Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2006.

This is the 49th story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske

Past Influences

"At least somebody's here to greet me," Karen Myerson said to the black cat rubbing against her leg as the young blonde entered her apartment.

Bump meowed and threaded her body between Karen's feet.

Still holding two suitcases, Karen said, "Hey, be careful down there. I'd like to get to my room with both of us in one piece."

They made it to Karen's bedroom without serious mishap and she placed the luggage on the stripped bed. "So, where's your staff today?" she asked Bump, who'd jumped onto a suitcase to continue seeking attention.

Karen sat on the bed, scratched the cat behind its ears and said, "I bet you'd get a kick out of running around the farm and catching something bigger than a moth, or somebody's foot."

Bump gracefully stepped upon Karen's lap and made herself comfortable. Smiling, Karen looked around and said, "It's good to be back."

Both arms holding grocery bags, Jane pushed the door open with her foot and said, "Dammit, Karen! You weren't supposed to be here so soon."

Also carrying bags, Daria entered and said, "What did you do, leave the hotel at the crack of dawn? Or did you just make the drive from Georgia non-stop?"

Stirring the contents of a large pot on the stove, Karen said, "Well, howdy to you, too. I pushed a little later before stopping for the night, and..." She shrugged and said, "I left the hotel before dawn."

Placing her bags on the kitchen counter, Jane said, "Ugh. We're going to have to get used to a cheerful, early riser again." She hugged her returned friend and teased, "Karen, I was hoping you'd gotten over that."

Daria also set her groceries down and waited a couple seconds to also hug Karen in greeting. "Are you kidding? She just got back from early riser reinforcement camp."

"Hey, guys. Glad you haven't trashed the place while I was gone."

Jane peeked into the pot and cautiously asked, "What's this?"

"Boiled peanuts." Karen pointed at the pantry and several produce bags marked "Myerson Certified Organic" and said, "With a lot of my stuff already up here, I could carry more goodies like fresh sweet onions, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes."

Daria stepped over to the vegetables and said, "Trying to corrupt us with your healthy food again."

Still looking in the pot with trepidation, Jane said, "I'm not convinced about the healthy part."

"They're not ready yet," Karen explained. "Peanuts have to simmer for a couple hours."

"Um, they haven't been shelled," Jane said.

Karen rolled her eyes. "You're not supposed to until you eat them."

"Daria, you've got to see this."

"I remember boiled peanuts from when I lived in Texas," Daria said. "Dad used to buy them from a roadside stand."

"I can't see Helen eating these."

"Oh, she hated them. Dad only bought them when Mom wasn't in the car."

"What about you?" Karen asked.

"Actually, I like them. We used to stop at a gas station to clean up so Mom wouldn't know."

Jane said, "How much did it cost you to keep Quinn's mouth shut?"

"She was just as guilty."

Surprised, Jane said, "And you never used that against her?"

"Things never escalated that far."

Jane looked back into the pot. "So these things are safe to eat."

Karen stirred the contents some more. "If you have any doubts, I'll eat the first batch out."

Tossing a peanut shell into a bowl beside her, Karen said, "Caught the bouquet, huh? Plan on making it two in a row at your aunt's fancy wedding?"

Sitting on the other side of the sofa, Daria said, "From what Amy's said about some of the single faculty she's invited, I want to stay well clear of the trample zone...and Quinn is staying in front of me the whole time."

Face smeared with sticky juice from the boiled peanuts, Jane sat on the floor with a large bowl of them placed on her crossed legs. "Karen, with a little practice, I bet we could push both of them."

"I can't believe your aunt invited me," Karen said. "We only met once."

Daria explained, "It's Amy's way of saying she likes you."

"But, what explains my invite?" Jane asked.

"Prurient interest," Daria jokingly said.

"Speaking of aunts," Jane said, "how'd things go with your nephew, Karen?"

"Oh, Wayne is so cute. Hold on." Karen made a quick trip to her room and came back with a stack of photos. "With how much my brother's taking digital photos, I recommend buying stock in photo paper. Now, wipe your hands before I pass these around."

Daria pulled a couple paper towels from a loose roll and passed it to Jane. "Already on it."

In rapid order, Daria looked through the pictures and passed them to Jane. "Yep, he looks like a baby."

"Don't get all sentimental on us, Daria." Taking longer to look at the photos, Jane said, "He is a cutie, Karen."

"Thanks," she replied. Karen took the pictures back and looked through them. "It's weird thinking about my brother as a father."

Jane said, "Thinking of Summer as a mother is freaky enough; I don't even want to think of Wind or Trent as a father."

"I don't know," Daria observed. "I can see Trent as a caring father. Look at how he was with you, Jane."

"Daria, scary as it may seem, I was the responsible one, remember?"

"But you always knew he cared, didn't you?"

"Okay, you've got me."

"And I don't see Lindy letting him slack off."

"If anyone can light a fire under Trent, it's her."

Karen said, "See all the fun you missed by not having an older brother, Daria?"

Somebody knocked on the door and Daria turned to face it. "I wonder who that could be."

"I'm already up," Karen said, going to the door. After a quick look through the peephole, she opened it.

A slender young woman with dark brown hair stood outside. She looked uncertainly at Karen and asked, "Um, I hope I found the right place. Does Daria Morgendorffer live here?"

Daria rose to see who was at the door. "Elsie?"

The woman said, "Hi, Daria."

Jane said, "Wow, this is a surprise."

Elsie waved and said, "Hi, Jane."

"They appear to know you, so come on in. Hi, I'm Karen."

"Nice to meet you. I'm Elsie Sloane."

Daria explained, "Her brother is Tom."

Confused, Karen said, "Okay, you and Jane's ex...this is getting a little weird."

Elsie said, "Yeah, I know dropping in out of the blue must seem strange."

Jane said, "That, plus Karen and I were talking about older brothers."

"I hope you're not passing them around like Daria and Jane did with Tom."

"Hey!" those two cried out together.

Karen said, "Nah. Actually, we were talking about married older brothers and my new nephew."

Elsie asked Jane, "Trent, or that weird one? Again."

"Trent, believe it or not."

They migrated to the living room and Elsie looked at the snack bowls. "What are those?"

Karen shook her head. "Argh, another one. Boiled peanuts."

"Do you mind?" Elsie asked, hand hovering over a bowl. "I've been rather sheltered, snack-wise."

"With how well stocked your mom used to keep that refrigerator?" Jane asked in astonishment.

"Jane," Daria said. "Kay's idea of a snack was pâté or imported cheese."

"Oh, yeah. I remember Kay getting a bit upset when I said her cheese was moldy."

Elsie said, "It was imported Stilton. Mom's...rather fond of it."

"It was still moldy."

"It's supposed to be," Daria said.

"And you made comments about the fridge when I lived with my folks?" Jane retorted.

"Individually-wrapped slices of cheese-like food are not supposed to get moldy. Actually, I didn't think that mold could grow on the stuff before I saw it at your place."

"Well, they had been in the Tank for a month."

After having difficulty popping the shell open, Elsie tried a peanut and said, "Not quite what I expected, but not bad."

Karen grinned. "Another convert."

"I'm sure you're wondering why I'm here," Elsie said.

"I didn't think it was to sample our cuisine," Daria said.

Jane said, "Yeah, Boston isn't exactly on the way to Bromwell."

Elsie paused before saying, "First...I'm not going to Bromwell. I, um, wasn't accepted."

Stunned, Daria said, "No offense, but I really thought that your family were shoo-ins there."

"It wasn't easy, but eating a jumbo bean burrito before the interview helped. So did a few choice family anecdotes that normally aren't repeated away from the Cove."

Jane said, "You sabotaged your interview?"

Elsie nodded, yes.

"Why?" Daria asked.

"You probably won't understand, but I didn't want to go. I wanted to try something different."

"I think I understand, though I'm sure your parents don't."

"Not in the least. But, at least the idea of me not going to college is even more embarrassing me than not going to Bromwell, so they're grudgingly footing the bill for me to go where I want. Not that they're paying that much either, what with the scholarship package I put together."

Jane said, "Don't tell me; you're going to Raft."

"No," Elsie said with a laugh. "I'm flying out of Logan International for England. I'm going to a small university called Archbury in East Anglia."

"Hey, small world," Karen said. "My granddad was based near a town called Archbury during WWII."

Jane queried, "So, what's there?"

"They have a great International Business program."

"Okay, that's not a big surprise," Daria said.

"It is for a Sloane daughter."

Karen said, "You're kidding me."

"I wish. I was expected to get a lightweight degree from Bromwell to keep me busy until I could become the proper wife of a wealthy household. Screw that."

"Ah, gonna strike out on your own?" Jane asked.

"Not entirely. I'm planning on becoming working part of Grace, Sloane and Page." Sternly, added, "Why should Tom have all the fun?"

Daria said, "Perhaps you can marry Tom off to be the proper husband of a wealthy house."

Jane said, "Damn, Daria. I thought you didn't hold any grudges against him."

"I don't, but I couldn't let a straight line like that go unanswered."

Karen asked, "I take it that Grace, Sloane and Page is the family business?"

"Tom and I will be the fourth generation."

"Ha, my family has yours beat," Karen boasted. "Terry's the fifth generation on the farm."

Daria said, "Okay, so you're flying to England. Why are you flying out of Logan instead of someplace closer to Lawndale?"

Elsie folded her hands together and said, "I wanted to thank you and Jane for your good influences."

"Good influences?" Karen said, heavy on the sarcasm. "This, I've got to hear."

Empty pizza boxes were mixed with the full bowls of peanut shells and empty soda cans on the living room floor by the time they'd finished lunch. Elsie wiped her lips with a napkin before saying, "So, it really hit me when I found out that Daria didn't get into Bromwell. To be honest, Mom was also upset and had a few choice words with the registrar."

"Oh," Daria said.

Jane shrugged. "She probably wouldn't have said much for me."

"Jane, Mom once said, 'If nothing else, Tom has good taste in girlfriends.' She liked you, too."

Now it was Jane's turn to say, "Oh."

"Dad, on the other hand, wasn't too thrilled with you."

"Big surprise there," Jane facetiously said. "I got the feeling that he thought I was after something. That is, something other than raiding the contents of the fridge."

Embarrassed, Elsie said, "He thought you were after some of the family money."

"That would explain a comment Tom made during an argument we had," Daria said. "Not something that needs repeating, but it contributed to my first breakup with Tom, while you were at the art community, Jane."

Elsie said, "Daria, Dad thought you would make a good wife...once you settled down."

Karen snorted and coughed after trying to laugh while drinking a soda. "He would've been in for a long wait."

Laughing, Jane pointed her soda can at Karen. "Maybe we should set you up with Tom. Keep things fair. But, we have to set things up properly." Jane tried to imitate Tom's voice. "Derek, I kissed your girlfriend."

Karen joined the laughter. "Then, he could kiss his ass goodbye. Derek would turn him into hamburger for even implying something like that."

"Okay, I'm missing something here," Elsie said.

Daria said, "I...didn't think Tom would've said anything about that."

"About what?"

"Didn't you notice that Tom and I started dating...rather soon after he was dating Jane?"

"It's not like I followed my brother's love life that closely, but now that you mention it...oh my, I thought I was joking earlier."

As the last bit of Freakin' Friends finished, Jane turned off the CD player and said, "In the end, the whole thing gave my brother the idea for the one CD single that his old band actually managed to sell."

Having listened to the story intently, Elsie said, "Wow. That says something that you two are still friends. But, Tom's in deep trouble the next time I see him."

Karen pointed her thumb at Daria and joked, "Don't look at me; I'd have gone Jerry Springer on her ass."

"Don't let her fool you. She's a softy at heart," Daria said.

"Hey, we're even on that, remember?" Karen replied. Actually, I think you're a little ahead with getting me an invite to your aunt's wedding down around D.C weekend after next. That is going to be so cool."

Elsie said, "I feel for your aunt, trying to get a wedding planned down there then, what with that big Barksdale-Wyatt wedding going on at the same time."

Jane asked, "You've heard about it?"

"I couldn't help but hear about it. It's the talk of high-society types along the mid-Atlantic. Everyone involved in the wedding business has been trying to angle in on a piece of it and getting an invite is like getting a golden ticket. Mom's been planning on what to wear for months."

Jane and Karen covered their mouths to unsuccessfully hide their laughter. Elsie held up her hands and said, "Okay, what am I missing this time?"

Karen pointed at Daria. "Bridesmaid for her Aunt Amy."

"Amy?" Elsie's eyes grew wide in surprise. "Amy Barksdale is your aunt?"

"Um, yeah," Daria said. "I had no idea of how rich Amy's fiancé's family was or what a spectacle this was going to turn into when I agreed."

"Wait...bridesmaid? Oh, my God."

"I'm figuring this will be the pinnacle of my career, so I'm planning on retiring when it's over."

"Almost makes me wish I were going."

Karen said, "You're not?"

"I'm taking an overnight flight to England after dinner. I'm not in the mood for four trans-Atlantic flights in two weeks. Or, to run into my parents. They would love to try to find me a nice boy among the guests. Besides, I didn't exactly leave on good terms."

Jane rubbed her chin. "Ouch.

"It wasn't pretty and I don't want to think about it. Please?"

Jane nodded. "Agreed, off limits. So, is Tom going to be there?"

"No. He still thinks weddings are too corny and boring."

Jane and Daria exchanged gazes and the latter said, "Some things don't change."

Elsie said, "I've heard rumors about the dresses. Can I see?"

Daria replied, "I don't see what it will hurt, though they have been keeping these stupid things under wraps. But since I don't see any cameras on you..."

"I promise not to tip off the paparazzi."

"In my closet," Daria said as she pushed off the sofa.

All three women crowded around Daria as she took a zippered, leather garment bag from her closet and opened it to pull out the palest of green silk gowns. It was Edwardian style with a form-fitting blouse topped by a high collar, long sleeves tapering to a cuff and a full, flowing skirt. Embroidery in green and yellow softly accented the collar and sleeves.

Elsie gasped at the designer original and said, "That would make all those stuffy girls at the Starry Night Ball keel over, green with envy. By the way, Daria, be glad you got out of that snooze fest."

"Thanks. I have to admit that it's beautiful." A motion caught her eye, making Daria look at her cat lazily watching from the window. She said, "Bump, you and your stray fur need to stay put."

Bump gave her a momentary glance, licked a paw and proceeded to wash her face.

"Give it up, Daria," Karen said. That cat's fur is already everywhere. Hell, I took enough of it home with me to Georgia."

"Not surprising, with how much time that cat spends on your laundry," Jane said. "Must be all the interesting smells you bring home from work."

Ignoring Jane, Karen said, "Damn. If that's the bridesmaid's outfit, what does the bride's look like?"

"Except for Amy, a select few, and the battalion of tailors assembling it, nobody knows."

A knock at the door interrupted the conversation. Jane said, "I'll go check to see which one it is."

Pre-emptively answering Elsie was she put the gown away, Daria said, "With Karen back, we'd planned to get together with our boyfriends for a lazy afternoon. That's probably one of them at the door."

Jane led the way and the rest followed into the living room. When she opened the door, Jane said, "Karen, it's yours."

"Nice to see you too, Jane," Derek Adler said as he entered.

Jane walked around and pointed to the base of his close-cropped hair. "See, it's tattooed on the back of his neck."

"Don't be silly," Karen said as she hurried over to embrace Derek. "I use a brand."

While waiting for Karen and Derek to come up for air, Elsie said, "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

Daria shook her head. "Don't worry, it's not like we're planning some kind of group grope. Those two haven't seen each other in about a month."

Jane couldn't resist adding, "Besides, Mack and I are more acrobatic, while Daria and Michael are a couple of mushballs."

"Hmm, I'd wondered about that," Elsie said. "After some of Tom's comments, it makes sense that Daria's a romantic. And, well, since Tom's not...even more things are adding up."

"Tom tried, but it really wasn't in his nature," Daria said, defending her old boyfriend. "But, I can't blame him for taking my outer personality at face value. I had a hard time letting someone really know about that part of me."

Leaning her head against Derek's chest, Karen said, "Oh, come on. You were hooked after only seeing Michael for a week."

"Yeah, I could see it on your face a mile away when I picked you up at the airport that Christmas." Jane tapped a green malachite pendant that Daria wore and said, "You've hardly taken that off since."

"But, it still took too long to actually tell Michael how I felt."

Jane agreed, "Okay, you drug your feet on that part."

Derek said, "Hi, Daria. Who's your guest?"

"I'm Elsie. Daria and Jane's old boyfriend's sister."

Derek bounced one finger in front of his face, mentally ticking off each point of the sentence before finally asking, "Trying to figure out which one got him pregnant?"

Elsie tossed her hands in the air and joked, "You're just as bad as they are."

"It's a survival tool."

Elsie addressed Daria and Jane, "Let me guess, the same goes for your boyfriends."

Jane said, "What do you think?"

Looking at Mack MacKenzie cradling Jane sideways in his arms after she'd leapt onto him, Elsie said to Karen, "Yep, Jane and Mack are more acrobatic."

Mack said, "Actually, I prefer to be called Mike, but I still let a few people get away with Mack."

Jane kissed his neck and said, "That's because you know what's good for you."

"Then I'll call you Mike," Elsie said. She turned to Daria, who was holding hands with Michael Fulton. "Don't you find it just a little creepy that you and Jane found boyfriends with the same first name?"

"Blame Jane; I had mine first," Daria said.

Michael said, "No need to be jealous just because she has the same impeccable taste in men's names as you do."

Mack said, "Indeed."

"See what you started?" Jane said as she pointed her finger at Elsie.

"So shoot me," she replied.

Karen smirked and said, "She learns fast."

"Uh, no," Jane said. "Elsie already knew the ways of sarcasm. She needed time to settle in."

Elsie performed an exaggerated curtsy. "Thank you. Now that everyone's here, where do you want to eat dinner? My treat. I came here to thank Daria and Jane for giving me what I needed to really take my own path, and not just wish I was. The rest of you are their good friends, so you're included."

Derek said, "Free food? I'm in."

"Same here," Michael said.

Daria gently elbowed his ribs. "So you don't have to cook?"

He nodded. "You know it'll be safer."

"Since I'm sure a Sloane credit card is as well stocked as their fridge, sounds like a good deal to me," Jane said.

Mack eased Jane down to allow her to stand. "I haven't eaten since leaving Vance and I'm not a local, so I'll go anywhere."

"After cleaning up fast food wrappers all day on the Freedom Trail, I'll take anyplace that's slow and away from the historic district," Michael said.

Derek suggested, "I wouldn't mind some dead cow. How about Redd Sock's Steaks?"

"In the name of diplomacy, I'll go along with some Yankee food," Karen agreed.

"Hmmm," Daria pondered before deciding. "One of their steakburgers would hit the spot."

"You can get something more than a hamburger," Elsie said.

Jane said, "Don't worry. Redd's idea of a steakburger is a six ounce sirloin on a bun. Speaking of which, that sounds good."

Elsie signed the dinner receipt and placed her credit card back in her purse. Sliding the receipt and check tray aside, she smiled at the others gathered around the table and the remains of dinner. "When my brother decided to get away from the country club's annual ceilidh dance to check out a grunge place on Dega Street, he had no clue of how much that simple act of rebellion would change our lives."

Jane cocked her head and said, "You mean this all got started because Tom ditched one of your mom's get-togethers?"

"Large effects from a small change in starting conditions. Now that I think about it, chaos theory explains a lot about what happened," Daria said.

"I know you think it's odd, but in your particular ways, you became role models for me. I learned to enjoy life and to choose my own way. And that I didn't have to be perfect and it was okay to apologize."

Jane said to Daria, "Somebody learning from our screw-ups with Tom. How twisted is that?"

"And from your good points," Elsie corrected.

Daria said, "I'm glad you learned something from me faster than I learned myself." She squeezed Michael's hand. "I'm glad somebody had patience with my insecurities."

He said, "Trust me, the patience was mutual."

Elsie rose and prepared to leave. "I still need to drop off the rental car and check in for my flight. Thanks everybody, for such a nice day."

Everyone else expressed their appreciation for the dinner and the group walked out to the parking lot.

Karen and Derek were the first to pull away, with her saying, "It's been nice meeting you Elsie. But, since I haven't seen this big lug in a while..."

Elsie waved to them and said, "Glad I met you."

Jane and Mack stopped at Jane's car. Elsie hugged Jane and said, "Take care of yourself. I owe you."

Jane said, "You too, and have a safe flight."

Mack nodded and said, "Pleasure to meet you."

"Good bye," Elsie said and then followed Daria and Michael to their car. She also hugged Daria. "Good bye. I'll always look up to you."

"Um...thanks. I, uh, hope I can live up to it."

Michael said, "I'm sure Daria will. Good bye, Elsie."

After short waves between them, Elsie walked to her rental car as Daria and Michael drove away. She sat silently in the car for a while before saying, "The right thing to do."

A little frazzled after the return drive to Logan airport, Elsie was glad to drop off the rental car and finally pick up her boarding pass. Carrying only her purse and a small overnight bag, she took her time crossing the busy airport to find her departure gate. Not far from security, she heard her name called. Elsie turned in surprise and said, 'Mom, Dad? What...?"

Kay Sloane said, "Oh, Elsie. Our last child is leaving the nest and we...we couldn't leave things the way they were when you left."

"So, we decided to meet you here," Angier added.

"How are Daria and Jane?" Kay asked.

"Oh, they're doing fine...how'd you know?"

"Call it a mother's hunch."

"Trust me, she's good at those," Angier said.

"Besides, I can look up travel information online as easily as you can, and Boston was not the most convenient way to fly to London. There had to be another reason."

Angier added, "And since Daria and Jane are in Boston...it became clear who you wanted to see."

Irritated, Elsie said, "Do you have a problem with that?"

Kay and Angier looked at each other for mutual support , hoping the situation didn't get out of hand.

Elsie went on to say, "Because I hope not."

"No," Kay said, shaking her head. "Though I was a little surprised at first."

"I hadn't thought about either one of those young ladies for a long time, not since Tom stopped seeing Daria," Angier said. With the effort of a man not used to admitting his errors, he went on to say, "But when your mother said you must be coming here to see them, your decision to abandon Bromwell and go your own way started to make sense."

Kay took her daughter's hand. "I also have a hunch you're going to do well at Archbury." She glanced back at Angier and said, "And after that, maybe you can shake things up at your father's company."

Though clearly still not yet comfortable with the idea, Angier said, "And drag us, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century."

"You mean, the twenty-first," Elsie corrected.

"One step at a time."

Elsie laughed as the tension broke. "Okay, I'll try to take it slow on you."

Kay said, "Daria and Jane were nice girls. I wish I could see them again."

"Well, Mom, you might just be surprised."


"Just wait, you'll understand."

"Okay, dear. But, you have almost an hour before your plane boards. Please, tell us what's been going on with them."

Standing on the outside landing of her apartment, Daria looked toward the few bright stars overcoming the city glow in the sky and rested her head on Michael's shoulder. "I can't believe Elsie went so far out of her way to thank us."

"Sounds like you made a big impression on her," he said, resting his head against hers.

"But that's the thing," Daria said. "We didn't talk very much or anything when I was seeing Tom. I always kind of figured she'd be the type to hang out with Quinn."

"Well, think about how much Quinn looks up to you."

Daria gently grumbled.

"You're just a good influence."

She playfully glared at him through the top of her glasses.

"Okay, you're a good, bad influence."

Daria kissed his neck just under the jaw and whispered, "Better."

The details of Amy Barksdale's wedding will appear in Brother Grimace's story, A Path of Roses and Thorns.

Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.

September 2006