Quinn paces the living room, peeling the wrapper from a left over Eatmore bar. The morning sun pours through the windows.
“Are you leaving for school soon?” Her mother leans against the kitchen door, holding out a brown paper bag.
“Awe Mom, you made me lunch.” Quinn smiles “You didn’t have to do that.”
“You missed supper last night, and we had your favourite.” She puts the bag on the table at the top of the stairs.
“And spinach salad.”
“Yummy. Thanks Mom.”
“Now, back to the first question. Are you going to school?”
“Yeah. Ellie’s picking me up.”
“Looks like she’s here.” Her mother’s head motions towards the window.
“Have a good trip. I’ll see you when you get home.” Quinn hugs her mom, grabs her lunch and parka, and heads out the door. The ground is blanketed in a layer of shiny snow. Her boots crunching through the unbroken crust, Quinn makes her way to Ellie’s car, hiding her face from the biting wind. “Yo Yo”
“Too much happy. Too early in morning.” Ellie mumbles through her morning fog.
“Too much Halloween candy too early in the morning. Sugar rush.” Quinn grins, watching the clean white palate of snow for the remainder of the ride to school. Finding parking is a hassle. Quinn frowns at the apparent overnight shrinking of the parking lot. “Why is it that we get a tiny bit of snow and people suddenly forget how to park?”
“Don’t even get me started.” Ellie grumbles. Finding a space for the car, she parks and they hurry to the doors. As they make their way to their lockers, the ceiling PA system crackles. Principal McNally’s voice booms through the hallway.
“All seniors will report to the auditorium immediately. Attendance is mandatory and will take the place of homeroom. Please report to the auditorium as soon as you’ve dropped your belongings in your locker.”
Quinn looks at Ellie curiously. Ellie shrugs. None of the students in the hallway seem to know what’s going on. With Geoff, Jason and Terry, they head for the auditorium, stopping at the student café to grab something warm to drink.
“Can you grab my drink for me?” Geoff asks Quinn in a low voice, scooching into the corner behind some milling students.
Quinn pokes her head behind him, peering at his butt. “I don’t see a piano tied to your ass…” She pulls around to look at him. “You can get your own.”
“I’m um…” He glances at the opening to the window. Quinn follows his gaze and sees a sheet of long white blonde hair swing out of view.
“Oh, I see. Your fling’s getting complicated?”
“She won’t stop texting me.” Geoff collapses against the wall. “She’s calling me all the time. Texting me these huge long messages. She’s devastated that we’re not dating. Apparently, we had a real connection.”
“Best way to solve a problem is to face it head on.” Quinn laughs, chucking him in the shoulder. “Man up and all that garbage.”
“It’s too early in the morning. Can’t you just let me man down and get me a coffee?” He leans his forehead against hers. “Please.”
“Since your buying mine, I guess I’ll make an exception.”
“Fine. Fine.” Geoff shoves money in her hand. “You can even buy a donut or something.”
“Back in a second.” Quinn weaves away from him and returns a few minutes later with two cups and a bag of pastries. “Scaredy cat. She only tried to get me to talk about you twice.”
“Shit. What did she say?” He grabs the bag and cup. They fall in line with their friends and head toward the auditorium.
“You’re Geoff’s friend, right?” Quinn puts on a sticky sweet voice. “Do you know if he’s been, like, busy lately?”
“Don’t worry. I told her you were busy with your new, older, out of town, girlfriend.”
“You’re a doll. You know that?”
“I do.” She grins as they push through the doors at the end of the hallway.
The mood in the large room is kinetic. No one knows what’s going on. Finding chairs near the back of the room, Quinn sits between Geoff and Terry. The sound in the auditorium decreases, but doesn’t end, when the bell rings. As the stage in front of them remains empty, the voices begin to rise. Speculation about what’s going on mounts. From around her, Quinn hears whispers about a huge field trip, a surprise guest speaker, a retirement.
Sinking as comfortably as possible into the hard plastic chair, Quinn imagines a class trip to Europe. She pictures exploring old cobblestone streets with Stevie. Pulling Stevie into a dark corner, stealing kisses as the other students mingle unknowingly around them. Her lip jerks up on one side in a smile she can’t contain.
“You’re lost in thought.” A voice breaks through her daydream.
She turns to see Terry, staring at her. “Waiting for the caffeine to kick in.” She smiles and feels his arm slide around the chair behind her.
“That movie you want to see starts tomorrow.” His thumb plays along her shoulder through her sweater. “Date night?”
“Sure. I like going to movies with you.” She smiles and takes a drink from her coffee cup.
“That’s only because I let you pour m&m’s into the popcorn bag.” He raises an eyebrow.
“Of course it is.” Quinn grins and lets him kiss her cheek. She isn’t even lying. She loves the time they spend together hanging out. “Then afterwards, maybe we can hang out for a bit? Talk?”
The doors at the front of the room open as Principal McNally enters, followed by the homeroom teachers for the senior class and a pair of police officers. The smile falls from her lips when she sees the somber expressions on the faces of all of the adults. Mr. Germain, their physics teacher, is barely able to walk. One of the other teachers touches his elbow and leads him to a chair at the front of the room. His fingers rub his forehead.
The silence filling the room is thick. Somewhere in the room, a box of candy tips over. The hard, round shells rattle against the floor as they roll across the wood. No one moves to clean up the mess. No one cheers at someone else’s faux pas. No one even glances towards the noise. They all simply stare at the front of the room.
Principal McNally steps behind the podium, her face somber. Tapping the microphone, she checks to make sure the sound is working. There is no need to call the room to attention.
“Good morning, students. I’m sure you’re all wondering why you’ve been brought here this morning. This is not a happy announcement, so I’ll get right to it. Last night, one of your classmates, Stevie Francis, was seriously injured in an intentional and malicious beating.” She pauses for a moment to collect her herself.
Quinn’s breathing stops. One hand flies to Geoff’s. Ignoring her boyfriend sitting beside her. The other hand flies to her lips. In her periphery, she sees Ellie’s head flip to look at her. Too concerned about Stevie to care about anyone’s reaction, Quinn strains to hear what’s being said. The volume in the room has risen to an almost unbearable level. It begins to quiet again as their Principal speaks over them, but Quinn is unable to hear over the blood rushing in her ears.
She has to use every ounce of control to keep from flying out of her chair. From rushing out the door and to the hospital. Concentrate, she tells herself. The prickling behind her eyes warns her tears are coming. Quickly. She thinks about her breathing. Nothing but her breathing. In through the nose out through the mouth. Slow. Controlled. Forcing her pulse to slow. Looking at the front of the room, she sees that the two police officers have stepped forward and are talking to the students. Shaking her head slightly, she forces herself to listen. She can’t seem to do it. She watches them talk. Clearly, what they are saying is important. Geoff’s hand tightens around her own. Closing her eyes, she waits for the rushing in her ears to subside. Finally, she’s able to focus enough to hear what’s being said.
“Again, if anyone has any information on this egregious crime, we urge you to come forward.” The tall cop speaks into the microphone before backing away and allowing the students’ principal to step forward again.
“At this time, no visitors are allowed at the hospital. Please do not attempt to contravene this instruction. Classes for seniors will be cancelled today. You, and your teachers, need time. Please take the day. We will return to classes tomorrow. Counselors are available for anyone who needs one. Please see Mrs. Roscoe if you would like to arrange an appointment.” Stepping away from the podium, she dismisses the students.
Immediately, the auditorium explodes with sound. No one knows what to do. No one can believe this has happened. Even those people who aren’t friends with Stevie are angered and upset. A group of girls who had spoken only a dozen words to Stevie in their school career were keening, reveling in the attention. Remaining in their seats, Quinn and her friends are silent. Quinn is visibly vibrating in her chair. Her breathing edging towards out of control. Ellie leans forward, elbows on her knees. Hands clasped in front of her, she takes a deep breath, but continues to look at the floor. “I think we need to go somewhere and talk.” She says in a controlled, even tone, shooting a look at Quinn. Together, the two girls walk out of the auditorium in silence, leaving the boys sitting in the chairs behind them. It doesn’t occur to Quinn that she should say goodbye to Terry, or even acknowledge him.
Neither of them speaks as they walk back through the school to their lockers. Once bundled in their winter jackets, they bypass groups of students huddled together whispering frantically. Chelsea and Brianne stand pressed into a corner, bundled in jackets and scarves and mittens. Chelsea looks angry. Her lackey distressed. Chelsea’s eyes scan the hall. She catches Quinn watching them and glares.
Ellie grabs Quinn’s elbow and steers her down the hall, out to the parking lot. Without a word the two girls pile into the car. The seats are barely cool. They sit quietly, listening to the vents pump warm air.
“Take me home please.” Quinn’s breath condenses against the window of Ellie’s car. A film of ice blossoms on the glass, blocking the view she isn’t looking at anyway. Her mind is on nothing but Stevie. What happened? How badly was she hurt? When would she get to see her? How was she going to get any answers? As they park in front of Quinn’s house, she realizes how cold her face is from resting against the glass of the passenger window.
Still in a daze, Quinn leads Ellie into the empty house, knowing her mother has already left for the airport and her father has gone to work. She makes her way to the living room, not caring if Ellie follows. Plopping down into the big armchair, she pulls her cell phone from her pocket, hoping to see a message. Something, anything, to say that this isn’t happening. There’s nothing.
Ellie sits in the chair across from her best friend. Ellie says nothing, she simply looks at Quinn, waiting, watching a reaction she can’t understand. Quinn’s gaze is empty as she stares at the phone in front of her, looking like she is trying to will the thing to ring.
“What the hell, Quinn?” Ellie finally breaks the silence.
Quinn shrugs from her chair. Refusing to look away from the floor. Unwilling to have this talk on this day. She doesn’t know how to tell Ellie what’s going on.
“That’s all I get?” Ellie mimics the shrug, “I’ve known for months that something is up. I’ve been waiting for you to trust me, and that’s all you can give me? A shrug?”
“What do you want me to say? Something horrible happened and you think I should be what, cheering because it’s someone we don’t like?” Quinn crosses her arms over her chest, her gaze stony.
“So you don’t like her then?”
“Does that matter? What happened to her was horrible.”
“I agree. Totally. I am disgusted about what happened. What I’m not is comatose.” Ellie’s body language stiffens as she watches the pain flicker behind Quinn’s eyes. “Will you please tell me what’s going on?”
Quinn pulls her legs up under her, placing the phone of the table beside her. “You know Stevie and I worked together all last semester. We developed a sort of a friendship.” She takes a drink from the glass on the table.
“Really?” Disbelief drips from Ellie’s tone, “Cause I gotta say, Quinn, it’s been months since that project, and you’ve never expressed even an inkling of friendship with her. Friends acknowledge each other’s existence.”
“Maybe if you weren’t so coloured by your hatred for them.” Quinn’s voice takes on a hard edge. “Maybe you’ve been so wrapped up in Jason that you haven’t paid any attention to what’s going on with me.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit! I’ve been trying to get you to talk for weeks.”
“Did you ever think to just ask me?”
“I have! Multiple times.” Ellie stands, arms crossed in front of her angrily. “And whenever I ask what’s wrong, you say something like school, or work, or you’re just tired. You brush me off every time we get close to what’s bothering you.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m scared you’ll freak out.” Quinn spits back.
“About what? The fact that you’re friends with the enemy?” Ellie can’t control her venom.
“The enemy?” Quinn sits up straighter in her chair.
“The shining examples of what we’re supposed to be. The chauches. The preps. The jocks. The plastics. Whatever you want to call them. You know exactly what I’m talking about.” Ellie’s hands fly through the air as she describes the people she hates. “Of course I don’t understand why you’d care about them! Isn’t our goal to be as different from them as possible? As strong and unique and different as we can be? You put them down as much as I do. That bitch Chelsea has spent years terrorizing people. Remember how she used to treat me?” Ellie looks into Quinn’s eyes. “Remember? When she poured mud in my locker. Or filled my shoes with shit – literal shit! That time she cut my bra in half in science class. When she stole my clothes while I was in gym. When she ripped the pages out of my book. Or that time she had Brianne pour glue in my hair and I had to cut it all off. Or in grade seven when she spread that rumour that she caught me masturbating in the bathroom. They bullied me for years! I cannot understand how you would ever, ever, be friends with one of them.”
“No, for years Chelsea bullied you. Stevie didn’t.”
“But she stood by and watched it. She let it happen. That’s just as bad. How dare you defend how they treated me!” Stevie flops back into her chair in exasperation.
“I’m not defending them. I’m defending her.” Quinn keeps her voice calm and level. “And Stevie isn’t hanging out with them anymore. Chelsea’s shunning her.”
“So, you want me to just accept her now because her other friends don’t?” Stevie’s can barely contain her anger.
“Not for that reason. But yes, that’s kind of what I want.” Although she keeps her voice steady, Quinn’s heart races in her chest. Pounding so hard that she fears Ellie can hear it. “I want you to consider that maybe, just maybe, you could be friends with her.”
“Why? Why the fuck would I ever consider accepting that rah-rah cheerleading bitch?” Ellie’s face reddens with disbelief as she pushes herself out of her chair.
“Because I’m in love with her.” Quinn’s voice is quiet, steady, matter-of-fact, but she refuses to look at her friend.
Ellie stops dead in her tracks. One foot hovering over the ground in a half step. Like someone’s hit her pause button. Slowly, she turns her head towards Quinn. She squares her body and attempts to match Quinn’s level of calm. “Excuse me?”
“I love her.” Quinn wants to run. To bolt from the room. To escape the accusing eyes of her oldest friend.
“Again?” Stevie waves her hand in a circular motion.
“Stevie and I are dating.”
“What the fuck, Quinn!?” Ellie asks, throwing her hands in the air, “Since when?”
Ellie turns, without a word, and walks out of the living room. Footsteps sound down the stairs, followed by the front door slamming. A brief pause, then the roaring of a car motor. Quinn loses her composure. Folding herself in half, she rests her forehead against her knees as her chest collapses under the weight of her sobs. Crawling out of her chair, she curls her body on the floor. Her knees to her chest. Burying her face. Tears streaming down her cheeks. Into her hair. Onto the carpet.
Lying on the floor, her arms wrapped around her legs, she feels the heat of the tears. Ellie’s reaction was even worse than Quinn had expected. This was not how she wanted Ellie to find out. To have to tell Ellie because this horrible thing has happened to Stevie. Her body shakes with grief.
As she stays there on the floor, she slowly begins to realize her grief is misplaced. Uncurling her body, she rubs her eyes. Now flat on her back, she stares at the stippling on the ceiling. She thinks back to the conversation she had with Terry’s father the previous evening. The comments he’d made about how much she’s changed. She forces herself to think about Stevie. Stevie’s father. Her uncle. How much pain they must be in. About Ellie. How betrayed she must feel. About Chelsea, wondering if she’s responsible for everything. About Terry and how that conversation is going to go. As these thoughts run through her head, she realizes that the pain she’s feeling is really self-pity.
The resolve she used to be so sure of is returning. On her feet, she looks at the clock. It’s late morning. She’s been lying there longer than she thought. Longer than acceptable. Grabbing a cookie from the forgotten tray, she pops it into her mouth and heads to the basement. She quickly washes her face. Rubbing the towel harder than necessary, she wipes away the water, revealing her face in the mirror. She stares at her reflection, annoyed by what she’s become.
She finds her black eyeliner. Tracing her eyes, she figures out what she needs to do. If she can’t visit Stevie, she’s not going to sit around all day and mope. Grabbing her car keys and purse, she heads out to find some answers.