"School starts in seven days." Jane Lane opened her closet doors wide and indicated its contents with a sweeping gesture. "And, as you can see, I have made radical adjustments to my wardrobe that I believe indicates my excitement level."
Daria Morgendorffer arched a brow sardonically, surveying the array of identical ensembles. "Jane, all I see is red buttondowns, black T-shirts and black shorts. Youíre not rocking my world, here."
"Aha, but you are not looking closely my friend." Extending one long arm into the depths of hangers and fabric, Jane withdrew a black turtleneck and held it up against her chest. "Iím expanding my range, no?"
Daria eyed the shirt suspiciously. "Um...does this have something to do with your indie boyfriend? Because let me tell you right off the bat that I find French cinema to be ponderous and self-mocking."
Rolling her eyes, Jane returned the turtleneck to its place in the closet and flopped down on the bed next to her best friend. "Tomís not an indie," she huffed, "heís an independent."
"Funny, and I thought thatís what Ďindieí stood for. Arenít you going to show me your matching black beret? And where, might I ask, is your silver tin of unfiltered cigarettes? Theyíre all the rage among the Postmodern crowd this year." Daria ignored Janeís irritated glare and propped her chin up on her bent knees. "I donít know if I can weather this storm alone, Jane. First you begin dating a well-groomed coffee house refugee, and now youíre making drastic changes to your appearance just to please him."
Unruffled by Dariaís dramatic delivery, Jane gave the shorter brunette a sly half-smile. "Like youíre one to talk about changing to please a man, Miss Morgendorffer. If Iím not mistaken, thereís a scar above your navel that speaks to your commitment to Trentís happiness."
Dariaís eyes narrowed. "Lick me, Lane." At Trentís suggestion, she had allowed a silver hoop to be inserted into her skin. "It looks hot, Daria." God, if those words didnít haunt her in the night. Then, of course, seeing as how it was impossible for her not to ruin everything when it came to romance, she had taken the ring out over night and the piercing had closed and healed. Unfortunately, a small pucker where the piercing had been would always remain, serving as a constant reminder to Daria that she could, in the face of a man, be a total ass. Also serving as a constant reminder was Jane, but Daria supposed that was to be expected, since Trent was Janeís older brother.
"Testy. And besides, Ďindieí stands for Ďindependent record labelí. Tom is not a record label." Jane rose and moved over to her easel, where a half-painted canvas was propped. "Iím sorry if I give you too much hell about Trent, Daria." She carefully avoided her friendís eyes, which appeared slightly smaller than they really were behind the round lenses of her glasses. "To tell you the truth, I think Iíd have cardiac arrest if anything ever happened between you two."
Daria leaned back and sighed. "I donít think you need to worry on that count. Iím in the middle of an arrested development on the romantic aspect of life. The way Iím going, I might as well send my parents formal notification that any and all grandchildren will be courtesy of Quinn."
"Well, this is a day of revelations. I thought you hated kids, Daria."
"I do. But who could pass up the chance to play God with a young mind?" Daria shrugged. "I was kind of looking forward to motherhood as my own Prometheus project."
Jane dipped a sable brush into a thick mix of paints on her palette and began making long strokes across the gessoed canvas. "Somehow I canít see you and Trent with a gaggle of munchkins happily prancing around some split-level suburban palace."
"I was thinking more along the lines of a New York City loft with two intelligent but misunderstood young iconoclasts."
"Yikes. That image is actually beginning to gel for me." Jane laughed softly. "Welcome to the abandoned warehouse home of Trent and Daria Lane, New Yorkís premiere underground couple, specializing in napping and dry wit, respectively."
Dariaís eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to make my life worse than it already is? Donít taunt me this way, Jane, I donít think I can handle it right now."
"Solitude becoming better in theory than practice?"
"You have no idea. Between you being with Tom all the time and the Fashion Club holding meetings in our living room, Iím really nearing the end here. Color me a martyr, Lane, because I think this particular incarnation is going to end with me burning myself in effigy."
"Youíll never reach Nirvana at the rate youíre going. Maybe you should switch to Hinduism and cash in your karma credits." Jane stabbed her brush into a smear of red. "And Iím sorry if Iíve been out with Tom a lot lately. Itís just that...well, our relationship is...more complicated now."
Daria sat up, eyes wide. "Donít tell me that Jane Lane has answered the call to mate?"
Jane kept her attention firmly riveted to her painting. "Something like that."
"Holy Mother of God. How long have you been a member of the Stolen Innocence Society? And if itís been weeks, I swear by all thatís holy..."
"Two nights ago." Jane laid down her brush and gave Daria a challenging look, as though daring her to say something. "On that very bed, I became a woman."
Daria swallowed. "I suppose that jumping up and vowing to soak myself in lye for laying on this bed might be bit childish. But I think I might do it anyway."
"Histrionics aside, you canít tell me that this surprises you. We are sixteen, Daria, not living in the sixteen hundreds. There were condoms in attendance, and afterwards we smoked a joint, so I believe that all modern requirements for sex were met."
"Were you drunk?"
"Then all of the requirements were not met." Daria felt a surge of bitter jealousy rise in her throat, but fought it back, hating herself for being so petty. "I mean...well, I guess I donít know what I mean. I donít know how I feel about this."
Jane smiled gently. "You donít have to feel any way about it, baby. I just wanted you to know because weíre friends, not because I expect you to get a thrill out of my sudden interest in the erotic."
"Erotic? You and Tom?" Daria managed a small grin, but Jane wasnít fooled. "Iíll concede that itís normal for us to be having sex at this point, but I think weíre supposed to wait for that college exchange program to the Far East before Ďeroticí enters the picture."
Jane gave her friend a hooded glance. "Youíd be surprised, Daria. Not only are people like you and me above simple drinking games, but I think youíll discover that intelligence, creativity, and an interest in the perverse pays off when the lights are low."
"And you know this after two days of sex."
"Two days of sex and two months of foreplay, yes."
"Good God." Daria collapsed backwards onto the mattress and squeezed her eyes shut. "The part that really gets me is that Iíve made it so hard for myself to take most people seriously that I canít stomach the thought of even kissing someone who isnít..."
"Halfway intelligent," Daria finished. "I think Iíve pretty much given up on Trent as a reality. I mean, look at me and then look at Monique."
Dropping her brush into a cup of cleaning fluid, Jane grunted at the thought of his brotherís lean, trendy ex-girlfriend. "Monique has come and gone, Daria. Youíre still here."
"Of course I am! Iím your friend, not his. And Iím in high school, so my presence in this town in mandatory for at least another two years." Daria struggled valiantly to keep her voice steady. "Iím only going to say this once, Jane, because I loathe self-pity and Iím staunchly against fascist beauty standards propagated by the likes of my sister, but...itís not just Trent. I donít think that guys our age are into plain, caustic girls like me. I have nothing to offer the hormone-driven male, so I honestly am not expecting anything like sweet loviní until Iím around thirty-five. Maybe if I were lissome and beautiful I could attract some older guy like Trent, or even some depraved college professor, but I donít even have looks going for me. Iíll never have guys pining over me like they pine over you, and most of the time Iím okay with that. But even Iím not immune to the insecurities of youth, Jane. And Iíve always prided myself on being a realist." Daria quickly wiped away the single fat, salty tear that had snuck its way out from behind her glasses. "And now back to our regularly scheduled stoicism."
Jane was speechless. Unlike most of the town of Lawndale, Jane was under no illusions that Daria was some kind of unfeeling robot, but she did know that wallowing in emotions was somewhere on the order of being covered with leeches on Dariaís list of favorite things. When it came to Trent, Daria had shone the one major flaw in logic since Jane had known her. As much as she loved her brother, Jane had a strong suspicion that if Daria and Trent ever did get together, she would tire of him in a matter of months. He was attractive and introspective, yes, but Trent Lane wasnít smart enough for Daria. Or was he?
"Iíve got to tell you, Morgendorffer, you never cease to amaze me."
Daria blushed, two bright stains of pink appearing under those heavy lenses. "I hate this, Jane. The more I think about how unhappy I am about me and guys, the more I canít help thinking about how unhappy I am about me and everything."
Sinking down onto the carpet beside the bed, Jane hesitantly put one hand on Dariaís knee. "You got me, kid."
Daria inhaled deeply, feeling the inner calm she depended upon overtake her once again. "Iím glad youíre here, Jane. With you around, I feel like I really can be myself. I just wish...well, sometimes I wish Ďmyselfí was something a little more attractive."
"To hell with what other people think, Daria. Thatís always been youíre motto."
"Yeah, well, much like solitude, that particular motto is better in theory than practice." Daria rolled over onto her stomach and gave Jane a wan smile. "Now donít start feeling all sorry for me, Jane. When the end comes, I will make all my enemies feel the razor sharp whip of my vengeance. Especially the enemies who wouldnít ask me out."
Jane laughed; she had to. One of the best things about having a friend in Daria Morgendorffer was that you were never bored, even when absolutely nothing was going your way. "Look, Iím supposed to be meeting Tom out front in half an hour, but Iím going to call him and cancel," seeing Daria shake her head, the raven-haired artist held up a hand, "and you and I are going to watch the six hour version of ĎDuneí. Trent stole it from Evil Eye Video on Dega."
"Nothing doing, Lane." Daria sat up and attempted to shake off her melancholy. "How am I going to live vicariously through you if youíre here with me? Go on your sordid little date. Iíll se you later." She stood and had taken a few steps for the door before Jane stopped her.
"Why donít you stay here and wait for me? Iíll only be gone a few hours, and I know you donít want to go back home and risk being ambushed and forcibly made over."
"Gee, that sounds great. While youríre gone, I can count the tiles in your bathroom."
"Shut your trap, Morgendorffer. Besides, I have someone I think you should meet."
"Jane, Iím shocked." Daria gave her a stern look. "I told you that dead is dead, and thereís no talking to them after that."
"Iím not talking about a body stashed in my room, Iím talking about good old Mr. Jack Daniel."
Daria sat alone on the battered green couch in the Lane basement, surrounded by the hastily stored instruments of Trentís band, Mystik Spiral, and cradling a nearly full bottle of Jack Danielís Old No. 9 Tennessee whiskey. At first, sheíd doubted Janeís rationale. How would getting blasted all by herself accomplish anything but early tendencies towards alcoholism? But then sheíd given in. What she needed, Jane argued, was a good, long venting session, complete with cussing, crying, and scapegoating. And since Daria was emotionally retentive, liquor was the perfect catalyst. Not to mention the fact that Jane and Tom were going to a bar in Warrington to see some singer friend of his, and Jane herself would very likely be lit when she returned to the house in Lawndale.
Daria held up the bottle of caramel-colored liquid. "Four shots," she muttered. "Iíve had four shots in," she squinted at the digital clock resting on one of Trentís amps, "An hour and three minutes." She considered this. Jane would be back in another two hours, and she was already feeling more than a bit tingly. Maybe she should slow down. "I havenít really done any venting yet," she mused aloud.
"Venting about what?"
Daria cocked her head to one side and smiled. "You know. Boys and things."
"Having a problem with boys and things?"
"Well..." Wait a minute. Wasnít she supposed to be the only one here? Half turning around so that she could see the steps that led from upstairs, she gasped, then coughed, then felt like dying. "Trent?" Ah, her old friend humiliation had returned.
Trent Lane, in the flesh, was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, looking like some beautiful gypsy prince. Gypsy prince? "Jesus," Daria whispered. She really was coming apart at the seams.
"Hey Daria." He had those eyes. Thatís what it was. Those dark eyes that never really seemed to be completely open. They were bedroom eyes, she thought wistfully. Very erotic.
"Even without the Far East." Had she said that aloud? Well, screw it if she had. She was drunk, and couldnít be expected to be rational.
"Whereís Jane?" A crease formed between Trentís angular black brows. "Are you drinking?"
"Yup!" Daria held up the bottle for him to see. "Iíve had four shots in one hour and seven minutes. Iím gonna have even more. You want some?"
Trent smiled; Daria melted. "Youíre drinking because of boys and things?"
"How did you know?" Daria blinked. "Youíre so good at this!"
He laughed, one of the rare full bodied Trent Lane laughs that didnít end in a fit of coughing. "Youíre a real lightweight, you know that?" Crossing the room he sat down beside her and took the bottle, deftly unscrewing the cap and turning up the bottle. Daria watched in awe as he swallowed three large mouthfuls before slamming the bottle back down on the coffee table. "Holy shit," he rasped, eyes tearing up, "I didnít realize how much I needed that."
"Lemme try." Daria dove for the bottle and imitated his flourishing swig, which she pulled off rather nicely.
"Not bad, Daria." She was totally distracted by his gently curling black hair. It looked so soft...she wondered if heís let her touch it. Wait...he said something...
"I said, what is it about boys thatís driving you to the bottle?" His eyes were crinkled a little at the corners from smiling. Beautiful, beautiful boy.
"Oh, you know, the fact that they donít like me. Not that I want some male harem like Quinn has or anything. Actually, Iíd settle for just one guy. But I think my destiny is to die an old maid."
Trent took another pull of the whiskey. "Oh, come on Daria. You canít base your opinion of guys on the men of Lawndale. This town is a hole."
"A hole filled with whiskey," Daria said sagely.
"A hole filled with stupid guys like me," Trent replied, giving her a lopsided smile that she found, well, goddamn charming. "Youíre gonna break out of this town and go somewhere where girls like you get the kind of respect they deserve."
"Respect? But I donít want respect." Daria tipped the bottle back and passed it to Trent. "I want nookie."
Whiskey exploded from Trentís mouth as he gagged on the fiery drink. "Nookie?" He coughed, eyes and throat burning. "Youíre just sixteen!"
"So? Iím like...whatís that song? Ready for love, thatís me. But nobody wants me. And Iím drinking because Jane thinks I need to purge these feelings."
Something in the air was changing, and Trent was besieged by several biological reactions that seemed to be happening at once. First, and most pressing, were the warning sirens going off in his head. He was perilously close to something, but he wasnít sure what it was. Second, he was getting drunk very quickly, as was attested to be the feeling that his leg and arm muscles were liquefying. Thirdly and most alarmingly, his groin was twisting in a way he was all too familiar with. But there was no way in hell. She was just a kid! True, she didnít act or think like a kid...and in this light, she didnít really look like a kid either...but...but...but dammit, there was some reason he had been thinking of just a minute ago...and besides, she was too smart for him. She probably thought he was a total idiot.
And he didnít find her attractive, really. Or did he? He hadnít really thought about it before...
"I said, I think maybe I should just put on a short skirt and go to a frat party. That ought to take care of it."
"Take care of what?" What the hell was she talking about?
"My flower." She gave him a wise nod. "My forbidden blossom, you see."
"Ah." He really didnít need her...forbidden blossom called to his attention. He took another swig of whiskey to drown out the one heís regurgitated. "I hope youíre kidding. Your first time is pretty much synonymous with your worst time. I donít think you need to add to the experience by having it be with some drunken frat bastard."
Daria shook her head and tried not to stare openly at the faint golden cast of his skin. "Why canít you just ask people? Like wear a sign or something that says, ĎWould Like to Lose Virginity. Inquire Within.í Interview people for it, you know? Everything between men and women is too complicated. It really should be simplicity itself."
"You mean..." Boy, those warning sirens were getting pretty intense. So was everything else, for that matter. "You mean people should just come right out and ask for what they want from other people?"
"Yup." She took a dainty sip of the whiskey. "Wouldnít that be wonderful? And then, you could be okay with it if someone turned you down, and people wouldnít have to be all weird about everything."
"Uh...well, it doesnít really work that way, Daria."
"Why not?" Her lower lip sticking out petulantly, Daria fixed him with an accusing glare. "Why canít I just say, ĎTrent, howís about you take off those clothes and get in my bedí?"
The twisting in his groin took a sharp turn for the worse, and Trent Lane was momentarily blinded by the immensity of the mistake he was now tempted to make. "Would you say that?"
"What do you mean?" Oblivious to what she had done, Daria took another drink of whiskey and paused to admire their handiwork. Over half the bottle was now gone.
Keep calm man, keep calm. Sheís just a kid, sheís just a kid. "I mean, what you just said about...going to your bed and all. If this were the simple world, would you say that to me?"
Eyes wide, Daria desperately scrambled for cognitive thought. Stupid liquor had her all hot and bothered, and stupid Trent was looking so pretty and asking her hard questions. "Oh sure. Youíre my dream man. You know how sometimes you get so locked on to an idea that you just canít shake it, even though you know it canít happen? Well, thatís you to me, Trent Lane. Youíre like...my Waterloo. Ugh, I hate Abba. I shouldnít have said that, should I?"
"Um..." Keep calm, sheís just a kid. "About Abba or about me?"
"About you, I think. What are we talking about? Iím so wasted..." She glanced up at him through her lashes. Could he tell that her whole body was singing? "Would you want me to...you know...order you to my bed?"
He tried to laugh, but it sounded pretty hollow, even to him. "Uh...Iíve never been ordered to someoneís bed before...but, I guess it would be..." Calm, calm, kid, kid..."cool." No, no, you moron! Itís illegal! Cling to that!
"You would?" Was it his imagination, or was Daria looking kind of sultry? "Hey, Trent?"
Donít do this, man. Donít do it. "Yeah, Daria?"
They call it liquid courage for a reason. Thereís no fear now, none at all. "Take off your clothes."
Her eyes, he noticed for the first time, were blue. Like the ocean, like the sky. "On one condition." Fuck the warning sirens. Fuck the law.
Strange how the world seemed to be tilting on its axis towards the sun, so that everything was suddenly filled with light. "Whatís that?" So quietly, as if afraid to scare him away.
He leaned over towards her, so close that she could smell the soap on his skin from that morningís shower. His lips were very close to hers. She had perfect, wonderful lips. "Get in my bed, Daria."
Jane unlocked the front door as quietly as she could, hoping that Daria would be asleep and wouldnít give her the tongue lashing she so richly deserved. The foyer was dim and quiet, the kitchen lights were off. Good sign. Jane glanced at her battered Timex. 3:45 am. She had told Daria she would be home, oh, about four hours ago.
A glance around the living room yielded no Daria. Down the stairs through to the basement. The TV was off, and on the coffee table...
"Christ, Morgendorffer." Jane picked up the bottle of Jack Danielís, which now held less than half of its original contents. "I hope you invited three or four friends over and didnít drink this all by yourself." The couch looked rumpled, but cradled no teenaged girl, although Dariaís signature green zipperfront jacket was in a heap wedged between two seat cushions.
"Hmm. A clue." She was probably in the bedroom, Jane reasoned, passed out cold if the bottle was any indication. Folding the jacket over one arm, she went back up into the kitchen and filled two glasses with tap water. One was for herself, since sheíd had one too many beers with Tom and had nearly gone over a cliff when heavy petting in the Gremlin had released the parking brake. The other was for Daria when she woke up. "Dehydration, the curse of the Gods."
Taking the stairs two at a time, she was unconcerned about waking Trent, whom she was pretty sure would be dead asleep by now. Maybe he had helped Daria drown her sorrows. "Not to mention my whiskey," she grumbled, opening her door.
No Daria. The bed was unmade, as always, but not even the clever play of shadows across the sheets could disguise the fact that there was no one under them. "What the hell?"
Jane set the full glasses down on the end table and hung Dariaís jacket over the back of her desk chair. Where could she have gone? Maybe she had gone home after all, and it had been Trent and Jesse whoís attacked the Jack. Or...
"No way." But then again, stranger things had happened. She couldíve been talking to Trent and fallen asleep on his bed. Maybe he was on the floor. Maybe she was. "Maybe Iíd better check."
Tiptoeing across the hall, suddenly apprehensive about what she might find, Jane eased the door to Trentís room open as slowly as she could. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust to the almost total darkness. Trent was there, in bed with his back to her, one arm slung over...someone. Feeling as though she was violating her brotherís privacy, but unwilling to not be sure, Jane crept around the clothes-littered floor to the other side of the bed.
No mystery there. It was, without a doubt, Daria Morgendorffer, buck naked and asleep on her back, Trentís arm over her breasts, giving her the look of a woman protected. Frozen, Jane gaped at the sight before her for a full minute before the smile spread over her reddened lips.
The outcasts of Lawndale High had secrets to keep.