the art of boxes (chapter 3)
[i promised frequent updates, so here you go :) title from florence and the machine’s “cosmic love.” i mention lykke li, so you should listen to "everybody but me" because it’s very quinn and very rachel and also it’s my favourite. i also mention zee avi. you can read this fic here, on my lj, or on ffn.]
three. the stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
"What are you up to after class on Thursday?" David asks, spinning his now-empty coffee cup around on the table.
"I have a thing right after, but then nothing. Did you have something in mind?" Quinn asks.
David raises his brows. “A thing? As in a hot lesbian thing?”
Quinn rolls her eyes. “Nope. A thing as in a doctor’s appointment.”
"Oh." David pouts. "Well, I have studio time reserved on Thursday evenings if you’d like to come dance. We could get dinner or go shopping after if you wanted."
Quinn smiles. “That sounds perfect.”
"Fantastic," David says, taking the sleeve off of the coffee cup and folding it carefully.
Quinn takes a sip of her tea. Her hands feel clammy. “I—um, would it be weird if I asked you to come with me to my doctor’s appointment?”
"Is it a gynecologist?"
Quinn laughs. “No, no. Just a checkup thing. I was in a car accident six months ago so I just have to go and make sure I’m not going to randomly fall apart.”
"That wouldn’t be good."
"I’d be happy to accompany you, then."
"Thanks. I just—sometimes I still get a little freaked out, and I usually go with my mom but obviously she’s not here, and—"
David raises his hollow cup and guides Quinn’s to meet it, clinking mutedly—paper against paper—in the air.
"A toast," he says, "to not falling apart."
Hazel bounces into their dorm later than usual on weeknights, smiling.
"Did you meet a boy?" Quinn asks, singing, sitting up and pausing Arrested Development reruns on her Netflix.
Hazel flops down on her bed. “Not at all,” she says.
"Then why are you—"
"—We watched Carl Sagan in Biology and even if some of the stuff he says is scientifically wrong, I just—every single time I see him, I get so excited about science and space and life and stuff." Hazel sighs.
"You’re a nerd."
Hazel laughs. “I’ve heard you say the same thing about poetry about five million times already.”
Quinn glances at the one box still crammed with her favourite poetry anthologies because they wouldn’t fit in her bookshelf. “When I was in high school,” she says, “I tried so hard to feel good about myself. Being popular, having the hottest boyfriend, all that stuff, you know?”
Hazel sits up. “Well, I was never popular. But I understand.”
Quinn bites her bottom lip. “I wanted to feel lasting and infinite and beautiful and expansive, you know, something in the universe that mattered, not just nothing.”
“‘We’re made of star stuff,’” Hazel quotes.
Quinn smiles. “I like Carl Sagan too.”
Santana texts her all day Thursday:
What are you having for breakfast?
What did you read today in class?
What are you wearing?
Have you gotten a haircut yet?
When are you coming to New York?
Have you eaten bacon yet?
How much caffeine have you consumed?
What super gay thing has David said today?
Have you met any hot lesbians yet?
Quinn texts back brightly. Santana says random things because she’s still scared, and because sometimes Santana doesn’t know how to say the things she wants to. But Quinn also remembers the first time Santana said they were friends, and Quinn remembers the first time they kissed—it was summer and it was hot and Santana was achingly gentle, like she didn’t want to scare Quinn away. Quinn remembers fights and hugs and Quinn remembers waking up in the hospital to Santana’s teary face. Quinn remembers realizing she couldn’t feel her legs almost as vividly as she remembers Santana’s strong arms around her shaking shoulders in the very next second.
So Quinn knows each text is an I love you.
Later in the day, Brittany sends her a picture of Lord Tubbington joining Glee practice, and everyone—Tina, Blaine, Artie—is smiling, and she knows this is an I love you too.
Judy calls when Quinn’s at lunch, and she Skypes with Frannie a little before class. They’re funny and serious at the same time, joking and then very somberly telling her how important she was to them.
Quinn doesn’t ever hesitate to say it back.
Rachel sends an email that’s about 7,000 words long, and Quinn sees it just before her professor starts lecturing.
She saves it for later, something to come home to, something to make her feel infinite. It’s like dance, or poetry, or friends.
David sits down in a chair inside the little room inside the doctor’s office at Yale-New Haven Hospital while Quinn sits on top of the exam table, swinging her legs.
"How could anyone not fall in love with you in a hospital gown?" he asks.
"It’s flattering, huh?"
David nods. “You should model it.”
"Only if you model one with me."
There’s a knock on the door and then a young woman in light blue scrubs walks in. She’s tall and has dark, curly brown hair and brown eyes, a few freckles across her nose. “I’m Dr. Harrison,” she says, offering her hand for Quinn to shake. “Dr. Lopez referred you to me.”
"I’m Quinn. This is my friend David."
David stands and shakes Dr. Harrison’s hand, then turns and bends to kiss Quinn on the top of the head. “I’ll be right outside when you’re done, okay?”
Quinn nods. “Thanks.”
Dr. Harrison sits down on a stool and scoots it over in front of Quinn. “How’ve you been feeling?”
"Pretty good," Quinn says. "Sometimes my ribs hurt, but my back’s been good lately."
Dr. Harrison asks a few more questions which Quinn answers as honestly as possible—Quinn’s eating well and her stress levels are low; she’s feeling good about school; sometimes she has nightmares and some days she feels depressed, but she’s learned coping techniques, and she emails her psychiatrist in Ohio every few weeks—and then asks Quinn to lay back.
The paper crinkles beneath Quinn but the pillow on the table is soft, and Quinn focuses on breathing deeply and remembering that she’s in New Haven, that she’s at Yale.
That she’s alive.
That, when Dr. Harrison tests the nerve responses in both of her legs, she can feel her toes. She can move her knees. She can flex every single of her muscles.
When she turns over and Dr. Harrison presses against the scar that wraps from just below her left breast across her ribs and back, ending just past her left shoulder blade, she thinks of the box of stained glass Frannie made her for her sixteenth birthday. It was glass Frannie had found near a dumpster, and Frannie had welded it together in class. It wasn’t big, but it was beautiful, and Quinn never put anything in it because she was afraid it would break.
She feels the pain in her chest but she allows it, because she thinks that maybe the emptiness of the box really wasn’t ever the point: The box was fractured and fragmented, but it was together, Quinn could see all the way through.
Quinn takes off her sweatpants and knit sweater, leaving on a leotard and a pair of short floral-printed cotton shorts and her socks. David puts on a mix of Florence and the Machine and Lykke Li, and the studio is bright with late afternoon sunlight.
"Are you okay for today?"
The scar down her spine is still red, and Quinn can see it in a thousand reflections.
"Yes," she says.
Quinn knows the universe and she thinks of stars. They dance.
She’s exhausted by the end of the hour David had blocked off, but it’s the good kind of exhausted that she’d grown to love during cheer and gymnastics, the kind of exhausted that ached in the perfect way.
They walk back towards the dorms because David insists that if they go out they need to change first, and as soon as they go into his room, Quinn flops down on his bed, sighing.
David laughs. “You poor thing. When was the last time you danced?”
"Like that? February 20th,” she mumbles into his pillow.
David scoots her over in bed and climbs in, and Quinn rests her head against his chest. “Do you like pizza?”
Quinn smiles. “I love pizza.”
"I’ll order some. I have to catch up on Gossip Girl anyway,” he says, putting his laptop at the end of the bed.
Quinn falls asleep to Zee Avi in the background, New York as glamourous as always.
She hears, “This is Quinn. You’re not allowed to hit on her because she’s my friend and she’s also a lesbian,” before she remembers where she is.
David’s chest isn’t serving as her pillow anymore, and it’s dark outside when she lifts her head and looks out the window, but when she sees the clock on David’s wall, it’s only 7:43.
"Hey, sleepyhead," David says, and Quinn rolls so that she can see him. He’s standing with another guy, who’s wearing a Yale sweatshirt. "This is Marcus, my roommate."
Marcus has honey coloured skin and green-grey eyes, and he’s a few inches shorter than David, a little bulkier. He smiles. “You wouldn’t believe it, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen David bring a girl back here.”
Quinn sits up and straightens her hair as best as she can. She quirks an eyebrow. “You don’t say.”
"It’s a shame too, because he obviously has good taste."
David sits down on the bed next to Quinn. “I told you Quinn was off limits,” he tells Marcus, then turns to Quinn. “Marcus is a very heteronormative twenty-year-old male. My apologies.”
Quinn laughs. “It’s okay. I’m just really gay, Marcus, so I’m sorry to disappoint.”
Marcus pulls out the chair tucked into his desk and sits. “Just my luck,” he says, then shrugs. “You probably have hot straight friends, though, right?”
"Absolutely," Quinn says.
"Cool." Marcus stands and opens the box of pizza on David’s desk. "Dude. Why does this pizza have bacon on it?"
David walks Quinn to her dorm—it’s only one building away, but it’s dark out and David says he’s always wanted to try out his childhood karate classes, which makes Quinn laugh—and as they get to the entrance of her building, Quinn says, “You know, sometimes I think that dance is what heaven will feel like. How corny is that?”
David shakes his head. “It’s not corny. It’s true.”
Quinn hugs him then.
David laughs softly and says, “And you’re a wonderful dancer.”
"So are you," Quinn says, backing up from their embrace, taking out her keys and inserting them into the lock.
"Have fun in New York this weekend." David winks.
Quinn feels herself blush and she shakes her head. “I’ll give you the full update on Monday. Promise.”
"I expect nothing less," he says, and Quinn waves before nearly running up the stairs, taking her phone out of her pocket on the way. She texts her mom and Frannie and Santana that her checkup had gone great and that she’d even gotten to dance today.
By the time she gets to her room and unlocks the door—Hazel was at a study session, a note said—Quinn almost can’t bear to open the email from Rachel.
But she takes a deep breath and sits down at her desk, opens her MacBook Pro. Her hands shake as she clicks on the Mail icon, but she takes a deep breath and thinks of what Rachel told her at Prom, and she thinks of the pass sitting safely in her wallet. She thinks of her almost-packed suitcase.
She thinks of speeding boats and drifting continents.
I know we’ll see each other soon—and I can’t wait to see you, don’t worry—but I wanted to write you an email because when I’m with you it seems that my words sometimes get caught swirling too frantically around my head, which is quite a strange thing for me.
I wanted to talk about your coming out to me, because I don’t think I really got to say everything last weekend, or process it all completely like I have now. Don’t worry, none of the processing is bad, so please don’t close and archive the email or anything. I just need to say some things, and if I try to tell you in person, I won’t be able to.
(Or I’d have to sing them, and you’d probably hate that.)
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’m so proud of you. I don’t know how much of a struggle this has been for you—I can’t imagine, and I guess I never payed attention closely enough to know—but I know that you must’ve been so sad and it must’ve been really hard. I’m so glad that you felt comfortable enough to tell me—it means more to me than you can ever know.
I talked a little bit to Santana yesterday at dinner and she told me that you haven’t come out to your family yet. I want you to know that I will never betray your confidences, and I won’t ever push you to tell them, either, but know that whenever you feel like you do, I—and my dads—will be here no matter what.
The other purpose of this email is mainly to tell you that I love you. I know that today is six months from your accident, and I also can’t imagine how hard that must be for you. I hope you know that not a day goes by that I don’t thank God that you’re still here. I know Santana feels the same way because she was nice to me at dinner last night, even if she never tells you that herself. You are so incredibly important to me, and sometimes when I remember those awful moments, I try to imagine the world without you.
It seems strange, but I always think that the universe would’ve stopped had you died. I know it wouldn’t have, but I can always see the sun exploding and everything being engulfed in flames. At least, that’s what would have happened in my world, and I don’t think I ever would’ve really healed from burns like that.
So today, I hope you did all the things you love. I hope you sang Of Monsters and Men and danced to Ellie Goulding, and I hope you read some great books and drew some doodles and built an elaborate house of cards and ate the greasiest bacon you could find. I hope you lived as only you can, and I hoped you surprised yourself.
I’ll be at Grand Central when you get here tomorrow. I can’t wait to hug you.
Quinn reads the email four times—all in a row—before wiping her tears and climbing into bed. There’s no mention of Rachel being anything but straight, but the whole message is so much bigger than that.
Quinn thinks back to Freshman and Sophomore years in high school, when she was sure that the only love worth giving—and taking—was romantic love.
But now she has Santana and Brittany and her mom and her sister, even Hazel and David, and certainly Rachel, so she unlocks her phone.
She texts Rachel, Hey, I got your email. I danced today AND I ate bacon at all three meals. Thanks for everything. I love you too. I’ll see you soon.
Rachel texts back, I have our whole weekend scheduled! We’re going to have so much fun. I’m so excited! and Quinn thinks of stars exploding and entirely new worlds being born like phoenixes.
On the train, Quinn sits across from an elderly couple, Henry and Elsa Jacobs, they introduce themselves. They smile at her and they ask her if she goes to Yale, and then they tell her all about their three children and eight grandchildren.
They invite Quinn over to dinner at their house—they live in New Haven—anytime.
And they’re in New York, and, as Quinn stands to get her bag, Henry winks at Quinn. “Go get her,” he says, and Quinn feels her nervousness dissipate just slightly at Henry’s encouraging smile.
Quinn steps off the train—she’s wearing a new dress and a denim jacket, ankle boots, and her hair and makeup are perfect, she’d made sure—and it takes her about a minute to find Rachel, who is in a skirt and sweater, although it’s more New York than Ohio now, and then Rachel spots her because she waves.
Quinn waves back and they walk towards each other, and Quinn’s surprised Rachel doesn’t burst into song, but then they’re hugging and Quinn whispers, “‘We’re made of star stuff.’”
Quinn feels Rachel’s smile in the crook of her shoulder and she thinks of entire universes being made for her to learn about, planets and asteroids and moons. Maybe she’s a satellite, she thinks, orbiting closer and closer to her destination. Landing might consist of a fatal crash, but she’s pretty sure that doesn’t matter right now anyway, because she’s in New York and Rachel takes her hand and leads her out into the sun.
the quote ‘we’re all made of star stuff’ is from carl sagan’s cosmos.