The Trick's The Treat

a little romance in two chapters
by Diane Long

Chapter One

Daria waited on the step outside of her front door. She couldn't stand the thought of her parents groveling before Thom. She couldn't decide which was worse: Their obvious delight in her finally having a love life (which was a little creepy), or their thinly veiled currying for favor with the Sloanes (which was a lot nauseating).

A crisp late October breeze lifted her hair and added pink to her cheeks as the dry leaves in the trees rattled at her. Daria was glad for her orange turtleneck. It was all her regular outfit needed to be warm enough through fall. She hadn't needed to opt for her matching tights yet, it wasn't quite cool enough, so she felt the goose flesh rise on her legs as the breeze toyed with the pleats of her skirt.

It was getting dark early now. It was barely 6:30, and the last scarlet wisp of sunset was stretched barely visible across the very edge of the horizon. Daria tucked her hands under her armpits for warmth and tried to find Orion in the stars. She had just found his belt when headlights turned around the corner and onto her street. From the shape of them she could tell they came from Thom's Rolls. Daria pushed off from the step as the car stopped perpendicularly to her walk.

She opened the door and slid in quietly. "Hey," she said, her voice a low murmur as she looked at him shyly.

"Hey." Thom smiled back at her, touched as always by her shyness. Under that hard shell she was more vulnerable than he had imagined. He watched quietly, giving her a chance to make the first move. She seemed to like that.

Daria scooted closer to him and looked up into his eyes. "I... um..." Forgoing speech, she placed a light kiss on his lips instead.

Thom slid a hand around to her back and pushed her a little closer. "Yes?" he prompted after the kiss.

Daria remembered her promise to try. "I'm glad to see you."

"It has been a whole week," Thom agreed, giving her shoulders squeeze.

Daria smiled softly in reply.

"So, ready to go mutilate gourds?" Thom asked putting the car into gear.

"Only if my sister is a gourd," Daria responded dryly.

"Well, I hear some of them are rather orange. It might be close enough to be satisfying."

"Don't get my hopes up," Daria smirked.

Thom chuckled as he guided the car towards the pumpkin patch. "How was your week anyway?"

"The same. I read a book, was ignored by my fellow students, and multiply disowned by my own sister."

"Which book?" Thom asked, careful to ignore her self pity.

"Walden Two."

"Aha! I knew you were an idealist, deep down."

"No, I just wanted to see if Skinearian principles might allow me to lure Kevin to an early grave."

"That would be exactly seven feet deep down I guess."

"Unless I buried him at sea. Then it might be seven fathoms."

Thom turned the car into a lot, the wheels crunching on gravel. A roadside fruit stand displayed baskets and bushels of ripe apples and a large plywood sign bore the hand painted message: PUMPKINS! PICK N SAVE. "Don't forget about the virtues of cremation either," he said, stopping the car.

"That would be... what, seven degrees above Fahrenheit 451?" Daria quipped sagely.

"Nah, that's the temperature at which books burn. I bet Kevin would go sooner - less substance."

They both laughed easily, and Daria no longer seemed so shy. Seizing the moment, Thom leaned over and tugged Daria into his arms kissing her soundly. He was pleasantly surprised at how easily her arms slid around her neck, and how willingly she returned his kiss. She must be allowing her self to care about him, if only a little.

Thom pulled away. "Ready?"

Daria nodded and clambered out of her side of the car. The air was even brisker out here, where the wind could blow across the fields unchecked by buildings or fences. This only added to the autumnal festivity of the market with its white Christmas lights strung over every possible surface and bundles of corn husks and potted chrysanthemums of many colors propped against the stalls.

Daria walked over to Thom's side and smiled when he took her hand in one of his.

"Your hand is cold," he said with concern as they walked out into the well lit field of pumpkin vines.

"I'm fine," Daria said shortly, not liking being fussed over.

"You should have dressed warmer." He let go of her hand and shrugged his way out of his jacket. "Here. Wear this," he said trying to drape it over her shoulders.

Daria side-stepped. "No thanks."

"Come on, Daria. I finally know you well enough to show you my cape." Thom smiled pleadingly at her.

"Oh, alright, just call me the 'Lady of Shalot'" Daria sighed, letting him place it over her shoulders. Then grudgingly, "Thank you." It did feel much warmer.

"You are not doomed and you're welcome." Thom took her hand again. "So what kind of pumpkin are you looking for?"

"Well, if I were any good at carving them, it might matter."

"That's not the point. It's the visceral feeling of cutting them up that counts. If we don't like the end product, my mom can bake then up into pies for us."

"Hmmmm," Daria commented not wanting to speak her thoughts aloud. It was very unlikely that Thom's mom had ever baked a pie in her entire life.

"Now that's a pumpkin," Thom said walking over to a tall and rather thin pumpkin. "That will make a great scary face." He twisted the vine away from the stem and brushed the dirt off of the pumpkin's bottom before scooping it up. "Your turn."

Daria walked over to inspect a very round pumpkin, it was about the size of a beach ball, and was a deep orange with green veins running down from the stem. It was at once perfect and monstrous.

"Nice," Thom commented.

"Yeah," Daria said snapping the stem and heaving the heavy gourd into her arms.

"You got that okay?"

"Yep," she said her arms burning as she staggered back to the stand.

Thom followed her with a quiet smile on his lips. She was so self reliant, sometimes too much. But that was who she was and being over protective was a mistake. So she could carry her own pumpkin, even if it looked like she might drop it any second.

Chapter Two

Thom slid the mulling spices into the sauce pan of fresh apple cider and turned on the gas as Daria spread newspapers across the kitchen table. "You sure you are okay doing this here?"

"Yup," Daria said dryly. "The pumpkin smashers won't be able to get through your gate."

"Too bad this place doesn't have a gate," Thom replied a tad irritably. The differences in their stations made him uncomfortable too. He was embarrassed by his parents' excess wealth.

"You don't?" she asked with faux innocence.

"No, no gates here."

"Gate?" she asked again.

This time Thom caught the hint of a smile that curled the corner of her lips. Oh, she was teasing him. Sometimes it was hard to tell.

As the cider simmered, he pulled two substantial knives from their wooden block and offered them to Daria. "Chose your weapon."

Daria selected a knife and walked back to the table contemplating her pumpkin. "I've always wanted to perform a lobotomy."

Thom pulled two heavy earthenware mugs from out of a cabinet. "You haven't? Then what's up with your sister?"

"Oh, that. That's from my brief foray into shock therapy experiments. Too bad the government shut me down."

"Or shut her up." Thom said wryly as he poured the hot spiced cider into the mugs and garnishing them with a cinnamon stick.

"Or that too," Daria agreed accepting her mug from him. She took a sip and smiled. That tasted really good, almost a distilled essence of fall.

"There's that smile again. Daria, I really think you should pace yourself. You might pull a muscle." Warm humor took any possible bite out of his words.

"You know what they say about smiles using less muscles than frowns," Daria said sarcastically.

"Yeah, but you don't frown either. All of your face muscles are out of shape."

Daria rolled her eyes. "Whatever."

Thom leaned in for another little kiss. "We just have to move slowly." He kissed her. "one." Kiss "Smooch." Kiss "At a time."

Daria leaned back. "What the hell does this have to do with smiling?" she asked, a laugh lurking behind her words.

"Um, I forget?" Thom smiled. "You made me lose my train of thought."

Daria blushed with pleasure. The fact that any guy could be attracted to her, not the less Thom, was still a pleasant surprise.

She dug her knife into the pumpkin and cut a generous circle around the stem and then pulled the little cap off, revealing the stringy insides and seeds of the pumpkin.

"I hate this part," she admitted as she started digging it all out and dumping it on the news paper.

"Here, let me help," Thom said putting down his knife. Soon they were both working on cleaning out Daria's pumpkin, their hands sticky and shiny from the pumpkin juices.

Thom watched Daria as she worked. She took everything, even a Jack-o-Lantern carving so seriously. Like she was being graded. When she concentrated really hard, the tip of her tongue peeped out from between her lips. It was adorable. It made him want to kiss her even more.

As he watched, she tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. This was as unguarded as he had ever seen her. She looked almost sweet. She really was making good on her promise to trust him, and it seemed as if her barriers were coming down a little more every time they got together.

Daria watched Thom as he watched her. That was the advantage of wearing heavy glasses. People couldn't always tell where you were looking. She loved it when he stared at her with that expression on his face. It made her feel warm and wanted. Trusting him was still difficult, but it was getting easier. He was such a nice person. She caught his eye and smirked.

Thom blushed and looked down, then back up at her. He slid his hand into the hollow of the pumpkin and squeezed her hand briefly. Letting go, we went back to his own pumpkin and made quick work of cleaning it out. Soon they were both contemplating their pumpkins, smaller knives in hand.

Daria place the tip of the knife on the rounded equator of the pumpkin, then drew it away several times.

"What's wrong?" Thom asked as he carved a screaming oval for the mouth of his pumpkin.

"I suck at this," she muttered shortly.

"You haven't even started. Go on, take a stab at it."

"Heh." Daria frowned and jabbed her knife into the pumpkin and started sawing.

"See? That wasn't so..."

"Shhh!" Daria interrupted him. "Concentrating."

Thom rolled his eyes and shook his head with a smile, and went back to carving a reasonable well rendered ghoulish face.

Daria carefully produced a passable traditional pumpkin with lopsided triangles for the nose and eyes. Tiring of the tedium, she made the mouth a thin slit instead of a toothy smile. The end effect was of a grumpy pumpkin, suiting its creator perfectly.

After a quick clean up, they placed lit candles into the pumpkins and carried them into the TV room. Thom turned off all of the lights, so the flickering orange glow from the pumpkins cast the only light.

"Want to watch a movie?"

"Sure," she said curling into the love seat, tucking her legs underneath her.

"Is Dial 'M' for Murder okay with you?" he asked.

"That's fitting. Sure."

Thom popped the tape into the player and settled onto the love seat beside Daria. As the credits began, he slipped an arm around her shoulder. "Comfortable?"

"Mmm-hmm," she said watching the screen.

"Mind if I wrap the couch blanket around us? It's a little chilly in this room."

"Mmm-hmm," Daria said then looked at him. "Oh! Ummm... sure," she said realizing where this was going with a faint blush.

Thom grinned and pulled the crocheted afghan from the couch's arm and wrapped it around them, using this opportunity to snuggle very close to Daria. After a bit or rearranging Thom was stretched out on the couch, with Daria stretched out in front of him. Under the blanket, Thom's arm draped casually across Daria's waist.

Daria was trying not to be so stiff, even though she knew Thom must be able to feel it. It was all very new to her, and rather intimate. She tried not to be embarrassed. She had a feeling she might enjoy this if she could just relax.

Thom sensed Daria's stiffness and decide to refrain from kissing the neck that was now so invitingly exposed to him. Instead, he settled in to watch the movie.

About half way through, Daria wiggled over to her other side so that she was facing him. "You awake back there?"

Thom held her a little tighter. "Yup."

Daria leaned forward and kissed him softly.

Thom smiled. "What was that for?"

"Umm...." Daria stammered uncertain of what to say and feeling foolish.

"Wait, you don't have to answer that," Thom said kindly, regretting that he had put her on the spot.

Wrapped in the warmth of the blanket and his arms, Daria felt very relaxed. The flickering candle light only added to the feeling that they might be they only people awake in the entire house. It was a special, private moment that seemed to encompass everything and only this room all at the same time. "Kiss me?"

Thom obliged, and soon the movie was nothing more than background noise as they both smooched and took turns nibbling on each other's ears.

Coming up for air, Thom looked thoughtful. "Would you consider taking off your glasses?"

"What's wrong with my glasses?" she asked suspiciously.

Sensing he was on to a touchy subject, Thom chose his words with care. "Nothing is wrong with them, Daria; they're just in the way. I think you'd be more comfortable without them, and they would be less likely to get broken if things get out of hand."

"Oh," she said, wondering what things getting out of hand meant. "Alright." She carefully slid her glasses off and set them on the end table. She watched Thom's now fuzzy face. Too bad she couldn't read his expression now. What did he think of the way she looked?

Her answer came in the form of a gentle kiss to each eyelid accompanied by a whispered, "Wow."

"But how can I watch the movie?" she asked to cover her embarrassment.

"Do you want to watch the movie, Daria?"

"Not really."

"All right then."

And she didn't need her glasses for the rest of the evening...

The End
Portrait of Diane Long
Diane Long

Smoochies go to my beta readers at #Daria+