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The Adventure of the Accidental and Transitory Book Club

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She never knew why Axl had rented a room at the Motel Nine, filled it with booze and invited two bands' worth of friends from the Dega Street crew over to drink it away. She did know, but refused for a stubborn long time to admit to herself, why she took up Trent's offer to join. Her parents were away, Jane was out with Tom (and his friends, who for once it seems had not blown him off on a Friday night), and her sister's words kept ringing through her brain despite all her efforts to disregard them.

Thus: the grumble of the interstate spur, a stand of gamely persistent shade trees, the chlorine reek of the cement pool, tats and piercings and deep red hair dye that, in the darker intervals of the parking lot, during those times when the clouds opened to let the moonlight in, just looked black anyway.

Not long after they arrived, Trent had a plastic cup in his hand, and Axl was telling him, "It's Dr Pepper and amaretto. Trust me, the pair together is better than either part alone."

Daria said, "I never figured you for a romantic."

Soon she found herself sitting on the sink counter outside the bathroom, swinging her legs a little and wondering if the first sip of beer was enough of an indication about what the rest of the bottle would bring, and whether some measure of numbness was worth the taste.

She had emptied the neck of the bottle when Nick, from Mystic Spiral (but they really were planning to change the name), started waving about a VHS tape. "It's called Fantastic Planet," he said. "You guys have to see it!"

"Is it trippy?" asked a girl throwing her empty bottle of Natty Bo into the garbage bag between the beds.

"Does it have bewbs?" asked Axl.

"Yes," said Nick.

"Cool," said Jesse.

The door swung open, and three more people stumbled into the room, wafting in something that smelled like jazz and moral panic. And, thought Daria, a bit like her history teacher on the last day of class.

Monique, rooting through the cooler on the floor beside the TV, scratching her knee through a tear in her jeans: "I hate to break it to you, guys, but the only movies that thing can play end with a money shot."

"I've got a VCR at home that I can bring," Daria suggested.

"Want a lift there and back?" asked Monique, indicating with a little wave the brown bottle that Daria held.

Trent looked at Monique with a slightly raised eyebrow.

"I haven't started tossing them back yet," Monique added. "I'm cool to drive, and while we're out we can pick up some more mixers and chips an' shit."

Jesse advised, "I like sea salt and vinegar."

Flashing her keys, Monique asked Daria, "You game?"

"Sure."

At her car, Monique popped the driver's-side door, leaned over the seat and, while Daria tried to pour the rest of her beer down her gullet, began chucking the miscellaneous debris from the passenger's side into the back. "All clear," she told Daria. "Yeah, it's a Chevy Don't Go, but it still goes for now."

"Thank the stars for small mercies," Daria said, climbing in.

"Heh. Your place is back near Trent's, right?"

"Glen Oaks Drive," Daria affirmed.

"I think I remember it from one of the times that Trent and I broke up," Monique said. "Hey, you used to have a thing for him, right?"

"Uh, yeah."

"We should start a club."

"Just as long as I don't have to be the social chair."

"Ha!" (Daria felt pleased that she had elicited a genuine laugh, and then she felt surprised by how pleased she was, but she let nothing of it show.) "Well, hey," Monique went on, "he's not such a bad guy to have had a thing for. And I'm pretty burned out of fighting with other girls over guitar players."

"What happened the last time you fought a girl over a guitar player?"

"You mean, how did it end? She and I hate-fucked, that's how it ended."

"Oh."

"Hey, better to regret something you have done, right?"

"I...suppose? I'm not exactly the world authority on doing things."

"Still watching all the glamour of the Lawndale scene from the sidelines, then. I can dig."

"A stranger among alternatives, that's me."

"An outcast," Monique suggested, "even from the left behinds of the Great So-ci-uh-tee!" Her voice rose into singsong.

At Daria's house, Monique parked her car at the curb. "Looks like nobody's home," she said to Daria, her tone making it half a question.

"Parents are away, sister is testing eyebrow tweezers with the rest of the Fashion Club."

"Ouch," said Monique, in a way that made Daria think, for a moment, that she was referring to multiple kinds of pain.

Daria wobbled a little on the way to the front door, but she found her keys without trouble and let them in. "If you want any leftover lasagna," she said, "you'd be doing us a favor. I'd offer you the stew, but you seem far too nice to deserve that."

"First time anyone's called me that in a while. Thanks."

Stepping into Daria's bedroom, Monique looked around and exclaimed, "Fuckin' A!"

"If these walls could talk, their stories would probably be muffled."

Monique picked up a book from Daria's bed. "The Canary Trainer," she read, "by Nicholas Meyer."

"Sherlock Holmes versus the Phantom of the Opera," Daria told her. "It's pretty fun, in a deep-commitment-to-an-absurd-premise kind of way."

"Can I borrow it?"

Daria was silent.

"What? You...look like you don't get asked that very often."

Daria sank, slowly, into her desk chair.

"I've got one friend," she told Monique, "and she's not much of a bookworm. She'll sit still for a Dziga Vertov movie, but not a novel. The one boy at school who liked to read forgot I existed once he discovered chewing gum. The one girl I've seen crack a book doesn't have time to do anything fun, and her parents would probably disown her for reading something so frivolous as, I dunno, Invisible Man, unless it were to bulk up her Crestmore application essay. She and I visited a whole school of elite brains, once, and they were arrogant jerks who only read a book so they can say how it's not as good as Atlas Shrugged. And..." Daria slumped.

"I'm moving to Middlebury in a couple months," Monique said. "I promise to have it back before then?"

"Sure," Daria said. "Look, let's get this VCR unplugged."

"Hey," Monique said. "Is something on your mind? I mean, it kinda looks like you went to Axl's shindig to get away from something, but—" she tapped her forehead, "—you can't get away from it if you carry it with you, y'know?"

Daria looked the other woman over, from platform boots to unwashed locks. "You say y're moving away?"

"To a town where nobody knows you," Monique replied, "and I promise I won't say a word before I go." She made a zipper-closing motion over her lips.

Daria took a deep breath, shuddering more than she had intended. "My sister," she began. "When she was getting ready to go out tonight," she began again, "I got on her case, like I usually do. I busted her a bit about the vapid people she hangs with—I mean, sometimes I'll even think that they're holding her back, but I never really say that to her face, and I tell myself it's because she's never listened before. Then she turns on me and says, You think we're arrogant and judgmental? What about how you and Jane treat literally everyone literally all the time? Go look in the mirror, Daria, and not because of your pores."

"Damn," Monique said.

"Yeah."

"I mean," Monique said, "I don't know what the two of you have had going on—you and your sister, I mean—but I guess, you're sitting here feeling like crap about it, so you can't be a complete bitch."

Daria allowed herself a small chuckle at that. "I get judgey over Jane, too, sometimes."

"Hey, nobody's perfect, 'cept maybe Yoda. And Joan Jett."

"It doesn't help that I'm usually right in the end," Daria said. "She goes googly over a boy, I get irked, she gets upset, he turns out to be a prick, vindication is mine?"

"Is she off with a prick tonight?"

"Nah, Tom actually seems...decent, for once. For a posh private-school kid, anyway." Daria worried a little—no, she corrected herself, she was puzzled about Tom, just slightly. He was easygoing, confident in a not-totally-arrogant way, decent-looking if Jane was any indicator to go by. So why did he seem to have so few friends from his own circle? And why was he never surprised when they made plans without him?

Monique said, a little hesitantly, "I think the way Trent saw it is that, when you were upset with her, you were usually afraid of losing her."

"Did Trent say if that worked in reverse, too?"

"Do you think so?"

Daria looked down. "Doesn't excuse my handling it so badly."

"You're young," Monique told her. "Plenty of mistakes left to make."

"One day I'll start learning from them."

"You and me both, club-mate."

Daria stood, weaving a little. She had just enough time to wonder if perhaps she should sit back down again before a burp rose from her stomach and escaped her lips, leaving her mouth tasting hoppy and, somehow, on a fundamental level, half-priced.

"Come on," she said, "let's bring the crew their VCR before they get into the motel's movies."