When Quinn was little, she and her sister had a tradition. It had started while Quinn sleeping one night, when she was snapped back into consciousness by a loud thump and a muffled shout from just outside her bedroom door. Quinn was four years old at the time, and she had blinked her eyes open and crawled out of bed, making it to her slightly open door before poking her little head into the hallway. Her sister Avery, thirteen and invincible, was clambering back up to her feet when she saw the blonde curls shining in the dim light of the moon that seeped through Quinn's windows. Avery had smiled at her sister and bent down, sweeping the sleepy little girl up into her arms, and carried her downstairs.
Quinn just yawned, settling her head on Avery's shoulder and burrowing into her neck. Avery took them through the house, shifting to hold Quinn in one arm as she fumbled with the quilt she carried in the other. She slid the door to the deck open just as she managed to free the blanket, and as she tucked it around Quinn, she stepped outside and sat down on one of the deck chairs.
It was February 13th, and any sleepiness that still clung desperately to Quinn vanished with the shock of cold Ohio air. Quinn shivered, clutching Avery's pajama shirt in her hands as Avery rearranged the blanket to wrap around both of them. She raised the back of the chair one notch and laid down, tucking her head against Quinn's as she pulled the girl into her lap, shushing her softly. Once Quinn was settled, lying back against Avery's chest and safely under the quilt, Avery folded her hands around Quinn's waist and stared up at the sky. Quinn tipped her head back to look skyward as well. She had never been awake long enough to see the stars before, but she'd heard so much about them. They were pretty, Quinn thought, as she wrapped her hand around two of Avery's fingers. Avery wiggled her fingers and held Quinn tighter when she giggled, dipping her head to brush a kiss against the fine blonde hair.
"Do you know what time it is, Quinn?" Avery murmured to her sister.
Quinn shook her head slowly, big hazel eyes taking in the shiny white specks. It looked like a blanket. A big, warm black blanket that covered the whole sky, and it looked like someone took a needle and poked thousands of holes in it, and that the light shining through was from the other side. Oh, what it must be like over there, all different lights galloping through the air, dancing and twisting and bursting into more. Quinn wondered if that's what it was like on the other side of the sky, if all we ever got to see of it was through those little white peepholes. Maybe that's what stars were.
"It's almost midnight," Avery whispered. "At midnight, today changes into tomorrow. Just like that. And suddenly, it's a new day, and everything is perfect and nothing has gone wrong."
Quinn's lips parted in a short exhale as she took in her sister's words. A light breeze floated across the deck, and Quinn wondered if that happened every night at midnight, if the new day floated in on the back of the wind.
"It's tomorrow now?" Quinn whispered, awed. She arched her neck back to look up at her sister, and Avery smiled down at her, arms winding around Quinn to pull her up higher. Avery raised her knees and braced her feet on the chair, lifting Quinn so the girl could rest her head on Avery's shoulder, and tugging the blanket tighter.
"Yeah," Avery whispered back. "Tomorrow is today now."
"Yeah," Avery giggled, watching as Quinn's eyes started to droop.
"Tomorrow's your birthday," Quinn murmured, her head falling to the side. The breeze came back, brushing cool air over Quinn's round cheek, and Quinn pressed her forehead into Avery's neck. Avery wrapped her tighter, bringing the blanket up to Quinn's chin.
"Today is my birthday," Avery replied warmly.
"Happy birthday, Avery," Quinn breathed, right before she fell asleep.
It wasn't often that Quinn had her sister all to herself, and when Avery began high school the following fall, those times were even fewer and farther between, so every time Quinn woke up, long after her mother had put her to bed, to a soft, warm hand on her back and a pair of lips on her temple, she'd sit up and stretch her arms out, and let Avery gather her into her arms so they could go watch the stars and welcome a new day.
Avery liked to go stargazing on the eves of important days: her birthday, Quinn's birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas... There was something magical about being the first person to see a new day, especially such an important one. She went more often during the summer, when it was warm enough that she didn't need to pull the duvet off of her bed and curl up under it outside. Since the night she tripped and fell in front of Quinn's doorway, every time she went stargazing, she'd take Quinn with her.
Quinn would always try to stay awake to wait for Avery, but staying awake until 11:55 was hard. Avery never minded, and Quinn liked it when Avery carried her.
"What are you doing out here? It's freezing."
Quinn was pulled from her thoughts and her memories by a soft voice, and she turned to see Rachel making her way out into the backyard. Clad in matching navy blue pajamas that looked like they could belong to one of her dads, Rachel was barefoot, shivering, and smiling. The pants were rolled up at the waist and the ankle, and the sleeves dangled halfway down her fingertips. Rachel pulled them down around her hands as Quinn offered her a weak smile and moved over to make room on the bench. When Rachel had settled down next to her, Quinn freed some of the sleeping bag she'd unzipped into a blanket for Rachel to use.
It had been Mercedes' idea, having a "single ladies" pre-Valentine's Day sleepover. The festivities of the evening, which included movies, popcorn, gossip, a massage chain, and lots of take-out, kept Mercedes, Rachel, Santana, Brittany (who was decidedly not single, though no one would dare to not invite her), newly single Quinn, and, of course, Kurt, busy enough to take their minds off of the impending day of stomach-twisting explosions of pink, hearts, and cheesy romance. The night had ended early, though, and after spending the entire day together, the group had gone to bed, the remnants of red foil-wrapped chocolates and the Valentines they'd made for each other scattered across the floor.
Just the thought of it made Quinn feel guilty. She remembered the look on Sam's face when she'd told him they needed to break up. The worst part was that he was the best boyfriend she'd ever had. While Finn and Puck had both been more devoted to her than she deserved, their eyes wandered, they cheated, they pushed her too far. Sam was different. He told her she was beautiful every day. He never glanced at another girl. He hung onto every word she said. He never pressured her to do anything she didn't want to do. He was respectful and kind, funny and dorky, and he loved her. Breaking his heart would have broken hers, if only she had loved him back.
Rachel's gentle tugging at Quinn's sleeping bag brought Quinn back once more.
"Just looking," Quinn replied softly, as Rachel wrapped the side of the unzipped sleeping bag around her.
"The stars," as if to prove her point, Quinn tilted her head back and looked up. She wondered if, somewhere, Avery was doing the same.
Rachel perked up, turning her head to look at Quinn's profile. "Do you like stars? I love them. I think stars are a metaphor-"
"And metaphors are important," Quinn finished without malice. Rachel quieted, biting her lip and nodding.
"I guess I say that a lot," Rachel said. It sounded more self-deprecating than usual, and Quinn looked at her. "Why are you out here by yourself?" Rachel continued, looking back at Quinn.
Quinn picked at the sleeping bag, a Cheerios give-away from the time Sue took all of the cheerleaders into the woods and left them there. For three days.
"My sister's birthday is on Valentine's Day," Quinn said softly. "When I was little, she used to bring me outside to watch the stars with her on the nights before our birthdays. I don't really know why, but I loved it, being with her like that."
"Do you miss her?"
So much, was the first thing that popped into Quinn's head, a moment before she wondered why she was out here with Rachel, why Rachel had followed her out here, and why she hadn't told Rachel to buzz off and go back inside already. But the brunette's presence was calming, so Quinn let her stay.
Quinn just nodded, unsure if she could speak around the lump in her throat. It had meant so much to her, when she was little, to be the first person to wish Avery a happy birthday, but then Avery got older, and with age came cell phones and cars and boyfriends and college, and Avery wasn't ever home on her birthday anymore.
"What did you do... when you went outside with her?" Rachel's voice was quiet, so unlike her voice at school, and Quinn found that it was actually tolerable. It was kind of nice... to have someone to talk to.
"We just sat together and watched the stars," Quinn smiled, just a little. Her sleeping bag wasn't as warm or as soft as the quilt from Avery's bed, but it was better than nothing. "When I was little I'd always fall asleep, and she'd have to carry me back inside. I always woke up as soon as she picked me up, but I'd pretend to be asleep so she'd keep carrying me."
Quinn noticed Rachel looking up at her with shining eyes and the beginnings of a smile, and she turned her head away.
"She sounds really special, Quinn."
Quinn nodded, picking at the peeling lettering on the sleeping bag. "A sister who loves you that much is a welcome break from alcoholic, judgmental parents."
Rachel sputtered silently, her brow furrowing as she searched for words. Quinn knew there weren't any. She spared Rachel with a small smile that the brunette hesitantly returned.
"I broke up with Sam today."
Rachel nodded. "I kind of figured. Why? You two seemed so happy and... blonde."
Rachel was smiling kindly, and her attempt at a joke would usually have Quinn sneering, but the blonde found herself chuckling.
"You shouldn't spend Valentine's Day with someone you have no hope of loving."
Rachel looked surprised, but she recovered quickly. She scooted down on the bench and brought her knees into her chest, wrapping the sleeping bag tighter around her.
"Why don't you love Sam?"
Quinn pulled her knees in as well, looking away from Rachel and around the backyard. The trees cast shadows across the dusting of snow that had fallen earlier in the night, beautiful and white and pure.
"I'm sorry," Rachel murmured. "I didn't mean to-"
"I don't know," Quinn said, because she didn't. God knows she tried. "I wanted to, and I thought I did, but I just don't."
"It's okay, you know," Rachel told her. Something in her tone made Quinn listen, and she watched Rachel carefully. "I learned recently that loving someone won't get you everything, and sometimes it's good to be by yourself for a while. You can do what's important to you and not what's important to someone else. Of course, for me, that's organizing my sock drawer by color and season and writing monthly letters to Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters to implore them to perform solo concerts here, but for you," Rachel paused to smile at Quinn, and she shrugged one of her shoulders before continuing. "For you, you could do something you've always wanted to do, but couldn't. There's nothing holding you back."
Quinn regarded Rachel carefully before nodding once. Rachel grinned.
"It may even make you more popular, being single. I'm sure the whole school will think you're even more desirable now."
Quinn raised her eyebrow, and Rachel ducked her head, scratching at the sleeping bag and scooting imperceptibly closer when a soft breeze blew across the yard.
It was getting even colder, and their breaths rushed from their mouths in small bursts of steam. Quinn knew they'd have to go in soon. Rachel had goosebumps on her neck and was trying valiantly not to shiver; she sat dutifully next to Quinn and tipped her head back, watching the stars. Quinn shifted closer to her and threaded her arm through Rachel's, sighing at the warmth she suddenly felt against her side.
"Can we just sit for a few more minutes?" Quinn asked, feeling her eyelids begin to droop. She was never good at staying up late.
"Yeah," Rachel whispered, and it was silent.
When they stood to go back inside, Quinn linked her elbow with Rachel's once more and did her best to ignore the smile that was breaking across Rachel's face. She draped the open sleeping bag across their shoulders for the short walk back and giggled when Rachel burst into the living room and shoved her feet onto the heater. Rachel tossed a smile over her shoulder while her feet thawed, and Quinn returned it as she pulled out her phone, just to check.
Quinn closed her eyes, warmth filling her chest when she saw it, a simple "Love you, Quinn" at precisely midnight, and she zipped her sleeping bag back up and climbed inside. Rachel slid her own sleeping bag next to Quinn's, and when they settled in to finally go to sleep, Quinn's heart felt much lighter. Next to her, Rachel's breathing slowed until all Quinn could hear was Kurt's gentle snoring. Quinn closed her eyes, content.
A few moments passed, and when she was sure Rachel was asleep, she whispered quietly. "Happy Valentine's Day, Rachel."
The blankets rustled, and Rachel sighed sleepily.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Quinn."