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Mean Reds


Ruthless Bunny


"Look Tom, could you quit pontificating for one minute and listen to me?" Daria heard herself say. It sounded like she was inside a tunnel, her heart was thudding in her ears and whoosh of blood rushing to her head nearly drowned out her words.

"Fine. What?" Tom said, arms crossed over his chest, leaning slightly backwards.

Everything about his posture pissed Daria off. "I'm tired of your trying to impose your view of relationships on me. If I'm telling you I feel a certain way, then I feel that way. If I want to go to a school dance, it doesn't matter why; you should just take me. How many times do I ask you to do something? Is it so hard to bite your tongue and just go along?"

"But you know I don't like dances." Tom said in his "reasonable" voice. The voice that was meant to remind Daria that she was out of control, being silly and in general, not acting like the girlfriend Tom wanted.

"So what? You don't like to do anything or go anywhere. There's a big world out there and more to do in it than make-out in your car and discuss the reading assignment in your Contemporary Lit class. Besides, I told you that I have to do it. Ms. Li is on one of her "Total Participation" jags, and we're being forced."

"Can't you just go with Jane?"

"Jane has a date. I'd like to have a date. Would it be so hard to do this for me?"

He squirmed and pulled his 'long suffering' face. The one where he lets you know that he's capitulated, but he's going to make you really, really sorry he has. "Fine. When do you want me to pick you up?"

It was the last straw. He wasn't helping her out because he wanted to, he was being a martyr. Daria was finally fed up. What was she doing with him anyway? Was she just staying with him because she had risked her friendship with Jane for him? Standing there, annoyed with her. How DARE he be annoyed with her? Daria wanted to throw fine china at him. She wanted to scream. "You know what? Don't do me any favors. If it's going to be that much trouble for you, then just never mind. I'll go by myself." She picked up her backpack and stormed out of the Pizza King, heads turning in her wake.

On the walk home, she rolled it over in her mind. Was she being unreasonable? Was she demanding? Was she being a bitch? Each time she came back to the same conclusion, no. Dating Tom had never been easy. At first she was wary of him because she had never had a boyfriend, and she approached every aspect of it with trepidation. The only time that she was ever one hundred percent sure of herself was when they kissed. His passive-aggressive manipulation was getting old; real old. Echoes of past conversations came back to her. In each instance it may have seemed at the time like he was the injured party, Daria was always contrite, always placated him, and they would continue on. Daria was tired of it. Sick and tired.

On the walk home she had worked herself up into a roiling anger. She actually did see red. As she stormed through the door of her house, her parents were sitting in the living room, listening to music and reading. They both looked up at her, Helen looked like she was going to say something, but as the door slammed behind her daughter, there was something unmistakably evil about Daria's mood, and she thought better of it.

Once in her room, Daria thought about throwing herself on the bed and crying, but it wasn't that kind of emotional overload. What this required was loud music, really, really loud music. Daria wanted to be numb; she didn't want to be in her skin anymore. She wanted to be elsewhere, and someone else. The closet. The closet held the key. She opened the door and peered in. Lots of things in there that she never wore. Bad Christmas presents, misguided back to school purchases and all the other remnants of good intentions gone awry. Jeans, she knew she had some jeans in here, she found them, brand new, black and tight. She threw them on the bed. She rooted around some more and found a white T-shirt, she threw it on the bed. One more thing, she kept digging and finally found it. The leather jacket. It had been Jake's from his very short-lived rebellion days. She had lifted it off of the pile of Goodwill donations that Helen had left at the end of the driveway a couple of years ago. Although she claimed not to be sentimental, the idea of her father, trying desperately to break free from conformity, struck a chord with her, so she scooped it up and saved it. It too went on the bed.

Daria tiptoed into Quinn's room. Quinn was out for the evening. Daria would be mortified if anyone caught her in here. She snagged a few things and hustled back to her room. New skin. Daria dabbed a few things on her face, nothing much, but it made a difference. She lined her eyes, mascaraed her lashes, and colored her lips a dusky red. She was ready. She could hear the motorcycles revving up in her mind.

"Mom, can I use your car?" She called down from the landing.

"Sure honey, keys are on the counter." Helen called back, not looking behind her. Daria was nearly out the door when Helen caught a glimpse of her. "Daria?" Daria froze her with a look. "Have a good time." Helen said weakly. The door slammed shut behind her. Helen pitied whomever it was that Daria was angry with.

Daria slid the CD into the dash and boosted the volume. Limp Bizkit blasted through the Jeep as Daria drove through the neighborhood. She was driving aimlessly. She wanted to go somewhere she had never been, but this was Lawndale, and that just wasn't possible. She cruised up and down the streets, beating time on the steering wheel.

Finally nature called, and she had to decide where to spend the rest of the evening. It was after eleven, and most places had closed and had rolled up the sidewalks behind them. The Zon. It would have to do. If luck was with her there would be a good band there. Who was she kidding? There was never a good band there.

She parked the Jeep in the gravel parking lot, and scrunched up to the door. Dino waved her in, pausing only for a moment to check her out properly. She headed to the back of the club ignoring the looks she was getting. Her thoughts were still on Tom.

She headed up to the bar and ordered a soda. Daria cursed her luck, Mystik Spiral was playing. Fuck it, she didn't care. If Trent saw her, she just didn't care. At least he would be too oblivious to give her any shit about her appearance. They were sounding better than usual, and it was soothing to hear songs she knew by heart. She didn't pay attention to the band; she sipped her drink and thought her thoughts.

He had approached her slowly. Daria was so distracted that she didn't even see him until he was standing right next to her. "Hey, cool band." He said, trying to catch her eye.

Daria jumped with surprise. Usually, no one bothered her, it never occurred to her to put up her "keep away vibe," now it was too late. She looked at him, he seemed nice. Although she was in a pissy mood, she didn't see any reason to take it out on him. "Yeah, they're okay. They're better if you're old enough to drink." She hoped he would take the hint.

He laughed. "Well, can I buy you a drink then?"

She waved her unstamped hand in front of him. "Underage." She said simply.

"Okay, no problem, so we'll both suffer then. Another pop?" He offered. He had tow colored hair, piercing blue eyes and a dimple in his left cheek.

"Pop? You're not from here, are you?"

"God no. I'm from Pittsburgh."

"You're bragging about that?"

"Damn straight."

"So what are you doing here?"

"Checking out Middleton, visiting a cousin." He indicated a guy who was sitting with a small group close to the stage.

"So what do you think?" Daria asked, accepting a second beverage from the bartender.

"Well, it's certainly out in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere. Actually I could go to school at home, there are about 12 universities within walking distance of my house, but I thought it might be nice to go away to school."

"Yeah, I certainly know how that is. My parents went to Middleton, but I want to get the Hell out of dodge."

"I guess that's normal. To try and get as far away from your high school as you can. By the way, I don't think we've been formally introduced, I'm Tom."

"You're kidding." Daria said flatly.

"No, I'm Tom."

"Sorry, you caught me off guard. My nearly ex-boyfriend is also named Tom. I'm Daria."

"Daria? That's a cool name."

"Thanks." Daria never knew what to do with that compliment. Her parents named her; she couldn't really take credit for it. They fell into a silence for a moment.

"So you have a nearly ex-boyfriend?" He lightly touched her hand.

"Yeah." Daria really didn't want to go there. Not that it was painful, but she was just starting to feel normal again, and thinking about Tom pissed her off all over again.

"Woah, whatever he did, it must have been bad, you look like you could bite the head off of something."

"It's not just one thing, it's the whole thing. But really, I don't want to talk about him. My plan for this evening was to sit in a sullen silence."

"Well, plans can change. I guess asking you to dance is out of the question." He was persistent.

Daria laughed at the irony of it. A perfect stranger would dance with her, but her boyfriend of nearly a year wouldn't. "Yeah, dancing is definitely off the list for tonight."

"How about we go straight to making out?" He brushed a piece of hair off of her face.

"Excuse me? I don't even know you." Daria was shocked.

"Why let that stop you? You look hot, you seem nice, why not have a bit of fun?" It seemed so reasonable, and not the infuriating reasonable.

Daria needed to be comforted; she needed a big hug and reassurance. She had never mistaken kissing for comfort before, but hey, even a poor substitute seemed better than nothing. She was feeling wild, but she wasn't wild. Or was she? "I'm not going out to your car, if that's what you're thinking."

"I wouldn’t dream of asking you to. How about that old phone booth over there?" He indicated an ancient phone booth. The phone hadn't worked since the Johnson administration, but it was part of the bar.

What could happen in a phone booth? "Okay, but just a bit of mauling, nothing more, right?" Get the terms up front, that way everyone knew what to expect.

"Right. Second base at the most." He winked at her.

Daria got lightheaded. She had never done anything like this before; maybe she needed to. Maybe she'd learn that kissing a guy didn't necessarily mean that anything more had to happen. Maybe she could stop attaching such importance to small things. She allowed herself to be led into the booth. The door was hard to close with both of them in there, but they managed it. He sat on the seat and Daria sat on his lap. She kissed him first. Lightly, testing the waters. She had only ever kissed Tom, her Tom. This Tom was a good kisser. It was nice. There was no emotion attached to it, none at all. It was nice just kissing someone. She allowed her mind to wander, she felt his hands in her hair, and for some odd reason, she felt cherished. He appreciated her, and he didn't know her. He liked her based on her first impression. It blew her mind.

They were in there for a while. Finally Tom's cousin knocked on the door, and they took him away. Daria waved goodbye to him, and headed back to the bar. She felt infinitely calmer, and happier. Tom, her Tom, was history. She was cool with that. There were other people in the world, other places. She got some water and was thinking about what she wanted to do next. She was too keyed up to go home. More time had passed than she realized; it was last call. "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." Trent said from the stage.

Daria hung out, keeping Nancy entertained while she broke down the bar. It was nice having a chat with her bartender. Daria was still tingling, she knew she'd never see Pittsburgh Tom again, but it didn’t matter, she discovered something about herself. She was likable. She was fun, if she wanted to be. She stayed for an hour or so. Finally she was ready to go. It was eerie in the parking lot. She had asked Dino to watch her from the door, so she knew she was safe, but it was late, and dark. There were only a couple of cars left. One of them had the hood up, it looked like Trent's car. She could see Trent standing by the Jeep as she approached. She waved to Dino to let him know that she was okay.

"Hey Trent. Need something?" She clicked the remote to unlock the doors.

"Yeah Daria, can you jump me?" He asked her, leaning casually against the Jeep.

"You mean your battery?" She asked popping the gate in the back to get at the cables.

"Maybe." He smiled at her.