Fair warning: In my dubious wisdom, I have decreed that it is time for a flashback. This is where we get to see the cascading aftereffects of Jane Lane’s summer in the art colony play out in her college years. For previous installments of DMAD, see the chapter index. The escapade with Jodie Landon was recounted in Chapter Two.
The wind down Huntington Avenue is cold.
It is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, 2001.
The two of us emerge from an art-supply store and climb a set of concrete steps to street level. We both are carrying bags of loot.
“Thanks for treating me,” Jane says.
“This way, the money is a birthday gift for both of us.”
We do not look all that different from how we did in high school. Jane wears black corduroy slacks instead of jean shorts. Beneath my skirt, I am sporting a pair of leggings which have faded in the wash to an institutional green. The shirt under my jacket is mauve instead of rust-orange.
Jane sets down her shopping bag and rummages through her various pockets, eventually retrieving a folded bus schedule.
“Now, lessee, we’re at Mass Ave and Huntington, so you can either ride the E train in and take the Red Line back out, or you can catch the #1 bus north and T it from there.”
“No clue which might be faster…” She flips the schedule over, twice. Then she looks up and tries to catch my eye.
“Brain gears a-spinnin’? Daria?”
My aunt Amy had come to visit the weekend before, waving her gold card and insisting that she buy me something fancy. “It’s our patriotic duty to show our allegiance to capitalist self-indulgence.” We settled on a pair of speakers and a receiver amp to drive them. Somehow the test of my new sound system grew into an actual party in my room.
I speak up at last. “Did you… Did you enjoy my birthday party?”
“Sure. Good times, good company.”
“What did you think of… of my friend Cendrine?”
“Her? Seems like a nice kid. Anyone whose job is sticking electrodes into finch brains is OK in my book.”
I bite my lip.
“Daria? What’s the matter? You don’t think you need my approval to make new friends, do you?”
“There was a time when I acted like you needed my approval to do just that,” I say, recognizing that I am steering away from the point.
Jane shrugs and picks up her loot bag. “Yeah, you were clingy with a capital B. It’s almost like you’d never had a friend before and were terrified of losing the one person who made life tolerable.”
There is a bit of a joke in her tone, but not much: what she says is basically true. The touch of humor is there, I realize, to make it possible to say aloud a bare fact that still hurts us both from time to time.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Daria, seriously, is something wrong?”
“I promised that I… It’s Cendrine. She likes you.”
“Can’t fault her taste. Wait, you mean, `like’ as in—”
“Like like.” I sound like Quinn. “She asked me if you—”
If you were at all into girls, and I told her I wasn’t actually sure, and she started to tear up and I promised—
The words fail to take shape in my throat as I see you squeeze your eyes shut and sway on your feet.
The #1 bus comes rumbling up Mass Ave and squeals to a stop across the street from us. People get off. Other people get on.
“God damn you, Alison,” Jane says.
The light changes, and the bus moves forward.
We walk in silence down into the subway where the E train occasionally runs. On this Sunday midmorning, the platform is empty except for the two of us.
Jane sits at a bench and stares into the tile wall opposite, into the distance, into the past.
“I hated her so much,” she says at last. “A kind of hate I hardly knew I had in me. I had thought she was… the woman on my side. A friend. Someone I could… could relate with as an artist. On a creative level. And then she… she hit on me. I was… shocked, at first. And then I went back to my cabin and I… I couldn’t… I couldn’t prove her wrong. You know? It was like I felt I should be able to reject the idea out of hand, but I couldn’t. I knew I… I knew that the whole thing couldn’t have cut me so deep if I were… If I weren’t…” Her voice gives out.
I stand before her. My bag bumps my knee, gently.
“And then I found out she was banging that Dotson asshole,” Jane says. “I felt used. Cheap. This meant so much to me and had me so confused, and to her it was nothing at all. A spot of sportfucking in between tea and supper. I was furious. And all that anger, it… it washed out the confusion. Of course I was straight, I told myself. She was just a…”
Jane crumples forward.
“Jane Lane. You’re my best and oldest friend,” I tell her. “Whether you’re gay or bi or if one day you stop lusting for people altogether—you’ll always be… the one who made my life incalculably better.”
Jane rubs her eyes. “How did… you know?”
I sit on the bench beside her.
“I didn’t. I told Cendrine that you had only dated guys, but that I had seen… That night last summer, when Jodie Landon dozed off with her head in your lap. I came back from the kitchen with chips for everybody, and the way you…”
One hand frozen above Jodie’s hair, aching to move down and brush across it. Jane’s features a mix of terror and longing.
“She was very pretty that night,” Jane says. She claps her hands against her knees. “So.”
“What do we do now?”
I look her over. She is, as ever, my dearest friend. It begins to sink in for me that life is arrayed against her in ways that I had never had to consider. The law of the land, the conventions of song and story—these are her enemies.
And that makes them my enemies, too.
“Daria, are you sure this… this won’t change anything between us?”
“You mean, more than if you found a guy worth keeping for a while?”
“I just… dammit, Daria. You know what I mean.”
“Am I hurt that I wasn’t the one to awake these strange urges within you?”
Jane laughs without much merriment.
“Oh, hell,” I say. “Near as I can tell, to the extent I get hormonal over anyone, it’s over guys. Cendrine came out to me months ago, and it never really mattered. I mean, I haven’t been wishing she was into me to make myself feel prettier.” I pause, not sure whether I should voice the thought that hangs over me.
Jane asks me, “And she gets your stamp of approval?”
I hear the repeating bells of the approaching train.
“Daria, I… I don’t want to be alone today. Can I come with you? I’ll just, maybe, hang out in your room, try to do some sketches?”
We board the train. It is mostly empty. We take seats side-by-side.
I reach down into my loot bag and withdraw one of the posh hardback notebooks I had treated myself to. I open to the first page, uncap a pen and write:
I so dearly want you to be happy, my friend. Maybe I don’t have it in me to crave you on a physical level. But my luck in that department has been pretty bad, generally, so perhaps it’s all for the best that I can’t be in that part of your life. If she can make you feel beautiful, I will be delighted, because I love you.
Jane reads this. She smiles, borrows my pen and writes beneath my words:
I love you too, Morgendorffer.
Do you have her number?