The strap of her backpack is digging into her shoulder. Granted, it's not the heaviest thing she's had to carry lately by a long run—and there's a thought that would have sent her back into a crying fit two months ago. Maybe she actually is doing better.
Her mother clears her throat, hands nervously tapping on the steering wheel, and says, "I know you're really not looking forward to this, honey, but—maybe it won't be so bad."
"Can't be worse than McKinley," Quinn sighs, and then leans over the console, squeezing her mom into one last semi-pathetic comforting hug.
"Call us if anything… happens," her mother says, softly, and Quinn closes her eyes, because the last time she had to call home—
This is going to be better than last year. It just has to be, she thinks, as she gets out of the car and looks up at the gated entrance to Carmel High.
One more deep breath, and then she's heading inside.
The hallways are empty, because she's a deliberate five minutes late, and she heads to the student office just to register. A weirdly wide-eyed redhead named Emma Pillsbury pops out of the guidance counselor's office, when none of the secretaries are free, and explains her class schedule to her, which is almost exactly the same as her old class schedule, so that's something.
"One final thing," she says, giving Quinn a pointed look. "I want you to know that my office is always open to you."
"Right," Quinn says. "I'm—my dad is a therapist, so—"
"He's also your father."
"Isn't all of this confidential anyway?" Quinn asks, looking over her shoulder, but they're in the middle of first period by now, and it's not like people can magically appear behind her without warning.
Emma Pillsbury gives her a sympathetic smile. "It's a small community, Quinn. A new student transferring two months into the year—well, you are about the most exciting thing that's happened here since Nationals last year."
A look of pride washes over Emma's face, and her smile is more sincere this time around. "Oh, sure. You'll hear about this soon enough, but we have an award winning show choir. Vocal Adrenaline are the pride and joy of Carmel High. I'm sure you will see them perform soon enough—sometimes they even sing during lunch in the courtyard, because Shelby thinks it keeps them fresh."
"Shelby?" Quinn asks.
"Shelby Corcoran. She coaches Vocal Adrenaline, and teaches the band and music classes. She's amazing. You'll see," Emma Pillsbury says, with barely disguised hero worship. It's a little much coming from one adult to the next.
Quinn glances down at her schedule. "How do I get to the gym?"
Emma draws her a quick map and hands it over. "You were a cheerleader, weren't you? At your old school?"
Quinn feels her face fall before she can help it.
"It was a long time ago," she finally says, stiltedly. It's both true and a lie.
She's still changing into her mandated gym shorts when the locker room doors slam wide open and three girls stride in, in matching outfits of some kind—criminally short black skirts, light blue polo shirts, matching knee socks. Literally everyone else in the room abruptly stops talking and starts watching.
Quinn straightens as the one in front looks around and then finally locks eyes with her.
"Quinn Fabray, I assume," the girl says, from halfway across the room, tilting her head.
"Yeah," Quinn says.
"Your reputation precedes you," the girl says, still with an inscrutable expression; the black girl next to her snickers, though, and Quinn feels her mouth set.
"Yeah, so I've been told," Quinn says, already turning back to her locker. That's a big mistake, because seconds later, a hand grasps her shoulder tightly and spins her back around.
"Don't turn away from me when I am speaking to you," the girl says, sharply.
It's unreal how someone so short can be so terrifying, but Quinn can barely even swallow with the way she's being stared at and backed into the lockers. Not that she'll let that show, on her first day. Lines are being drawn and she wants to make it real clear she won't be messed with.
"I'm sorry—who the hell are you?"
"Who is she; my God," Black Girl repeats, rolling her eyes. "Rach, how about we just teach this white girl a lesson right now. Slushie machine's just outside; just call down the word, yeah?"
"She's probably just confused," the final member of the trio says, blowing a bubble after a moment. "I get like that sometimes. Like, sometimes I think Rachel's name is Shelby, and—"
"Shut up, Brittany," the short girl—Rachel, apparently—says, without looking away from Quinn.
"What, are you like head cheerleader or something?" Quinn asks, because hell, that's a game she can play. She was pretty good at it for the last two years, anyway.
Rachel eyes flicker brightly. "Hardly. This school doesn't have—what are they called at McKinley?"
"Fruit Loops," Brittany offers.
"Cheerios," the other girl corrects her, and Rachel's smile sharpens.
"Right. Cheerios. Cheerleading requires neither brains nor talent, from what I've been able to deduce. Frankly, as its most recent representative, you aren't doing much to change my opinion."
"What is your problem?" Quinn asks, trying to ignore the way that her anger is climbing. This is something that she's been working on, every day, but then it's not every day that some total fucking stranger is set on pushing every single one of her buttons like this.
"Right now, I'd say it's toss-up between your current attitude and your past behavior," Rachel says, calmly.
"Oh, for the love of—" Quinn starts to say, which is when a girl with long dark hair, dangling hoop earrings, a messy ponytail and torn jeans slams the locker next to Quinn hard.
"What's up, Berry? Your latent lesbianism manifesting itself in an ugly way again?" she drawls, before looking Rachel up and down. "You know, if you'd just take me up on that offer to get that stick out of your ass—"
"You're disgusting," Rachel says, looking like she's going to throw up or at least spit on the girl's scuffed sneakers.
"How about you just fuck off and go sing about your feelings somewhere, huh?" the other girl says, crossing her arms and leaning against the lockers.
Rachel glares at both of them for a second; her entire face darkens, in fact, but then to Quinn's surprise she takes a step back anyway, and focuses her eyes on Quinn again. "It was a pleasure, Quinn. I'm sure I'll be seeing you."
The locker room empties out as Rachel disappears around the corner, her two accomplices following her, and Quinn exhales slowly.
"Welcome to Carmel," the girl next to her says, pushing off the lockers. "I'm Santana. And you're bailing on PE, because really, you need to be brought up to speed on what the deal is here, before you go and get yourself iced."
Quinn snorts. "What, by that Rachel girl? She's like five foot two. I doubt she's going to kill me."
"Not what I meant, blondie," Santana says, pursing her lips. "Look—I'm not afraid of Rachel Berry, but that girl is capable of shit nobody would think she is looking at her. Little dwarf in knee socks, right? Smile of an angel?"
Quinn shrugs. "She seems like a… bitch, honestly."
"She can make your life a living hell. Trust me—I know," Santana says, leaning around the door to Quinn's locker and pulling her jeans back out. "C'mon. I'll hook you up with some cool people. You don't want to mess with those assholes in Vocal Adrenaline."
Quinn sighs and says, "Whatever, I missed first period too. Might as well co-sign on detention immediately, right?"
Santana smiles at her crookedly and says, "The guys are going to love you."
"The guys" are smoking up in the back of someone's pick-up truck, and Santana swings her legs up over the side in a way that makes Quinn wonder if she's secretly a gymnast. She settles on one guy's lap—Mohawk Guy, for lack of a name—and steals the joint from him, taking a quick drag before passing it on to a guy with floppy blond hair and a sweet smile.
"Hi," he says, with a grin. "You're like, way hot."
"Thanks," Quinn says, still standing next to the truck.
"Evans, she looks like your fucking sister," Mohawk Guy says, before pressing a wet kiss to Santana's cheek, who laughs and slaps at his head.
Sam squints. "Ah, shit, yeah. You kind of do."
"Come aboard," Santana says, kicking down the latch. Quinn accepts Sam's hand and lets herself be pulled up into the back, and then shakes her head at the joint.
"Oh, man, are you some fucking tee-totaller?" Mohawk Guy asks, frowning.
"Told you she'd be a Jesus freak. All those cheerleaders at McKinley are," Sam says, tapping something on his leg; after a moment, Quinn recognizes it as the beat to a Black Kids song.
"I'm—no, I'm not a Jesus freak or straight edge," Quinn finally says. "I just—I have a pretty bad history with drugs."
Mohawk Guy grins. "Awesome. You're not alone there."
Quinn blows up her cheeks and then exhales slowly. "Pretty sure your version doesn't end with you being pregnant."
Sam chokes mid-toke and Quinn gently pats him on the shoulder. Santana stops playing with her boyfriend's shirt and gives her a questioning look.
"It's—yeah. It was a bad year," Quinn mumbles, looking down at her hands. It's not like they weren't going to find out anyway; bad news travels fast, and that Rachel girl sure seemed to be implying that she knew what the deal was with Quinn's transfer.
"Shit," Mohawk Guy says, and then tilts his head. "You look pretty damn hot for someone who popped out a kid, though."
Santana groans his name—which is apparently Puck—and then elbows him in the gut. "Ignore him. His brain is the size of his dick."
"Massive, in other words," Puck says, smirking, and Quinn can't help but laugh.
Sam offers her the joint a second time, with a gentle smile. "Puck's spoken for, and I'm pretty sure I can keep myself under control."
"Oh, what the hell," Quinn says, because honestly, there are too many parts of her pregnancy that aren't ever going to be repeated; Finn Hudson, tequila, and the idea that she'd ever sleep with a guy again to begin with, for starters.
"So, what do you do for fun, Fabray?" Santana asks; Puck's arms are looped around her stomach and she's leaning into him while assessing Quinn with narrowed, cat-like eyes.
If Quinn's honest: she's pretty hot. Not her type, but she's not blind.
"I used to be a cheerleader. Not anymore, though," she adds, quickly, at the looks on their faces. "And—I like photography. Oh, and I play the drums."
All three of them look at her sharply at that comment. "For real?" Sam asks.
She flushes unwillingly and then nods. "Yeah, it's—my parents are pretty cool. It's my dad's kit, but I started playing when I was like, four, so—"
"Dude," Puck says. "You have got to join the band."
"Yeah," Santana agrees. "Samwise has been trying to learn how to play, but like, that was because we're fucking desperate. He's much better with a guitar."
"Wait, so—" Quinn squints, because her brain is starting to get that funny, foggy feeling that she's read about but never experienced. "You guys have a band?"
"Well, we would, if we had a drummer," Sam says, slowly.
"What's it called?" Quinn asks.
Behind them, the bell rings, and she looks down at the dead roach in her hand before flicking it out of the truck.
"Trouty Mouths," Santana says, with a devious smile. "Because Sam and I have girly-ass lips."
"It's really not," Sam says, and then adds, "I've been trying to convince these losers that "The Force is With Us" is a totally cool band name—"
"—but unlike Sam, we're not total dorks," Puck says, with a grin. "My pick's always been MILF Patrol, but—"
"You're such a dick, Noah," Santana says, but it's fine; Quinn laughs when Puck winks at her.
"Do you have any ideas?" Sam asks.
Quinn glances at the double doors to the school's entrance, where some kids are filing out after their classes, and then blinks when loud music starts playing over the PA system.
Santana groans. "Great. There goes my fucking buzz."
Sam stands up and offers Quinn a hand.
"What's going on?" she asks, getting up before he answers, and watching as Puck lowers Santana to the ground before hopping off the truck bed himself.
"Santana has sort of a… love/hate relationship going on with Vocal Adrenaline. She seriously like, can't stand them—but she also watches every single one of their performances," Sam says, in a slightly softer voice, as Santana and Puck stroll back towards the school entrance.
That's when the singing starts, and literally every thought Quinn has ever had stops in her mind at the chill that runs up her spine when she hears the female soloist.
Sam looks at her with a knowing smile. "And another one bites the dust."
"Rachel Berry. She's a real bitch, but yeah, her voice, right?" Sam says, shaking his head, before reaching for Quinn's hand. "C'mon. You sort of need to see them, too, just to get the full experience."
She's never seen anything like this before. The choir-Vocal Adrenaline-have taken over the cafeteria and have prepared some sort of routine that involves the plastic chairs and the tables. Rachel is standing on one table; her male equivalent—handsome, in a sort of rogue-ish way—is kneeling on the ground in front of her.
"You have got to be kidding me," Santana mumbles, and Quinn almost shushes her, because the entire rest of the choir is frozen behind them in really, really uncomfortable looking poses—half-bent over, legs in high places—as Rachel's hips just slowly beat to the music of Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
It's hypnotic, almost, and then Rachel starts softly singing and Quinn actually shivers where she's standing.
There's that angelic smile that Quinn thought Santana was kidding about. When she's performing, something about Rachel Berry just lights itself on fire, and even though Santana's scowling and Puck has a pretty decent bored face going on, not one of them can look away from what's happening in front of them.
The rest of the choir slowly starts moving to the jerk-beat rhythm of the verse even as Rachel and the guy sing on, and then he climbs up on the table with her and spins her into his chest.
"This is pretty low key for them, actually," Sam murmurs behind Quinn, and she nods, because she can tell they're building to something.
That something turns out to be Adele's Rolling in the Deep, and even though it's probably the most overplayed song of the year, Quinn feels her breath catch all over again as Rachel and her male counterpart strut along a row of tables, until she shoves at his chest and pushes him off on the chorus.
"Jesus," she says, unwillingly.
Nobody else has to comment, because Rachel sings her heart out, and the entire room breaks into thunderous applause for her at the end. Her co-singer picks her up and spins her around, and she kisses the guy chastely before bowing, somewhat sarcastically, to her audience.
One person isn't clapping, though: a severe-looking woman at the back of the cafeteria, taking notes on a clipboard, and Rachel's smile freezes for just one second before she strides past the woman and back towards the hallway, tugging the male lead behind her.
"Who's that?" Quinn asks, even as everyone around them makes a move to start either queuing for an early lunch or head to their third period class.
"Ms. Corcoran," Puck says. "Now there's a MILF."
"She's an evil bitch whore," Santana says, shooting Puck a disapproving look.
"Oh, is she the coach?"
"Yep," Santana says, staring at the woman from across the room. "And Rachel's mother."
Quinn doesn't know why it feels like a seriously dramatic pronouncement, but it does, and she glances at the woman one more time before turning away.
"Guys—where's AP English?"
"Better follow me; pretty sure those two couldn't find their way into an AP classroom if it had an arrow pointing at it," Santana says, with an eye roll.
"Hey, I take AP Music," Sam protests, with a small scowl.
"Yeah, and I'm getting an A+ in AP Biology; pretty sure that's what we were doing in bed last night, anyway," Puck says, laughing when Santana swats at him again.
"We'll see you later. Band practice at mine after school; you can catch a ride with us," Sam says, shooting her a quick wave, before shouldering into Puck and heading down the hall with him.
"AP English, huh. You like reading?" Santana says, stopping briefly at a row of lockers and digging out a notepad.
"Yeah. I mean, I've stacked up on APs for college but English is the one I actually like," Quinn asks, before glancing inside of Santana's jam-packed locker, full of books and binders and a bunch of other really studious-looking stuff. "So, what's your deal? You're not actually a juvenile delinquent?"
"I'm really fucking smart, okay. I'm just not a prissy, pious asshole like everyone else who's going to get out of this cow town. The establishment can't handle all of this," Santana says, slamming her locker shut and gesturing down her body.
"Right, well, I know what that's like," Quinn says, as airily as she can.
"Yeah, I bet you do," Santana says, softly, before elbowing her in the arm. "C'mon. We better hurry, or we'll have to sit next to fucking Rachel and her armed guard. Rule number one about surviving at Carmel; don't look at them, you'll turn into a fucking stone statue or something."
Quinn wonders if she should be taking notes, or if common sense will be enough to get her through her first day.
Unfortunately, her first instinct when someone walks by with a Big Gulp isn't 'duck.'
When she blinks her eyes open, past the blue gunk that's dripping down her face, she sees Rachel Berry standing at the end of the hallway, looking at her with an inscrutable expression.
The guy with the Big Gulp just smiles at her sweetly and says, "Don't play with fire. I'm fairly certain you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you got burned."
He's clearly family. He's also on a different section of the food chain, if the way that Black Sidekick sidles up to him as he keeps walking is anything to go by.
Santana helps her get the worst of it off her shirt.
Quinn looks at herself in the mirror, noticing the clenching in her jaw, and then says, "Who do we report it to?"
"Report what?" Santana asks, balling up the tissue she's been cleaning Quinn's shirt with and tossing it towards the trash.
"Um, the fact that someone just threw a fucking Big Gulp all over me?" Quinn asks, her fingers digging into the bathroom sink hard.
Santana gives her a look and then laughs wryly, shaking her head. "Fabray, I don't know what planet you live on, but at Carmel, you don't fuck with Vocal Adrenaline."
"So what, this happens a lot?"
"Sure," Santana says, hopping on the sink and digging out some chapstick. "I mean, no school rules against tripping, right?"
"He didn't trip," Quinn says, emphatically.
"Good luck convincing Pillsbury of that."
Quinn frowns and then reaches for Santana's chapstick. "She seems all right."
"Sure, she's cool. She's just also going to ask who did this to you, and when you tell her it was Hummel, she'll gasp, and say there's no way that that sweet boy would do this on purpose."
"So what? His word against mine; law of averages says we both get detention," Quinn says, because that's how things worked at McKinley. She's served enough detentions in the last year to be pretty sure of it, anyway. "I'm already lined up for it this week, what with missing three classes in one day."
"Yeah, except at this school, when a member of Vocal Adrenaline gets pulled into the school office, they walk back out with their heads held high, and Shelby's hand on their back."
Quinn bristles. "So what are you saying? Everyone just takes this crap?"
The look on Santana's face changes abruptly, from bored to incredibly pained. "Yeah, Q. Because when you try to get one up over Shelby, she will find a way to fucking destroy you. Rachel and Kurt—the other kids on that team? They're off limits. It's better to just learn how to avoid them."
It sounds ridiculous, and like Santana's just trying to intimidate her or something, but nobody looks that wan for absolutely no reason.
"I don't accept that," she says, finally, when Santana looks at her like she's checking if the point she's trying to make got through okay.
"Your funeral, blondie," Santana says, hopping off the counter, and fishing a pack of Lucky Strikes out of her pocket. "C'mon. I need some fresh air, and you need to stop looking so—"
"Blue in the face?" Quinn asks, dryly.
"Oh, she's funny, too. Where have you been all my life?" Santana calls over her shoulder, rolling her eyes.
Quinn grins and heads after her.
In her free period, rather than eat lunch, she heads to the library and gets out a copy of the yearbook. If these people are going to attempt to make her life a living hell all over again, she's at least going to make sure she knows their names.
Gay Dude: Kurt Hummel. Runs the Fashion Design club, co-directs the Home Economics club, and is, of course, a member of Vocal Adrenaline; he flanks Rachel to her right, with a smug little chin up in the air, in the official group photo.
Black Chick: Mercedes Jones. Abstinence Club, Prayer Circle, and Vocal Adrenaline.
Dumb Blonde: Brittany Pierce. Miniature Trampoline and Vocal Adrenaline.
Lead Guy: Jesse St. James. (She actually laughs out loud, because whatkind of name is that?) Quiz Bowl, Archery, and Vocal Adrenaline.
And finally, there's Rachel herself. Rachel Berry. By the looks of it, she's involved in every single club in the school. And co-captain of the award-winning show choir.
Quinn flips the yearbook shut with a sigh, and then runs her hands up and down her face.
It's barely even been five hours, and she's somehow already made herself a nemesis.
At least at McKinley, she got shit from everyone in equal measure.
This doesn't really feel like an improvement.
She's exhausted by the time the day has ended; tired of sitting in the back of the classroom and saying the same ridiculous things about herself: "Hi, I'm Quinn, I like gymnastics and photography, and I transferred from McKinley because of my dad's job."
All of it is complete nonsense, and really, some part of her just wants to go home at the end of the day.
Still, Puck's truck is idling in front of the school when she files out, and Santana leans over the console to hammer the horn.
It's good to feel wanted, even if they only want her for the band.
"Ah, man, they iced you," Sam says, with a sympathetic look, when the spots the blue V running down the front of her Metric t-shirt. "Which one of them was it?"
"Kurt Hummel," Santana says, bitterly.
"That bitch," Puck mumbles, shaking his head. "I wish it wasn't like, unethical to hit guys the size of girls, because I'd fucking beat that kid."
"He's the worst," Sam sighs.
"Yep. With him around, Rachel's never going to have to do her own goddamned dirty work," Santana agrees, before reaching over to the stereo and turning up the Strokes.
The rest of the ride is silent, and Quinn almost falls asleep in the back seat while Santana softly sings along with the song and Puck taps out the beat on the steering wheel.
The sticks feel good in her hands, even though they're not her own, and this kit is a shitty little replica of the set her dad's got set up at home; but a beat is a beat, and she fiddles with the snare drum for a moment and then tests the cymbals with a quick triple-tap.
Santana watches her do it silently, wrapping her hands around the microphone stand, and then says, "You know any Yeah Yeah Yeahs?"
It's the first time all day Quinn's actually felt fucking good about something, even as Puck and Sam tune their instruments, one plucked string at a time. Her grin must be contagious, or something, because Santana also grins and then says, "Lemme guess—Maps?"
Quinn hates to be predictable, but whatever. She's pretty sure she's going to surprise them with how good she is.
Two tugs on her shirt sleeves later, turning her shirt into a tank top because she knows she's going to sweat like hell if they go at it for a while, she counts them off.
Santana sounds ridiculously good on the chorus—sexy, even, if Quinn is pushed, and Puck's bass lines mesh incredibly well with the gentle beat she's tapping out.
She wipes at her face when they're done and Sam high-fives Puck in front of her.
"Untitled Band is go," he says, and Santana grins, tipping the microphone stand away.
"Guess something good came out of your shitty deal last year after all, huh," she says, as Puck ruffles her hair—no longer in a ponytail—affectionately.
"Yeah, I guess," Quinn agrees, with a small smile.
Her mom's waiting on the couch when she gets home, and almost launches off it when Quinn closes the front door.
"How was it?"
Quinn drops her bag and watches as her mother takes in her appearance—sweaty, bedraggled, tired, and her shirt's still fucking half-blue. "No, no, don't worry—it was okay. It was, you know. Any other high school."
"And the kids?"
Quinn shrugs tiredly and says, "I think I made some friends. They're a little… different, but, I guess I'm a little different too."
"Yes, well, you and your hippie parents," her mom says, rolling her eyes.
"Yeah," Quinn agrees, with a sigh. "Because Father Kevin was wrong; it's completely your fault that I was stupid enough to sleep with a guy and—"
"Quinn, honey, you don't need to, okay?" her mom says, pulling her into a brief hug, and then patting her on the back. "I took some time off baking today to make your favorite cookies."
"Vegan chocolate chip?" Quinn asks, raising her eyebrows.
"I know you hate it when I mother you too much, but—"
"Mom, honestly—I don't hate it as much as I used to," Quinn finally says, forcing a smile when her mother looks at her pityingly, and then asks, "How's the painting coming along?"
"Good. I think I've finally got the right color balance," her mom says, and Quinn follows her into the kitchen, with a small smile down at the blue stain on her favorite t-shirt.
Day one of her new life could've gone a lot worse, she guesses.