The low sound of Type O Negative filled the space around Trent as he transferred the contents of his room to heavy-duty black trashbags. He had both windows open despite the chill and yet he was still sweating. He'd long since abandoned his jacket but his long sleeve shirt wasn't doing him any favors. He wiped at his forehead before he examined an old vinyl record he'd found cracked underneath his bed. The cover, while faded and worn, was still legible. It was a Mystik Spiral single, one of limited release. At the time, he told himself it was to increase the value over time but it was really due to low sales. Why any of them thought that was a good idea remained to be seen. He didn't hesitate to toss it along with a moth-eaten tshirt and an empty spray paint can. He was glad nobody was around to document how filthy things were; he was embarrassed enough seeing it himself.
"There IS actually a carpet in here".
He looked over his shoulder as Daria came into view. She stood out in the hall, teetering right on the threshold between it and the room. He could tell that she was hesitant about entering, possibly waiting for some sort of invitation. He shut off the music on his phone, plunging everything into weird silence. He almost decided to turn it back on but, instead, waved her in.
She looked around his room as if she'd never seen it before and, in a way, he supposed that was true. Nobody had ever seen it this clean. She stared down at a permanent blue square that marred the carpet, eyes lighting with recognition.
"Jane spray-painted a piece of metal in here. The fumes almost made her pass out".
He nodded his agreement, "It was probably 80 degrees out and she's holed up in here working".
"And I came over to hang out", she shook her head, "When I asked her what she was doing, she told me that your room had better lighting".
"Worst part is, I didn't even notice the stain until three weeks later".
He chuckled to himself and he was pleasantly surprised when Daria joined in. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd actually heard her laugh. She must've noticed herself because it was over as quickly as it started.
"Did you want me to do anything?"
He shrugged as he tied up another full bag, "Keep me company, I guess".
He still had no idea what he was hoping for but having her around felt comfortable. It's not quite as effortless as it once was but it's a work in progress. Daria sat down on the edge of his bed and watched him work, a blank expression on her face. To most, she would seem bored or disinterested but she was really observing him.
He couldn't quite get the previous night out if his head. He'd spent most of the night tossing and turning in an unfamiliar bed and the rest mulling over his own thoughts. He had no clue if Daria was embarrassed for him or by him. His tics were only one side effect of his chronic drug use and he could only imagine what the sight of it meant for her. All the bad memories that neither of them wanted to dredge up were practically smacking them in the face and they still skirted the subject.
"How was last night? Do you think you'll manage?"
He could sense an underlying meaning behind the questions but he was never one for cryptic messages. He was direct almost to a fault and he knew that she was too. At least, she used to be.
"Little weird, staying in a new place, but it was fine".
"And you're really staying that long?"
"If I have to, yeah. It's really not so bad. Kinda nostalgic".
She made a face that suggested she felt the opposite. Lawndale wasn't the best place on Earth and he had his fair share of bad memories but this was nothing compared to the hell he endured in Boston. He could try to stomach this better than anything else there.
"What are you going to do with all of this?"
As much as the questions seemed to be a product of burning curiosity, he had no answers. He didn't give much thought to this. Like all of his ideas, it happened spur of the moment and with little to no foresight. He dropped the bag he was holding before he sat down next to her. Her hands were knotted together in her lap, eyes focused on some unseen object. Tense was the best word he could think of but even that felt too small to describe her.
"What do you think I should do?"
It was a simple question but he had to remember that nothing was simple in this situation. She gave him a look sharp enough to cut glass before she responded.
"I don't know. Why should it matter what I think? You clearly have some reason for all of this".
"I've always valued your insight".
It was a direct hit, the first since they've met up, and he's honestly surprised it's taken this long. Daria isn't the type of person to hold her tongue forever and he braced himself for the fallout....
But it never happened. Daria simply stopped, as if a switch had been flipped. She quickly stood and made for the door and he thought she intended to leave without another word. It was eerily reminiscent of the funeral and he wondered if it was possible for them to leave things a complete mess for a second time. Surprisingly, she came to a halt just beyond the doorway.
"I'm sorry", she offered him up a sad smile, "I...I don't know if I can do this. Sit here with you after..."
"You don't have to sugarcoat anything with me. I want you to tell me how you feel".
He did. Desperately. He'd never gotten to hear the truth from her and it drove him crazy for a long time. She was there through Jane's struggles, there when he was too selfish to be. He could only imagine the stress and pressure that she was under and he needed to be told about all of it. It wasn't his only reason for doing all of this but it mattered just as much.
"Alright, fine", she turned slightly, facing away from him. It was the most nervous he'd ever seen her, "I don't know who you are anymore and that freaks me out. I met up with you with the full expectation of hating your guts. I thought you'd still be the same. But you're not and I'm not and I don't know how to move forward from here".
He sat there, watching her, glad to finally have something concrete to mull over.
"I don't either. Nobody does. We just...try".
He didn't know if she was willing to do that, if she even wanted to, but it was the only answer that he had.
"I have to go".
There went the wall, the one he often spent countless times trying to tear down. He couldn't let it beat him this time around. He stopped her in the hall before she could disappear downstairs, not sure of what to say but knowing he had to say something.
"You came to visit me. In rehab".
It's something he found out after the fact, once he was finally coherent enough to feel the reality of what was going on around him. She visibly tensed and, for a moment, he thought she might slap him.
"...Once", she paused, her eyes darting over to the room they were both too fearful of to venture into today, "I wanted to make sure it was true".
It was honest, which he expected, but there was a layer of anguish that struck a chord with him. If she was another person, he'd hug her. Instead, he maintained his distance, knowing that any sudden movements would send her running instantly.
"Maybe we can't fix any of this. Hell, maybe we'll make it worse. But at least we gave it a shot, right?"
It took awhile for her to silently nod her agreement but it was a start.
"I really have to go. I'll...call you".
He could tell that she meant it. She gave him a lingering look before she was off, the front door pulled shut behind her.
Daria was on the highway in record time, only briefly stopping to say goodbye to her parents. As Lawndale continued to recede behind her, she felt like a weight was lifted off her shoulders. Soon, she'd be back in the quiet sanctity of her apartment and away from all the demons that were following at her heels.
The thought forced her to switch on the radio, filling the small space with some bubblegum pop song that Quinn would've loved. It's disrupting which is what she needed. She tunelessly whistled along as she contemplated what the rest of her day would look like. She'd probably have to go grocery shopping and that damn article draft wasn't going to miraculously write itself. By the time she crossed the George Washington Bridge, she'd forgotten all about the weirdness of the past two days.
The city traffic was something she didn't miss after a weekend of easy suburban streets. She wasn't prone to road rage but it was impossible not to flip off some of the worst offenders. She was thankful once she finally pulled into the parking deck of the apartment complex. She wasted no time hopping on to the elevator which was empty on a Sunday afternoon. The ride up to the tenth floor was taken in peaceful silence and she felt comfortable for the first time all weekend. She was unlocking the door to her studio apartment once her cell started to buzz.
She let out a sigh of frustration as she hurried to lock the door and kick off her boots. Digging her phone out of her pocket was another struggle and she finally managed to answer right before her voicemail picked up.
"This better be important".
"Nice to hear you too, asshole".
It was her editor and part-time pain in the ass, Claudia Mitchell. She rolled her eyes before she plopped down on the loveseat, already preparing herself for what this conversation would entail.
"I promise, I'll have the piece sent out in a few hours - max".
"Please, you're the last person I have to worry about. How was spending time in East Jesus Nowhere?"
"Hm, I bet. If you hate it so much, why do you even bother?"
She doesn't have the patience to explain her reasoning to Claudia, who doesn't even know about Jane let alone her death. It's a sore subject and she'd rather not get into the heavy details.
"If I don't, my parents will be devastated".
"So selfless. Anyway, I called to remind you about our coffee outing tonight which I'm sure you forgot about as soon as I told you".
"On a Sunday?"
"What urgent matters do you have to attend to?"
She gazed around her spotless apartment, "...Cleaning".
"Uh huh, right. I'm starting to think you don't like me".
"Like is such a strong word, I prefer tolerate".
Claudia let out a heavy sigh that cut through the lighthearted tone of their conversation. It was clear that this was no ordinary phone call. Daria sank down further into the couch cushions, not sure if she could deal with any more surprises.
"Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it. We're worried about you".
"Everyone at the office. But mostly me. You've been so closed-off lately, more so than usual. You don't even eat lunch with us anymore".
"I've been busy".
"Yeah, you've been so busy and yet I haven't gotten a single draft".
"You just said-"
"I know what I said and I meant it. You're usually on the ball with these things which is why I'm so freaked out. Look, are your parents okay? Is someone sick?"
"No, they're the picture of health", she could feel irritation prickling at her, "Everything is fine. I'm fine".
There was another sigh, this one lengthier than the last. Daria could tell that, whatever she was about to say, it wouldn't be pleasant.
"You're going to hate me for this but...I think you need some time off. Take a vacation or something, clear your head".
The idea of it was so absurd that she started to laugh. She wanted Claudia to tell her that this was all some elaborate prank and she was only trying to get her back for flaking out on her. Unfortunately, the silence persisted.
"Come on, you can't be serious".
"I'm dead serious. You're clearly dealing with something so go handle it".
"Are you firing me?"
"Jesus, no. I may be crazy but I'm not stupid. Like I said, this is a vacation".
"What about my pay?"
"You'll still be paid. Everyone's gotta eat, right?"
This time Claudia did laugh but she's the one that stays quiet. She couldn't fathom sitting around at home, alone, with nothing to do. The idea of it was enough to make her shudder. Already, she could start to feel the walls closing in on her. Sure, she lived in the most vibrant city in the world but what good was that when she was on her own?
"Claudia, please. I'll buy your damn lunch tomorrow, just let me work".
"I've already approved your time off. Two weeks. Enjoy it".
"I can't believe this. What am I supposed to do for two weeks?"
"I don't know, go see a play. Listen, I'll be here once you're ready to come back. You know you can call me whenever".
They both said their goodbyes and she hung up before her irritation could bloom into full blown anger. Just when she was ready to get back into the swing of things. She lazily reached for her remote before turning on the TV, allowing whatever show was on to provide background noise while she wracked her brain. While she could effectively spend her two weeks hammering out a bunch of articles and blog posts, she'd probably just end up with writer's block. The crazy idea of cracking open her laptop and buying the cheapest plane ticket she could find briefly crossed her mind but she tossed that idea out as quickly as it came. She wasn't the spontaneous type and taking a two week vacation to some unknown destination would only end in a headache. Frustrated, she picked up her phone again and sent Quinn a text, asking if she was busy next weekend. The least she could do was take a trip out to see her, even if that would only eat up so much time. After a moment of deliberation, she sent a text to someone else.
"Trent, change of plans. See you tomorrow".
She almost didn't hit send but she had nothing else to really lose. Before she could talk herself out of it, she got up to go pack a bag.