Chapter 25 – Home Again, Home Again

She sits on the bed, waiting. It shouldn’t be much longer. Raising her hand, she pulls her hair forward and twists it between her fingers. She studies the ends of the red strands. She needs a haircut.

“Stevie?” She looks up as her doctor walks into the room.

“Is it time?”

“It’s time.”

Jumping off the edge of the bed, she ignores the pain that shoots through her ribs as her feet meet the hard floor. “It’s about time. I was getting pretty tired of this five star service.” Stevie jokes, excitement at the prospect of going home blocking out everything else. It’s taken longer than she expected. They had originally thought she might go home on Sunday, but she’d torn her stitches in her sleep Friday night. Three days later, she’s finally heading home. Tuesday afternoon, a full week after the attack. She doesn’t like thinking about it.

“Hey. Watch it. If you hurt yourself again, you’ll have to stay longer.”

“No bloody way.” She shrugs her jacket up her good arm and does a little dance to get it over her other shoulder. Her broken hand, still bound in a cast, is tucked into a sling. “I am going home. There is nothing you can do to keep me here. Where’s my dad?”

“I’m right here, honey.”

“Let’s go home.”

“Slow down. It’s not like the house is going anywhere.”

“No, but this place, and this smell, are going away.” She jams her feet into shoes. “I will be waiting in the car.”

“Oh no you won’t.” The doctor places a hand on Stevie’s shoulder, stopping her.

“What?” anger reddens her pale face.

“You can’t just walk out of here.” Stepping aside, her father reveals a wheelchair waiting by the door. “You have to be wheeled out.”

“Oh god.” She laughs. “However the hell it happens, just get me out of here.” Lowering herself into the wheelchair, she relaxes as her father talks about some last minute details with the doctor. Max steps into the room with two cups of coffee and hands one to her.

“I thought you might like a little treat.”

She takes a sip from the cup. Whip cream and caramel syrup pass her lips. “Yummy. Thanks.” She smiles up at him. “Are you heading home soon?”

“Tomorrow night. I want to help your dad get you settled first.”

“You didn’t have to stay this long.” Stevie squeezes the hand he’s placed on her shoulder.

“Don’t be foolish.” He rolls his eyes at her.

Her father walks over and begins pushing the chair. “Let’s go home, Stevie,”

“It’s about time.” As they push through the exit doors, Stevie is struck by the amount of snow on the ground. “When did winter happen?”

“What?”

“There was no snow that… the last time I was outside.”

“Right.” They fall into silence. Stevie attempts to cradle her cup between her hands. The cast makes it impossible. A wave of anger rushes over her. Now that she’s out of the confines of her hospital room, she realizes just how angry she is. The drive home is quiet. Stevie is both excited and nervous. The police protection is gone. They don’t think she’d in anymore danger. They’re now focusing on finding evidence against Brianne.

“Do you want to give Quinn a call?” Max tries to break the silence.

“She’s in class.” Stevie looks out the window at the flat white expanse of snow stretching from lawn to lawn, hypnotically flashing by the window. “Besides, she’s dealing with stuff.”

“Oh?”

“She told her parents. They didn’t react well.” She closes herself off again. Her excitement is dwindling as they get closer to the house. Her fear rising. Along with her anger. Her father turns left onto a side street; she notices Paul’s house out of the corner of her eye. She stiffens. Intakes sharply.

“Are you alright?” Her father slows the car, looking at her in the rearview mirror.

“Can you stop the car at the corner?”

“Are you feeling sick? I can hurry home?”

“No. Please, Dad, just stop the car.” The car slows to a stop as he pulls off the road. Opening the door, she pulls her unzipped jacket closer around her. More for comfort than warmth. Stevie makes her way across the sidewalk, along an expanse of hedges growing beside the cement path. She hears her father and uncle get out of the car behind her. They keep their distance. She pauses at the spot where they pulled her through the bushes. Her breath catches when she sees the piece of black and pink fabric still stuck in the branches. She continues forward. Several feet later, she stops and takes a turn in the sidewalk. The snow is thick. No one has walked here in several days. The cold of the snow is almost soothing against the hot skin of her still bruised legs. She pushes through the snow. Towards the lines of red. That image is so clear in her head. Caution tape. The police tape is new.

The floor of the merry-go-round is covered in snow. But she lowers herself onto it anyway, pushing the tape wrapped around the handles out of the way. Discomfort has been so much a part of her life over this last week that it seems almost natural. She stares at the spot about three feet from where she sits. She wonders if the ground still shows signs of her blood beneath the carpet of snow. It’s impossible to tell. She wonders if there would be flowers here if she had died. Would it have been easier if she had? Maybe they would have caught Brianne if she had. Maybe something would have been done.

“Why haven’t they arrested her?” She mutters to herself. Her fingers play with the loose rocks protected from the snow by the wheel of the playground equipment.

“They have no physical evidence.” Her father’s voice is soft, weary. He stands a few feet behind her. His arms crossed over his chest.

“Why not.” She chucks a rock at the spot where her life changed.

“The snow was heavy that night. It washed away everything. It’s your word against hers.”

“Have they even talked to her?”

“Of course they have. But she has people covering for her.”

“Like who?”

“A bunch of your classmates say she was at that party. A few say that they saw her during the time you were being attacked.”

“Are they girls? Couldn’t they be the other people that… that did this to me?” She tries to push herself up but can’t. The pain shooting through her broken hand makes her angrier. “Why is this happening to me?”

There’s no answer for her question. They all know it. Max walks towards her and helps her stand. She steps forwards to stand in the spot where those four girls beat her. She closes her eyes. Feels the impact of skin against skin again. Of boots in her sides. Of that shoe in her hand. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever forget what it felt like. She steps away from the spot and without a word heads out of the playground.

“I want to go back to school.” Stevie announces to the silent car as they continue towards their home. She allows the memories of the attack, the cowardess of doing it behind masks, the inability of the police to do anything, to strengthen her resolve. She refuses to let them take more away from her than they already have.

“Not yet.”

“Dad.” She remains firm.

“A couple more days at least. We need to see how you do outside the hospital.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Monday.”

“Thursday, Dad, and that’s my final offer.”

“Friday, Stevie.” He glances at her in the mirror. “And that’s only if you can get through the next two days without a problem. This isn’t an offer situation.”

“Fine. Friday, but I’m going. No matter what.”

Her father doesn’t argue. The corner of her uncle’s mouth twitches into a smile. When they pull up in front of their house, Max helps her out of the backseat.

Walking into her room, she closes her eyes and kneads her toes into the thick, familiar carpeting. Reaching out, she knows a half step to the left her fingers will touch the smooth wood of her desk. Two steps to the right and her knees touch her bed. Forward, it’s a few feet to the window where Quinn snuck in only a month ago. She rests her chin against the ledge, looking out over the ridge of snow that has formed against the glass. The crust of pristine ice sparkles in the sun. The light plays with her eyes. When she closes the lids, coloured gems dancing against the blackness.

A wave of exhaustion washes over her. She climbs on top of the blankets, curling onto her side, her good arm beneath her, the heavy cast resting against the blue comforter on her bed. The pillows smell like fresh laundry. The teddy bear she tucks into her body smells like her shampoo. She sinks into a true sleep for the first time in a week.

*****   *****   *****   *****

Once again Quinn finds herself waiting. It seems to be the only thing she’s done lately. It’s been a week since Quinn told her parents. Seven days of agony. Neither of her parents have spoken to her since her announcement. Or at least nothing serious. A pass the sugar here. An I won’t be home for supper there. She wants to talk to them about what was going on. Wants them to tell her that everything is alright. That they accept her, but there is nothing. This was worse than if they had kicked her out. At least that would have been a reaction.

The bright point in the week came three days earlier when Stevie returned home. Too tired for visitors that night, she’d called Quinn to let her know that she was home. Last night, needing a break from the stony silence that has fallen over her home, Quinn had gone to her girlfriend’s house for supper. Sitting around the dinner table with Stevie and her father, the realization of how important her parents acceptance was had been like a slap in the face.

Quinn takes special care getting ready for school Friday morning. She pulls a black pleated skirt from a hanger and a bright blue button up shirt to top it off. Black and blue Argyll knee socks and her favourite black boots. A thick black leather cuff circles each wrist. The night before, she changed the purple in her hair to green. Unplugging her straightening iron, she heads towards the stairs. In the kitchen, she finds her mother staring absentmindedly out the window.

“Mom?” She breaks the silence that’s been lingering for so long. “I know that you and Dad probably can’t understand what I’m going through. And, I get it that you’re probably angry. I’m going against what you think is right. But, I think I love this girl. I really do. But, I love you guys too. I won’t lie and say that it’ll be okay with me if you can’t accept it. That would really, really hurt, but I hope that you can at least decide how you feel. Cause I can’t do this anymore.”

Her mother turns from the window, and walks towards the coffee pot without a word. She opens the cupboard, pulls out Quinn’s favourite travel mug and fills it. She hands it to her oldest daughter.

“Don’t be late for supper. We’re having sheppard’s pie.” She kisses her on the forehead before walking out of the room and down the hallway. Quinn’s lip twitches involuntarily at the corner. While it isn’t a decision, or an acceptance, she knows it’s a positive reaction.

She parks her car in front of Stevie’s house several minutes later, and sprints to the heavy wooden door. Tapping enthusiastically, she bounces from foot to foot as she waits. Within seconds, Stevie pulls the door open. Her red hair, freshly cut, hangs down around her shoulders. Her outfit coordinated to match the bright green of her cast. Fanciful cowboy boots encase her feet.

“Are those the smartest choice when you’ve got a broken hand? They’ve got like no grip.” Quinn stares at the shoes.

“Blah, blah, blah. But I look cute right?” Stevie twists so that her white skirt twirls around her knees.

“Completely adorable.” Quinn laughs, leaning in to kiss her girlfriend.

“And I’ve got you to hold me up.”

“Until I get tired of you.” Quinn jokes and nods towards the cast “Can I sign it?”

“Of course. I was waiting so you could sign it first.” She holds out her arm towards the dark haired girl. “Hey, your hair matches my cast!”

“I’m aware.” Quinn’s smile is huge. “Now get me a marker.”

“It’s in the front of my bag.” Stevie turns, grinning like a fool. She can’t believe how excited she is to get out of the house.

Across the top of the cast, Quinn writes a note, signs it with a heart and her name, and puts the marker back in the bag. Stevie twists her head to look at the note.

“Don’t be a dork… Nice, Quinn.” Stevie swats her arm.

“Well, what I really wanted to write is that I love you.” Quinn’s voice is quiet as she leans close to Stevie’s ear.

Stevie’s eyes widen. She bites her lip to contain her grin. “You’ve never said that to me before.” She reaches her hand up to touch the side of Quinn’s face.

“I know.”

“I love you, too.” Stevie closes the short distance between them and pressed her lips gently against Quinn’s.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Stevie’s father appears at the top of the stairs.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Stevie shrugs her backpack into a more comfortable position. “I’ll see you tonight, Dad.”

Together, the two girls leave the house and climb into the warm jeep. They drive to school is a comfortable silence. Soon, they’re parking in a spot as close to the doors as Quinn can get. Crossing the icy sidewalk, Stevie wraps her good arm through Quinn’s. They pass through the doors, as they have so many times before, but together this time. As they head through the second set of doors and approach the turn in the hallway, Stevie stops for a second and takes a deep breath. “We ready?” She looks at Quinn.

“More than ever.” Quinn smiles.

Their fingers weave together smoothly. Black nail polish on one hand. Green nail polish on the other. With matching strides, they turn the corner in the hallway. Done with waiting.

The End

Thank you for taking the time to read this novel. Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments section below or return to the home page for more reading options.

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