Love's Labours Lost?


A Daria fanfic by E. A. Smith


Legal Blather:  Daria and all associated characters are the property of MTV.  This story is my own.



Well, it's finally happened, the thing I have been dreading from my first week here at Raft.  James, my only friend here at school, asked me out on a date today, and I don't know what to do about it.  I've been hoping this question wouldn't come up, that he wouldn't act like every other member of his hormone-crazed gender and leave our budding friendship as just that, but it looks like he finally succumbed.  Now he's left me holding the bag, forcing me to choose whether or not to risk the most promising thing I've found yet at this place.  After all, it's not like my track record in male relationships is stellar.


There was Trent, first of all.  God, that's embarrassing to think about now - all that obsession and self-doubt, over what was just a stupid schoolgirl crush.  I move to a new town, convinced that life is going to go on just as miserably as before, and on my second day at Moron High I meet my first real friend, the first person who's ever understood me.  And, to top it all off, she's got an older brother, a man who meets almost every definition I have of the word "cool" - he's an outsider, a musician who doesn't bend to society's rules, who pursues his own dreams without worrying if they're practical or even achievable.  And, I hate to admit it, he wasn't incredibly bad-looking either.  I fall head-over-heels, so taken that I find it hard to even verbalize in his presence.  So taken, in fact, that I don't even notice that his talent is less than overwhelming, and that his laziness far outweighs his ambition.  Or, maybe, I just didn't want to notice, but rather let just this one aspect of my life be ruled by romantic dreams rather than hard reality.  Of course, when those dreams collided with a part of reality that really mattered to me - my education - they crumbled, and I could see what I had been denying the whole time.  Any idea of Trent and I being together was hopeless delusion.  It hurt, and the only reason that I was able to be around him after that is because I knew that he had been oblivious the whole time.


Then there was Ted DeWitt-Clinton, my first dating experience and my first actual potential boyfriend.  Jane was right, he was a kook, but not in any bad way.  He was intelligent and incredibly well-read, two must-haves on my list of dating requirements, and his complete lack of worldly corruption was a welcome respite from my own cynicism.  Looking back on it now, we really might have had the beginnings of something worthwhile.  Then we went on our first "date", so to speak, and he blew it all to hell.  Again, looking back on it, I might have overreacted; what he did wasn't a result of maliciousness, just naivete, combined with his natural earnestness.  And I was pissed off not only at what he did, but who he was doing it with.  It was a betrayal, consorting with the enemy, and at that time there was no greater crime in my world.  And so I tossed my first potential boyfriend to the wayside, leaving him to tread the paths of popularity while I walked my lonely road with Jane.


And, finally, there was Tom.  Oh, brother, what a disaster that was, from beginning to end.  I should have known from the beginning that that wouldn't work.  There were too many differences between us, too many aspects of his personality and situation that I knew would press my buttons, not to mention the extremely unfortunate manner in which we originally got together, but I went ahead with it anyway.  Why?  Was I just being blind, sincerely believing that he and I could be a viable couple, despite the fact that I loathed every aspect of his world except him?  Was I caught up in the moment, swept away by the tide of events, and by Tom's own confidence in himself and our relationship?  Or was it all just a grand experiment, a relationship just to see if I could have a relationship, to see if I could sustain such a fragile and precious state?  If that last one was the case, than I would have to say that the experiment was a miserable failure, a series of arguments and misunderstandings punctuated with a few brief moments of actual happiness.  The fact that I haven't spoken to Tom since our break-up, despite our promise to remain friends, speaks volumes to that effect.  Strike three.


And now, there's James, ready to start the whole cycle over again.  I should have seen this moment coming from the very first day we met, on the second day of Freshman Chemistry.  Actually, I'm pretty certain he noticed me on the first day, when the professor, after reviewing the syllabus, asked if there were any problems, and I responded "Just with the universe in general".  I heard a chuckle behind me, but since the professor proceeded on without so much as a pause, I didn't give it a second thought.  Then, the next day, James sat down next to me, with only a single empty chair between us; I didn't notice, since I hadn't paid any attention to who had been sitting in that desk the day before.  But then he started making little sardonic remarks under his breath, addressed to no one in particular but obviously pitched just so that I could overhear.  Against my will, he actually pulled a slight smile out of me, and I started to respond in kind.  And so we passed the next few days.


After the first week of classes, he introduced himself.  "James McCarthy," he said, sticking out his hand.  I took it warily, and just as warily gave him my own name, worried even as I said it that I was making a mistake.  Never before I had sought out attention, especially male attention, at school, and the stereotypical reputation of "college boys" only increased my fears.  Still, his friendliness seemed genuine, free of ulterior motives, and I knew he wouldn't even be at this school if he wasn't above-average in intelligence - this may not be Bromwell, but none of the usual Lawndale cretins would stand a chance here - and the whole purpose of college (or so I am told) is to expand your horizons.  So I accepted his invitation to accompany him to lunch.  The absence of Jane in my life, for the first time in three years, was another factor, no doubt.  I was no longer accustomed to eating alone.


And so it began, first with lunch every day, then with studying together on the weekends.  We weren't inseparable, but we could be found together more often than not, and he never acted as anything more than just a friend to me, which is exactly what I wanted.  Looking back on it now, there might have been a few warning signs - he never seemed particularly comfortable when I mentioned Tom or Trent, for example - but nothing that couldn't be explained away.  We made a few jokes about other people assuming we were dating, but they were off-the-cuff and never given a second thought.  I was as happy with our friendship as someone like me could reasonably be.


Then, after lunch today, he pulled the rug out from under the whole thing.  Voice trembling, knees almost knocking together, he asked me out, asking if I wanted to go have dinner this weekend, and see a play afterwards.  I responded that he should be careful, that I might think he was asking me out on a date with a request like that; his face red, he stammered out that that was exactly what he was doing.  I, the writer, the girl who always has a snappy comeback for everything, was speechless; at the time, it seemed so out of the blue, so unlike anything I was looking for from him, that I couldn't think of how to respond.  Finally, still unsure of what to say, or even what I wanted, I told him I would think about it, and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of my dormroom.


Which is where I find myself now, two hours later and no closer to an answer.  My first reaction is to flat-out refuse, to cut and run and avoid any future contact with him, to forever despise him for taking a perfectly acceptable, simple friendship and making something disturbingly complex out of it.  Or was it ever really a friendship at all?  Did he plan this from the beginning, cleverly slipping under my radar until I trusted him enough to even be considering it?  I should have asked him that, but my brain was too shocked at the time to formulate even such a basic suspicion.  Am I that easy of a dupe?  Or am I being too hard on him, too black-and-white with the situation?  Asking out a girl you like is hardly a crime, and he knows me well enough so that I can be sure he's not just out for a quick lay.  And a friendship with an element of attraction is still a friendship.  He's not Upchuck, after all.  (I think I would still be pretty safe if he was - Upchuck couldn't even drum up the courage to hold on to a fake boob; how could he ever bring himself to grab a real one?)  And his nervousness is reassuring - it shows that he's as inexperienced in this whole thing as I am, if not more so.  He's hardly a smooth operator.


I suppose the really important question is: do I want to go out with him?  Can I even afford to go out with him?  I have schoolwork, after all, and that has to come first.  No boy is going to come between me and a diploma, between me and my chosen profession.  I don't have the time . . .


Oh, who am I kidding?!  Raft's a tough school, but if the average student here can do well while still having a life outside of their work - and I know most of them do - than I'm certain that I can.  The real question is not whether or not my grades can survive a relationship, but whether or not my heart can.  He's an interesting person, and I enjoy being around him, but I have not had a single relationship with a male that has not caused me considerable pain (well, except maybe for my father, but that's only because I keep my expectations low); why should I subject myself to that again?  I can handle losing a casual friendship, but I can't take dating so casually; failure there hurts too much.  And it doesn't help that I see so much of my past relationships in James - there's Trent's dedication and passion, Ted's earnestness, and Tom's intelligence and sense of humor.  All good qualities, but they can all cause problems too.  If there was nothing at stake, I think I would go for it, but can I endure failure again?


I wish Jane were here.  I could use her advice, her wit, her perspective on the whole matter.  But I couldn't object when her father asked her to travel with him, to paint the sunset or photograph Celtic rock formations or something like that.  I suppose the news that his youngest child was going to be off to college very soon, and a fine arts college at that, stirred some dormant paternal feelings in the man.  Or maybe he just needed an extra pair of arms to hold his photography equipment.  Either way, Jane's incommunicado until the start of the next semester, and I'm left to face this one on my own.


But if I'm honest with myself, I know what her advice would be.  Jane's always encouraged me to pursue every possible romance that has come my way, even - after the initial storm had blown over - with Tom.  She's never been less than supportive on those rare occasions when I've reached out beyond just the two of us.  If she was here, she'd tell me to go for it, maybe offer to lend me her lipstick.  Go for it and have fun, and if it shatters and falls to the ground, take the next opportunity with just as much enthusiasm.  She certainly did - Evan, Tom, Nathan, even the bigheaded boy at Brittany's party - none of those setbacks ever discouraged her from trying again.  As long as she always had me to come back to, she was never afraid to see where the newest romantic adventure would take her.  But I'm not Jane, I'm Daria, and Daria has never been one to set off on adventures.  Am I content with that?  Am I happy with that?


What do I do?