Epilogue to Shotgun Wedding. Can be read w/o reading SW, but makes a little more sense in context.
So. This past week and a half, the temperature has been in the 90's every day. I work outdoors. I'd have written this sooner, but I was doing a pretty good impression of a melting snowman. Also, heat-induced hallucinations. Enjoy!
I don't own Glee. Pipe dreams…
Limp and exhausted, Quinn watched from her front porch as Brittany jogged down the sidewalk and out of sight. It had been over a month since she'd given birth to Beth, but only a few days since she'd been cleared for light exercise, and the three mile run she'd just completed had felt more like a marathon. Everything was sore. If she wanted her pre-baby body back, though, Brittany was the perfect trainer—where everyone else would have fussed over her condition or flat out refused to let her push herself, Britt merely chattered obliviously about ducks and the Post Office while Quinn huffed and puffed alongside her.
Plus, Brittany's abs? Hands down better than all the other Cheerios'. Quinn had been lusting after the secret to her friend's perfect midsection for three years, and she was definitely going to figure it out this summer.
Quinn ignored the smell of coffee as she entered the house—a sure sign that her mother was up and about—and trudged up the stairs to her bathroom for a quick shower. It was already a little past nine, and Artie and Tina were coming over at 9:30 to pick her up for their day at the lake. They were driving over two hours to get to Lake Erie, and Quinn was actually really excited to go—her pool bag had been packed for two days.
In the flurry of excitement that had followed Regionals, giving birth, and reconnecting with her mother—not to mention finals. Really? Finals?—Quinn hadn't realized that moving back home meant not moving in with Tina for the summer like they had originally planned. In fact, the thought hadn't even occurred to her until Tina had shown up at Mercedes' house to help pack Quinn's suitcases, since Quinn wasn't good for much physical labor at the time.
Much as she wanted to go home, the realization was oddly disappointing.
Her concerns that she might not see much of Tina and Artie over the summer, though, seemed so far to be unfounded. Artie had come through with his summer job suggestion, and the two of them worked every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in his dad's office. The work was mostly easy—filing papers, making coffee, hole punching stacks of paper.
She'd had a potentially tearful encounter with the fax machine on her second day, but Artie's dad had kindly rescued her, and she hadn't had any major problems since then.
She and Artie spent their lunch breaks together, and would often drive over to Tina's house after work to make dinner and watch tv. Tina herself had chanced into her first part-time job entirely by accident—she had been shopping for hair clips at Lima's only Gothic/Steampunk retailer when the manager had tossed a box of t-shirts in her direction and barked at her to find room for them on the shelves. Terrified, Tina had restocked shirts for half an hour until the manager had realized his mistake. Impressed with her work ethic and complete silence, he'd hired her to work on Wednesdays and Thursdays, promising a hefty employee discount and assuring her that talking to customers was completely unnecessary.
Since none of them worked on the weekends, Quinn would often accompany the pair to the Farmer's Market or to the video store on Saturdays. Despite Artie's half-hearted protests, the girls were determined to make it through Joss Whedon's entire catalogue before the end of the summer, which meant frequent movie nights. Kurt, who harbored a massive man-crush on David Boreanaz, and Mercedes, who was firmly Team Spike, were always invited.
After some debate on the subject, Rachel was allowed to come over the night they watched Dr. Horrible—just because it was a Sing-Along Blog didn't necessarily mean they had to sing along, and the odds that their Diva would know the words ahead of time were slim.
So despite the fact that she was living in her own house again, Quinn's shaky friendships with the other Gleeks seemed to be holding up. That was good. But if she didn't get out of the shower and get dressed, she'd be late getting downstairs, leaving Artie and Tina alone with her mother. Which, given her mother's recent trend of overcompensation regarding the whole Kicking Out Her Pregnant Child affair, might not be good. Quinn hastily began scrubbing shampoo out of her hair.
Hearing the ornate tone of the doorbell five minutes later, Quinn powered down her hairdryer and quickly slipped on a loose tank top and shorts. She gave her mostly-dry hair a quick once over in the mirror. Not perfect, but good enough. Grabbing her pool bag off of her desk chair, she tossed her cell phone and wallet on top of her swimsuit—one piece—before rushing out the door.
She reached the bottom of the stairs in time to see her mother hovering awkwardly at the open front door. "So…you're Quinnie's friends?" she asked somewhat nervously, eyeing Artie's chair and Tina's clothing—a pair of shorts and t-shirt that were fairly tame by Tina's usual standards, even if they were accented by her usual outlandish jewelry. Tina nodded shyly, and Quinn's mother glanced uselessly down at her empty coffee mug. "She should be right down, why don't you come…oh, dear," she faltered, clearly taking note of the height difference between the Fabray's wrap-around porch and the actual entrance to the house.
"It's okay, Mrs. Fabray," Artie said neutrally, tilting his chair back and letting Tina ease him over the decorative edging that lined the front entrance. Seeing that her mother's eyes were dangerously wide, Quinn stepped in. "Hey, guys. Mom, this is Tina and Artie. They're in Glee Club with me, and Artie's the one who got me my job." Her mother's gaze was trained on Artie's legs, thin and pale where they stuck out of his knee-length red swim trunks, as Quinn spoke. "Oh," she said suddenly, shaken out of her daze, "oh, is that right. Yes, now I remember, you did say…You kids were wonderful at the competition, I'm sorry I didn't—didn't get a chance to tell you…" she paused, and the silence was awkward as everyone in the room reflected on the reason that Mrs. Fabray hadn't had the chance to comment on the Glee Club's performance. "Um," she tried again, her voice sounding small and hopeful to Quinn's ears, "Has—has your hair always been that color, dear?"
Quinn spared Tina from having to answer. "We should get going if we want to get to the lake before lunch," she said in a chipper voice. Her statement set off a flurry of movement—Tina nodded politely at Quinn's mom before practically bolting out the door, and Artie was quick to follow, having only a little difficulty turning on the plush hall carpeting. Her mother was floundering for something to say or do, so Quinn quickly kissed her cheek and promised to call if they were going to be coming back late.
Tina and Artie were waiting for Quinn outside when she finally shut the door behind her, and it was hard to tell which of the three was the most embarrassed over the awkward meeting that had just taken place. Quinn wanted to apologize for her mother, but was unsure what would be the best thing to say to ease her vague mortification. Sorry my mom just spent three minutes staring at your legs instead of your face, just like I used to do?
Artie broke the silence. "So…coffee?" he quipped, voice falsely bright. Bless him. "Coffee," Quinn agreed, "and can we stop for bagels? Brittany showed up early for our run, so I haven't eaten yet." Artie's laugher was genuine this time. "Making you exercise on a Saturday morning without food? You'd think she was trained by Coach Sylvester or something." Tina opened the trunk and tucked Quinn's bag in with her own before folding up Artie's wheelchair. "Let's get both on the way out of town," she agreed, easily lifting the chair in. "We can get extra bagels just in case we're out late—I only packed enough food for lunch."
Quinn climbed into the backseat behind Artie. "I'm surprised you didn't want to drive," she commented as Tina started the car and fiddled with the GPS. Artie had gotten his license just over a month ago, and he had taken every possible opportunity to show off his skills—driving Quinn to and from work, meeting Tina at the mall on her lunch break, chauffeuring the girls to the Market or over to Kurt's house. His car was secondhand and kind of dorky—"Handicap-able cars are surprisingly difficult to come by in Western Ohio", he'd admitted—but he had worked to put his own stamp on the vehicle. Somehow, he had talked Kurt into replacing the rusty hubcaps with a flashier set, and he proudly displayed the 3 inch tall Pimp dashboard figurine, a gift from Tina, on the passenger side airbag. It was almost cute, how undiminished his joy over being behind the wheel was.
Artie waved his hand dismissively. "Two and a half hours is further than I've ever driven at once," he admitted. "I didn't want to do it twice in one day, just in case. Plus, now you can drive us all home when Tina conveniently falls asleep at 7pm, just like the time we went to Cleveland."
"Hey," Tina squawked indignantly, "you promised not to bring that up again. And that only happened one time." Artie rolled his eyes, waiting until Tina looked away before mouthing "seven" back at Quinn.
The drive was both uneventful and un-scenic, and would have been totally boring without good company. Artie kept Quinn and Tina thoroughly entertained with the mixed CDs he had burned for the occasion, and the three traded off singing lead vocals and providing backup. Tina killed a half an hour telling a surprisingly hilarious story about a geriatric customer who had come into the store on Thursday to buy a t-shirt for her grandson. She had spent 20 minutes intimidating the other customers, railing on about young, brainwashed, Twilight-obsessed, pasty-faced geeks, and had insisted that punk was better in her day (which Tina could only surmise had been the 1940's). After lecturing half the staff about the proper sanitation and care of their various facial piercings, she had insisted on Tina ringing her up at the register, because "your hair is just lovely. You take advantage of it now while you can, Missy; when you get to be my age, you'll have to pay for anything other than blue and white."
Artie splurged on snacks at a rest stop, and bantered with Quinn over her reluctance to indulge in anything beyond a couple of Twizzlers. "You ran, you're going to swim, and Tina lost her mind and packed sandwiches instead of the leftover pizza for lunch. You'll be fine; eat the chocolate, woman."
When they arrived at the lake, however, Quinn doubted she'd be doing much swimming. The sky was a light, pearly grey, and the strong breeze coming off the choppy lake water was at least fifteen degrees cooler than it had been back in Lima. Artie and Tina didn't seem to mind. Tina chattered happily as she unloaded their bags from the trunk, and Artie commented on the great parking spot the lack of cars afforded them.
The closest dock was about fifty yards from the tiny lot Tina had parked in, and Quinn privately wondered how Artie planned on maneuvering his wheelchair over the bumpy strip of grass and sand. She didn't have to wonder long: handing Quinn the light cooler with an apologetic smile, Tina grasped the chair handles and gamely pushed Artie over the rough terrain. Once on the dock, Artie pulled himself out of the wheelchair and folded it up, leaving it on its side so that it wouldn't blow away in the wind. Quinn shook her head as she picked her way across the grass, smiling.
"When you stuttered, did you stutter in Korean too?"
It was around three in the afternoon, and the sky had remained inflexibly overcast. Tina had fished a hooded sweatshirt out of the trunk of her car, and Quinn was wearing an unbuttoned flannel shirt, stolen from Puck, over her tank top. Artie stubbornly remained in his t-shirt and swim trunks, claiming to be impervious to the chill. Quinn could see goosebumps on his arms even as he made the claim, but didn't say anything, not even as the lake winds picked up speed and cooled the air further. The breeze had been fairly ever-present since lunch—Tina had nearly lost her bagel sandwich when she had set it down momentarily and it had skidded dangerously close to the edge of the dock, wrapper and all.
Not wanting to get all the way in and freeze, Tina and Quinn had settled for dangling their feet in the water, watching from the dock as Artie sat in the surf on the rough, grainy strip of beach, patiently constructing a sandcastle with a pink pail and shovel that he insisted belonged to his sister and not him. Tina's brow furrowed in concentration. "I don't think that anyone's ever asked me that one before," she said thoughtfully, tracing a pattern in the water with her big toe. "I didn't. My Korean is pretty bad, actually, once you get past a conversational level. And both my parents speak English as well, so it's not like I have to know it." She shrugged her shoulders, a delicate, childlike gesture. "I guess I never bothered. I have to concentrate more when my dad wants to speak it, even without adding in a stutter."
Quinn nodded. It made sense to her. Remembering Artie's assessment of Tina's relationship with her father, she bit back the questions that the explanation had prompted. She cast around for a safer question, curiously blurting out the first one that came to mind: "Does Mike speak Korean too?" Tina laughed for a while before answering. "No, he doesn't. He's Chinese," she explained. "And he's third generation Chinese, so he barely speaks Cantonese. Which is actually being generous, according to him." She smiled indulgently. "Apparently, he's even worse than I am."
For the second time that day, Quinn considered how to best phrase an awkward apology. Tina didn't seem at all offended by Quinn's Asian ignorance, however. Probably used to it, after all of the Asian/Other Asian jokes, she thought, feeling a little guilty.
Tina lay back on the dock, folding her arms behind her head and leaving her toes in the lake. "I love it here," she sighed. "Even when it's cold." Quinn turned to look at Tina, gathering her hair into a messy bun when the new angle of her head allowed the wind to whip her hair around her face. "It is nice," she agreed. "I like being able to swim, though." She stared thoughtfully across the water. "I used to swim, when I was little," she told Tina, her speech slower than usual as she drew on her childhood memories. "They had a swim team for kids at the Country Club, and every Thursday in July, we'd have swim meets with other teams. We'd get ribbons, and Dad would take my sister and me out for ice cream afterwards."
She'd been a good swimmer. She'd stopped swimming on the team in middle school, in favor of cheerleading camp and church retreats, and had always missed it a little. And although she could still power across a swimming pool if necessary, she usually opted for sunbathing in a lounge chair with her Cheerio friends the past few times she had made it out to the Club. Maybe she and Brittany could go swimming sometime. Santana had a pool in her backyard that they could do laps in.
"You used to win all the time, didn't you?" Tina teased kindly, breaking Quinn's train of thought. Quinn smiled haughtily. "Of course," she answered. "Why wouldn't I?"
Quinn and Tina watched as Artie's sandcastle grew. "He's really good at that," Quinn observed, as Artie dug a moat between his structure and the incoming waves. Tina shook her head fondly. "He loves it. He's such a boy. One time he tried to convince me that he could swim all the way across the lake to the other side."
Quinn squinted across the water. All she could see were clouds and sky and waves. Not even a speck of shore on the other side. Eyes trained on the water, Quinn felt rather than saw Tina sit up and follow her gaze. "That's Michigan," Tina said softly, pointing northwest. "And all the way, straight across, is Canada. Isn't it so strange—conservative middle America, but we're so close to another country." Quinn nodded silently. Tina's voice was hushed, reverently intoxicating. Her outstretched arm swept east. "There. That's New York. It's my favorite one to look at."
Quinn narrowed her eyes, trying to make out the slightest bit of land on the other side. "I'm sorry," she sighed apologetically. "I just don't see it."
Tina's eyes were closed, her mouth a Mona Lisa smile. "I can," she replied.
"All right, come see it before the wind knocks it over!" Artie called out, effectively ending the moment. Laughing, Tina scrambled to her feet and helped pull Quinn up, swinging their hands between them childishly as they picked their way across the sand to where Artie sat, proudly extolling the virtues of his castle. Quinn pouted good naturedly until Artie changed her tower bedroom at the back of the castle to one with a seaside view, and graciously allowed Tina to supersede her as the Queen. "Queen Quinn sounds dumb anyway," she justified. "Maybe I'll be a knight or something instead."
The rest of the afternoon passed by quickly. The girls refused to get any further than knee deep in the water, but got plenty wet anyway when Artie declared a splash war and demonstrated his surprisingly accurate aim by using his shovel as a watery slingshot. Quinn wasn't sure if pulling him into the water would be entirely sporting—sure, he could swim, but he couldn't swim and fight back simultaneously—and so settled for stealing his pink pail and using it to dump buckets of lake water on his head. Caught up in their war, and subsequent collapse on the dock to rest, it was well after 6:00 before Artie noticed it beginning to get dark out and suggested that the trio call it a day.
After loading their bags and Artie's sandy wheelchair back into the trunk, Quinn took one look at Tina's sleepy expression and bleary eyes before demanding the keys to the car. Tina's token protest that she was awake enough to drive was silenced halfway through by Quinn's stern, insistent look, and she sheepishly handed them over without further argument. Glancing in the rearview mirror once she was sure the GPS was sending them the right way, Quinn could see that she had made the right call—they'd been on the road for less than fifteen minutes, and Tina was already asleep.
"Told you," Artie muttered softly from the passenger seat, and Quinn snorted. "You were right," she admitted, turning her focus back to the road. Squirming a little in her seat, Quinn bit her lip. "Listen," she said awkwardly, "I'm sorry about how my mom was this morning. She's—she means well, she really does. She just doesn't know how to show it appropriately, I guess." She smiled, but it was a tight, bitter expression. "Three guesses where I learned that from."
Artie's gaze was solemn. "You do know that after this past year, you're the last person on earth who needs to be apologizing for your mom's behavior, right?" he asked seriously, and Quinn shrugged, the gesture half-hearted. Artie shook his head. "I know she wasn't trying to hurt my feelings," he said. "Nobody ever does. It's kind of a natural consequence of being in a wheelchair—people don't really know what to say to you. Either they make a big deal out of it, or they make a big production of not making a big deal of it." He paused. "Which in the end, is kind of the same thing."
Quinn spared a glance from the road to look at Artie, the evening sun glinting off of his glasses. "I don't know how you put up with it," she marveled softly. "People treated me like that my entire pregnancy, and I wanted to claw their eyes out most of the time. But you're so nice about everything. I know it must get to you, but you never show it." Artie smiled. "I think the lack of crazy pregnant-woman hormones probably helps with that," he said, making Quinn laugh quietly. "And it's different," he added. "Nobody blames me for being in the chair."
There were a lot of things Quinn could have said in response to that. She chose to stay silent.
After a minute, Artie looked over at her. "You don't see how different you are now," he mused. Quinn looked back at him, puzzled, and he smiled gently as he explained. "You were kind of awful when the Sectionals bus thing first came up. I'm not saying that to make you feel bad," he protested quickly, as Quinn flushed deeply and opened her mouth. "Just to contrast it with now. You're on a pretty short list of people who see the wheelchair as part of my appearance, not part of my identity. Tina, Kurt, Mercedes. I'd add Brittany to the list, but quite frankly I'm not sure she entirely gets the whole concept—she asked me to reach something off the top shelf for her at the grocery store last week." Quinn stifled her laughter to keep from waking Tina. "She gets it in her own way," Quinn affirmed, "Britt's a people person." Artie looked skeptical. "Has she always been…spacey?" he asked delicately. Quinn shrugged. "She had a major growth spurt the summer before seventh grade, and she was constantly hitting her head. I'm sure that didn't help, but even before that? Yeah, pretty much."
Artie nodded sagely. "She's the best dance partner," he told Quinn amiably. "She's got enough physicality for two people."
They rode in relative silence for a while—Quinn humming softly along with the radio, Artie glancing back to check on Tina every few minutes. Tina remained soundly asleep in the backseat, only shifting slightly when Quinn stopped for gas about 40 miles outside of Lima.
The sun had set completely by the time they were back on the road, and Quinn grudgingly observed the speed limit. "I like this," she admitted, and Artie wrinkled his forehead in confusion. "You like…driving down empty country roads in the dark?" he guessed lamely, making them both smile. "No, I like this," Quinn clarified. "Spending the day with friends out in the middle of nowhere, just because. Driving back together at the end of the day." She paused. "It feels like home."
She blushed, slightly embarrassed at her sentimental admission. Instead of laughing at her, though, Artie simply nodded slowly. "All everyone ever talks about is wanting to get out of here," he reflected. "Leave Lima and never come back. And don't get me wrong, I'm one of them," he added. "But…here, today…" He looked out the window, deliberately avoiding Quinn's gaze.
"I don't think I could have this just anywhere. And I think I could spend the rest of my life doing this," he finished quietly.
Artie didn't explain what he meant by that, and Quinn didn't ask.
When a faded green sign proclaimed that they'd be back in Lima in ten miles, Quinn looked over at Artie. "Does Tina want to go to New York after high school?" she asked curiously, thinking about the conversation at the lake. Artie nodded in the affirmative. "She's scared, because of all the people and noise, and the 24/7 of it all. But yeah, she wants to go anyway." He twisted his mouth wryly, anticipating Quinn's next question. "I'd prefer LA—greater dependence on cars, so it's more wheelchair accessible. Not to mention all the good looking supermodels who would no doubt fall in love with my studly charm. But all the dorms have elevators these days, and I wouldn't turn down a chance to go to NYU." He smiled slyly. "I think I could do Boston, too. Something tells me I'd make a fantastic rower." Quinn grinned. "As long as your teammates don't challenge you to a water war," she teased, earning herself a light slap on the shoulder and a face from Artie. He laughed softly. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "After school, I mean."
Quinn sighed. "Whatever Kurt tells me to? I don't know," she answered, exhaling heavily. "I never really had a plan beyond getting out of Ohio," she told Artie, who was listening quietly. "And now, I…" She stopped, trying to compose her thoughts in a way that made sense. "Putting my life back together has been so surreal," she started, slowly. "I'm home, I'm not pregnant, I have friends and a job and Glee Club—it, none of it, feels real. Like it's happening to someone else, or like I'm going to wake up at any minute and still be sleeping on a futon in Puck's basement, looking like a whale." She shuddered at the memory.
Artie nodded seriously. "I get that," he reassured her. "Like, you don't want to trust anything or get too comfortable, in case it gets taken away again." Quinn stared at him, bewildered. "That's it exactly," she said, slightly incredulous. "How—it took me weeks to work that out, and you figured it out in ten seconds." Artie's eyes sparkled. "Don't tell anyone, but I'm the actual psychic of the group," he teased. "Rachel's just my beard. Keeps me from getting bombarded for readings." When Quinn didn't reply, he sighed, running a hand through his hair. "It's kind of how I feel a lot," he explained, "every time something really good happens. Glee, my new physio, Tina. Puck not being a douchebag." Quinn laughed at the last one, and he grinned back at her. "If it's any consolation, you make a really pretty whale." Quinn smiled shyly. "Yeah?" she asked. He nodded. "Yeah," he affirmed. "Hottest sea creature ever. And, it's okay if you're not sure what you want after high school yet. I don't think most people are. Plus, Kurt? Kind of over-the-top dedicated to helping you out. Probably wants to get you into his debt now so he can force you to model his clothing line when he turns professional after college." Quinn bit the inside of her cheek, trying to not smile at that. "He's putting together a list of schools for me to start checking out," she shared. "There are compatibility checklists. I'm not sure if I should be intrigued or terrified."
Artie's expression was serene and knowing. "Who says you can't be both?"
Artie woke Tina up when they reached her house, letting Quinn handle all the doors as he coaxed Tina into his lap and rolled her as far as the foot of the stairs. Quinn took over from there and half-dragged the girl up to her room, draping Tina's arm over her shoulder and wrapping her own arm around Tina's waist. She couldn't help but smirk a bit as her friend crawled into bed, mumbling unintelligibly and falling back asleep almost immediately after her head hit the pillow.
Claiming he didn't mind the three minute roll back to his own house, Artie escorted Quinn back to Tina's car. "You drive home," he reassured her when she looked at it nervously. "I'll bring her over sometime tomorrow to pick it up, she won't mind." Quinn nodded. "You'd better be right about that, I'm not a car thief," she said sternly, and he made a face at her. "When are you going to learn that I'm always right?" he lectured facetiously.
When he turned to go, Quinn stopped him impulsively with a hand on his shoulder. "I had a really good time today," she said sincerely. "Can we maybe do this again sometime?" she asked, unsure where the slight anxiety she was feeling was coming from. Artie smiled encouragingly, dissipating some of her sudden nervousness. "I've got a better idea," he proposed. "There's this really excellent amusement park about an hour and a half east of here. Roller coasters, a water park, bumper cars—and half the time, they take one look at my chair and bump us right to the front of the line. Want to go next Sunday?"
Quinn nodded happily. "Sounds great," she agreed, and Artie grinned wickedly. "It is," he promised, "and I'll finally have a witness." He laughed at Quinn's confused expression. "Tina claims she picks Italian Ice based on flavor preference, which is patently inaccurate—she always picks whatever flavor matches her hair. Now if you're there, I've got some backup when she starts in on the denial."
When Quinn pulled into her driveway ten minutes later, she gathered all of her things together and entered the house with a small smile on her face.
Life was good.