a Daria fic by Wyvern337
She had long since gotten this down to a routine. In fact by now it was approaching the status of a ritual, Daria thought as she sat cross-legged on the floor of her room amid the supplies she'd gathered. First, remove the laces. Then, this being summer, check for salt stain in its favorite hiding place, along the sides of the tongue. Sure enough, there were a few traces of whitish encrustation, though less of it than she'd been expecting. Not to worry, it'd be dealt with soon enough. Next came the shoe brush, the knocking of accumulated dust and dirt -- the loose stuff, anyway -- off the uppers. When she'd accomplished all she reasonably could with the larger brush, Daria set it down and switched to the toothbrush -- Quinn's, though to be sure it was an old one she'd scavenged after her younger sister had replaced it. First, dip it into the cup of water she always kept handy for this particular chore, then work it along the edge between sole and upper. Follow it with a dry soft cloth, to get rid of the excess moisture. Then it was time for the saddle soap -- or was it? Daria noticed a couple of small new scars on the toe of her right boot, where the black outer coating had been gouged-through, exposing the much lighter color of the natural leather beneath. There was a simple enough cure for that, of course, one she'd discovered long ago. Daria uncapped the black marking pen she'd included among her cleaning supplies and rubbed the tip back and forth across the small abrasions. Soon enough, the only way their existence could be discerned was a couple of spots that were slightly-rougher than the surrounding leather.
Okay, now the saddlesoap. Daria opened the small flat tin, moistened the sponge, and then worked it back and forth across the surface of the goop in the container. Starting with the salt stain (the scourge of leather everywhere!) that she'd uncovered, she set to working-up a good lather over the surface of the boot's upper, paying special attention to working it into the seams, the edge where the sole was attached, and the natural creases that had worn over time into the heavy cowhide. As Daria wiped-off the excess lather and set the first boot aside, she decided that this was as much treatment as they'd be getting this time. They were long past polishing -- the creases and wrinkles were deep, the assorted scuffs and dings too numerous. When dampness wasn't a major concern -- and given the time of year it wasn't -- she preferred to be sparing with the mink oil as well, having found that regular, frequent saddlesoapings really provided all the protection and preservation her boots needed.
And now for the left one. It was in much the same shape as her right boot, no real need to deviate from routine: remove laces...inspect tongue...big brush...little brush...saddlesoap, paying special attention to the...
Daria stopped cold. Just beneath and ahead of the lower left corner of the strip of leather that reinforced the area around the boot's eyelets, a terrible, unthinkable, inevitable thing had occurred. There, surrounded by an especially heavy crease where bits of leather had begun, despite regular and attentive maintenance, to flake away, a hole had formed. Gently, Daria pressed against the spot from the inside. The pale skin of her fingertip showed clearly. The hole went all the way through the leather. Breakout. The end had officially begun.
The boots might -- probably would -- last a while longer, but they were definitely on their last season. After being reheeled twice and resoled once, they were finally manifesting a sign of unavoidable wear that simply couldn't be fixed.
Of course, the simple wearing-out of an item of clothing was the least of what this was about. Sitting there staring at the damage, Daria thought back over the history involved. Ever since she'd first gotten them when her family still lived in Highland, she'd worn that one pair of boots, almost every waking moment. She'd been wearing them her first day at Lawndale High, when Ms. Manson had given she and Quinn that ridiculous psychological test. They'd been on her feet when she walked into the self-esteem class her sarcastic responses to the test had landed her in. When she'd met Jane. At the party Brittany had invited her to in thanks for teaching her one-point perspective in art class. In the woods, when her family had gone temporarily (more-) insane from eating psychotropic berries and she'd had to summon help on her mother's cell phone. They'd been the only item from her normal outfit she'd retained when she changed her look for the trip to (or at least towards) Alternapalooza. Likewise when she'd wrested back her "identity" from Quinn by imitating her sister's style. Daria had worn her boots under the horribly ill-fitted bridesmaid's dress she'd been forced into for her cousin's wedding, and with her Nutty Nutty Nutty World uniform when her mother had dragooned her into getting a job -- any job -- as some kind of object lesson in how miserable the working world was (as near as Daria had ever been able to guess, anyway). She'd been wearing them when her family had -- briefly -- been burned out of their home. During that shockingly-unexpected first kiss with Tom, through her resulting estrangement from Jane -- and so much more, both good and bad. She'd even worn them under her gown at graduation, despite both Helen's and Quinn's attempts to get her into something more formal for the occasion.
"That's funny", said Daria when she felt she could trust her voice again, "I thought I was supposed to be the one who was fatally wounded when my life flashed before my eyes."
Mechanically, Daria finished maintenancing her boots, then sat for awhile just gazing at them and remembering. Mostly remembering. She found herself, to her mild embarrassment (at least no one was around to see!) having to remove her glasses and blot at her eyes with her shirttail before standing up and proceeding to the next order of business: getting ready for bed.
Daria didn't retain any clear memories of her dreams that night, just vague unpleasant impressions revolving around themes of loss, endings and unwanted change.
"But Mu-ooom! It's going to be senior year! My big chance to make a statement! As vice president of the Fashion Club it's my responsibility to make as good and lasting an impression as possible."
Daria looked down at her cereal, stirring it occasionally and even more occasionally taking a bite as she listened to Quinn wheedling and cajoling their mother at the breakfast table. It was as good a way as any to distract herself. She even found herself admiring -- however abstractly -- her sister's technique. First bring up the "senior year is special" angle, then play up her extracurricular activities and the relevance of what she was asking for to them.
"Well, I can see where there'd be a larger selection, and even how it relates to your position in the Fashion Club", Helen admitted somewhat grudgingly, "but after all that's just an extracurricular activity."
"And you've said yourself how important having a record of extracurricular activities is when applying to college," Quinn countered, a slight triumphant note discernible in her voice. "I'm going to want to make as good an impression as I can when I apply to Pepper Hill this year!"
And three makes the hat trick, thought Daria. Work in the alleged practical benefits deriving from what she wanted to do. This last statement even offered the added advantage of implicitly heading off objections on the grounds of...
"Not until you bring up your gra--" Helen caught herself before finishing the sentence, though Daria was mildly surprised she'd even begun it aloud. Force of habit, undoubtedly, from all those years when Quinn's grades had been a problem. That had changed pretty close to completely over the past schoolyear, to the extent that it was looking like Quinn was actually likely to be accepted at the college of her choice. Nice try, mom, but she even has your usual trump card sewn up. Wouldn't even be too surprised to see her wind up in your profession someday. Say what else you would about her sister, thought Daria, one thing she was very good at was manipulating situations -- and people -- to get what she wanted.
And what she wanted today was to be given unrestricted credit card access and be turned loose on the Mall of the Millennium to shop for her back-to-school wardrobe. Dream big, sis, thought Daria, smirking inwardly. Helen, of course, was resistant, seemingly almost more over the principle of the thing than for any practical reasons. Alas, Quinn just wasn't leaving her much in the way of grounds for objection, and it was looking like it would be only a matter of time before she caved in.
To Daria's mild surprise, Helen actually seemed to've come up with yet another counterargument, or at least she looked as if she was about to say something else in response, but whatever it was would never be known because Daria chose that moment to take a deep breath, steel herself (was she actually going to say this?), and enter the conversation:
"Well, you know, I'm going to be heading off for college in a few months and, uh..." Daria faltered briefly, colored slightly, then pushed on ahead: "I'm going to be needing a few items, myself."
For a moment Helen just sat there, wordless, stunned-to-silence by her elder daughter suddenly jumping in, apparently on the side of her younger sibling's insatiable desire for ever newer and more-fashionable clothes, of all things! Then, suddenly, her whole attitude seemed to change as she relented. "Well, that is true of course, Daria. You'll be going into a whole new environment, all new people...this would be an excellent opportunity for you to reinvent yourself, change your image."
"Well, I don't know whether..."
"You can't just keep on the way you've always been, Daria," Helen continued, warming to the subject. "We've discussed the matter before, and I'd think some of your more recent experiences would've shown you that, as well. It doesn't have to be anything drastic, of course -- and I wouldn't expect that from you anyway. You might try taking a minor piece of advice or two from your sister, though -- I think you both have things you could learn from each other. Jake?"
"Mwhuhuh?" came the witty reply as Daria's father found his morning paper drawn away from his face and himself drawn into the conversation.
"The girls are going to the Mall of the Millennium today," declared Helen, "They'll need the credit cards and your Lexus."
"No. Makeovers. Quinn. And that isn't negotiable."
Daria sat behind the wheel of the Lexus, her sister in the passenger seat, as she guided the car through surprisingly-light freeway traffic. They'd been on the road for slightly over an hour and she'd at first been pleasantly-surprised when Quinn had actually tried to make conversation with her, rather than either remaining silent or going on about what she planned to buy herself. Daria's mood had gradually soured, however, as Quinn's talk had consisted mainly of trying to get her to completely change her look -- with Quinn handling the planning and execution, of course. Daria had refused offers of makeovers from her sister before, with sufficient sarcasm, vehemence, or whatever else the situation seemed to call for at the time, that such offers had long since stopped coming. She guessed that Quinn had felt emboldened by what their mother had said that morning at breakfast. Or maybe it was something to do with the fact that Daria was actually planning on shopping -- not merely entering, but actually shopping -- at places frequented by the attractive and popular. Perhaps, then, there was hope for her after all?
"Okay, then, we could just get your hair done a little differently... I mean it could be bouncier -- not like mine, of course...."
"Unless I dyed it."
"Ugh, Daria," Quinn started, then she paused as a thought struck her. "Of course, it wouldn't have to be some completely different color... or even all your hair. Have I ever told you how much prettier I think you'd look with some auburn highlights? I mean, it'd be, like, really subtle, since you're so close to that color anyway. If we did that, and changed that...that hairdon't of yours to something at least tolerably fashionable..."
At first Daria bristled at her sister's description of the way she wore her hair...but then she started to actually envision some of the changes. She'd always chosen things like her clothing and hairstyle to reflect her philosophy that it was what was inside that counted, and that looks were a poor thing to judge by. She'd much rather people notice her for -- and be impressed by,naturally -- her mind. She still believed all that, of course, and yet....now there was someone in her life who was attracted to all the things about her she liked most about herself. Two of them, in fact, but there was one in particular she found herself, ashamed as she would've been to've admitted it out loud, actually liking the idea of making herself more physically attractive to. The corners of Daria's mouth turned up involuntarily as she thought of how Tom might react to a change in her look.
Quinn, noticing her sister's slightly-dreamy expression, moved in for the kill. "C'mon, Daria, I know just the place. And after that we can see about getting you some new clothes, stuff that fits you better, that makes you look good. And above all get rid of those...those things you wear instead of shoes."
Quinn noticed the sudden change of expression on Daria's face and abruptly stopped talking, almost frightened.
Staring straight ahead at the road, Daria heaved a deep, very tired-sounding sigh and said "actually, Quinn, that's about the only thing I intend to replace, let alone change, about my look just now. This pair of boots is wearing out and I'm going to need something new for when I go off to college."
"But Daria," began Quinn.
"I'm going to the picnic, and I'm taking...an aardvark."
Quinn folded her arms across her chest and glared out the passenger side window.
After a few more minutes she spoke again: "Could you at least let me give you some advice on choosing new shoes? I really think I could help you."
After continuing to stare ahead a few more moments, Daria sighed again and said "I'll undoubtedly regret this, but okay."
Daria wondered absently if this was the same shuttle train she'd been sick in on her first visit to the Mall of the Millennium. She'd parked the Lexus in one of the outer ring lots -- even though traffic had been light on the way over, by the time they'd actually reached the mall it had been the nearest thing she'd been able to find. At least she wasn't feeling nauseous this time, Daria reflected, though Quinn might've been more...amusing....to be ill in front of than Jane.
Soon they pulled up at the mall's main entrance, and Daria heard her sister emit the same enraptured sigh her classmates had chorused at that point during her first visit to the mall. It was a sound that made Daria frown reflexively -- the mall was just not her favorite place. Still, she supposed it had it's uses...
The two sisters walked through the main entrance side by side, past the welcome desk and the goodbye desk that flanked the entryway, avoiding the worker costumed as a giant bumblebee handing out flyers as if it were one of the real, stinging variety. Daria cringed inwardly at the throngs of people...now she remembered why she didn't like the mall. Best, getting it over with quickly out of the question, to at least not let it drag on any more interminably than it had to. "So, Quinn, this's mainly your expedition -- where to first?"
"Oh, I thought Gish's first," her sister replied. "It's the closest of the places I want to go, and besides they're having a one-day sale!"
"Good timing, sis."
"I'm kind of an expert."
Daria followed her sister off to the right, into section...some drab shade of green. You'd think they'd be able to come up with more attractive colors to designate their different areas, she thought. While watching Quinn shop didn't hold much by way of entertainment value for her, Daria had been tasked by Helen with making sure her sister didn't overspend...much as she'd've preferred to hole up in Books By the Ton and let her sister max out the credit cards. The day dragged on as Quinn worked her way through the mall's department stores,employing her sister as pack mule. First Gish's with its one-day sale, then up a level to area B, section blue and Spackle & Spackle. Once Quinn was through with that store, they proceeded up to level 5 area D section orange, which contained both W.H. Trogg, the mall's smallest and most-exclusive department store, and the Fashion Clubhouse.
As they crossed the mall's central area, past the escalators and the roller coaster, Daria caught the scent of sundry, mostly deep-fried, delights wafting down from the food courts next level up. A rumble from her stomach reminded her that she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, and Daria managed to talk Quinn into briefly skipping over their next destination and going up to the top level of the mall for lunch.
As they stepped off the escalator to Level 6 Area H Section Green (a somewhat less-unappetizing shade of green than she'd seen before), Daria was momentarily blinded by the sun shining down through the glazed ceiling of the mall and as she reflexively looked down, she was startled, in these surroundings, to see that the glass had prismed the sunlight and spread a rainbow strip of light along the floor of the mall. It stood out brilliantly against the light-colored tiles. The crowd of shoppers walked back and forth right through it, oblivious, but Daria stood there for a long moment just looking at it.
How could someone walk right through something like that without noticing? She wondered, let alone hundreds of someones?
Quinn immediately headed to Tofu Fighters (they had the lowest-fat menu), while Daria found herself torn between Fries and Things and The Lard Yard. She finally decided on the former -- slightly less-disgusting name -- and got herself a large serving of cheese fries. The two sisters sat opposite each other at one of the food court tables as Daria tore into her lunch while Quinn picked fastidiously at hers.
"I'm pretty sure it's not poisoned any worse than mine," said Daria.
"Ha," replied Quinn. "I'm sure it wouldn't be important to you, but among the attractive and popular you can never be too thin."
"At least until ketosis sets in," retorted her sister.
"And what's that supposed to be?"
"Oh, just when a starving person's vital organs start digesting themselves in an effort to keep them alive."
"Makes your breath stink real bad, too."
Daria formed one of her wry, ironic little smiles as she noticed her sister suddenly begin attacking her tofu-whathaveyou with noticeably more enthusiasm.
After lunch, Daria followed Quinn through her shopping at W.H. Trogg and (ugh) the Fashion Clubhouse, and finally Quinn said "well, I know I need some new shoes, and I guess it's about time I helped you out with your...situation."
"Thanks so much, sis," came the muffled reply from beneath a mound of shopping bags.
"Oh, don't mention it. I know just the place."
"Just the place" turned out to be a horrifyingly boutiquey shoestore called Felling Feety, located (a testament to Quinn's strategic thinking) in the same sector as W.H. Trogg and the Fashion Clubhouse.
"Looks like the circus came to town and forgot their shoes when they left," Daria couldn't help commenting as they entered the place.
Quinn stopped, planted her hands on her hips, and looked her sister up and down appraisingly. "Now, let's see. What kind of shoes to improve that...outfit....of yours. Hmmmm...I know! Over this way!"
And so, Daria began trying on new shoes. First, the color: "Black, of course," said Quinn, "I mean, even you wouldn't try brown shoes with that black skirt!"
Then came the styles: first wedge heel, square toed Mary Janes. "They're surprisingly comfortable," insisted Quinn. Daria found she couldn't agree: for one thing, the shoes were just too light on her feet -- they made her feel...well, almost naked. She missed the weight of her boots, the way they covered most of her calves, and the Mary Janes constantly felt as if they were about to come right off her feet. Quinn next offered her platform waffle Mary Janes with square toes.
"Platform?" replied Daria, arms folded across her chest.
"Uhhh, maybe not."
Quinn next got her sister to try on Oxfords. "They're a little more like...boots," she said, managing to force herself to say the word, "but they're not hopelessly unfashionable."
To be sure, they at least didn't feel like they were about to fall off, but as she walked around the shoe store in them Daria found there were still things she missed. They were still too light, didn't cover any of her lower legs, and she missed the ankle support her boots provided.
"I don't know, Quinn," she said uncertainly.
And so it continued, trying on different styles of shoe at Quinn's recommendation, always finding at least one of the same few things wrong about them. After awhile, Quinn's patience began to thin. "Daria," she said at last, "why don't I let you work on picking some things you like out yourself, then maybe I can give you sort of a fashion veto? or, like, advice on which ones suit you best?"
"Okay, Quinn," agreed Daria, feeling somewhat relieved.
"Just one rule -- anything but Converse," called Quinn over her shoulder as she headed off to another section of the store.
Daria quickly found herself unimpressed with the selection. Picking up a 20 hole black sidezipper laceup she examined the waffle soles. The... platform waffle soles, with ridiculously high heels. "Who. Would even. Bother?" she wondered aloud. This was fashionable? it wasn't providing her with much reason to revise her opinions on fashion.
Daria walked around the display, looking at various boots and finding various reasons to reject them, until she reached the other side. And saw them. And for a long moment just stood there, wishing she could disbelieve her eyes. They were a pair of 10 hole Doc Martens, relatively ordinary except that....
They were horrible.
They were evil.
They were deeply, deeply wrong.
An awful, bright, bubblegum pink with an eye-hurtingly contrasting bright blue interior. Daria reached out and picked up the one on display, mostly just to convince herself she wasn't hallucinating. Sadly, she only confirmed she wasn't. They were real all right.
"Not even if the alternative were a lifetime of going barefoot," she said to no one in particular, "Though they might be just the thing for..."
"Ugh! not even!" came the disgusted voice behind her.
"Oh, hi Quinn," said Daria, "I was just thinking of you for some reason."
"I just thought I'd check on how you were doing," her sister answered. "Tell me you're not thinking of getting those."
"As a matter of fact, no. I was just thinking you might like them."
"You've got to be kidding," said Quinn. Then she remembered something Sandi had once told her about klunky-looking shoes making the rest of her look even cuter by comparison. "On the other hand...hmmm....I don't know..."
"C'mon, sis," said Daria, a teasing lilt in her voice, "They're you."
"God, Daria!" said Quinn exasperatedly. "Clothes and shoes are all about getting people to like you. What's that got to do with being you? -- Oooh, intermediate markdowns!" And with that remark, Quinn dashed off to another section of the store, leaving her sister staring after her, speechless.
She doesn't even realize what she just said, does she? thought Daria, and what's worse, I'm not sure I have an answer.
Daria didn't buy any shoes, or boots, that afternoon.
"Daria, what's wrong?" asked Quinn. "I mean, ever since back in the shoestore at the mall you've been, like, weird, even for you."
Daria cocked an eyebrow at that remark, but said nothing. Quinn, not noticing, continued, "all like, quiet and, breedy and...stuff. I can tell there's something bothering you, but I don't know what."
Her older sister didn't answer, simply continuing to stare ahead as she drove them back towards Lawndale. The trunk and most of the backseat were full of Quinn's new fall wardrobe, including shoes. Daria had, after all, not bought anything while at the mall, which had Quinn somewhat worried about how she was going to justify some of her purchases to Helen when they got home. There was also something else that was worrying her -- her sister's weird mood, which had begun back at the mall and continued without letup during the drive home so far. It was obvious even to Quinn that something was bothering Daria, and she was beginning to get concerned.
Quinn finally resigned herself to the silence and just stared out the window at the scenery. She actually jumped in her seat, she was so startled when Daria said, "Quinn, can I ask you something?"
"Uhm, sure, I guess.?."
"Talk to me about Dave."
"You know, Dave Sorenson, the guy who tutored you last summer."
"Well, uh, what about him? I mean it's not like we've seen each other or talked or anything since the end of last summer."
"You had a crush on him, remember?"
"Well, I wouldn't call it a crush exactly..."
"Whatever. What attracted you to him in the first place?"
"Well, uuhhh...." For a moment Quinn was truly and completely at a loss. Then she began to remember. "For starters, he was kind of cute. I mean, not like football player cute or anything, but...you know...."
Daria didn't immediately reply, simply waited for her sister to continue.
"But I guess mostly it was that we could, you know, talk about stuff. I mean, we'd joke about stuff and he'd say stuff that was really interesting, and he seemed to be interested in stuff that I said, and he was really smart, like you --"
This drew another raised eyebrow from Daria, but if Quinn noticed she didn't give any indication, continuing on with her description. "And he knew lots of neat stuff and we had fun talking about it and --"
"So in other words he liked you for being you," Daria interrupted.
"Only he didn't like me, did he?" said Quinn with a vehemence that caught her sister completely by surprise. "Not in any way that mattered. 'Sure Quinn, I like you. You're a 'good kid' -- whatever that's supposed to mean -- 'now excuse me while I get on with my life and forget about you. Drop me a line so we can pretend that's not what's happening.' So much for having somebody like you for being yourself! God, Daria, you do read too much -- try getting out and actually living some if you're getting ideas like that!"
Daria didn't say anything the rest of the drive home.
When they pulled up in front of their house and parked, Daria got out first and walked around to Quinn's side of the car just as her sister was standing up.
"Daria, what's..." Quinn began, but she never got a chance to finish. All she saw was a green blur, all she had time to get out was a startled little yelp as Daria surged across the remaining distance between them...
And grabbed her younger sister in a crushingly-tight hug.
Seemingly as soon as she realized what she was doing, Daria let go of Quinn and, without any word spoken, walked quickly to the door and inside. Quinn just stared after her. As Daria walked into the living room, only one thought occupied both sisters minds:
What the hell brought THAT on?
Weeks passed. Despite the regular maintenance rituals, the final decay of Daria's boots not only continued but accelerated. The hole she'd first discovered enlarged, widened, started to become a split. Thirteen days after she'd first noticed the original damage, she noticed a spot on her right boot beginning to break out, in the deep crease that'd formed just behind the toe. Now both were on their way out. Daria sat on her bed, trying unsuccessfully to read. Her gaze just kept being drawn to the increasingly obvious -- and severe -- damage to her footgear. Why was she waiting? she knew they were going to have to be replaced, and soon.
Of course, she already knew the answer. Just as the rush of emotions she'd felt when she first discovered the damage had been about far more than the loss of a pair of boots, this was about more than simply replacing an item of her wardrobe. Though Daria knew she'd always have the memories associated with her old pair of boots, it still felt like she'd be throwing away...well....a part of herself. Disposing of a large part of who she was. And why did all that need disposing of, anyway? If she replaced them with something completely different, what did that say about who she'd been, and how it fit with who she...wanted to be?..was becoming whether she wanted to or not?
"If Quinn had any idea I was brooding over what kind of statement my shoes made I'd never live it down -- or get her to stop offering advice on the subject."
Tiring at last of continuing to stare at her boots while wallowing in angst, Daria got up off her bed, picked up the day pack she'd carried her books in all through high school, and began putting things into it. After she was done, she hooked one strap over her shoulder and left her room, switching off the light on her way out.
Downstairs, she saw Jake busying himself in the kitchen. "No dinner for me tonight, Dad," she called as she walked past.
"Oh? why's that, kiddo?"
"I'm going to Jane's. I'll probably be staying over."
"The vet recommended a change in diet -- but nothing like this! Housepet eating disorders, next on Sick, Sad World!"
Daria picked up the remote and hit the mute button as the program went to commercial, then pushed herself farther back on the bed she was sitting on the edge of. She ended up reclining with her weight resting on her elbows, her feet projecting over the edge of the bed. This had the unintended effect of giving Jane, who was sitting next to her, an excellent view of Daria's boots -- and the shape they were in.
"Nice incipient pair of sandals you've got going there, Morgendorffer," said Jane, her perspective not affording her a view of the sudden darkening of her friend's expression.
"You know, Lane, I didn't lose my first name when I started dating your ex," said Daria sharply.
"Huh?", Jane replied, startled by the vehemence in her friend's voice. She turned, saw the look on Daria's face... "uhhm, have I perhaps managed to touch a raw nerve here?"
Daria sighed, looked down, and said, "I feel like I've been all raw nerve lately. Sorry. It's really not about you, at least not directly."
Jane had known her best friend long enough to recognize when there was something gnawing at her, but even she wasn't prepared for what she heard next as, without looking up, her long reddish-brown hair obscuring her face, Daria asked, "Jane, why do you like me?"
Jane didn't literally bite her tongue, but she gained a new insight into that figure of speech as she just managed to prevent the words 'I don't know' from exiting her mouth. Of course she knew, but it wasn't something she'd given conscious deliberate thought.
How the hell do you frame an answer to that raw a question? Thought Jane.
Real damn carefully, if it's just been asked by one of the people you care about most in the world.
For a long moment Jane didn't answer, just gazed at her friend as she tried to think of what to say. Suddenly, Daria said "show's back on," and hit the mute-button on the remote again before Jane could say anything more.
They watched and listened to the Sick Sad World reporter introducing the story, then to the yipping, pedigreed subject of the next story. "She knows she's a winner..." Daria began reciting. Jane chuckled softly in reply.
The rest of that night's TV viewing went pretty much as usual, just providing color commentary on the programming and similar light banter. Once they were bedded down and the lights were out, the conversation again turned more serious, but in a somewhat different direction than before. "You know, it's down to only a couple more months before we both go off to college," said Daria from the bed.
"Yeah, to different schools," agreed Jane from her sleeping bag on the floor, a hint of sadness creeping into her voice.
"Hundreds of miles apart," Daria continued.
"Of course, there's always winter and spring breaks," Jane offered.
"Unless I decide to spend spring break in Daytona Beach."
This brought a guffaw from Jane, who then added, "And, of course, we've got summers off."
"Assuming neither of us ends up doing a summer internship of some kind."
There was a pause, then Daria spoke again. "It feels like we're never going to see each other again, doesn't it?"
"Yeah," agreed Jane glumly, "and we haven't even gotten to what happens after we graduate from college."
The two friends were silent for a long time after that. Finally, Jane said "I'm really going to miss you, Daria."
"I'm really going to miss you, too Jane. We've really had something..."
"That'd be a start. Had and been. It's like, I keep trying to picture life where our only contact with each other is through things like phone calls and email, and it just doesn't register. I can't picture it. It's just too big a difference from what I'm used to. And...." Daria hesitated. This wasn't an easy admission for her, even to Jane, even though she knew her friend probably realized what was coming next. "It scares me, Jane, more than anything has in awhile."
And then Jane, reckless, outgoing, risk-taking Jane Lane, heard her own voice catch, and shake, as she said, "It scares me too, Daria. Scares the hell out of me. And...I can't picture it, either."
Neither girl said anything else that night, but sleep was a long time coming to either of them.
"Writing again, Morgend -- err, Daria? Jeeze, you're not careful, you might wind up becoming a success or something."
This drew a raised eyebrow from Daria, but no verbal reply as she continued writing in the composition book open in her lap. She was sitting up in bed -- Jane's -- wearing her usual tee shirt and shorts nighttime ensemble, as her friend zipped open the sleeping bag she'd spent the night in and spread it over the armchair to air.
"What, exactly, are you writing that's so important at this early hour?" Jane finally asked.
There were many possible answers, of course, starting with sarcastic inquiries as to what sort of schedule Jane's muse kept, but she just wasn't in the mood. Instead, she went with the direct, honest answer: "It's my dream journal."
"No kidding?" asked Jane, an eyebrow arching curiously, finding herself edging towards the bed despite herself. "You can actually remember that stuff, I mean on a regular basis?"
"I can now," said Daria, frowning slightly and tipping the notebook upwards, away from curious eyes. "I've trained myself to."
Catching her friends incredulous -- or at least skeptical -- expression, she continued: "At first no, I didn't remember any more than most people do. The trick turned out to be writing something -- anything -- as soon as I wake up in the morning. Even if it's just the fact that I didn't remember any of my dreams."
"Funny thing for a writer to figure out," said Jane.
"That and to keep at it," continued Daria. "I didn't start to notice any improvement in my recall 'til I'd been at it a couple of months."
"So how long have you been at this, then?" asked Jane.
"Do I have to answer that?"
"That long, huh?"
Daria said nothing, though she did give one of her rare, slight smiles as she finished what she was writing and closed the notebook. She stood up, stretched, turned to Jane and said "Okay, so which one of us gets cleaned up -- hey! personal!"
Jane had picked Daria's dream journal up off the bed. Opening it to a blank page near the end, she pretended to read aloud: "Arms raised in a vee, and the dead lay in pools of maroon below. Hmmmm, wonder what aspect of the psyche of Daria Morgendorffer that might symbolize."
"Undoubtedly my disdain for public speaking," replied Daria. "Have you read the next entry?"
"Uhhh...next entry?" asked Jane, not quite sure where this was going.
"The one that ends '...and bury your body in this dress.'"
With a mock-frightened squeak, Jane snapped the notebook shut and tossed it onto the bed. "So, amiga, what daring and adventuresome activities were you planning for today?"
"I don't know," admitted Daria.
Jane's gaze fell on her friend's deteriorating footgear, lying there on the floor of her room. "Weelll...." she began, "unlike the two of us as a shopping trip to the mall would be..."
Daria rolled her eyes, but Jane pressed ahead: "hey, Cranberry Commons might not be the most momentous place for your next pair of boots to've originated, but that is where I got mine."
"Well, it's not like I have my mom's credit cards with me..." began Daria.
"What about that Montana Cabin Fund of yours?"
"Well, it'd make a pretty sizable dent, but," Daria sighed, then concluded "I do need to replace this pair, and pretty soon."
"Okay, then," said Jane. "First we hit your place, then it's off to the mall."
Cashman's. Not Daria's favorite place in the world, or even at Lawndale's own Cranberry Commons Mall. She found herself having to admit, though -- and it may well have been her own disdain for the place that'd prevented her learning this before -- that the shoe department had a surprisingly extensive selection of boots. Though there was nothing there exactly like what she had (hardly surprising, considering what they were), Daria had to admit that some of the Doc Martens looked...intriguing... Thankfully there was no sign of the pink horrors she'd seen at the Mall of the Millennium, though some of what she saw seemed almost as extreme. Not for Daria, alas, were the purple Docs, or the 24 hole leopardskin-print ones. Her eyes fell on one pair, though, that did catch her attention: charcoal-gray, 20 hole, except for the fact that they were a bit shorter (slightly-shorter, in fact, than the pair she was wearing herself) they were almost exactly like Jane's...
"Excuse me," said Daria to a nearby sales clerk, "do you have these in...." she paused for a moment, trying to remember what the English equivalent of her shoe size was.
One thing Daria had to admit: it had taken a fair amount of breaking-in --not to mention a few blisters and abrasions -- before her old pair of boots had been this comfortable. They were lighter on her feet than the old pair, but not in the flimsy-seeming way of any of the things Quinn had tried to get her into. Ankle support was good, they covered...enough of her calves to feel right in that respect. Daria walked from one end of the shoe department to the other, tried shifting her weight around in the boots she was wearing, finally stopped in front of a full length mirror to inspect her appearance. Jane stepped into view next to her, and Daria was struck by a certain...similarity of appearance. Her eyes went back and forth from Jane's boots to the ones she was wearing. Except for height, they were almost identical. Daria continued to stare as the sight sent her mind off on a tangent. Suddenly she frowned, then bent down and began to unlace the Docs. "Lunch break before I decide," she explained to Jane.
Daria and Jane sat across from each other at one of the plastic tables in the mall's food court. "So, Daria," asked Jane, "planning on trading up in terms of footwear?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Daria suspiciously.
"Uh, nothing really," Jane replied, somewhat taken aback. "Just wondering what you thought of that last pair you tried on. You seemed to like them..."
"Well, yeah, I like them, I guess..." began Daria a bit hesitantly.
"But," continued Jane for her.
"I'm not sure, exactly," said Daria. "I like them, but...." she trailed off, then took a deep breath and continued: "they just remind me an awful lot of yours. It's like, if I change my look in that regard, am I just imitating you? there's a lot about you I admire, Jane, and sometimes I feel like I should be more like you, but what does that imply about who I was before? that it was all a mistake, in need of correction? that everything I was, was just a phase I needed to grow out of?"
"Daria, they're just a pair of boots! you know, something you put on your feet to protect them from sharp rocks and to kick people with?" replied Jane, startled and even a little appalled at her friend's speech.
"Yeah, I guess, whatever," mumbled Daria, staring down at the tabletop.
For a long moment Jane just looked at Daria, not quite sure how to respond to her friend's latest angst-fit. Obviously it tied into her question from the previous night, but she still wasn't quite sure exactly what she was getting at, nor how to pursue the subject. Probably best, at least for now, to change it, then.
"So, Daria, you feel like staying over this Saturday night? Getting down to our last days together and all..."
"Sorry, Jane," said Daria, "but Tom and I have a da- have plans for that evening."
Jane stopped for a moment, surprised at how much the remark had stung. By now she was as over the "Tom Thing" as she was likely to get, of course, and though there was still the occasional small pang of jealousy at seeing the two of them together what really bothered her was how she often felt like a third wheel when around them, and how alone she felt most of the rest of the time. Where were all of her friends? where was her support system? the truth was that, except for Trent, outside of Daria she really didn't have one. Jane remembered all the times, in all the ways, Daria had been a jealous, possessive friend, slowing Jane down and getting in her way when she'd tried, and wanted to try, new things.
Thing was, though, that since Daria and Tom had become an item, Jane had gotten a taste -- taste, hell: her fill and then some -- of how Daria must've felt those times she'd gotten jealous and possessive. Dammit, they weren't going to see each other again, for a longer time than they'd been apart since they first became friends, and it was going to happen after only a few more weeks! Suddenly, irrationally, and she knew how unfairly, Jane felt real anger welling-up within her. How dare Daria deny her time together, for any reason, when they had so little of it left? How dare she? Why, without her, what would Daria have? She wouldn't even--
"You know, Daria, if it weren't for me you wouldn't even have a boyfriend to hang out with instead of me."
"We've been over that before," replied Daria, "and your point is?"
"And," Jane continued, "if it weren't for me reaching out to you way back in that self-esteem workshop, you wouldn't even have me. I mean, if you want to spend this coming Saturday with Tom that's fine, I can see that, but considering that it's really not like you're going to be making a whole lot of new friends once you're away at college I'd've thought you'd've wanted to spend a little more time with the one person --"
"Okay, one of two people you've met who'll put up with you."
"Oh, come on, Daria," continued Jane, "you know how high-maintenance you are!
"Daria, you've built up such a high wall around you it could well be another sixteen years before you let anyone else through. And when you do they'd better be someone who can take a lot of abuse! I mean, the things I've put up with from you..." Jane continued.
"So, let me see if I've got this straight," said Daria, managing with effort to keep her voice level. "You're doing me a big, unilateral favor by being my friend, and you don't think I'm going to find anyone else who'll do something so selfless for me again?"
"Daria, face it: you'll never make friends easily or well, and you're just not good at properly maintaining friendships you've got. I mean, to your way of thinking..."
Daria bolted upright. "So now you're the expert on how I think?!" she said angrily, her face reddening. Then suddenly, without another word, she turned around and walked off.
Jane sat there and watched Daria go, too stunned -- whether at Daria for walking out on her or herself for attacking her friend like that she couldn't say -- to go after her.
"Nice one, Lane," she said to the empty chair opposite her. She continued to stare bleakly across the table for quite awhile.
"Well, so far I'd say it's one of your best stories yet," said Tom as he read the document displayed on the screen of Daria's computer. "I especially like the way you can tell something's eating-away at the author's soul."
"What?" asked Daria a little worriedly, from where she was lying on the bed, spread-eagled on her back, lifting her head from where it'd been dangling off the end. She was rather proud of her latest story, and didn't want her current mood seeping into it. "Uh, how can you -- I mean, what makes you think that?"
"Well, said Tom, turning to look over his shoulder at Daria, "for one thing there's the fact that you've only written about two lines since the last time you had me read it. Might I possibly detect a hint of some ulterior motive in your asking me over before this weekend?"
Daria sat up, turning as she did so that she ended up sitting perched on the edge of her bed. "Well, uh," she began, staring down at her disintegrating boots, "it's kindof about our relationdateshipthing."
Tom swiveled the chair around so that he was facing his girlfriend. "We've been over this before, I thought: we decided we'd give the long distance thing a try, and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. If you find somebody new while you're away at college, I'll...get over it, and if I meet someone new while we're apart, I'll sleep in a chainmail jockstrap for the next year."
"It's not that," said Daria, continuing to address the floor, "it's that, well, Jane and I had a fight earlier today."
"I thought this was about us?"
"Just bear with me."
"We had a fight, and I'm not even sure what it was about. I'm not even sure whether she meant to say what she did, or meant it the way it came across. I, uh, kindof got up and left before things cold get resolved, or explained."
"You got disgusted and walked out on her? Isn't that kindof unusual for you two?"
"Thanks, Tom. That helps."
"Uuh, open mouth, insert foot? I'm sorry Daria, I --"
"Well, really I think that touches on what my problem with the whole thing is," said Daria, cutting Tom off. "Lately I've been thinking a lot -- and none-too-highly -- of myself and how I relate to people."
"Well, we seem to relate pretty well," Tom opined.
"When we're not fighting," countered Daria. "And almost invariably they're fights I picked."
"For about the past year, its seemed as if every time I turn around I catch myself behaving badly -- worse than badly, really: more like inexcusably, and then getting my nose rubbed in how horrible I've been being. Things didn't used to be like that. It's like --"
"Like you're growing up?" asked Tom.
Daria heaved a deep, frustrated sigh. "Sure, if you consider 'growing up' to consist of life hitting you with an unrelenting flurry of petty little traumas and then whatever's left of you when the dust settles being declared 'matured'. And I guess that's a large part of what's bothering me: what will be left of me? any of what was there before?"
"I suppose this would be a bad time for 'people grow and change' platitudes."
"Yes, Tom, I'm afraid it's more one of those 'shut up and keep listening' moments," replied Daria, managing a brief smile as she did. "Of course people grow and change; I'm not the person I was when my family first moved to Lawndale, and I really wouldn't want to be. But the way I see it, there's a big difference between that and wanting to simply dispose of the 'old me' and start over."
"Who said you had to do anything like that?" asked Tom confusedly.
"I keep telling myself that I'm not composed solely of my fears, insecurities, and assorted shortcomings, and that arbitrarily changing my look isn't going to get rid of them, either, but then I look at how many mistakes I've made, especially over the past year or so -- even relative to other people my age -- and I get the impression that to a large extent I am going to have to start over in order to get it right, and that everybody else has a better idea than I do of how that should be done. Has my whole life-so-far just been a blind alley, developmentally speaking? What if I've gotten it so completely wrong I'm going to have to drop both who I am and what I thought I wanted to become? I don't know whether I find that possibility more frightening or discouraging."
"But you're going away to college," countered Tom.
"What's that got to do with anything?" responded Daria, confused and irritated.
"Isn't that at least part of what college's supposed to be about?" said Tom. "I mean, even if you do eventually have to buckle down and conform, isn't college, in part, supposed to be kindof a last fling in terms of putting off having to deal wit that kind of thing? I mean, why does all that have to be decided now?"
"But what about after college?" asked Daria. "After four or, if I change my mind about wanting to be a professional student, six or even eight years of college, I wind up just coming back to the same problems and having to face them again? Is putting it off really going to help anything?"
"You think it doesn't scare me, too?" Tom snapped. "Haven't you noticed how I keep trying to distance myself from my family and their way of doing things? Not a day goes by I don't look at my folks and wonder whether they felt the same when they were my age, and about whether life's gonna end up molding me into them -- doing the same things they do, the way they do them, despite everything I hoped, everything I tried..."
Daria blinked in surprise, and even flinched a little at the outburst. She was not used to hearing that much emotion in her boyfriend's voice. "I'm, uh, I'm sorry Tom," she said, feeling a small pang of the kind of shame that had recently become all too familiar to her, "I guess I accidentally hit a nerve there; I hadn't been thinking that I might not be the only one having to deal with a bunch of fears and uncertainties just now."
"That's okay," said Tom, a bit less than proud of himself, too. "Sometimes we all get too wrapped up in our problems to think in terms of what other people must be going through and besides, it's not like I'd discussed any of this with you before."
Just then the phone rang. "Quinn!", called Daria.
"Not here, remember?" said Tom. "Fashion Club meeting? Stacy's house?"
"Right," said Daria. She picked up the phone, hit the talk-button. "Hello?"
Jane took the long way home from Cranberry Commons, replaying the day's fiasco in her mind. It was painfully obvious something was bothering Daria -- and had been for awhile. It was also obvious that whatever it was had something to do with Daria's shortcomings and character flaws -- though about the only other thing that was obvious was that Jane had managed to hit a raw nerve and then, almost reflexively and through sheer jealous spite, she'd jabbed and dug at it 'til Daria couldn't stand any more and had taken off on her.
The farther along Jane walked, the rottener she felt. After arriving back at Casa Lane, she went straight upstairs to her room and just sat there, brooding, for what she eventually decided was entirely too long a time. Deciding that going for a run might be a good way to clear her head, Jane dug around in the pile of clothes in her closet until she found what she usually wore when she went running and began changing clothes. First the shirt, as she shrugged out of her red jacket, then pulled the black vee-neck over her head and off, replacing it with the maroon crew-neck tee shirt she'd pulled from her closet. No need to change what she'd had on underneath -- Jane wore a sports bra most of the time, both because she found it more practical at times like this and because she'd found that going out in public with her figure somewhat...compressed brought a welcome reduction in ogling. Next thing was to unlace and pull off her...boots.
After tugging the first one off, Jane just sat there on the edge of her bed for a moment, holding it in her hands and staring at it. Frowning at it. Scowling at it. This whole latest thing with Daria wasn't just about boots, of course, but it was what had set it off. "Dammit!" exclaimed Jane, flinging the boot across the room in a sudden burst of temper.
It landed next to Daria's backpack. "Ah, crap," said Jane. Much as she might want to run her worries off just then, there were other things to take care of first. She crossed the room, picked up Daria's backpack, and then walked around picking up items of clothing and other belongings of her friend's and putting them into it. The last one she came across was one that had previously been sitting unnoticed behind her on the bed -- Daria's dream journal. Jane held it in front of her, looking at the cover.
What do you know about how I think?
So now you're the expert on how I think?
And here it all was, wasn't it? probably the best view anywhere into what really made Daria Morgendorffer tick....
Disgusted with herself for even thinking it, Jane shoved the notebook into the pack and quickly zipped it closed. She reached down, picked up the phone, started dialing and then changed her mind. "I think I heard somewhere once that neutral territory was best for these things," she said to no one in particular. Jane retrieved her boot, pulled it back on and relaced it, then hooked one armloop of Daria's pack over her shoulder and headed out the door.
Not too much later, Jane reached the Pizza King. She walked straight to the payphone there, fished briefly in her pocket for change, plunked it into the machine and placed her call. Jane stood there listening to the phone ringing and ringing at the other end. She was beginning to seriously wonder whether Daria was home -- dared she try Tom's house? -- when the phone finally was picked up and a familiar voice said "hello?"
"Yo. Culinary question, amiga," said Jane.
"I've got a hankering for an unusual pizza topping, and I'm not sure whether I want my crow regular or extra-crispy. Care to come advise? my treat."
"Ehrr...okay," replied Daria. There was a pause as she held a brief, somewhat muffled conversation with someone else at her end, then she said, "Tom and I'll be by to pick you up in a few minutes."
"No need," said Jane, "I'm already there."
Jane was sitting almost directly opposite the door to the restaurant, so Daria and Tom spotted her as soon as they walked in. As they walked towards her, Jane picked up Daria's backpack from where it'd been sitting on the booth's bench between her and the wall. "Peace offering?" she said to Daria, holding the pack out towards her friend. "Everything's there and in case you're wondering, no I didn't."
This brought a brief, puzzled frown from Tom, then he said "I'll go place our order" and discreetly made himself scarce.
"Don't tell me you're thinking about changing your look," said Daria to Jane.
Jane paused, momentarily-confused, then looked down at herself and saw she was still wearing her running shirt. "Nah, just a sudden change of plan on my part," she replied, then gestured at the empty bench.
Daria sat down in the booth opposite Jane. "So, Daria, have you been trying as hard as I have to figure out what that was all about earlier?"
"It's all the changes taking place in my life, I guess," was the reply. "That and the ones coming up."
"C'mon, Daria," said Jane, less-than-convinced. "We've already discussed this -- going away to college has us all scared -- being away from what we know, and from who we know...."
"That's just part of it, Jane," replied Daria. "I guess the way the college thing ties into what I've been feeling is that I'm just not sure my coping-skills are up to it. As I said, my life's been changing a lot, especially in the past year or so, and as you may've noticed, I really haven't been coping with it all that well."
"Like there's really a right way to cope with whatall you've been through?" Jane asked.
"A righter one than I've usually managed to choose, it seems," said Daria.
"Are you sure you're being completely fair with yourself?"
"Well, yeah, actually. I can't say I've really had all that much reason to be all that fond of myself lately."
"Daria! What're you talking about?"
"Well, for one thing there's the way I've gotten so jealous and possessive whenever you've spent time with almost anyone besides me," Daria began.
"Yeah, and that'd be a lot easier to be mad at you about if I hadn't acted like such a total bitch today I drove my best friend to run off and leave me there pondering my sins," replied Jane with one of her characteristic smirks. "If I'm not overinflating my own ego too much by saying this, I'd suspect I'm one of the most important people in your life right now."
"You're the best friend I've ever had, Jane," said Daria, "though if you go spreading that rumor I'll deny I ever said it."
"Same here on both counts, o partner in crime," came the reply. "And as I seem to remember us discussing last night, I really don't like the idea of losing-- of us being apart. I guess the thought that, with us running out of time together the idea you were going to be spending some of it with someone other than me was enough to set li'l Janey off. I'm sorry about that, Daria."
"Accepted," said Daria, finding herself unable to supress a smile. "Still freakin' friends."
"And it's not even like that was the first time jealousy and possessiveness had me getting...weird....with you. Remember back when you were in the midst of stealing my boyfriend?" said Jane.
"I did not steal--" began Daria, then noticed her friend's ironic just-kidding smirk. She smiled in response, then suddenly turned serious again.
"The reason I got so jealous and possessive when you spent time with other people, Jane, is that you're not just the best friend I've got, until Tom you were the only friend I had. And that was because I never reach out to people -- never learned how. The only reason I have you as a friend is because you reached out to me all that time ago in the self-esteem class."
Jane squirmed a little, averted her gaze. She was uneasy with hearing this again so soon...and especially so with hearing it from the friend she'd said it to as an attack -- coming back as a frank admission.
"So what am I going to do when I go away to college? In eighteen years I've met two people who getting close to has worked out with -- one of whom I met because she reached out to me, and the other through the first. How likely do you think it is that I'll get that lucky again in less than another eighteen years, really?" said Daria intensely. "I've been hiding behind this pose, this shell I built to keep from getting hurt for so long that I don't think I know any other way." Daria looked down at the tabletop. "Sometimes -- pretty often lately -- I catch myself feeling like nothing but a contemptible little piece of damaged goods hiding from the world behind the mouth she's developed. What's there to like about someone like that? I don't buy that it's my 'sense of humor' -- I mean isn't that just part of the mouth I've got on me, part of how I keep myself hidden away? part of what's wrong with me? Jane, why the hell have you put up with me? what about me is there to like?"
"Well, I'm still around, aren't I?" offered Jane. "That says something."
"Like what?" countered Daria. "No offense but that sounded more like an evasion than an answer."
"Well," Jane began, a bit awkwardly. She didn't like being put on the spot like this, of course, but it was obvious to her how important her answer was. "For one thing, Daria, before you came along I was alone. Notice the huge circle of friends I introduced you around to after I, as you put it, reached out to you way back when we first met? It was like, I saw the everyday idiocies going on around me, the hypocrisy, the conformity, the just plain stupidity, and it was like I was the only one who ever noticed, or realized what they were seeing." Jane began to warm to her subject. "And then one day, sitting in this stupid self-esteem workshop I kept taking over and over just so I'd have something to do, there's this girl asking cogent, incisive questions -- the last thing the people who run things like that want to hear."
I was scared; I'd tried reaching out to people before, and had ended up an outcast for my trouble. But I thought I'd run across something rare, someone worth the effort and the risk of trying to get to know, and you know something, Daria? I was right! Know something else? I was usually wrong about people. Sure I reached out to other folks, at other times, but what did it get me? Bobby Bighead? Puh-leeze! and then there was that time I let Coach Morris goad me into that little crusade to convince her not all Lanes are slackers and joined the track team."
"You mean when I threw that jealous little bitch-fit and alienated you because of the time you spent practicing, and with the track team, especially a certain one of them..." Daria interrupted.
"Evan turned out to be a jerk, in case your new preoccupation with seeing Daria Morgendorffer as the source of All That Is Wrong With The Universe has made you selectively forgetful," Jane rejoined. "Though that reminds me: another thing you contributed that I admit to being a bit short of is your strong moral sense."
"You mean my self-righteousness," replied Daria. "About the only times I can remember people telling me about my strong moral sense was when I was either being asked to compromise it -- to spare somebody's feelings, 'cos I was acting like a jerk, or both -- or when I was being ridiculed for having one in the first place."
"Well, not to claim you've never been an uptight moralistic jerk about anything..." Jane began, drawing a frown from across the table, "but you know something? if it weren't for you, I'd've finished high school still getting 'by's in any classes that didn't interest me -- which would've eventually been everything except art. And where would that've got me? And hey, for that matter who was it that refused to sell Mrs. Johansen chocolate during that fundraiser because it would've poisoned her, and who was only thinking in terms of having been offered over a hundred bucks for the candy?"
"I thought you were kidding at the time," said Daria, a little appalled.
"Uh, okay, bad example," Jane replied, momentarily averting her gaze. "But here's another, better one: think I'd've ever quit Gary's Gallery if it weren't for you? I might've made a career out of copying other peoples' art." Jane paused then, and actually, visibly shuddered at the thought.
"That wasn't simply a matter of morality," corrected Daria. "If I recall correctly, weren't you busy convincing yourself Gary wasn't just immoral, but criminally-so, as you tried to talk yourself into quitting?"
"Hmmm...maybe that wasn't such a good example of Daria's Moral Sense," admitted Jane, "but you have to admit you had me figured out in terms of what I was doing -- so it makes a good segue to the next thing I like about you: how smart you are."
"Another thing I'm used to hearing in the context of somebody trying to get something out of me," said Daria.
"Maybe so," said Jane, "but like your morality it doesn't make it any less true. Not only are you smarter than me, Daria, it's really not even close. That's really how I lost Tom to you--"
"Speaking of Lost Tom," Daria interrupted, looking around the Pizza King, "shouldn't there be pizza by now?"
She spotted him sitting in a booth in the far corner of the restaurant. He'd gotten himself a soda but there was no sign of any pizza. Waiting patiently for her and her best friend to resolve things, Daria realized, and keeping himself out of the way in the meantime. Tom smiled at Daria as their eyes met, and she felt her face warm as she blushed. Daria still might not be completely convinced she deserved them, but knowing there were people who cared about her enough to do such things...she turned back to Jane. "Now, where were you before you were so rudely interrupted?"
"I was saying," Jane continued, "that you and Tom bonded, among other reasons, because you're more-or-less equals intellectually. That was someplace I knew I just couldn't compete, and it was a major contributor to how jealous I got. Same way I got jealous when I saw you, Jodie and Upchuck competing for a scholarship I knew I didn't have a shot at. Not that I'm only jealous of how smart you are -- it comes in real handy when your best friend can figure out things you just can't seem to, like how to detourn the 'Student Life at the Dawn of a New Millennium' poster contest you've been roped into."
"So, I'm smart and I have a strong moral sense," said Daria. "Any other redeeming features?"
"Well, there is your sense of humor," said Jane.
"You mean part of the antisocial mask I put up to keep the world at bay," said Daria. "And you were doing so well."
"No, really," insisted Jane. "Your sense of humor's one of the best things about you, and I for one don't think it has anything to do with your personality flaws. You've learned to skewer peoples' pretenses and hypocrisies with your humor, which needs to be done in all too many cases and really is -- as I think we both learned at an early age -- more effective and usually safer than just saying "this is stupid" in a lot of cases. Besides, haven't you noticed the similarities to my sense of humor? you've been dwelling on our differences so much lately, I can't help but think maybe you've forgotten how many ways we're alike. The phrase 'kindred spirits' ring any bells? And another thing -- assuming your ego can stand being inflated any further of course."
"Any more and they might be the rest of the week scraping flecks off the inside of the restaurant windows," Daria deadpanned, "but it's your risk to take."
"I've told you about Alison, from the art colony last summer," said Jane. "I don't think I've ever told you how the two of us hit it off in the first place. We were both sitting next to each other in the back row while one of the featured artists there was holding forth about some ridiculous fraud of a piece he'd done. You know me, I couldn't help myself: I started providing color commentary, and the first thing I know this girl sitting next to me joins in, making the same kinds of comments, laughing at the ones I made. We ended up going on just like you and I'd used to do -- that's what attracted me to Alison. And the main thing that made me so vulnerable when she made that pass at me was that I was desperate to have that with someone again -- at the time I was scared I'd lost that permanently with the only other person I'd ever had it with."
It was time for Daria to blush again.
"So, since you really seemed to've forgotten," continued Jane, "that's what's good about Daria Morgendorffer -- the short form anyway. And my only piece of advice in terms of changing yourself is not to ignore the Little Voice."
"The one in my head that tells me to kill and kill again?"
"No, the next one you hear from the desk behind you that says 'he doesn't know what it means, he's got this speech memorized. Just enjoy the nice man's soothing voice'. Oh, and to let yourself understand that the owner of that voice and you will both have other friends, activities, commitments," Jane took a deep breath. "Finally reaching a conclusion here, Daria -- and so on. I hope that answers your question."
For awhile Daria just looked down at the tabletop, thinking hard. Then she looked up and made eye contact with her friend across the table. "Thank you, Jane," she said, her voice about as emotional as Jane could ever remember having heard it.
"Uhh...ahh....you're welcome?" Jane stammered. "So does this mean now we can get pizza?"
"No," said Daria, standing up. "Well, maybe later. For now, change of plans. First, I need to tell Tom we're done here. Then, I need to find a phonebook."
Tom drove through one of the less well-known (to him, anyway) parts of Lawndale, taking directions on the fly from Daria, who sat next to Jane in the back seat.
"It really would help if I had some idea where we're going," he hinted.
"Turn right at the next intersection, Jeeves," instructed Daria.
"I want a raise."
Soon Tom's Jaguar pulled up in front of a small, inconspicuous storefront. "So this is the place?" he asked.
"Yep," replied Daria. "You two wait here."
"You want we should keep the engine running, boss?" asked Jane.
"Nah, we should be able to make a quick enough getaway."
It's probably a safe bet that every town in America of any real size has at least one. This particular one was called "Dave's". The shop was small and, while cluttered, was clean and well-lit. The mixed odor of oiled leather and long-stored canvas greeted Daria as she walked in the door...just like that time in Highland, all those years ago, she thought. Daria walked past the racks of new and used field jackets, the shelves of tshirts and various camping gear, the glass cases of cutlery and police equipment until, at the back of the store, she found the set of shelves she was looking for. As the person she'd talked to on the phone had promised, they had her size in stock. Once again, memories came flooding back as she pulled the familiar orange-black-white box out of its cubbyhole, sat down on the bench in front of the shelves, and opened it. She unlaced and pulled off her old pair of boots, set them down next to the new set, and for a moment just sat there looking at them. So many memories...
And here's where you start making more of them, Daria.
She pulled the new pair onto her feet, laced them up, tied them and started walking around the store in them. Like before, they felt comfortable right out of the box. Daria knew that was misleading, though, and that they'd take some breaking in -- cost her some skin across the top of her right foot, if things followed the same pattern as with the last pair. She pulled a package of moleskin off a display rack and put it with the boot box.
Daria was about to walk up to the counter to pay when, on the spur of the moment, she unlaced the new boots and put them back in the box, electing to wear the old pair through one more day. She took the boots (and the moleskin) up to the front counter to pay.
"Replacements, huh?" said the man behind the counter, who Daria noticed looked a little like her old driving instructor. "Just in time from the look of it -- that pair's about ready to put out to pasture. No offense, of course, I know how attached you can get to a pair you've had awhile. That old pair the genuine article?"
"Yeah," said Daria. "Same kind that're in the box."
"Eighty-two stitches across the toe, a hundred-one across the back of the heel," the man replied.
"I will be counting them, you understand," said Daria.
"Well, any that come up missing we'll put in for free -- extra charge for putting them in the boots, though," replied Dave.
Despite herself, Daria found herself smiling at the exchange.
You never know when you'll run into somebody who gets it...
Daria left the store with her new pair of Corcoran jump boots still in their box, and got back into Tom's Jaguar.
"Home, Jeeves," she said.
"I take it you got what you came here for?" asked Jane, eyeing the boot box.
"You can see for yourself," replied Daria, opening the box.
"So after all that, you've decided to stick with a look that's...you," said Jane.
"For now, anyway," replied Daria. "Because me is who I am."
How many times do you have to do something for it to become a ritual?
Daria stood in the backyard of her parents' house and wondered this as she played the stream from the garden hose over her feet -- and her new boots. A chaise lounge and beach umbrella awaited her in another part of the yard, a cold soda already waiting for her there, along with one of the books she was working on reading. She'd done this same thing once before, in Highland. Was twice enough to make it a ritual? or would --
"DARIA, WHAT'RE YOU DOING?!" came the appalled voice from behind her.
"Oh, hello, Jane. Just breaking in my new pair of boots," said Daria calmly.
"By ruining them?"
"I'm not ruining them," explained Daria. "I'm breaking them in. First I wet them down -- not quite soaked -- and then I'm going to wear them for the next six to eight hours or until they're dry, whichever comes first. Starting out in the morning on a late-summer day that promises to become nice and hot, they'll shrink to my feet as the leather dries. Stuff 'em with newspaper overnight as they finish drying. Once that's done I'll give them a good thorough oiling, and they'll be well on their way to being broken-in."
"If you say so," said Jane dubiously.
"Worked for my last pair, and look at how long those lasted."
"Where'd you learn a trick like that, anyway?" asked Jane. "It sounds vaguely military."
"My dad taught me back when I first insisted on buying a pair of them with my accumulated allowances. I admit I never asked but I always assumed he learned it in military school." Daria walked to the valve and shut off the hose. "Care to stick around while they at least start to dry?"
"Well, I did come here to see you," said Jane, "what with this being our last couple weeks or so together and all."
And so Daria retired to her chaise lounge, her feet projecting out of the shadow cast by the umbrella so the sun could better dry them, Jane pulled up a lawn chair, and the two friends talked, and visited, and just sort of basked in each others' company as the day's shadows shortened, all but disappeared, then began to lengthen again. Eventually two more people exited the back of the Morgendorffer house and joined them.
"Um, hi Daria," said Quinn. "Tom's here to see you."
"Hey, Tom," said Daria, getting up off the chaise lounge.
"Yo," echoed Jane.
"Just thought I'd stop by and see how you were doing," said Tom. "Care to go for an aimless drive around town?"
"I don't know about aimless," said Daria. "Would pizza be out of the question? I'm starving."
"Pizza it is," agreed Tom. "Are you in, Jane?"
Daria noticed that her sister, rather than going back into the house, was continuing to hang around the three of them. "Quinn, was there something you wanted to say, or has sunburn become fashionable?"
"Ha," replied Quinn. "I've been thinking about what we talked about that time, you know, on the way back from the Mall of the Millennium and, um, well, ah..."
"Yes?" said Daria, a little impatiently.
"Do you think we could get cheeseless pizza?"
"Inviting yourself along?" asked Daria.
"Relax, sis," said Daria. "I'm pretty sure there'll be enough of us there to physically restrain you if you try to eat more than one greasy fattening slice. That is if nobody minds having you along."
This last implied question was greeted by a matched pair of shrugs.
"So, pizza it is, then. Pizza for everybody," said Daria.
The four of them walked around the side of the Morgendorffer's house and made their way to Tom's car, one of them...squishing....ever-so-slightly as she walked.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: First, thanks to my (let's all say it like Quinn, now) *fashionable and popular* kid sister for shoe advice used in the Mall of the Millennium scene (the line "anything but Converse", BTW, is there at her insistence, as the price of technical advice. It confuses me, too, if you want answers try asking her). Second, thanks to TAFKA and Lew o'er at the Paperpusher's Message Board, for their discovery of the existence of pink Docs -- once I learned of those I knew they had to be worked into this fic, and had just the place for them! Thanks to Wraith, for webmeistering Sick, Sad World, where I first learned of the existence of Daria fanfic, and thanks to everybody I ought to be thanking but am too rummy to remember to thank since I just stayed up 'til a quarter to three in the morning getting this thing FINISHED!
Oh, and the boot-watering trick described in the last scene is, indeed, both real and, as Jane sortof surmised, an old Army trick.
DISCLAIMER: Just in case anyone thinks I'm even more delusional than I am, I'm well aware I don't own Daria or any of the ancillary characters in that series, MTV/Viacom does, I believe. I did this for fun, my own and hopefully that of at least some of any people who read it...I'm pretty sure no money will ever change hands as a result and I don't own enough of anything to be worth suing, anyway.