I cannot cry
Because I know that's weakness in your eyes
I'm forced to fake, a smile, a laugh
Every day of my life
"Because of You" Kelly Clarkson
No matter how much she wants to sleep, Quinn tends to wake up early. Even on the weekends, which used to be a blessing -- it gave her the chance to get her homework out of the way Saturday morning before her social life began, parties with the marching band or the Cheerios and the football team, dates with Finn, shopping with Santana and Brittany, movie nights with Lauren and Tina, Mercedes and Kurt -- but now all it does is allow her far too much time to think.
Mercedes sleeps late on Saturdays. Since she gets up early for church on Sundays, it’s her only day to sleep in. Quinn tries not to begrudge her that, but sometimes, when she lies awake in bed, alone but for the same pattern of thoughts that chases her no matter how she tries to ignore it, she wants to wake her, to crawl into bed next to her and talk about anything but this.
They’re not that kind of friends, though. She’s never had that kind of friend. There’s too much competition between her and Santana -- or there was, at least, in a different life -- and Santana has always had Brittany. Ever since she moved in with Mercedes, she’s had delightful late night conversations and more laughter than she ever imagined a house could hold, but even on nights when they stay up until dawn, when they finally do sleep, Quinn goes back to her room. (And it is her room now, not Mercedes’ brother’s. Even when he comes home from college, he crashes on the pull-out couch in the family room. He gives her shit about it, but it’s all good natured, and after the first couple times, she started giving as good as she got.)
She’s infinitely happier living here than with her parents, but sometimes the loneliness gets to her still.
Around eight, she finally gets out of bed. She takes her time with her morning ritual, deep conditioning her hair and rubbing her favorite lime-verbena lotion into every inch of her bare skin. When she’s done, she checks on Mercedes, but she’s still asleep, and Quinn reluctantly starts in on her homework.
She’s not been working long when her phone chimes a text message. It’s supposed to be the sound of church bells, but it’s tinny and fake. Quinn carefully marks her place in advanced chemistry and picks up her phone. It’s from Wes.
David and I need coffee. Want to join us at the Lima Bean?
He always spells out each word and uses correct punctuation. After the jumbled messages she gets from nearly everyone else -- Finn, in particular, is horrible -- she appreciates that perfection. Sometimes she’ll take shortcuts when texting anyone else, but for him, she matches his formal style.
I’ll be there in twenty minutes.
Wes and David already have a table and three coffees, even though it only takes her fifteen minutes. She smiles when she joins them and accepts the medium skinny caramel latte Wes offers. After the first time they got coffee together last spring -- Mr. Schuester had just named her the third drum major, and Wes proclaimed they would take time to get to know each other -- he's memorized her order.
“We should discuss our salute.” Wes sips his coffee -- large drip with five sugars and a dash of milk, he's not the only one who pays attention -- and opens the small notebook he carries with him everywhere. He flips to a blank page and clicks his pen, ready to write.
She laughs and shakes back her hair. “Are you really going to take notes about our salute? Really?”
David tries to muffle his laugh with his iced tea, but of course it doesn’t work. Wes frowns at them each in turn.
“The salute is how we introduce not only ourselves but our entire band to the judges.” He taps the end of his pen against the table. “We must be serious about this.”
Her coffee is perfect when she takes a drink. She savors it, making Wes wait, and carefully wipes the corner of her mouth with the edge of her thumb. “I agree,” she tells him at last. “But I don’t know that writing a salute is the best way to create one.”
“Oh?” He carefully lines up his pen next to the notebook precisely two inches from the edge of the table and sets his coffee cup right above them. “How would you proceed, junior drum major?”
Wes often sounds cold, though not cruel. He is driven, obsessed with perfection. She appreciates that. He is not an easy person to work with, but Mr. Schuester made the correct choice when he picked his drum majors. David balances Wes well, and Quinn -- she doesn’t bother to hide her smile, though her mouth hurts with how hard it is.
Quinn will rule the band by herself next year, flanked by two junior drum majors, and she cannot wait.
“I would begin,” she tells him, “by sending one of us up into the crow’s nest to see how different combinations will look to the judges. Then I would try variations until I found what I thought would help us win captions in showmanship and style.” She takes another sip of coffee, meeting his gaze without blinking. “And it is possible I would take notes at that point.”
She sees Wes’ smile rarely, but it is always worth it. It’s slightly crooked, one corner of his mouth lifted higher than the other, and he has a bit of a dimple in one cheek. Quinn’s smile softens until it no longer feels like a grimace.
“Well then, I suppose we should take these to go.” He stands, collecting notepad, pen, and coffee cup. She and David stand too, but in the second it takes them to react, somehow Wes manages to exude impatience.
Laughter bubbles up, but she manages to keep it to a wide, bright smile.
Mercedes texts her while they’re still working on the salute. She’s going to lunch and then shopping with Kurt and Blaine. Quinn considers joining them at the mall, but decides she’d rather not deal with all the classmates she is certain to run into while shopping or all the tiny little shirts she no longer feels she can wear.
Instead, she goes home. (It is home, too, though she can’t quite remember when she started referring to it as such. Every time she does, Mercedes beams and frequently links their arms together, squeezing her tight.)
She’s just finished her turkey sandwich and started in on making a healthy dessert when her phone chimes a new text. She sets down the knife, wipes fruit juice off her fingers, and checks the message.
u home? need to talk to u
Quinn tilts her head. It’s impossible to hear tone through a text message, of course, but something in the phrasing sets her off. It doesn’t sound like Lauren, but that is whom it is from.
She taps back a quick Yes, come over and returns to her preparations.
Lauren arrives so soon she must have already been on the way over when she texted. Interesting. Quinn’s in the kitchen finishing the last preparations for her fruit smoothie when she hears the three loud knocks and then the front door opening.
“Kitchen,” she calls out and hits the button on the blender. If Lauren says anything, the loud noise covers it. When the fruit and ice and skim milk are crushed and mixed, she turns off the blender, grabs a spoon, and gives it a taste. Sweet and creamy and perfect.
One of the good things about not being back on the Cheerios is that she can still enjoy drinks that are delicious and not just packed full of protein.
Lauren leans against the island, sunglasses pushed up and holding her hair off her face. She fidgets with the knife block in the center of the island, then rearranges the fruit in the bowl, mixing apples and oranges and kiwi together haphazardly. Quinn snorts and knocks her hands away, putting everything back where it should be.
She pours half the smoothie into her glass and holds up the pitcher toward Lauren. “Want one?”
Her loss. She fills the rest of her glass; there’s a little left in the bottom of the pitcher. Since it’s just Lauren, she presses her mouth to the edge -- it's cold against her lips -- and tips back her head, swallowing as fast as she can. Still, some of it smears at the corners of her mouth. She sets down the pitcher and picks up a napkin, demurely wiping it away, as if she hadn’t just done the equivalent of drinking out of the carton. Her mother would be scandalized.
Lauren laughs, but it sounds off. Forced. Quinn quickly rinses the pitcher and sets it in the sink. She’ll give it a good wash later. Now, she’s curious. She digs a straw out of the miscellaneous kitchen items drawer, and she’s ready.
She faces Lauren across the island, but Lauren won’t look directly at her. Instead she glances at the stove -- or maybe the clock display on the oven -- the sink, and the floor. “What did you need to talk to me about?”
Lauren looks up at that. “Well,” but she stops. “Can we go outside? I want a cigarette.”
Quinn raises one eyebrow. (She will never admit how long it took her to perfect that cool, skeptical, slightly judging look. For years, she saw it every day from her mother. It should not have taken that long to master.) Lauren sometimes smokes at parties, but Quinn has never seen her with a cigarette but without a drink.
While she ponders this, Lauren looks away again, this time staring at the bright sunlight coming through the window over the sink. It’s framed in white curtains with big yellow flowers on them, and the effect is cheerful. (Startlingly so in the mornings.)
“Fine,” she says at last, and leads Lauren to the backyard. There’s a big metal swing in the center of the garden -- both Mr. and Ms. J love getting their hands dirty -- and without discussing it, they sit there.
Lauren pulls a battered black cigarette pack out of her pocket and a square silver lighter. There is something familiar about them, but Quinn can’t quite place them. She waits for Lauren to say something, takes a big sip of her smoothie, and pushes her feet firmly against the ground, setting them rocking back and forth a little.
“I,” Lauren starts, then stops speaking and starts flicking the lighter open and closed, open and closed, the click of the metal loud in her silence. Quinn glances at her quickly out of the corner of her eye. Lauren’s not normally this hesitant, this nervous. That’s more a Mercedes thing, for all that she sometimes tries to act like a diva or wants to be respected. (Always she deserves to be respected. Quinn hates that Mercedes doesn't always recognize how amazing she is.)
But Quinn knows Lauren well, and she waits, giving her the time she obviously needs. Eventually, Lauren tries again. “I like someone.”
Quinn nods a little, subtly encouraging her. Why in the world is Lauren so nervous about this? It’s not the first time she’s liked a guy. Out of all of them, Lauren’s probably in third place for most hook-ups. (Santana and Brittany take first and second, though no one’s sure which girl takes which place.) Lauren liking someone is fun and deserves some giggly gossip, but not these nerves.
They’d all kind of figured Kurt was gay long before he came out -- except maybe for Mercedes. Despite living with her for most of the last year, Quinn has never asked her if she was really that oblivious or if she crushed so hard on Kurt because he was safe -- but when Tina told everyone she was bisexual, it sort of felt like it came out of nowhere. They accepted her, because they loved her and because it was the right thing to do -- Quinn prayed a lot after each coming out, torn between what she’d been taught by her parents’ church and what she felt for her friends, but in the end, God showed her that His love for everyone was more important than the vicious, judgmental teachings of some of His followers -- but it had been unexpected.
Quinn braces herself, because if Lauren is about to come out to her, she wants to be a good friend, worthy of that kind of trust. She chooses her words with care. “Do you want to tell me who it is?”
Lauren shrugs and finally pulls out a cigarette. She turns her head away from Quinn when she lights it, but it has a strong, distinctive smell. A smell she knows. A smell that curls through her memories, twining around so many other things: the feel of a worn t-shirt and rough jeans; the too-sweet taste of wine coolers chugged down so fast; the discomfort when she curls up in a truck and cries, her hands spanning the swell of her stomach; the rough scratch of a letterman’s jacket against her cheek, the scent of the cigarette lingering in the fabric; and the press of a kiss to the top of her head, a quiet I promise I’ll take care of you both, just please, please keep our daughter murmured just for her, begging her even as she shakes her head no, no, I can't, I won't.
It all flashes through her faster than should be possible. She’s already braced, but now it’s for destruction, not comfort. The lighter clicks shut -- how can they still be in that moment of Lauren lighting her cigarette? It feels like time is hurtling through Quinn’s grasp, but she cannot tell if it is forward or back -- and Lauren blows out a stream of smoke.
“I hooked up with Puck at Matt’s party,” Lauren says, and Quinn has never heard her voice shake so. “We want --” Again she stops, takes a drag. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I’ve been trying to figure out how to say it. And this. I like him.” Her voice cracks; she tries again. “I’d like to date him, but I won’t unless -- I don’t want to hurt you.”
Quinn can’t breathe. She can’t feel, either; everything has gone numb, from her fingers to her toes, from her head to heels. The only thing left is the ache in her chest where her heart was once and that empty shudder in her stomach.
They are silent a long time; at least, it feels like a long time, but she can’t be certain of anything at the moment. Lauren smokes awhile, staring at the back of the house, and Quinn tries to remember how to make her body function. She’s a smart, smart girl; she knows some things happen without thought, but her body seems to have forgotten that scientific fact.
“Quinn?” Lauren asks and looks at her at last.
It is Quinn’s turn to stare straight ahead. She grips her cup very tightly indeed, the sides of the glass slippery with condensation.
“I need you to leave.” Her voice doesn’t shake. She is extraordinarily proud of that fact, considering how long it took her to remember how to push air across her vocal chords and how to form words with her lips and teeth and tongue.
“I’m sorry,” Lauren strangles out, but right now, it doesn’t matter. Quinn plants her feet and stops the sway of the swing. She stands, not looking at Lauren, focusing instead on each step she needs to take to get to the backdoor.
“Use the gate.” Her voice is cool and perfectly calm. She doesn’t wait to see if Lauren obeys, but walks carefully to the house. By the time she reaches the door, she’s sort of remembered how to breathe again, though it is shallow and her vision blurs. Before she shuts the door behind her, she hears the creak of the gate.
Mercedes is home already, or maybe she comes in hours later. Quinn cannot tell. She is still standing in the kitchen near the back door when Mercedes walks in the front door, calling her name. It takes her awhile to check the kitchen. When she does, she smiles wide enough Quinn can see it despite the wavery vision.
“Girl, where’s your phone? I’ve been trying to get ahold of you. I’ve got news.” It must be good, from how excited she sounds and the way she’s bouncing a little, but Quinn has news of her own, news that has ripped through her like a storm and left her strangely broken.
“Quinn?” Mercedes steps toward her, the smile slipping away. “What’s wrong?”
Quinn opens her mouth, trying for words, but nothing comes out by a plaintive little gasp. Mercedes is next to her suddenly -- or maybe she took her time, Quinn doesn't know -- one hand gripping Quinn’s elbow tightly. “Sweetie, what is it? Did something happen to your parents? To --” she halfway swallows the word, “Beth?”
Everything tied up so tight inside Quinn breaks free and a silent sob shakes her words loose.
“Lauren’s fucking Puck,” she manages, the curse foreign on her tongue, and the glass slips from her fingers. It cracks when it hits the floor, sturdy enough it doesn’t fully shatter, but smoothie splashes all over her bare feet, sticky and slightly chilled, and then Mercedes hugs her so tight she can’t breathe. She stays stiff and still in her arms, but neither does she pull away.