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Burned Out

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Burned Out

 

Chapter 13: The Commiserating Chick

 

Kimberly looked down at the photos spread across the dinner table and sighed. “Honestly, Jennifer. Would it kill you to dress up for picture day?”

 

Shrugging, Jennifer replied, “Dunno, but why risk it?” She saw the frown her mother sent at her and put her spoonful of cereal down, deciding to try another tack. “You're always saying how bad it is when people present a false image, so I'm just following that advice.”

 

Don't you try to lay this at my feet, young lady,” Kimberly growled. She forcefully pointed at the table and said, “You know what I meant by that, and this is entirely different. Dressing up and looking presentable is not the same thing as presenting a false image. You could have left that ratty old jacket off, or god forbid, brushed the hair out of your eyes.”

 

Jennifer slumped into her chair, her appetite for breakfast vanishing like the morning fog.

 

I'm not asking for a lot Jennifer, just that you try now and then.” Kimberly sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Like it or not, people judge you based on the image you present. It's the rare specimen that bothers to look deeper than the surface to see the wonderful girl hidden under the sullen indifference you present as a shield. Introverts like us have to try harder, Sweetie.” She reached across the table for her hand, but it was suddenly gone as the teenager stood.

 

“I have to go or I'll be late.”

 

Kimberly knew it was a lie, as it wasn't even six-thirty, but let her go without complaint. She winced as she heard the front door slam, and put her face in her hands.

 

“Was that Jenn, or are the neighbors firing off their cannon again?”

 

Kimberly looked up to see her eldest daughter dressed in an extra large T-shirt and Daisy Dukes, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “I hate this. I hate being the bad guy, but she needs to learn that the world is inherently unfair, and the sooner she learns it, the better off she'll be.”

 

Samantha looked down at the photos still scattered on the table as she sat down. She could easily guess what the argument was about, as it wasn't the first time they had this particular one. “You know, you're basically asking her to change who she is. Jenn may be shy to the point where she'd rather deal with people by ignoring them all, but she's also stubborn as a mule when it comes to her principles. Takes after her mom, like that,” she said as she took a sip of coffee.

 

Kimberly sighed and leaned back in her chair. “Sam, I'm not trying to change her-”

 

Aren't you, though?” Samantha's interruption caught her by surprise. “Jenn is an uncomplicated person. What you see, is what you get. She told me once that she would rather people ignore her based on her appearance, than to have a false friend who would stab her in the back later. I imagine that's one of the reasons she never really hit it off with Andrea, or god forbid, that 'Shaggy' guy. I don't think she entirely trusts either of them. Andrea's nice enough, but she runs with the goths; a notoriously clique-y group, and Shaggy... well, not to be disparaging of someone I only know by reputation, but if she hung out with him more, I think she'd end up living up to the nickname her classmates gave her, possibly even pregnant before graduation.”

 

“What can I do, Sam? It's my job to prepare her for the real world, and neither of you came with a manual.”

 

Samantha took another sip. “Honestly, if I were you, I'd ease up a bit on her. She finally has someone her age she can really relate to. Daria's hardly a bad influence; in fact, I'd go so far as to say that she's her best non-adult influence right now. Daria's smart, works hard, doesn't get into trouble- at least, nothing actually serious, doesn't smoke, drink, do drugs, or have sex with lots of guys. Have you noticed that Jenn's test scores have been improving ever since they met? Her average has gone from a weak C to a solid B. She's studying more, too. She's also gotten more serious about the band.” She looked down at the mug, spinning it in place. “Sure, she's not going to win the 'Most Popular' spot in the yearbook, but she was never a contender for that, anyway, and she wouldn't want it even if she were. And remember what happened last weekend? Did you ever in your life think that Jenn of all people would ask for permission to go camping ? If you were to ask my opinion, I'd say to let her learn this one on her own. If she asks for help or advice, be there to give it, but don't force it on her.”

 

“You realize that's going against every mothering instinct, right?” Kimberly remarked.

 

With a shrug, Samantha said, “Just remember that she's not your little baby anymore. She's a teenager, with all the mood swings and rebellion that comes with it. Jenn's basically a good kid, with a good head on her shoulders. She'll work it out eventually. Even if she doesn't, she'll have us, the band, and Daria to help her out when needed. Better to let her stumble a bit, than to have her resent you for being smothering instead of mothering.” She rose and left her mother alone in the kitchen to get ready for work.

 

Kimberly sat there in silence, staring into her own coffee mug, tears welling up in her eyes. “But you two will always be my babies,” she whispered.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Daria walked up to the stop sign that served as the meeting/departing point she shared with Jennifer, and noticed her friend already there waiting for her with a sour expression. “I take it, you had a 'discussion' with your mom about your choice of attire and/or expression in your class photo, as well.”

 

Jennifer kicked the stop sign pole with her steel toed boots, putting a noticeable dent in it. “Why doesn't she get it? She's always telling me how much she hates it when people put on a show to fool others, then she tells me to do it too so people will like me more! Why can't she just let me be me?” she screamed and kicked the pole again, this time, bending it so the sign was facing up at an angle.

 

Not wanting to get into trouble, Daria grabbed her friend's arm and pulled her towards school. “Easy there, Wrecking Ball. Let's see if we can't channel that rage constructively. Maybe there's a building that needs demolishing?”

 

Jennifer sighed and angrily stuck her hands in her jacket pockets. “Sorry. It just ticks me off, you know? She says one thing, then tells me to do the opposite.”

 

Daria smirked. “Parents, right? They all have their faults, I guess.”

 

“I don't want to talk about it right now; I'm too angry,” Jennifer groused.

 

“Then maybe you can tell me what that's all about,” Daria said, pointing to the banner hung up on the fence surrounding the school which read, “Welcome Back, Tommy Sherman!”

 

Jennifer let out a snort of amusement. “Oh, there's a story there. Really, Sam could tell it better, but since she's not here...”

 

“Let me guess; given this school's unusually intense preoccupation with sports over academics, he's an alumnus, a jock, most likely a football player if not a quarterback, come back to receive some sort of accolade which could be better spent repairing the leaky roof on the library. Am I close?” Daria ventured.

 

Jennifer shook her head in amusement. “Wow. It's almost like you've met Ms. Li, or something.” They walked past the gate and sat on the grass, as there was still some time before the first bell rang. After making themselves comfortable, she went on the with story. “He was a classmate of my sister and the rest of the band, graduated about three years back or so.”

 

“Wait, didn't they graduate four years ago?” Daria interjected.

 

Jennifer nodded. “He was held back... a lot. Personally, I think it was all the head injuries, but then, quarterback.”

 

Daria nodded in agreement. “So what honor are they bestowing upon him?”

 

“From what I've heard from my mom, they're naming the goalpost after him,” she replied.

 

Daria quirked an eyebrow at her. “Why the goalposts? Why not the stadium?”

 

With a grin, Jennifer said, “No, no. Goalpost. Singular. See, the thing with Mr. Sherman, is that he always wanted to run the touchdowns himself. Even got violent with his own teammates if he thought they were interfering, and trying to steal his glory.”

 

“Ah. A true team player, huh?”

 

“Add to that, the fact that he liked to showboat, and I think you can see where this is going,” Jennifer said. “Every time he ran a touchdown in, he would wave to the crowd, not even paying attention to where he was going. It was said that it wasn't a good game for the Lions unless Tommy Sherman ended up kissing the goalpost at least once. Naturally, being made of sterner stuff than a mere mortal, padded goalpost, little damage was done, though they needed to replace that padding at least once a season.”

 

Daria shook her head. “Sounds like watching one of those nature documentaries about bighorn sheep ramming their heads together to show dominance.”

 

“Sam said he broke his own nose, twice.” Jennifer checked her watch and shrugged. “So anyways, on his final year, which so happened to be his second attempt at it, he made the play that secured his name in the Lawndale Hall of Sporting Fame. In the playoffs a week before the state championships, he ran the winning touchdown in, and crashed into the goalpost so hard, he cracked his helmet, giving himself a concussion. After six days of unconsciousness, he woke up, feeling better than ever, and led the team to victory at the championships.”

 

“Truly, an inspiring story of courage and determination,” Daria said with a shake of her head. “So now, instead of just a mere trophy in the main hall display case, they're naming a goalpost after him.”

 

Jennifer grinned at her. “Not just a goalpost, a new, breakaway goalpost. That way, if Lawndale is ever graced with another Tommy Sherman, he'll break the post instead of his head.”

 

Daria shook her head in amazement. “How practical.”

 

They spotted Jodie Landon walking their way, her determined eyes on Daria. “Well, if it isn't the student councilman bestowing the very honor we were talking about,” Jennifer said with a smirk.

 

Jodie rolled her eyes. “Gimme a break. Hey, Daria, I can't get past the introduction to this speech. Can I read it to you?”

 

Daria patted the grass next to her and said, “That depends. Will it excuse me from having to hear it later at the assembly?”

 

As Jodie sat down, she consulted a clipboard and began reading it off. "'Good afternoon, students, faculty, and distinguished alumni of Lawndale High. As a representative of your Student Council...' Any ideas?” she asked as she lowered the clipboard.

 

Without missing a beat, Daria replied, “It is my great pleasure to once again send the implicit message that no matter how hard you study, you'll never go as far as the guy carrying a ball across a field of grass, physical barriers notwithstanding.”

 

“And as long as your head is harder than any physical impediments, even those will not necessarily prove all that difficult to bypass,” Jennifer added.

 

Glaring at the pair, Jodie put the clipboard on her lap. “Gosh, thanks so much. You think I like this?”

 

“If you hate it so much, then what better revenge than a subversion so subtle that the guest of honor wouldn't even recognize it?” Daria asked.

 

Jodie sighed and leaned back on one hand. “For two reasons. First of all, even though I doubt Mr. Sherman would recognize a veiled insult if it painted itself purple and danced naked in front of him waving sparklers in each hand, singing 'Veiled insults are here today.' But more importantly, I'm on the Student Council. It's a job with many responsibilities, and today it's my responsibility to kiss the butt of some jerk getting a goalpost named after him, but at least now I feel really good about it. Thanks, both of you.”

 

“Times are tough all over,” Jennifer said.

 

Jodie's boyfriend, Mack walked up to them and smiled down at his significant other. “Hey,” he said simply.

 

Jodie rose to her feet, dusting the grass from her butt. “Leave me alone!” she shouted at him, before stalking off.

 

“Chicks,” Jennifer said dismissively.

 

“Can't live with 'em, can't build a meaningful, self-sustaining society without 'em,” Daria added.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Jennifer opened her locker, exchanging her English book for her Earth Science book. She adjusted her favorite picture, one of her and Daria on their recent camping trip, and stopped as she heard Jodie say very loudly, “Excuse me?”

 

The blonde leaned around the locker door to see the black girl standing very indignantly in front of what could only be Tommy Sherman, going by her sister's description. The man held up his hands defensively and took a half step back. “Whoa, easy there, G. I was just wondering if you being Student Council President was that affirmative action I've been hearing about.”

 

Jodie's grip on her books tightened as she turned up the intensity of her glare. “First of all, it's Vice President, and secondly, I got elected on my own merit, thank you very much! Thirdly, I am no one's 'G'. Do you even know what that means ?”

 

Tommy was definitely on his back foot as he took another half step backward. He scratched his chin absently and said, “I dunno. You n-” Before more than a half syllable could come out of his mouth, he thought better, but couldn't seem to settle on what to call her. “Bl- uh, Af- er, it's what you guys call each other. What's so wrong about it?”

 

Jodie's face went through several different shades and variations of anger, before she let out a loud, “Ugh!” and stormed off.

 

As Jennifer closed her locker and walked off to science class, she could hear him say, “Huh. I blame all that rap music.”

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Jennifer followed Angie out of Science, reiterating what Ms. Barch assigned the class. “No, we're supposed to do the questions at the end of chapter five, and read ahead through chapter six. I imagine we should take careful notes about the female scientists quoted, and disregard the male scientists.”

 

Angie nodded as she jotted down a few notes on the paper sticking out of the top of her book. “Oh, okay. Thanks, Jenn.”

 

“Well, hello, beautiful.” The girls stopped just outside the classroom door, where Tommy Sherman was leaning against the wall with one arm, attempting to make bedroom eyes at Angie. “It's nice to see that the quality of the cheerleaders has improved here at Lawndale High since I was unanimously voted most valuable player.” He waggled his eyebrows at her in what he was sure was a seductive move.

 

Angie didn't even bother making eye contact, and grabbed Jennifer's sleeve to pull her down the hall. “Excuse us, we need to get to our next class, and we're blocking the door.”

 

As they walked away, they could hear him say to himself, “Since when are cheerleaders not easy? Fifth one today.” He sniffed his own armpit and satisfied with the odor, he shrugged and walked off to the gym.

 

Once they were further down the hall, the cheerleader let go of her jacket, and Jennifer said, “Thanks, Ange. Any more of that guy, and I think I would have thrown up in my mouth.”

 

Angie nodded. “Tell me about it. I was the last one on the squad he tried to pick up, with the same line, no less. You should have heard the proposition he made to Brittany. It was disgusting.”

 

“I can imagine,” Jennifer replied. “Gotta go. I got econ to sleep through.”

 

“Later!” Angie said with a wave as her fellow blonde raced off.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

“I mean, I'm no fan of Kevin, but even he doesn't deserve to be treated like that,” Daria remarked as she turned the corner in the hall.

 

“I hear you,” Jennifer replied. “I mean, Kevin's pretty bad with his oblivious disregard, but this guy makes it into an art form.”

 

As they neared Daria's locker, they spotted the dreaded topic of their conversation, leaning against the very locker to which they needed access. “Oh, boy. Here we go,” Jennifer mumbled to herself.

 

Fearing nothing, Daria approached Tommy and said, “Excuse me.”

 

Tommy regarded her with a single arched eyebrow. “You're kidding, right? You think I'm going to talk to you?” He looked over to Jennifer with an appraising eye. You, maybe. Like, four hours into a kegger.” He snickered at his own joke.

 

“Oh, god. There it is again,” Jennifer said, holding a hand to her mouth to keep herself from throwing up. This close, it was difficult to escape the smell of the cheap aftershave he had liberally applied- well, more like bathed in, recently.

 

“I don't want to talk to you,” Daria said dismissively.

 

Tommy was obviously unconvinced. “Yeah, right. You said, 'excuse me.'”

 

Daria crossed her arms. “You're leaning on my locker. Would you step aside, please?”

 

Tommy pushed off against the lockers, leaving a dent in Daria's. “Do you know who I am? I'm Tommy Sherman. Tommy Sherman!

 

Her eyes narrowing to an actual glare, Daria replied, “I know that the whole school has been tearing itself apart in order to prostrate itself before an egomaniac who either can't tell when he's insulted someone, or just doesn't care. I've also seen said egomaniac casually and crudely proposition every pair of breasts larger than a B-cup that he meets, so allow me to take a stab at this. You're the egomaniac. Congratulations. Your mother must be very proud of the colossal jerk she raised to adulthood. I use 'adulthood' in only the loosest sense possible of the word. All hail King Jerk.” She took a half step back and gave a sarcastic bow.

 

For a second, Jennifer thought the man would actually haul off and punch Daria, and readied herself to pull her out of the way if necessary. Tommy clenched his fists and his face turned red. Then a cruel smile grew on his face, and his stance relaxed. “You know what Tommy Sherman's going to do now? He's going to go out onto the field and check out his new goal post. He's going to read the plaque and think of all the people who admire him. But you wouldn't know anything about that. You're one of those misery chicks, always moping about what a cruel world it is, making a big deal about it so people won't notice that you're a loser.” With that, he turned around and proudly walked off to the football field, where the team was currently practicing.

 

Jennifer sighed in relief and leaned on Daria's shoulder. “For a second there, I really thought he was going to deck you. You gotta be more careful, Daria. Guys like him don't have a lot of self-control.”

 

Daria patted Jennifer's hand still on her shoulder, then opened her locker. “I wasn't too worried. Ms. Barch's classroom is just a few doors down, and she hasn't exactly taken a shine to young Mr. Sherman. I just couldn't let what he's done go unanswered. Guys like him bug the heck out of me. What's worse is that he'll be treated like a hero for the rest of his life, glossing over what a piece of human garbage he is, just because he can handle a ball.”

 

Jennifer let go of her friend and leaned against the locker wall, her knees still a little weak from the confrontation. “Cheer up, Daria. How much longer can he live? Forty, fifty years?”

 

Just then, a loud crash could be heard from outside, and they could distinctly hear Kevin shouting, “Oh, my God! The goal post fell! Tommy Sherman's dead! He's dead!”

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

The memorial service was simultaneously a somber affair, and an uncomfortable one. On the one hand, a person had died. A person who had a life, dreams, aspirations, and had people who cared for him, had his life snuffed out. On the other, everyone who met him, unanimously agreed that his personality left much to be desired. All told, it made for an event that left everyone confused, more than sad. The only person truly mourning his passing, was Kevin, who had to be dragged from the auditorium so they could finish the service.

 

Even Daria was left feeling conflicted. “It's weird. One moment, he standing there calling me a loser, the next, he's dead. I'm not even sure how to feel about it.”

 

“Yeah,” Jennifer said noncommittally.

 

“Why is it that people feel the need to only say good things about people after they die, even if they aren't true?” the cynic asked.

 

Jennifer looked uncomfortable and mumbled, “Yeah. I'm gonna go home and head to practice. I'll see you later.”

 

Confused, Daria reached out for her friend. “Wait, weren't we going to...” She trailed off, because the girl had already disappeared down the hall. “Well, that was odd.”

 

“Hey, Daria? Can I talk to you?”

 

Daria turned to see Kevin standing behind her, looking awkward and scratching the back of his head with the football which never seemed to leave his hand. “Why?” she asked with a tilt of her head.

 

He stopped scratching his head, but couldn't seem to figure out what to do with his hands, so he went back to it. “Well, you know... Tommy. I'm really bummed out.”

 

Now, it was Daria's turn to be awkward. “Sorry, Kevin, but I'm not sure what to tell you. I only just met him the one time, right before the accident.”

 

As they walked outside, Kevin replied, “I know! But I mean, it really makes you think. Got any, like, words of wisdom or whatever?”

 

Other than to stop eating paint chips? Instead of the biting remark, she shrugged. “Concerning?”

 

Kevin's head hung down. “ I don't know. I figure you think about depressing stuff a lot. You're that type, you know?”

 

Daria's eyes narrowed, though on the oblivious boy, the gesture was lost. “No, I don't know. What exactly do you mean?”

 

Kevin's expression lightened a little as he began talking about his idol. “I mean, the guy was a hero. A really good quarterback, everybody liked him, kinda hunky, you know. Not that I would notice something like that. And now he's just, like, the dead guy.”

 

“And now, you're worried that his death hit a little too close to home. Is that it?”

 

With a smirk, Kevin shook his head. “I get what you're saying. But I don't believe in ghosts, Daria.”

 

Taken aback, Daria shook her head as if to clear an obstruction in her ear canal. “Excuse me?”

 

Kevin waved his hands around as if pontificating some grand point. “You're saying he got hit on his head out there in the football field, the team's home . And now, it's going to be cursed or something, and we're going to lose all our games. I'm a little surprised, Daria.”

 

Daria's eyes crossed for a moment as she tried to make sense of his attempt at logic. “That makes two of us,” she muttered.

 

“I didn't think you believed in all that mumbo-gumbo,” he said with a chuckle.

 

She knew better than to try to out-stupid a professional, and conceded the field. “I just hope this doesn't lower your opinion of me.”

 

“Pfft. As if it could get any lower,” Kevin said as he walked off.

 

Daria was still trying to make sense of the conversation when she spotted Brittany walking around a corner, and heading her way. This is going to get a lot weirder, before it gets any better.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

While Daria was living out her nightmare of sudden popularity, Jennifer had run all the way home, just to make sure her friend couldn't follow. Why did I do that? Daria doesn't have a real mean bone in her body, so why did I treat her like she had just suggested we go puppy-kicking?

 

Jennifer's thoughts were still a jumble as she entered her home. Dropping her backpack at the door, she walked over to the couch, where Samantha was napping, still in her Pizza King uniform. She picked up her sister's feet long enough to find a seat under them, and placed them on her lap. Usually, in a situation like this, where her sister smelled like work, her stomach would growl and she would start looking to see if she had brought home any food, but her emotions were still in such turmoil, that food never even crossed her mind.

 

Samantha woke to find her little sister kneading at her sock-clad feet with a blank stare on her face. While she was never one to turn down a free foot massage, seeing her upset like this took priority. “Something wrong, Little Sis?”

 

Jennifer chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before answering. “You remember Tommy Sherman?”

 

The white haired woman nodded. “The Jerk of Lawndale High, class of '93 and '94? I vaguely recall a neanderthal by that name, yes.”

 

It took a moment, but Jennifer quietly said from behind a curtain of obscuring hair, “He's dead.”

 

Samantha sat up and took Jennifer's hands in her own, ceasing their motion. “You want to talk about it?”

 

After several minutes of silence, Jennifer said, “He was everything you'd ever said he'd be. He hit on all the cheerleaders, even though they're like seven years younger than him, he was rude, crude, and a total jerk. He almost called Jodie a n- a not polite thing. Jodie's one of the nicest, hard working girls at school, yet he thought that she only got on the student council because she's black. He said he might talk to me if he was drunk, and called Daria a misery chick.” Her hands tightened into hard little balls, and her voice got quieter. “After he left, me and Daria were joking about how long a guy like him would live, and then he died. The goalpost they were commemorating to him broke and fell on him, killing him.”

 

Samantha couldn't help it. A snort of amusement escaped her, earning her a glare from her sister.

 

“You're just as bad as Daria!” Jennifer yelled and stood.

 

She didn't get far, however, because Samantha still had a grip on one hand, and pulled her onto her lap. The smaller blonde struggled, but she couldn't escape the larger woman's grasp. “Listen to me- Listen!” When Jennifer stopped struggling, Samantha started again. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have laughed. It's wrong to laugh at someone's death, and I'm sorry. Now, what's got the girl who once laughed at all the people being disintegrated by the aliens in Mars Attacks , in the middle of a crowded theater so upset about this, and how am I as bad as Daria?”

 

Jennifer sighed and sagged against her sister, letting the love and safety from the embrace seep into her. “After the emergency assembly Ms. Li held to quiet the rumors that had suddenly popped up, she was talking about how people only talk about good stuff people did after they die.”

 

Samantha sighed and let the smaller girl snuggle in. “People deal with death pretty strangely, Jenn. When it happens to some stranger on TV or in a movie, we tend to make light of the situation. If the person was bad, we might even say how they deserved it, or they got off easy, but if the person was someone we knew... well, things get trickier. If we cared about them, we don't want to hear about he was a racist, or went around ripping tags off of mattresses. If we might be around people who cared about them, we don't want to add to their suffering, so we ignore bad things they might have done, and praise the good.”

 

“Isn't that a bit... dishonest?”

 

Shrugging, Samantha countered with, “Is it dishonest to spare a grieving person's feelings by ignoring a person's faults, especially if there's nothing to gain by blurting out that they used to beat up underclassmen for lunch money?”

 

Jennifer sighed. “Why is the world so complicated, Sam?”

 

“That's just the price we pay for living in a civilized society, I guess,” she answered. She kissed the top of her head and gave her another squeeze. “You feel up to practice tonight, or do you need some time?”

 

Jennifer sagged against her. “I really don't feel like screaming my head off, tonight. Besides, I think I have an apology to make.”

 

Samantha released her when she got up, this time. “Want a ride?”

 

She shook her head and walked to the door. “No. I need some time to gather my thoughts.”

 

Waiting a few minutes to make sure she wouldn't return, Samantha let out another snicker. Pulling out the cell phone her mother had gotten for her after Jennifer officially joined the band, she dialed Monique's number. “Mo? You're never going to guess what happened today.” The humor in her voice was unmistakable, and made Monique smile even before another word was uttered.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Jennifer rang the doorbell, and waited for a response. It only took a moment before it opened to reveal Daria's father.

 

“Well, hi there, Jennifer! Go on up, Daria's in her room,” he said cheerily.

 

She nodded as she walked past him. Though she didn't meet his gaze, this was quite common for the girl. “Thanks, Mr. M.” As she walked past Quinn's room, she could hear her talking on the phone.

 

“I know! If he weren't the varsity quarterback, he would have lost some major popularity points. Brittany is going to have to do some huge damage control if she wants to come out of this with any of her own popularity intact and still be his girlfriend. Right. Uh huh. No! He didn't!”

 

Jennifer shook her head as she walked over to Daria's door, and gently knocked.

 

It's open.”

 

She walked in and saw Daria sitting at her computer, looking a bit harassed and annoyed, which turned to surprise upon laying eyes on her. “Jenn? I thought you went to practice.”

 

Jennifer sat down on Daria's unmade bed and looked anywhere but at her face. “I... kinda sorta... lied about that.”

 

Daria raised an eyebrow at her, and turned her chair to face her fully. “Why?”

 

The simple question took away Jennifer's breath. On the way over, she had gone over what she was going to say, hoping that she would be able to patch up the rift that she had opened. The mild hurt in her tone stole all her resolve. “I...” She couldn't do it. She couldn't tell her the horrible things she thought about her best friend. She was startled when she felt a hand cover hers on her lap.

 

Looking up, she saw Daria sitting next to her on the edge of the bed, an understanding look on her face. “It's alright, Jenn. I can take it.”

 

When... Tommy was k-,” Jennifer swallowed hard. She turned her hand up so she could grip back at Daria's, interlacing their fingers and gently squeezed. “When... it happened, right after we joked about him... you know...”

 

Daria nodded. “It felt like we did it to him,” she finished for her. Her friend nodded mutely, so she continued for her. “And then it seemed like I didn't care.”

 

Jennifer turned her head away, squeezing her eyes shut so tightly, tears started to leak out.

 

Daria took her chin in hand and turned it until they were facing one another at last. “Jenn, that goalpost falling was a coincidence. We didn't make it fall on him. Even if we could have done it, we wouldn't have. I don't know why it happened the way it did, but it did, and we had nothing to do with it.” She sighed and looked away. “I realize that my... way of dealing with it can seem callous, but it's how I am. I'm not one of those people who sugarcoat their words. If I think someone is not nice, I'm not going to waste a lot of words saying things I don't feel.”

 

Nodding, Jennifer said, “I know. It's just... this whole thing messed me up.” They sat there in silence for a moment longer before she added, “You're not a terrible person.”

 

You didn't make him die,” Daria replied.

 

Jennifer hugged her tight. It took a few seconds for the surprise to wear off enough for Daria to return the gesture. “He shouldn't have died like that.”

 

No,” Jennifer agreed.

 

But he wasn't nice,” Daria added.

 

No.”

 

After a moment, Daria asked, “So, do you want to hear about all the counseling sessions I did after you left?”

 

A tremulous smile crept onto Jennifer's face.