Hatin' the title, but fff, it stuck with me no matter where else I tried to direct it. Also, camp nano project! I am about 6,700 words behind because of prior engagements and deciding to participate on June 30th, hours before the 'event' began. 8O

Also, I don't know how much truck loaders get paid and tbh Google helped not even a little.


1.

Seventeen months under the eyes of authority is a long, long time to be extra careful of everything you say and do. Quinn Hardy may not have been guilty of anything, but it took almost a year and a half for the police to come up with a real criminal to tie into the murder of Jeff Williams, and, well, given their close relationship, Quinn was the easiest target to pin the murder on.

But now, he can step out of his house knowing that the police aren't sitting in that weird "ice cream truck" across the street, or that they're watching him behind a newspaper at the park, or that, when he's at work, Billy is secretly watching him for the police, because they said they'd pay him lots of money, "off the record," if they did this for him. Now, he can finally walk outside and breathe and take a moment to just stand there and bask in the sun before he has to make his way to work. He doesn't have to watch what he says or does anymore.

Well, not as much as he did before, at least.

2.

"School again, man?" Tiny laughs loudly, throwing his bald head back as he does so. Quinn covers his eyes with his sunglasses. "Didn't you already give that a shot?"

"Yeah, fresh out of high school, age seventeen. Terrified of anything that wasn't my own dick, y'know?" He gets the dolly out from the inside of the new truck and goes to work loading the large cardboard boxes inside. "But, I don't know," he shrugs as Tiny lets the ramp down. "I figure maybe I can actually get a fuckin' career if I go back to school."

Tiny clicks his tongue and heads back into the warehouse, returning with another dolly. "You get paid pretty good here, though, yeah?"

"Fourteen bucks an hour? Yeah, I'd say I get paid decently here, but—c'mon, do you really want to be loading trucks for the rest of your life? 'Cause I don't."

"Hey, I'm financially secure and it's not like Roger's gonna find some new job anytime soon and leave us hanging."

Quinn shrugs again, twisting his neck until it cracks. "I dunno. I'd rather be underneath the hood of a car than fucking around with boxes full of whatever the fuck this all is."

Winking at him, Tiny disappears into the inside of the truck with a dolly full of boxes. "I'm sure there are a few other things you'd like to be under, too."

Quinn just rolls his eyes, grinning softly.

3.

The financial aid office at Reinhart Community and Technical College gives him a green folder filled with forms he needs to fill out. "You'll need to do your financial aid application online. If you don't have an Internet connection, you can come back to us and we'll get a computer ready for you."

Red headed and bug-eyed, the woman behind the desk really doesn't look as friendly as her voice had sounded on the phone. "Uh…" Quinn says intelligently, glancing down at the papers. "I did all of this when I was seventeen, but, y'know, it's been five years." He quirks his lips up at the corners, hoping to seem less helpless and more charming

Her smile shows big, yellowed teeth and Quinn makes a vow to stop drinking so much coffee and start brushing his teeth more. "There's a member of staff that specifically helps students with issues like these. Just make sure you bring your income tax information, your driver's license, and your Social Security Number with you. You should be set."

Quinn offers her a shaky smile, and as he turns around, slams right into someone. "Sorry," he says, turning the charm up to full blast with his smile.

But the man doesn't smile back, just sort of steps out of the way and waves his arm, not rude, but not exactly polite either. Quinn bites back the frown.

As he leaves, he hears the man say, "Christ, with hair like that, no wonder he's going to a community college."

It's hard not to smile at that.

4.

"I still can't believe you have a kid."

Tiny snorts, pops off the cap of his bottle with the edge of the countertop in his kitchen. "Five years now, Quinn. Better get used to it."

Quinn takes a drink of his own beer, looking out the back door of Tiny's house at his daughter, Ivy. "Well, yeah, but, it's just—I don't know. I guess I figured if either one of us were gonna end up with a kid, it'd be me." Tiny sends him an awkward look, and Quinn clarifies, "Well, you know—all the hookers when I was sixteen."

"Oh, right!" He laughs, shaking his head and setting his bottle down on the island. "I forgot about that."

"Eight hookers a month for a year and a half, and you forgot about it."

Tiny grins, sitting down at one of the kitchen chairs and crossing his ankles out in front of him. "You've been gay for so long, Quinn, I guess I have a hard time remembering when you were playing straight."

"Asshole," Quinn says, turning away from the back door and setting his beer on the counter, peeling off the corner of the label to mark it as his. "I'm gonna go play with Ivy."

Waving his hand, Tiny reaches forward for the newspaper lying on the table in front of him.

5.

"Liberal arts."

Quinn suddenly wonders if he's gone through the motions for Reinhart College for no reason. "Yeah. I mean, it's a major, here, right?"

Bug Eyes—Quinn thinks her name is… Mary? Marcy? Maria?—nods at him quickly. "Uh, yeah, it's a major, it's just—not a very popular one around here."

He finds that hard to believe, but maybe the other advisors are the ones stuck with liberal arts majors. "But, I mean, I can take it, right?"

"Oh, of course, of course!" She's quick to shuffle a few papers around on her desk, maybe looking for a course list or something. Quinn tries to be as polite as he can as he takes a drink from his bottle of water. "You'll be in College Algebra, perhaps Intro if your scores are low, uh, a psychology, College Writing, ah—perhaps an art class, if you're interested, or sociology… Really, if you just…"

Nodding along, Quinn trails his eyes down the list she sets in front of him, agreeing to any of the classes that she puts in front of him. For a second, he wonders if he really wants to do this. Maybe he can misplace a form, or something, and really get out of this, for good.

"Quinn?" Bug Eyes asks, looking at him with her head cocked to the side. "You know, Mr. Hardy, we could just wait a few days if you're uncertain."

Uncertain. "Well, I don't—"

Footsteps come out from the hallway, stopping just behind Quinn. "Marcia?" a low, gruff voice asks. Shivers travel down Quinn's spine. "Oh… I didn't realize…"

"It's fine," Quinn says, turning around in his seat and grinning. The man standing behind him, leaning against the doorframe, is tall, taller than Tiny, even, and broad-shouldered.

The man hums in his throat, and then knocks on the doorframe in thought. "Did you get a chance to send me the updated schedule?" he asks her, raising his eyebrows. Quinn doesn't bother turning back around in his seat, instead focusing on the attractive man in front of him. He doesn't even seem fazed by Quinn's blatant staring.

Strong forearms, too, Quinn notices, cocking his head to the side a little. If only he'd move a little further in, Quinn could get a better look at his—

"I hate to disappoint," the man says, a condescending tone in his voice, "but I don't date students."

Quinn grins, stretching out his legs in front of him, reveling in the way the man's eyes follow them out. "Well, I'm not technically a student yet, you know."

Raising his eyebrows, the man clicks his tongue. "Still unfortunate for you."

"Why's that?" Quinn has all but forgotten Bug Eyes—Marcia!—behind him.

"I don't date men with…" He lifts his hand and makes a spiny gesture at his hair. "Whatever that is."

Still grinning, Quinn asks, "Mohawks?"

"It's unprofessional."

"Oh, I can be very professional," Quinn says, Marcia's cough interrupting him. "But then, I could be anything you want me to be."

The man just snorts. "Marcia, thank you. It would've taken months for Greg to send it my way."

She murmurs politely, papers rustling again as the man turns away.

"So," he starts, turning back to Marcia, all trace of the previous uncertainty gone. "Who's he?"