Daria had to admit, if the purpose of a reunion was to make everyone feel like they'd somehow been magically transported back into high school, this one succeeded with flying colors. They were all crammed into the same old school gym, and she was pretty sure that even the decorations were left over from homecoming the year before; the tattered blue and yellow streamers criss-crossing the ceiling and 'GOOO LIONS!' signs tapes to the wall screamed 'football season has begun' a lot louder than 'welcome back alumni.' Things might have been less bleak if the reunion planning committee had been allowed to do their job in peace, but anyone who believed Ms. Li would ever allow an event to go on which had anything at all to do with the honor and glory of Lawndale High without insisting she have the final okay over all plans had forgotten more about high school than just ten years could explain.
And from there it wasn't a far jump to her insisting that they throw out any plans to hold the reunion elsewhere when the gym was available, that it would bring back all the good memories so much better than an ordinary conference center, and that now that that was settled why didn't they make a generous donation of all the money they'd saved by not renting to Lawndale High? Just in case there was anybody who couldn't guess what had happened, the planning committee had been circling the room all night explaining to anyone they ran into exactly why they should not be blamed. Personally, Daria thought that watching them make excuses was quickly becoming the most entertaining part of the night.
Anyone looking at Daria just then would have thought that she'd hardly changed from high school herself. She was still hanging around the outskirts of the gathering, not interacting with anyone who passed by, although looking just then meant that the observer was missing the time earlier in the evening when she actually had wandered through the crowd of her own free will seeking out the people whose lives since high school she cared to hear about. She still dressed plainly, though her taste in outfits had switched to being neutrally professional instead of wearing a jacket and combat books like they were her armor against the world. Her face was still hidden behind her glasses, the exact same frames, in fact, although the lenses had been changed once or twice.
In fact, the only big change the observer would notice was that Jane was no longer by her side, and that was only because she'd gone out to help her boyfriend get the band set up. Or at least that was what she had claimed. Daria suspected that she'd actually meant that she was going to escape from the miserable portal to their teenaged years in favor of some quality make-out time in the empty classroom that had been designated the backstage area, seeing as the instruments and equipment were now almost entirely set up and yet she'd never seen Jane or Jesse carting out a piece. She couldn't really blame them for that.
She was bored enough that she was actually considering striking up a conversation with Ms. Barch, who was standing a few feet away, when somebody off to her side suddenly said, "Hey Daria."
She hadn't talked to him in years, but his voice was still so familiar that she automatically replied, "Hi Trent," as she turned to face him. "Shouldn't you be helping the band?"
He shrugged, studying her as closely as she was examining him, "It's a high school reunion that they're playing for free. They don't really need a manager around." Finally he smiled slightly, and nodded at her. "You're looking good, Daria."
"Uh, you too," she said, honestly. He'd put on some weight over the years, but he'd been such a lanky scarecrow of a guy before that the change looked good on him. He'd shaved off his beard and learned to dress in something other than a tee-shirt and jeans, but other than that he too wasn't that much different. "Look at you, you've discovered sleeves."
His laugh was also still just the same as ever, though he no longer smelled of cigarette smoke to explain the cough. "Turns out showing off the tattoos isn't very professional; you know how it is."
Daria raised an eyebrow at him. "And the piercings are?"
"Well, I'm not gonna bother being that professional for Ms. Li." He glanced at the door, then back at her and tilted his head to the side. "I was just about to head to McGrundy's when I saw you. Want to come? We can catch up."
Daria glanced quickly around the room. She'd already talked to everyone she really wanted to see (Jodie and Mack, both doing well), and everyone with whom she'd felt a sick desire to find out if they'd actually managed to make something of their lives (Kevin, Brittany, and Upchuck; no, she was actually doing fairly well as a sports reporter in the midwest, and 'I'm on the fast track to the top of my company; how would you like to be able to say you've slept with a future millionaire?' respectively). She knew that she should probably find Jane and let her know that she'd be taking off, but instead she just shrugged. "What the hell. This is the night for pretending you're back in high school."
"I didn't know you drank back in school, Daria," he said as he lead her to the door.
"I didn't," she responded, not bothering to explain further. It had been so many years, he didn't need to know that the thing was back then she'd have done any stupid thing he asked of her.
She got the shovel full o' onion rings, he got a stein of beer, they split both, sitting together on one side of a booth.
"I still can't believe you became a manager," she said, trying to swipe up some ketchup that had dribbled onto her jacket.
"It's not that hard," he said, taking a swig of the beer then passing it over. "Don't let Jesse take any job that'd make him a sell-out, send any contracts I don't understand off to the lawyer, don't let myself become The Man... and it was that or we all split up, and I wasn't that pissed at him."
Daria had heard the whole story from Jane when it went down, of course. There was the sweetened up version that the public got to hear--Jesse Moreno was visiting his girlfriend at her college when talented young drummer Mitchell Dover overheard him playing her a song his band had written. Mitch's uncle was some big-shot record producer who had sworn up and down that if he got a good band together he'd give him a shot at a contract with his label. As soon as he spotted Jesse he knew that he'd found his frontman, and he soon became the biggest thing to come out of Lawndale since Tommy Sherman, but he was still a nice enough person to find each of the guys in the band he'd left behind a job with him. And to sneak off with the band to play in his girlfriend's old gym for free when they were big enough to sell out stadiums just because she'd asked him nicely-- but Daria was one of the few people privy to the real details of the story. Jane had let her know all about the massive fights, and the way Jesse had frantically scrambled to come up with any jobs that might make them happy to appease them and try to save their friendship; he'd even drawn Daria into it by hiring her to write the early text for their website then ship it over to his brother for coding, even though the most she'd ever had to do with the band was being the closest thing they had to a groupie along with Jane. Though the friendships had been salvaged, Trent had been the only one who stuck it out in his job over the years. Daria didn't really know what Jesse had done to convince Mitch and the rest of his new bandmates to let him give a guy with no experience a position as important as manager, but somehow it had worked out well for them all over the years.
"You still play for yourself sometimes, right?"
"Of course, Daria. Music's in my heart. It's in my soul," he said his voice taking on a cadence as he spoke. "It's not the same without the rest of the guys backing me up, but I still hit open mike night's with my guitar sometimes. Jesse even puts on a disguise and comes out with me every couple of months." He shoved a small handful of onion rings in his mouth and eyeballed her over the shovel. "I know you still write. Janey and I both read your column every week."
She really must be getting back into a high school state of mind, because she could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. "You do? It's really the only reason I'm here; if they hadn't been willing to pay me for my time as long as I send back the Daria Morgendorffer view on reunions I'd have just stayed home."
He raised his eyebrows at her, "Shouldn't you be back there then?"
"I've seen enough. The Daria Morgendorffer view on bars that are probably going to be condemned the next time there's a heavy rain is more interesting." She'd never cared much for beer, or alcohol in general, but that night it seemed to flow down smoothly. She didn't protest when Trent waved for another stein after she finished the first. As they waited she asked, "Trent, we were friends, right? Ten years ago."
"Sure, Daria. I still remember you were the coolest high school girl I ever knew."
"I should have kept in touch," she said, sounding more maudlin that she intended. She made a mental note to let Trent be the one who drank most of the new beer. "I meant to, but Jane always kept me so up to date with what you were doing that it never felt like it had been that long since the last time we'd talked, until suddenly it was."
"Hey, don't worry about it, Daria," he said, bumping his shoulder against hers. "People lose touch after graduation, I know how it is. I was always just glad you stayed friends with Jane; she's the one who needed you more."
"Heh, you know what I mean."
And Daria did. It wasn't easy to keep in contact with people when you were split up all over the country. She'd sincerely intended to regularly email Jodie and Mack too, and even Tom, but somehow it had turned out that the people from high school that she talked to most regularly aside from Jane were a few of her old teachers. Mr. O'Neill she'd given up hope of ever shaking out of her life, at least as long as no new decent writers passed through his class that he could delude himself into believing he'd nurtured as a protege. DeMartino, on the other hand, she'd been out of touch with for years until one day he'd emailed her out of the blue 'thanking' her from dredging up memories he'd so carefully managed to repress after she'd written an article about how the school system failed its star athletes and had used an anecdote about Kevin from his classroom for illustrative purposes. Somehow they'd managed to keep up a correspondence from there.
But Jane had remained constant, even when she'd followed Jesse (and good paying work she got from designing the band's album covers) out to the west coast and Daria had ended up drifting north to Chicago. In ten years they'd never gone more than half a week at a time without contacting each other at least once. Finally she said, "Of course I kept in touch with Jane. We're freakin' friends, remember?"
He laughed and began to tap his foot against the floor, singing under his breath, "When the aliens come, when the death rays hum..."
"And now that we've reached the musical portion of the evening, I think it's time for me to get home," she broke in. "Before people start staring."
"Come on, you know that song was a good one," he protested, but he slid out of the booth to let her through, pressing his hand flat to the small of her back to help her through as she wiggled out. He was a little too long in breaking contact once she was standing, before he grabbed his coat up from where it was draped over the back of the seat. "I'll give you a ride home."
She knew that she should protest when he'd been drinking, but it didn't really seem worth it. They'd only half finished the second beer, and when they'd been passing it back and forth so they'd each only ended up getting half a drink and had been stuffing their stomachs with onion rings in between she doubted that he'd have any troubles on the road. "Fine. But just so you know, I'm not heading home. I've got a motel room; mom and dad have gotten much too comfortable living at home alone, and tend to forget that when me or Quinn are around we'll just walk right in to the house. There's a reason that when I'm there these days I won't sit on any surface large enough to possibly hold two people, or eat off of the kitchen table."
"Man, that's one type of trauma we got to avoid with our parents being gone all the time. Okay, motel it is."
Daria wasn't a naive eighteen-year-old anymore. She didn't think sex was the end-all and be-all of a relationship. She'd had her first casual one-night affair--she refused to call it a fling, when to her that implied picking up some stranger in a bar--the night she'd graduated from college, when she and a good friend had decided that since after the next day they'd be living halfway across the country from each other they might as well see what something more than friends would have felt like just once. It had happened a few more times with other guys over the years, although she did prefer to wait for monogamous relationships; always with people she'd known well and liked as a friend for a good long while but had always felt some level of attraction beyond just friendship for, always when they wouldn't be seeing each other again for a long time. She might have grown up to take sex less seriously, but she still never planned on doing it with anyone she wasn't already fond of.
Still, she found herself with butterflies in her stomach like a school girl when Trent stopped the car outside of her room and she turned to him to ask, "Do you want to come in for awhile?"
The smile he gave her in return made the butterflies start flapping harder than ever, but all he said was, "Sure, Daria. I'd like that."
She embarrassed herself by fumbling with the key to the room, but she didn't have time to squirm about it for long when the moment the door closed behind them Trent had her pressed back against it, his mouth sealed to hers. She'd wondered during the drive how things would go once they were in the room after she'd decided that she'd invite him; if they'd dance awkwardly around the subject, or if she'd be able to work up the courage to be straightforward about what she wanted, or even if it would turn out that Trent had no idea what her intentions were and would be freaked out that his baby sister's best friend was hitting on him. She hadn't guessed that a lazy slacker like Trent would turn so aggressive.
Then again, he was the manager of a band that was at least famous nation-wide, if not yet throughout the world. He couldn't really be called a slacker anymore. If he had been, she never would have let anything happen.
He cupped her face between his hands when he pulled away, only moving far enough back so he could look down at her. "I wanted to do this the last time I saw you, you know that Daria? Back when you were visiting Janey, just before Jesse hit it big, and it was like all of a sudden you'd turned from a kid into a woman." He kissed her forehead, her temple just above her glasses. "But I didn't want you to start seeing me as Jane's creepy older brother, hitting on you when you were staying over. That's, like, Wind's job."
She thought about telling him that she'd wanted it for even longer than that. She'd thought about telling him that she'd wanted it since the first time she'd ever met him, that it had been the focus of any number of embarrassing teenaged fantasies.
But she just wasn't the type of woman who could confess something like that, even to match a similar confession. Instead she pulled him down to kiss him again.
She'd thought that her old crush on him was long gone. She'd thought that she'd almost completely forgotten about it, aside from old memories occasionally being stirred when she was talking about him with Jane. But the sixteen-year-old girl she'd once been still existed somewhere deep inside of her; the girl who'd once crushed on him so badly that just the thought of him was enough to made her break into a rash and who could have been talked into just about anything if he'd flash her a smile.
And it was, after all, the night for feeling like she was back in high school.
Even after they were both finished he stayed hovering over her for a long strangely long while, his forehead pressed to hers, his breath panting against her face. He braced himself up with his forearms on either side of her head, both of them shaking slightly. She didn't know what he was thinking, and couldn't see his face in the dark to guess, so finally she looped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him down on top of her just to break the frustration of not understanding.
He was still sprawled on top of her when they fell asleep.
She woke up hours before him the next morning, of course. Apparently even success wasn't enough to break him of narcoleptic behavior. She wished, a little, that just once she could be the type of person who could just slip away before he woke up to avoid any awkward conversation, because this was Trent, Jane's brother, her first major crush, and this time the conversation had to potential to be the most awkward of them all.
But she didn't. She took a shower instead. She brewed coffee. She began writing her article on the reunion.
And by the time he finally woke up she felt calm enough to hold a conversation.
"Good morning, Trent," she said, staying focused on her work. "There's coffee in the pot if you want a cup."
He grunted and staggered to the pot, and when Daria glanced at him out of the corner of her eye she saw that he hadn't even bothered to drag a sheet along to cover himself. She blushed faintly, then mentally told herself off for reacting that way when she'd done a lot more than just see him naked the night before.
They stayed silent for a long while, as the magic of caffeine worked it's wonders by turning a Lane into a human in the morning. Finally he said, "Hey, Daria?"
"Yes Trent?" she replied, bracing herself for the possibility that he'd declare it a mistake, or beg her not to tell Jane, or, maybe worst of all, just thank her for a fun night like there'd been nothing special about it at all.
Instead he said, "Can I see your cell for a second?"
"Oh, right, you probably need to call Jane and let her know you're alive, right?" she asked, picking up her phone from where it sat right next to the more obvious choice of the hotel's landline on the desk, and holding it out for him to take.
"Nah. She'll figure it out." He leaned against the edge of the desk, close enough that Daria had to very, very deliberately not stare straight into his crotch, and punched at the buttons for a minute before finally dropping it back on the desk. "There," he told her. "That's my private number, right at the top of your contacts. Let's stay in touch this time, huh Daria?"
She stared down at he phone's display, at the number labeled 'aaaTrent' to push it above 'Aaronson, Greg', and slowly nodded. "You're right. Let's do that."