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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.