Several hours later, her father still at work, Stevie stands in her room, topless, sorting through her pajama drawer. After their discussion at supper, she and Max had spent the night playing crib and talking. He’s the only person who will play the game with her for hours on end. A light tapping sounds at the window. Startled, she grabs the first shirt her fingers find and pulls it over her head. Peeking around the curtains, she sees Quinn’s plaid socks poking out of the top of her black boots.
“Hey!” Stevie winds the window open. “You came.” The screen pops loose from its frame with a one handed motion.
“I told you I would.” Slipping through the window, thick carpeting cushions the thump of her boots. “Seriously, these are the biggest basement windows I have ever seen.”
“It was the only good decision my mother ever made.” Leaving the screen against the wall, Stevie cranks the window closed and pulls the curtains closed.
“I’ve never been in your bedroom before.” Quinn spins in the centre of the room, taking in her girlfriend’s most prized mementos.
“You’ve never been in my house before.” Stevie chuckles, her hands on her hips. “How does it feel to go where no man has gone before?”
“I know Kevin’s technically just a boy, but ouch. Poor boy.”
“Kevin’s never been in my room.”
“Really?” Quinn looks at her skeptically. “I really don’t believe that. You don’t have to pretend to make me feel better.”
“Not lying.” Stevie leans against the edge of her desk “Dad has very few rules. No one I’m dating in my room. I’ve never cared enough to consider breaking that one before.”
“So, where do you guys do the deed?”
“There are other places. His truck is surprisingly roomie.” Stevie shrugs. “His parents are less strict with the rules. My room and my bed are my safe space.”
Quinn puts her hands on her hips and spins around, thinking about what Stevie has just told her. It’s too much for her to take in. That Stevie would let her cross this line. “Ah look at all your trophies. You’re so accomplished.” She raises her eyebrows at the shelving running along the wall across from the bed, changing the subject.
“Don’t mock. I’m proud of my trophies.” Stevie watches Quinn, worrying that she’ll disapprove.
“And look at you and all your pretty friends.” Quinn fingers the pictures tucked into the frame of the mirror. Looking up, her eyes catch her girlfriend’s. “Dollface, what are you wearing?”
Stevie glances down at her shirt and smirks. In her hurry, she’d grabbed an old t-shirt she’s long outgrown. Coming barely halfway down her stomach, the logo for Surprise Harbor Camp sits more on her shoulder than her chest. “I think the universe is trying to tell us that we should have noticed each other a long time ago.”
“You wear that often? Cause thinking about you wearing that in front of other people gives me jealous feels.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want jealous Quinn now would we?” Stevie plays with the hem of the shirt. “Maybe I should, I don’t know, take it off?”
“I stand firmly on the side of yes.” Quinn turns away from the mirror, facing Stevie as she leans against the edge of the dresser.
Sliding across the floor, Stevie steps towards Quinn. Her hands splay across black fabric as she wraps her arms around Quinn’s waist. Quinn’s fingers trace the length of her spine slowly, find the hem of her shirt, and push it up over Stevie’s head. The too small shirt lands silently on the carpet. Stevie pushes aside the collar of Quinn’s top, pressing her lips against the line of the collarbone.
“Twice in one weekend. How did we get this lucky?” Stevie sighs.
Quinn doesn’t reply, moving away from the dresser, towards the unmade bed. Stevie’s calves hit the edge of the mattress and buckle. They tumble onto the bed together.
“Are you sure you want me here?” Quinn sighs as she raises up onto her arms, hovering above Stevie.
“What do you mean?” The red head stares up at her, perplexed.
“This is your safe space. I don’t want to take that away from you.” Quinn watches her. Needing to know that they are crossing this line together. This is more than just sex. This is intimacy.
“I could never feel unsafe around you.” Stevie replies, running her finger down Quinn’s chest until she hooks the waist of the skirt and pulls Quinn on top of her. “No stop talking.” She arches her back as Quinn’s lips trail from her mouth, to her neck and down her torso. Any doubts about what she and Quinn might be to each other melt away. This is exactly where she wants to be.
Stretching her arms above her head, Quinn feels the heat of the sun against her skin. Eyes tighten to keep out the light. It’s not time to wake up yet. She’s in the middle of an amazing dream about Stevie. Mumbling sleepily, she rolls onto her side, stretching her arms to find the teddy bear she still sleeps with. Instead, her fingers meet flesh, hair, fabric. Her eyelids fly open. Slamming shut immediately as the sun blinds her. Sitting up, she slowly opens her eyes and looks around. The dark blue bedding. The flowy white curtains. The trophies on the wall. This isn’t her room. Disorientation overwhelms her.
Then she looks down at the person in bed beside her. The pool of red against blue instantly calms her. Her eyes take in the expanse of white skin across Stevie’s back. The row of freckles parallel to her spine. She sinks back under the covers, fully aware that she should sneak back out the window and go home. It’s 9:30. Most likely, people are awake. Sneaking out will be harder than sneaking in. She doesn’t care.
“Stevie.” She whispers, pushing long hair off a pale shoulder. “Stevie, wake up.” She sing-songs into her ear.
“Mmmmm, what?” Stevie mumbles, rolling over, eyes gently flickering. Then fly open in surprise and confusion. “What the crap? Quinn? What are you… Oh right.” She sinks back down, molding herself against Quinn’s body. “Hey.” She smiles.
“Hey.” Quinn is happy. Very happy. She can’t remember the last time she felt this completely content.
“This is the nicest wake up I’ve ever had.” Stevie brushes her fingers along Quinn’s jaw.
“Even makes up for the fact that I’m missing church.” Quinn smiles.
Fingers linger as they caress the side of Quinn’s face. “I could get used to this.”
“It would be great.” Quinn agrees, brushing her lips against Stevie’s. “Too bad we can’t.”
“Why not?” Stevie mumbles sleepily.
“Coming out’s not an option. You know that.” Quinn shrugs. “Cause we just can’t… Cause our friends would never accept it. Cause going through the rest of high school with that hanging over us would be awful. Cause our families…”
“I came out to my uncle last night.” Stevie glances up at her nervously.
Quinn’s eyes widen. “Oh.”
“Oh?” Sitting up, Stevie leans against the wall. “That’s it? Just oh?”
“I’m not sure what else you want me to say.” Quinn pulls her knees up to her chest.
“Something. Anything. This is a huge deal for me.” Stevie pulls the blanket tight and sits up.
“No kidding.” Sliding off the bed, Quinn pulls her skirt off the floor. “I don’t suppose you thought about how this was going to affect me?”
“No, Quinn. I honestly did not think about how this would affect you.” Stevie grabs her discarded pants, jamming her legs into the fabric. “What I was thinking about was how much I like you. I don’t really see how it affects you outside of that.”
“Of course this affects me!” Quinn wraps her arms around her body. “I’m not ready to come out. It’s hard enough for us to have a relationship when no one knows about us. How are we supposed to keep this going once everyone knows about you? Is watching you? Is waiting to see who you’re with? Who turned you?” She’s throwing air quotes around with reckless abandon.
“Jesus, Quinn! It’s not like I took out an ad in the paper. I told my uncle. My family. It hasn’t left the confines of this house. I haven’t decided what else I’m going to do.” Stevie leans towards Quinn, and immediately steps away from the armour of buckles and leather that suddenly feels like a wall between them. “I thought you would be happy. You of all people. This is a step forward for us.”
“For you maybe, but for me? Fuck, Stevie, you know how my parents feel about this. You have this amazing family that accepts everything about you. I have to work harder than that.” Her voice rising.
“They’re your family; they’ll come around.” Anger overshadows concern as Stevie snaps back at her.
“Okay, forget the family issues you clearly don’t understand.” Quinn jams her feet into her boots. “What about our friends? Are you ready to give it all up? To have to recreate your life? To deal with Chelsea? Do you think she’ll be okay with us dating? We’ll be rejected by ev… Fuck! Whatever, I can’t talk about this right now.” Cranking the window open seems to take an eternity. Quinn shimmies out as soon as the space is wide enough. Leaving Stevie standing alone in a fog of angry words, Quinn runs for the street. Disregarding caution. Too freaked out to care if anyone sees her.
Throwing herself into the bucket seat of her jeep, her chest feels like it’s about to explode. The momentary bliss of the morning completely erased by Stevie’s revelation. They’ve talked about coming out before, doing it together, when they’re both ready. After high school. Now, it’s all different.
Somehow, Quinn makes it home. She doesn’t remember the drive. Her dad’s already off golfing. There’s no one to question where she’s been. Crawling onto her bed, Quinn buries her face in her pillow. Tears seep through tightly closed eyes. Her chest heaves. Her throat refuses to release the building sobs. Mental exhaustion and confusion overtake her and she descends into a fitful sleep.
***** ***** *****
Sitting in her room, Stevie stares at the open window. Angry. Frustrated. Scared. Letting out a guttural shriek, she angrily jams the screen back into the frame and kicks at the wall below the window. “Shit,” she curses, rubbing her throbbing toe. Throwing herself onto her bed, she stares up at the ceiling, reviewing the roller coaster that’s been her last year.
Although she and Quinn had been going to school together for most of their lives, they’d never really interacted. They’d always hung in different circles, even when they were in elementary school. Quinn had been the popular one back then, with her long, pretty, blond hair and her big eyes. The boys were always chasing her. Stevie had been such a tomboy. Climbing through the mud with the boys. Beating them up if they pointed out she was a girl.
Then, slowly, over the years, things began to shift. Finding cheerleading gave Stevie an in with the popular crowd. Quinn had morphed from the adorable little girl into an angry awkward teen. As they moved into high school, Stevie remained popular and Quinn’s awkwardness went away but she continued to move further away from the norm. Their circles rarely touched.
Stevie had always thought that Quinn’s group went out of their way to be different. To make a statement that didn’t really say anything. Trying to prove they were better because they were different. Stevie thought this was foolish. She couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to be popular, why they would want to put up with the hassle of being on the outskirts.
She’d gone through a brief period where she’d pissed off Chelsea and been ostracized from her friends. It had been the worst two weeks of her life. No one would speak to her. The girls had flat out ignored her. Except for Brianne of course. She’s led the boys as they tormented her by shoving dog crap through the vents of her locker or tripping her in the hallway. So she’d ended up doing the only thing she could think of – groveling and begging Chelsea to take her back. It was the most shameful thing she had ever done, but she lived with that to avoid being alone again. Then, at the beginning of the winter semester of grade 11, things began to shift.
Sitting in her AP English class, at her table with Chelsea, she listens as Mrs. Roscoe announces their major project for the term: divided into partners, they would analyze the work of one author across the expanse of their career, investigate how writing styles changed, how those changes coincided with the known facts about their life, and examine the idea of authorial intent. Excited and horrified, she knows that this project could be a lot of fun, but she also knows that being paired with Chelsea means she’ll be doing all the work.
“Not so fast.” Mrs. Roscoe calls over the growing din of students calling partner dibs. “I will be assigning the pairs.” A heavy curtain of silence immediately falls over the room as she pulls a couple bags from under her desk. “I’m tired of always having the same groups. And I’m sure some of you are as well. I want to see if working with someone different will challenge you. In this bag are numbered balls, two of each number. Everyone will draw a number and after we’re done, we’ll figure out partners. Miranda, you start.” Each person takes a ball. Back at their table, Stevie and Chelsea compare. 12 and 7. No match.
Once they’ve all picked, Mrs. Roscoe starts writing down each pair. Number seven. Chelsea is paired with a middle of the road student named Jason. Stevie bites back a smile; Chelsea will have to actually do some work if she wants a good grade. Stevie waits impatiently as the available people start to dwindle. There are only 14 pairs, and there is almost no one left she wants to work with. Katie, another cheerleader, is still waiting for her number to be called. Stevie prays for it to be 12. Number 12. She raises her hand, looks back at Katie, no such luck. Then out of the corner of her eye, she sees an arm reach into the air. Black netting travels from wrist to elbow. A large leather cuff clasped over the fabric. Silver rings glint in the bright florescent lighting.
“Crap.” She mutters, her eyes wandering over to the other girl, who looks staunchly forward, refusing to turn her way.
“Well that should be fun. You get to spend a semester working with one of the freaks.” Chelsea chuckles a little.
“Shut up, Chels.” Stevie leans back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest.
“This is going to be an intense project.” Mrs. Roscoe begins the lecture from the front of the room. “We will be spending a great deal of class time on it, but you will also need to do work on your own. No reading is allowed during class time.” She props herself up on the corner of her desk. Another small bag sits beside her. “To accommodate all the group work, we’re going to permanently shift the seating plan. Everyone move to sit with your partner. So that there’s no arguing, we’re sitting in the order of your partner number, starting with the number one up here and fourteen back there. Move now.”
Stevie takes a deep breath and begins to move her stuff to a table at the back of the room. Taking the seat along the aisle, she leaves her books closed, crossing her arms across her chest. Quinn pushes her way behind Stevie’s chair to the spot beside the wall. Her posture mimics Stevie’s. They don’t speak. They just wait as the other groups receive their assignments. Stevie’s lip twitches as Chelsea’s group is assigned Jane Austen, pleased not to have to spend a semester studying an author she dislikes. Mrs. Roscoe finally gets to them. She pulls a name from the box – Dashiell Hammett. Stevie smiles. Her eyes flick quickly towards Quinn. She sees a tiny smile hitch up the corner of the other girl’s mouth.
“At least I have a partner who knows the author’s name.” She thinks, letting a little of the tension leave her body. The bell signals the end of class. The two girls head to the front of the room to get their assignment sheet and leave the classroom without saying a single word to one another.
The next day, Stevie reaches the classroom before Quinn. Sitting at the table, she opens her complete collection of Hammett’s work in front of her and re-reads while she drinks her coffee. Moments later, Quinn enters the room with her friend, Geoff. Stevie watches as she scrunches her face in disgust and jerks her head in Stevie’s direction. Heading over, Quinn plops her stuff down on the table, placing the same book Stevie has already opened onto the desk in front of her.
“Huh,” Quinn huffs in surprise, “Cool mug.”
“I know.” Stevie’s response is cold, but she turns away to let a smile dance across her lips.
“I used to watch that show religiously when I was a kid.” Quinn volunteers.
“Hilarious House of Frightenstein was the shit, wasn’t it?” Stevie relaxes for a moment. Walking into the room, Mrs. Roscoe sets them to work on their projects.
“So you know Hammett?” Quinn glances at the well-worn book in front of Stevie, unable to hide the surprise in her voice.
“As do you. I jotted down a couple of ideas.” Stevie and Quinn start plotting out their project. As two of the top students in the class, they’ve both come prepared. Before they know it, class is over and they’ve put together a fairly comprehensive outline for the semester. Surprise hits Stevie as she realizes how well she and Quinn work together. Piling up her books, Stevie hurries from the room without saying goodbye. Chelsea is waiting in the hallway.
“You and goth girl seem pretty buddy-buddy. Is she your new bestest friend?” Chelsea’s hands clasping together as a toothy, fake grin spreads across her face. “Maybe she’ll let you visit and you can give each other sexy facial piercings.”
“Shut up, Chelsea. Like I would ever hang out with that freak show.” Stevie snarks, keeping her coffee mug hanging by her legs. Out of sight, so Chelsea can’t see it and make fun of it. Together, they head towards their next class, talking about the pep rally they’re planning for the coming weekend.
Over the remainder of the term, Quinn and Stevie find a strange comfort developing between them, nothing close to friendship, but when their respective friends face off, they don’t take direct jabs at one another. By the end of the term, they smile at each other when they pass in the hallway… as long as no one else is around. Knowing their chances of ever being put into the same situation again are slim, neither of them pushes too hard to move beyond surface politeness. It seems like nothing, but those moments are the beginning of a huge change.