The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.
"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
friends (more than)
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery
Daria opened the door to her dorm room and smiled at the thin, angular woman on the other side. Jane dropped the bag she was holding, stepped across the threshold, and excitedly pulled Daria into a tight hug.
"Hey," said Daria.
"Hey back, amiga!" Jane replied, pulling back to hold her friend at arm's length. "Why look at you, all grown up and matriculated."
"I'm having a doctor look into that," Daria said. "How was the trip?"
Jane snorted and reached back for her bag. "About as well as you could expect in the Tank," she said. "At least I got to sit in the front seat most of the way. I'm still digging splinters from that footlocker they use as a backseat from my first Tank ride. Wow," she breathed, stopping to look around the room. "Nice digs."
"It's not exactly the Hilton, but it works."
"It's a mansion compared to Beefac. Trent took me by on our way here," Jane explained. "The dorms there are like dungeon cells, but not as cheery. I'm thinking that when I finally start classes, my first project will be to build myself a papier-mch Quasimodo hump so I fit the surroundings."
Just then, the door off to Jane's left opened up and a petite girl stalked into the room. She had obviously only just woken up, her short blonde hair frazzled, her pajamas rumpled, a toothbrush hanging out of her mouth, and several shower items bundled under one arm. Her tired march stopped short as she slowly processed that someone new was in the room.
"Ugh," she grunted. "I don't think I can handle having a second roommate. Not this early in the morning."
"It's five in the afternoon," Daria informed her. "Anyway, this isn't a new roommate, this is my friend, Jane. Jane, this is Mary."
Not waiting for a greeting and not giving one herself, Mary simply ambled past them and out the open front door. Daria and Jane stared after her.
"Cheerful sort, isn't she?" Jane asked. "Andrea would get a kick out of her."
"She doesn't really get started until she gets fresh coffee plugged into her IV," Daria said with a shrug. "Then she's worse."
"Uh-oh," Jane said, turning back to her friend. "Trouble in paradise?"
Daria smirked. "Hardly. We manage to stay out of each other's hair . . . she keeps her surly disposition on her side, I keep my sarcastic remarks on mine, and never the twain shall meet."
"Nothing like ignoring each other to keep a friendship healthy, that's what I always say."
Daria arched an eyebrow. "I've never heard you say that."
"You were probably ignoring me all the times I said it," Jane told her with a mischievous grin. "So, you ready to go?"
"Sure, but first things first," she said, pointing down. "What's in the bag, Miss Lane? Care to share it with the rest of the class?"
Jane looked down at the bag as if she'd forgotten it was there. "Oh, right!" she exclaimed. "I felt kind of bad that I didn't have anything to give you when you left for Raft, so I whipped a little something up last week." She reached into the bag, pulled out a small canvas, and handed it to Daria.
Pushing her glasses up on her nose, Daria looked at the surreal scene she held. Most of it was undifferentiated swirls that didn't seem to have any context, but right in the middle of the bluish-grey mass were two smaller blobs of color, one a deep green and the other rust red. Slick, raised lines of black - either not paint or some different kind of paint than the rest of the picture - traced through each and crisscrossed each other in the middle.
"Oh," Daria said after a moment, startled. "It's us?"
"Are you asking me or telling me?" Jane asked, her smile mischievous once more.
"It's us," Daria said more confidently. "Thanks, Jane," she said quietly, still staring at the painting. "This is great."
"You mean it?" Jane asked, suddenly a bit pensive. "I mean, of course it's great. I made it, after all. But do you think it's worthy of a student of BFAC?"
Daria looked up at her friend with her slight smile. "Yah," she said earnestly, "it really is. When I figure out how to do it without tearing up the walls, I'm gonna hang this up in my room. Thanks, seriously."
"You are very welcome, Miss Morgendorffer," Jane returned happily. "Just toss it on your bed or desk or whatever for now, tho'. We gotta get back down to the parking lot before Trent falls asleep at the wheel."
Daria chuckled. "Little worry of that," she said as she put the painting away. "He probably fell asleep the second you shut the van door."
As they left, Daria pulled the dorm's door to but didn't lock it so Mary could get back in after her shower. The dorm was on the second floor of the building, and Mary always complained when she had to steal a ladder from the construction site across the street to break back in through the window.
"So, tell me again where we're going?" Daria asked as they walked down the stairs. "The phone connection was clear, but I'm still pretty sure I couldn't have heard you right when you said Mystik Spiral had a gig here in the city."
"The phone connection was clear and you did hear me right," Jane said, pointing a finger in the air for emphasis. "When I first started planning this little foray, I also started mailing Spiral demo tapes to various veritable venues here in Boston. Most of those who bothered writing back weren't interested, and a few were downright rude, but surprisingly enough, there was one place that was either impressed enough or desperate enough to take them on."
"Don't tell me," said Daria. "It's a sports bar run by an ex-alcoholic baseball star."
"Nope, 'fraid not," Jane replied. "When those guys wrote back, they said they didn't want Mystik Spiral because nobody there knew their name."
"I knew they should have gone with Something Something Explosion."
"Anyway, before you get too excited for 'em, they're just going to be the opening act for the Doors cover band that plays there regularly."
Daria frowned slightly as they passed through the front doors of the dormitory and into the still bright but gradually darkening day beyond. "That doesn't sound like it pays too much," she said. "They're not expecting to break even on this, are they?"
"Actually, the deal that we worked out is pretty sweet," Jane said brightly. "The band gets reimbursed for the gas they use to get here and get back, free beer while they're playing, and wonderful, lovely exposure in the big city. And as their quote-unquote 'manager', my cut is all the chips and salsa you and I can eat."
"Wow," Daria said, genuinely impressed. "A net gain of beer and salsa. I can see how you managed to get everyone to go along with your madcap scheme."
"The managing biz is all about getting your people what they want," Jane said with a grin as she opened the side door of the Tank. The two of them crawled inside, with Jane generously giving Daria the front passenger seat.
Trent snorted awake when Jane slammed the door shut. "Oh," he said sleepily. "Hey, Janey. Daria."
Daria smiled at him. "Hey, Trent."
"So, how's college treatin' ya?" he asked.
"Like it caught me stealing its wallet."
Trent barked laughter which rapidly turned into a coughing fit. "Nice. Ready to head out?"
"We were born ready, chief!" Jane called out from the back. "Mush, dog, mush!"
The Tank chugged to life, gears grinding as Trent put it into drive. Within moments they were out of the lot and off to the Spiral's big Boston show.
"I am forced to concur with your assessment of the situation," Jane said as the two women looked around, their eyes wide and unbelieving.
The bar they were standing in was almost an exact copy of the Zon back in Lawndale. The setup was altered somewhat - the doors to the restrooms were on a different wall, the stage was a little larger and in a different area, and the tables were all set in different places - but the overall look was the same. It had the same grungy surfaces with the same colors (or lack thereof), it had a similar lighting pattern, and it even looked like all the Zon's regular patrons had been transported over just in time to watch Mystik Spiral.
The familiarity present in the Dank House bar was positively creepy, but Daria reflected that it might explain just why they had hired Spiral in the first place. Cosmic forces were obviously at work.
"So," Daria finally forced herself to say, "do you think this is the good twin or the evil twin?"
"I'm not sure," Jane said. "Maybe we should go back outside and see if it's got a giant goatee."
"Cool place, huh?" Trent asked as he walked up behind them. "Feels kinda like I've been here before. Hey, Janey, have I ever been to Boston before?"
"Your good twin might have," Jane replied. "You know, the one without the goatee."
Trent just looked at her blankly, then said, "Right. So anyway, I better go check my guitar, get ready and all that. The guy at the bar said he's got your food and stuff ready."
"Cool. Thanks, Trent."
"No problem. You guys enjoy the show."
"Break a guitar string," Daria said. After Trent wandered off, she turned to Jane. "Ready to get our salsa on?"
Following Daria, Jane said, "Okay, but I prefer wearing the chips, myself."
The bartender, a gruff middle-aged man with several tattoos and piercings, greeted them as they walked up. "You the two girls with the band?"
"Guilty as charged," said Daria.
"But please don't hold it against us," Jane chimed in.
The man nodded and reached under the bar to produce a wide food basket, a large bag of tortilla chips, and a jar of generic salsa. After haphazardly pouring the chips and salsa into the wax paper lined basket, he popped open two beers and set them up on the bar. "You want more chips, come on back," he said. "You want more beer, I'm afraid I'll have to charge you. The free stuff is just for the band."
Daria frowned slightly. "Oh, we can't-"
Jane jabbed her in the side with her elbow. "-believe how generous you guys are," she finished before Daria could react. "Thanks!"
A look of suspicion briefly crossed the bartender's face, but he shrugged it off and nodded again before moving off to the other side of the bar. Daria and Jane grabbed the chips and beer, then went to find an empty table. Once seated, Daria leaned over and hissed, "You didn't have to hit me so hard."
"Sorry," Jane said contritely. "You know how I get about my booze."
"No, I don't," said Daria. "Have you ever had any before?"
"No. Have you?"
"Then I just figured we might try it for the first time together." Jane slumped her shoulders at the unsure look on Daria's face. "Oh, come on, Daria. You're in college now! Drinking is what you're supposed to do! Live a little! Besides, I hear that most underage drinkers stop drinking so much after they turn 21. I'm actually doing you a public service here."
"Fine," Daria grudgingly acquiesced. "But I know you're just trying to get me drunk so you can have your way with me."
Jane's eyes suddenly darted to the side and the skin on her forehead crinkled a bit, but she recovered so quickly that Daria didn't notice it. "So, on three?"
"Three," Daria said, and the two girls lifted the bottles and took a quick drink each.
"Wow," Jane said once they set the drinks back down.
"It tastes like moldy bread," Daria added, making a small face.
"Or like the mold that grows on the mold on moldy bread."
" . . . I think I kinda like it."
"Me, too," Jane said, grinning. "Not as an everyday beverage, but it could grow on a person."
"Much like the aforementioned mold," said Daria. She grabbed a salsa-laden chip and scarfed it down. "Mmm, good stuff. You really know how to show a girl a good time."
For a moment, Jane looked like she was going to say something, but she was interrupted by a sudden explosion of noise from the stage. She and Daria looked over to see the band had fully assembled and struck their first chord. Or something closely approximating a chord.
"Hey, everyone," Trent said into the microphone, his amplified voice pouring through the room. "We're Mystik Spiral, although we're thinking about changing the name. 1, 2, 3, 4!"
As the harsh tunes of Every Dog Has His Day assaulted the patrons of the Dank House, Jane and Daria proceeded to quickly eat their food and slowly drink their beer in a silence enforced by not being able to hear each other talk. On occasion they would look over at each other to give assurance with a smile or a nod that they were both having a good time. By the time Spiral was into their third song - one that Daria was unfamiliar with but was apparently titled Rusty Mind Razors - the food basket was empty.
When Jane stood up to retrieve another round of chips, she felt the three-fourths of a beer she had downed suddenly upend itself in her head. She wasn't drunk or even tipsy, but it was still enough to give a pleasant warmth to her and her surroundings. With deliberate care not to bump into anyone on the way, Jane got the basket refilled and took it back to the table to find that Daria had beaten her to the bottom of the bottle while she'd been gone. After a few mouthfuls of tomato, onion, bell pepper, and tortilla, Jane killed off the rest of her own drink.
Spiral wound down their fourth song - an odd power ballad remix of Icebox Woman - and started carrying their instruments off to the side of the stage. The room filled with light applause, though whether it was because people had enjoyed the band or were just enjoying that they were stopping, it was hard to tell.
"Thank you very much," Trent called out. "Mystik Spiral will be back on in about two hours, but for now check out the vintage tunes of Door No More!"
Jane and Daria clapped as Trent approached their table. "Nice little speech at the end, bro," Jane said with a smirk.
"The owner said I hadda say it," he told them, frowning slightly. "'Door No More'. Man. Me and the guys are gonna go in the back and get some more of that free stuff before we gotta hear those guys. Wanna join us?"
"Actually," Jane spoke up quickly before Daria could respond, "we were thinking about stepping out for some fresh air. I think the smoke out there might be at least third-hand or lower."
"Can only hope," Trent said. He raised an eyebrow at the empty beer bottles on the table, but didn't say anything except a quick "later" before walking away.
Daria nudged Jane gently as they stood up to leave. "Boy, for a guest in my city, you sure are making a lot of my decisions for me tonight."
Jane looked over, suddenly worried, but saw that Daria was smiling. "Well, you know," she said. "New city. Thought I'd try a new attitude. Does bossy not work for you? Scratch that," she said quickly, "I've decided that bossy works just fine for you."
Outside the evening was crisp and bright, a full moon shining down on the city. One of the rivers crisscrossing Boston - Daria couldn't immediately recall which - sat just on the other side of the street, blocked off by a railing that stretched along the edge of the wide sidewalk. The two women crossed over under the sodium glare of the streetlights and walked up to lean against the rail.
They stared out at the view for a few moments before Daria asked, "So, why did you really want to come out here?"
Jane continued looking out, silently. Out of the corner of her eye, Daria saw the corner of Jane's mouth twitch slightly, her body stiffen in the cool air.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Jane asked, pointing out at the river. "I really need to come out here and paint it when I move up next year."
Daria's friendly curiosity became something deeper at Jane's avoidance of the question. She turned her head to look at friend more closely. Something was wrong.
Jane looked over and, upon noticing Daria's concerned stare, looked away. She sighed deeply and pulled her red overshirt tight around her shoulders, a chill running through her that had nothing to do with the temperature. "I just . . . need a moment," she said.
"Is there something I can do to help?"
The artist laughed, sudden and manic. "Well, yah," she said. "But we'll get to that in a bit. I just need a second to get my courage up, okay?"
Daria nodded, not understanding but willing to let her friend proceed at her own pace. A slight wind picked up but wasn't able to sustain itself for very long. A few times it looked as if Jane were about to speak, but she would stop herself, her breath coming quicker each time.
Finally, she screwed up everything she had and blurted out, "I've missed you."
At first, Daria wasn't sure if she was supposed to answer, thinking that maybe Jane would continue, but as the silence between them grew, she finally spoke up. "I've missed you, too," she said. "There's Mary, of course, and I've made a few acquaintances at school, but . . . it's been pretty boring around here without you."
Jane nodded, but quickly said, "Yah, I know, but . . . it's . . . different."
"'Different'?" Daria echoed, confused.
Jane sucked in a deep breath. "I didn't have many friends before I met you," she said. "I mean, you know that. I've told you that before. But after . . . for the past three and a half years, even when we were at our worst, we were still Jane and Daria. Or Daria and Jane. Whichever. I still had a friend, no matter what. I don't know if it's been the same for you, I mean I hope it has . . . "
Daria shifted uncomfortably, caught in a moment of indecision. The comfortable truth or a lie? She was saved from having to choose when Jane held up a hand and said, "Don't answer that. I'm sorry, that was stupid. I know there were a few points where it was like . . . like I'd abandoned you."
"No," Daria cut in. "That was me being stupid. I was just too insecure at the time. I was afraid. I know now that wasn't what you were doing."
Jane stared at her for a moment, a lost expression on her face. She shook her head as if to clear it and said, "I'm sorry. I keep saying that, but I am. I'm not making much sense, am I? Look, the point is, we're friends, right? We'll always be friends, won't we?"
"Freakin' friends," Daria reassured her with a smile.
"Good," Jane said distantly. Then, more forcefully, "Good. I mean, of course. And I don't want to do anything ever again that might jeopardize that."
"No, please," Jane interrupted. "I really need to say this. See, one of the . . . well, two or three of the things I did that made things tough between us was start up a relationship."
Another deep breath, and then the words starting pouring out like a torrent.
"The worst one was Tom, of course," she said. "I hate bringing him into this, but he was the worst because it got both of us. The wedge got driven in, and then it just kept on driving. And you were still my friend even after that second big hit, but I didn't want to be around you, so I went to that art camp and met Alison, and she made me so confused for a while, and while I was confused there was one huge thought that kept coming back around no matter how I tried to push it away, it just kept blinking like this huge neon sign. But after that went south, I thought things were going to go back to okay, but then you left for Raft and it all came back. And, I mean, if it comes back a second time and so strong, so damn strong, it can't just be a fluke, can it? I can't just ignore it, can I? So I didn't ignore it, and I started planning out this trip and worked my ass off to make sure Trent would bring me up here so I could stand here next to this beautiful river on this beautiful night and pour my heart out in this long ass babbling speech that doesn't even make any damn sense and all I want to do is start a new relationship except it's an old relationship and either way I don't want it to affect the friendship we have I want to keep that safe no matter what so I don't even know why I'm bothering doing this now but it's so damn hard not to."
Jane fell silent, leaning hard against the railing and nearly hyperventilating. The quiet stretched out, seeming to encompass everything around them. Daria licked her lips, surprised at just how dry her mouth and throat suddenly were. She shifted slightly to try and relax her muscles, which had gone tense during Jane's monologue. She swallowed hard, then cleared her throat.
"A relationship with who?" she asked quietly.
Jane looked up, her face drawn and pale, her blue eyes wet and wide with fear. Her cheek twitched slightly as she tried to force a smile.
"With you," she said.
Daria felt as if time had come to a stop. She felt an absolute certainty that if Trent didn't come out and tell them that it was time to go, they would stand there at that railing forever, eyes locked for eternity. She tried to make her jaw unclench, her mouth open, words form, but nothing happened.
Then, breaking the spell and scattering it to the winds, Jane cursed and looked down. "Oh, God," she moaned. "I screwed it up, didn't I? I really did it this time. Go ahead and cart me off, doctors, I'm ready for my straitjacket. I'm stupid, I'm crazy, and I just scared off my best friend for goo-"
"No!" Daria cried out, louder than she had meant to. "No," she said softer, putting a hesitant hand on Jane's shoulder and turning the other woman to face her. "No. It's okay, it's just . . . a lot to take in is all. I'm not going to say that this was exactly what I was expecting, but you're not going to scare me off. You can't get rid of me that easy, Lane. I just . . . now I'm the one that needs a minute, is all. Okay?"
Fear was still etched deeply on Jane's features, but she nodded. "Okay," she said.
Thoughts raced recklessly through Daria's brain, colliding into each other like drunk drivers. Which, considering the last lingering effects of the beer she'd had, was a rather apt analogy.
"So," she said, the sound of her voice causing Jane to jump a little, "does this mean . . . you're a lesbian?"
"Um . . . no," said Jane, shaking her head. "I mean, I don't think so. I like guys, obviously. I don't think that's changed, really. And I don't think I'm bisexual, either. But Alison . . . maybe she was right, in a way. She just got the target wrong. I'm straight, but I think I'm . . . I guess you could call it 'Dariasexual'." She looked down and tapped a fingernail on the metal rail. "And now I've creeped you out."
"No," Daria said. "Well, yes. A little."
Jane propped her elbows on the railing and laced her hands behind her neck. Her face was hidden, but Daria could almost feel the tears that the other woman was trying so hard to keep in check, and she immediately regretted her words.
"I'm sorry!" she said, wrapping her arm around Jane's back. "I'm sorry, that came out wrong. It's just, this sort of thing doesn't happen every day! Well, unless you're in some cliche romance movie. Or, um, since we're both girls, a cliche porno."
Jane laughed once, an explosive sound of relief. She pulled her hands down and turned to make Daria's comforting hug a full embrace.
"Don't you writer types say that things are only cliche when they're happening to someone else?" she asked, her tone light but her voice ragged.
It was Daria's turn to laugh. "I think that's from a computer game, actually," she said.
A fit of laughter took both women as they held each other. It was a release, a cleansing, a renewal. Daria could feel all of the worry and fear washing from Jane's gradually relaxing body, her muscles unclenching one by one, and knowing that her friend was calming down had a similar calming effect on her.
Once the fit had passed, she gently pulled back a little from Jane. Jane searched her face, suddenly unsure again. Daria smiled back warmly - a wider and more genuine smile than the other woman had ever seen her give, lighting up the night just as surely as the streetlights or the moon itself - and then tilted her head in for a kiss.
At first, all Jane could register was absolute shock. Daria, her best friend in the entire world, was kissing her. The shock quickly melted away as she felt the warmth of Daria's lips against her own and a shiver of excitement traveled down her spine. Wasn't this what she had wanted, after all?
She poured herself into the kiss, opening her mouth and running her tongue across Daria's lips, tightening her arms around the other woman just short of cracking ribs. Daria responded by tightening her own embrace and opening her mouth to Jane's questing tongue. The wet warmth beyond was beyond description, better than anything Jane had ever felt or tasted before. She lost herself in that moment, happier than she had ever been.
Yes, Jane thought to herself. This is exactly what I want.
Sooner than Jane wanted, they pulled back from each other. She wanted to keep that feeling forever, but once again uncertainty reared its ugly head.
"What . . . what does this mean?" she asked.
Daria thought about it for a second, then said, "I think it means . . . that Alison might've seen something in me, too, if we'd met. All those times that I felt like I was losing you . . . it wasn't so much that I was afraid of being alone, though it was that, too. It really was that I was afraid of losing you. And you remember, after the . . . after the Tom thing, staying with you was so much more important than getting with him.
"It means," she continued, looking Jane straight in the eyes, "that maybe I'm Janesexual. I don't know, and I'm not going to promise anything, but . . . I'm willing to try. For you. And I promise you - promise you - that no matter how that ends up, we will always be friends. You don't have to worry about jeopardizing that, ever. Ever."
The hug they shared then was softer, less insistent than before but just as intense.
"We should probably get back inside," Jane said once they pulled away from each other. "Trent might start wondering where we've run off to."
As they crossed the street to get back to the bar, Jane softly said, "Thank you. Thanks for listening to me, even though most of it was dribbling nonsense. Thanks for giving me- giving us a chance."
Daria squeezed Jane's shoulder and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Anything for Janey," she said.
The two women were so engrossed in their conversation, they didn't notice that Trent had walked up to their table until he cleared his throat.
"Oh, hey, Trent," Jane said happily. "Wassup?"
"Not much," he said. "We're just about to get back up on the stage to do a few more songs while those Doors guys take a break, then we'll be getting outta here. Sound good?"
"Sounds like a plan, Stan. Daria?"
"Fine with me," Daria replied. "I think I've had enough salsa to last me several lifetimes, anyway."
"Yah, sorry about you guys having to pay for the last plate of stuff," he told them. "Seems the owner guy didn't realize just how much gas the Tank runs through when he offered to pay us in gas money. We've been having to pay for our beer for the past hour, too."
"What a crying shame," Jane said with mock sympathy.
"Yah, it is," Trent said, missing the sarcasm. "I don't know how Max is gonna make it through this last set sober. The alcohol is about the only thing that keeps him from trying to play the cymbals with his face."
"I dunno, I kinda liked his face-crash solo version of Chainsaw Woman, 2x4 Man, myself."
Trent chuckled softly. "Oh, yah. That was pretty rad. Anyway, I better be going. You two doing alright by yourselves?"
Jane and Daria traded a long glance. "You know," Daria said, "I think we are."
Once the Spiral had everything back up and ready, they launched immediately into a song without any preamble. Some of the jaded customers of the Dank House actually looked up when the heavy, thundering music blasted out of the speakers. Jane couldn't blame them for their sudden, new found interest . . . though it was still horrible by most standards, it was one of the better songs that Mystik Spiral had ever done.
When the aliens come When the whip comes down
When the death rays hum
When the bummers bum
We'll still be freakin' friends!
When they nuke the town
When dead clowns can't clown
We'll still be freakin' friends!
When the whip comes down
Jane laid her hand down on the table and settled back in her chair. She nearly jumped when she felt something touch her, but looked down to see that it was just Daria's hand wrapped around hers. Relaxing and feeling a pleasantly warm blush flow through her cheeks, she turned her palm up, interlacing their fingers.
Holding hands and smiling warmly at each other, Jane and Daria sat in comfortable silence and listened to the band play.
Roland 'Jim' Lowery
December 8, 2009