"Kurt, you can do this."
Emma listened to Will trying to get the students into the ski lodge van and wondered if she could throw the same spectacular fit about riding in such a public conveyance. It was a good snow year in the Rockies, or so she had heard, but she wasn't sure she was going to be able to get any skiing in if it meant riding in this antiquated van. Kurt didn't want anywhere near the cheesy 70s décor whereas all she could see was the possibility for 40 year old germs. There was no alcohol strong enough to clear away what she imagined could be lurking in some of those stained fabrics.
Sometimes obsession was the mother of all necessity. As suddenly as the mind-stupefying haze had set in at seeing what she would have to endure for the next hour and a half, her thoughts cleared and she had an idea that would help them all out.
"Will, can I talk to you over here?" Better to let him be able to play this off as his idea. He would be less cranky that way. Emma followed him over to the curb, away from the group of teens huddled together, looking more like a bunch of disaster victims than a group of teens going on a ski trip for Spring Break.
"What is it, Emma?" He had the guarded look he got when he was about to lose his temper. Judging from the lines around his mouth, he wasn't far from it. "We really need to get going or we're going to be late for check-in."
"Exactly. I don't want to be late any more than you do." She paused, just to give him time to calm down so that he would properly see her reasoning. "You know better than anyone that we can't push Kurt into getting on that bus. He's going to start pushing back and then we'll have real problems. Why don't we let him win this round. Not," she held up her hands to ward off the argument she saw brewing behind his dark eyes, "the war. Just this round. It's not going to make you look like a bad teacher if you find him some other way to the lodge."
Will put his hands in his pockets and shrugged, getting that little boy lost look that he got whenever he was trying hard to be both a good teacher and a good friend. "What should we do?"
The warmth of triumph washed over her. "Leave that to me. I'll take Kurt, Tina, Rachel and Quinn. Oh, just in case, we can take the luggage. That way you won't need to worry about it… well, falling on your head."
Before he could question her group, she moved to the group and began to section them up until all that was left on the sidewalk was the pile of luggage and four very confused teens. "See you there," she called out, waving at the other part of the group staring at them through the fogged up windows of the lodge shuttle. Turning to her group, she tried not to smile as brilliantly as she wanted to. Better to keep her satisfaction to herself. "Tina, go find a cart for the luggage. Kurt, wait here and help her get it all loaded. When you're done, meet us at the rental car area."
Realizing their good fortune, no one dared question her request. Her good mood continued all the way to the first car rental company. It was slightly dimmed as she hurried to the second and then to the third. All the snow the Rockies had been getting lately combined with an important play-off game had left the Denver airport sadly bereft of any cars for rent.
Rachel was trying very hard to stay quiet through it all but Emma could sense that she was going to have a suggestion at any moment. In appreciation for the girl's uneasy silence, Emma took a deep breath and accepted that she didn't have a way out of this mess that she had created. If and when Rachel wanted to speak up, she was ready to listen.
Leading the group to a quiet corner, she took a couple of deep breaths in an attempt to keep her voice from breaking, although there was nothing she could do about the tears welling up in her eyes. "There doesn't appear to be any cars for rent. I suppose we'll just have to wait for the next lodge van."
Tina began to protest but Kurt put his hand on her arm. "Let's go about this the proper way. First, it's too early to give up, Miss Pillsbury. I wasn't about to get in one of them earlier and I'm not going to like it any better now. There's got to be another way."
Everyone looked at Rachel. Now was the time for her to step up and suddenly have the bright idea that would save them all. This was her moment to shine. Instead, she shrugged. "I've got nothing. I was going to say that we should go have some lunch first and come back a little later. Maybe one of the planes won't show up and we can nab a cancellation."
"It's a bit iffy for my taste," Kurt objected but even that was only half-hearted.
There was a tremendous sniff from the other side of the luggage cart where Tina had sank to the ground. Emma wasn't sure she could deal with the girl's breakdown at this point. Her own imminent collapse was already starting to gnaw at the edges of her consciousness, encouraged by the thought of being stuck here at the Denver airport for the rest of the week until it was time to fly back to Ohio. The walls were starting to close in, a panoramic prison shaped like a circus tent. She was sure if-
"This is ridiculous. We've got to do something." Quinn grabbed for her carry-on and put it on her shoulder. There was a look of determination on her face that hadn't been there for nearly a year, not since last Spring Break when she had spent most of the week in a hospital. Handing over her baby to a couple she didn't know or would ever see again had broken something inside of her.
"But what?" Tina whaled from her isolated corner. "What are we doing to do?"
"I don't know but it's going to get us out of this airport and headed toward the mountain. I didn't come here to stare at the walls of the airport. I came here to ski."
No one followed her which, as Emma thought back on it later, might not have been the best thing for a teacher to do. To her credit, Emma Pillsbury knew when to let her students work to their strengths. And as they watched, Quinn used every strength she'd ever been born with or acquired over her seventeen years. With a few flutters of her long eyelashes and a coy smile designed to make anyone, male or female, give her what they wanted, she was waving the group over.
"It's a minivan," she conceded after they were all grouped around the rental kiosk, "but it'll fit all the luggage and the five of us. Best of all, it's a newer model," a sigh from Kurt, "has multiple electronic outlets so we don't have to fight over radio stations," a delighted laugh from Rachel, "and it's blue."
"Rock on!" Tina shouted, her doldrums having evaporated in the ten feet they'd walked to the counter.
Emma signed the papers, never once questioning their good fortune. The group seemed to feel the same and hurried to get into the car once they were given the keys and directions through the maze of the parking lot. There wasn't much of an argument for seats. Quinn, being the one who had gotten them out of their predicament, was awarded the front passenger seat while the rest got in without so much as a But I always sit there.
There was a light snow falling but nothing that would impede the trip. Traffic was heavy as everyone rushed to get away from the airport and back to civilization that wasn't ruled by TSA and other strange authority groups. Kurt was soon asleep, his neck pillow keeping his hair from flattening at an odd angle. Rachel and Tina were quietly swapping iPods back and forth as they talked about their favorite music.
"I'm not even going to ask what you said," Emma replied shyly once they were on the highway. She was still a little in awe of the girl's abilities. "I'm very grateful for whatever it was that you did, though. This is better than anything I was hoping for. Definitely better than that bus."
"It's nothing I haven't seen my dad do a million of times. It's all about your expectations and the way you convey them."
There was bitterness in the girl's words but no more than Emma would have expected. They'd talked about Quinn's family life on several occasions but Emma hadn't felt they'd made any progress. The harsh reality of Quinn's life at the moment was a combination of several things with her parents abandonment at the center. Now as not the time to bring it up again but if Quinn was comfortable talking about it, she was willing to try to help.
"So you just walked up there and told them what you wanted?" Quinn nodded and Emma tried to reason out how their approaches had been different. Did it really all boil down to the blonde hair and big eyes? "Counselors are taught to tell their kids that nothing comes easily. It all has to be worked for. I guess that doesn't always apply."
"Sure, I can get a bored rental car guy who'd been trying to get my attention since I walked in the room to rent me a car that wasn't really on their lot. They always say that, hoping to drive up the price on anything they have left just in case things get tight."
"Something else you learned from your dad?"
Quinn nodded, her lips pressed tightly together. She was still sitting casually, none of the ramrod posture she normally had in the counseling office, but her face was a mask of misery. Not the look of dissatisfaction she often wore but true sadness. "I learned all these useful things from him, except for how to really love someone."
"Is Finn still not talking to you?" She knew the answer to that seeing as how the boy had refused to come on this trip. Had, in fact, refused to do most things with the group outside of performing and practicing. When Quinn didn't answer, she pushed a little. "Quinn, has Finn talked to you outside of glee club practice?"
"No. And he doesn't talk to me inside of glee club practice either. I think he would prefer I just disappeared altogether."
"Do you wish you could disappear altogether?" It was a valid question, although Emma felt as if she was leaning on the whole restating what they just said as a question line of counseling too much but the tears she'd had to push inside were still too near the surface and it would be so easy, with everyone looking out the window and her sunglasses perched on her nose, to give in and let them well up once again. The counselor wasn't supposed to cry. She was getting things backwards.
"I wish for a lot of things but none of them is to disappear." Quinn held up her hand and began to tick off her wishes. "I want to be a cheerleader again. This should have been my year to shine, to show colleges what I can do but instead I'm having to rely on grades and my other interests. Here's hoping glee club is enough for them. I want to stop living out of a suitcase and find a place where I belong. Since that's no longer at my parents' house, I'm out of options until next year when I can move into a dorm. Then I'll only have to sleep on a couch during vacations. I think I can deal with that better than wondering when everyone will get tired of having me take over their living room. Frankly, I'm running out of friends."
Emma kept her eyes on the road even as she let the tears come. Damn the school rules that said she wasn't supposed to allow any of her students in her house. As soon as this trip was over, she was clearing out her second bedroom and Quinn was moving in. If she could convince Principal Figgins that taking a group of the glee club kids on a trip to Colorado for Spring Break was acceptable under the current school policy, she could make this happen. She hadn't realized that Quinn was still bouncing from house to house. Now that she knew, that would change. It would put an end to their counseling sessions but maybe she could get her some real help.
The list was still growing. "I wish I could get good grades without having to kill myself trying to get my homework done correctly. It isn't enough that I have a full plate but I've added harder classes so that my transcripts look better. They don't count unless I pass them so it's not like I can just skate by these days. I'm not a Cheerio anymore. No one's willing to let me hand in anything late, regardless of what I have going on. And if Finn doesn't want me anymore, I don't see why some other guy can't see that I'm more than the other half of that failed relationship. I'm willing to move on but no one seems to be willing to let me. It's embarrassing that no one has asked me to Prom yet. Do you think I've told anyone? No, that would look bad. Can't have my image fall any further than it already has, now can I?"
She paused as if Emma was supposed to answer. When the silence stretched far enough that it was uncomfortable, she finally found her voice. "Have you thought about asking someone to prom instead?"
Because it really was a stupid question to ask a teenage girl, Emma flinched slightly as Quinn sat forward. She glanced over, expecting to see rage coloring the girl's cheeks. Instead, there was a huge smile where there was normally a sarcastic grimace. "I could, couldn't I? I could ask someone. It's not like being seen with me is a crime. The boys are just scared to ask. There's nothing that said I couldn't ask someone. It could be fun."
"Maybe you could go in a group?" Emma realized she was on a roll when Quinn began nodding her head. Instead of pressing her advantage, she decided to stay silent. Better to go out with a bang, after all.
Quinn turned around in her seat and pushed at Kurt's knee until he woke up. "Kurt, are you going to prom?"
Emma watched in the rearview mirror as the bleary eyed boy looked around to see if he was part of a prank. "Hadn't thought about it much. Didn't figure anyone was going to actually ask me seeing as I may be too fashionably conscious for most of the people at our school."
"You want to go with me? We'd look fabulous. Maybe we can get a group together. Make a fun night out of it."
Tina perked up. "Can I go? I've given up waiting for anyone to ask me."
"Even-" Rachel began but Tina glared at her.
"Yes. Anyone. So can I? I already have my dress. Had it since last summer."
"Sure." Quinn began to outline the plan for the night as the ideas struck her. Soon the four of them (Rachel had invited herself along but no one had turned her down) were coming up with ideas that varied from outrageous to bordering on the absurd.
Emma marveled at how this day had turned out. She stayed silent for the next hour, listening with a certain amount of satisfaction as the kids made something wonderful of what could have been a bad situation. Quinn was good at just that. With a little encouragement, the girl could make something of herself. With or without her parents or Finn.
When they got to the lodge and were met by the rest of the group, all a bit disgruntled by the fact that their luggage hadn't been waiting for them, Will noticed Emma's red-rimmed eyes. "Did you have any trouble?"
"We'll tell you the story at dinner," she assured him, grateful that she didn't have to hide her emotions from someone, at last. "But, really, it worked out for the best."
His frank gaze told her he didn't believe her but he accepted her silence on the matter. "We've reserved a table in the dining room. I think the rest of the group would like to hear this story as well."
Emma lingered as the kids all started walking off, her group from the van infecting the rest with their enthusiasm. She was ready for dinner but she missed the companionship of the van. Something had happened in that car that she knew she would most likely never witness again. It was as magical as her world was likely to be.
Before Emma could convince herself to walk forward, Quinn pulled herself away from the crowd and came back. "Are you tired? Did that drive wear you out? Or maybe it was our babbling."
"No. Never that. I was just… thinking."
Quinn smiled wickedly. "Brittany says they have cheesecake here. Now that I don't have to fit in a cheerleading outfit, I'm going to have a piece every night we're here."
"That sounds like a splendid plan. I'll join you." Will had stopped as well but he kept his distance as Quinn began to tug her forward. Emma desperately wanted to make sure that Quinn was emotionally stable after her revelations in the van but couldn't think of the right words to say. Instead, she smiled as brightly as the girl. The words could wait for later. Now was the time for fun.