Pressing her hand flat against the ornate wood, Stevie runs her fingers across the intricately carved patterns. She opens the door and steps across the threshold. Her heart flutters at breakneck speed. She pauses to take a deep breath and regain the composure she holds so dear. The hardwood floor creaks beneath her feet. Glancing around quickly, Stevie sees a woman sitting silently at the front of the room, eyes closed, head bowed. Stevie starts down the stairs. Eighteen steps. Familiar steps. The steps she counts every time she walks them. Her breathing evens out with every stair. These steps that always lead to Quinn.
The third door on the left. Always the same door. The knob turns easily in her hand. The hinges are silent. The horrible orange shag worn down by time and feet gives the room a strange feeling of comfort. Plastic chairs sit haphazardly around rough wooden tables with beaten metal legs. Posters cover the walls. Stevie ignores their inspirational messages and takes a seat on one of the chairs, rocking with the wobble of uneven legs. She hasn’t heard from Quinn yet, so she pulls a small e-reader from her purse and opens her book.
The door swings open about twenty-five minutes later. Quinn slips silently into the room, grabs a chair and jams it under the doorknob. There are no locks in this place. With the door secure, she turns to Stevie, still sitting across the room. Simultaneously, smiles erupt across their faces. With a few quick steps, they’re wrapping their arms around one another. Lips meet in a crush of passion. Stevie’s fingers wind through Quinn’s hair. Her pale skin stark against the deep black strands. Quinn’s hands flare across her back, pulling her closer.
Stevie slips her hands along Quinn’s sides and without warning, lifts her off the ground. A squeal escapes Quinn’s lips as she instinctively wraps her legs around the tiny waist.
“Jesus! How did you…” Her arms close around her girlfriend’s pale shoulders. “I’m bigger than you.”
“I’m a cheerleader. I spend my days picking up girls.” Stevie grins as she moves towards one of the tables.
“Should I be jealous?” Quinn’s breath catches as the cold table touches the underside of her legs. Scooting back, she pulls Stevie up with her.
“Never.” Stevie crawls up on the table, straddling Quinn’s legs.
“I’ve missed you.” Quinn whispers.
“Me, too.” Stevie answers, running her fingers slowly up Quinn’s legs. Quinn watches the pale white skin inch towards the hem of her skirt, then over the fabric and up her torso to the zipper tab. Stevie slowly slides the teeth apart until the sweater falls open. Quinn leans back on her arms, letting Stevie take the lead. She shivers as Stevie’s fingers slide the fabric off her shoulders, over the ticklish spot at the top of her arm. She moves her arms to slide them out of the cuffs. Stevie throws it into a black heap on the floor without breaking eye contact.
She watches Quinn. Watches the anticipation building in those deep grey eyes. Stevie feels the corner of her mouth hitch up with unrestrainable happiness. She maintains eye contact as her fingers find the buttons of Quinn’s shirt. She’s glad it’s this shirt. This is so much more fun than pulling a t-shirt over her head. She takes her time. Starting at the bottom. When the final button releases, Stevie follows the same action she’d taken with the hoodie.
Quinn inhales as the cool air hits her skin. Stevie’s fingers trace slowly along her skin.
“Are you going to get around to taking my bra off before service on Sunday?” Quinn asks. “Or are you going to make me do it?”
“I believe there’s a magic word required when you want something.”
“You want me to say please?” Quinn raises an eyebrow.
“Maybe.” Stevie continues to play her fingers across Quinn’s skin.
“Just shut up and do it.” Quinn laughs, lunging forward. She grabs the back of Stevie’s head, wrapping her fingers in the long, red strands. She crushes their mouths together, pressing her tongue into Stevie’s. Her other hand slides up Stevie’s leg and under her skirt. “Cause if you won’t, it’s my turn.”
Stevie’s breath catches. Her skin tingling with anticipation. She forces herself to catch Quinn’s hands and holds them away. “You get to wait your turn.”
An hour or so later, Quinn and Stevie sit cross-legged on top of the table. Quinn pulls a chocolate muffin from her oversized purse and sets it on the table between them. Leaning forward, elbows on her knees, she steals a kiss.
“How very Sixteen Candles.” Giggling, Stevie peels back the wrapper and pops a piece of cake in her mouth.
“Yeah. That means exactly nothing to me.” Quinn’s eyebrows scrunch together, searching for the reference.
“Really?” Stevie’s nose crinkles “It’s this super old, cheeseball movie. I love it.”
“And how did we get from here to there?” The stinging in Quinn’s raw palms has returned now that she’s not distracted. She rubs them with her thumbs.
“There’s this scene at the end.” Absentmindedly, Stevie takes Quinn’s hands into her own. “The girl has finally gotten the guy. They’re sitting on the table, cross-legged, facing one another. There’s a birthday cake between them. They kiss.” Stevie leaned forward, planting a kiss on Quinn’s lips.
“So, true love then?” Quinn rolls her eyes and smiles.
“Yup. True eighties’ movie love. John Hughes really knew where it was at.”
“Oh my god. You are delightfully dorky.” Intertwining their fingers together, Quinn plays her thumb along the edge of Stevie’s hands. “That is why you are so adorable.”
“It’s the time of the nerd.” Stevie chuckles, wiping a stray crumb from the corner of Quinn’s mouth. “Knowing your pop culture is eternally cool.”
“That means you watch all your dorky old movies with Chelsea and Brianne eh?” Quinn replies.
“Hell no!” Stevie presses Quinn’s fingers against her lips. “They have no appreciation for anything that isn’t some rom com crap. I hide my nerd from them at all costs.”
“Mwahahaha.” Quinn pulls her hands back so she can tap her fingers together maniacally. “Now I have ammunition.”
“What happens in the church basement stays in the church basement.” Stevie laughs.
“On an entirely different note…” Quinn pauses, pressing Stevie’s palm momentarily to her lips. “Something happened earlier tonight.”
“Oh yeah?” Stevie pulls her shirt back on, as Quinn jumps down to grab her hoodie from its discarded place on the floor.
“Ellie’s figured out I’m into someone. I needed an out.” Quinn worries the string of her sweater. “So, I’m probably going to start dating Terry.”
“We do what we have to.” Stevie nods understandingly. “Even if what we have to do is sucky.”
“Super sucky.” Quinn bites her lip, leaning back against the table.
Leaning in, Stevie bumps her playfully on the shoulder “At least he’s hot. For a degenerate.”
“He’s better than Kevin.” She swats Stevie on the arm
“Kevin’s a nice guy.” Stevie’s arms slide around Quinn’s waist. “And I’ve got you. I’ll deal with the rest of it. We both will.”
Quinn kisses her girlfriend softly. “Do you know how amazing you are?” Her finger brushes along Stevie’s jaw.
“Yes, I do.” Stevie grins.
“Can you amazingly come up with a new place for us to meet?”
“Why!? Why would we have to meet somewhere else? I love it here.” Stevie petulantly stomps her foot. “It is perfect here. I refuse to give up the one place we don’t have to worry about parents, or friends, or anything.”
“You know who the minister here is, right?”
“No idea.” Stevie shrugs. “Why would that matter?”
“It’s Terry’s dad.” Quinn grimaces.
“Quinn,” Stevie puts her hands on Quinn’s arms, “you dating Terry is not going to change where we meet.”
“But what if we run into him?”
“He’s your friend now, right?” She waits until Quinn nods. “And have we ever ran into him here before?”
“So, do you think there’s a chance that you and Terry are going to be spending a lot of evenings hanging out in a church basement?”
“And besides, if he catches you here, you can always just say you’re setting up for your indoctrination sessions.” Stevie jokes.
“We call it Sunday School.” Quinn sticks out her tongue. “And I only teach the…”
“No time for a lesson right now, sweets.” Stevie grabs her purse from the corner. “It’s after 1:00 am. We should probably get out of here.”
They slip into the hallway together. Their footsteps echo as the carpeted stairs give way to gleaming hardwood floor. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Stevie’s fingers trail across Quinn’s wrist as she turns left, slipping into the entryway, and disappearing quickly through the large doors.
Quinn turns right, stepping into the inner sanctuary. Row upon row of shining cedar. Puddles of rainbows fall from stained glass. Streetlights mimic sunshine. She walks to the front of the church, slides into a pew, and lowers her head.
*** *** ***
“Quinn… Quinn.” A hand shakes her shoulder gently. “Quinlyn. It’s time to get up.”
“Mmmm.” She swats in the direction of the voice. “It’s a holiday. Five more minutes.”
“Come on. I made waffles.” Her mom’s hand pushes a little harder. “And you have to watch your sister today.”
“What?” Sitting up in bed, Quinn rubs her eyes, “Mom, she’s too old for a sitter.”
“Honey, do you ever listen when I speak?” Her mother shakes her head as she opens the blinds, late morning light flooding the room. “I’m flying out this afternoon and your father has his golf tournament. He’ll be home around eight. You know I don’t like her hanging around the house alone.”
“You’re gone for Thanksgiving?” Quinn rubs her eyes, trying not to snap at her mother for the way she treats her sister.
“Yes. We’ve talked about this Quinn. Your dad will do something with you guys on Monday. Don’t panic. You’ll get your precious ham.” She chuckles.
“Mmmm, ham.” Quinn chuckles, curling back under her covers. “Where are you off to this time?”
“Beijing. I’ll be gone for a week.” Pulling the door closed behind her, she calls over her shoulder, “Now get dressed.”
Rolling out of bed, Quinn settles on the floor, staring at her closet. Still mostly asleep, she inches across the carpet until her toes can grab the discarded yoga pants on the floor. She pulls them towards her and rolls until she’s pulled them on. Staring up from the floor, she notices a brightly coloured book through the slats at the top of the closet.
“What are you?” Quinn muses and bounces up onto her feet, now awake. On her tiptoes, she reaches onto the shelf but her fingers meet only air. Now that she knows it’s there, she needs to reach it. With a jump, her fingers brush the edge of the book. “Get down here.”
She grabs the remote from the folds of the blankets and jumps until the buttons smack down on the surface. She uses their stickiness to pull it to the edge and let it tumble into her hands. A photo album with cartoon flowers dancing across the front and smiling clouds. She flips it open to pictures from summer camp years earlier. Tucking the album under her arm, she skips upstairs.
“Mom?” Quinn slides onto a chair at the table and slips a waffle onto her plate.
“Yes?” Her mother’s hands wrap around a coffee mug as she takes a seat across the table.
“Do you have any job openings at the office?”
“I thought you were happy at the deli?”
“I am.” Her words form around a mouthful of dough, syrup and butter. “Oh my god, these are so good.” She mutters as soon as she swallows and jams another bite in her mouth. “Geoff wants a job.”
“Does he expect me to give him a job that he can just blow it off because I’m your mom?”
Another waffle meets a knife coated in butter. “He might actually work harder because it’s you.”
“Alright, well, I could use someone to do some basic office stuff a few hours a week.” She answers distractedly as she fingers through the paperwork she needs for her trip.
“Are there more waffles?” Quinn glances towards the counter.
“Jesus, Quinn. Have you eaten this week?”
“What do you mean?”
“You just ate three waffles in about five minutes.”
“What? I am starving!” Quinn grins, picking up the last piece from the plate.
“Well, don’t make yourself sick. And don’t let your sister see you eating like that.”
“You know that she gains weight easily. I just don’t want her to have difficulty in school.”
“Good luck with that.” Quinn mumbles as she takes a sip of her coffee.
“Don’t be snarky, Quinn.” Mrs. Stephens heads towards the hallway “Have Geoff call me when I get back. Until then, I need you to watch the office. Do you still have your key?”
“Yup.” Putting her plate in the dishwasher, Quinn heads to the living room with her photo album tucked under her arm.
“Go get Taylor so I can say goodbye.” Her mother calls over her shoulder. “I’ll meet you out at the car.”
With a sigh, Quinn returns to the basement. Walking into the family room, she finds her twelve-year-old sister sprawled on the floor on her stomach, watching some preteen drama, still wearing her pony pajamas.
Leaning against the doorframe, Quinn watches the screen for a minute. “Hey loser. What’re you doing today?”
Rolling her eyes, Taylor points at the tv. “There’s a marathon.”
“Mom’s leaving. She wants us to go say goodbye.”
“Whatever.” Turning back to the tv, Taylor ignores her sister.
“Don’t be a bitch.” Quinn jams the power button. “Come on.”
“I’m so telling Mom you called me that.” Jumping up from the floor, Taylor towers over her, already taller than Quinn’s 5’5” frame.
“How about you keep your mouth shut, and I won’t tell mom that you hide bags of cookies in my room?”
“Fine.” Taylor huffs as she pushes by her sister, bumping her shoulder a little harder than necessary. Together, the girls walk out to the car where their mother is putting her laptop bag on the front seat.
“Take care. I’ll see you guys next Sunday.” She hugs both girls. “Watch what Taylor eats.” She whispers to Quinn.
“Mom!” Quinn backs away.
“Bye Mom.” Taylor hugs her mother quickly and returns to the house.
“Can’t you ever cut her some slack?” Quinn demands, crossing her arms over her chest.
“You know I worry. She’s built exactly like your Aunt Sarah.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Auntie Sarah is awesome, and she’s super pretty.”
“She’s also in her mid-thirties, overweight, and unmarried.” Her mother crosses her arms over her chest. “I want more for your sister.”
“Sarah is happy mom. Can’t you just let us figure out who we are?”
“Let’s not argue right before I leave.” Mrs. Stephens shakes off the conversation. “Just make sure she eats some vegetables. Same goes for you.”
“Dad is can actually cook, Mom. It’s not like we live on chips and pop while you’re away.”
“Should we talk about your attitude instead of Taylor?”
“I’ll see you in a week, Mom” Quinn turns, walking away before she snaps and yells. “Have a safe flight.”
“I worry about her, Quinlyn.” Her mother calls back. “I worry about both of you.”
“You don’t have to, Mom.” Quinn responds, turning to look at her mom while still backing towards the house. “We’re fine. We’re both completely fine. Have a good trip. Buy me something cool.” Throwing a kiss in her mother’s direction, she hurries back into the house.
Taylor’s already hidden herself back in the basement by the time Quinn pours a fresh cup of coffee and curls in her favourite armchair, photo album open in her lap. The first page of pictures shows her at ten years old. Images filled with non-ironic cartoon shirts, high-waisted, ill-fitting shorts, and faces full of unadulterated happiness. The kind only a kid can have. Before they’re inundated with the worries of dating, the right clothes, the right friends. Of never being wrong. Of always being wrong.
Partway through the album, Quinn pauses. Looking at photos of her and her summertime friends, most of whom she hasn’t seen since those fun-filled five days. Since the promises to write all the time and visit before the next summer. But in the background of one photo, Quinn notices something she’s forgotten. A pretty girl surrounded by a crowd of boys. A beaming smile. Red hair shining in the sunlight.
Picking up her phone, she quickly punches in a text. She fingers the edge of the photo as she waits for the ding of a reply. The phone rings instead. She looks at the display and a smile lights up her face.
“Hey.” She can’t keep the happiness out of her voice.
“Hey yourself.” Quinn can hear the smile in Stevie’s voice.
“Where are you?”
“Driving to work.”
“Boo. That means you’re busy. My parents are gone.” Quinn fingers the picture, smiling.
“Damn it.” Stevie giggles. “What made you think of summer camp? I haven’t thought about that in years.”
“Me neither! I was looking through an old album and I saw you in one of the pictures. I’d forgotten we went to the same camp. You’ve always been adorable, haven’t you?” Quinn’s lip slides between her teeth as a grin breaks across her face.
“Yeah. We gingers are known for our adorableness. Our super gangly, awkward, freckly adorableness.” Stevie laughs.
“Don’t underestimate the power of the ging.” Quinn laughs.
“We will eat your soul.”
“The gaggle of boys around you seem to support my theory.”
“That’s just because I could throw down with them. And fortunately for you, I’m not really thinking about the boys right now…” Stevie’s voice is like honey.
“I guess I’m pretty lucky then.”
Stevie replies. “I just got to work, so I gotta go. You’ll be home later?”
“Not sure, but I’ll have my phone with me either way.”
“’kay. Bye Sweets.”
“Later.” Quinn taps the edge of the phone against her lips, smiling. Quinn jumps when her sister’s voice sounds from behind her.
“You like her like her, don’t you?”
“Jesus, Taylor! You scared the crap out of me.” Quinn’s hand flies to her pounding heart. ‘”I thought you were downstairs.”
“I was.” Climbing into the chair across from Quinn, Taylor stares at her intently. “Do you think it’s weird that you like a girl?”
“What are you talking about?” Quinn squints in concentration. “What girl?
“I’m not stupid, Quinn. You forget I’m in the house a lot.” Taylor pulls her legs up into the chair. “I’ve heard you on the phone a bunch of times.”
“How do you know it’s a girl?”
“It’s Stevie Frances. You’ve slipped and called her by her name a couple times when you think no one can hear you.”
“It’s not polite to eavesdrop, Tay.”
“It’s not polite to treat me like I’m invisible.” Taylor mimics.
“Fair.” Quinn nods. “Does it freak you out? That I’m dating a girl?”
“I don’t think so. Gemma and Bridget are dating on my show. It’s not a totally foreign concept to me.” Taylor shrugs. “You smile a lot when you talk to her. Does it freak you out?”
“At first, it was… strange. But no, it doesn’t. But there are a lot of people that it does. That’s part of why we don’t tell anyone.” Quinn leans forward and touches her sister’s hand. “You know that you can’t tell anyone about this Taylor. No one.”
“I know, Quinn.” Taylor squeezes her sister’s hand. “But, how can you be happy dating someone you can’t see in public.”
“It’s stupidly hard. But it’s also complicated.” Resting the rim of her coffee mug against her lips, Quinn pauses. “I want to see her all the time, but there’s more to keeping it quiet than…” she pauses, unsure how to continue.
“Than us both being girls. It’s not just about us.” Quinn struggles with her emotions. “There’s a hierarchy in our school, and our dating… well, that screws with way too many people’s lives.”