the art of boxes (chapter one)
[this is the first chapter of my college!faberry fic, as promised. it follows canon through s3. i’ll rec "1000 sundowns" by emma louise because it’s breathtaking. (you can read it here, or at my lj, or at ffn.)]
the art of boxes
so many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.
one. box after box and you’re still by my side
“Don’t you dare touch that,” Santana says, walking up next to Quinn and bumping her hip lightly, pushing her away from the cardboard box sitting on the cement outside of her new dorm building.
“It’s not even heavy,” Quinn says, but she moves anyway.
Santana bends down and lifts the box, motions for Quinn to walk in front of her. “No way did I come all the way from New York just to watch you hurt your back. You’re pathetic in a wheelchair.”
Quinn rolls her eyes but as she opens the door she smiles softly. Santana walks by with a smile too.
Quinn follows Santana up two flights of stairs, making it to her dorm. She hasn’t met her roommate, but her stuff is already set up; there’s a Youth Lagoon poster tacked on the wall and a stack of biology and chemistry textbooks in one of the bookcases.
Quinn’s side of the room is currently five cardboard boxes, four suitcases, and a few totes full of pictures.
Santana puts down the last box, sighing. “That’s it then, right? I don’t have to carry any more of your shit?”
“I would’ve helped. And it’s not shit.”
“That’s not what I asked.” Santana sits down on the bare mattress.
“Awesome,” Santana says, lying back.
Quinn sits down on the bed next to her, and Santana takes Quinn’s hand.
“This is pretty nice.”
Santana sits up. “Yeah. It is.”
“My mom’ll be happy. She was worried I wouldn’t like the building or something.”
“So you and Judes are talking now?”
Quinn laughs. “You spent, like, half of the summer eating her food. At my house.”
“She’s a good cook. No wonder you were fat as a little kid.”
Quinn shakes her head with a smile. “Should we start unpacking?”
Santana sighs dramatically. “I suppose so.”
Quinn gets up first, tugging Santana with her, and they open the first box. It has mostly books in it, and Quinn takes out armfulls at a time, stacking them neatly in the bookcase.
“I’ll alphabetize them later. You can just hand them to me for now,” she says.
Santana laughs. “You’re a gigantic nerd.”
Quinn shrugs. “I’m at Yale.”
They unpack for a while longer, and then there’s a knock at the door. There’s a girl standing there. She has blue eyes and long, light brown hair. She’s about an inch shorter than Quinn and maybe twenty pounds heavier, and she’s wearing dark skinny jeans, brown leather oxfords, a green t-shirt, and a scarf.
She smiles when she sees them. “I’m Hazel,” she says. “And I assume one of you is my roommate. Or else you have the wrong dorm.”
Quinn stands, and it’s a little stiff because she had been on the train all through last night, and Santana looks worried for a second. Quinn shakes her head with a little, reassuring smile. She smooths the skirt of her dress, one she’d gotten from a vintage place in San Francisco over the summer, when she’d visited Frannie, green with little pink flowers on it. She turns towards Hazel and says, “I’m Quinn.”
Hazel shakes her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Quinn smiles. “You too. This is my friend Santana. She’s helping me carry stuff because—”
“—Quinn’s a cripple,” Santana says, shaking Hazel’s hand.
“Santana,” Quinn says.
Santana shrugs. Hazel laughs.
“I’m not kidding,” Santana continues. “Anyway, Quinn’s also an awful packer.”
Quinn rolls her eyes.
“In that case, I can help you guys if you want,” Hazel says.
“Thank you,” Quinn says.
As they unpack, they talk about lots of things—Hazel’s from Phoenix, Arizona; she has a younger brother who’s sixteen; she likes volleyball and tennis; she’s majoring in biochemistry and she wants to go to medical school; she’s allergic to peanuts.
They get most of Quinn’s stuff put away before it starts to grow dark. Quinn senses the ebb of Santana’s presence, the waxing of childhood and Lima, comfort and pain, as the sun starts to set.
Santana looks at her watch. “My train leaves in forty-five minutes.”
Quinn nods. “I’ll walk you downstairs,” she says, and takes Santana’s hand before Santana can protest.
Once they’re alone outside the building, surrounded by castles and fortresses, moths swirling in the light of the streetlamps, Quinn hugs Santana tightly to her. “I’m going to miss you,” she says.
Santana’s breath catches against Quinn’s chest. “Don’t manage to get yourself killed while I’m not around. Brittany would never forgive me.”
Quinn hugs her tighter.
“And don’t kill anyone, either.”
Quinn’s laugh is saturated with tears. “Check up on Rachel, okay?”
Santana’s hand squeezes Quinn’s shoulder. “Only if you promise me something.”
Santana steps back from their hug and brushes her thumb along Quinn’s cheek. “Okay,” Quinn says.
“Be brave,” Santana says. “You deserve to be proud of who you are.”
Quinn wraps Santana in her arms again. “Who are you and what’d you do with Santana Lopez?”
Santana laughs. “I have to go, Q.”
Quinn nods, letting go of Santana. “I love you,” Santana says.
“I love you too.”
Santana tugs her purse over her shoulder, wiping tears, then waving, before she walks in the direction of the bus stop.
Quinn allows herself to feel the ache in her chest. She thinks of Santana helping to unpack those boxes, pulling apart cardboard and tape with abrasive rips, her strong arms never relenting to the seals that Quinn had placed so contentiously, so carefully.
Santana looks back once and smiles. Quinn is neither Persephone nor Euridice. She doesn’t need saving anymore.
The healed incision wrapping along her ribs stings. Quinn doesn’t mind at all.
Quinn feels loneliness seeping into her lungs as she lays back in bed, pulling her new comforter from Pottery Barn up to her chin. She hugs her stuffed lamb from childhood.
Her phone vibrates. She’s already talked to Judy for half an hour, and she’s sent Frannie pictures. Quinn sees Rachel, then a text that reads I hope your move-in day went well! I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the place. :) I’ll call you tomorrow. Sweet dreams.
Quinn smiles. From their frequent phone conversations and Skype dates and texting into the middle of the night, Quinn knows that Rachel had loved her summer in New York, her courses at NYADA. Quinn also knows that Rachel hadn’t gotten back together with Finn, that now she wasn’t sure if she ever would.
Sleep well. I love you, she types, and she sends it before she can talk herself out of it.
Rachel texts back, I love you too.
Quinn pictures soil somewhere in the region of her diaphragm, moist with rainwater.
Then Hazel walks in from the bathroom, and Quinn hears her rummaging around and then climbing into her bed.
“So, what’d Santana mean about you being a cripple?” Hazel asks.
“Santana’s coping mechanism is inappropriate humor.”
“No, I mean, are you okay? Can I get handicap parking or something for being your roommate?”
Quinn laughs. “I’m afraid not.”
“Too bad. You could’ve been good for something, then, Fabray.”
Quinn rolls over and props herself up so she can see Hazel. She thinks of her AP Calculus class, of maximums and minimums, places of greatest change. “In February I was in a car accident. It was bad and I had a compressed spinal cord injury. That’s what Santana meant,” she says. Her voice is small.
Hazel says, “I’m sorry.” It fills every space in the room.
Quinn takes a deep breath. She doesn’t say That’s silly or Don’t be. She says, instead, “Thank you,” and then she says, “Santana was helping me today because she’s still scared and everything.”
“—Better? Yes and no. I mean, I regained about 85% of the feeling below my waist, and I can walk and dance and everything—” Hazel smiles when Quinn says dance— “but I don’t think anything will ever really feel the same.”
Hazel quietly says, “Yeah.”
Quinn lays back. She allows herself to acknowledge the ache that goes all the way down her spine. “But I guess I’m trying to remember that I can make up for it. I’m trying to feel everything, everywhere else. Really feel it. Take it in and let myself get caught up in it.”
Quinn sees Hazel’s smile even in the dark.
“I’ve never done that before,” Quinn says.
Hazel says, “Now’s as good a time as any to start.”
“It is,” Quinn agrees.
They say goodnight then, and Quinn remembers calculus but she also remembers poetry, roots weaving around her ribcage and flowers blooming through her throat, boxes being ripped open.
She doesn’t feel lonely, not really.
The next day, she and Hazel wake up at a decent hour, but not too early. Classes don’t start for another two days, and they take quick showers before heading to Davenport to have breakfast together.
“I think this is where Rory ate on Gilmore Girls,” Hazel says, putting a banana on her plate as Quinn picks up a few pieces of bacon.
“I was never allowed to watch that,” Quinn says.
Hazel stops walking and grabs Quinn’s arm, her eyes huge. “You never watched Gilmore Girls? But that was the best show ever.”
Quinn shrugs. “I read instead.”
“We’re having a marathon.”
Quinn gets coffee with a smile. “That’d be fine with me. You like Youth Lagoon so I assume you have decent enough taste in everything else.”
They launch into a discussion of music, then—from the lack of cohesiveness in The Naked and Famous’ Passive Me, Aggressive You to whether or not Lungs was a better album than Ceremonials—and Quinn catches herself in the middle of a very intense Rachel-like ramble about how incredible the bridge of “Rill Rill” is while ripping her piece of toast.
Hazel starts to laugh and then Quinn does too.
She thinks of Rachel, how Quinn had learned to allow herself to be passionate about music that saved her, day in and day out, and then she thinks of Santana.
She thinks of the source of the sun; she thinks of stars and turning towards them so she can continue to grow. To feel.
She thinks of being brave.
She says, “Hazel, I need to tell you something.”
“If it’s a profession of love for Fleet Foxes, save it.”
Quinn shakes her head. “No. It’s—”
Hazel sets down her coffee. Her blue eyes get big. She nods.
“I, um, I don’t like—I’m gay,” Quinn says.
Hazel smiles a little then. “That’s it? I thought you were going to make me hide a body or something.”
Quinn fights back the pricks of tears that sting her eyes, and she closes them. She feels Hazel’s hand touch her own tentatively.
“Really, Quinn, it’s okay. I don’t care. I mean, I trust you have enough self-control to not jump me or anything in the middle of the night.”
Quinn opens her eyes and a laugh bubbles up her throat. She wipes her cheeks and Hazel grins.
“I’m straight, just so we’re clear, though.”
“I’m happy to be your wing woman at any parties or coffee meetings or anything. I can be charming.”
Hazel sits back, takes a bite out of her toast. “Judging from your consumption of bacon this morning, I highly doubt that.”
Quinn rolls her eyes, but then she says, “You’re one of the first people I’ve come out to.”
Hazel’s eyes are immediately serious. “Thanks.”
Quinn nods. “I want to be honest and I want to be happy.”
Hazel bites her bottom lip with a smile. “Those are excellent plans.”
Quinn remembers the shadow boxes Santana tacked to the wall of her dorm yesterday, three of them. They weren’t that big but they displayed Quinn’s most prized trinkets—a glass bird from Frannie, a picture of Brittany and Santana in Cheerios uniforms, the program from Nationals with Rachel’s autograph on it.
Those boxes were open for everyone to see. They were proud.
Quinn says, “I do love Fleet Foxes, though.”
Rachel calls around three in the afternoon, while Quinn and Hazel are watching their forth episode of Gilmore Girls.
“Hey,” Quinn says, smiling at Hazel before standing and walking into the hall.
She and Rachel talk about their days—“I finally listened to that Perfume Genius song you sent me, and then I had lunch with some people from my dorm, and I’m wearing that dress I bought last weekend, the one with the blue polka dots that I told you about, and now I’m reading,” Rachel says—and they talk about how they miss each other.
“Can I—you’ll be—”
Quinn smiles, clenching her phone a little tighter. Rachel rarely stutters. “—I’d love if you came up next weekend.”
They say a little more, and then they say goodbye—Quinn wants to recite Shakespeare, but she doesn’t—and Quinn hangs up.
She feels the loneliness and she thinks of how huge the universe is, how stars are so far away.
But she also thinks of how eay they are to see in the middle of the night, how bright and plentiful they are against dark skies.
“Who was that?” Hazel asks as Quinn comes back and sits on Hazel’s bed.
Quinn tries to stop smiling. “My friend Rachel. She goes to school at NYADA.”
Hazel nudges Quinn’s side. “Your friend Rachel? You’re blushing.”
Quinn shakes her head but she bites her bottom lip and says, “She’s visiting next weekend.”
Quinn shoves Hazel playfully and presses play, sitting with her back against the pillows. Hazel joins her.
A new message from Rachel—I just mentioned the bridge of Sleigh Bells’ “Rill Rill” to some people on my floor and they got very excited and said I’m cool.—makes Quinn smile.
She types out First of all, you can stop referring to that song as Sleigh Bells’ “Rill Rill” because I know what you’re talking about when you just say Rill Rill, and secondly, Congrats on tricking them. and she thinks of rates of change.
Quinn thinks of gardenias growing through her eyes, and she thinks thinks of her childhood jewelry box: open it slowly enough, and the ballerina would spin for what seemed like forever.
chapter title. tegan and sara, “i know i know i know”
i mention "rill rill" by sleigh bells and perfume genius (i was thinking of "sister song").