Chapter 13 – Practice Makes Awkward

Staring out the window, Stevie can feel the chill emanating from the glass. The unseasonable warmth has faded away over the past two weeks. Just in time for Halloween. The seasonal decorations remind Stevie of Quinn. She can’t see the costumed children running on the other side of the hedge, but she can hear them, squealing with delight.

Playing with a tiny rubber bat hanging in the window, Stevie looks vacantly out onto the yard. The details of the wing feel almost like Braille beneath her fingertips. Each raised segment traceable. Tangible. Real. Unlike the rest of her life, which feels completely foreign. Nothing is as extreme as she expected, everything is simply different.

She hasn’t seen Quinn since the night of the party. They’ve texted. Brushed fingers in empty hallways. Meaningful glances across the movie theatre lobby or while placing orders in the deli. But they haven’t been able to be together. For the first few days, the scrutiny surrounding Stevie had been too intense. People were watching. Key word – were.

After two weeks with nothing scandalous, Stevie’s classmates have stopped looking for the girl attached to her announcement. Even Kevin, who knows for sure that there was someone, has stopped tracking Stevie’s movements. She longs for Quinn’s touch. The strong hands. The cold jewelry. Her soft skin, lips, hair. She inhales deeply, imagining the minty scent of Quinn’s shampoo.

The clock on the wall chimes the quarter hour, prompting Stevie to get moving. She jams her arms into the sleeves of her grandfather’s old army jacket and smiles at herself in the mirror. The World War II pilot’s jacket fits her snuggly; her grandfather had been a small man. The girl in the mirror looks confident. Pulled together. Unconcerned with what other people think. Nodding at her image, she grabs her gym bag and heads through the door to the garage. Soon, she’s pulling out into the late afternoon sun, heat pulsing from the vents, music pumping from the speakers.

At the school, she walks to the first bank of lockers, stopping at the second one from the left. Changing lockers is the one concession she’s made at school. Not giving in to Chelsea, although that’s how people see it, but instead removing herself from unneeded stress of Chelsea and Brianne.

No one could have predicted how that pairing would turn out. Stevie had known them both for years. She’d been friends with them both through junior and senior high. Brianne had always been the one to do Chelsea’s dirty work –the blonde would never get her own hands dirty – but never to this extent. Stevie has never understood their need to treat people so poorly. Chelsea’s inexplicable need for people to fit into exact boxes. Both girls come from wealthy families who give them whatever they want. They should have been happy.

Without Stevie as a buffer, Brianne was delighting in her new role, maliciously torturing people who don’t fit into their world view. Pouring sticky pop into backpacks and lockers. Tripping people with armloads of books. Incessantly teasing the shyest girls in class. Cutting the waist length ponytail from the head of a girl in the library. Three girls brought to hysterical tears within the last week. Teachers, unable to do anything, do nothing instead.

Opening her locker, Stevie pulls out the piece of paper predictably lying on top of her stuff. It spews the same homophobic garbage as the notes she’s found at least once a day since she came out. They’re never signed, but she knows Brianne’s writing. This one cleverly warns her that if she isn’t careful, she’ll end up on the wrong end of a fist. Rolling her eyes, Stevie tucks it into the stack at the bottom and throws her jacket and purse on top of the rest of her stuff.

Shouldering her gym bag, she heads to the locker room to change for cheer practice. This used to be her favourite part of the week. Now it’s something else entirely. She always gets there early so she never has to share a change room with Chelsea. As she sits down on the bench, Stevie remembers her first practice after the big fight.

Chelsea had been relentless. The other girls reluctant. No one wanted to have Stevie lift them. They didn’t want to touch her. At least, that’s what Chelsea claimed, but Stevie suspected they’d been warned to stay away from her. Chelsea had raised a fuss, saying that Stevie was off the team. As captain, she was allowed to make whatever choices she wanted regarding team members. About what was best for the entire team. And what was best for them was not to have ‘Stevie’s big gay grabby lezbo hands all over a bunch of clean, innocent girls’. Stevie had refused to leave. The standoff between the two girls had lasted until one of the others had gone to get the principal.

“Please sit down, girls.” Principal McNally settles behind her desk. Each girl takes a seat in one of the chairs positioned in front of the desk, just close enough to be uncomfortable. Matching chairs. Matching uniforms. Matching posture. Matching expressions of hatred. The middle-aged woman behind the desk brings her teacup to her lips. “What seems to be the problem?”

“I want her off my team!” Chelsea demands.

“She wants to kick me off the team.” Stevie explodes at the same moment. The two girls continue to talk over one another, voices getting progressively louder as they try to drown out the other person.

“Enough.” The principal’s hand flies into the air, silencing them both. “Chelsea, you first.”

Chelsea smirks at Stevie, “I want her off the team. She makes everyone uncomfortable.”

“Stevie?”

“Right now, the only person I know wants me off the team is Chelsea. No one else has voiced an opinion. Not that they would. Disagree and they’ll get kicked off the team, too. Probably with a couple new labels attached to them.” She mutters the last sentiment.

“They agree with me! No one wants you to touch them.”

“I don’t think anyone else cares. Why would they?”

“Why?” Chelsea’s eyebrows rise to comical levels.

“Yes, why?”

“Cause you’re totally going to grope them. Let your hands slip. Touch things you shouldn’t. You’ve probably loved watching us in the shower. God! I can’t even think about it anymore. It is so gross. You’re disgusting.”

“Chelsea? What are you talking about?” Principal McNally leans across her desk.

“She’s a big gay lesbo.”

“Oh my God! Why do you always say gay lesbian? Lesbian implies gay. It’s redundant.” Stevie spews in frustration. She doesn’t miss the smile the principal tries to hide behind her tea cup.

“Whatever. Gay. Lesbian. Big gay lesbian. Either way it means the same thing. She’s a pervert.”

“I am not a pervert!” Throwing herself out of her chair, Stevie knocks over the heavy wooden furniture. Her composure slipping away, she stalks to the window, trying to control herself.

“Of course you are. You’re gay! Homos are all perverts!” Chelsea’s voice drips with disgust. Her eyes fill with hatred. “Everyone knows that.”

“Chelsea!” Principal McNally interjects.

“You homophobic bitch! I can’t believe you were ever my friend.” Stevie throws herself across the room. Knocking Chelsea out of her chair. Straddling her as she grabs handfuls of long blonde hair. Chelsea’s hand wriggles free. She swipes forward, nails catching skin. Three parallel lines of pain spread across Stevie’s cheek. She pulls her fist back for a heavy blow but the movement is stopped by a strong hand catching her wrist.

“Stevie. Stop.” The strong, calm voice fills the office. The two girls freeze mid motion, Stevie’s arm at an uncomfortable angle, Chelsea’s hands reaching for a handful of red hair.

“See? She’s unpredictable.” Chelsea spits, pulling herself from beneath Stevie.

“Unpredictable?” Stevie lurches forward but stops herself. “You say those things to me and you expected what? A thank you note? An apology?”

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’m the captain, she’s not. I have final say. Says so in the team rule book. She’s off the team.” Chelsea’s fists take their familiar perch on her cocked hips

“That is not entirely true, Chelsea.” Both girls’ heads swivel to look at their principal, who is once again sitting calmly behind her desk.

“Pardon?” Chelsea’s expression folds into the ass-kissing smile she uses to manipulate adults.

“Sit.” While the chairs are righted, she searches her computer for a file. The two girls sit, nursing their new wounds. Stevie’s fingers gently touch at the raised portions of her cheek. Chelsea gingerly explores the back of her head where it banged into the floor. “As I was saying, Chelsea, you are the captain, but in the case of unresolved disputes, the decision is made either through a team vote or by me.” She turns her monitor so they can see the screen. The school charter is on the screen. She points a finger to the section on dispute resolution within social clubs.

“Well, Principal McNally,” Chelsea’s grin appears permanently etched into her face, “you’re not needed this time. The team will definitely vote to have Stevie removed. As I said, no one wants to work with a…”

“Do not attempt to use that line of reasoning again.” The principal leans forward, expression stern, fingers clasped in front of her. “I will not listen to ignorance and hatred. Stevie will remain on the team.” She raises her finger as Chelsea begins to protest. “This is not up for debate. You will both remain on the team and continue to cheer on our athletes with the same spirit and enthusiasm you always have.”

Both girls sit in stunned silence, neither has expected the conversation to go this way.

“What if I want to quit?” Chelsea breaks the silence, her voice low, uncertain.

“Not an option. At least not right now.”

“Can you do that?” Stevie asks.

“Don’t you want to be on the team, Stevie? Isn’t that why we’re having this meeting?” Principal McNally replies.

“Of course I do, but if Chelsea wants to quit…”

“My decision is final.” She stands, indicating that the meeting is over. “And girls, you will work together without disrupting the team. This cheerleading issue is between the two of you and the two of you alone. Do not allow your argument to impact the team. And Chelsea, if I hear you or anyone else referring to Stevie the way you did today, the consequences will be much worse than just your place on the squad.” She holds the door open for them, meeting over.

Now, Stevie remembers walking out of the room feeling both smug and uncertain. Surprisingly, the practices since the meeting have gone off without a hitch. Chelsea’s still trying to freeze her out, absolutely refusing to speak directly to her, but nothing more. Stevie knows that their stalemate can only last for so long, so she tries to stay out of Chelsea’s way as much as possible. She hurries to change into her practice clothes and heads to the gym.

Two hours later, she sits on the edge of the stage, feet dangling, shoes thumping against the wall while she waits for Chelsea to finish changing. Brianne, never far from Chelsea’s side, stands against the far wall, waiting. She glares in Stevie’s direction, but says nothing. Stevie returns her look with a raised eyebrow. Brianne moves to take a step towards Stevie, expression full of malice, but stops and leans back against the wall, staring at the red head with unbridled hate.

A few of her teammates mill around on the floor below Stevie, talking excitedly. Even though it’s the middle of the week, everyone has Halloween plans for the evening.

“Hey Stevie,” Charla taps the bottoms of Stevie’s swinging feet. “You coming to Paul’s tonight?”

“Paul’s?” Stevie shrugs. “I’ve been out of the loop lately.”

“Halloween party. Everyone who’s anyone will be there!”

“I don’t think I count as anyone anymore.” Stevie swings her feet, embarrassed. “And I don’t have a costume.”

Charla laughs. “You’re a hot girl, just wear something slutty.”

“I don’t know if I’d be welcome.”

“Her?” Charla tosses her head in Brianne’s direction. “Screw her. Come as my guest. Show those bitches you’re not afraid to stand up for yourself. And that you’ve got other people on your side.” Stevie’s heart warms as she realizes Charla is being genuine.

“I’ll think about it.” She smiles, knowing she has one other thing she has to do this evening before she even considers a party.

“Call me if you decide to come. We’ll meet out front so you don’t have to walk into the lion’s den alone.” Charla waves and heads out of the gym. Stevie follows almost immediately, not wanting to be stuck alone with Brianne, seriously thinking about going to the party.

Chapter 14

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Chapter 12 – Burnt Bridges

Another bank of lockers later, Kevin and Stevie turn left into the janitorial hallway.  The door at the end leads to a grassy area beside a large tree. Stevie leans into an odd crevice where the old building joins the new and kicks at an empty beer bottle. Her breathing is fast, laboured, and quickly heading towards uncontrollable.

Kevin leans against the tree, waiting. His quiet calm from the hallway gone. She can feel the waves of anger rolling off him. Stevie pushes away from the building and silently leads them towards the parking lot. They climb into Kevin’s truck. They drive in silence until Kevin turns into the driveway of his house.

“Here?” Stevie looks towards the house she’s been coming to for years.

“No one will interrupt us here.” With that, Kevin hops from the vehicle and heads towards the door. He’s in the kitchen switching on the coffee machine before she even makes it through the foyer. He pulls a bottle of beer from the fridge for himself. Stevie raises her eyebrows as he twists off the top. “You no longer have any say in my life.” He says without looking at her.

“I know.” They wait silently until the machine finishes her drink. She picks up and the cup and inhales the smell of the rich, dark liquid. The feel of the distinct square cup in her hand is too familiar; she opens the french doors and steps out into the pool area, the confines of the house driving her outside where she can breathe.

“What the hell, Stevie?” Kevin throws himself into a lounge chair only to get back up against almost immediately.

“About what happened Saturday night…” Stevie curls into a deck chair “That was not how I wanted this to happen. I mean, it’s not how I wanted you to find out.”

He paces the edge of the pool. “Find out what? That you’re fucking gay, Stevie?! Since when?”

“I just … I don’t know, Kevin. It’s complicated.”

“You didn’t screw me like a lesbian. Are you saying that all those times? Every time… you were what…? Thinking about some chick?”

“No! Kevin. God. I really did love you. I think. I don’t know. You were important to me. I’ve spent two years of my life with you. I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t love you. But I can’t stay with you just to make you happy. To make Chels happy.”

“Is that why you’ve been so distant the last few months? Have you been fucking some girl?” Anger and disgust meld on his face.

“I’m not going to talk about that, Kevin.” Stevie’s determination to protect Quinn strengthens her resolve. It reminds her of why this is all happening. “Besides, you’re not exactly in the clear here. You’ve been fucking another girl. My best friend.”

“That’s not the point!” Kevin brushes her off.

“How?! How is that not the point? The whole entire point.” Stevie throws herself out of her chair, kicking at the air. “Yes. I wasn’t be honest with you, and that’s my bad, but if I hadn’t found out about you guys, this would have happened a completely different way.”

“How did you find out, anyway?” Kevin’s anger levels off. Defeated, he sinks into the lounge chair he originally rejected.

“Someone saw you guys together at Mabel’s. In a store! Right there in public. Really? You weren’t even hiding it.”

“Who do you know that shops at Mabel’s?”

“I shop there, dumbass.”

“Oh.” Kevin shrugs “I didn’t know that.”

Stevie sinks into the chair beside him. “Two years. Two years, Kev. Most of our high school life. It’s been you and I. Now what?”

“Now we figure it out.” Reaching over, he brushes his fingers against her hand. Not a romantic gesture, one of comfort and habit. “Clearly, we’re not getting back together.” He chuckles.

“Clearly!” Stevie laughs halfheartedly.

Kevin puts the beer bottle, still half-full, on the ground. “This isn’t a phase, is it?”

“No. It isn’t.” Stevie’s stomach clenches as she speaks the words aloud, giving them life.

“I wish you’d talked to me about this.”

“I wish I had, too. But, would it have been easier?”

“No. I still don’t know how I feel about this.” Kevin adjusts his ball cap on his head. “I’m not really okay with this. I don’t understand how you can want to be with girls. Are you sure that this isn’t…” he pauses.

“Something you did?” Stevie crosses her legs under her, turning to face her former boyfriend. “Don’t be stupid.”

“But what can you do with girls? I don’t understand.”

“If you’d like, I can go to the store, buy you some magazines. Or I think you may have some of them hidden in your closet…” leaning over she punches him lightly in the arm.

“I did not know you knew about those.” He blushes.

“Never underestimate how much your girlfriend knows about you.”

“I’m just trying to picture you doing those things.” Kevin grimaces.

“Please stop!” Stevie presses her fingers to her mouth.

“Darling, I’ve seen you in all your glory already.”

“Well, now that we’re just friends, you’re not allowed to do that anymore.”

“Yeah, about that…” Kevin mumbles.

“About what?”

“Being friends.”

“You don’t want to be friends?” Her voice drops, genuinely hurt.

“You know how complicated this situation is, right?” Kevin brushes his hair back. “You heard Chelsea’s ultimatum.”

“God, why is everything in my life so damn complicated all of a sudden?” Stevie’s face sinks into her hands.

“Maybe we can be friends. After a while.” He reaches over to squeeze her knee. “I’ve always been able to confide in you, but you really burned your bridges with Chelsea, and she’s a horror show when she doesn’t get her way.”

“Are you going to keep seeing her?” Stevie needs to know. She can deal with everything else, but to have to see them date would break her.

“God no.” He insists “And we were never seeing each other. It was just sex. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.”

“How long?”

“What?”

“How long were you guys…?”

“Since school started. After you started pulling away from me.”

“Don’t blame your inability to keep it in your pants on me…” Stevie snaps, her anger starting to rise again.

“That’s not what I meant. I’m not saying it was all your fault, but you have to take some of the blame, Stevie.”  Kevin sits up, turning towards her, his arms folded across his chest. “Clearly you were going through something huge or whatever, but it was unfair to just let me think that things were normal. Especially when you don’t seem to have been keeping it in your pants either…”

“I know that!” Stevie stands again, hugging herself as she walks towards the pool. She dips her toe into the cool water.

“Don’t do anything dramatic like jumping in that pool.” He mocks her from his chair.

“Yeah, cause I’m the super dramatic one, right?” She raises her eyebrows. “Why are you letting her control your life?”

“Chelsea? Yeah, she’s a problem.” He leans forward, arms on his knees. “You may be willing to give up everything we’ve spent the last few years building, but I’m not. Who am I going to hang out with if I lose my friends? The nerd herd? The wannabe hippy stoners? The goths? Like that’s going to happen. I’d rather put up with Chelsea and be popular.”

“You’re making your own bed, Kev.” Stevie turns and walks back to the house. “Can we go back to school now?”

*****   *****   *****

Quinn forages under a pile of books in her locker, trying to find her calculator. “Why do you never stay where I put you?” She mumbles.

“I’m right here.” A voice whispers in her ear.

“Jesus Christ!” She yelps, jumping back, her arm scraping against metal, a rough edge ripping through. Red bubbles rise to the surface. “Mother of…” She brings her arm to her lips. The coppery taste fills her mouth.

“Shit!” Terry’s voice is full of concern. “I am so sorry! Are you okay?”

“No biggie. Look, the blood’s already stopped.” She jams her arm in his face.

“Alright, alright. I see.” He pulls her close to him. Arms wrapping around her waist, he tilts his head down towards her. Quinn meets his lips quickly before prying herself loose to continue the search for her missing calculator.

“Ah ha!” She pulls her arm back out of her locker, more carefully this time, the large graphing calculator between her fingers.  Throwing it onto the textbook at her feet, she stands and does a little dance. Her skirt swishes against her skin. “Take that calculator!” She turns to Terry. “Go get your books. It’s almost time for class.”

“Why don’t we blow off first period? Go have a replay of Saturday night?” Terry raises his eyebrows. Quinn’s forehead creases. Her thoughts immediately fill with the image of Stevie facing off with Chelsea. Stevie standing in the doorway looking miserable. Stevie standing in her bedroom, telling her that they would be together no matter what. It takes her a minute to realize what Terry is talking about. She smacks him playfully, though she’s serious.

“You’ve known me long enough to know that I do not blow off class!” She tries to squirm out of his arms but they tighten around her waist playfully. The sound of angry voices drifts around the corner. Quinn’s muscles tense instinctively as she hears Stevie’s voice. People around the hall stop moving. Ellie breaks away from Jason, turning towards the sound of the voices. She enjoys nothing more than a good spat.

Chelsea and Brianne flounce around the corner, arm in arm. The grin on the blonde’s face is perhaps one of the most genuine Quinn has ever seen. It’s weird to see the class mean girl on her arm instead of Stevie. As they pass, Brianne reaches over and slaps the books out of the hands of a girl standing along the wall. Chelsea and Brianne laugh without breaking stride. They thrive on drama. Quinn’s fingers tighten around Terry’s arms. She suppresses an urge to hurtle herself across the hallway, slamming her body into the cheerleader, ripping out strands of long blond hair. The smile that spreads across her face is irrepressible. She buried her face in Terry’s shoulder.

“You sure you don’t want to blow off first period?” Terry responds to her perceived advance, pulling Quinn tightly against him, his desire obvious. Before she can answer him, the din in the hallway dies completely. They both look down the hall as Stevie rounds the corner with Kevin. Not touching him, but clearly with him. Her pulled together appearance startles Quinn. She takes in the pretty, yellow dress with black lace and can’t help but notice that their clothes echo each other. She bites the corner of her lip, catches Stevie’s eye, and knows everything is okay. They watch as Stevie hurries down the hall, leaving Kevin in her wake.

“Awe, poor little cheer girl. How the mighty will fall.” Ellie taps her fingers together maniacally.

“Give it a rest, Ellie.” The words are out of Quinn’s mouth before she can stop them. Ellie says nothing, merely raises an eyebrow. “I just mean that it looks like things aren’t that bad. Seems like they’re still dating. Let’s not gloat until we’re sure they’re really falling apart, alright?”  Silence hangs over their small group. The boys become edgy as neither girl says anything.

“Meanwhile, back on the ranch…” Geoff drawls, breaking the tension from his post against the side of the lockers. Four heads pivot slowly towards him.

“Weirdo.” Quinn breaks out into a genuine laugh, chucking a pencil in his direction. Everyone’s mood instantly lightens. “Oh Ter, I hear our fathers spent the weekend golfing together.”

“Yeah. Did you like your lamp?” He chuckles.

“Oh my god! That thing…” she shudders “Hideous. Did you get something equally charming?”

“A collection of miniature spoons. What the hell am I supposed to do with those?”

“At least they were never alive.” Quinn counters.

“True story.” Terry’s hands have maneuver their way back to Quinn’s waist.

“It’s almost time for class, guys. Get your crap together.” She breaks away gently and pulls Terry by the hand. “You come with me.” She leads him down the hall and out into the parking lot. Her heart stops for a moment when she sees the bright yellow dress in a sea of steel. She pulls Terry towards her jeep, watching as Stevie and Kevin drive away, hoping Stevie is alright.

“Alright, we’re skipping class.” Terry smiles, sliding his hand around her neck.

“We are, but not for the reason you think.” She pulls back until she’s leaning against the driver’s door.

“What’s up, Quinn?” Terry frowns, turning to face her. “You’re being weird.”

“I just…” She reaches forward and brushes her fingers against his “We’ve been friends for a really long time.”

“Yes.” Terry stares at her uncertainly.

“And I just… I feel like this is moving too fast. Like I made a mistake this weekend.”

“You don’t want to date me? Dating me is a mistake?” He straightens up in his seat.

“Sleeping with you was a mistake.” She holds up her hand so she can keep speaking. “Having sex with you two days after we started dating, after we’ve been friends for so long, was a mistake. I should have taken this more seriously.”

“It’s just sex, Quinn.” Terry shrugs. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“It might be for you, but for me, it’s different.” She plays with his fingers. “I think we should slow things down a little bit. Maybe pull back on the physical stuff for a while.”

“But keep dating, right?” Terry tries to keep his tone relaxed, but she can see the panic in his eyes.

“If you think we can do that without jumping into bed again right away, then yes, fine, keep dating.”

“Good.” He leans forward plants a gentle kiss on her lips. “Cause I really like you, Quinn. I’ve wanted to date you for a really long time. I don’t want to lose you when I’ve finally got you.”

Quinn places a hand on his face and smiles at him, gripping her leg with her other hand to press down the guilt. She’s starting to think that she’s a terrible person.

Chapter 13

Chapter 11 – Power Corrupts Absolutely

Shaking herself out of her revere, Quinn turns to Geoff. “So yeah, I’m dating a girl. And I’m kind of totally into it. I’ve never felt this way before, Geoff.”

“Quinn. Wow, I can’t… I don’t… Wow. I don’t even know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything.” Quinn suggests.

“Well, I want…”

“No really.” Quinn holds up her hand, “Don’t say anything. I want you to pretend you don’t know anything about this. Don’t say anything about this to anyone. Anyone!”

“So, you’re not planning to… you know.”  He shrugs, unsure how to broach the subject.

“Come out? God no. No one finds out about this. No one.”  She pokes him in the arm. “You understand. You tell no one. Zero people.”

“So what you’re saying is you want me to tell people about this?” he chuckles at her insistence. “Should I tweet it? Or would you prefer another form of social media?” He pulls his phone from his pocket.

She growls playfully. “God damn you.” Diving across the tiny space between them, she tackles him into the hedge. “Promise me.” She pokes him under his right ribs, where she knows he’s ticklish. “Promise. Do it. Say it. Say you won’t tell anyone. You’ll never bring it up again.”

“Alright! Alright!” He struggles to grab her hands, laughing uncontrollably. “I promise! Stop tickling me!”

After getting in one last poke, Quinn leans back against the hedges. Settling back into the more serious discussion.

“So, here’s my obvious question. What are you going to do about Terry?” Geoff brushes twigs out of his hair.

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t keep dating him, Quinn. You just can’t.” Geoff picks pieces of shrug out of his hair. “It’s just mean. Like actually cruel.”

“How can I stop?” She asks. “If I suddenly break up with Terry when everyone is trying to figure out who Stevie is dating, it’ll point people right to me.”

“But you know this isn’t going anywhere.”

“I don’t know.” Quinn chews on the side of her thumb.

“I can’t believe you even started dating him.”

“I feel guilty enough already. I think I’m going to tell him things are moving too fast and we need to slow it down.”

“How fast can things be moving? You’ve been dating since Friday.” Geoff mutters.

Quinn raises an eyebrow at him before quickly looking down to inspect the hem of her pants.

“You slept with him? Quinn!” He grabs her hands. “Quinn!”

“I know. I’m terrible.” She hangs her head.

“You don’t mean to be, but yeah, that was pretty terrible of you..” He interjects. “There’s one thing I would like to know.”

“What’s that?”

“Why aren’t you willing to admit this? It’s not like you have anything to be ashamed of.”

“Well, maybe you don’t think so.”

“I don’t. Why do you? Is it your church?”

“Pfft. It’s not that.” She waves the idea away “I think my mom will be ashamed of me.”

“The world traveler? The workaholic? The family breadwinner? Who rejects all gender roles?” He raises his eyebrows “She’ll be the one who rejects you?”

“She may be all those things. And she’s always told me I can do anything. But, she also expects me to get married – to a guy – and give her grandchildren, and do all those other things that make life worthwhile. And part of me understands where she’s coming from.” Pushing herself up off the ground, Quinn wipes the grass from the back of her legs. “Alright, I’m going now. I’m going to go hide in my bedroom and do some homework. This is probably the weirdest weekend of my life.”

Together they walk to Geoff’s truck, chatting about school work to fill the silence. When Geoff drops her off, she grabs her leftovers, leans over, and kisses his cheek.

“Thanks.” Before he can say anything, she’s out of the truck and through the front door of the house.

*****   *****   *****

A pit forms in Stevie’s stomach as she pulls her car between two others in the parking lot. Turning the key to the off position, she leans forward, her head on the wheel. She calms her nerves before getting out of the car. Her yellow dress with delicate black lace presents an image of cheerfulness. With her long hair tied back in a ponytail, she’s not hiding from anyone. As she moves towards the double doors leading into the high school, she’s not sure what to expect.

She relishes the calm of the empty entryway before she turns the corner. The hallway is teeming with students. Stevie expects them all to go silent, like in a movie, where the heroine walks in and realizes that everyone is talking about her. It doesn’t happen. As she walks through the hall, the din of conversation continues. Some people look at her, or point, but most seem to have no interest in her as she walks towards her locker. She doesn’t know if the lack of interest is more disturbing than the attention would have been. Do they not know? Does she have to keep her guard up for when the gossip begins to circulate? Do they not care? Are they just going to accept her?

She sees the curve in the hallway approaching. The one right before her locker. And Chelsea’s locker. And Kevin’s locker. She’s wanted to talk to Kevin since Saturday night, but he’s been avoiding her calls. This is the moment that has been filling her with dread. Taking what feels like her millionth deep and reassuring breath of the morning, Stevie straightens her posture and walks around the corner.

There they are. Looking like the image of perfection they always present, but something isn’t quite right. Brandon and Chelsea, normally attached at the lips, aren’t touching. Instead, they stand on opposite sides of the group. Smiling and laughing, but not looking at each other. Brandon keeps shooting looks in Kevin’s direction, anger simmering beneath the surface. Brianne has taken Stevie’s place at Chelsea’s side. Circling the friendship death like a vulture. She’s been priming herself for this moment since they entered the tenth grade and she got her braces off.

Stepping forward, Stevie heads towards her locker at the far end of the row. This time, silence does fall. All heads turn in her direction. The sound of her flip flops slapping against the bottoms of her feet seems deafening. She fumbles with her combination. Has to try again. Still no one has spoken.

“Can you believe her nerve?” Brianne snorts, breaking the silence. “Pretending like you’re not even here.”

“I know! You’d think she’d have asked for a locker change already.” Chelsea flips her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Over with the nerds. They won’t care if there’s a big, gay lezbo in their hallway.”

“Yeah, but they’re not hot like us. She probably wants to stay here because she wants to do us.” Brianne’s tone is so haughty Stevie has to restrain herself from responding.

“God.” Chelsea gags. “I let her sleep in my room. She probably felt me up in my sleep. Fucking gross.”

Unable to concentrate, Stevie drops the chemistry book she’s just pulled from her locker.

“Jesus, Chelsea, leave her alone!” Kevin’s voice startles Stevie. She shakes herself from her anger to find him leaning beside her, picking up the papers that have fallen from the book.

“You’re going to defend her? You?”  Small, strong hands grip tiny hips as anger flashes across Chelsea’s up face. “She’s made a fool out of you, Kevin. You turned her gay. What girl’s going to want to date you now?”

Stevie wants to defend herself, and him, but can’t make her mouth form the words screaming in her head.

“Chelsea,” Kevin straightens to a standing position, towering over the tiny cheerleader. His physical superiority does little to diminish the waves of confidence wafting from her. “You need to back the hell up and leave the situation alone.”

“Whatever.” She brushes him off with a flick of her wrist, “You want to keep being her buttboy, go right ahead. See if I ever let you touch me again.” She wraps the front of his t-shirt into her fist. Rising up onto her tiptoes, she presses her cheek against his. Lips brushing his earlobe. Her gaze pointedly staring at Stevie. She whispers loudly, “You’ll be begging for it by the end of the day. So make up your mind. It’s her or us, you can’t have both.”

When Kevin pushes her away, Brandon steps forward, his eyes darting between them, not sure who to side with. Not sure who he’s more angry with. Unwilling to let anything happen to his former girlfriend, but not sure that he wants to protect her either. Kevin puts up his hand and takes a step back.

“Find some new friends, Stevie. You’re not welcome here anymore.” Brianne kicks the chemistry book still sitting on the floor, sending it flying into the opposite wall, loose papers litter the hallway as it flies open.

“Come on, Brie.” Chelsea links arms and the two girls saunter away to their first period class.

“You want to blow off first period? Go get some coffee?” Kevin retrieves the stray chemistry book and once again collects the scattered pages.

“God, Kevin! Why are you doing this?” Stevie snaps at him, her guilt coming off as anger.

“Doing what?”

“Being… this! Acting like… God … Jesus, fuck.” She stomps her foot lightly. Stevie feels herself losing control of her emotions. Hiding her face in her locker, she pretends to look for something.

“We need to talk. Let’s go,” Taking her arm, he pulls her back from the locker, throwing everything but her purse back inside. Together they head down the hallway. Stevie knows that they will probably pass Quinn. This will definitely be the hardest part of her morning.

Rounding a corner to a long stretch of lockers, Stevie sees her. Yellow and black striped skirt paired with a plain yellow t-shirt and black flats with tiny skulls. Terry’s arms encompass Quinn’s waist. Her black hair perfectly frames her face, with its always rosy cheeks, as she leans against her boyfriend’s chest. Terry’s face is buried in her neck. Stevie briefly wonders why hormones always seem to go into overdrive in the school hallway. Her eyes meet Quinn’s. She sees the smile that can’t form on her lips flash across the deep grey. Stevie feels the beginnings of a smile forming. Unable to control the response, she quickens her pace. Kevin lengthens his strides to keep up with her.

Chapter 12

Chapter 10 – A Summer Orientation

The summer sun has hardly begun to peek over the horizon as she leaves her house. 4:30 in the morning is a ridiculous time to have to be social. But this is what she needs to do. The university is four hours away, so if they want to make it there in time for the workshop, they have to leave early. Jumping into her jeep, Quinn heads towards the school. From there, everyone will pile into a van and travel together. She’ll sleep on the way. Taking a sip of coffee, she wonders who else will be there. Ellie is away with her family. Geoff has no interest in this school. None of their other friends would even think to attend a university orientation in the middle of July.

Pulling into the parking lot of the high school, she sees a small crowd of students milling around. No one she can fake socializing with this early in the morning. Slipping out of the jeep, she stumbles over to the group, coffee in hand. Taking a sip, she hears the hollow sound of empty metal.

“Damn it.” She shakes the cup, hoping to magically create coffee out of nothing.

“This is when you wish house elves were real, right?” The voice startles her.  Turning, she sees the red headed cheerleader standing just off to the side, fingers wrapped around a travel mug depicting classic Vincent Price. Quinn would have been surprised, if not for their English pairing the previous semester. “There’s some over here.”

“You are a godsend; that’s what you are!” She breathes a sigh of relief, “Where?” She tries to look over the heads of the other students.

“Follow me.” Stevie smiles the smile of an early morning coffee junky. They walk the rest of the way in blurry-eyed silence.

After her refill, Quinn heads over to look at the array of doughnuts one of their teachers has brought. She reaches across and snags the one with sprinkles.  “You always have the coolest coffee mugs.” She jerks her head at Stevie’s hand.

“Thanks. This is my all-time favorite movie.”

“Really?”

“You sound surprised.”

“I guess I’m still surprised that you’re a fan of the macabre. It just doesn’t seem to fit with…”  She waves a hand absentmindedly in the direction of Stevie’s lavender t-shirt and white skirt. “I would have expected you to lean more towards the horrible remake with that celebutwit.”

“Well, since our conversations have involved exactly nothing to do with our personal lives, that’s awfully presumptuous of you.” Though her voice is serious, the grin that pulls at Stevie’s lips show she’s joking.  “I’m sure you have some guilty pleasures that you don’t broadcast to everyone you know.”

Leaning towards Stevie, Quinn lowers her voice “Disney movies make me cry.” Stevie giggles, her hand casually touching Quinn’s forearm. The contact of skin against skin makes them both pause. Feeling like they’re stepping across unacceptable social lines, they back away from one another. Their awkward moment is broken when Mr. Krause calls all the students together.

“Alright, our very early morning starts with a wee bit of a problem. The van we were supposed to take has broken down, so we’ve had to come up with some new driving arrangements. We’ve got enough room for seven of you between Mrs. Bridges’ and my cars, but there are a couple extra people. Two of you are going to have to drive yourselves.”

Quinn turns to Stevie “Are you here alone?”

“Yeah, everyone else is on vacation.” Stevie crinkles her nose and pauses, “Or just not smart enough to get in.”

“I know exactly what you mean.” Quinn and Stevie chuckle together, bonding over academic superiority. Without thinking about it, Quinn throws her hand up into the air. “I can drive.”

“And I’ll go with her.”  Stevie adds, blinking slowly as she realizes what she’s just said.

“Well, that was easy.” Mr. Krause’s forehead crinkles, a bit surprised by the pairing. “It’s settled then. Talk to Mrs. Bridges before you leave.”

A few minutes later, sitting in the jeep, Quinn begins to wonder why she agreed to do this. Four hours trapped in a vehicle with a girl she hardly knows and probably doesn’t like. Goody. The drive begins in tired silence, but as the sun starts to heat the air, they settle into the comfortable rhythm they had built during their project.

Stevie pulls a book of cds from under the seat and begins flipping through the pages. “You have an interesting collection of music.”

“Yeah, well, I’m eclectic.”

“And a neurotic alphabetizer, apparently.” Stevie grins. “Who alphabetizes the cds in their car? Better question, who still uses cds?”

“People who like to drive old ass jeeps that don’t have adaptors.” Quinn chuckles and grins despite her misgivings.

“That looks like an adaptor.” Stevie points to the cord jammed into the lighter.

“For my phone. Safety first. That’s the mantra of mom.”

“Good call.” Stevie nods and flips another page.

“Also, my cds never surprise me by being dead.”

“Touché.” Stevie laughs and slips a Fleetwood Mac disc into the player. “FYI. I’m totally going to sing to this.”

“Sing along music is the only way to road trip.” Quinn grins and turns up the volume.

A couple hours later, they pull into a gas station for snacks and a bathroom break.

“Too much coffee.” Stevie dances around while Quinn gets the bathroom key.

“You go first. You obviously need it more than I do.” Quinn tosses the key to her strange new companion and patiently waits her turn.

After stocking up on licorice and iced tea, they continue their journey to the university.

“So, how did you become a cheerleader?”  Quinn asks, ripping the end off a piece of licorice. “You seem kind of cool.”

“You’re saying I can’t be cool and a cheerleader?” Stevie raises her eyebrows.

“Not at our school.”

“So, perhaps we need to clarify the definition of cool we’re using. Cause according to most of the people at school, the fact that I’m a cheerleader is cool.”

“Do we want to set the barometer of cool using the majority of the yahoos we go to school with?”

“Good god no.” Stevie chuckles “Half of them are morons. Maybe more than that. But, you know how high school goes, you pick a group, and stick with it. This is the one I picked. Besides, all the extra-curriculars look great on a university application.”

“So, you’re doing this for no other reason than your future? You don’t love skipping around in front of the school. Being adored by throngs of teenage boys? Getting a free pass at everything, because you’re in the right crowd?”

“Bitter much?” Tearing open a bag of candies, Stevie takes a handful and passes them to Quinn. “Actually, I do like cheerleading. It’s fun. And it’s way harder than it looks.”

“Says every cheerleading movie of the last decade.” Quinn mocks playfully.

“Oh right. Cause you’re not bucking for the role of gothy bad girl?”  Stevie eyes up Quinn’s outfit: tall black boots, completely inappropriate for the summer weather; dark red pleated skirt; black tank; heavy make-up; and tons of silver jewelry.

“I dress this way because I like to.” Quinn replies defensively.

“Which is exactly why I’m a cheerleader. Because I like it.”

“But you just told me how you love horror movies and rockabilly music. And your plans for that crazy ass tattoo. Those things just don’t go hand in hand with the rah rah sisterhood of all night keggers.”

“Yeah, it’s called having layers.”  She shoots Quinn a droll look. “If you were what everyone things you are, you wouldn’t be driving to see a school you might be interested in, balls ass early in the morning, in the middle of summer. You’d be at home, sleeping in your black sheets, after a night of writing bad teen poetry and cutting yourself.”

“My poetry is nothing short of amazing!” Quinn gasps dramatically, giggling. “Next you’ll be telling me that the jocks talk about their feelings and the head cheerleader is secretly trying to save the world and unite all the cliques.”

“Let’s not be ridiculous. Chelsea’s a bitch. What you see really is what you get with that girl. Her only goal is to be the boss. We’re not all layered.” Propping her feet up on the dash, Stevie’s bare legs seem to glow in the morning light.

“Isn’t she like your best friend or something?” Quinn asks.

“Yup.”

“Remind me not to get on your bad side.” Quinn finds her gaze drifting up Stevie’s legs. Shaking her head, she turns back to the road, slips on a pair of sunglasses, and concentrates on driving.

“Have you ever been friends with someone you don’t really like? Because it’s easier than not being friends with them?” Stevie sighs. “Chelsea is like that. She can be fun, but mostly she just wants to be in charge.”

“Is this where you tell me about her terrible, painful upbringing?”

“Nope. This is where I tell you that she’s exactly like her mother.” Stevie smiles. “She comes from a long line of popular kids who have never set foot outside this town. She’s been trained to be the big fish.” Stevie rests her head on her knees, watching the way the breeze from window floats Quinn’s hair.

Finally, they arrive on the university grounds. Original brick mixes with 70’s cement. Modern glass and steel buildings lightly pepper the grounds. The normally quiet summer campus is teaming with students too young to be there. The unfamiliar strips away the façade of high school confidence. The excitement of moving one step closer to adulthood dances with the fear of leaving behind the comfortable.

Together, Quinn and Stevie make their way through a day of orientations, building tours, and cafeteria lunches. Quinn’s Human Ecology program tours late in the morning. Stevie’s architecture program is the last of the day. Without asking, they accompany each other throughout the day, sitting next to each other at every event. Quinn’s hoodie allows them to avoid grass stains. Stevie provides the gum and bottled water. The comfort they feel together surprises them both.

Foregoing the group supper, they hit a drive-thru for burgers and fries and the provincially famous milkshakes. Back on the road, Quinn controls the wheel with her knee as she peels the wrapper back from her burger.

“Dude! Hands on the wheel.” Stevie exclaims around a mouthful of veggie burger.

“Don’t be such a worry wart. We’re fine. I drive better with my knees.” Quinn laughs but takes the wheel back into her hand. “See, safe as houses.”

“What?”

“What what?”

“Safe as houses…?” Stevie stares at her, perplexed.

“Yeah, safe as houses. It’s something my mom used to say all the time when I was a kid.” Quinn smiles. “I have no idea what it actually means.”

“Alright…” Stevie merely nods.

“I’m sure you’ve got weird little sayings from your family. Some weird thing your mom used to say to make you feel better.” Quinn glances at the passenger seat where Stevie is picking at her burger.

“My mom’s out of the picture. Exactly where I want her to be.”

“Touchy subject. Got it. Moving on.”

“The best for everyone. It makes people think I’m a terrible person.” Stevie smiles and reaches for her drink at the same time as Quinn. Their hands bumping against each other. Fingers accidentally intertwining. Pulling back quickly, the two girls avoid eye contact, and their drinks. A moment of awkward silence falls between them.

“I don’t think you’re an awful person.” Quinn softly breaks the silence, smiling at Stevie quickly before she returns her eyes to the road. “Even if you are a cheerleader.”

“Shut up” Stevie slaps the other girl’s arm “You’re not so bad yourself, for a freak.” The comfortable silence of earlier in the day returns.

“I can honestly say this is not what I expected from today.” Quinn says a few minutes later.

“Agreed.” Stevie grins. “Hang on; you have something on your face.”  Leaning forward, Stevie brings her hand to Quinn’s face. Her fingers cradle the other girl’s jaw, thumb brushing the corner of Quinn’s lip. The contact causes a jolt of electricity. Her hand lingers a moment longer than appropriate.

“You date that guy Kevin, eh?” Quinn moves the conversation in a safe direction. Her brain racing, trying to process the unfamiliar feelings coursing through her body. Her heart pumping faster than normal. Her skin tingles, aware of every movement in the car. The smell of coconut wafts across the car.

“For a couple of years, yeah. He’s alright.” Stevie answers distractedly.

“Alright?” Quinn raised her eyebrows, without looking over. Her fingers nervously tapping the plastic lid of her wax coated paper cup. “That’s a ringing endorsement.”

“He’s more for show.” Stevie shifts herself in her seat. “It looks wrong if a cheerleader is single, so I date him. Chelsea set it up. It’s easier to stay with him than to put up with her constant set ups. Besides, he’s nice to me. He’s really quite sweet for a jock. He doesn’t cheat. He buys me pretty things. He actually thinks he loves me.”

“Your definition of alright is different from mine.” Quinn raises an eyebrow. “Those marshmallow strawberry things are alright.”

“Yeah, well, he’s not really my type. He’s sharp like toast.” Stevie pulls her legs up under her, leaning against the armrest. Her arm slides against Quinn’s. The heat from her skin radiates outward. Skin presses against skin. Neither girl pulls back. Stevie’s fingers brush along the palm of Quinn’s hand. Quinn brings her arm into the motion, intertwining her fingers with the other girl’s. Tanned skin against porcelain skin. Black and pink fingernails contrast in harmony. Stevie’s thumb traces the edge of Quinn’s.

They drive in silence for a little while, both aware that they are venturing into unknown territory. Seeing a small rest stop ahead, Quinn begins to slow the jeep.

“I’m going to pull over.”

Stevie nods silently. Her grip tightening reassuringly. As the jeep comes to a stop, Quinn releases Stevie’s hand. Throws the vehicle into park. Hops out of the car without a word. Her boots thump against the pavement as her feet meet the ground. Making her way around the front the car, she begins pacing, chewing the edge of her thumb. Hearing the door to the jeep shut, Quinn spins to face this unexpected girl. “What the hell is going on?”

“I have no idea.” Stevie crosses her arms in front of her chest, leaning against the Jeep’s grill. Her foot against the bumper, flip-flop jiggling off her toes. “It’s not like I planned for this to happen. Or like it’s ever happened before.”

“You sure? You said Kevin wasn’t your type.” She replies with air quotes. Stepping closer to Stevie, Quinn stops pacing.

“That’s not what I meant. I just meant he’s not smart enough for me.” Stevie plays with the ends of her long red hair, the movement causes the strands to catch the light.

Quinn finds herself distracted by the dancing colours. “This just seems to have come a little more naturally for you.”  She shakes herself out of her trance.

“How do you figure that? Cause I took the first step?” Stevie pushes herself off the grill. The girls now stand only a few feet apart. “I wouldn’t have done it if you weren’t sending off tsunami sized waves.”

“I am not doing no such thing!” Quinn tries to sound firm, but she hears the faltering in her voice. “I’m not gay.”

“Is there’s something wrong with finding someone attractive? Regardless of the junk in their jeans?” Stevie demands.

“You sound like a teacher. I don’t need a lesson right now.” Their voices lower as their bodies move closer together. Almost of their own volition. Without the control of their owners. They know what they want.

“Not a teacher. Just someone who thinks…” Stevie lets her fingers drift to Quinn’s arm. “Someone who finds you attractive…”

“Oh shut up.” Quinn whispers and pulls Stevie towards her. Before either of them can think, or stop, or argue, their lips meet. Pressing together in a tight embrace. Hands explore unknown territory. Soft female skin touches equally soft skin. Stevie’s hand wraps around the back of Quinn’s neck; her fingers entwining through the long dark hair. Quinn pushes the cheerleader’s tight frame into the jeep. Their hunger for one another intensifying. Quinn inhales deeply. The smell of lotion and shampoo makes her light headed.

They pull apart at the sound of tires breaking gravel on the road leading into the rest stop. Adjusting their clothing, they’re back in the vehicle and driving away by the time the other vehicle comes into view.

Chapter 11

Chapter 9 – Roosters and Revelations

Quinn wakes to the sound of her phone ringing, the constant looping refrain of an indie pop song. Without opening her eyes, she answers.

“Hello?” Her voice rough with sleep.

“Dude! Is your lazy ass still in bed?” A male voice booms over the line.

“Geoff?” Quinn asks sleepily.

“Of course. Get up.”

“What time is it?” Rolling over, she opens her eyes to look at her clock. Two beady eyes stare back at her. “Jesus Christ!” She screams, jumping out of bed, the phone flying out of her hand.

“What? Quinn!? Are you alright?” Geoff’s tinny voice squeaks from the speaker. “Quinn?”

“I’m fine!” She picks of the phone and jams it between her ear and her shoulder, staring at the lamp that has found its way into her room while she was sleeping. “Ha ha, Dad! You’re so hilarious!” She calls down the hallway. She hears him chuckling from the tv room at the end of the hall. Placing the lamp in the corner of her closet, she makes a mental note to plot her revenge.

“I’m not even going to ask. Your family is so weird.”

“Shut up, jerk.”

“Ah, witticism at its finest. I tremble in fear of your biting come backs.”

“I just woke up. It takes me a while to warm the wit.” Quinn sighs, smiling to herself.

“We’re going for lunch. My treat.  Like I said, get dressed. I’ll be there in half an hour.” The phone goes dead as Geoff hangs up.

Knowing that when Geoff says half an hour, he means twenty minutes, Quinn runs for the shower. Dressing and braiding her hair into two plaits, she makes her way upstairs. The smell of turkey fills the air.

“Hey, Dad. When are we eating?” She calls down over the stairs. “I’m heading out for a bit.”

“Be home by 5:00. And unless you’ve magically finished your homework in all the time you haven’t been home this weekend, you should maybe aim for earlier than that.”

“I’ll see around 3:00.” She replies, hurrying out the door as she sees Geoff’s truck pull to a stop out front.

Hopping inside the vehicle, Quinn sighs. “Thank god for air conditioning. This weather is ridiculous.” She wipes the sweat from her neck. “How ya doing, dude?”

“Alright, alright.” He nods, pushing his sunglasses onto his face. He drives without asking where she wants to go. Not out of rudeness, but out of confidence. Their friendship is unlike anything she has with anyone else, even Ellie. They’ve known each other for years, but no longer than any of her other friends. They’ve never dated, but know each other’s emotional queues like they have. Geoff reads her even better than Stevie. He knows when to ask for input. When to push her. When to just make the decisions and take her along for the ride. She’s the same way with him. But somehow, he hasn’t figured out that she’s hiding this huge thing from him.

Before long, they’re parking in front of a small coffee shop mostly frequented by middle-aged women looking to gossip away the afternoon. Congregating near the door in the hopes of getting a look at any interesting tidbits that might wander in, they’re sure to accost any young people who dare to enter their sanctuary.

The door chimes ring as Quinn pushes through. A dozen heads turn in unison. Matching glimmers of curiosity turn sour as they see the pair walking over their threshold. No one here is interested in them. They have nothing to feed into the stream of consciousness that is small town life. These are kids that will leave as soon as they have the opportunity. These are the kids that they need to protect their own perfect children from. Corruptors of innocence in denim and hair dye.

Quinn and Geoff sit in the corner. Orders placed. Cold beverages on the way. Partially hidden by a wall of ferns, they settle onto the wooden chairs that litter the room. The old fashioned country style is more outdated and corny than retro chic. Tracing the outline of a rooster on her placemat, Quinn lets her thoughts wander.  Geoff says nothing until their milkshakes arrive.

“You’ve been a million miles away lately.” He finally breaks the silence.

“Hmmm? What?” Quinn snaps herself out of her daydream, the one of waking up in a comfortably foreign bed with a beautiful redhead beside her. “Oh it’s nothing. I’ve just got a lot on my mind. Exams and stuff. Where were you yesterday? Have another go round with that little girl?”

“What little girl?” He smirks.

“You know the one that was in your bed yesterday.” She stirs her drink with her straw. “We’re guessing it’s that Harmony chick from grade ten.”

“You figured that out, ‘eh?” He smiles into his glass. “Clever girls.”

“It wasn’t exactly difficult, especially when you answered the phone with her in your bed.” She raises her eyebrows suggestively.

“She’s cute.”

“She’s also a child.”

“She’s a year and a half younger than us.”  He shrugs. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Is it serious?”

“Why? Jealous?”

“I am more jealous of this rooster’s luscious comb.” She stabs a finger at the placemat.

“We’ve hooked up a couple times. I don’t see it going anywhere.”

“Yeah, fifteen year old girls are like that.” Quinn moves her milkshake out of the way as the waitress slides a plate in front of her. “Easy breezy. I’m sure this’ll go super well for you.”

“What the hell are you eating?” Geoff pokes at her plate with his fork, changing the subject.

“Get out of my food, you dork.” Jabbing at his hand with the butter knife, she smiles at the adopted language. “It’s smoked salmon. It’s delicious.”

“Have I ever told you that you eat the grossest food?” He picks up his cheeseburger and takes a giant bite.

“Whatever. So where were you last night? You just stayed in and turned in early? You and not going anywhere Harmony were a no show at the party.” Quinn loads a cracker with fish and cheese.

“We were there.” He garbles around a mass of ground beef,

“No you weren’t.” Quinn insists.

“I think I would know where my body was better than you would.” He swallows “We were late. You were pretty wrapped up with Terry. Or should I say wrapped around Terry. We were on our way over when the battle of the super preps broke out.”

“Oh, right, that.”  Quinn jams food into her mouth to avoid further comment.

“Yeah. That.” The odd tone in his voices causes Quinn to glance up quickly. Geoff looks at her intently from across the table. Using a french fry to mix together a combination of mayo and ketchup, he appears almost completely relaxed.

“What?”  She sorts through everything she’d done around him to see if there was anything he could have picked up on. Nothing. There’s no way he can know.

“You should tell me what’s going on.” He popped a condiment coated fry in his mouth. “You obviously need to talk to someone.”

“Going on?” Quinn feigns ignorance.

“With you and Terry.” Geoff watches her intently as he takes a long sip from his shake.

Relief rushes through her body. “Terry and I are new. Just something I’m trying out.” Leaning across the table, she grabs one of his French fries and pops it into her mouth.

“You seemed pretty into him last night.”

“We wouldn’t be seeing each other if I weren’t, right?” Quinn mentally chastises herself for freaking out over nothing.

“Good, cause for a moment last night, I thought maybe you were dating him to hide the fact that you’re into someone else.” Geoff’s posture changes as he leans forward. Sliding his plate to the side, he crosses his hands in front of him. Quinn’s mind races for the second time in a matter of moments. How does he know something is going on?

“I don’t know what you mean.” She stammers, searching for a way out of this conversation. Glancing quickly from side to side, she makes sure no one is close enough to overhear them.

“I don’t even really know what I mean.” His face softens. He reaches out and touches her hand. “I saw you leaving Stevie’s house yesterday morning. And by leaving, I mean running, at full speed, fully dressed, at like 9 in the morning. It slipped my mind until I saw you react to her fight with Chelsea. These people that you purport to hate. And you couldn’t look away. Not in a juicy gossip, I hope those bitches kick the shit out each other way, but in a genuinely concerned way. Like you would have looked if it was Ellie. Then there’s the I-like-girls revelation and you bolt. What the hell, Quinn?”

It feels like her tongue is too big for her mouth. She can’t seem to make it form words. Her brain has melted to a pool of useless mush. She wants to come up with an excuse. Something. Anything. But she can’t. The shock is almost tangible.

“There have been signs of something since school started. You’ve been distant. You take off without warning. You go missing for entire evenings. We no longer have to bribe you to watch a game, as long as the cheerleaders are there. You’re suddenly getting text messages from a cousin I’ve never heard you talk about before.”

“Geoff…” Quinn’s eyes swell with moisture. “I don’t know what to tell you. I… I’m not ready for this.”

“For what, Quinn? Are you interested in Stevie?”

Quinn’s chair tips as she bolts from her seat. The sound of wood meeting wood reverberates through the restaurant as the chair hits the floor. Heads swivel towards them. Eyes follow Quinn’s blue skirt fluttering in the breeze as she rushes out the door. Heads snap back to stare at Geoff. Throwing money onto the table, he yells to the waitress to wrap up the food, grabs the left behind purse, and follows his friend out the door.

The sunlight momentarily blinds him as he exits the darkened building. The heat causes an instant layer of sweat on any exposed skin. He pauses for a second. Looking at the truck. Up and down the sidewalk. Towards the park across the street. Trying to find a hint of that trademark purple hair. Nothing. Then he knows. Doing a quick check for traffic, he heads across to the park. Striding purposefully, he heads to the gazebo at the far end. Circling around the side, he sees the break in the hedge. Fumbling with a purse he has no idea how to hold, he slips between the branches.

On the other side, he finds her, sitting on a small patch of grass in a tiny clearing. They used to come here in elementary school. To trade lunches. To read books stolen from their parents’ bookshelves. To see how many bugs they could burn with the lenses from Quinn’s glasses. It seems so much smaller than it used to. The hedges are higher. The grass unkempt. The circle of shrubbery forcing them into close proximity. Squeezing in beside her, Geoff puts a hand on her arm. He sees her panic in the speed of her breathing.

“Quinn, you need to calm down and talk to me. What the hell is going on?” He reaches into her purse and pulls out the blue inhaler.

Taking a couple deep puffs, Quinn attempts to calm herself. Pulling her knees to her chest, she turns to look at him. “I don’t know what to say, Geoff.”

“Just say it, Quinn. Whatever you have to say, I can deal?”

“Okay,” She takes a deep breath, “I’m not interested in Stevie…”

“Please don’t lie to me.” He rubs his forehead.

“I’m dating her.” Quinn finishes.

“For real?” Geoff’s face shows that, whatever he was expecting, he wasn’t really prepared for the answer.

“Mm-hm.” Quinn mutters. The feeling in her stomach reminds her of playing with cornstarch and water as a kid. Oddly solid, but liquid. Completely unsettled. Unsure of how it will react next. “Since the summer.”

“How? What? When? I’m so confused. This is a huge deal.” He leans into the heavy foliage behind him, ignoring the branches stabbing his back. “How come you didn’t tell me?”

“Hello, cause you’re a guy. I assumed you didn’t care that much. It’s not like we sit around and talk about our feelings.”

“Yeah, dude, I’m a guy. Of course I want to hear about some hot girl on girl action.” He punches her lightly in the arm and winks.

“Gross, you know I hate winkers.” She giggles delicately, starting to feel more relaxed. Her arms release her knees from her chest. “And I don’t really know what I feel. I didn’t plan this. I don’t even really know when it happened.” But that’s a lie, she knows exactly when this all started. Three months ago…

Chapter 10

Chapter 8 – Bedroom Confessions

Sliding off the edge of her bed, Quinn pulls her comforter tightly around her body. Terry stretches across her bed; the bed sheet thrown haphazardly across his waist, his bare torso taunting her with her giant mistake. He tugs at the bedding to pull her back down beside him.

“You should get dressed.” She pulls away, “I don’t know when my dad is going to be home.”

“We still have some time, don’t we?” He kisses her neck, turning her towards him. Quinn stiffens. “What’s wrong? Was that you’re first time?”

“That’s not it.” She softens, puts on her best face, and kisses his cheek. “It’s just been a messed up kind of day.”

“And that didn’t relax you?” Terry raises an eyebrow. “I’ve only received good reports in the past. Do we need to try again?”

Quinn’s heart begins to race as she searches for a way out, a pit of regret forming rapidly in her stomach. Guilt moistens her skin. Of all the things she wished hadn’t happened today, this might be the worst. And it was completely her fault. She takes a deep breath, releasing the warm air against the skin of Terry’s shoulder. He takes it as an invitation and begins to pull her back down onto the bed. She pulls back when headlights flash through the slit beneath the blinds of her bedroom window.

Quinn jumps away from Terry. “You need to go.” She begins pulling on clothes from the floor, throwing Terry’s clothes at him. Dressed, they silently sneak down the hallway. Quinn tiptoes up the stairs, calling softly for her father, peeking into the entryway. Not seeing anyone, she pulls Terry up the stairs. Quickly, she kisses him goodbye and pushes him out the door. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Tying the strings on her pajama pants absentmindedly, she waits to hear her dad come through the back door but there’s no sound. She peeks into her sister’s room. Taylor is sound asleep, one leg hanging over the side of the bed. Smiling, she pulls the door closed. Glancing at the clock, she notices that it’s not even midnight. Her dad probably won’t be home for hours. She hasn’t totally lied to Terry. It has been a messed up day.

She’s in the kitchen filling the kettle when a knock at the backdoor startles her. The kettle slips from her fingers, catches the edge of the counter, and tumbles to the floor. Water spreads rapidly across the tiles. Leaving the mess, she heads to the door.  The knock comes again, gently.  Peeking through the blinds, Quinn sees the top of a hat. The person outside stands just outside the ring of light, staring at the ground, two long braids hang on either side of her face.

“Stevie?” Quinn whispers, cracking the door open.

“Hey.” Stevie mumbles, bearing little resemblance to her normal confident self.  Her voice is edged with fear. “Can I come in?”

Quinn can’t decide if she feels more angry or guilty. Stepping to the side, Quinn allows Stevie to enter the kitchen. “Get in here before someone sees you.”

“Why do you think I came to the back door?” Stevie huffs.

They fall into silence, simply standing there for what feels like forever. Quinn is the first to move. Picking up a towel, she begins to dry the puddle of water on the floor. Stevie steps around her, picks up the kettle, and fills it again. The sound of water coming to a boil fills the kitchen, momentarily drowning out the palpable silence between them.

When the kettle whistles, Quinn fills the French press, places it, two mugs, and some cookies on a tray. She leads Stevie downstairs. Once in her room, Quinn locks the door and checks the blinds. Unlike Stevie’s room, Quinn’s windows have an open view of the street. Quinn is thankful that she closed the blinds when she was in here with Terry. To arrive when she did, Stevie must have been waiting outside the house, watching for Terry to leave before she knocked. That makes Quinn feel even worse about what she’s done.

“So…” Stevie avoids the messed up blankets on the bed and curls into the chair in the corner of the room, giving Quinn her space.

“So…” Quinn refuses to give herself the comfort of sitting. Instead, she paces the short distance between her bed and the closet.

“I guess we need to talk.”  Stevie blows on her mug of coffee.

“I suppose we do,” Pausing, Quinn perches on the edge of the desk. Looking at her girlfriend, the scene from earlier in the evening replays itself in her head. She pushes off the desk. She needs to be moving. “I can’t believe you did that.” She starts to make the bed and hide the evidence of her indiscretion.

“You can’t believe it? How do you think I feel?” Stevie refuses to meet her gaze. “This wasn’t how I wanted things to go. You know that.”

“How can I know that? Everything you’ve done today has been so… so stupid.”

“Stupid? Right, well maybe tonight, yeah. But not this morning. You think this was how I wanted to come out? That stupid fight. With that stupid bitch.” Stevie looks directly at Quinn. Her eyes run the gauntlet of emotions: anger, sadness, embarrassment, fear. “All I could think of when those words came out of my mouth was how angry you were going to be.”

“Damn right I’m angry! I just told you this morning I’m not ready for this.” She grabs her stuffed bear and chucks it on the wall. “You promised! You said you would wait. We said we would do this together. When we were older.”

“Oh my god, Quinn! Please stop for a second and see what really  happened. I made a mistake!” Stevie pleads with her. “Tonight. At the party. I made a mistake.”

“So take it back. Tell Chelsea you were joking. That you were trying to make her look foolish. Do whatever you need to do to make this not have happened!” By this point both girls are standing. Coffee mugs forgotten on side tables. Toe to toe. “Please, Stevie.” Quinn’s voice loses its anger. Desperation takes over. “I can’t be without you.”

“Without me?” Stevie takes Quinn’s hands. “Why would you have to be without me?”

“Cause now you’re out. Now you’re going to want to be with someone else who’s out. That’s not me. I can’t. I’m not ready.” Quinn feels her defenses shatter. All the fear she’s been feeling finally overcomes her. Tears spill from her eyelids. Not pretty, girly tears. Hot, fast, uncontrollable tears.

Stevie’s arms wrap around her. Pulling her close. Molding into one another. Suddenly, Stevie knows she doesn’t want to take it back. She doesn’t care anymore. She’ll deal with the consequences. She’ll talk to her father. She’ll talk to Kevin. But she knows what she wants. “Hey. Hey.” She lifts Quinn’s chin, wiping away a tear. “I will always want to be with you. Always.”

“Even if I’m not willing to come out?”

“Yup.”

“Even though I’m going to have to keep pretending I hate you?”

“Yup.”

“Even if I made a mistake tonight, too?”

“Yup.”

“Even if… even if that mistake was sleeping with Terry because I was so angry with you?” Quinn cringes, but knows she needs to tell Stevie the truth, no matter how much it hurts both of them.

Stevie pauses for just a second, her eyes flicking to the newly made bed. “Okay, that one’s a little hard to deal with. Because you felt you had to do it because of what I did. I didn’t want to… But, it doesn’t matter. I understand where you are. I don’t expect you to do this just because I decided to.”

Quinn smiles at Stevie, and starts playing with one of her braids. “You’re sure?”

“Absolutely. I’m not going to lie. It hurts. And I might have a good cry about it later, but I want you in my life. However that happens, I’ll deal.  We’ll deal.”  Stevie holds Quinn chin and stares at her. “But do you think there’s any way you can make that” Her eyes look to the bed again “not happen again? If you want to, then do it, but let me know, cause I don’t know if that’s something I can deal with.”

“Have you really not slept with Kevin in months?”

“Really.” Stevie nods, “Well, I guess technically a month and a half, right after school started.”

“How have you managed that?” For the first time since she woke up that morning, Quinn begins to feel some semblance of normalcy. “I can’t imagine being able to keep my hands off you for that long.”

“It’s been a month of cramps and stomach flu and periods.” Stevie shrugs. “I’ve been the worst kind of girl.” They settle on the bed and scoot back until they’re leaning against the wall. The anger of earlier ebbs away as their conversations settles into its familiar rhythm. “But you and Terry are new. He’s going to want to do this again.”

Quinn places with Stevie’s fingers. “I’ll see what I can do. I can’t believe I slept with him this soon. We’ve been friends for so long. I’m going to hurt his feelings. What are we doing, Stevie?”

“What do you mean?” Stevie leans against Quinn’s side.

“We’re going to hurt people. Good people. Kevin and Terry are innocent in this whole thing.”

“Terry slept with you after dating for two days.” Stevie raises and eyebrow. “Did he even try to suggest that you don’t? Or that you wait until you’re both sober for your first time.” Quinn begins to speak, but Stevie holds up her hand to stop her. “I’m not implying he did anything wrong. He did what any teenage boy would do. He had sex with a hot teenage girl who wanted to have sex with him. He’s not a guilty party, but he’s not entirely innocent either.”

“This is so complicated.” Quinn just wants to do is be with Stevie. “We’ll figure it out later. I’ll figure things out with Terry. You decide what’s going to happen at school. But right now, I just want us to be us.” Wrapping her arms around Stevie, Quinn pulls her close. “We’re good?”

“Absolutely.” Stevie kisses Quinn hard. Squeezing her tight. Not wanting to let her go. The anger of the day set aside. For the moment, it’s just the two of them. No one else matters.

Quinn revels in the feel of Stevie’s hands on her skin. Small, delicate, strong. Perfect. The softness of Stevie’s lips against her own. Her hands trail along the cheerleader’s body. She tightens her grip and pulls her closer. Unlike Terry’s hard, muscled torso, this feels right. Quinn feels her body mold against Stevie’s. She sighs and inhales the reassuring sent of Stevie’s shampoo.

Stevie smiles at Quinn when they finally break away from one another. Genuine happiness makes her eyes sparkle.

“Can you stay?” Quinn flips the long braid between her fingers.

“I should leave before your dad gets home.” Stevie leans her forehead against her girlfriend’s.

“Always the reasonable one.” Quinn smiles and kisses her. They walk through the house hand in hand. Stevie sneaks out the back door and into the shadows, happier than she’d been waking up that morning.

Half an hour later Quinn loads the dishwasher, emptying almost full cups of cold coffee into the sink. As she starts the machine, her father walks through the front door.

“Hey Pops.” She calls, tucking herself into a chair in the living room. It’s late, but she’s nowhere near tired.

“Hey Daughter. How was your evening?” He takes a seat in the opposite arm chair. Peeling his socks from his feet, he tosses them to the side. Quinn raises a playful eyebrow.  “I’ll pick them up before your mother comes home.” He smiles ruefully.

“My night was not exciting.”  She lies. “How was your tournament?”

“It was good. I was teamed up with a couple guys from work and Jake Monroe.”

“Terry’s dad?” Quinn gives him a quizzical look. “I thought it was a work tournament.”

“Just a work team. We had someone drop out. He was on the filler list.” Her dad pulls a score card from his pocket. “Nice guy. Not a great golfer.”

Quinn tries to decide if she should tell her dad she’s dating Terry. He interrupts her train of thought before she can decide.

“Don’t go anywhere.” Her father jumps from his chair, hurries down the stairs and out the front door. She watches him through the window. A few seconds later, he comes back in carrying a large white box.  “I won this in a draw. I thought you might want it.”

Taking the box from her father, she looks inside nervously. Her father’s tournament gifts are always bizarre. Instantly, laughter bubbles past her lips. “Dad!” Inside the box is a hideous lamp with a base made from a taxidermied gopher.  She pulls it out, holding it at arm’s length. “It’s so creepy!” Quinn shifts the lamp from the left to the right. “Its eyes kind of follow you.”

“So you want to put it in your room?”

“No way!” she giggles. “Hide this thing.” She hands it back to him. “Preferably in the garbage can. In the neighbour’s yard. I’m going to bed.” She skips down the stairs and falls into an easy sleep the second her head hits the pillow.

Chapter 9

Chapter 7 – Bush Parties and Bad Decisions

Quinn wakes to the incessant beeping of her phone. Over and over again. There’s a message waiting. She rolls over, rubbing her face vehemently, wiping away the salty trails crusting her skin.  Reaching down, she rummages through her bag until she finds the source of the beeping. 6 messages: 1 from Ellie, 1 from Terry, 4 from Stevie. She wishes one was from Geoff.

She quickly reads Ellie’s message and the following four messages asking to talk before she flips to Terry’s: “Want a slushie and some fun-dip?” She grins, a night with Terry might be a good distractions. It might be just what she needs to decide if the last several months have just been one giant mistake. Maybe there’s just this one girl for this one time. The phone rings in her hand.

“Beotch! Where the hell were you last night!”  Ellie’s voice travels through the receiver.

“I had stuff. What’s the plan for tonight?” distractedly Quinn strips off yesterday’s clothes. “You probably have family stuff ‘eh?”

“Nah. We’re doing our big supper tomorrow.”

“Us, too.” Quinn nods, scanning her closet.

“We were going to have a lake party, but the fucking cops busted up a bunch of chauches partying there last night, so that plan’s out.”

“A lake party would have been kick ass.” Rubbing her hands against her legs, Quinn decides she can go another day without shaving. “We could try something entirely different.”

“Like what?”

“A night in. Popcorn and a movie, maybe?”

“Well, I don’t know. Where?”

“We could do it here. Dad’s golf tournament is this weekend. Their supper and stuff is tonight, so he’ll be out late.”

“Can’t we bush party? Huh, can’t we? Please?” Ellie whines.

“Ellie, I really don’t feel like partying tonight.”

“You bailed on us last night, you can’t do it again! We have a finite number of long weekends in our senior year.”

Sighing, Quinn wanders down the hall to the bathroom. “Can I think about it?”

“Nope. I’m coming over to pick you up in half an hour. We’re going to go play some Frisbee and then it’s all about the bush.”

Choking back a chuckle, Quinn resigns herself to a party. “Alright. Alright. I give.” She spreads toothpaste on her toothbrush. “Are you talking half an hour of real time, or half an hour of Ellie time.”

“I’ll see you in an hour, bitch.” Ellie laughs and ends the call.

Climbing into the passenger seat of Ellie’s beat up green Volkswagen, Quinn slips her sunglasses onto her face. “Lady.”

“Dude.” Ellie pulls an iced coffee from the cup holder and hands it to her best friend.

“Awe, thanks buddy! This is exactly what I needed.”

“Rough night?”

“Rough morning.” Quinn pulls a long sip from the drink. “You know how sometimes things just don’t go the way you expect?”

“Wanna talk about it?” Ellie asks, not taking her eyes off the road.

“Not really.”

“Then pick some music and let’s go indulge in some retail therapy.”

“Sounds like a mofoing plan.” Turning on a Pixies’ album, Quinn leans back in her chair and watches the scenery slide by. The coffee in her hand confirms that she isn’t willing to risk losing Ellie. She and Geoff are the two people Quinn’s most worried about losing if she comes out, even more than her parents. Ellie will never accept Stevie. Never. Not someone from the popular crowd. One of the overly spirited, neatly dressed, boring as crap, carbon copies of everything they’re supposed to want to be. That relationship will kill their friendship.

Pulling into the parking lot of the only store in town that is even remotely suited to their fashion sensibilities, the two girls climb out of the air-conditioned car into the blistering heat. Sweat instantly pools in every possible crevice.

“What the hell?”  Ellie looks up at the sky. “It’s October. Isn’t there supposed to be snow by now?”

“Shut your mouth!” Quinn laughs, “Would you rather be bundled up in a parka?”

“Point taken.”  They scamper into the darkness of the store. Quinn wanders away from where Ellie is sorting through a display of silver jewelry and heads toward a rack of shirts. Flipping through the hangers, she finds an adorable pink and black blouse with little cap sleeves. She pictures how great Stevie would look in it, pulls the right size off the shelf, tucks it into a pile, and heads to a skirt she knows is hanging at the back of the store. Slipping between two shelves that seem awkwardly close together, she hears a girly giggle from the corner behind the shelving unit. Two pairs of sandaled feet. One boy’s. One girl’s. Not wanting to interrupt, she starts to move away but stops short when she hears an unexpected voice.

Slipping behind a rack, Quinn peeks between a couple pairs of pants.  Chelsea’s long blond hair is instantly recognizable. Her tight white top and tiny shorts were clearly not purchased in this store. Her long manicured nails brush through short dark hair. Annoyed that they are invading her store, Quinn makes a move to step forward but stops short when the boy turns. This isn’t Chelsea’s douchey boyfriend.

Backing up, Quinn pulls her cell phone from her purse and quickly types a text: “Not ready to talk. Just saw Chelsea making out with Kevin. Thought you should know.” She wants to scream in indignation for Stevie, but part of her is happy. This is a step towards Stevie not being with Kevin. But that might encourage her to come out more publically. Conflicting emotions make her head hum.

“Who ya texting?” Ellie bumps her on the hip.

“No one.” Quinn shakes herself out of her self-pity. “Just making sure I have enough money to buy all this crap.” She points to the pile of clothes in her arms and leads Ellie away from where Chelsea is hiding in the corner. “What do you think of this?” She grabs the skirt that had led her in this direction in the first place.

“Cute! And that is an adorable top.” Ellie fingers the blouse Quinn pulled for Stevie.  “Not really your style though.”

“I was thinking of a more rockabilly look. Shake things up a bit.” Quinn smiles at her friend. “Shoes?” Glancing over her shoulder, Quinn sees Chelsea’s back exiting through the front door.

“Always.” Ellie skips down an aisle to the wall of shoes.

A short time later, weighed down with bags, the two girls climb back into Ellie’s car. As Quinn settles into her seat, her phone vibrates. Flipping open the screen, she sees a message from Stevie: “Can we talk? Please. I need to talk to you before I see Kevin again.” She closes the phone, jamming it back into her pocket. All the emotions from this morning come flooding back. Turning to the window, she blinks back tears.

“Let’s pickup donairs and go back to my place to waste valuable time watching cooking shows? Sound like fun? Huh? Huh?” Ellie pokes her friend in the ribs.

A smile breaks across Quinn’s face. “Sounds like fun.” She agrees, slumping against the seat, letting her mind wander as Ellie puts the car into drive.

When they settle in Ellie’s bedroom twenty minutes later, Quinn sits on the floor and leans back against the bed. Unwrapping her food, she takes a big bite and sighs.

“This is delicious. Good suggestion.”

“I don’t know why you even order them. What’s the point with no tomatoes or onions?”

“The point is donair sauce. The point is always the sauce.” Quinn grins up at her.

“So, am I turning on reruns of Top Chef or are we talking about what’s been bothering you?”

“Don’t know what you mean.” Quinn mumbles around a mouthful of food.

“I’ve known you for fourteen years. I know when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re angry, and when you’re actually tired and stressed. This thing you’re doing lately isn’t stress. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was happiness. But super, duper distracted happiness.”

“Can’t you just leave it at that?” Quinn wraps up the bottom half of her meal.

“You don’t want to share the source of your happiness? Can’t be Terry. You just started seeing him two days ago.”

“It’s complicated.” Quinn shrugs and crawls up onto the bed. “Too complicated for a Sunday afternoon. Give me Top Chef or give me death.”

“Always the melodramatic one.” Ellie flips on the tv and starts twisting Quinn’s hair into long, braids.

*****   *****   *****

Dusk is falling as Ellie’s car pulls into the field. Parking next to the tree line, Quinn can see Terry’s truck already parked and empty. Pulling containers from the trunk, they head towards the group of people attempting to build a fire.

“So, tonight’s all about fun. No thinking. No problems. Just seat of your pants, spontaneous fun. Alright?” Ellie looks at Quinn.

“Isn’t it always?” Quinn shoots her a smile.

“I mean it. Whatever it is that you’re not telling me about is back burnered for the night. You want something you just do it. If I see you thinking, I will cunt punt. Understand?”

“Jesus, Els! Do you have to be so… ugh, I hate that term.”

“I mean it, Quinlyn.” Ellie stares her down.

“Sir. Yes, sir!” Snapping to attention, Quinn salutes her friend, stone-faced. She holds the pose for a few seconds before losing her composure and laughing. Rolling her eyes, Ellie puts their drinks down on the picnic table.

“Babes!” Ellie jumps on Jason’s back, wrapping her legs around his waist. Within minutes, they’re making out beside the keg.

“Hey you.” Terry slides an arm around Quinn’s shoulder. “Those two really have this relationship thing down to a science.” His thumb caresses the skin of her upper arm.

“A pseudoscience, maybe.” Quinn laughs, leaning against him as she watches the fire grow. The crackling of the wood is soothing, distracting her from the barrage of arguments running through her head. Whenever her thoughts drift to Stevie, her red hair, her sparkling eyes, her soft skin, Quinn panics. As much as she wants to be with her, all she can think about is the reactions if she were to come out. The reaction of her friends, family, the town. How betrayed Terry will be if he finds out what she’s doing to him. She feels a twinge of guilt as Terry’s hand slides down over her butt. Looking up at him, she finds him looking down at her. That tiny smile that’s always playing across his lips. Maybe he is the one she’s supposed to be with.

To distract herself, she crawls into Terry’s lap. Straddling his legs, she wraps her arms around his neck. The hot flesh of his palms presses against the cool skin of her thighs. His hands are so much larger than she likes. Her lips meet his. His tongue brushing against hers. Her brain screams at her. This is wrong. It isn’t what she wants. She needs something more delicate. Softer. More feminine. Every touch is confirmation.

Pushing against the thoughts, she tightens her grip. Pulling herself desperately against Terry’s firm chest. Trying to escape her brain. His hands run up her legs. His fingers find the hem of her shorts, travel beneath them, higher and higher up her legs. Finally, she can’t push against the yelling in her brain anymore.

“Whoa cowboy, not here.” She giggles, sliding off his lap. Finding a place on the grass beside him, she leans away. Not enough to offend, just enough to show that she’s serious.

“Later then.” He kisses her shoulder and gets up to grab another beer.

“Get me a cider, yeah?” She calls after him.

People continue to arrive as the sky darkens. Different social groups begin to mingle on the grass. Conversations flutter through the air – discussions of basketball and turkey and full stomachs. Quinn finishes her drink and tosses the bottle to her feet. Terry’s body exudes heat from beside her. Looking up, she sees skin and blond hair bouncing towards the fire. Immediately, her eyes scan the distance behind Chelsea. She doesn’t see Stevie in the crowd of people surrounding the fire. She breathes a sigh of relief.

“You seem distracted.” Terry pushes a strand of hair behind her ear. “Want another drink?”

“Please!” Quinn answers emphatically, knowing the answer should probably be no. Terry grabs another bottle, opening the cap before he hands it to her. She kisses him on the cheek in thanks.

“That’s all I get? A kiss on the cheek?”  He raises his eyebrows.

“You think you deserve more, do ya?”

“I opened the bottle with my bare hands. So, come here.” Laughing, he grabs her waist and pulls her onto his lap. She settles against his chest and takes a long drink. Terry’s telling her a story about a water pipe breaking in the church basement when they hear yelling from the other side of the fire.

“You are such a fucking bitch!” Stevie’s voice rings out so loudly the crowd falls silent. The red head stands, hands fisted at her sides, staring down the head cheerleader.

“What the hell is your problem?” Chelsea’s grip on her beer tightens.

“How can you do this to someone you call your friend?” Stevie’s arms are rigid with anger. “Your best friend!”

“What the hell are you talking about, headcase?” Chelsea yells back.

Kevin steps up beside his girlfriend. Stevie holds up a finger to stop him.  “I will get to you later, Kevin!” She turns back to Chelsea. “Are you sleeping with my boyfriend?”

“When exactly did you become a psycho?” Chelsea looks around incredulously, “First you bail in the middle of a party. Then you start defending the freak shows. You don’t show up where you’re supposed to. Now you accuse me of this!”

“Someone saw you together!”

“Who?” Chelsea’s bravado wavers for the briefest of seconds, but it’s enough.

“Baby, let me explain.” Kevin tries once again to interject.

Stevie spins to look at him, “I said later!” She turns back to the girl who’s supposed to be her best friend. “It doesn’t matter who it was!”

Quinn fidgets from her side of the fire, wanting to be the one supporting her girlfriend, knowing that she can’t do anything to help. She shifts away from Terry’s body.

“Maybe, if you weren’t such a prude your boyfriend wouldn’t have turned to me to get some touch.” Chelsea shoots back.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Stevie jams her hands into her back pockets.

“You haven’t fucked him in months. I’ve watched you with him. You recoil every time he touches you.”

“My sex life is none of your business!”

Quinn’s throat tightens with panic. This is not going the way it’s supposed to.

“It is when I start to think that you’re not into guys. When you start not wanting to do your boyfriend, what are we supposed to think?” Everyone at the party has stopped talking. The music has ended, but no one moves to turn it back on. No one is paying attention to anything other than the two most popular girls in school tearing into each other. “Are you turning into a big gay lezbo, Stevie?” Chelsea’s beer falls to the ground as she throws her hands at Stevie. “You like the girls, do ya?”

“Yes! I do!” Stevie screams without pause. “I am a lesbian. What the hell are you going to do about it?” Then, realizing what she’s said, she slaps her hand over her mouth. A collective gasp sounds, followed by the loudest silence possible.

Grabbing Terry’s hand, Quinn pulls him away from the fire; their movement breaks the frozen shock. Whispers wave through the crowd. Quinn doesn’t look back at Stevie. Every fear she’s felt since their fight this morning has come true. In less than 24 hours, Quinn has gone from the happiest moment of her life, to the worst.  Anger swells inside her. How could Stevie do this to her? Force them into this situation. Force her into this situation. And for it to come out this way. Now Quinn’s role in the whole situation will be tainted by this moment. When it finally comes out, she is going to be blamed for breaking up a golden couple. She turns to Terry “You wanna see my bedroom?”

Chapter 8