Small, panicked hands wrapped incessantly on the door. "Gabe," an eight-year old Quinn whined. "Gabriel. Open up."
Even at eight, Gabe wore a t-shirt and shorts to bed, instead of real pajamas. Annoyed while the veil of sleep still half covered his eyes, he asked, "What is it?"
In fear, Quinn whispered, "It's coming. It's going to get us."
Rubbing an eye, Gabe asked, "What?"
"Côco," Quinn said with all the awe an eight year old could muster. "He knows what we did, and he's coming. He's going to eat us."
"Quinn, that's just a myth. Like Santa Claus," Gabe asserted.
Viciously, Quinn shook her head. "No, he's nothing like Santa Claus. Santa Claus isn't real."
"But some demon that eats bad kids is?" Gabe replied. "You ran all the way from your bedroom, through trees, grass, and my house, to my bedroom, and he didn't eat you, did he?"
"Just because he hasn't yet, doesn't mean he won't," Quinn answered stubbornly. "It's coming for us."
"Fine, get in here. Get on the bed," Gabe grabbed her shoulders, and pulled her in. He walked over to a corner in his room, from which he chose between a hockey stick, and a baseball bat. Choosing a baseball bat, he also grabbed a stuffed animal from a shelf above it. "Here, hold onto Scaly the Dragon. There's no way Côco would dare go against a dragon, and if he does . . .." Gabe swung the bat in slow motion.
Getting on the bed, Gabe pulled the covers over Quinn. "Get under the covers, and go to sleep."
"What about you?" she asked.
Gabe stretched out on the bed, but he didn't get under the covers. He wiggled the bat. "I've got to be ready, if he comes."
Not much time passed before both of them were asleep. It wasn't the first time it happened, and it wasn't the last.
Regardless, it was such a strange thing to randomly think about. Somewhere in the darkness, she felt the warmth of a heavy quilt blanket, and the sound of lulling water. Quinn woke up smelling wet earth, and her eyes opened to pale morning sky. Stretching, she seemed to have no questions as to where she was, or why she there, as most tired people do not. But upon stretching, her head tilted back, and she saw two, cornstalk-thin legs not a foot and a half from her head.
"Côco," she breathed, quickly moving to her knees, before she realized it was just the park ranger. "Oh, it's just you."
"What, Côco or coco? I could go for coco," Gabe sat up, and followed Quinn's embarrassed gaze. He laughed, "It's not Côco, but it might as well be."
Mortified, Quinn chastised, "Gabe."
"You kids sleep here overnight?" the ranger asked.
Quinn shook her head. "No, sir."
Dubiously, the ranger wanted to know, "Do you remember last night?"
"Um," Quinn scratched her head. "No? I remember Nosferatu, a tipsy porcupine, and lots of pork stew."
"Oh, yeah, Spikecicles drank out of Smith's shot glass when he wasn't looking," Gabe laughed.
"You think a porcupine with liver failure is a funny thing, boy?" the ranger asked.
Giving a look of mock shame, Gabe replied, "No, sir. It was a rough night, if you know what I mean. We'd thought we'd come here set out a blanket, and watch the sun rise."
"Then why are you under the blanket?" the ranger pointed out.
"It's cold before the sun comes up," Quinn said. "The temperature can easily drop ten to twenty degrees when the sun goes down."
"You both got your clothes on?" The ranger asked, "No hanky panky happened in my park?"
"Not last night, anyway," Gabe told the ranger.
"Stop it," Quinn admonished him.
Deciding to believe them, the ranger said, "Alright then, you kids enjoy your sunrise, and you remember, no swimming in my lake."
They both watched as the ranger disappeared beyond the path. Gabe was the first to look away. He was more concerned with drawing Quinn's attention with a sharp slap on her ass.
"Ow," she complained, sitting back on her heels. "What was that for?"
"Côco? Really?" Gabe scolded, "At twenty years old, you still believe in children's monsters?"
Blushing, Quinn murmured an explanation. "I was dreaming, and then I saw two legs, and I panicked."
Disapprovingly, he narrowed his eyes on her. "Mhm."
"Whatever," Quinn replied, "It was a moment of sleepy confusion. How did we get here anyway?"
"After the second movie, the others were mostly passed out, and you decided you wanted to go outside, but then decided it was too cold, so I grabbed the blanket, and chased you around the neighborhood with it, and then we decided to go to the park to see the sun come up, but we were four hours too early, and now we're here."
"Did we think to bring any food with us?" Quinn asked. "I could go for scrambled eggs, wrapped with ham, tied with bacon strips, and garnished with ribs."
"Come on," Gabe encouraged, getting to his feet, "Let's go search for food." Quinn grudgingly got to her feet, though she wanted to grasp the blanket, and never let go.
"Need some encouragement? We'll wake up in the cold lake," Gabe said, picking Quinn up, so that he could dump her in the water. Shrieking, she wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs kicking wildly, to stay above the water's surface. He scooped his arm under her legs, so that he was holding her bridal style. "Well, it seems you've woken up."
She stuck her tongue out. He set her down, "With that attitude, you can walk. We'll stop at Julio's Market, and get hangover food."
"Does Julio have ribs?"
He laughed, "Just like a woman, to want a man's ribs."
"Hey, I don't have to get biblical until Sunday," Quinn told him.
"I've been meaning to ask, why are you going to church? This isn't some crisis, is it?" Gabe wanted to know.
"No," Quinn stretched her arms again, "It's a trade off. Priest Santos doesn't object to the low neckline, and straps in lieu of sleeves on Helena's wedding dress, and I go to church every Sunday."
There was a pause while he considered the fact. Then he asked, "It's her wedding, but you have to go to church?"
"Why would he object? Helena's not the kind to flash her boobs, and with straps, her shoulders would be covered. Did you offer the compromise, or did he?" Gabe wondered.
In a tone of realization, Quinn declared, "He did. Oh, I walked right into that one, didn't I?" Groaning, she added with her face in her hands, "And I even agreed to confess twice."
"Did you already?" Gabe asked with amusement.
Holding her hands up, Quinn said, "Gabe, please. I'm not the procrastinator here."
"What did you say?" Gabe asked, "I would have given anything to be in that confessional when you told him about a lesbian affair."
"I didn't. I just said some vague truths. 'I've acted promiscuously lately, I've told some lies.' Stuff like that," Quinn said.
Stopping short, Gabe whirled on her, and backed her into a tree. Above her head, he rested his palm, so that he was looming over her. "Quinn Alexis Medeiros," Gabe scolded, "You lied to a priest? Whether or not there is a God, lying to, or messing with a priest is bad juju."
Defiantly, Quinn met his eyes, and said, "He's of a religion that used to crucify people that used words like juju."
"Regardless, I think this Sunday, you're going to confess your last confessions weren't really confessions, and tell him the truth," Gabe replied.
"I can't go to that church, step into a confessional, and admit that I slept with Sara," Quinn gasped. "He'll never look at me again . . . hey, the priest will never look at me again. No more church. He, he, he. Oh, no. I can't. What if he refuses to let me be Helena's maid of honor?"
"I can't believe you lied to a priest," Gabe said. "You of all people telling a lie. I'll know if you don't tell him. You could lie to man of God, but you can't lie to me."
"Why should I do what you say?" Quinn challenged.
"If you don't, I'll give you a choice, between this" Gabe said, swinging his hand to sharply chastise her rump. "Or this." Before Quinn could complain about the slap to her rear, Gabe lowed his lips to take command of hers, commandeering her mouth for his own explorations. When he pulled back, she followed him a little, before sliding back onto her own heels. He liked making her eyes look misty. He wondered if he could still do it sixty years from now. Satisfied, he continued on his way, Quinn hurrying to follow. Today was Thursday. Church was on Sunday. Gabe would never have an attention span to last that long.
"Where do you think you're going?" Daniel said suggestively. Leaning against the counter so that he could watch Quinn's descent down the stairs, he drank his tea, and gave her his best rendition of a stern stare. "Is the studious Quinn Medeiros thinking she is going to party on the Friday before exams?"
Innocently, Quinn looked up with soft eyes, "I'm going to study."
"In that?" Daniel said judgmentally. She stared down at her get up, which was a dark blue skirt, with ruffles that came down in different angles, paired with a lighter blue tank top. She had a flannel shirt with her, in case it was cold inside the school building. "Who are you dressing up for?"
"This is hardly dressing up. It's more like I didn't want to do laundry," Quinn replied.
Scoffing, Daniel pretended to be amused. "Quinn Medeiros not doing her laundry. There's one for the history books. What about that blue eyeliner, smoky eye shadow, and dark pink lips? I believe that shade is called summer rose."
"How do you know?" Quinn said in surprise, before asking, "Do you guys go through my stuff?"
Daniel coughed, "Well, yeah, but not creepily. We go through Sara's too. Girl's, y'all are a mystery."
"Gross," Quinn said, "We're having a house meeting about boundaries."
This time, Daniel laughed for real. "Led by you? Okay, first topic though, romantic partners are off limits."
"You're just mad I got to her before you did," Quinn returned with an evil glare. "I'm sorry. I retract that."
"I'm sure you're just going to a study group, considering you've got your backpack, and a nice, conservative, flannel shirt. But I know he's going to be there, and I know you're just having your fun, but Quinn, Gabe is never going to be more ready for you, than he is now."
"What does that mean?" Quinn returned.
Shaking his head, Daniel said, "Don't do that. You're the smartest person here."
"Daniel, I'm not going to pretend it's complicated when it's not. The fact of the matter is, Gabe and I, even now, have never been equals. Caring about someone, loving someone, it's not always enough. I'm not going to get romantically involved with him, and then have it just be a fling, and I' not marrying someone to be the maid for the rest of my life."
"He doesn't want that for you."
"If he wants a serious relationship, he's going to have to say it himself. I was Sara's rebound for Gabe, but I am not Gabe's rebound for Sara. Until he's sorted himself out, I'm just going to keep on dating," Quinn stated.
"What's the point of dating a guy, knowing you'll leave him for someone else at the drop of the hat?" Daniel asked.
Quinn shrugged, "I don't know. Practice? If you're done meddling, I'm going to go now."
"Fine," he called after her, "But inside I'm judging you, severely."
"That's great," Quinn called, raising one hand as a gesture of good bye, while the second opened the door.
When Quinn entered the study group, she was immediately greeted by Simon. "I'm glad you came," Simon nodded. He wouldn't do anything here, because it wasn't appropriate, but afterwards, she was humming with the knowledge of having him to herself.
"Quinn," Ty shouted, "You see that we won Richard's extra credit project?"
"Yeah," Quinn moved to give Ty a high five.
After the study group, Quinn waited for everyone else to leave.
"Can I give you a ride back to your house?" Ty asked her, "Well, Tina would be driving, but it is late. You shouldn't walk by yourself."
"No, I'm going to the library, thanks though," she said.
"Classic Quinn," Ty said. "Some of us have to sleep."
Quinn smiled, and started packing her stuff as he bounded from the room. "Do you have any further questions that I can answer?" Simon asked.
Quinn shook her head. "Good," Simon said, and slid his hands behind her back, kissing her mouth roughly. She reacted, running her hands up his stomach, feeling his chest, and then resting her hands on his shoulders, while he kissed her. Pulling away, he apologized, "That was not quite appropriate. I'm sorry."
"It's only not appropriate, because it's school property," Quinn said. "So let's go somewhere else."
Simon should have spurned her. He should have reminded her if she had to study, but a break, and a little exercise - at least, that's what he called it in his mind- could be good for her. He should have sent her home, or walked her to the library. Instead he asked, "Where should we go?"
"How about your place?" Quinn suggested.