She stood dripping at the phone stand. It soaked in the carpet and she thought of taking off her boots. Of going to her parents house.
Of calling a cab and finding an Amtrack and not looking back.
“You have to actually pick up the phone and press the buttons.”
“Damn, you'd think college would have taught me the important stuff.” She ran her finger along the phone.
“This is where you dial. It's one of the most important parts. Maybe I should grab you some paper, you might want to to take notes.”
Daria rolled her eyes at Jane. “But the numbers are so confusing.”
Jane plucked the phone from her hand and dialed. “Tell them you're here and alive and you'll see them tomorrow.”
“Sounds complicated, where's that note pad you mentioned.”
“I never thought it come to this but we'll just have to cheat. I'll sign the answers to you.” Jane made motions with her hand.
“Hey mom.” She watched as Jane made a heart with her hands. Daria shook her head. “Yeah, Jane and I just got in. Hmm. Yeah, we're good. No I don't think I'll come by tonight. We're tired. Tomorrow.” Daria let out a sigh. “Night.”
The click sounded too loud for some reason.
“Shall I take you to your room, Miss. We don't have wake up service or room service. We might not have any service at all. But much like Hotel California, you can check out-”
“You like. But you can never leave. You're stuck, baby.”
“I knew what I signed up for. And still better here. Than, well I guess no where. I've got no place-” Her throat closed up. “Thanks. Thanks for you know, everything.”
Jane's grin fell, just slightly. “Still feel odd?”
“No, I'm fine.”
Jane lifted her eyebrows.
She shrugged. “I like plants.”
“No you don't. You're not fond of anything living.”
David's face stared at her from the shadows. So cruel. “No. I am not. But plants can't talk so they're a step above the average.”
Penny's room was exactly as the last time she was in there. It made her dizzy.
“Same old, same old.” Jane dropped Daria's bags to the floor.
“Like a time machine.”
“Daria, really, what happened with David.”
“You girls still like pizza.” Trent's face appeared from the door.
Daria let the air slip from her lungs. “Yeah, sounds good.”
“What made you finally come back?” Trent said it around a bite of pizza. She took the moment to really look at him. In some ways everything about him had changed. His hair was a bit longer. No more goatee. His facial hair was scruffy like he'd forgotten to shave for a few days. His eyes seemed darker, more forbidden. The thought caught in her throat. But then other things were exactly the same.
The green shirt. The holey pants. Even the line of earrings remained the same. It had only been two years but somehow it seemed like a whole lifetime.
“My summer plans kind of got disrupted.”
“Something to do with that guy.”
There was a heat rising to her cheeks. “I guess.” She shoved a bite into her mouth.
“We broke up.” It was heavy, those words, she had really only told Jane, and now that she had said it out loud it felt more real.
She shook her head and tried to peer at the back for Jane, she had just been going to the bathroom. “It's fine. Who ends up with their first love anyway, right?”
She thought suddenly of Monique. Was that his first love, his last?
“What about you?” She kept her eyes on the aisle that lead to the bathrooms as she asked.
“Bands good. We have a good lead on some stuff.” She glanced up at him. Even as he said it, there was something hidden in the tone. It wasn't like it was. There was a sadness to him that nibbled at her ear.
“Good.” Again his eyebrow went up. She winced and continued. “It's what you've been going for, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
A loud clap of thunder caused her to jump. The lights flickered. He looked deadly in the flash of light.
“It's not all I thought. Or it's exactly it. I can't really remember.”
And there for a minute it was exactly the feeling of the last time she had been home, had seen him looking down at her.
He knew something, something that she couldn't put a name to and the thought frightened her more than she could say.
“Afraid of selling out?” Her voice as normal, mono toned, but she felt her heart racing beneath her temples.
“Nah, would never do that.”
The pizza was congealing, and outside the wind was still but the lighting and thunder played a symphony.
“I wish it would stop raining.” Daria drummed her fingers against the table. It was drowned out by another clap of thunder.
“I feel like were going to have to build an ark to survive the summer.” Trent wasn't looking at her. He was off somewhere in his own world, staring at the rain through the window.
She felt like that's all she did herself anymore. She couldn't keep her head on straight. It felt like everything in her life was coming to a head. But she couldn't for the life of her figure out what it was at the end of the tunnel. She had spent so long with planning and knowing and looking at everything from every possible angle.
She was still playing chess but it felt as if the game had changed in the middle and she had no idea of the rules.
She couldn't win
She felt the air grow heavy, she thought of that drop on the window in the car. Stupid and small and destined to lose.
Winning was losing.
So losing was just winning faster.
Isn't that what had been playing in her head.
So what was she doing. Going fast or slow. Would it all lead to the same place then. Was there nothing she could do but wait it out?
The thought of that made her eyes well up with unwilling tears.
Without warning, the lights flickered again and then went out all together.
“Jane.” She stood,stumbling. Trent's hand clutched to her wrist.
“You won't be able to see her.” She heard him shuffling. Then she felt something cool and metal.
“It's a flashlight. The Tanks old, it breaks down a lot need something to see by. Duct tapes a bitch if you don't know where to put it.”
He was illuminated by a lightening flash.
He was exactly what she didn't need. Someone else to be disappointed in her. Someone so far removed from her dreams and the things she was planning. But in that moment, with the lightening making him something surreal. She found herself wanting to do nothing more than to touch him. To scrap her fingers over his skin till she carried pieces of him with her till her body settled. This wasn't lust. Wasn't as simple as a crush.
It was consuming and wretched.
It was deadly.
She did the only thing that could be done.
She ran, the flashlight still clutched in her hand, looking for Jane. Calling her friend's name over and over.
Pizza King was small and for a Monday it held few people.
Daria felt relief wash over her. “What happened? Fall in?”
“Uh, no, I uh-”
“Hey Daria.” Daria's paused the light above his head. Although she didn't need to see him to know the voice.
“Tom.” She kept her voice level.
Then like God commanded in the beginning there was light again.
They were sitting so close it looked like they were sharing jeans. “Sorry, to bother you guys.” Daria turned on heel and walked past Trent and the pizza, she went straight for the door.
She never even turned around.
Outside was miserable and sweltering and gray. The puddles had become lakes and she trudged along, ignoring the windless storm that battered around her.
She wasn't even sure why it bothered her so much to see Jane and Tom together. It was so long gone. So far past that she didn't care if they started something again.
No it was something else, it was dead lights and the thunder.
It was the image of Trent shining.
It was David who she couldn't get far enough from. Or close enough to.
It was being here and feeling the same and so different,
She wasn't in high school anymore but it felt like she was there again. Like she would never break free. She was out of air, out of time out. Out. Out.
She didn't know where in was. How to go back or go forward.
“Hey!” Her head shot up. There was Trent in his newest broken down car. Her feet kept going but she stared at him back light by the rain and lamp posts. “Daria, stop.”
She did. “Sorry.”
“Just get in the car. You can't walk in weather like this.”
“What do you mean? Gene Kelly has a whole movie named for this kind of situation.”
“Get in.” He was smiling but it felt odd.
“I'll get your car all wet.”
“I think it'll survive.”
She was already half way in.
“You still like Tom?”
She huffed. “Waste no time.”
She shook her head. “No. I don- It's like high school.” She bit her lip. She couldn't explain it. Not with out telling him about David, about school, about the rain drop that loses or the weeds that he crushed and even then it would make no sense.
She couldn't stand nonsense.
She couldn't stand herself at the moment.
She settled on saying. “I don't think I should have come back to town. It's like finding your favorite shoes and putting them on and they fit but they don't and it's all wrong somehow.”
He nodded. “I get it.”
It felt airless in the car.
“Sorry,” he said. “the heaters broken, it won't turn off.”
“Could be worse.”
“Not really.” But again he wasn't looking at her. He was lost out the window. And even though it was nonsense, it felt like he was talking about more than just the car.
“Can you drop me off at my parent's house?” Her voice broke the odd silence.
“Aren't you staying with us?”
She scratched at her knee. “Yeah- I don't know, I mean yes, that's what Jane and I sort of thought about. I haven't told them about David yet. And Quinn's coming down with her newest fiancee. But-”
“If you aren't upset by Tom, then why are you leaving?”
Daria didn't know. It wasn't Tom, it wasn't Jane either.
Hell it wasn't even David, even when it felt like it. It was her. Something was wrong with her. With her life, with the feeling that wouldn't leave her alone.
“I don't know. It's not Tom. It's- I don't know.”
The car pulled to a shaky stop in front of her parent's house. There was sigh that she held back, it wasn't hers anymore. It hadn't really felt like home. But now it felt even more foreign.
“No problem.” The street lights blinked as the power stuttered. His hand was on her shoulder. “Look, if you get in there and you can't, you know, whatever, for whatever reason, call me. I can pick you up. You're welcome to come back whenever.”
His fingers felt scorching.
“Really, call me. Promise.” Daria thought suddenly thought of the multimedia project. Sometimes
30 seconds was a too much.
“Okay, Trent. If I decide to come back tonight I'll call you.”
His teeth shined in the night. Everything else was dark and terrible.
He waited for her to reach the house before he drove away. She stayed staring after him for a long time, watching that broken horrible car get smaller and smaller till all she could see is the shadow of where he'd been.
The door suddenly opened and she stood facing her mother.
“Daria, I thought you said-”
Daria felt embarrassed, she realized how she must look, dripping and slobby. Her favorite jacket almost black with rain and even though she wasn't in high school anymore she wished she had the boots and the skirt and the armor.
“Sorry, I just-” She hated how much she'd been saying and hearing sorry lately.
“No it's fine. Of course we're happy to see you. Come in. Out of the rain. I'm sure we can find you something to wear.”
Daria stood in the entry way and let the water fill the floor.
“I'll grab you a towel sweetheart.”
“Thanks, mom.” She tried to peer around the corner but the house looked empty. It sounded quiet too.
“Your Dad drove to the airport to pick up Quinn, Eric called you know how it is.” Her mom called from the downstairs bathroom.
“Can I stay here tonight?” She felt absolutely pathetic but she kept her face strong. No hint of her shaky hold on everything.
“Well of course.” Helen placed the towel in her hand. “I missed you sweetheart.”
“Me too, Mom.” The moment lingered on to long. “My room still okay?”
“Well you know we redecorated last year, but it is still a bedroom.”
It never really ended.
A hot shower and a pair of her Mom's clean pajamas later and she was curled into a strange bed. Her old room was decorated with flowers and greens and bright yellows that stuck out in the hot stifling room.
She twisted and stuck a leg out of the blanket.
Her Mom was downstairs waiting for everyone else to get in. But she had pleaded exhaustion. Still she couldn't sleep. The lights flickered in the hallway and the thunder hadn't let up.
She knew she should call Jane or she should go back to where she came from.
Maybe she should act her age and sit downstairs to greet Quinn when she came home. She could throw her arms around her sister and pretend for awhile they were more like Lanes than Morgendoffers.
She almost giggled at the thought. They would never be the type.
She wanted something. A moment. A second. Something that she couldn't hold in her hand. But was something that was missing all the same.
“Daria?” Her Mom's face peaked in.
“Hmmm?” She acknowledged but didn't move.
“Honey, Jane's on the phone for you.”
Daria starred at the white popcorn ceiling.
“Tell her I'll call her tomorrow, okay. I'm just to tired to do anything right now.”
“Okay.” Helen paused at the door. “Daria, did something happen?”
Everything. Daria thought, instead she answered. “Nothing, Mom.”
“Okay if you say so. But you know you can- I know things have been difficult between us all. But I am your Mother and well, I am here.”
“Thanks, Mom. I know.”
Daria twisted again as the door closed.
The wall was a sickly blue color. She felt surrounded in the worst way.
She really should call Jane. Tell her that she was...she was something. She was going crazy. That she was messed up. That she wasn't upset about Tom or anything.
Again the lights flickered. Daria cracked the window, it was stagnant in the room, the rain dripped onto the window sill and sloshed into the room.
She walked soundlessly to the phone in the hallway outside of her door. She could hear her Mom on her cell phone downstairs.
It rang four times before there was an answer.
It was a slurred hello.
“Hey Daria, need me to come get you?” His voice was stronger now.
“No, I'm all dressed for bed. My sister's coming in, thought I might stay the night at least.” It came out fast and smashed together.
“I just wanted to- I was going to- Well Jane called.”
“I can go get her.” Daria stubbed her toe as she rushed back to her room.
“God dam- No, that's okay.” Tears pricked her eyes. Damn toe. Damn rain.
Tears dropped quickly. “No.” Her voice didn't wavier though. “I was just going to tell her.” She didn't know what she was going to say. Instead she let the silence grow. It was overwhelming.
“I don't know what I was going to say. I guess tell her I'm not mad. I'm not-” The smallest gasp escaped her, it was as watery as the weather.
“Are you okay? Daria...”
“Yes. I'm fine. Really.”
The lights fell away again and it was so dark. Nothing but the sound of the thunder. It sounded like a heartbeat.
“Do you think I'm cruel?” She said it rushed. She said it to the lightening. To the thunder. She didn't expect any kind of answer.
“Of course not.”
“I am. I am. I know it. I've never really cared what people thought. No, that's not the truth. I expect the worst so that I am not disappointed. I say mean things. I make fun of things, even if it hurts others. Because I would rather strike than be stricken.”
“Yes, yes. David was right. He was right.” It came bubbling out of her. Over and over. She saw David's face, his wide brown eyes, his smile, then his grimace. She remembered his kiss. His kiss off. Why so cruel.
“I don't know exactly what happened between you two but-” Then there was a lonely awful silence. The power was gone and so was the phone line.
She was in the dark and she was alone.
She fell asleep before any of the power was returned.
She was curled on the floor and her hip hurt terribly.
It was sweltering in the room and the sweat made her legs sticky. She could hear the rain beating against the roof. It would be another day like this. She just wished the rain would stop. It was becoming almost unbearable. Everything was sticky and damp and it seemed to seep into everyone's skin. The rain brought no relief. It was still so hot. Still no wind. How long could they all go on till the town floated away.
It was Jane standing at the door. She was wearing jean shorts and a poncho but had the saddest looking eyes Daria had seen since the high school Tom incident. It made Daria wince.
“Are we talking now?”
Daria sat up and shrugged. “Yeah. I just needed-”
“I'm sorry you found out about Tom like that.”
“So you guys are dating again?”
“No.” Jane sighed. “Yes. Sort of. We're hanging out.”
“Wow. How very adult.”
“Look, I don't want you to hate me.”
Daria stood up and stretched. “I don't- It's not about Tom, or you. It's me. It's just a me thing. I don't know why it-. I don't know, Jane. But I'm not mad. You want to hang out with him. That's on you. But if you don't mind I'd like to sit out on this one. I don't really want to befriend him.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I really don't want to go back to being friend's with Tom, it's smells to much of high school and I can't do that. It's enough that I'm back in this town.”
“I don't mean being his friend. But at least your not mad anymore.”
“Never was. Not really.” She collapsed back on the bed, the yellow of the room burned her eyes in the grey of the day. “Did you come over because Trent told you?”
“Why would Trent tell me to come over?”
“Because of the phone call?”
“You called Trent? I thought you didn't want to revert back to high school shenanigans.”
“It wasn't like that. I called for you. But he answered. The phone died. You know the power and all.”
But it didn't appear that Jane was convinced as her brows were meeting her hairline and she stared at Daria.
“Really.” Daria said.
“He was hoarding the phone last night thought he had a girl or something.” It was a loaded question and Daria knew it.
“He made me promise that I'd call if I wanted to go back to the house.” Daria tried not to look at the room anymore. It made her sick. “I don't know.”
“For a fancy college girl, you don't know a lot these days.”
“Don't I know.”