to the bathroom, returning with it half full of water.
Stan looked up. "I'm sorry I didn't clean my brush yesterday."
"Somebody got it for you. You were a little too busy to notice."
His eyes closed and he nodded for a moment. He recovered and said. "I'm tired. Can I work on this later?"
Jane patted his hand. "I'm leaving these for you. I already cleared it with the floor nurse. Work on it when you want to. That's the joy of art."
"I like you, Miss Jane."
"I like you, Stan. You get better soon so you can join the rest of us, okay?"
"I hope so."
Jane patted his hand again. "I have to go now. I'll check on you when I can."
Mrs. Rollins followed Jane as she exited the room. Outside, she stopped Jane and said, "You're the woman who helped my son yesterday."
She grabbed Jane's hand with both hers. "I appreciate that so much. I've been so worried about my little boy."
Jane felt an unusual blush on her cheeks. "I only used the training the hospital gave me."
"You're also modest."
Jane thought in surprise, I can't recall ever being called that. "Um...I meant..."
She squeezed Jane's hand in reassurance and released. "It's okay. Stan has told me about how much he enjoys painting. I can see why."
Jane looked at her watch. "Um...I try. Mrs. Rollins, I really do need to get downstairs to work. I'm only on break. I hope Stan gets better soon."
"So do I. Thanks."
"Hey, I had to learn about necking sometime." Jane grinned at the red-faced couple disengaging from each other on the sofa as she opened the apartment door.
Daria put her glasses on. "Funny, Lane. You're home early again."
"Finally getting even for that time you walked in on me and Tom. I went in early today."
"Okay, we're even. Happy?"
Jane quickly nodded. "Yeah."
Michael finished putting his glasses on. "Hey, what did I do to you?"
Daria cocked her head toward Michael and smiled. "Nothing. That means you need to get even with her."
Jane smiled and headed for the kitchen. "Just try."
"That...sounded like a challenge."
Jane came back from the kitchen with a glass of water. "It's Karen's night to cook. Do you know what's planned?"
Jane headed for her room. "I want to get out of my work clothes."
After a couple minutes, Daria gently knocked on her door. "Can I come in?"
Jane finished pulling her shorts on. "Sure."
"I'm sorry. We didn't realize how late it was."
Jane gave a light laugh. "Daria, don't worry. You two are allowed."
"I know, it's...I don't want you feeling lonely."
"I'm not." Jane smiled at the memory. "I had a great day. The kids threw a party for me today. Kool-aid and dry hospital cake, but they really meant it."
"Sounds like it meant a lot to you."
"I did. Plus, Stan's doing a lot better and into a regular room. After dinner, I'm going to run back to see him."
"That's even better."
Jane smiled at her best friend. "Do you remember that new song Trent introduced at the cast party?" Off-key, Jane sang the last verse:
Love set the day,
That made our eyes to see.
And put us on the way,
To where we had to be.
Returning to her normal voice, she said, "For now, this is where I have to be. I love those kids. Eventually, I'll find somebody like you found Michael. But that's some time in the future and I'm not going to worry about it." Jane looked at Daria's eyes. "And neither are you. The love I get from my kids is what I need now. Just like what you have with Michael is what you need. This is right, I know it."
"Daria, I've always kind of worried about being left alone. Between the way Mom and Dad were always on the road and the way everyone but Trent left as soon as they got out of high school, there were times I felt abandoned. Kind of the way I'd felt when you were with Michael and Karen was with Derek. But now, I really know I won't be left behind. I have good friends and I have a bunch of good kids who need me."
Daria looked over her dear friend. Just as Jane had learned to read Daria, the reverse was true. All the signs were of a happiness Daria hadn't seen in Jane before. "You're starting to make sense. But, what about that scare yesterday?"
"It was an eye-opener that I won't forget." Jane looked down, her good mood temporarily gone. "I know that someday we won't be able to save one of the kids."
She looked straight into Daria's eyes. "That is going to tear me apart. At least as much as when you lost Mrs. Blaine. But Lord Byron was right. The love I share with those kids is worth the pain I will feel later."
Jane abruptly hugged Daria. "Because I know I have such good friends to stay by me."
Daria flinched slightly, and then embraced her friend. Quietly and gently, she said, "I understand."
"Thank you." They stayed for a moment before Jane smirked. "Oh, by the way. When you and Michael decide to do more, please keep it in your room and lock the door. There are some things I want to learn on my own."
Thanks to Ipswichfan and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.