Halfway into a pepperoni slice at Pizza King, Jane drops the confession like a trembling grenade. Daria blindly reaches for the fries, trying to ignore how the yellow walls are pressing in on them. It feels like everyone is staring, but the only other patrons are an old couple and a single mom with her crying kid. Daria watches the light above their table flicker; she knows it’s all in hear head. Yeah, so. What isn’t?
The sound of Jane’s voice brings her back to the present. “I like you, Daria. As more than a friend…” The cash register chimes and a chef barks an order. “And I wanna know how you feel about me.”
Everything slows to a stop. Are they really having this conversation? The moment ices over like old meat in the back of the freezer.
“Me? Wow. That’s…” God, are you there? It’s me, Daria. She swallows the cheese in her mouth. “You’re gay?”
Jane sighs. “The polite response is ‘no thank you,’ but I also would have taken a yes.”
Daria frowns. “Sorry, I’ve never been on this side of a rejection before.”
“It’s okay,” Jane says. “But for the record I’m not a--” she coughs. “I’m bisexual.” It seems obvious once Daria gives it any real thought. Jane waves the ketchup in front of her face. “We do exist, you know.”
The bell on the door jingles and Kevin stumbles inside wearing his dirty football uniform. Brittany trails close behind, face covered in mud and voice penetratingly high. She tells him how she can’t believe he would do this to her, and so close to the dance, too!
Daria rolls her eyes. “Wanna finish this conversation somewhere else?”
Jane’s room is smaller but somehow less suffocating. Daria steps over an empty container of chinese food and sandwiches herself on the mattress between a half dried canvas and a palette still greasy with oil paint. Jane kicks a can of primer onto the floor as she settles a few inches away.
“So about this whole…” Daria traces the charcoal outline of a figure drawing in her mind while she tries to find the right words.
Jane laughs. “Me-liking-you thing.”
“Yeah,” Daria says, counting the steady beats coming from the stereo. “That.” Before now, the concept had never occurred to her. How could anyone actually like her? “I’m flattered. And I really, really wish I felt the same way.” Daria drags her gaze back to Jane’s face. “But I don’t,” she confesses. “Sorry.”
Jane sits up, boot heel thudding against the side of her bed. She smooths over the crease in the middle of her forehead with a sigh.
“How about you give me a kiss, and we call it even?”
The music twists into a stream of static, muffling the heartbeat echoing in Daria’s chest. Everything feels more important than it is.
“Uh,” Daria says, for as long as she possibly can. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Come on Daria,” Jane says. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little kiss.”
Is she really afraid, or is this just kind of weird? And what does a word like weird mean anyway, when they’re both outcasts already and Daria’s never come close to grasping normal in the first place? What’s the point? Don’t be a spoil sport, she says, it’ll be fun.
Daria glances sideways and takes off her glasses. “It’s not the kiss I’m afraid of.”
Jane scoffs. “I’m not going to fall in love with you because of one kiss.”
Daria raises an eyebrow. “How can we be sure you’re not in love with me already?”
Jane slams her fist against the power button when the radio host announces a prize for the first ten callers. Daria almost drops her frames, the edge of her shirt pressed against the lens. It streaks when she tries to clean it.
“Haha,” Jane says as Daria pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Very funny.”
The sarcasm isn’t as effective with a small smile creeping across her face. She places a hand next to Daria’s thigh and leans in close.
Daria swallows. “Do I look amused?”
“No, you look--pretty neutral--I think?” Jane eases up and takes a deep breath. “Look,” she says. “I just don't want you to do this because you feel like you owe me.” Neither of them move. “Or because you feel bad.” She scrapes at the chipped nail polish on her thumbnail. “I’m a big girl, I can handle it.”
Daria fixates on a rip in the carpet where the wood paneling is showing through. Her face is hot all over and there’s sweat collecting at the nape of her neck. All of their memories feel scaled down to one moment.
“You're my friend,” Daria starts, voice hoarse.
Jane laughs. “It’s kinda cute how embarrassed you are.”
Daria crumples the sheet in her palm and screws her eyes shut when Jane moves forward. They stare at each other, solid, before Jane closes the gap in one soft movement. Her finger curls around Daria’s wrist when their lips touch. The sensation is reminiscent of burrowing into a pile of clean laundry still warm from the dryer.
Jane smirks against her mouth as she pulls away. “Maybe I should warn everyone at school,” she says. “First Trent, now me.” Jane winks. “You’re an unstoppable beast.”
The joke is such a gross exaggeration of Daria’s capabilities that she’s forced to laugh. She can’t even talk to Tent, and now she’ll never be able to meet her best friend’s eyes, either.
“Shut up,” Daria says, but her voice is small. She can still smell the cigarette smoke embedded in the collar of Jane’s shirt. “Are you gonna be okay?”
Jane sniffles dramatically but an actual tear never brushes her cheek. “Rejections aren’t so bad,” she says. “Sometimes you send in poetry and they don’t even send you a letter to let you know you suck.”
“I don’t think you suck,” Daria says, thumbing a hole in the blanket. “If things were different, I’d be lucky to have you.” She clears her throat. “You’re a catch.”
Melodrama like this is supposed to be reserved for someone else. Newsflash: it can happen to you. Daria begins picking at the melted candle wax on the table beside the bed.
“Are we…” Daria flounders. “Cool?”
“Daria,” Jane says, clapping a hand on her shoulder. “We were always cool.”