Gray Hearts

Gray Hearts Episode One: Crumble

Gray Hearts by Raspberry | Content Warnings

I don’t have many friends. Actually, since graduation about six months ago, I’m pretty sure I can count all the friends I have on one hand: Annie, the waitress who usually works the same shift as me; Lou, the antique-collecting vlogger who always asks if I have any oat milk like I haven’t told him no every day; and Quinn, who’s held the title of best friend for twelve years but has slowly and completely been relinquishing her claim on it.

So when I hear a pounding on my door in the middle of the night, it’s safe to say I’m in the heart-attack zone of panic. I doubt the police would be waiting as I untangle myself from the bed sheets, and I can’t imagine Annie or Lou on the other side of the door for the simple reason that they have no idea where I live. As for Quinn, she’s probably halfway to Europe by now. Though I’d be lying if I said I remembered when she told me she was leaving the country. My brain tried to erase most of the things she told me after “So I booked my one-way ticket—”

I grab a broomstick and my phone (for defense and to call for help) and hesitate near my bedroom door. The front door to my apartment is solid wood with a tiny peephole, but I can only imagine if someone’s waiting to kill me, they’d have some sharp object to stab my eyes through when I tried looking outside. I’ve seen enough movies to know that’s in the realm of possibilities.

I could call the cops… but what do I say? “It’s five a.m. and I have no friends, but someone is knocking on my door, and I’m too scared to answer”?

My phone buzzes from my hand. A picture of me and Quinn grinning in graduation gowns lights up my screen. My heart jumps into my throat for a moment. I debate on answering it, but I’ll choose her over Mysterious Knocker.

Iris?” Quinn’s voice sounds choked, and the knocking stops. “Areare you home right now?”

“Yeah, where else would I be?” I say and shake my head. “I mean… what’s going on?”

I’m outside.”

I have about a million questions— the first one being What the hell?but I’d rather say that in person. I put the broomstick down and unlock my door, ready to ask who shows up unannounced in the middle of the night.

My breath catches. It’s been three months now since I’ve seen her in person. Her wavy ginger hair is knotted around her face in hastily-done braids that do little to hide the fact it needs a brush, which suggests she rolled out of bed before coming here. Her hazel eyes are puffy, and I know she’s been crying because her face tends to pale whenever she does and it makes her freckles stand out on her cheeks more. She sniffles and puts her phone back in her pocket.

“Hey,” she says weakly. “Can I… can I come in?”

I had this all planned for the next time Quinn came around. I was going to cross my arms and lean against my doorway coolly as I asked what she needed. Someone to listen to her big plans for her nomadic backpacking future? Because I was the wrong person to come to.

But seeing her here, I can’t find the strength to do anything but stand aside and let her come in. She’s carrying her stupid red backpack that cost her two paychecks, even though she always said red is the worst color on her.

“Are you… on your way to the airport?” I ask, closing the door behind her and feeling a bit like an idiot.

“What? No,” she says, wiping her nose on her sleeve.

I don’t know why she sounds confused, when it’s a reasonable question for me to ask. It’s the middle of the night, she has her backpacking bag on, and she’s crying, which means she might finally be feeling something other than excitement about leaving me.

She makes her way to my couch and flops down. I sit on the arm of the couch, really hoping it won’t crash under my weight. Some days, it likes to remind me it was rescued from the curb by creaking and groaning like there’s less than an inch of plywood under the lumpy cushions.

“You brought Ozzie,” I say, nodding to her bag and acting like its very presence wasn’t an insult.

Is she just coming to say goodbye?

It’s then that I remember she’s planning on leaving after Thanksgiving, which is still a few weeks away. She pulls the bag closer to her and wraps her arms around it, like she’s hugging a small child.

“I, uh,” she says, swallowing slowly, and I can see a tear snaking down her cheek. “I was chatting to some girls online… from one of those queer travelers pages I joined a couple months ago.”

She doesn’t have to remind me. I can still remember her going on and on about all the cool girls she met online— who actually understand her—and will meet up with as soon as she gets out of here. Her words, not mine. Another wave of bitterness rises in my chest, and I feel like telling Quinn I’m really tired and she should come back for a chat at a decent hour.

“But then my dad walked in,” she says, wiping the tear from her face quickly. “I—I thought he had already gone to bed… but… he, uh, saw the page and knew what it was.”

My saltiness fades immediately. I feel my jaw drop, and I reach out to Quinn’s shoulder.

“Oh, Quinn,” I whisper.

“He, uh, called my mom in,” she continues, her voice sounding strained as more tears slip from her eyes. “And, yeah… not the best coming out story, is it?”

She tries to sniffle, but it sounds like her nostrils have been filled with snot. I rush to the bathroom and bring out a whole roll of toilet paper. She takes it from me wordlessly and begins clearing her nose.

“They gave me ten minutes to pack everything,” she continues. “Then I called a Lyft, and I could only think of your address. I wanted to call you and tell you before I showed up but—”

Her face slips from its forced calm into sobs. I sit next to her and let her fall into my chest. I can feel her convulse under me. I stroke her hair and try to think of something to say. She probably can’t even hear me over her own tears.

“I’m so sorry, Quinn,” I say finally, feeling my chest constrict.

I try to mentally take back all the bad thoughts I had about her just minutes ago and give her another squeeze.

“Why don’t I make some tea?” I suggest. “You can stay here as long as you want, okay?”

Quinn just nods in response and reaches for the roll of toilet paper. I shuffle towards the kitchen to make some tea. I think I still have some peppermint tea in the back of the cupboard. Quinn’s favorite, and she was honestly the only person in the world I knew who drank it for fun.

The last time we had tea together was our last night together. Graduation night, I remember. When she talked about her new plans for life.

Plans that she had apparently had for ages but never found the time to tell me sooner.

Plans that would take her thousands of miles from her suffocating home and overbearing parents.

Plans that, for once, didn’t seem to involve me.

I shake my head, trying to throw that thought away from my mind. This wasn’t the time to be selfish, I tell myself. Quinn’s family just threw her out.

It doesn’t surprise me, though. Ever since Quinn realized she was gay in high school, it’s been a huge secret. Her family comes from a long line of religious conservatives, where heterosexuality was the only option, and anything else was a decision that meant turning away from everything good and holy. I shudder and pour the boiled water into a mug.

Quinn is still wiping her nose over a pile of soggy toilet paper wads as I return, but she’s typing away on her phone. I’d like to think it’s progress.

“Is it them?” I ask cautiously. “You don’t have to answer them, you know.”

She glances up with a confused look. Then she shakes her head.

“No, of course not,” she says. “I’m just talking to the girls from the travel group. Some of them have been through something similar and are giving me advice.”

I feel a chill down my spine as I set the tea on the table.

“Oh, right,” I say, playing my sigh off as a yawn. “It must be nice to have someone to talk to about this.”

I realize I’m sounding passive aggressive, and I try to mentally remind myself I really am not qualified to do more than give tissues and make tea in a situation like this. It still stings though. Like I’m just the cafe with wi-fi she needed to duck into before calling up some real friends.

“It really helps having them here,” she agrees, obviously missing my tone. “I mean, not here here.”

She’s probably trying to say thanks for being here for her, like I always am, but she’s smiling as she types away, her bitten nails tapping her screen methodically. Maybe she’s telling her other friends not to worry about her; she’s at her best friend’s house safe and sound. I wait for a minute, but she doesn’t even glance up.

“Okay, well, I should get to bed,” I say with a sigh. “I have work in the morning. Make yourself at home and let me know if you need anything, I guess.”

“Okay,” Quinn says, looking up from her phone to give me a half-hearted smile. “And, thanks, Iris. You know, for being here.”

I don’t know why, but I feel bitter at the last part. Where else would I be? Abandoning you for some trip around Europe with a bunch of new, more interesting friends? Are you confusing the two of us?

“Where else would I be?” I begin, but cut myself short.

I slip into bed and pull the covers over my head, feeling like a terrible friend. Quinn’s going through a life crisis, and all I can think about is how she hasn’t been around for months. How she’s turning to strangers on the internet for pep talks and an open ear. How she’s a few feet away but trying to put thousands of miles between us. How we’re under the same roof, and it feels like she’s not even going to ask how I’ve been since we last saw each other because the last three months, two weeks, and a couple days have been nothing but an exciting blur for her. With the exception of tonight, obviously.

I shiver in spite of myself and roll over on my side. A couple more weeks, and Quinn will be gone, off with her new friends. And I’ll just be a distant memory.

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