I'm happy to contribute to the Quartie ficathon! While I feel prouder about my previous QA pieces than this one, they deserve more and I intend to give stories in their honor like the rest of the QA soldiers here! Now, go out and write some of your own!
"Yasmine, color inside the lines!" yelled a strained, weary voice. Artie chuckled as he recognized it; his wife's job took a big toll on her. Being a preschool teacher was one of the many professions people expected her not to strive toward. And it wasn't a pleasant surprise when she became one, because she wasn't quite happy with it. Every day she would come home, complaining about Howie and Andrew's fight, Ginevra's lost dolly, or Erik's obsession with paste. Artie would have to control his amusement whenever these humorous ordeals Quinn went through were retold at home, or else her wrath could very well be unleashed on him—and he had enough problems of his own, being a struggling musician at the local coffeehouse.
He wheeled to the side of the elaborately decorated walls, all having caricatures of teachers and smiling children chasing butterflies, rainbows, frogs, et cetera, or cartoon characters. It was a good thing he'd tucked himself away, because at precisely three o'clock dozens of toddlers burst from the classrooms, screeching and giggling with their tiny backpacks flopping against their bodies. They smiled at him, and he gave each and every one a smile in return. Artie had a love for children; when his future first became serious, marriage followed, and he knew he wanted a large family. His was small, consisting of his parents and himself, but he always desired brothers and sisters. Thankfully his parents' siblings had many kids; his cousins would come over on every holiday, and his favorites more often than that, living in the same neighborhood. But it wasn't the same as having siblings there from dawn to dusk, and he wanted his children to be many, so they'd always have playtime partners.
Quinn, however, wasn't too keen on the prospect. The tribulation from sophomore year had left a mark on her, and she swore off using her body as a "bed and breakfast". Because Artie loved her, he hadn't stopped their relationship, but there was still that hole in his heart he was waiting for her to fill. Working at Fun-n'-Run Daycare wasn't persuading her, or her uterus; the aforesaid reasons with the preschoolers were only a few. Artie sighed, hoping the batch of kids next year would be better behaved (or trained) so that she'd consider having her own—Doubtful, thought he.
As the last little child waddled off, he continued down the narrow, colorful hall until he reached the Little Mermaid Room (referred to often as the Little Shop of Horrors whenever she got even more irritated), or Quinn's classroom. Inside the walls of this classroom, sea creatures floated about on a blue background, bubbles coming out of their mouths. A large redheaded mermaid, beautifully detailed, swam behind Quinn's desk, her scaly green tail almost visibly swaying. The artists at these preschools definitely spared no expense. Unfortunately, the rest of the room wasn't as pretty: coloring books and drawings were spread across the tables, glitter and paste distastefully sprinkled all over. Toys of all kinds—dolls, balls, Hot Wheels, action figures (Artie eyed one of a Power Ranger hungrily), trains—were on the tile floor, making it look as though the toy chest had thrown up. The cubbies were messy as well, in spite of Quinn's demands for the children to retrieve their things at the end of the day. After evaluating the chaos that must have come through the door that afternoon, he lifted his head to see Quinn picking up some Barbies, her hair tousled and eyes drained of sparkle.
Rolling over to her, the crunch of gears alerted Quinn and she stared at him despairingly. "Oh, man," she muttered, "Please help." With a chuckle, he nodded and went to cleaning up the tables, being able to reach them better than the floor.
"Long day, I presume?" he said, and Quinn grunted exasperatedly.
"These kids'll kill me." she said, "Gosh, do I hate teaching the afternoon class."
Artie brushed some of the glitter off his sweater. "Well, you wanted this life." he said, "You could've been like me, playing guitar and singing songs no one listens to, hoping there'll be a penny in your tip jar at the end of the day."
"One of us needs to make money." she said. Her arms, full of dirty and broken dolls, their hair cut and slobbered on (if any had the blessing of keeping their head), threw the contents into a laundry basket filled to the brim with half-dressed Kens. Artie supposed that was true, and didn't argue.
They continued cleaning up the room: Quinn salvaged all the toys on the floor, returning them to their rightful places, and then swept any leftover messes from the art class. Artie took all the coloring books and laid them on the shelves, and then took the papers over to her desk. Getting an idea, he snagged a jar of thumbtacks, rolled over to the bulletin board, and tacked them all up one by one. Quinn murmured a drowsy thank you when she noticed—Artie only grinned.
Suddenly, there was a long cry from the hall. The couple stopped in their actions, eyes drifting to the open door. Artie was puzzled by the sound, wondering what it was coming from, but Quinn's expression was entirely different; hers was frazzled and upset.
"Oh, Lord, that's Jeffy!" she whimpered, "He forgot his yellow Power Ranger!" Quickly, she snatched up the Power Ranger action figure Artie had been hoping to tuck away into his overcoat and headed for the door. Artie thought the stress of the day was getting to her, as there was no way she'd be able to dissect the cry and why it came, but then a young boy came running in beside his harried mother, tears streaming down his plump cheeks.
"Dere!" he cried, pointing at Quinn's hand, "Dere he is!" He snatched the Ranger from Quinn's hands, cuddling it happily.
"There, there, he's safe," Quinn assured him, as if his toy was a living thing, "He was just taking a nap and waiting for you."
"Thank you!" Jeffy exclaimed, running into Quinn for a hug. Quinn held his lean body in her arms (despite the general baby fat, this Jeffy was a rather tall, skinny boy). Jeffy's mother looked down, grinning one of those fatigued grins that were always on Quinn's face after a day of work.
Quinn released Jeffy, all but his hands which she held tightly in hers. "Now you put him to bed with the rest of the Rangers—I'll bet he misses them."
"Thank you, Miss Quinn." he said again, smiling and running past his mother into the hall. His mother nodded and thanked her herself, and left to catch her child. When Quinn turned, the grin painted on her face now was one of true contentment; maybe she didn't hate all the "brats" that skittered about the Little Mermaid Room.
"Who was that?" asked Artie as Quinn went over to her desk to shuffle papers, and Artie hung the rest of the drawings up.
"Jeffery Boehner," she replied, "He always plays with those Power Ranger things—he is literally addicted to them. It's like his cocaine."
Better that than the real thing, Artie thought, and he said "You seem to like him. I thought you despised all your students—"
"I never used that word!" Quinn gasped, "Admittedly, they're not my favorite people to deal with, but…Jeffy's a good kid. He's kind, shy, quiet, dorky…he's just trying to fit in. I can't imagine how it'll be in grade school if he acts that way now." Artie smiled over at her; this concern she was showing for Jeffy gave him a sliver of hope. If she loved this child who had no blood connection to her, it could be possible she'd want to have her own. Dealing with the other children could sabotage that chance, but if her bond to Jeffy was big enough, there'd be no fretfulness needed.
"Almost makes you want kids yourself, huh?" Artie pushed, deliberately not looking Quinn's way. He finished up tacking the drawings, and then fiddled with the neatly organized Catholic figurines Quinn kept on a high (high for toddlers, low for him) shelf. She hated when he did that, as if they were action figures, but now she remained silent as he rolled a Christ statue in his palms. The longer she kept silent, the sooner this silence between them became noisy in Artie's ears. He realized it wasn't the average silence when she was angry or tired or just not willing to speak; it was something else, and it made Artie stop playing with the statue and start looking to her for any signs of distress.
She was still not looking at him; instead, her eyes were cast down on her belly, where her hand was planted firmly. It was a stance he recognized all too well from Glee practices in high school when she got sick or worried because of the baby.
Immediately, he dropped the statue in his lap, his blue-eyed stare locked on her face, willing her to say something. Soon enough, her own eyes lifted from her belly and stared back into his. She had no expression, and her mouth formed no words.
"Qu-Quinn?" he whispered, feeling as if she were an eggshell his palm was floating over precariously, ready to squash. "Are…is that…?"
"I was feeling a little queasy, different," she explained, moving closer to him in small steps. "I figured it was nothing, but it wouldn't go away, so I visited Dr. Chin—the obstetrician who I saw when I was having Beth?—and she confirmed it." Artie waited with bated breath.
"Confirmed what?" He was prodding her, attempting to squeeze all the information out of her like a lemon for lemonade.
"I'm pregnant…" she said, "Again." The shock was astounding—if Artie had been able to stand, he would've fallen on his butt. For the five years they'd been married, all he'd wanted was children, but Quinn had continually rejected that plea. But being with kids like Jeffy must've worked like he'd hoped, because it was apparent her mind had changed already. Having this great dream of his being fulfilled, Artie couldn't think of what reaction he should have. He settled on a stammered out reply.
"W-W-Whuh? Ho-How…I thought…you didn't…why did…can somebody fill me in here?" He gestured around the room, as if invisible company was sitting there, in on Quinn's secret. She smiled and neared him, laying one hand on the rim of his wheel.
"I don't understand how it happened either." she said, "I guess, being around kids—even little horrors like these—kind of brings out the maternal side in me. It was a bit impulsive, suddenly wanting kids, but I think I'm ready."
"I hope you're ready," he said, "'cause babies aren't returnable." Quinn giggled, kissing his lips briefly.
"I know," she said, "I don't want to return this one. But I also don't want to stop visiting Beth." Late in senior year, Shelby had contacted Quinn, and they agreed it'd be best for her and Puck to visit Beth a few times every two weeks, and, after a while of anxiety eating away at her, Quinn had gone, and hadn't stopped as college and marriage occurred.
Artie held up his hands in surrender. "Wouldn't dream of it." he said, "She may not be ours, but she's yours—I'm fine by that." As much as Artie felt a little jealousy that he wasn't the first person Quinn bore a child with, it wasn't Beth's fault her parents made a mistake.
"Thank you." She kissed him again, deeper this time. "You're the best husband."
"I try." Artie said. Quinn nodded, and held her fast-growing baby bump as she settled into his lap and they wheeled away to the car; a visit to the Babies R Us store was in order.