A Fan Fiction by Brother Grimace
Push one step further. Do it again. If you can take those two steps, you can take a third. Feed the dragon and eat the pain. Today, the only person you're running against is yourself. Forget Coach Morris - it's just another win for her.
You're doing this for you.
Her slender form casting a sharply defined shadow against rain-starved shoots of grass as the fiery noon sun glowered torment down on her and the other runners, Jane Lane ran through the marked paths within High Hills Park. She wiped thin blades of her jet-black hair away from the constant sheen of sweat on her forehead, and blinked gleaming, salty beads from her lashes as she continued to run.
This was the Texas High School Association's final in the fifteen-kilometer run - the toughest run in high-school track. It was almost an honor that she was allowed to run for LHS, despite the fact that she was as talented, and as fast, as any of the other runners were. Coach Morris wanted her to do only sprints at first - Jane's second run in the 100-yard dash obliterated the LHS school girls' record and was only two-tenths of a second less than the state high-school record - and Ms. Li agreed.
You should be focused on those events that you obviously excel in, so that you can win grand victory after victory! That way, you will immerse yourself in the laurels of success, and bring honor, and glory, to you, and your family, and to - LAWNDALE HIGH...
Jane, however, wasn't about to be told what to do. Not with this part of herself.
Nobody controls this. I'll play your game to the point that I want – and if you don't like it, then check this out. I'm holding up three fingers – now before you start having fantasies, Coach, read between the lines.
Always remember, Jane – you're doing this for you. I run cross-country. I run alone, because that's how I like it.
Running cleared out all of the cobwebs. It was her way of feeling alive, of knowing her place in the world. So what if everybody bitched about you not really being a team player – that's not why you're here! I'm not running relays, or doing sprints – and as long as I wear a LHS Track uniform and win, you'll let me do things the way I want...
Oh, sure, she could be doing something else – but what? Sitting around on her ass watching crappy TV? Hanging out at the pizza place or out at Cranberry Commons with the rest of the herd, chewing the cud and checking out the guys checking you and the other girls out? Gossiping about next-to-nothing, worthless drivel?
And Jane ran.
The earth beneath her feet was moist, somewhat pliant, and it gave ever so gently with each footfall; the marker that was the three-quarters sign was just ahead. No one was within sight of her, and as she looked about, she realized that no one had passed her in the last fifteen minutes.
I've wasted so much time... so much, when I could have been doing this...
Jane thought back, to two years ago. She was so lost, so aimless, so nothing. She actually had made a habit of going to Mr. O'Neill's 'Self-Esteem' class, just to have something to do. Just how lame was that – like something John Bender would do in 'Breakfast Club' – only thing is, at least he had the luck to hook up with Claire and score a diamond earring! No, what's lame is that you're into those lame '80's movies and thinking in popspeak like Kevin Smith -
A gust of wind came up, and Jane was peppered with pieces of grass clippings; the scent of the newly-mown grass rose through the air, sending a warm, heady sensation through the young woman and giving her a little more bounce in her step. I love the smell of all of this... I love being out here...
And it was all an accident, being here right now. Jane remembered. She was going to go to the 'Self-Esteem' class after school – but she instead had to run home after lunch to remind Trent about taking some cube steaks out of the freezer. Oh, hell – more like running home to take something else out for supper, because he's always forgetting to do things... except sleep... and Monique... Well, Alternapaloosa's just a few weeks off – if they're really planning on going, then he and Jesse need to get the Tank ready to go on the road! I'm not giving up a cent to get that fixed out in the middle of nowhere...
Trent had taken the cube steaks out, along with some of those half-ears of frozen corn-on-the-cob (LOVE 'EM!) and some of Mom's 'Golden Mushroom and Hot Pepper Gravy'. Mom. Love you to death, but despite everything that all of the people think, you're a total carnivore!
Problem was, Trent had forgotten to close the door to the freezer...
It took her a couple of hours to get up all of the water from the melted ice (Defrost... must remember to defrost the refrigerator...), clean up the kitchen and throw away all of the ruined food. It took her almost as long to calm herself down enough NOT to go trash all of her brother's guitars except for one - which she'd save for when he came home... By the time Trent and the three Tone-Deaf Mice puddled into the kitchen, courtesy of an unexpected thunderstorm, the clock read two-forty, Jane's disappearance had been noticed – and Coach Morris was on the warpath.
It was Evan Butler that had saved her butt that day. Jane wasn't stupid – he'd had eyes for her for a while. But, as Coach Morris and Ms. Li stood and talked off to one side of the gym, looking like hawks for her appearance, Evan had snagged her arm as she headed towards her doom and stopped her.
"Morris and Li are on the warpath," he said, pulling her towards the door that lead to the football field. "Come on – I've got an idea to save your ass!"
Jane followed, more out of curiosity than worry, and watched as Evan stripped down to his track uniform as they stepped out upon the track. "What – I'm joining the track team?" she exclaimed, almost laughing in the boy's face. "No..."
"You just have to look like you're racing against me," Evan said, smiling at her. "We'll run a few laps, and then we'll say that you're thinking about going out for the team. Oh – and that you're sorry about being gone for so long, and it'll never happen again."
Jane smirked at him. "A knight in Air Jordans, coming to my rescue" she laughed. "And what do you get out of this?"
Evan smiled at her. "To see you running up close," he admitted, and Jane smiled as more than a little ring of truth came through in the boy's voice. "You're fast. I've seen you out jogging before... you know that you're easily as fast as most of the people on the team, don't you?"
"You can wake up now," he smiled. "That's some dream you're having, if you think that you can beat me."
"I'm standing here, talking to you and about to run you into the dirt," Jane replied, smiling back as she took off her jacket to reveal her LHS t-shirt – the one she always wore when she ran. "I'd say that this is your dream, Sorry about how it turns out."
"Make it dangerous, then," the boy said. "I win – we're going out this weekend, and you pay."
"And if I win?"
"Then I pay – and I promise not to mumble when you smirk about beating me."
Evan kept his promise about not mumbling.
Shame we couldn't still be together, Jane thought, passing through a thickening grove of trees that gave her some momentary relief from the sun. Nobody tells me how to run...
It had started simply enough - Evan was sweet, and he was great at making out, and he was really focused on being a great athlete... well, on being a great member of the track team. That was where the problem began.
Not that Jane didn't want to be a part of something, but Evan acted like being on 'LHS Track' was like being part of an elite clique or team, like the Green Berets, or 'Mission Omega Matrix'... THAT was a little secret that she definitely didn't share with any one, especially Evan - that she was a hardcore fan of the Disney show 'The Famous Jett Jackson'. She'd watched since the show began, and she'd seen 'Jett Jackson - The Movie' at least thirty-five times already...
It led to a secret that she REALLY kept to herself - that she wanted to become a Special Agent with the FBI. She wanted to do something with her life, and granted, she wasn't the biggest brain on the block - but she cared about other people, and she had heart, and she was in excellent shape. Maybe, she thought every now and then, as she looked at herself in the mirror, if I study a bit more often, and a bit harder... and if my boobs were just a little bigger. Not knee-knockers... just a little more upstairs, so that my shirts didn't lay so flat...
Evan, though, was 'All Track Team, all the time'. Everything had to revolve around the others and Coach Morris. Study Hall was with the team, although some of the other athletes - that bone-headed quarterback, Kevin Thomphson, and some of the other pigskin freaks - were in the special session, too. Nights out at the Multimovieplex were team events, and 'Pizza King' visits were Track Team Events. Parties were All Track Team (although cute cheerleaders and the occasional football player were allowed). Picnics, lunchtime, get-togethers at this house or that - the 'Track Toads' stuck together.
Of course, everyone understood when the two of them wanted to go off by themselves to have 'some time alone'. Nothing major happened - Jane knew that she wasn't ready for THAT - and besides, what would they talk about afterwards?
And that was the major problem with Evan. Besides track - what else was there about him? Evan literally lived to run. His life, his days and nights, everything about him - it was all about the need for speed. His parents had him in running shoes before he was two years old, and he really was the best runner on the team. (Well, he was faster than Jane - but she had the stamina for long-distance, while he was a sprinter, through and through.)
He was going to try out for the National Track and Field Championships next year, and that would have been the end of them, anyway.
He took it better than either of them had expected. They sat out by the abandoned quarry, and talked, and decided that they could still be friends.
You're still a great girl, and a teammate - and besides, I can still outrun you!
Only at less than four hundred yards, toad boy.
An explosion of cheers greeted Jane as she rounded a corner and headed down a marked-off street where the three-quarters mark was; she glanced over to see a small crowd of Lawndale High students, with the LHS Cheerleading squad out in front. The eight girls, led by Brittany Taylor, waved their pom-poms as they broke into a cheer:
One, three, seven, nine
Be first across the finish line!
Two, four, six, eight
When it comes to running, you're really great!
Oh, well, their hearts are in the right place. Well, maybe not Brittany's. What could she see in that idiot Kevin... oh, well. She's still a nice girl.
The high from the cheering students began to wear down, and Jane could feel a touch of strain in her legs. This is where we get down to what you're made of, she told herself. This is when you think about why you do it -
And then she saw her.
She had seen Daria Morgendorffer on-and-off over the past two years, but they weren't friends by any account. They really never spoke - well, Daria never really spoke to anybody. She walked around by herself, a put-upon look on her face, and yet, more than a few people were afraid of her. How could they not? She had that 'you know, Harris and Klebold had a point...' attitude about her, especially in her writing.
Jodie Landon once commented on Daria, at a party over at Brittany's house. She said that she was really smart, but a bit of a cynic... 'Cynic' being code for 'I'm slightly above it all.' That was the worst Jane had ever heard Jodie speak of someone.
Jane actually remembered the day that she had first seen Daria. How could she not? That day was so important to her... it was the day she had to leave early - the day she met Evan. She -Jane - was in Mr. DeMartino's class when he asked a question about 'Manifest Destiny'. He tried to pick on Daria - she was the new kid in school - and she had smoked him with a smart, and sarcastic, answer that had caught Jane's attention. She might have spoken to her after class, but she had to head home, for the cube steaks...
And she had gotten involved in track. She later heard that after an assignment Daria turned in to Mr. O'Neill in his 'Self-Esteem' class, Ms. Li had called her parents to talk about 'in the aftermath of the Columbine incident, the possible mental irregularities and self-esteem issues that your daughter seems to be having may signal future troubles for which you may be liable, should they occur...'
Shame I stopped going. I could have helped her get out of that stupid class for good.
Daria disappeared the next day, and was gone for the rest of the semester. Everybody was curious - but anybody who asked Quinn Morgendorffer, her younger sister, received a blistering earful and NO information at all. It later came out that Daria had been sent to a 'private care facility' known as Hansen Island. Sandi Griffin, the perpetually jealous and mean-spirited President of the Fashion Club, had been over at Quinn's house and listened in on Quinn's mother as she took a call from one of the resident psycho-analysts... she had wanted to embarrass Quinn, who she had a unnatural jealousy of.
There was justice in the world, though. The Fashion Club had banded together and ousted Sandi, and Ms. Li suspended her for two weeks - for 'flagrant and malicious dissemination of restricted information which could tarnish the honor, and the glory, of 'LAWN-DALE HIGH.' Quinn's mother, who was a big-shot lawyer, took the Griffins to court (for what, who knew?) and broke the family's financial back in the settlement. The Griffins now lived somewhere in Florida, Jane once overheard, and Sandi's life had gone into the gutter...
Daria came back to school that January. There was a change in her, though. She seemed more school-oriented and outgoing - at least she participated more without being prodded - but she seemed to have a part of herself hidden away now. The sarcastic part. The part that had caught Jane's attention in the beginning. Daria was now one of the masses, and did what she was supposed to without being told.
Jane had once mentioned to Jodie how Morgendorffer - she didn't know her well enough to call her 'Daria' - seemed to be slightly different, ever since she came back to school. "Oh, yes," Jodie said, and Jane was surprised at the sharp, sudden wellspring of grief and anger that spurted outwards. "Like Malcolm McDowell, 'she was cured, all right."
"I don't get it."
"Pray you never do," Jodie said, starting away - but Jane grabbed her arm. "What?"
"What happened to Morgendorffer?"
"That's simple," Jodie told her, pulling away. "They fixed her. Don't you know?"
"Four words," Jodie said, and Jane felt a chill as, at that moment, she saw Daria walking down the hall, allowing Jamie White to carry her books and laughing as Tori Jericho told her a joke.
"Daria loved Big Brother."
Jane looked up the reference.
She had trouble sleeping that night.
And Jane ran.
Jane watched as Daria, decked out in a fashionable outfit - matching denim skirt and vest, burnt-orange top, Birkenstock sandals, lots of ringlet jewelry and stylish prescription sunglasses - cheered and waved a little Lawndale Lions flag...
She looked into the face of the petite girl, looked closely...
Daria continued to wave the little flag, but her voice suddenly cut out, and she looked into the eyes of the girl who was now only feet away from her...
Jane watched the expression on the girl's face change. It fluttered, her expression: from greeting and admiration, to confusion, to something else...
Daria saw the girl looking at her - really looking at her! - and she saw the question that her eyes held and spoke with a tone as loud and clear as actual speech:
What's wrong with you?
Jane saw through the glamour that Daria wore to hide herself; she saw behind the glasses, to the girl, to the crouching, hiding person within:
Daria was only inches away from Jane as she passed the crowd of students, so close that if she had dared, she could have reached out and touched her:
Come out of there. Come out of the crowd - you should stand on your own! You can stand alone...
Jane was in that single, pure moment of clarity and comprehension with the girl named Daria Morgendorffer, alone, and reaching out.
I'm not like you.
Daria saw Jane look into her soul.
I don't want you to be like me. I want you to be like you.
Jane passed directly in front of Daria.
I don't know that person anymore.
And Jane ran.
She passed the crowd of cheering students, and as she continued down the street, empty but for onlookers, she knew.
This is when you think about why you do it.
Jane ran for Daria.
She ran because of her. She ran because this was what she wanted... to be free. She wanted to be loved, and admired, and held up for praise - and yet, even if no one did, she would do it for herself. Jane was living the life she would never know.
As Jane kept moving down the asphalt, step over step, she felt the pressure of the tiny brunette's chains fly free from her spirit. They got you, but they'll never get me, Jane thought, and her footsteps became lighter and easier with each step...
This is what I want. If it helps them - so be it, if it doesn't - I don't care. I'm in this for me. And now, for you.
And it's not about winning, either. It's about doing. It's about that next step... and the next... and being brave enough to take the next after that... and taking the next one after that because there's someone else out there who can't. Maybe once, but not anymore.
It's not about getting there; it's about going there. I'm not worried about that flimsy piece of ribbon that they've got tied across the track a couple of miles away. What matters is the next step. And the next. And the next... and how I take it.
They don't understand, most of them. Daria does, though. I saw it in her eyes.
As long as I run - the victory is already mine.
12 June, 2001