Chapter 20 – Packaging

Her eyes protest against the bright white light. Turning her head to the side, Stevie sees her father sitting beside her bed, in constant vigil. She tries to smile, but has to stop when the scabbed skin on her face begins to rip.

“Ouch.” She whispers. Her father’s head shoots up at the sound. “Hey Daddy”

“Hey sweetheart. How are you feeling?” He gingerly takes her fingers in his own.

“Like someone kicked the crap out of me with a bunch of stilettos.” She chuckles.

“Honey…” He rubs his eyes, sighing.

“Dad, if I lose my sense of humour now…”

“You’ll have to revert to clichés like ‘hit by a bus’?” He grins at his daughter. “I know how you hate clichés.”

“Well really, where’s the creativity…” her chuckle is cut off as a cough takes over. The pain shoots through every inch of her body. Her father picks up a cup of water from the bedside table and places the straw in her mouth. She takes a small sip. “Ew. It’s stale. Can you get me a new glass?”

“You and your water.” He smiles down at her. “So picky. I’ll get you some fresh stuff and go get your doctor.”

“Don’t go.” She wraps her fingers around his wrist. Weak. He could break away with no effort, but he stays. “Not yet. Can I just have a few minutes? The doctor always makes me go back to sleep.”

“Alright.” He kisses her forehead and takes the few steps into the washroom to refill the water jug.

“Dad,” she hesitates.

“Yes?”

“Are you mad at me?”

“Mad at you? For what?” He backs out of the bathroom to look at her.

“For causing all this trouble.” She stares down at her lap, unable to face his disapproval.

“Honey, this is in no way your fault.” He walks back to her bedside; the water forgotten.

“Well it is, a little bit at least. If I weren’t gay… If I’d kept it to myself…” He starts to interrupt her, but she talks over him. “Uncle Max told me that when he told grandpa, he thought Max would get sick and die right away. Isn’t this kind of the same thing? I come out, and suddenly I’m in the hospital. It’s different I know, but it’s still because of who I am.”

“You’re here because people are ignorant. They are stupid and foolish and awful.” His voice is cold and still.

“I thought that people would be better about this. I thought that there was a level of tolerance…”

“Never say that.” Max interrupts from the door.

“Say what?” Stevie looks at him, turning her head as much as she can.

“That people have to tolerate your sexuality.” Max steps into the room. “Never say that.”

“Max, I honestly have no idea what you mean.”

“Tolerance means putting up with something. You tolerate loud noises. You tolerate your neighbor’s annoying dog. You tolerate paying taxes. You do not tolerate someone’s life, you accept it.”

Stevie and her father just stare at him.

“Testify! Am I right?” Max throws his hands dramatically in the air. Stevie can’t help laughing. “Hey Niece.” He kisses her forehead.

“Hey Uncle.” She pats his cheek.

“Stevie,” Her father’s voice is gentle, but touched with trepidation.

“Yes, Dad?”

“The police want to talk to you. They need to know about what happened, and you weren’t much help this morning. The drugs made you pretty loopy. ”

Stevie’s good hand flexes against her forehead. Taking a deep breath, she nods. Her father disappears out the door and reappears with a young police officer walking behind him. Pulling up a chair, the officer sits beside Stevie’s bed, placing a notepad on the edge of the bed.

“Hi Stevie.” Her voice is surprisingly soothing in comparison to her tough face and severely pulled back hair. “I’m Officer Bracken. We met this morning. Do you remember?” Stevie shakes her head. “If you feel up to it, I’d like to talk to you about what happened last night.”

“I’ll try.” Stevie’s eyes can’t meet those of the police officer. Somehow, her presence in the room makes the attack feel more real than lying in the hospital bed. This wasn’t an accident; this had been done to her. They begin by rehashing the details from before the party. She goes through as much detail as possible, without talking directly about Quinn. Everything is covered repeatedly. Every little moment of her day is scrutinized. Checking and double checking that Stevie was sure about Charla’s involvement. That this wasn’t a set up. Then there were the questions about the hour and a half Stevie refuses to talk about.

“Stevie, I need you to be forthcoming. We have to be able to account for all of your time. If we can trace you’re actions, we can probably trace the actions of the people that did this to you.” Officer Bracken’s presses her for more information.

“I assume they were at home putting on their Halloween costumes.” Images of the delicately designed mask over those cold blue eyes flash through her mind. The pain in her injured hand flares. “I doubt they were following me around when they knew where I was going to be later.”

“But we can’t know that for certain.”

“I can. No one was following me. At least not that early in the evening.”

“Were you alone?” Officer Bracken persisted.

“God! Why does this matter?” Stevie’s frustration causes her to clench her stomach muscles, sending waves of pain radiating through her body.

“She was with me.” Quinn announces from the doorway. The snow in her dark hair glistens under the hospital lights. Shrugging off her jacket, she reveals a green Argyll sweater with little white skulls worn over perfectly tattered jeans. The tattoo sparrows on her boots poke out from below the hem of the denim. Stevie can’t help but smile. This is the Quinn she fell for.

“And you are?” The officer raises an eyebrow.

“I’m her girlfriend.” Quinn states matter-of-factly. Her fingers brush against Stevie’s hair as she steps up to the side of the bed.

“Okay. And where were you two?” Officer Bracken continues unphased.

Quinn squeezes Stevie’s shoulder before answering. “We were alone.” She confirms what Stevie has been saying over and over again. As the police officer begins to push the issue, Quinn raises her hand. “I’m sorry, but we were somewhere we feel safe. Please don’t make us give that up, especially at a time like this. There must be more useful things to talk about than where we were for a couple of hours.”

“Can we move on, please?” Stevie’s father sides with his daughter. “I’m not sure how much longer Stevie will be able to stay awake.”

“So, after you two separated, you went home?” Officer Bracken changes the topic.

“Right. I went home to get ready for the party.” Stevie begins rehashing the moments in her evening. Showering, changing, talking to her father. The text message to Charla. She feels like a song stuck in a loop, repeating moments that seem so completely insignificant.

“And what about you?” The officer turns to Quinn.

“Why do you need to know where she was?” Stevie’s voice is instantly defensive. “You can’t possibly imagine that she…”

“It’s okay.” Quinn continues to play with Stevie’s hair from her position propped on the edge of the bed. “I was at home handing out Halloween candy with my sister. Then my parents, my sister and I played a game of Scrabble before I went to bed around 11:00. I had a quiet night at home.”

“There was no one there except your family?”

“No, there wasn’t.” Quinn grits her teeth, not wanting to get angry about the insinuation. “Well, except for the like 100 children that came by the house for candy. There’s a princess and a power ranger that can vouch for me.”

“Your parents will confirm that you were at home?”

“My father can. My mother left for Egypt this morning. She’ll be back in a week,”

“Egypt?” Officer Bracken’s eyebrows rise suspiciously.

“She’s a travel writer. She’s gone a lot.”

“Oh.” Bracken nods. “Your mom’s Linda Stephens?”

“Yes…” Now it’s Quinn’s turn to sound suspicious.

“I’ve planned a couple trips through her.” Officer Bracken nods. For once, Quinn is thankful for her connection to her mother. “We’ll just double check your whereabouts with your father then.”

“Um,” For the first time since entering the room, Quinn’s demeanour is nervous. “My parents don’t know that I’m… that Stevie and I are dating. So, if you could just not mention that part.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Scribbling a note on the pad in her lap, Bracken turns back to Stevie, whose eyes are starting to blink rapidly with exhaustion. “Let’s try to get through a little more information so you can rest a little.”

“Okay.” Stevie attempts to push herself into a more upright position but finds it impossible with her one hand. Quinn touches her shoulder and reaches for the remote. Stevie smiles, squeezing her girlfriend’s hand gently.

“This morning you mentioned to something about following sheep?” Officer Bracken asks gently. “I’m not sure what you meant.”

“I bet that sounded a little wackadoo.” Stevie smiles stiffly. “There was a girl in a sheep costume. I thought it was Charla and we were going to go get some beer from the car.” She glances over for her father’s reaction to the admission.

“There was more than one person present when you arrived?”

“Only one was dressed like a sheep. The other girl was dressed like a really skanky zombie bride.”

“Could you tell who she was?”

Stevie shakes her head. “It’s weird. This is a small town. It’s impossible not to know everyone, but I just couldn’t tell exactly who it was. She was wearing this dirty, bloodied up veil and she never spoke. Her hair was dark brown and her skin was kind of olive toned. There are only a couple people it could be, but it would be guessing at which one.” They continue to talk through Stevie’s actions, until they get to the park. “I don’t know if I can do this, right now.” The fear she feels is unexpected and unwanted. She wants to be strong, to make them pay, but all she can feel is how much her body hurts. If this is what Brianne did for no reason, what will she do if Stevie turns her in?

Quinn takes Stevie’s good hand in one of her own. “Stevie, you don’t have to be scared.” Her voice is low, meant only for Stevie. “Remember when you talked to me earlier? How angry you were at these bitches? We both know that she’s not worth it. Don’t let them change you. You’ve got so much strength. Don’t let them make you weak. It’s not who you are. These things….” She indicates the bruises, broken bones, and bandages, with a sweep of her hand “They’re the packaging. You’re still you, right?” Staring into the deep grey of Quinn’s eyes, Stevie closes her own and inhales deeply through her nose.

“You figured it out?” She whispers into Quinn’s ear.

Quinn nods.

“Did you…?”

“Not yet.”

“Don’t.” Stevie turns back towards the police officer, her voice level, “I know who one of the girls was.” All three adults in the room straighten instantly.

“Honey?” Her father’s voice breaks their startled silence.

“I recognized one of them.”

“Who?” Max’s voice has an edge promising retaliation.

Officer Bracken raises her hand to silence the two men. She looks towards Max, a warning flashing behind her eyes. “Alright, Stevie, you need to be very, very sure here. Are you positive you know who it was? Or are you just guessing.”

“I’m positive. 100% positive.” Her resolve gives her body a dose of strength, enough to get through this part. “It was Brianne Gervais.”

“How can you be sure?’

“She’s hung out with Chelsea and I since junior high. I recognized her eyes. They’re a very distinct colour.” She cringes as she remembers the mask. “And she spoke to me. If I had any doubt about it being her, her voice confirmed it.”

“Was she the one that told you that this was because of your sexuality?”

“She’s the only one that spoke.” A wave of exhaustion washes over her. “And the only one who got right in my face. She’s also been leaving notes in my locker for the last couple weeks. Threatening me. Saying the same things she said last night. I’m certain it was her.” Her head falls back against the pillow in a wave of dizziness.

“Everyone out. She’s clearly exhausted.” Her father waves to a nurse outside the room. As she brings in pain medication and inserts a needle into the IV tubing, Stevie feels her eyelids fluttering rapidly. Her body seems to sink further into the bed as the mattress is lowered into a flat position. She sees her uncle speaking to Officer Bracken as she sinks into a chemically induced sleep.

Chapter 21

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