Warm air rushes against Quinn’s face as the hospital doors slide open. Her nose instantly begins to drip. Heading to the reception desk, she grabs a tissue and leans over the counter.
“Excuse me. I’m looking for Stevie Frances’ room.” Quinn says to the receptionist in a low voice. Without looking at her, the woman types the name into the terminal in front of her. When the screen returns the results, she slowly raises her head with a disapproving look.
“No visitors.” She says in a monotone. “We were told the students were advised.”
“We were. But, I just want to…” Quinn protests.
“No visitors.” The woman dismisses her, turns back to her desk, and continues working. Knowing that arguing any further is pointless, and that throwing a fit won’t get her anywhere, Quinn sighs and leans her elbows on the counter.
“We’ll make an exception.” A voice sounds from beside Quinn. Startled, she looks up to see a man she doesn’t recognize standing beside her.
“No visitors means no visitors.” The nurse stares at the man, clearly used to intimidating people.
“Come with me, Quinn.” He ignores the command.
“How do you…? Who…? I’m… Whatever. Take me to Stevie. Please” Quinn follows the tall, dark haired man down the hall. Not caring about anything other than getting to see Stevie. The man looks vaguely familiar but she can’t place him. They walk in silence until they step into the elevator and the doors slide shut behind them.
“I’m Max Frances.” He finally introduces himself. “I’m Stevie’s…”
“You’re Uncle Max!” Quinn proclaims. The pieces snap together. His hazel eyes are the same as the ones she’s grown so fond of. The strong chin. The light smattering of freckles. “But how did you know who I am?”
“Stevie told me about you. She showed me your picture in the yearbook. And there was that morning that you went running from the house like a mad woman.” He smiles down at her.
“Man, did anyone not see me that morning?” Quinn chuckles. “I was completely oblivious.”
“That was pretty apparent.” Max smiles gently. “How much do you know about what happened?” His voice turns serious, bringing them both back to the present. The elevator stops but instead of leading her down the hallway, Max takes her elbow and shows her to a group of chairs.
“Basically nothing.” She takes a seat beside him, wringing her fingers together. Her stomach suddenly feels full of clay. “Just what they told us at school. That she was attacked.”
“It’s not good, Quinn.” He reaches out to touch her hand. Even though she only knows him through stories, he comforts her easily. “She has several broken ribs. They hit her so hard they shattered the blood vessels in her eye and fractured her nose and cheekbone. Whatever they used to hit her ripped through her skin. Her spleen was so damaged it had to be removed. They shattered the bones in her left hand.” He sees the horror on her face. “I don’t mean to scare you, Quinn, but I want you to be prepared for what you’re about to see. She’s in and out of consciousness. And there are things we won’t know for sure until she wakes up.”
“Like what?” Quinn feels her resolve slipping, but forces a deep breath and collects herself. She will not allow herself to fall apart. “Is she going to….? She’s not going to die, is she?”
“No. No!” Max shakes his head vigorously. “Recovery will be intense, but we’re sure she’s going to survive. She had a period this morning where she was awake enough to speak, but she wasn’t making a lot of sense. It didn’t last long. We won’t know about brain injury until she’s more awake.”
“Can I see her, please?” Quinn asks timidly, not wanting to even think about the possibility of brain damage. Max nods and leads her towards a room with a police officer standing guard.
“Hey!” Quinn pauses in the hall. “If Stevie’s been unconscious most of the day, how did she text me?”
“She didn’t. I did.” Max replies.
“Oh.” Her surprise is obvious. “But my name isn’t in her phone.”
“She only has one password protected chat stream. I took a guess.”
“Smart runs in the family.” Quinn squeezes his hand.
“I don’t know if you understand how important you are to her. She would want you here.”
Quinn’s resolve breaks. Tears stream from her eyes as her knees go weak. She falls against Max. Letting his arms wrap around her as her body shakes. This time the tears aren’t for herself, but for Stevie. For the realization and acceptance of how much this tiny, red headed, freckled cheerleader really means to her. Max allows her to cry until the front of his shirt is soaked through. Pulling away, Quinn shakes herself, loosening her limbs to release some of the tension.
“Sorry.” She wipes the tears from her face. “Let’s go see our girl.” The police officer looks skeptically at Quinn, then Max. Stevie’s uncle nods and the large, uniformed man steps aside to let them pass.
The scene in the hospital room is worse than Quinn expects. Stevie’s pale skin is lost beneath a blanket of bruises. Many are so deep and yellow they make Stevie look jaundiced. The skin around her eyes is ripped and scabbing over. The red hair that Quinn loves so much lies limp and flat, pasted against her head. The normally muscular arms seem fragile and lifeless, equally as covered in bruises as the face. Her left hand, trapped in a torture device to set the bones, dangles above the bed. The other hand rests on top of the blanket, as the only undamaged skin it seems to dissolve into the white linens.
Sitting beside the bed, elbows on his knees, looking dejected and worried, is Stevie’s father. He looks up, sees Quinn, and turns a quizzical eye on his brother.
“Jack, this is Quinn. Stevie’s girlfriend.” Max introduces her without hesitation.
“Hello Quinn.” Mr. Frances nods at her. “You’re Carl’s daughter, aren’t you?”
“Yup.” Quinn nods, bobbing up and down on her toes, unsure what to do with herself. She can’t look at him. The anguish on his face makes her uncomfortable. Logically, she knows that this isn’t her fault, but her gut keeps tells her that the only reason Stevie’s in this situation is because of her. If she hadn’t gotten involved with her, Stevie’s life would be exactly as it had been. She struggles for something comforting to say. “I’m sorry.” She whispers as tears return to her eyes.
Max’s hand finds her shoulder, squeezing it as he leads her to a chair opposite Stevie’s father. Quinn sits quietly. Uncomfortably. The room is deeply silent. Unexpectedly so. She thinks there should at least be hospital noises. Beeping monitors. Air pumps. Something to make it feel like there’s a chance that things are getting better. But there’s nothing. The silence is total, adding to the helplessness she feels. They sit and wait. Until she’s been sitting there, in that silence, for so long it becomes normal.
Without realizing she’s done it, Quinn finds her hand resting against Stevie’s arm. Her thumb brushing softly against the darkening skin. The bruise beneath her fingers carries the distinct shape of a shoe. The damaged skin is surprisingly smooth. Still as soft as she remembers. Her body starts to shake as she tries to restrain the sobs. “Fuck. Sorry.” She tries to control herself again. “I’m sorry.” She directs her apologies towards Stevie’s family, who are somehow keeping themselves together better than she is.
“What are you sorry about?” Jack asks.
“There’s just…” She shakes her head, gulping back sobs. “You guys already have so much to deal with. You don’t need me breaking down every ten seconds.” Her voice breaks constantly with the hiccupping of her tears. She feels like a five year old unable to get control of herself. “I just can’t… what if I… we… lose her?” Quinn stares into her lap, unable to look at the bruises that cover her girlfriend’s face.
“You won’t get rid of me that easily.” The voice is ragged and course. Quinn’s head snaps up to look at Stevie’s face, eyes open, or as open as they can be with all the swelling. Her right eye is barely a slit. The left is red where the whites should be. The tears running down Quinn’s face quicken, from both the joy of seeing Stevie awake and the horror of how awful she looks now that she is.
“Hey baby.” Quinn whispers. Forgetting they aren’t alone, she leans forward and kisses her gently. When she remembers that Stevie’s family is in the room, the blood rushes to her face, colouring her cheeks with embarrassment. “Oh my god! I’m sorry.”
“You’re a habitual apologizer, aren’t you?” Max laughs from his spot leaning against the wall.
“Yeah. Sorry.” Catching herself, Quinn slaps her hand over her mouth as the other three burst out laughing.
“Ow. Ow.” Stevie winces through the laughter. “Okay, you know the saying, it only hurts when I laugh? Apparently that’s actually a thing.” With her good hand, she gingerly touches her ribs, breathing smooth, shallow breaths to gain control of the pain. “Except for the part where it hurts all the time.”
“Are you…” Quinn stops herself before she asks the obvious question with the obvious answer.
“I’m going to go get the doctor.” Stevie’s father brushes her hair away from her face, kisses her gently on the cheek, and leaves the room. Max follows him in silence, leaving the two girls alone together.
“What the hell happened, Stevie?” Quinn collapses into her chair. “Do you remember anything that happened?”
“I wish I could say that it was all kinds of blurry, but it isn’t. It’s engrained in my brain like a fucking slideshow.” Stevie’s face hardens in anger. “You know how I was meeting Charla at that Halloween party last night.” Quinn nods. “When I got there, I met up with these two girls in costume. They said we were going to go get more beer from the car.” Stevie stops, and closes her eyes. Trying to bring her hand to her face, the machinery setting the bones stops the movement. “Fuck!”
“Hey, you don’t have to talk about it.” Quinn brushes her fingers gently along Stevie’s jaw, making sure not to press too hard against the tender skin.
Stevie shakes her head and continues. “They pulled me into that playground that used to be attached to the daycare, and these other two girls were waiting. And they did this.” She throws her good arm towards her injuries.
“Was Charla involved?” Quinn brushes her fingers through her hair. “She’s never struck me as the kind of girl that would do something like that. I always thought she was nice.”
Stevie wipes the moisture forming at the corner of her eyes. “I thought she might have been. I mean who else would know exactly when I was going to be at the party, or that I was going to be there at all.”
“I’ll kill her.” Quinn squares her shoulders angrily and starts to stand.
“Sit down, sweets. It wasn’t her.” Stevie grabs Quinn’s wrist, wincing.
“I thought you said they were all in costume.”
“They were, but I know it wasn’t Charla. She’s the one that found me and called the ambulance.” Stevie pauses. “This part I barely remember. I could hear someone calling my name as I was passing out. Then someone was there and they were like yelling my name. I couldn’t make myself answer, but I could open my eye a little. Charla was the one standing over me, and she was in a completely different costume.”
“How would she even have known where you were?”
“I had sent her a message saying that I was on my way. When I didn’t show up, I guess she came looking. She called my phone. Thank god I had the ringer on. At least that’s what she told Dad. I don’t know the details. I wasn’t exactly with it this morning.”
“She talked to your dad?”
“She came in the ambulance with me. He sent her home sometime this morning.”
“Do you know who else…” Quinn starts to prod more information.
“Well, look who’s awake.” A soothing voice sounds from behind them as Stevie’s family returns with the doctor. “Everyone out.”
With a wave of her hand, the doctor has all of them out of the room in an instant. In the hallway, Quinn finds a chair and slumps into it. The weight of her body too much to hold up. In silence, they wait for the doctor to return.
Quinn feels her cell phone vibrate in her purse. Pulling the small device from the pocket, she sees Terry’s name scrolling across the screen. She hits the ignore button. She’ll deal with that disaster later. Grinding the heels of her hands into her eyes, she tries to focus. Her chest feels tight as the weight of the last few hours pushes down on her.
The doctor steps out of the room and crosses the hallway. Her face set in an expression Quinn doesn’t know how to read.
“It looks like she’s going to be okay, but we’re still going to have to watch her. I’m concerned about her …” Quinn tries to listen, but only catches snippets of the conversation. “…hypovolemia… jagged edges… hematoma… surgically…” The words mean nothing to her. “I’ve increased her pain meds. She’s sleeping again.” Quinn chews at the skin of her lip, pulling a jagged piece away. The ripped skin releases a bubble of blood. She touches her lip with her fingertip, the bright scarlet colour stark against her pale white skin. The red slipping like paint into the grooves of her fingerprint. The spreading colour driving her to do something. To move. Standing, she turns to Stevie’s family.
“I have to go.” Without waiting for a response, she walks away.