the art of boxes (chapter 6)
[update time! :) this is the longest by far, and this chapter—while sort of a filler—covers a lot of ground, like beth and stuff. title from gem club’s “breakers.” rachel may or may not sing "bella" by angus and julia stone, so you should give it a go.
you can read this here, my lj, or on ffn.
part 1. part 2. part 3. part 4. part 5.
six. breakers in my lungs (the graceless years are gone)
It’s October 20th at 3:42 pm when Quinn’s phone dings to tell her that she has an email. She’s in the library working on an essay for one of her classes, curled up in a chair because her back was a little sore from dancing with David earlier that morning.
She thinks it’s probably nothing—something her mom wanted to show her, or another scholarship opportunity, or one of fifty coupons from various places she shopped—but her breath catches when she sees Shelby Cocoran.
The subject says, Hello, Quinn.
Quinn remembers the shoebox in her room with little trinkets for Beth in it, things Quinn had saved from childhood.
She’d left it in Ohio, under her bed.
So she presses to open the email. She doesn’t know if it’s inviting ghosts or expelling them.
How is school going? I heard from Noah that you’re attending Yale. I hope you’re having a wonderful time in New Haven and enjoying your classes and new friends.
I’ve moved back to just outside of New York. Beth loves it here and she’s currently working on learning her alphabet and numbers, but she really just loves to play. Roaring like a lion is her favourite noise—she’ll do it for hours.
I know this is hard, and, while you have certainly not been the most steady force in her life thus far, I really want you to be involved with her. I know you’ve been through a lot this year, and I’m sure it hasn’t been easy. I hope you’ve grown through everything, and, from what Noah tells me, it seems like you have.
I don’t know how often, if at all, you come down to the city, but I’d really like you to see Beth if you want. I’m sure you’re very busy, but it’s up to you. She deserves to know you.
Please let me know.
Quinn reads the email a few times. She feels glass crumbling and wax melting off her skin, but this time she remembers soft skin and her eyes, blond curls and the drape of small limbs over her shoulder, how her heart had ached.
She doesn’t cry, but she wants to. Beth makes her—has made her—want to do anything to stop the terrible rush of pain and guilt and regret that envelops her (she thinks of actual letters, everything she’d ever written and return to sender stamped on the front).
In the past she never talked about it. She did hurt herself, over and over again.
“Mom,” she says when Judy picks up on the second ring.
“Hi, honey. What are you doi—”
“—Shelby emailed me,” Quinn says. Her voice cracks.
“Oh,” Judy says. “What—Are you okay?”
Quinn sniffles a few times. “Yeah. She wants me to see Beth the next time I’m in New York.”
“That’s good, right? You want to do that?”
“Yeah.” Quinn laughs quietly. “Yeah, I want to see her.”
Judy’s quiet for a few seconds, but then she says, “She’s going to fall in love with you.”
“You have to say that.”
“You’re my mom.”
Judy laughs. “Yes. But who wouldn’t fall in love with you?”
Quinn thinks of her father.
Judy says, quieter, more seriously, “Quinnie, you deserve to have this little girl in your life if you want her to be.”
Quinn’s eyes fill with more tears. She tries to remember how far away the sun is from the earth and she tries to remember how deep the ocean is. “Thank you.”
Judy asks, “Is it going to hurt too much?”
Quinn takes a deep breath. “Not too much.”
“I had a kid.”
Hazel’s head pops up from where she’d been intently making chemistry flashcards on her bed. “No. You did not.”
Quinn smiles a little. “I did. A baby girl.”
“But you look like—and you’re a—”
Quinn arches an eyebrow and climbs off of her bed. She hands Hazel a picture of she and Beth in the hospital, then one of Beth playing with Quinn’s (old) phone.
“She’s almost two and a half now,” Quinn says. “Her name is Beth. I gave her up for adoption.”
Hazel stares at the pictures for a few seconds. “She looks just like you.”
Quinn lets out a quick breath of air then looks away.
Hazel looks at Quinn. “Do you get to see her?”
“I didn’t for a while. I was—I was really messed up. I mean, it was—” Quinn shakes her head. “But her mom, Shelby, emailed me today and asked if I wanted to visit them when I go down to New York soon.”
“And you said yes?”
“I said yes.”
Hazel smiles. “She’s beautiful.”
Quinn collects the pictures and puts them back in the top drawer of her desk.
“Did you ever—you said you were messed up.”
“Are you, um, better? I mean, I don’t—it’s okay—”
Quinn shrugs. “I think I’ll always be a little messed up because of lots of stuff. But, yeah, I’m better.” Quinn tugs back her duvet and climbs into her bed.
That night her dreams are full of Beth, a ghost inside of the sun, but she’s beautiful and Quinn doesn’t mind at all when she burns up and crashes to the ocean below, through layers and layers of glass. She bleeds and bleeds each and every time, but when her blood swirls around her in the air, Beth smiles from her position in the sky.
“We’re here to run damage control if Quinn needs to abort the mission,” Santana says, huddled over her coffee cup in a Starbucks a few minutes away from Shelby’s apartment.
“Quinn won’t need to ‘abort the mission,’ Santana,” Rachel snaps. “We’re here in case Quinn needs support afterward.”
Santana rolls her eyes. “We’re not fucking training bras, Berry. We’re here in case Q gets a case of the crazies again and goes bat shit.”
Rachel puts her arm against Quinn’s. “She doesn’t mean that, Quinn.”
Santana nods. “Quinn doesn’t need a training bra, obviously.”
“Santana,” Rachel scolds.
Quinn laughs. “Thank you for being here. My code name will be ‘Falcon,’” she says, then checks her watch, standing to leave.
Santana presses her forehead into her hands and says, “That’s the worst codename ever,” as Rachel waves frantically.
“Good luck, Quinn,” she yells as Quinn walks out the door.
Quinn clutches the small lion stuffed animal in her hand, but she doesn’t feel as nervous as she had on the train ride down. It’s rainy today, so she pulls up the collar on her trench, her riding boots sloshing in the puddles. Tomorrow is halloween, so there are gravestones stuck into the small yards, spiderwebs spread between trees and collecting perfectly preserved raindrops. Quinn sees the small house—with a white picket fence, and a ghost hanging from the tree, a jack-o-lantern smiling simply from the steps leading up the front door—and she takes a deep breath. She looks presentable, she knows that, because her hair is short and neat and blond, and her jeans and sweater and scarf are simple and pretty and normal.
But she also feels presentable, more than anything.
She rings the doorbell, and Shelby answers, Beth trailing along behind her, dragging a blanket on the ground.
“Hi, Quinn,” Shelby greets, opening the screen door and ushering Quinn inside.
Beth looks up at her but doesn’t shrink away, and then she says, “Quinn?”
Quinn remembers the respiratory exercises she’d done with her physical therapist, because hearing her name from her child’s lips is up there on the list of things that might actually make her stop breathing.
“Hi, Beth,” she says, then crouches down. Her back pops a number of times but Quinn offers Beth the little stuffed lion.
Beth, Quinn learns, has dimples. “Mine?”
Quinn nods, and Beth takes it with a squeal.
“Roar,” she says, making growling noises and making the little lion dance in the air.
Quinn stands and Shelby says, “What do you say, Beth?”
Beth looks at Shelby, then at Quinn, and says, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Quinn says, and she almost starts crying.
Shelby seems to notice and she puts a hand on the small of Quinn’s back, ushering her into the pretty living room, full of toys.
Quinn takes her trench off and sits on the couch, and Shelby sits next to her. Beth plays at their feet, telling a little nonsensical story too quiet for Quinn to hear.
“You seem good, Quinn.”
“Thanks,” Quinn says.
Shelby nods. “And you’re liking Yale? Feeling okay?”
Shelby smiles. “I think this is going to be good for all of us.”
“Me too,” Quinn says, and they spend the next hour talking and playing with Beth. Beth’s eyes—Quinn’s eyes—get big when Quinn sings the ABCs, and then it’s Beth’s afternoon nap time so she starts to get fussy.
Quinn leaves with a soft, (painful) kiss to Beth’s forehead, who stops crying, and a hug with Shelby.
“Thanks for this,” Quinn says.
Shelby shakes her head. “I always said it’d be up to you, and it seems like you’re the kind of person my child should know.”
Quinn steps into the rain so Shelby won’t see her cry. She waves, and Beth waves back, and as Quinn walks out of the yard, past the ghost in the tree, she hears Beth say sleepily, “Quinn looks like me.”
“She does,” Shelby says.
“It meant everything,” Quinn tells Santana and Rachel.
They simultaneously hug her, and Santana says, “Mission accomplished, Falcon.”
“Santana,” Rachel scolds.
Quinn laughs messily through her tears.
“Are you sure you should be smoking that?”
Quinn turns her head lazily to look at Rachel walking towards her post on the sidewalk outside of the loud building. “Absolutely. I’m a thousand percent sure I shouldn’t be.”
Rachel leans back against the wall next to Quinn, leaning slightly against her shoulder. She’s wearing a costume—that not really a costume—as Barbra Streissand, but since they got to the party, Quinn notes Rachel’s lost her jacket.
“I’m not actually smoking it,” Quinn admits, flicking the cigarette with a motion that comes back strangely. She has no desire to put it between her lips, but she likes holding it in her fingers.
Rachel smiles towards the ground, but Quinn doesn’t miss it. “Why are you holding a lit cigarette then?”
Quinn shrugs. “I’m dressed as Grace Kelly. I figured it fit. Help add authenticity to the whole shebang.”
Rachel laughs loudly and Quinn tries to remember how much alcohol she drank in the past few hours—she said shebang, which must mean she’s decently drunk—and then Rachel asks, “Are you having fun at the party?”
“I like meeting more of your friends. Jamie’s especially fun.”
“Best gay,” Rachel agrees. “He’s awesome.”
Then Rachel looks at Quinn for a few seconds before whispering, “You’re beautiful.”
The smoke swirls around them—blood in oceans, phantoms—and Quinn wants to kiss Rachel.
But they’re drunk, and it’s Halloween and they’re standing on a street corner in New York, so she doesn’t. Instead, Quinn asks (quietly, because the moon is full and she’s afraid), “Do you still love him?”
Rachel steps away from the wall and turns a little so she’s facing Quinn. “Who?”
“Oh,” Rachel says. “Yes.”
Quinn takes a long drag of the cigarette.
Then Rachel purses her lips. Quinn holds her breath, all of the smoke swirling in her lungs. She starts to get lightheaded but then Rachel says, “But I’m not in love with him. Not anymore.”
Quinn breathes out the ghosts, and they swirl up to the sky, past the glint of buildings and towards the moon.
“Come on,” Rachel says, taking Quinn’s hand. “It’s getting cold.”
Quinn throws the cigarette into a puddle and lets Rachel lead her back inside.
When she wakes up the next morning in Santana’s apartment, and holding Rachel to her desperately in Santana’s bed, she feels the remnants of tears on her cheeks.
Rachel’s eyes are open.
“You were crying,” Rachel says, reaching a hand to Quinn’s cheek. Her touch sends shivers through Quinn’s entire body, and they’re still dressed as Barbra Streisand and Grace Kelly, and everything around Quinn smells like smoke.
“I dreamed of Beth,” Quinn whispers, and it’s hung over and still sleepy, and it sounds sad but it sounds hopeful, too.
Then Santana opens the door and stomps into the apartment, throwing an umbrella on the coatrack by the door and putting a paper bag on the table, then three cups of coffee. “Rise and shine, love birds. Vegan hangover remedies galore for Streisand here.”
Rachel smiles softly and Quinn groans, but then Rachel pries herself away from Quinn’s grasp and stands, arm outstretched.
Quinn takes it and teeters out of bed, most of her joints making noise, and Rachel looks concerned.
Santana raises her eyebrows but then Quinn shakes her head. Santana says, “Grace Kelly, the back of your head is ridiculous,” and this time, even Rachel laughs.
The first few weeks of November go quickly. Quinn can’t decide if it’s because classes are getting exponentially more busy—she kind of likes it, though, but only admits it quietly and late at night on the phone to Rachel, never to Santana—or if it’s because she’s just getting more and more tired and things seem to move faster because of that.
She hasn’t been down to New York since Halloween, and Rachel’s busy rehearsing her audition for a show, so she hasn’t been able to make a trip up to New Haven. But they text and call and Skype, and they talk about how Quinn wants to come out to Judy over Thanksgiving break. They talk about how scared she is but also how she wants to because Judy is important enough in her life, and also because Quinn feels like she has a solid support system if Judy reacts poorly. They talk about how Quinn felt when she told Frannie, and how relieved and wonderful and free she felt after Frannie had been fantastic, and Quinn says that, knowing that, she wants that same feeling with Judy, too.
They say I love you.
The leaves on the trees are now every colour of red imaginable, skimming the ground and twirling in the air, and Quinn walks back to her dorm after class, pulling her scarf tighter around her neck and shoving her bare hands into her pockets, huddling against the wind. She coughs as she goes up the stairs but doesn’t really think anything of it.
As soon as she gets in her room, she takes off her coat and her boots and her jeans and puts on a pair of sweatpants and one of Rachel’s NYADA sweatshirts (but only because it doesn’t have a hood and maybe also because it smells like Rachel), then climbs into bed. It’s Monday afternoon, and she only has one more day of classes before she gets to go home.
She falls asleep and her dreams are on fire. The sun scorches her skin and she sits in glass boxes suspended in the air before they explode all around her just as it seems like the pressure is too great to breathe.
When she wakes up, she feels sick. It’s dark and Hazel’s in the other bed, and Quinn tries to move from under her covers quietly because she’s pretty sure she’s going to throw up, and it feels like someone’s jabbed needles into every inch of her lungs.
She starts coughing and walks away from her bed as quickly as possible, and Hazel sits up just as Quinn makes it out of the room and into the bathroom, kneeling in front of a toilet, and she starts throwing up mostly coffee and a few energy bars. Hazel’s hands are on her back and then Hazel’s hands are in her hair, and after an indeterminate amount of time, Quinn finally stops.
“You think you’re done?” Hazel asks softly.
Quinn nods, and she wants to cry.
Hazel helps her up and wets a paper towel, handing it to Quinn before wrapping her arm around her waist, because Quinn sways on her feet.
Quinn feels entirely discombobulated, and when she feels the cool, rough paper in her hand, she can’t remember how it got there.
“Quinn,” Hazel says, and her voice sounds worried, even to Quinn.
“Let’s go back to our room.”
“Kay,” Quinn says, and she shuffles with Hazel’s help back to her bed. “I’m tired,” she says, and then she coughs again until she can’t breathe and the scar along her ribs is burning.
Hazel puts a hand on Quinn’s shoulder and Quinn thinks she looks really, really concerned, but Quinn feels awful and hazy, so she doesn’t brush it away.
“Let me take your temperature,” Hazel says, and Quinn vaguely wonders where Hazel had gotten a thermometer from, but she holds it in her mouth without protest.
When it beeps, Hazel takes it and Quinn watches her eyes get big. “102.5. Jesus, Quinn.”
Quinn blinks a few times and thinks she might need to throw up again.
“We need to go to the hospital,” Hazel says. “This isn’t the flu.”
Quinn doesn’t bother to respond because she’s pretty sure Hazel’s not talking to her anyway, more to herself, because Hazel’s collecting her purse and then slipping a pair of black TOMS on Quinn’s feet, then situating Quinn’s glasses against her nose. Hazel grabs Quinn’s wallet and then Quinn’s phone, and then helps Quinn into a warm coat.
“I have pneumonia,” Quinn informs Hazel sleepily.
“Do you?” Hazel asks, opening the door and linking her arm with Quinn’s.
“Yep,” Quinn says, then coughs. “I’ve had it before and I think maybe it felt like this.”
“You definitely have something,” Hazel says, and walks down the stairs patiently. Quinn thinks that it takes much too long and that she’d just rather sit down and sleep, but her chest hurts and things are blurry and her stomach feels awful and she’s freezing and then hot.
Hazel leads her outside the dorm and then to the parking lot, where Marcus and David are waiting in gold Civic, which Quinn is pretty sure is Marcus’s.
“When did you call them?” Quinn asks as Hazel stuffs her into the backseat, then closes the door. A few seconds later she’s climbing in the other side, and she lets Quinn lean against her as Marcus starts driving.
“After I took your temperature,” Hazel says.
“I don’t remember that,” Quinn says,
David says, “Oh, Quinn,” and turns and pats Quinn’s leg.
She feels it just fine, and Marcus says, “Just don’t puke in my car and all will be forgiven,” and Quinn doesn’t even feel scared.
Somewhere between getting into the Emergency Room and Quinn telling a triage nurse that she’d had a thoracotomy in February, she gets put into a room right away.
Hazel helps her change into a gown and then Quinn insists on the comfy socks, so Hazel helps her put those on, too.
Someone comes in and starts an IV, and then things hurt much less and Quinn feels less sick and more sleepy. She answers as many questions as possible when a doctor comes in, and then they do a portable chest X-ray—which she’s sure of only because the machine is loud and they tell her multiple times to stay still—and then the same doctor comes back a little while later and says, “You have pneumonia, Quinn, and your left lung is pretty full of fluid, so we’re going to keep you here overnight to make sure the meds we give you help it start resolving.”
She nods, but she mainly looks to Hazel, who smiles gently and says, “You’re just going to stay here for a few hours, but you’re okay,” and takes Quinn’s hand.
“I need to call my mom and Fran, Santana and Rachel because they—”
Hazel rubs her thumb back and forth over the top of Quinn’s hand. “I already called them.”
“Okay,” Quinn says, and then Quinn starts to fall asleep as they move her from the Emergency Room and into an elevator, then to a different room. Her chest still hurts and everything is blurry because some time in the past few hours someone had taken her glasses off, but Hazel and David are talking behind the nurse pushing her bed, and they sound not at all like the voices she’d heard after the accident, because they don’t sound like they’re crying, or sad, or worried.
And they’re not saying, “Please,” like it’s the most precious word in the world.
When Quinn wakes up again, it looks like sunrise, and the chairs by her bed are empty, and she’s curled up on her right side. She feels much more aware of her surroundings, although she doesn’t remember much of the past night except for—and then she coughs, and she’s sure—she has pneumonia.
Then Santana walks into the room with a cup of something that’s making little wisps of steam—Quinn’s pretty sure it’s cappuccino, because that’s what Santana always drinks—and Santana is wearing sweats and her glasses and her hair is curly and even though Quinn doesn’t have her glasses or contacts, she can tell Santana looks kind of like a mess.
But then she sees that Quinn’s awake and she smiles. “Hey,” she says, sitting by Quinn’s bed and putting the cup on the little table there. She runs a hand through Quinn’s hair, pushing it back from her forehead.
“Hi,” Quinn says, and her throat feels swollen. Her voice sounds raspy, and she notices that there are little oxygen tubes stuck in her nose.
Santana hands Quinn her glasses and then sits back, taking a small sip of her drink. “Hazel and David went to get a few hours of sleep before class once I got here, but they were with you most of the night.”
Quinn nods. She reaches for Santana’s hand and snuggles a little further into the bed.
Santana laughs and scoots her chair closer, then takes Quinn’s hand. “And Judes Skyped with me this morning. I showed her how peacefully you were sleeping so she calmed down enough to not feel the need to fly out here.”
“Good. I’m flying home tomorrow.”
“Exactly what I said,” Santana tells Quinn, standing from the chair and then sitting on the bed. She starts playing with Quinn’s hair again, and Quinn automatically feels sleepy.
“Frannie told you to get off your sorry ass.”
“She did not.”
“No, she didn’t,” Santana says.
Quinn laughs, which turns into a painful cough. Santana rubs her back gently until Quinn wheezes a few breaths.
“And I practically had to lock Rachel into her room and recruit Jamie to get her to her audition, because she really didn’t want to go.”
“But she’s going to, right?”
Santana nods. “I told her that’s what you’d want.”
“It is,” Quinn says.
Santana takes a sip of cappuccino, staring out the window.
“And you came.”
“Not since Britt visited in September.”
Quinn pokes Santana in the ribs. “That’s not what I meant.”
When Santana looks back down at Quinn, her eyes are glassy. “I know,” she says.
Quinn swallows and closes her eyes.
Santana says, “When—you in the hospital, and just—I hate that all of this is happening to you and—you mean so much to me, Quinn.”
Quinn feels a few tears sneak out as she opens her eyes. “That wasn’t so hard to say, was it?”
Santana wipes her eyes with a little laugh and shakes her head, but she doesn’t move from the bed. “You should really stop getting hurt or sick. You’re making me go soft, Fabray.”
“I love you, too, Santana,” Quinn says.
A few minutes later when she falls asleep Santana is in her dreams, and she holds Quinn’s hand as the glass world around her detonates with clarity. Santana doesn’t flinch, no matter how much glass slices their skin; she doesn’t let go.
A little later in the day, Quinn’s phone starts ringing while Santana and Hazel are getting lunch. She pauses the episode of Gilmore Girls—she’s on season 4 now—and smiles when she sees Rachel’s face on her screen underneath her contact info.
“Hey,” Quinn answers, and she tries to make her voice sound less rough than it is.
“Oh, Quinn,” Rachel whispers. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there. You sound awful.”
Quinn laughs. “Thank you.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Rachel says. “How are you feeling?”
“Loads better. My fever broke sometime last night and they’re not going to have to drain my lung, at least not right now, which is awesome.”
Rachel’s quiet. “I was so worried.”
“That doesn’t make me less worried.”
Quinn smiles. “I’m mostly just tired and my chest is sore, and if Santana makes me laugh too hard, I cough a lot. But I’m okay, really.”
“Are you sure?”
Quinn rolls her eyes. “How’d your audition go?”
“Great,” Rachel says, and then chatters on about it for probably twenty minutes. Quinn puts her on speaker when Santana and Hazel come in, and they all listen as Rachel excitedly tells them everything.
Quinn starts to doze off, curled up with Rachel’s NYADA sweatshirt on over her gown, and then Santana tells Rachel, “You’re putting Quinn to sleep.”
“It’s not you,” Quinn says, then yawns.
Rachel stops and then says, “Quinn, would you like me to sing you a lullaby?”
Hazel says, “Aw,” and Santana rolls her eyes.
But Quinn says, “I’d love that, Rach.”
Rachel clears her throat and then sings:
There goes the girl
Yeah the pretty bird on the golden mile that made you feel real
She took with on to the stars
She don’t make no big deal
There she sits with them big old fields of daisies and rusted mills
And when the sun it shines on her hair of gold
Won’t you come on home
I built us a flying machine
And we’ll go where you want, we’ll sail the seven seas
I hope all is well in Daisy’s dreams
It’s one of Quinn’s favourite songs, and Rachel knows that, which means more to Quinn than she can really say.
So she dreams instead, of Rachel meeting her in the ocean.
She’s still bleeding and there’s no way to stop the preceding explosions of glass, but when Rachel tugs her down deeper into the water, her dark hair billowing out around her, and then touches Quinn’s lips with her own, Quinn breathes air.
Quinn doesn’t drown.
When she gets to the airport in Lima the next day—after a hellish flight because her chest hurt with changing cabin pressure, and she’s planning on coming out the day after Thanksgiving, so the entire time she felt nervous—Judy is waiting for her, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“I’m so happy you’re home,” Judy says, then wraps Quinn in a long, tight hug.
“Me too, Mom,” Quinn says, then takes Judy’s hand. Somewhere in between Judy insisting on lifting Quinn’s luggage from baggage claim and walking outside and not having a panic attack on the ride to their house because Judy asks about school and not boys, Quinn thinks that for the first time maybe ever, it really is home.
Judy makes hot chocolate and when Quinn quietly asks if she can sleep in Judy’s bed that night, Judy says yes without any hesitation.
references. not really any that i can think of, but how cool would it be to see grace kelly and barbra streisand doppelgangers in real life? i mean. yeah.