a Sailormoon fanfiction by Dejana Talis
-not to be used without permission-
This was an idea that had been floating around in my head since a writing challenge that was issued back in 2003. The challenge was to write a story involving a pickup truck, lipstick, and a silver earring.
It was silver.
The day had started off ordinarily enough. It was hot and muggy, with a haze in the air that made everything waver as if reality was not quite itself. It was a perfect day to just stay home and lay around doing absolutely nothing.
Unfortunately, Darien did not have that privilege. Far too early, he was awakened from a sound sleep by the ringing of the telephone.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
He tried to ignore it, and rolled over on his bed, pressing his pillow against his ears, but it refused to stop.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Darien had been in the middle of a pleasant dream involving large houses, swimming pools, scantily-clad women and some exhorbitant amount of money, but the fantasy was rapidly fading out of memory under the onslaught of the ringing telephone which, the more he tried to ignore it, seemed to grow louder and louder.
RING! RING! RING!
With an annoyed growl, Darien finally rolled upright and pushed himself to his feet, briskly rubbing his face with both hands to banish the remaining haze of sleep. He stumbled across the room, such as it was, little more than a cell filled with clutter. The sweatpants he'd been sleeping in were wrapped uncomfortably tight around one leg, and he tugged at them in irritation as he snatched up the telephone receiver with his free hand.
"What?" he snapped, a bit sharper than he meant to.
"Hey, man, it ain't my fault you stay up all night," an irritated voice snapped back from the other end of the line.
"Andrew," Darien muttered, running a hand through his short dark hair to get it out of his eyes. "Sorry. What's up?"
"Well, we got 'er running again," the voice answered in a more friendly tone, "but she's smashed up pretty badly, man. You'll have to go to the city to get that mess fixed."
Darien groaned and slumped against the beige wallpaper at his back as the events of the previous evening surged up in his memory. His truck.
The brown pickup hadn't been much, just a cheap purchase from a friend who wasn't even the original owner himself, but it was his, and it had certainly been in better shape before some hit-and-run driver ran a stop sign and smashed into it head-on in the twilight. He'd only caught a glimpse of an angular face under a tuft of short-cropped blonde hair before the red sports car, obviously in better shape than Darien's rusted-up half-decayed pickup, dragged itself out of the truck's front end and sped off down the road. He'd spent half the night pushing it to Furahata and Son's Auto Detail and the other half drinking away his misery at the very bar where he worked.
"What's the damage?" Darien muttered, dreading the answer.
"Well, I got Pop to knock off his usual discount, plus a bit more after some serious haggling on my part - I had to clean the whole shop floor, you really owe me for that, man - and then there's the standard-"
"Just tell me, Andrew."
Darien gritted his teeth and began pounding the back of his head against the wall. Six hundred. When he started to see colored lights swimming across his vision, he spun around and slammed his fist into the nearest wall that appeared solid.
"Look, man," Andrew was saying, his voice fuzzy and faint as Darien let the phone drift away from his ear, "we can work out some payments or something-"
"No, I got it," Darien muttered, stretching out his now-throbbing fingers. He had the money, but it would take months to replace the dent it would carve into his GTHOOH fund, especially if Chad wouldn't give him any more shifts at the bar.
"Pop wants it out of here by the afternoon, all right? We've got jobs backing up."
Darien stifled a laugh. Old man Furahata always said he had "jobs backing up." No matter how dead this dusty backwater town got, he insisted on keeping a bay clear just in case some rich traveler broke down.
"All right, I'll get there as soon as I can."
Hanging up the phone, Darien folded his arms over his bare chest and leaned back against the wall again, surveying his abode with a glum expression. Six hundred. Still, he refused to be indebted to anyone, especially if it tied him to the cluster of dirty piles of dried-out wood known as the town of Sunset.
GTHOOH. Short for "get the hell out of here." Ever since he first had two nickels to rub together Darien had been sinking every spare cent into that fund, and his apartment showed it. The term "apartment" was a stretch in itself; he lived in one of the rooms of Desert Sands Inn, an old one-story motel that Gary had decided years ago to rent out by the month. It was dim and run-down, the faded threadbare curtains somehow managing to keep the friendly sunlight out while refusing to darken the room enough to sleep soundly. A worm-eaten table with one chair and a twin bed whose mattress nearly sank to the floor were the only real furnishings.
Being an organized person by nature, at first Darien tried to keep his one-room home neat, but the apartment soon succumbed to the clutter of discouraging years. Old posters, fliers, and papers were scattered everywhere, covered with everything from advertisements for Darien's various role models to half-finished screenplays and bits of long-abandoned melodies. Everyone else in Sunset eventually gave into the fact that they would never leave this place, taking whatever jobs they could find to build whatever life they could, but no matter how much time went by Darien could not stop dreaming of more. What he needed most, above all, was a change of scenery; a place in the city where he could surround himself with success rather than failure.
And now he had a six hundred dollar setback.
It was shaped like a crescent moon.
Wiping the sweat off his forehead and neck for what seemed the thousandth time, Darien trudged onward down the dusty road, at last crossing the borders of Sunset proper. The Desert Sands Inn had been optimistically constructed on a crossroads two miles out of Sunset, but when the promised truck stop didn't get further than a faded "future home of" sign across the street, it soon became the only structure within comfortable walking distance. Darien had called the few friends he had, but none were willing or able to make the trip out of town, and he had been stuck crossing the distance on foot.
He was exhausted, sore, soaked in sweat and half-sunburned by the time he staggered up the cracked asphalt driveway of Furahata and Son's Auto Detail. At about the halfway mark Darien had given up on clearing the pebbles and sand from his shoes, which now grinded against his feet with every stiff step. Nobody was traveling on the old two-lane highway today, yet he had still ended up caked with dust. Stopping beside the crumbling brick structure, Darien paused for a moment to shake the dust out of his damp hair and t-shirt before taking a bold step around the corner to the bay that held his old brown pickup.
It wasn't that bad - if you considered "bashed-up rustbucket" not that bad. For the second time that day Darien groaned and leaned against the wall at the entrance to the repair bay. The entire front driver's side was as crumpled up as an accordion, the hood and door bent so badly that the Furahatas had secured them with bungee cords. Some of the largest dents had been roughly battered out by hammers to allow whatever had come loose in the engine to be restored to its proper place, but the driver's side headlight was completely folded into the rusty brown metal.
"Hey, Darien, it'll be all right, man." Andrew came out from the small office, wiping his hands on a filthy rag before also wiping them on his overalls. Darien looked up at the man who, on good days, he considered a friend, but all he could manage was a crooked half-smile.
"When you make it big, you'll look back on this day from the driver's seat of your new Mustang and laugh, right?" Andrew said jovially, throwing an arm around Darien's shoulders. The "son" of Furahata and Son's was true proof of the quirks of genetics, with the almond-shaped eyes of his father and the fine blond hair of his mother. Darien often wondered how a Japanese man had ended up way out here in Sunset.
"Right," he muttered aloud, staring at the smashed-in front of his old brown pickup truck. "When I make it big."
It shone like a star when the sunlight touched it.
"Look, Darien, you know I'd like to help you out, but there just isn't enough business to pay you for more hours." Even though his eyes were focused on the dark-haired man leaning against the scratched and tarnished bar, Chad's hands continued polishing a glass with his usual tattered piece of white cloth. Chad's seemingly unconscious habit was a subject of great mystery in Sunset. Was it always the same glass? Did he ever have to buy a new cloth? Why wasn't the glass worn away to nothing by now? Was it ever really clean?
Another great mystery about Chad was the color of his eyes, or how he managed to see out of the thick curtain of bushy hair that hung to his nose.
"Don't you ever need a night off?" Darien tried desperately. It happened every time he encountered a setback that ate up some of his savings. Suddenly the idea of moving to the city seemed impossible, a dream that would never become reality, and he was pulling out all the stops to get out of this town sooner rather than later. With his remaining savings, Darien could afford a cheap apartment in the city for about a month, plus the nice clothes he would need to find a new job, but it wasn't enough. Sure, he could go with what he had and take his chances, but he refused to risk having to come crawling back to Sunset without a cent.
Chad sighed heavily. For a moment, his hands actually paused on the infamous glass, and he leaned toward his sunburned employee.
"Listen, if you really need something, I hear Stan's looking to hire someone soon," the bartender said, speaking in a low voice even though it was barely noon and the bar was empty. "I'll put in a good word for you."
Darien's heart leapt. Road crew work was steady with long hours and good pay, and therefore, highly in demand. He'd been trying to secure a place on Stan's team for years. This could be exactly what he needed.
"It's a supervisor job," Chad continued. "I'd hate to let you go, but people gotta move on sometime." Darien sagged, his spirits sinking. A supervisor job was long-term. It was the start of what passed for a career in Sunset. Taking a job like that would mean surrendering to the quicksand of this town, admitting that he would never be free.
"I'll think about it," Darien replied, trying to sound positive; it would be rude to scoff at Sunset's most golden opportunity. Chad gave a surprised grunt when he didn't leap at the chance, but said nothing more, returning to his endless polishing of the thick glass in his hands.
It was hers.
As if things weren't bad enough, the truck was leaking oil. The Furahatas hadn't had the right parts in the shop to fix that particular problem, and it would be more than a week for supplies to arrive on order. It was a slow leak, but Darien was leaving a distinct trail of oil droplets down the highway as he headed out of town. The truck rumbled and squeaked painfully, the bent hood and door clattering against the rest of the frame with every turn of the wheels. It took every shred of effort Darien could muster to prevent himself from grinding his teeth in irritation.
A supervisor position on Stan's road crew. It was a dream job for a town like Sunset, one that promised a long and comfortable existence. Darien would be a fool not to take it.
What were dreams, anyway? Little more than fantasies. Even if he made it to the city, what chance was there that he would actually make it big? Every time Darien came close to saving the amount he wanted to safely make the move, something happened to send him back almost to square one. Perhaps this hit-and-run accident was a sign that it was time to give up on dreams and concentrate on living.
The empty highway stretched out before him. The terrain was so flat and even that he could see the small bump in the distance that was the Desert Sands Inn, and far beyond that, the shining high-rises of the city clustered together in a gray lump of far more impressive lives than his being led. His run-down truck clattered around him as it carried him back toward his run-down home. With that supervisor job, he could afford to move into Sunset and get a better place. At least there was life in the town, unlike the desolate highway in front of him...
In the shifting haze on the side of the road, something solid was moving. Darien squinted into the distance, fighting the blinding light of the noonday sun.
It was a girl.
As Darien's old pickup rolled closer he was able to see more details through the wavering heat rising from the pavement. She was short and slender, dressed in jean shorts and a white tank top, and she carried a forest-green pack slung on her back. Her most distinctive feature, above all, was her hair. It was long and as blonde as the bright sunshine, and despite the dust and heat it had somehow stayed straight and flowing, and rippled down to her knees. The girl was walking away from Darien, facing the city, her left arm extended lazily to one side with the thumb of her closed hand pointing up.
Although the girl could undoubtedly hear Darien's laboring truck approaching from behind her, she did not stop and turn around, or even slow her progress. There was nothing around her for at least a mile, but although she had to be tired there was a stubborn spring in her step, something about her gait that proclaimed she was determined to reach her destination no matter what.
In fact, the girl did not stop for even a moment until Darien pulled up beside her and leaned toward the passenger's side door. The window was already rolled down; it had been stuck that way for months.
"Need a lift?"
The girl's head turned, and Darien found himself staring into the most lovely face he had ever seen.
Now that he was closer it was obvious this was no girl, but a young woman simply short for her age. Her entire face was lit up in a delighted smile, her bright blue eyes blazing like sunlight on the ocean. After the eyes her full lips were the most noticeable, lined with smooth red lipstick that was a stark contrast to her white teeth.
"Thank you!" the woman exclaimed, eagerly pulling open the passenger's side door and climbing inside. Darien was at once both grateful that he kept his mess contained to his apartment and ashamed of the sorry state of his injured truck. He turned away from her and focused on the road again, quickly bringing the vehicle back up to speed.
"So, where you headed?" he asked.
"As far as you're going," the blonde replied brightly. "I'll take it from there."
Darien watched her out of the corner of his eye as they continued down the cracked and dusty road. She let the battered green pack slide down to the floor between her legs and rolled her head around her shoulders, massaging her neck with her hands, then began combing invisible tangles out of her hair. The twin streams of sunshine were tied into neat balls at the top of her head, and she had a hat, but she let it dangle down her back by its strings as she leaned out the open window and sighed contentedly into the wind.
It had been a long time since Darien was around anyone with this much energy. She was certainly an adult, but as restless as a child. After only a moment of leaning out the window, the woman rustled through her pack, then straightened up and pulled her legs up onto the seat, leaning on her knees. Her fingers beat out a rhythm against the lightly tanned skin of her legs. Strangely, she had no traces of sunburn. Her gaze strayed across the dashboard.
"Mind if I turn on the radio?"
"It doesn't work," Darien admitted. The embarrassment at his truck's sorry state returned, although he didn't understand why. Why did he care what this woman thought?
There was another moment of silence as she fidgeted on the seat, disappointed. Stuck listening to the sputtering and creaking of the pickup, Darien found himself feverently wishing the radio worked too.
"I'm Serena," the woman burst out, seemingly unable to stomach the silence any longer.
"Darien," he replied. Suddenly a conversation seemed a lot more comfortable than not talking. "So, what brings you out here to the middle of nowhere?" He dared a fleeting glance at his passenger, getting a flash of bright blue eyes and vibrant red lips.
"I'm just passing through," Serena replied confidently. "I'm on my way to the city."
"Got friends there?" Darien asked. Friends or relatives in the big city were a definate bonus; they provided a secure foothold for a newcomer.
"Nope, I'm gonna try to make it on my own."
Now Darien risked a good long look at the hitchhiker, unable to hide his astounded disbelief. The blonde was dusty and ragged, the edges of her denim shorts and thin tank top worn and frayed, her sneakers barely holding together on her feet. Her pack was large but thin; there wasn't much in there.
On Darien's left the Desert Sands Inn sped by, but he didn't stop, willing to give Serena an extra lift. She clearly needed all the help she could get.
"I hope you've got some diamonds or something on you," he chuckled, shaking his head.
"What, you don't think I can make it?" Serena shot back, leaning out the window again to trail her fingers through the air rushing by. "Haven't you ever dreamed of having a better life? A more exciting life?"
"Well, sure," Darien replied. Strangely, he found himself leaning toward his own open window, letting the air flow through his short hair. The brown pickup was badly damaged, but riding with the wind streaming in the open windows was certainly better than walking under the hot sun. "I've been saving up my whole life trying to get out of this place, but it ain't easy."
The question was so simple and open that it caught Darien completely off-guard. His mouth opened and closed a few times, and his gaze flickered back and forth between the open road and the blonde in the passenger seat. Her face was perfectly innocent, just waiting to hear his response.
"B-because!" he sputtered, knowing this was a pathetic answer. "There's lots of preparation to be done! You can't just go rushing off to the city without money, clothes, some kind of plan..."
"I did." Serena leaned back against the seat and shrugged. "I don't have much more than the clothes on my back. Things just work out, you know? That's what life is all about."
"No, it isn't!" Darien protested, unable to believe the ignorance of the woman sitting next to him. "Nothing just works out! Bad things always happen! What if it doesn't work out, what will you do then?"
"Something will come along," she said simply. "Something always does. I've been through quite a few tough scrapes, you know, but it's better than standing still and wasting your whole life." Leaning down, Serena unzipped a small pocket of her pack and pulled out a small gold tube.
"See this?" she asked, waving it next to Darien's head. Serena flopped back against the angle of the door and the seat, her legs drawn up beside her, staring at the thin tube in her hands. She unscrewed the top, revealing the glossy red lipstick she was wearing.
"When I was a kid, I always wanted to wear this stuff," she explained. "Mama let me try on all her makeup, but never this. She was saving it for a special occasion, she said. I never saw her wear it."
Pulling out a mirror from her bag, Serena twisted the cosmetic and carefully applied a fresh layer to her lips. Despite the bouncing and vibrating of the old pickup she managed to do a perfect job, and she smacked her lips in satisfaction at her own image in the hand mirror, the deep red almost shocking against her creamy skin.
"Mama died three years ago," she said quietly. "Cancer."
Darien's heart skipped a beat. Was she a runaway? An orphan?
"I'm sorry," he said as kindly as he could manage. Serena put the mirror away and turned to face him, her bright blue eyes boring into him as if she could see into his soul. The embarrassment rose in Darien's heart again, as if his very soul was also a dusty, rusted old thing he wished to hide.
"On her deathbed, she pressed this into my hand," Serena continued, waving the lipstick tube again. "It had never been used. Her whole life, Mama never went anywhere. Never did anything. Never took any risks, any chances." She glanced down at the tarnished gold object, remembering. "She told me, 'Sere, don't you sit around this place waiting for something to happen. Go and find your own adventures.' She made me promise not to waste my life like she'd wasted hers. I may have little more than some hand-me-down clothes and some of Mama's jewelry, but I'm gonna do something with my time."
The pair of them fell into silence again, but Darien decided right then and there that he would just keep on driving until she told him to stop, even if that meant going to the ends of the earth. The road peeled away from the old pickup's wheels, disappearing into the distance behind it. Rocks and bushes rolled away beside the two young people, wasteland vanishing as they passed, heading for the city growing larger in front of them.
"So, where are YOU headed?" Serena asked eventually.
"Passed it a while back," Darien replied with a small smile.
"Oh, I can't have you going this far out of your way for me," the woman protested, dismayed. "Look, there's a little motel just up ahead."
Darien was disappointed to see that indeed there was.
"This is far enough. I can make it the rest of the way on my own tomorrow," Serena insisted.
When they reached the run-down old motel, Darien slowed down and pulled the brown pickup into the cracked and overgrown parking lot. It was barely in better shape than the Desert Sands Inn, but two flickering neon signs in the window proclaimed that yes, it was open, and yes, there was vacancy. Swallowing a sad sigh, Darien stopped the truck next to the office and shifted into Park. Hefting her pack off the floor, Serena slipped out of the vehicle, closed the door behind her, and walked around to the driver's side.
"Thanks for the ride," she said with a bright smile at the dark-haired man behind the wheel.
"Happy to help."
"Listen..." Serena bit her lip, then looked up at Darien almost shyly. "Whether you've saved enough money or not, a risky journey into the unknown is always more fun with a friend."
Darien almost choked. Was she asking him to join her? He could understand why when he thought about it; he had transportation, and money of his own...but going now would be crazy! He'd just spent six hundred dollars on his truck, and it was still in rough shape, and he was on the schedule all week at the bar...
With a small smile, he shook his head.
"Thanks, but no thanks. I'm not quite as daring as you."
Serena nodded, although her smile faded slightly.
"Well, when you get to the city, look me up," she said brightly. "I'll be on the A-list at all the big parties," she added with a wink and a fresh grin, once again using the bright red lipstick to her advantage. She was radiant when she smiled, her entire face glowing.
"You got it." Darien grinned back, keeping the smile firm on his face as Serena backed away from the truck and then headed up the stairs to the motel office. Once she disappeared through the door, her long blonde pigtails streaming into the darkness within, Darien put the truck back into gear and headed for home.
The drive back to the Desert Sands Inn seemed to take forever, a long and boring journey into nowhere. From time to time Darien found himself glancing over at the empty seat beside him. The woman had been crazy. Completely insane. What was she thinking, just heading off into the city with nothing? No plan? All alone? And for a moment there, he had seriously considered joining her!
He shook his head, chuckling. What a ridiculous thought. Believing in that kind of dream could only lead to a life of struggle on the streets, or worse. No, it was best that he was making sure he would be ready when he finally made the move to the city. When he got back to Sunset, he would call Chad and tell him he wanted to try for that supervisor job. Maybe in a few years he'd be set, with a nice reliable car and some new clothes, and he could go to the city more than ready to find a new career. That was more his style; he was good old reliable Darien, never late for work, never did anything crazy.
Never took any risks.
The sun was sliding toward the horizon when Darien finally reached the Desert Sands Inn. He had just enough time to change and head over to the bar; he was scheduled for the night shift. As he climbed out of the crumpled doorway of the dusty pickup, a flash of light on the floor of the passenger's side caught his eye. Lying there, catching the rays of the setting sun, was an earring.
It was silver.
It was shaped like a crescent moon.
It shone like a star when the sunlight touched it.
It was hers.
It had to be Serena's. Darien could not remember for sure when he had last had a woman in his truck, but it had been quite a long time. He walked around to the passenger's side, opened the door, and bent down to retrieve the earring. It sparkled in the palm of his hand, and brought back memories of a casual, nonchalant young blonde who was ready for anything life threw at her.
All she had was some of her mama's jewelry...the legacy of a woman who wasted away her entire life waiting for tomorrow...
Darien straightened up and looked at the Desert Sands Inn, the run-down old shack he called home, the prison of abandoned and neglected dreams. He thought about the job that awaited him; a night of pouring beer for men and women trying to forget the failures of their lives. He thought about the life that had been offered to him; years of meaningless existence in a dusty old town that had died ages ago but refused to admit it. He thought about Serena's mama, lying on her deathbed with nothing but regrets, and the coffee can labeled "GTHOOH" that was hidden under a floorboard in his apartment. He thought about a young woman with eyes like the clear blue sky and hair like bright sunshine, off on a journey with nothing but hope and dreams in her pockets.
Maybe he was ready.
Maybe all he had to do was take that first step.
That first risk.
And he didn't have to do it alone.
With a new sparkle in his eye and a new spring in his step, Darien headed toward his room to pack. He couldn't let Serena go off into the city without returning the earring to her, after all.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and its associated characters and canon are the property of Naoko Takeuchi and Kodansha.