Jeff Pauling was maybe a little excited.
“Dude. Hopping up and down like a little kid isn't going to make them let her off the plane any faster, man.” Nick Duval was having a hard time not laughing at his friend, who ignored him and kept bouncing up on his toes to peer over the crowd in front of them at San Francisco International Airport. He reached out and grabbed Jeff's shoulder in a vain effort to still his hyperkinetic motion. “And it might actually get us thrown out of here.”
Shrugging off the oppressing hand, Jeff stretched up on his sneakered toes once more and craned his neck to try and look at the arrivals gate. “We're not going to get kicked out,” he snapped impatiently. “And shut up. Quinn's one of my two best friends in the world, and I haven't seen her in over a year. Cut me some slack.”
“She's my friend too! And I'd like to point out that I'm doing you a favor chauffeuring you around,” Nick reminded him with a snort. “I could just leave you here and take Quinn back to Berkeley with me. You'd have to brave the BART all the way back to school on your own.”
“Try it. I know where you sleep and I still owe you for putting cold oatmeal in my Vans at the last Cincy meet,” was Jeff's absent reply as he pressed himself up as tall as he could get on his toes. “How long can it take to get off a damn plane?”
“Well...” Nick, who was deep into his first semester studying aerospace engineering and wanted to work for Boeing, tilted his head back to think. “A DC-10 can hold anywhere from 250 to almost 400 passengers depending on the airline's configuration, and Quinn doesn't like talking to people so she probably sat all the way in the back, and she's not super tiny but she isn't super tall either so -”
Jeff paused and glanced back over his shoulder at Nick, hoping his face was clearly conveying all the what the fuck he felt in this very moment. “Dude? Rhetorical question.”
“Fine.” Nick rolled his eyes. “So are you gonna stop acting like a massive spaz?”
“I'm not spazzing.” Giving it one last try, Jeff bounced back up on his toes, and this time he was rewarded with what he wanted to see. “They're opening the door!”
His bouncing grew more frantic as he scanned the stream of disembarking passengers, looking for the familiar shock of hot pink hair he hadn't seen in so long. Jesus, it was taking forever. Had Quinn sat all the way in the back of the plane? Ahhhh, he was going to just exp-
Jeff looked down in complete surprise to see Quinn actually standing in front of him, grinning hugely. “Oh, my God. Quinn. Quinn.”
She'd managed to surprise him, and no wonder. The girl in front of him was as far removed from the Quinn Fabray he'd expected as she could possibly get while still being unmistakably herself. Jeff tried to wrap his head around what he was seeing and just utterly failed. All he could do was blink at her, completely amazed.
First, the hair, the reason he hadn't seen her coming until she popped up under his nose. It was still pink, kind of, still shaggy, but it was mostly her old honey blonde with candy pink tipping the ends and sweeping through her bangs. Her green eyes weren't ringed in layers of cheap black eyeliner, her face not deliberately chalky white – she looked tan and pretty and natural in a way Jeff hadn't seen in years. And the ragged riot grrl wardrobe had been tossed in favor of a simple sleeveless white t-shirt and sandals, though her jeans were, he thought, the same ripped up ones she'd taken scissors to their senior year at McKinley.
And she was smiling like she'd never had her heart broken in her life, all the sunshine in the world in her face. It was like looking at a strange mix of Quinn-Before-Finn-Hudson and Quinn-After-Finn-Hudson.
Jeff liked it. Jeff liked it a lot.
Still, it was comforting that the slight warm rasp of her voice remained completely unchanged. “So...do I get a hug, or are you guys going to stare at me until I do tricks?”
“Jesus, Quinn.” Jeff forced himself to move and gather his best friend up in a huge, huge hug that actually lifted her up off the floor so he could spin her around. “Oh my God, it's so good to see you, and you look so incredible, and oh man, I am so stoked that you're here.” He cringed inwardly, knowing he sounded like an idiot, but Quinn didn't seem to notice. She giggled and hung on tight until he set her carefully back down on the ground so she could bound over and hug Nick, too.
“Westerville Nick. You're a long way from home.” She sounded a little breathless once Nick released her from the iron grip of his hug – Nick had always been a little overly enthusiastic on the rare occasions he got to hug Quinn. “What are you doing out here in the Bay Area?”
“Going to Berkeley with Jeff and acting as your airport limo, my lady.” He winked and grinned cockily while Quinn chuckled and hitched her little backpack more comfortably over her shoulder as they began to walk. “But unlike Jeff, I have a car here because my dad and stepmom live in Santa Rosa. Without me, you'd be hitch-hiking to the campus.”
Jeff held out his hand in a silent offer to hold Quinn's bag, which she handed over with a grateful smile. “I wouldn't get so full of yourself, Duval,” he warned, sticking his tongue out in a noisy raspberry. “You have a car, but you're also a freshman and my pledge. You're still low man on the totem pole, dude.”
“I could still take Quinn back to Berkeley and just leave you to your own devices, you know,” Nick threatened, draping an arm over Quinn's slender shoulders.
“And I could remember you did that and bring it up at the next meeting,” Jeff retorted.
“Meeting? Pledge?” Quinn tipped her head up and looked back and forth between them, curiosity all over her face.
“Theta Chi,” explained Jeff, scanning the signs to make sure they were headed in the right direction for baggage claim. “We joined a fraternity! And, oh, man, this is so awesome.” He turned around to walk backwards, facing his friends while he talked. “I thought you and I could spend tonight hanging out and catching up, but tomorrow we're throwing a party for you at the house!”
“For me?” Her delicate eyebrows arched up to disappear under the sweep of pink-streaked bangs over her eyes. “Wow.”
“They're gonna love you,” he enthused, talking with face and hands and voice and getting so caught up that he got incautious and all but ran over a business-suited yuppie, who glared at all of them before straightening his suit and stalking off in a huff. “Oops.”
Quinn was giggling again, making this officially the most he had ever seen her smile and laugh in years. “Sorry, not laughing at you...well, a little. A party sounds fun, I'm honored.” Shrugging off Nick's arm, she stepped forward to give Jeff another hug. “And we can go to San Francisco and look around on Sunday?”
“Absolutely,” Jeff confirmed, walking along while trying to keep hugging her. It was awkward, but they managed. “And Nick has no classes Monday morning, so he'll drive you back to the airport. It's a totally packed weekend, but fun, I hope!” Arriving at the baggage claim, they found that the crowd had beaten them because they'd dawdled, but the baggage was already coming down the conveyor belt, so hopefully they wouldn't have to wait long. “I am so beyond glad to see you, Quinn. Never go a year without a visit again.”
“Hey, it works both ways,” she protested, but with a broad grin. “I've been back in Ohio since June. It's October. You just never come home.”
He let go of her only so he could hold his hands up in defense. “I have no say in where my family drags me on break.”
“Yeah, but do they think the world will end if they bring you back to Ohio for two weeks?” Quinn laughed and shook her head. “How was your summer in Osaka, at least?”
“Killer. Wish you could have gone. Dad was working all the time and Mom was out shopping with my sister, like, every day. The skate scene's pretty badass there and I hung at the parks a lot, but the language barrier...” He shrugged. “It was still fun. Weird but fun. What about you?”
“Europe was awesome, Kurt and Blaine are sickeningly adorable and totally in love, but now that I'm home, I'm just giving guitar lessons and working part-time in Mr. Motta's music shop with Sugar.” A smirk tilted up her mouth. “She wrecked another car, but she refused to work at the skate shop without you and Blaine, so she's all mine.”
“And you haven't killed her?” The words burst out of both Nick and Jeff in stereo, making them all crack up when they realized it.
“Jinx,” Nick announced, looking smug. “You owe me a coke, Pauling.”
“Please. You owe me at least five.” Rolling his eyes, Jeff looked at the luggage moving past them. The crowd had thinned and there seemed to be only a few bags waiting to be claimed. “How many bags do you have, Quinn?”
“Just that backpack you have and my big travel pack. Here it comes.” She pointed at a large black camping pack festooned in embroidered patches. “And you're sure I can stay in your dorm room?”
They both nodded. “That's why I had you come this week,” Jeff replied, scooping up the travel pack and handing it off to Nick. “My roommate's housesitting for his cousin in Alameda, and Nick's on night desk duty at the dorm, so he'll handle the paperwork and forgery.” He winked. “No worries. We have you covered.”
“You two aren't roommates?” She looked surprised at this. “That's surprising.”
“Uh, Nick's a slob.”
“Jeff's a neat freak.”
“Nick listens to Metallica. New Metallica.”
“Okay, but Jeff, the ska thing was over as soon as it started. Just sayin'.”
“You still wear JNCOs, Nick. It's almost a new millennium, that's, like, wrong.”
Quinn glanced back and forth between them, jaw slightly dropped in astonishment. “Yeah, okay, I can see why you two sharing a dinky dorm room would be bad. I withdraw the question.”
“Don't worry. For you, we'll learn to get along.” Nick beamed a huge grin down at her. “We've had some practice. Anyway, if you can live without changing clothes for a few hours, I'll sneak your big bag up to Jeff's room when I go on break from the desk. Cool?”
“Yeah, I've got a change of clothes and some shower stuff in my carry-on anyway,” Quinn replied, nodding. “I learned to keep one on me at all times when I was backpacking. There was a tricky couple of hours in Switzerland once...”
Jeff marveled at the changes time and travel had wrought in his friend, how she seemed calm, happy, almost carefree. He noticed she wasn't even wearing the cavalcade of jelly bracelets and tin bangles that she'd worn since her suicide attempt, even though the scars from it were still extremely noticeable.
It was amazing just looking at her. But then, it always had been.
“You have to tell me all about it,” he replied fervently, shaking his head in wonder. “Everything. I mean, I got your postcards and all, but you have to tell me everything.”
“I will.” She smiled up at him, eyes wide and sparkling as she wrapped an arm around each of their waists. “But later, because they didn't feed me jack shit on that damn plane. Right now I need you two to take me directly to an In-N-Out Burger.”
“Aye, aye, Cap'n.” Jeff saluted with a grin, happy as could be to have Quinn at his side again. “Your wish is my command.”
“...and you can have this drawer when Nick brings your pack up.” Jeff slid out an empty drawer in his dorm room closet to show Quinn, glancing at her a little anxiously. “Is that enough? I can move some stuff so you can hang up whatever you need.”
“It's fine, Jeff.” She stretched and yawned, the action causing her top to ride up a little and show a sliver of lightly tanned stomach. Jeff had to swallow hard and take a few deep breaths to calm down. Lucky for him she wasn't looking at him. “Your roommate is really cool with me sleeping in his bed?”
He shrugged, still struggling to play it cool. “Yeah, he's an okay kinda guy. Actually, he's from Ohio too. Hilarious, right?” He slid the drawer shut again and pointed across the room at several framed photos of smiling teenage boys in blue and red blazers. “He and Nick went to the same prep school, but he was a year ahead.”
Quinn snorted a little bit in surprise. “Small world.” Bending down, she started pulling her clothes out of her pack and folding them neatly into the closet drawers. “So what's it like, being in college?”
“Uh...fun. Tough, but you know, fun. I get by. Hasn't killed me yet.” Shut up, Jeff. It felt like his brain was trying to escape through his ears, he was so distracted by her bending and stretching. “Kinda wish I'd done more AP like you did, but I'll live, you know?”
“Yeah.” Ambling over to his bookshelf, Quinn poked through his books. “I love that you're doing Veterinary Med.” The smile she shot over her shoulder zinged right through him. “You always loved helping animals.”
“What can I say, chicks dig doctors and guys with animals, this way I get to kill two birds with one stone.” The cocky grin he beamed back at her entirely a put on. He wasn't out to get girls. He wanted one girl. Singular. Stay cool. “Vet Med majors are studs, man.”
And he'd thought he'd be able to get through this weekend with total coolness. Oh, how wrong he had been.
Quinn was staring at him, biting her lip as she tried not to giggle. Crashing and burning, Pauling . Fortunately, she saved him from having to flail too hard to find a way to distract her from his utterly toolish behavior. “And Nick is seriously studying aerospace?” She shook her head. “So not what I ever thought he was into.”
“He says he loves to fly, so it was a natural extension of 'boarding.” He shook his head, laughing a little. “I guess I see his logic. And he really does love it. Don't ever ask him about it, though, not if you want to lose hours and hours of your life.” When he let an exaggerated shudder rack his body, he was rewarded with a burst of laughter that mercifully wasn't directed at him. Thank God. “There is a reason the man is single. He took his last date to one of those Italian places with the paper tablecloths, the ones that give you crayons? He started in on diagrams and she suddenly came down with food poisoning.”
She had to sit down and literally hold her sides, she was laughing so hard. “No,” she gasped. “She might have been actually sick.”
“Yeah, they hadn't even made it to the appetizers yet.”
It took them ten minutes to stop laughing at the hapless Nick. Jeff recovered first, taking deep breaths until he was chill. “Okay, enough, you've been hearing about Nick and me since you landed.” He leaned against his roommate's closet door. “So, uh, why no guitar?”
After blinking at him in confusion at the abrupt subject change, Quinn shrugged, flopping down on the unsheeted bed that would be hers for the weekend. “They wanted me to buy an extra seat for it, and that seemed like a pain in the ass for four days.” One hand came up to fidget with her bangs. “I figured if I wanted to play something, someone would have a guitar I could borrow. Anyway, I came to spend time with you, not hide behind my guitar.”
He couldn't help but feel surprised. That guitar had been an extension of Quinn since he'd met her, and her inseparable partner for the last two years. Nudging her feet over, he sat on the end of the bed, reclining against the dorm room wall. “Wow.”
Quinn shrugged, pressing her fingertips together now in random little rhythm patterns, almost like she was playing Itsy Bitsy Spider. “When I came back from Europe, the only friend I had left at home was Sugar. Everyone else was gone.” Her voice was quiet, making him strain to hear her. “I couldn't stand staying at home all the time, Mom's always out at church or work or whatever. So I'd just go out. Go places. And I took my guitar for a while, because, I mean, you know. I took it everywhere.”
He remembered. “Yeah.”
A deep breath lifted her chest while she kept on touching her fingers together. “After I while I realized that people wouldn't approach me. And I wasn't looking at them, ever. I always had my head down and I just...” She trailed off for a moment before pushing herself up to a sitting position next to him, taking his hand in hers and tracing the lines of his palm. “I got lonely. Guitars, they don't talk back. Which was fine for a while when I needed it, but it's not now. So I'm learning how to leave it behind, to let it be an instrument again and not a crutch.”
It was the longest speech Jeff had ever heard her make. Between it and the touch of her fingers on his hand, he was finding it hard to find words. “I know Blaine tells you this all the time, and that I don't do it enough,” he finally said, keeping his eyes fixed on their hands. “But I'm really proud of you, Quinn. You've come a long, long way, and it's awesome.”
He glanced over to see her face going as pink as the tips of her hair. “I'm just doing what I need to do for me,” she said, shrugging. But she looked pleased at the compliment, leaning over to squeeze him into a hug. “Thank you.”
“Any time.” Jeff paused for a moment before hugging back and dropping a kiss on the top of her head. This simple action had always come easily for Blaine, much more so than for him.
He was always afraid of giving too much away.
“So.” He pulled back, hating to break the contact but knowing exactly down to the second how long was too long to touch her. Lacing his fingers together behind his head, he leaned back against the wall. “Tonight's for vegging. I've got all our old favorite movies, snacks in my desk, and there's coffee and soda machines down the hall. Lucy Quinn Fabray, are you ready to get down to the very serious business of chilling out?”
A smile wiped away the sober, introverted expression shadowing her face. “Put in 'The Princess Bride,'” she instructed, nudging him off the bed with her foot. “And tell me where to find clean sheets for my bed.”
Jeff scrambled to his feet, sweeping into an exaggerated bow that made her burst out laughing. “As you wish,” he joked, looking up to make a silly face that made her laugh even harder.
“I don't know how I've lived without you, Jeff,” she confessed when she finally could speak again. “Phones and emails aren't the same.”
“Get yourself admitted here, then,” he replied, only halfway kidding. “We'll see each other all the time. Nick'll love that.” Turning to his roommate's closet, he pulled out a set of neatly folded sheets and tossed them onto the bed before moving to pull out the ancient tape of Quinn's favorite movie. “You'd have a best friend who knows the ropes in the form of yours truly, and a ready-made boyfriend if you ever took Nick up on any of his offers.”
“Yeah, I don't cradlesnatch,” she shot back with a snort, sliding off the bed so she could make it up. “I'd sooner date you, if I ever feel like dating again. I mean, you do have the right idea, puppy doctors are way more awesome than airplane diagrams.”
Jeff froze, hand on the VHS tape. She didn't mean it, he told himself sternly, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to breath steadily. It's never been a thought in her mind, ever, and it never will, and that's okay.
He'd been telling himself this for so, so long that it was all but tattooed on his heart. Because Jeff Pauling had been head over heels for his best friend since his first day at McKinley High their sophomore year.
But Quinn had already been entangled with the first of her on-again off-again turns with Finn Hudson, and Jeff wasn't an idiot, so he shoved his feelings aside and they became friends. Which had always been fine, great, even. Quinn was an awesome friend and amazing person, and it was easy to be her friend.
Then things kept getting worse for her, the situation with Finn sinking to horrible depths, and then Jeff really had no intention of pursuing her. She needed her friends to be her friends too badly. He was more than happy to do that for her, to be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear when she didn't want to call and bother Blaine.
Everyone thought Jeff had been a late bloomer. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
He'd just never seen any other girl other than Quinn.
No one had ever known, least of all her. He'd always been so careful to hide it. She didn't need it, and nothing good could come of her knowing it. Jeff would rather have Quinn in his life as his friend than not at all. Stuffing his feelings down deep and pretending they didn't exist was almost easy in the face of that.
When his admission to Berkeley had arrived, he'd seen it as a chance to try and get over his infatuation. Time and distance would surely help it fade. And his fraternity brothers were more than happy to aid him in finding girls to date. They set him up on countless blind dates with sorority girls, theater majors, even a number of graduate students who had adored their time with the charming blond skater boy from Ohio.
At some point in his freshman year, Jeff had even managed to lose his virginity, and had enjoyed the experience. He'd gone out with Alicia a few times after that, and they'd parted amicably. Because she was nice. They were all nice.
They just...weren't Quinn.
Despite that, Jeff had managed start believing that his time and distance idea might work. That he was starting to put his crush behind him. So in a fit of bravado and delusion, he'd invited Quinn out to California for a buddy weekend. It'd be great, they'd spend the weekend hanging out, partying and chilling and it would be platonic and relaxed and absolutely, totally cool.
His confidence in this vision had lasted right up until she'd shown up at the airport looking all happy, healthy, and gorgeous, and he was gone , as completely gone as if they were fifteen again instead of twenty, and he was falling for her for the first time.
“Yeah!” With a good shake, he came out of his thoughts and hoped he wasn't bright red when he looked over at her. “Sorry. Got lost.”
“I see that.” Her gentle, teasing smile made him feel entirely stupid, froze him in place again as she knelt down next to him to take the movie out of his hands. “Go kick it on the bed. I'll get this started.”
“As you wish,” he said again as he got to his feet, unable to think of anything else. Quinn glanced up at him and grinned.
“Careful with that. I'm gonna start wondering if you really mean 'I love you' when you say that.”
“Can't have that,” he managed to get out, forcing a laugh and a smile. But what he was really thinking was, you have no idea.
Jeff Pauling had never been much of a religious person, but right now seemed like a great time to send up a prayer asking for the strength to get through this weekend without making a complete ass out of himself in front of the girl he'd adored for so long.
One night. One night is all it takes to turn everything upside down.
“How do I look?” Quinn posed in the doorway in her simple black sundress, an exaggerated parody of a model with one hand on her hip and her lips pushed out way too far. Jeff took one look at her and fell out laughing.
“You got a little duck-lip on your face there,” he pointed out wryly. “But otherwise you look totally awesome.”
“Great.” With a wink, she strolled into the room and went to rummage through her bag. “I just want a scrunchy in case my hair gets all sweaty dancing.”
Jeff nodded and focused on buttoning up his shirt, trying not to ogle his friend as she finished getting ready for the Theta Chi party. Friend, friend, friend, friend, he chanted to himself, determinedly not thinking about how this was the first time he'd seen Quinn in a skirt above the knees since she was a Cheerio. It was more than a little distracting.
“Do you think it'll get chilly?” Now Quinn was poking through her clothing in the closet, a frown on her face. “Damn it, I didn't bring a jacket or anything.”
“I'll just lend you my shirt if it does, it's flannel,” he offered gallantly, and then promptly had to recover from the mental image of Quinn in his shirt...and not much else. Jesus fuck. “No sweat.”
“Best friend ever,” she sighed happily, trotting over to stretch up on her tiptoes and plant a kiss on his cheek. “But then you'll get cold.”
He lifted the lapel of the blue plaid shirt to show her the t-shirt underneath. “Duh, layers, Quinn.”
“Ooh, and pockets, gimme.” She grabbed his belt loop and shoved a tube of lip balm into the hip pocket of his jeans. “I've got money and my ID in my bra, but I figured this would melt all over me if I put it in there, so, hold it, okay?”
“Sure.” He picked up a baseball cap and slipped it on, tugging the bill down over the back of his neck. “Ready?”
She spritzed something flowery smelling into her hair and on her wrists, checked her makeup in the mirror and picked up her sandals. “Yep.”
“Okay, then, my lady, your festivities await.” With a wink, Jeff opened the door and checked the hallway for any stray Resident Advisors. Good. The coast was clear. He ushered Quinn out and down the hall to the back staircase everyone used for their contraband guests. In short order, they were downstairs and crossing the lawn together, laughing at the silliness of it all.
“I don't think college would be this fun if I were an actual student,” Quinn chortled, leaning down to wedge her feet into her strappy little shoes. “All the sneaking around and goofing off and partying, none of the tests or homework. It's kind of perfect. Can I come back and do it again?”
“Anytime,” Jeff replied, a grin breaking out across his face as Quinn started to skip on ahead, humming some cheery little tune he didn't recognize.
“And it’s you and me in the summertime,” she sang, spinning to face him while she danced backwards across the green grass, holding both hands out and wiggling her fingers to beckon him closer, eyes bright and smile mischievous. “We’ll be hand in hand down in the park…”
“It’s October,” he called after her, his smile growing even more out of control. Was it possible to love her any more than he did in this moment? She'd never been so magnetic, so alive and whole and amazing.
“It’s fun,” came the floating reply before she ran lightly back to link her arm in his. “That's what this weekend is supposed to be about, right?”
He laughed and shook his head down at her. “Right. You're always right.”
“That's the truth.” She gave one last squeeze to his arm and let go, running off ahead again. “Hurry up, slowpoke, we're going to be late! Come on, try to catch me.”
Like I ever need an invitation to chase after you, Jeff thought, and blushed.
Theta Chi parties weren't quiet affairs on their best days, but tonight was a particularly noisy throwdown, Jeff observed, bobbing his head along to the Sugar Ray song blaring from the overhead speakers.
“Every mornin' there's a heartache hangin' from the corner of my girlfriend's four post bed,” he burbled, still bobbing his head. Huh. Didn't he hate this song? How come he knew all the words?
Closing one eye, Jeff squinted at the red plastic cup in his hand. Hadn't it just been full? He could see the bottom, a few melting ice chips gasping their last over the imprint of the maker's logo. He wondered if it would be a good idea to fill it up again. Probably not, since he wouldn't be able to confirm how many he'd already had, even at gunpoint.
When he looked back up, he remembered why his cup was empty. Quinn sat on one of the battered couches that littered the fraternity house's living room, and she was surrounded by several of his brothers, all of whom were completely smitten with her and vying for her attention like bees in a hive.
This had been the case since they walked through the door of the house two hours ago. Seth Martin, senior and chapter treasurer, had whisked Quinn away from Jeff as soon as they'd arrived. “This has to be the legendary Quinn Fabray,” he'd boomed, shoving a cup into Jeff's hand so that he could shake Quinn's. “Jeff never shuts up about you, but man, he totally didn't do you justice.”
“Oh -” was all Quinn got out, casting a wide-eyed glance of surprise at Jeff over her shoulder as Seth swept her into the party and out of Jeff's sight. Then he'd been accosted by a group of girls, some he'd dated, some he suspected wanted to date him, and that was the last he'd seen of Quinn for a while. Which was fine. They were adults, they'd been to parties before, they didn't have to be joined at each other's hips. It was just fine.
Except that now Seth was leaning a little too closely into Quinn's personal space for Jeff's liking, his arm draped along the back of the sofa while he whispered something in her ear that made her chuckle and turn pink, keeping her eyes fixed on the guitar in her hands – because of course they'd found one for her to play, thanks to Jeff having told them how fantastic a musician she was. It had taken some coaxing and a number of pina colada jello shots, but she'd finally given in and for the last hour or so had been leading her little audience in a singalong of Billboard's Greatests.
Jeff hadn't realized she'd known some of them, he was so used to her singing angry riot grrl anthems and her own catalog of furious songs about Finn. And she was occasionally throwing in cheeky renditions of some of the old favorites like 'You Oughta Know' and 'Seether', but as everyone got progressively more intoxicated, including her, she slowed down to mellower, sweeter songs, like the one she was playing now.
“Kiss me beneath the milky twilight...lead me out on the moonlit floor...”
“Your friend's got Martin eating out of the palm of her hand,” came a cranky little voice from Jeff's elbow, startling him. He looked down to see his ex-girlfriend Alicia standing there, bottom lip pushed out in a sulky pout. Interesting. Apparently she had a thing for Seth. “Half the frat's at her feet. What's her trick?”
Jeff shrugged, returning his gaze to watch Quinn segue into 'Brass In Pocket'. “She doesn't really have tricks. She's just...Quinn.”
Tugging at the end of her silky red ponytail, Alicia examined it for a moment before tossing it back over her shoulder and sighing. “I don't think I can rock the pink tips. Maybe I should take up guitar?”
“Pft. Don't go changing for guys, Ali. You're awesome.” He nudged her with his elbow until she cracked a little smile. Good. They'd parted on good terms, and he still liked her pretty okay. He wanted her to be happy. “And hey, Quinn's leaving Monday, so it's not like Seth actually has a shot at anything with her. You can put a move on him at the next party, right?” She deserved better than Seth, but hey, if that's what she wanted...
“I guess,” she grumbled, offering him her cup of unidentifiable purple stuff. When he recoiled in horror and shook his head, she shrugged and downed it herself. “An' I can always find someone else to hook up with tonight.”
“If you want, I bet you could,” he agreed absently, leaning his head back against the wall. Quinn had paused in her playing to slug back what looked like a huge Long Island Iced Tea, and Jeff wondered just how much she had had to drink. If it was anywhere near as much as he thought he might have had, they were going to have trouble getting back to the dorm.
“You should take a break from babysitting,” Alicia was saying now, and with effort, he tuned back in. “Come dance. Someone brought a killer mix CD of this house stuff they found, it's like a rave in the back yard. There's even glow sticks.”
Experimentally, Jeff pushed off the wall and swayed through a few dance steps. Nope. “Nuh-uh. You just sprouted an imaginary twin. I think I better keep holding this wall up for a while.”
Much to his surprise, Alicia was suddenly leaning up against him, pressing her body close into his and smirking in a way he remembered very, very well. “You could come just...dance with me. In my dorm room.” She slipped her hand between their bodies and slid it down to palm at the fly of his Levi's. “I remember you're pretty good at that kind of dancing, sober or not.”
This wasn't what he'd meant when he told her to hook up with someone else. Oops. “Ali...” He couldn't be less interested. But he didn't want to be rude. “I'm really not...”
“Don't worry about your friend, she's fine, she's a big girl.” She used her free hand to pull his head down closer to hers, flicking her tongue out to dance along his lips. “Seth'll take care of her. She won't even notice you're gone.”
Gently, he tried to disengage. “I really don't want to leave her alone in a strange place.”
Alicia pushed back and rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Oh, come on, Jeff! Why not? We used to have fun. And Jesus, it's not like she didn't leave you alone.”
“What?” Startled, Jeff jerked his head up to look at the sofa.
Quinn and Seth were gone.
It probably isn't a good idea to cockblock an officer of your fraternity, Jeff reflected as he prowled through the Theta Chi house, but fuck it. As far as he was concerned, the welfare of his best friends would always trump frat brothers, period. And Quinn had a tendency to be very agreeable when she'd been drinking, which was not something Seth Martin had any business finding out.
He would do the same thing if it had been Blaine in this position, he told himself. Obviously this had nothing to do with the fact that he was insanely jealous that she'd agreed to go off with Seth in the first place. Noooo.
They weren't in the backyard or the kitchen or the front yard. Nor were they in either of the side dens where the less social usually congregated to play video games. Hoping against hope, Jeff checked the garage, where a noisy pool tournament was taking place, complete with betting that was actually against campus rules.
With a sinking heart, he realized that they had to be in Seth's room upstairs. And he'd wasted so much time looking for them that there was no telling what the senior had been able to talk Quinn into by now. Or out of. Oh, God.
The memory of Quinn in her little black sundress galvanized him into motion, sending him bolting up the stairs where the upperclassmen had their rooms. Seth's door was at the end of the hall, and the only one that was closed. With a deep breath and no second thoughts whatsoever, Jeff barged right through it.
“What the hell...Pauling!” Seth barked, squinting against the light streaming in from the hallway. “Get out! This is private.”
Jeff ignored him, his focus immediately drawn to where Quinn lay on the bed under Seth, one strap of her sundress drooping down her shoulder and her mouth scuffed pink from kissing. She seemed absolutely delighted to see him. “Jeff! I was just thinking I needed you,” she giggled, waving her hand limply. “Seth kissed all my lip stuff off. And I didn't have any more 'cause you have it so I was gonna come get you but we were having fun. But you're here!”
“Yeah. I'm here. You wanna go?” Jeff stepped forward and stretched out his hand, moving slowly while his eyes adjusted to the gloomy darkness of the room. This wasn't a comfortable situation at all. “I think we should go, so you can sleep the drink off, Quinn.”
“Pauling, give her the stupid lip crap and get out,” Seth snarled, impatience in his voice. “She's having fun, you heard her.”
Jeff stopped. Okay, that was about ten kinds of not okay. Unfortunately, Seth had a good fifty pounds on him and was at Berkeley on a rugby scholarship. Plus he'd been drinking. This had to be handled very carefully and very quickly, because he wanted Quinn out of there.
“Yeah, I did hear her,” he agreed finally, choosing his words with care. “But I know her. You don't. I know if I let her do this while she's wasted, she will kill me in the morning.” This was actually true. He didn't want to get beaten up by Seth, but he'd take it over having to face a hungover, compromised Quinn. He stuck his hands in his pockets. “And, dude, I am sorry. I really am. But she scares me more than you do.”
“Yeah? Because I can make you pay for this.” Seth still had one hand on Quinn's hip, close to her butt, and he started to slip it underneath the hem of her skirt. Jeff began to see red. Rugby jock be damned, that was going too far. “You have no idea what kind of hell I can make your life.”
“I'll take my chances,” Jeff managed to get out around a knot of acid rage in his throat, balling his fists up. “I can live through hell, death's more permanent.” He didn't trust himself to get any closer to the bed, even though he really wanted to just tug Quinn out of Seth's grasp and run. He was afraid he'd punch the upperclassman if he moved even one step nearer. “Quinn?”
“Can we go get pizza? I'm hungry.” Taking the decision out of both their hands, Quinn shoved Seth away and lurched to her feet. “Oooh, or pancakes.”
“We'll find you something,” Jeff promised, slinging an arm around her shoulder and escorting her out of the room without another look at Seth. It was hard not to heave a huge sigh of relief. No one had had to bleed, awesome. “Even if it's just snacks back at my room. I don't think either of us is in any shape to like, go anywhere far.”
“Mm. Fine.” She rolled her eyes and smiled at him, in the next instant grabbing for the banister on the staircase. “Oops.”
“I win that argument, I guess.” He took a better hold of her arm and steered her carefully down through the crowd of partygoers. “I think I better piggyback you back to the dorm. Shoes off.” He still felt a little drunk, but the adrenaline of the confrontation had burned some of it away, enough that he thought he'd be mostly okay carrying her back.
She held on to his arm and pried the sandals off when they got to the front porch. As she straightened back to standing, a stiff breeze kicked up, fluttering her skirt and hair. “Fuck! That's cold.”
“Oh.” Remembering his promise from earlier, Jeff made quick work of unbuttoning his flannel and slipping it over her shoulders. “There. And I'll get us back fast as I can. Jump on.” Crouching down, he waited for her to climb up on his back and wrap her arms snugly around his neck before putting a hand under each of her slender thighs and gripping securely. “Ready?”
“Hi-ho, Silver, away!” she squealed, yanking his baseball cap off his head and slapping it onto her own. Wow, she was totally shitfaced. Jeff held back a laugh – a feat made fairly simple by the fact that he was incredibly distracted by having Quinn pressed up on his back and in his hands.
She kicked her feet idly as he trotted back in the general direction of the dorms. It was usually a ten or fifteen minute walk, but he'd never made the trip with an inebriated girl strapped to his back before. Not that he minded, at least not when it was this girl. Although... “You're feeling okay, right? You're not gonna puke down my back?”
“Nope. Feeling good. Feelin' goooo-oo-oooood.” She hugged at his neck. “I was havin' fun with Seth. Mm. He's a good kisser.”
Well, that took some of the wind out of his sails. “I bet.”
“Kiss me out of the bearded barley, nightly beside the green green grass,” she sang, hiccupping a little. “Hey, we're on green grass.”
“Sure are.” He kept plodding forward, trying to not think about Quinn kissing anyone. He'd gotten pretty good at that over the last few years, but tonight he was still a little drunk and she was cuddly and happy and still singing into his ear, and that made it a little difficult to block out mental images of her kissing Finn...and Seth...and Puck...and the wishful ones of her kissing him.
“You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.” She lapsed into silence, snuggling closer with a sigh, her breath warming the back of his neck. “Wanna know something?”
“That's the first time I kissed anyone since Finn. Wanted to just do it. Get it over with.”
Oh. Jeff adjusted his grip on her legs, suddenly feeling even more awkward. Great. He'd let his macho jealousy get in the way of something that was important to his best friend. What a fucking asshole. “And it was fun?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, kissing is fun.” He felt her shrug. “Kinda wanted to do more, too.”
Oh, God. He was going to die. He was going to die a profoundly unhappy man. And an asshole. “So I shouldn't have taken you away?” Shit. “I'm sorry, Quinn.”
Another shrug. “Nah. 'S fine. Prob'ly...prob'ly not a good idea for it to be...just some guy.” She rested her cheek on his shoulder and he could almost hear her thinking. “I dunno.”
You couldn't really hug a person when you were carrying them on your back, but Jeff gave it his best shot, squeezing Quinn's knees into his sides. “Do what you want when you want to, Quinn,” he replied softly, ignoring how it sent little pangs through his heart to say it. “All that's ever mattered is you being happy.”
“You're sweet,” she sighed, and then said nothing more. Jeff's sneakers crunched across the dry grass, almost to the end of their journey. The dorms were in sight. He'd get them both some water, some aspirin, stick a trash can by her bed just in case, and then they'd go to sleep. Probably it would be best to leave her in her clothes. If she woke up in the middle of the night sober, she could change them herself if she felt like it.
Life was hard enough without undressing the drunk best friend he'd been in love with for way too long.
Quinn was still silent when he carefully helped her slide down off his back at the rear door of the residence hall and poked his head inside to glance around. No sign of trouble, good. He took her hand in his and guided her carefully up the stairs. It looked like she was sobering up a tiny bit, maybe. At least her walking seemed steadier, a little more deliberate with each step up. Good. This would have been a much more considerably difficult trip if he had to carry her up the stairs.
He opened the door and gently nudged her inside – but before he could flip the lights on, Quinn grabbed his arm. “You're not just some guy,” she whispered with a smile, tossing her sandals aside.
Jeff felt his mouth go dry. “What?”
“You.” One hand came up to touch his cheek, the other to grab a fistful of his t-shirt and pull him close. “You're not just some guy.” She used her grip on his shirt to pull him down, and then the kiss she laid on him almost laid him out flat.
She tasted like pineapple jello and rum and the faintest trace of vanilla lip balm.
“Quinn.” He broke the kiss, pushing her gently back and trying to calm his breathing, to tell his heart to race less. “I don't think...”
“I don't want you to think.” She pulled him down again, her lips brushing against his. “I don't want to think. I haven't done this in a while...” Their noses bumped together, eskimo kisses while she whispered. “Pretty sure it goes better if you don't think.”
The one girl he could never say no to, though he knew he probably should. And if they hadn't both been drinking, if he wasn't too far in love with her, if being so close to her for the last day hadn't rekindled all things he'd ever felt for her and stoked the flames higher, he might say no, might stop her -
But she was kissing him again, her tongue slipping gently in to probe and taste, her lips sucking gently at his, and the whole while her hands stayed fisted in his shirt and she held him so close to her that you couldn't have fit a sheet of paper between them. Jeff just couldn't...he couldn't...
“Quinn,” he pleaded, pulling his head away. “You've been drinking, we've been drinking, we shouldn't...”
“If I wanted to stop you, I'd stop you.” She stepped back and shrugged her shoulders, letting his flannel shirt slide down her arms and fall to the floor. “In case you missed it, I'm not stopping you.”
“I want it.” Her voice was blurred but firm, her actions loose and decisive all at once as she tugged at the hem of his t-shirt until he lifted his arms to let her get it off of him. The moonlight streaming through the blinds illuminated her face, her green eyes widening in wonder as she let her fingers trace over his abdomen. “Wow. You were hiding this all these years?”
Jeff's head was spinning with want and need and love and worry...and alcohol. “I don't want -”
“You've never thought about it once?” In an instant her dress was up and over her head, leaving her in a lacy black bra and a pair of star spangled blue cotton panties. Reaching up, she placed her hands on either side of his head and pressed herself up close to him again, opening her mouth under his, to whisper the unbelievable just before kissing him yet again. “Really?”
Only every day. Only all the time.
Quinn's fingers clumsily unbuckled his belt, pulled the button-fly of his jeans open. Jeff managed to kick off his shoes and step out of the jeans without falling over and crushing her, and then they were as close to naked as they had ever been in each other's presence, and oh, God, she was beautiful and smiling and tugging him over to his bed.
“Kiss me...” she sang quietly, a teasing smile on her lips as she pulled him down on top of her.
“I did,” he mumbled, confused and still trying to understand that this was happening. That Quinn was in his arms, that her legs were tangled in with his, that her hips were tilting up to press against him, that there was almost nothing between them.
“No, I kissed you.” Her fingers skimmed through his hair. “I want you to kiss me.”
Jeff paused, cradling her face in his palms, letting his fingertips stroke her temples. “If I do it, I won't stop, Quinn, I want...”
“Jeff...” With a sigh and a sweet smile, she pulled him down until their foreheads touched. “Please.”
He gave up. Or gave in, whichever made it okay to dip his head down and let their lips meet, to let his tongue slip softly against hers. He'd kissed half a dozen girls or more since he'd come to Berkeley, but this was just like kissing for the first time all over again...except better.
Quinn's hand caught at his and brought it up to cover her breast, guiding his thumb to scrape over her nipple, and Jeff let out a groan, rolling his hips to press in to hers as the sensitive nub tightened under his finger. A low chuckle escaped her mouth, she lifted her hips up and pushed more firmly against where he was so hard it almost hurt, and after that...
...after that, no one was laughing, and there were no more words, only quiet groans muffled with more kisses, happy sighs, and falling to pieces in each other's arms.
Something isn't right.
It took him a minute to realize he was curled around a pillow. Jeff had gone to sleep with Quinn wrapped in his arms, but now she was gone and he was hugging a pillow. Confused, he sat up and tossed the pillow aside, blinking until his blurry morning vision cleared.
Quinn was sitting on his roommate's bed, staring out the window with a vaguely blank expression on her face. Her fingers twitched as if flicking ash from an imaginary cigarette.
“I haven't had a cigarette since Ibiza,” she murmured softly, a tiny smile playing on her lips. The sun coming through the glass lit the pink tips of her hair like fire, making a halo around her pretty, pretty face. “This is the first time since then I wish I had one. So I'd have something to do with my hands.” She glanced at her fingers and laughed, short and gentle.
Leaning over the edge of his bed, Jeff groped for his boxers and awkwardly slid them on before getting out of bed and padding over to sit by her. “Quinn.”
She kept looking out the window, but gestured to the end table. “I got you coffee in that funky little vending machine down the hall. Cream. No sugar.”
He reached his hand out toward her shoulder, pulled back right before touching her. “Quinn,” he said again, his heart sinking.
“Don't worry, no one saw me.” He watched her take a deep breath and bite her lip before turning to face him, a glaze of tears dimming the green of her eyes. “Jeff, let's just...can we just...” Catches in her voice punctuated her sentences at odd intervals as she spoke. “Can we go back? To yesterday. The day before. Just...before.”
It stung. Jeff was almost surprised at how much. “You think last night was a mistake?”
“No. Never.” The shake of her head was short but vehement, and ended with her hair settling around to conceal her face as she went on. “I was just...happy, before. Comfortable. I don't want to fuck that up, I don't...” Another deep breath lifted her shoulders and shuddered out in a sigh. “I'm not ready to change who we are into something we could lose. I didn't mean for it...”
Jeff didn't know what to do, what to think or say. It felt like he was trying to grab on to a receding wave that was slipping through his fingers. “But last night...”
“Was amazing.” Quinn lifted her head and shook back her hair. “I just feel...I feel like we should leave it. Just make it a one time thing and go back to how things were. Let's not let it change things.”
But I want to let it change things, he protested mentally, resisting the urge to kiss her until she changed her mind. He knew her so well. When Quinn made her mind up, that stayed made.
He should have known better last night, should have known this would happen, but he'd let ridiculous hope take over. He'd actually thought that maybe it could lead to more like he'd always wanted.
Life wasn't the movies. Why hadn't he remembered that?
Jeff nodded, getting to his feet to look for a clean t-shirt. “Okay.”
“Okay?” The relief in her voice was so clear, so sharp he could almost reach out and touch it, let it cut him. Jeff turned away to hide how much it hurt.
“Yeah. It's great. You're right.” With effort, he nailed a smile onto his face before tugging on a shirt and turning back around. “It never happened.”
In the cold light of day with a thousand miles safely between them, Quinn and Jeff do their best to sort out what the weekend's events will mean to their friendship.
“Sprite with cranberry,” Quinn ordered from the flight attendant before popping her earbuds in and sinking back into her seat. With a push of a button on her Discman, Courtney Love's screaming guitars filled her ears and reverberated through her brain, obliterating both rational and naggingly irrational thought.
It was possible that she had taken her determination to have fun this weekend a little too far.
Quinn closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose against the headache that was beginning to throb behind her eyes. She'd just wanted to overcome one last personal hurdle. Visiting Jeff at school and hooking up with some guy she'd never have go see again had seemed like the perfect solution. It wasn't supposed to have turned into hooking up with Jeff.
She'd missed a pretty crucial step in there.
A sigh bubbled up from the pit of her stomach, catching the flight attendant's attention. “Everything all right, hon?”
“It's fine.” Quinn nailed a smile onto her face as she pulled one of her headphones out. “Cookies, please.”
“Certainly.” Her drink and a packet of Oreos were placed on her tray table, joined shortly by a second packet of cookies and a wink from the attendant. “Love the hair,” he whispered before pushing his cart on. Quinn forced another smile and a nod before shoving her earbud back in and closing her eyes.
The hair, the clothing, the makeup, the plans for the weekend – all calculated to make her look and act different in the hopes that she'd feel different, that she'd shake the restless irritability that had dogged her footsteps since she'd returned from Europe months ago. And it had worked, to a degree, she did feel lighter and a little more optimistic, and less... arranged somehow. All the punky stuff from the last several years had been fun, but it had become effort, like an armor she was getting tired of wearing. Yet she hadn't wanted to go back to being cheerleader Quinn, seeking popularity and power at any cost. That Quinn had actually been as desperately unhappy as riot grrl Quinn had looked, and wasn't an experience that today's Quinn was interested in repeating in the least.
But not knowing who she really was had left her with that nagging aimless drift, and then had apparently led her to sleep with one of her best friends. A good idea at the time, as all alcohol fueled ideas tended to be, but worrisome in the cold light of day. Sleep with Jeff! her jello-shot addled brain had squealed. It's perfect! You know Jeff! Jeff is nice, you trust Jeff, this is a big step that should totally not be taken with a stranger.
And while she did appreciate the logic of it, and while it had been in fact an incredibly good experience – the Jeff she and Blaine had sent off to Berkeley as a slightly oblivious virgin had obviously spent the last year making up for lost time and how - it just seemed like the kind of thing that could rock and change a friendship. And that was the last thing Quinn wanted. She felt anchorless enough already without losing one of the people who had pulled her through the darkest time of her life.
She loved Jeff, of course she did, but not like that . She couldn't afford to. Hadn't ever thought about it - well, maybe once or twice, when she was feeling really down, she'd wondered a little if it might be nice to date him. He might have been up for it, who knew? Quinn knew it would have been a sweet experience. Because Jeff was a sweet guy. You knew what you were getting with him.
But in the end she needed him more as a friend. It was too scary to think of doing anything that might lose her that friendship.
So she'd begged him to forget it had happened, and he had agreed, and she hoped that it would be enough. Enough that it wouldn't change their friendship and enough that maybe it would get her over the hump of reaching out and dating again.
Hopefully whoever was next would know what they were doing as well as Jeff had. Quinn squirmed in her seat at the memory of callused fingers scuffing across the sensitive skin of her inner thigh, slipping and curling under the leg band of her panties, sinking into the soft, wet warmth of her -
Quinn's eyes flew open and she took a large gulp of her drink, cursing that she wasn't old enough for alcohol. The best she could do was to take a Tylenol PM and turn her music up even louder, ignoring the frown of the business man in the next seat. Whatever, he hadn't had her life, he could suck it up.
Yeah, okay, this wasn't good. No matter how good the actual sex had been (and oh God it had been so much better than it had ever been with Finn or even Puck, and she was finally wholly grateful to Rachel for taking Finn off her hands), it just made things awkward. Quinn Fabray did not need awkward. She chewed on her bottom lip, trying not to think about how it had felt to have Jeff nibbling and sucking at it, catching her gasps as his fingers moved inside – no, no, no.
She refused to dwell on this. Yes, she'd wondered what it might be like to date Jeff. Yes, she had wondered once or twice what it might be like to sleep with him. But it had to stop there. At wondering. And if she knew what was good for her, Quinn would stop doing even that. Bad enough she was considering dating. That was plenty frightening without thinking about dating in conjunction with one of your best friends.
Okay. Fine. It would take some time to put it behind them, but they'd do it. They'd survived much worse, they were both adults, everything was going to be fine. There had been a discussion, agreement, and they wouldn't see each other until at least Christmas, if the Paulings decided to stay in Ohio. Plus Kurt and Blaine would be home, too, it would be just like old times, just like it had always been.
Everything was going to be fine.
They were going to forget it ever happened.
Now, why was that such a depressing thought?
“What did you do to Quinn?” Nick shoved the door to Jeff's dorm room open with so much force, it bounced off the wall and swung back to hit him smack in the knee. A grimace creased his face as he tried again and limped through the doorway. “Fuck, ow.”
Jeff didn't look up from his Spanish take-home quiz, partly because he actually was trying to finish it before class, but mostly because he didn't trust himself to lie to Nick with a straight face. “I didn't do anything.
Lies, his brain mocked, making his cheeks burn at the memory of Quinn grabbing his hands up to cup her breasts, showing him how she liked to have his thumbs brush over – no. No. They had agreed to forget it. Jeff reached discreetly to adjust his suddenly too-interested dick while Nick ranted.
“Bullshit,” his friend was griping, pacing the tiny room with his thick brown hair sticking out in all directions from where he'd agitatedly combed through it with his fingers. “It's an hour drive from here to the airport, and I didn't get a word out of her between 'hey there' and 'have a safe trip back.' So what gives, Pauling?”
Picking up his yellow highlighter, Jeff concentrated too intently on outlining the 'Points To Remember' section in his textbook. “It was a really busy weekend, man. You know Quinn gets quiet when she's tired.” And noisy when she – damn it, no. Jeff was resolutely not remembering how he'd had to cover Quinn's mouth with his own to silence both her moans and his.
“Yeah, well, if that's really all it was, you'd be looking at me.” Out of the corner of his eye, Jeff watched Nick crossing his arms over his chest, looking belligerent and clearly not prepared to let this topic drop any time soon. “So, how come you won't look at me?”
“I'm doing my homework,” Jeff mumbled, knowing full well that he wasn't going to get away with evasion for much longer. Still, he owed it to himself and Quinn to give it his best effort.
He'd promised her he would forget it. No matter how much it had hurt, he had made that promise.
“You speak better Spanish than anyone but the head of Linguistics,” came Nick's exasperated snap seconds before he stomped over to yank Jeff's textbook right off the desk. “So fuck that, Jeff. Tell me what's going on.”
Jeff held up his hands and pushed back from his desk. “Dude, I know you have a thing for Quinn, but you're crossing the line here. She's my best friend -”
“Yeah, well, she's my friend too, so fuck you.” Nick's face was red as he hauled Jeff to his feet by his shirt front. “What the fuck did you do?”
Now Jeff was just as angry as Nick as he pulled himself free, shoving his buddy hard into the closet door. “Get out.”
“Not until you tell me what's going on!” In seconds, Nick was right back in Jeff's face, and that was it.
“I slept with her, okay? Is that what you wanted to hear? I slept with Quinn! That's what happened, Nick.”
The words bounced and echoed around the tiny room and landed between them with a thud. The only sound was Nick's swift sucking intake of shocked breath as his eyes widened – and then burned with fury. And to make matters worse, the door swung open again at that moment to reveal Jeff's roommate Sebastian, hands full of lacrosse gear and a sardonic grin on his face.
“I hope you did that in your bed, Pauling, because I kind of thought the 'no fucking' thing was implied when I agreed to let your friend sleep in mine.”
“Girlfriend!” Sugar Motta's piercing shriek made Quinn cringe, but she dutifully accepted the other girl's enthusiastic hug. It didn't last long, fortunately, as Sugar pulled back with her nose wrinkled in distaste. “Girl. You smell like coach class.”
“Not all of us care what seat we sit in to fly from one place to another, Sugar.” Quinn couldn't help but be amused by Sugar's spoiled brattiness sometimes. It was like observing an entirely different species of human. Homo riche, maybe. “All I care about is that I didn't go Greyhound.”
“You'd be walking if you did, babe. No offense, but I'm pretty sure I can't get bus stench outta leather upholstery.” A delicate shudder racked her tiny frame, setting the miniscule bells tied into her perfectly highlighted brown hair to jingling. She'd adopted a sort of India-hippie-mystic vibe as of late that made Quinn's head hurt when she thought too hard about the Gucci purses and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses that Sugar saw no problem accessorizing her 'distressed genuine peasant cotton' ensembles with. “I'm gonna get the Bug detailed after this as it is.”
Quinn let out a chuckle despite her general off mood. “Suit yourself, it's your money.”
“It's Daddy's,” Sugar corrected, grabbing at Quinn's wrist and pulling her towards baggage claim. She was practically vibrating with impatience, and Quinn dreaded the interrogation that was without doubt right around the corner. After all, it had been Sugar and a stack of Cosmos that had helped prompt this weekend in the first place – obviously the younger girl had a vested interest in the results.
Quinn just...didn't quite know how to explain it all.
But too late. Sugar was speedwalking to baggage claim, forcing Quinn to trot to keep up. “Okay, so, you gotta tell me everything. Don't spare a detail. Did it work? Did you do the deed?” She bounced like an overexcited Chihuahua, squeezing Quinn's arm in her enthusiasm. “Did you wear the dress? What was the guy like? You didn't pick a gorilla like Finn, right? Omigod, Quinn, you gotta tell me all of it now or I will like, die .”
“Okay, okay.” Quinn racked her brain for a way to prolong the reveal as long as she possibly could. “Um, can it wait till we're in the car, though? Because I do not want you screaming all about my private business in public and you know you will, because you do that when you're excited.”
Sugar sulked, but did not deny the truth of Quinn's point. “Ugh, fine.” Her lower lip pushed out in a pout as she slowed her roll down to a grumbling stalk. “Was it good, at least? Tell me it was good.”
“I like how you assume it happened.” They arrived at baggage and Quinn was gratified to see that the luggage gods were with her once again, as her enormous travel pack came scooting down the conveyor belt as soon as she was standing next to it. She heaved it onto her back without even a token offer of help from her friend – not that, in all honesty, she'd really expected one. She scooped her little carry-on back up and they set off for the parking garage.
Sugar rolled her eyes. “Of course it happened. I don't make plans that don't happen, Fabray, even if I am not there to enforce them. Anyway, I know you did it, it's all over your face. So there.”
“Still not talking till we're in the car with the windows rolled up.” God, she had no idea how she was going to survive the two hour car ride from Columbus to Lima. This was going to be the most miserable interrogation ever.
“Honey, we're stopping for lunch. No way am I going to try concentrating on driving and listening to you tell me how my awesome plan worked. At least an hour. Don't worry, Daddy's treat.”
“So...you knew how I felt about Quinn, and you slept with her anyway.”
Nick's voice was gritty with barely repressed anger, and it made Jeff drop his head and sigh, running his hands through his hair. “It wasn't like that, Nick. It just happened. We'd both had kind of a lot to drink and there was a situation that night with Seth -”
“Yeah, I know, he totally won't stop talking about how he's gonna get you for cockblocking him.” Nick snorted from his supine position on Jeff's bed. “Didn't know you did it just so you could get her for yourself.”
“It wasn't. Like. That,” Jeff repeated with a snarl, tired of trying to calm Nick down. Sebastian had pretty quickly excused himself when he realized the situation was not going to be something he could defuse with jokes. Citing a desperate need for a shower, he'd dumped off all his lacrosse equipment and ditched them about 45 minutes ago. Even given Sebastian's penchant for cleanliness that rivaled Jeff's, that seemed a little long for a shower, and Jeff wished he'd come back to try breaking up the tension again. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
“I don't know, man.” A sneer twisted Nick's normally openly friendly face. “Till I believe you didn't do it to be a dick.”
“Dude!” Jeff yanked his head up out of his hands and stared at his friend. “We've known each other for way too long for you to even think that! What the fuck?”
“There's a code, man! You don't sleep with girls you know your buddy's interested in!” Nick shook his head. “You broke the code.”
Wow. Seriously, just, wow. He'd had more than enough of this – Nick had been whining for the last thirty minutes straight, and Jeff was already on edge. “Okay, as you pointed out? You have known Quinn for years. The statute of limitations on whatever claim you think you had has totally run out, Duval.”
“She was with Finn for -”
“And second of all,” Jeff went on, overriding Nick's rebuttal, “She's never shown any return interest in you despite you being super embarrassingly obvious that you like her, okay? Plus really...you barely know her. I've had a better chance than you from day one, so just shut up, okay?” He rubbed a hand down his face. “I don't want to fight about this. It's just a thing that happened, it wasn't on purpose, I didn't do it to dick with you. Nick...” Jeff swallowed, hard. “I could actually use a friend right now.”
But Jeff knew right away he'd pushed it too hard before asking for help. Because the way Nick was turning red with his anger at the logic let him know he wasn't going to get a friend. Nick lunged to his feet. “Fine,” he snapped, slamming out the door. “Whatever helps you live with yourself, asshole.”
With that, he was gone, and Jeff trudged wearily over to flop down on his bed. Yay. More complications. Just what he liked.
Sebastian poked his head in. “Coast clear?”
Jeff glared up at his roommate. “Yeah. Thanks for the help.”
“Mediating skater-bro fights is totally not in the roommate contract.” He sauntered through the little room in a towel and flip flops, headed for his closet. With the nonchalance of an athlete who'd grown up in locker rooms, Sebastian stripped off his towel and stood around naked while poking through his wardrobe. “So you slept with your best friend? Was that the plan?”
“No.” Sitting back up, Jeff glared again. “The plan was to have fun.”
“Okay.” Sebastian shrugged. “Was it not fun, then?”
“Not the point, dude!” He was pretty sure he'd never felt so misunderstood in his life. Then again, he'd rarely been so incoherent in explaining himself. God, what an incredibly confusing several days this had been. “It wasn't supposed to happen.”
Sebastian pulled a pair of boxers out of his closet and slid into them. “Alcohol has a funny way of facilitating shit that's not supposed to happen,” he replied mildly. It was hard to rattle Sebastian, which was usually one of the good reasons to have him as a roommate. Today, however, his preternatural calm was positively irritating. “I mean, I assume alcohol was involved, anyway. Whatever. The real trick is dealing with the fallout sober. How's that working out for you?”
“Like a charm. You saw.” Jeff waved a hand at the door. He was pretty sure he could actually see smoke trails left in Nick's wake. “Nick's pissed.”
“He have a claim on her?” His roommate tugged a rugby shirt over his head before rummaging out a pair of jeans. “Or did he just want one?”
Watching Sebastian reminded Jeff that he still had one more class for the day to get through, and he hauled himself off of the bed, frowning at his incomplete Spanish test. Well, Se ñ ora Weber liked him, he could probably wheedle an extra day for the damn thing. “He just wanted one,” he answered absently. “He's crushed on her since she came with Blaine and me to our first meet ages ago. Never did anything about it.”
“So it'll blow over, then. Eventually.” Reaching under his bed, Sebastian yanked out a pair of Adidas and began lacing them on. “How long have you crushed on her?”
Jeff opened his mouth to object, but one look at his roommate's too-knowing expression had him snapping it back shut just as fast. There was never putting anything over on Sebastian Smythe, he had a bullshit detector that was a legend campus-wide after even just a single year at Berkeley. He'd cultivated it out of necessity – you didn't become Dalton Academy's premier supplier of flawless fake ID's without knowing who you were selling to. The Westerville police had never been able to catch him.
And so the only possible answer was the truth. “Since sophomore year,” he admitted, turning away to stuff his books into his backpack. “I never meant to do anything about it. She had too much going on.”
Sebastian kept watching him while getting his own books together. “So what do you do now?”
“I don't know. She wants to forget it.” Two days and it still hurt. “I guess that, for now.”
“Is that gonna work for you?” Slinging his pack over his shoulder, Sebastian tipped his head, looking curious. “Like, are you going to be okay?”
“It'll work for now.” But Jeff kept his head down, searching through his backpack to find his earbuds for the long walk to Spanish class. “I'll figure it out later.” Remembering he'd gone to sleep with music on last night, he turned towards his bed to feel under his pillow, checking to see if they were there.
He pulled out both his earbuds – and the shirt he'd loaned to Quinn after they left the party. Lifting it to his nose, he sniffed at it.
It still smelled faintly of flowers. Jeff closed his eyes and sighed.
A hand hit him flat in the center of his chest. “Here. Use one of these tonight, compliments of the house.” Sebastian was pressing what felt like a selection of drivers' licenses to his chest. “I think you'll look most like Aldous Hustler, but the name might tip 'em off if you go anywhere halfway decent. Maybe try the Chaz Donaldsworth one. No one's used it yet.”
Prying his eyes back open, Jeff inspected the cards. “Yeah...not your best work. I'll pass.”
“Gimme a couple of days. I never thought you needed one before, but man, if anyone can use a night of cheap beer, it's you. Because buddy, you are gone.” Sebastian gestured to the shirt in Jeff's hand. “If you don't know that yet, you better come to terms with it and figure out what you're going to do about it.” With a wink and a shoulder clap, he was out the door, loping off to his Biology class.
Jeff just covered his face with his hand again and sighed, grateful that at least Sebastian hadn't been there that morning when he found Quinn's lip balm in his laundry basket.
Vanilla. He'd never taste it again without thinking of her.
Sugar's eyes were wide – never mind seeing them from right across the table, Quinn was pretty sure even the Hubble telescope was picking them up from space. “That wasn't in the plan,” Sugar was gasping, clutching at her glass of Coke. “Sleeping with Jeff wasn't in the plan. We had a plan , Quinn!”
“Best laid plans of mice and men...” Quinn offered, only to sigh when Sugar continued to gaze at her in horror. “Alcohol! There was alcohol in the plan, I had alcohol, the plan changed.”
“Uh, yeah it did.” It was a testament to how appalled Sugar was that she put her forehead right down on the tablecloth at the Mexican restaurant they'd stopped at – and she didn't even wipe it off first. “Oh, my God. What a fuckin' mess.”
Quinn privately agreed, but she took a deep breath and maintained the calm, Zen smile she frequently found herself employing in Sugar's presence. “We talked about it and we both agreed that we were going to forget it happened. No mess. It's fine.”
The look on Sugar's face when she lifted her head back up begged to differ. “Yeah, um, no, it's not. Hi, were you not watching 'When Harry Met Sally' with me just last week?”
“Er...” No, she hadn't exactly been paying attention. It had really not been her kind of movie, though Sugar had sure seemed to eat it right up. Quinn had kept her nose stuck in one of the copies of Cosmo Sugar had brought over, growing increasingly grossed out over a lot of the sex tips and horror stories she was finding in it.
Getting on the plane to go to California at all with those memories haunting her had been sort of an accomplishment, really.
“Ugh, totally hopeless.” Sugar grabbed a handful of chips and shoved them right into her mouth, speaking around the crumbs and rolling her eyes. “So, like, suffice it to say? Best friends sleeping together leads nowhere good. It fucks everything up for a long time. And, like, Harry and Sally got through it but I don't think you got any long term plans with Jeff, right?”
“No.” Quinn failed to see what that had to do with anything. “Which is fine, because we agreed that it didn't happen.”
Sugar looked like she wanted to lunge across the table and strangle Quinn. Quinn almost hoped she tried, she hadn't been to gymnastics class in a while but she was pretty sure she could take Sugar on and right now, she was so annoyed that she needed an outlet for her irritation. Bring it , she silently thought, only to be disappointed when Sugar simply reached for another handful of chips.
“You don't get it, 'cause you never dated anyone but Finn. And Puck, if you can count that, I guess.” This time, Sugar took a minute to chew and swallow before continuing with her explanation. “Hooking up with buddies is always a no-no unless you plan on making it a thing, Quinnster. Because I'll lay ya 10 to 1 odds that Jeff's got some kinda crush on you.”
Quinn could not help but snort. “You have got to be kidding. I'd know if he did.”
“Nah. Maybe he doesn't even know.” Sugar shrugged. “But guy friends can't just be guy friends. Doesn't happen. Deep down, every straight guy wants to sleep with his lady friends. Even if he never says it out loud. And then stuff gets messed up because he's in love. Or he thinks he's in love. Or he thinks he wants to be in love.”
“You officially watch too many girly movies and I'm cutting off your subscription to Cosmo,” Quinn retorted, picking up her diet Coke. “That is completely ridiculous. And totally insulting! All guys are not the same, Sugar.” She shook her head, still amazed. “Besides. I told you. We're on the same page. Jeff would never have agreed to forget about this...thing...if he didn't mean it.”
“Jeff would start collecting Beanie Babies if you were the one telling him to do it, Quinn.” The look on Sugar's face said, quite eloquently, You are a total dumbass if you think otherwise. “Even if he doesn't have feelings for you – and I still say he does, because you're hot and he's a guy – he's just super nice in general. Even nicer than Blaine. He'll go along with anything if we just smile at him pretty. Remember how I could always get him to take my shifts at the skate shop?”
Quinn did. For a while it had made her think that Jeff had a thing for Sugar, but then she realized it was just Jeff being Jeff. He interacted around girls so rarely back then that it had been confusing.
He was nice. And agreeable. The kindest guy she knew, as Sugar had pointed out, next to Blaine.
Oh, God, this conversation was exactly as painful as she had thought it was going to be. And it was confusing her no end. Quinn took a deep breath and set her cup back down. “This is stupid, Sugar. Jeff is my friend. He's not an idiot, he doesn't have feelings for me, and we're going to be fine. This weekend was a thing that happened, and you know, maybe I can use it to my advantage. It wasn't bad, it was nice that it happened with someone I trusted. Now maybe I can branch out.”
Just like she'd told herself on the plane. Good girl , Quinn thought to herself, giving herself a little mental pat on the back. Stick to your guns .
And hope to God Sugar doesn't start asking questions about your feelings.
Because that, Quinn was starting to realize, might be a bigger problem.
With communication slowing to almost a standstill between Jeff and Quinn already, it's up to Sebastian and Sugar to try and talk sense into their friends.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
From: Quinn [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Jeff P. [email@example.com]
Subject: Miss you already!
Wanted to thank you again for a really great weekend. Had so much fun and it was amazing seeing you!
Let's not go that long again, right?
Give Nick a hug for me. :)
Jeff pushed back away from the desk in the computer lab and sighed. He didn't know why he'd expected anything different. Polite, cheerful email. Not one mention of Saturday night.
She really did want to forget it had happened.
He'd known that would be the case – when Quinn made up her mind, it stayed made up – but it still stung. Still, he had to respond at some point - he hadn't trusted himself to do so like a rational human being for the last two days, and she was going to start wondering. Fighting for calm, Jeff fired off a short reply, shut down the Mac he'd been using and slumped out of the lab. He felt like doing nothing so much as playing video games until he passed out asleep. Sebastian would undoubtedly judge him hard for it, but whatever. Jeff had stuck by his roommate's side last spring during a huge debacle when his long distance relationship with some guy he'd dated in high school had ended. Sebastian could cope.
The man himself was sprawled across his tiny bed when Jeff finally trudged into the room a half hour later. Glancing up from his Philosophy text book, Sebastian took one look at his roommate and threw the book aside, sitting up and reaching for his shoes. “Beer time,” was all he said, lacing up his sneakers.
“I don't -” Jeff began to protest, but he was cut off by Sebastian hustling him right back out of their room.
“No, really. You do.” Locking the door, Sebastian turned and began shoving Jeff down the hall, fishing his wallet out of his back pocket as he did. Both his face and tone of voice clearly conveyed that he was not taking no for an answer. “I have an awesome new ID for you – it's my best work yet. Let's go.”
It wasn't long before they were hidden away in a tiny little booth at a local dive bar that wasn't too careful about checking Sebastian's handiwork terribly closely. “Talk,” Sebastian ordered, shoving over a coaster to put under Jeff's beer.
“Nothing to talk about,” Jeff mumbled back, peeling the label off of his bottle. Not strictly true, he knew. He had plenty to talk about. He just felt more like wallowing in it for a while. “It is what it is.”
“Ugh, such bullshit,” groaned his roommate, slumping back in his booth. “You look like someone ran over your pet bunny. And sorry, but I have to live with you, so talk. We are going to work this out.”
Jeff glared across the table. “I was a lot nicer to you when you and Thad split up.”
“Yes, and the difference between us is that you are nice and I appreciate that, but I am a dick and a Psych major, so beer and talking.” Sebastian waggled his fingers. “Spill.”
Though tempted to take the command literally and tip his beer into Sebastian's lap, Jeff knew this would simply earn him a week of confiscated class notes and nightly psychoanalysis of his passive aggression and in his current mood? So not worth it. “Quinn sent me a perfectly normal email. She got home okay and she's pretending nothing happened. Just like we agreed.”
“Just like she dictated and you agreed,” Sebastian corrected shrewdly, a droll expression on his face. He ran his hand through his hair and regarded Jeff thoughtfully for a long stretch of time – so long that Jeff was about to kick him in the shin right before he finally spoke up. “It doesn't take a genius – though I totally am one – to figure out you're not actually on board with that.”
Now it was Jeff's turn to slump back in his seat. “That transparent?”
“Freshly cleaned windows are less see-through than you, Jeff.” At that, Sebastian had to pause and take a swig of his beer to keep himself from sniggering to death. “The unrequited love for one's best friend. Could you be more clichéd?”
“Could you be more addicted to 'Friends'?” Jeff shot back, annoyed. He shoved his beer away and started to get to his feet. “Fuck, you're no help.”
“Sit your ass back down.” Rolling his eyes, Sebastian signaled the waitress for another pair of beers. “Come on, you of all people have to admit it's straight out of a bad rom-com. And don't even try to pretend you don't own a shitload of those, I've seen your VHS collection.”
Jeff landed back in his seat with a thump. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Admitting you have a problem. That's a start.” Sebastian tilted his head to either side and cracked his neck in a noisy series of pops. “So, just making sure. You've been in love with her for years – and she totally doesn't know. Really?”
“Really.” Jeff touched his nose and pointed at Sebastian. “You win a prize.”
A snort from across the table. “I'll be sure to collect on that later. Aaaaanyway. Now that we're a few days removed from the incident and we're trying to solve your problems...you do know that sleeping with your oblivious love interest was a super bad idea, right?”
“We were drunk, remember?” He cringed back and stuck his beer bottle into his mouth, taking a long, long drink. He didn't want to see Sebastian's reaction at being reminded of that little point.
But as it turned out, visual confirmation wasn't required at all anyway – Sebastian's guffaws could be heard in space. “Oh, God, that's right .” He clunked his bottle down on the table and had to cover his mouth to try and calm down. “Jesus fucking Christ, you are a walking teen movie.”
“Laugh it the fuck up,” Jeff snapped, crossing his arms and hating how his face was burning bright red. “Do you actually have any kind of helpful advice, or is this Stand Up Comedy With Sad Jeff Night?”
Sebastian wiped tears of mirth from his eyes and made a visible effort to calm down. “Okay. I'm sorry. I dragged you out here, I made you talk, it's not fair for me to laugh.” He took several deep breaths and another sip of beer. “Okay. Dr. Smythe is in. Tell me about the whole weekend.”
Surprisingly, it only took two more beers for Jeff to get the whole story out, though the entirety of one of those was consumed when he recounted Quinn's statement that he wasn't 'just some guy'. Sebastian sat and listened carefully to all of it, no more laughter in evidence.
When Jeff finally wound up, his roommate let out an explosive sigh and shook his head. “Wow. Wow, man. Wow.”
“That's all you've got?” Jeff rubbed a hand down his face, exasperated and more depressed than before they'd gotten here. “Great.”
“Okay, no, obviously, dickweed, but you're not gonna like what I have to say about it.” Sebastian kept his head ducked down, not meeting Jeff's eyes. “Look. On the one hand, I kinda think she was using you, man.”
Huh. He'd been right. Jeff absolutely did not like that. “No. Fuck that.”
“Listen, I'm not saying she did it on purpose or to be a bitch, but it's a possibility, you have to admit.” With a shrug, Sebastian set aside his bottle and took a deep interest in his hands, studying them like he'd never seen them before. “She had an agenda. She wanted to get back on the horse and you were the best option.”
Jeff shook his head with a violence that left his neck aching. “No way. Quinn would never sleep with anyone just to do it.”
“Okay, does that makes the alternative better?” Sebastian let out a scoff. “Because let me clear up what the alternative is: that she does have feelings for you and she wants to ignore that she does.”
That made Jeff close his eyes for a moment against how much it hurt . “Fuck.”
“And uh...there's like, a 40% chance that's possible, too,” Sebastian tossed out, suddenly looking thoughtful.
And that made Jeff open his eyes back up in a hurry. “What?”
Sebastian actually looked like he was having an internal debate with himself. At last, he twisted his hand around, cracking his knuckles and taking a deep breath. “Not to, like, get your hopes up, but I would like to point out something.”
“Yes, okay, what?” He knew he was being impatient. He also didn't care.
“You said she sent you a perfectly normal email, right?”
“Yeah.” Frowning, Jeff finished off his last beer. “What's that got to do anything?”
Sebastian gave him a really long look that also managed to let Jeff feel like the most obtuse person alive. “Jeff. It's Wednesday night. She left Monday morning. Why did it take her almost three days to send you a perfectly normal email?”
From: Jeff P. [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Quinn [email@example.com]
Subject: Re: Miss you already!
You're always welcome to come back whenever you want. =) Everyone loved meeting you!
Maybe I'll see you at Christmas.
Quinn stared at her computer screen for a while, reading and re-reading the email. Well, this was what she wanted, right? Jeff was pretending Saturday night hadn't happened. They were friends. They would stay friends. It was working out exactly right, like so few things had in her life.
She ignored the hopeful little voice that suggested it might not be a bad idea to be more than friends. Because of course it would be. Boyfriends left. Quinn never wanted Jeff to leave. Therefore, he couldn't be her boyfriend.
Simple as that. Sure.
A knock at the door signaled that her mother was home from work. Judy popped her head into the room. “I brought you some tea, Quinnie,” she offered, a tentative smile on her face.
“Thanks, Mom.” Quinn returned her mother's smile and beckoned her into the room, resigning herself to at least half an hour of 'girl talk'. She'd finally relaxed enough to feel more comfortable accepting her mother's efforts to reach out to her, but 'girl talk' had never really been anything Quinn was good at, even as a cheerleader. Still, her mom really was trying, and Quinn hadn't even tried to meet her halfway for so long, she wanted to do her best now. “How was work?”
“Oh, fine. It was work. I'd rather hear about your trip! It seems like we haven't really gotten a chance to talk, and you've been home for five days. You're so busy all the time.” She set a cup of tea down on Quinn's desk and pulled up a chair. “Was it fun? How's Jeff doing?”
Quinn shoved aside the conflicting emotions that swirled through her mind at the mention of Jeff's name. “He's great. Doing really well. He loves it there, completely. He's totally at home in California.”
Her mother beamed. “Oh, that's wonderful. You know, Quinnie, I always thought California could do you good. All that sunshine, and getting out of Ohio, and you'd have a friend there.”
“Friends,” Quinn clarified, reaching for a photo album and rifling through it until she found a photo of Nick, Blaine, and Jeff goofing off in a hotel room last summer. “This guy Nick goes there too, he's one of Blaine and Jeff's skater buddies.”
“Oh, that's even better! Two nice boys to look after you and...” Judy grabbed her daughter's hand and a knowing smile tilted up her lips. “...maybe even go out with?”
“I don't need looking after, Mom.” It was an effort to keep the words calm and pleasant. “And wow, no. Nick is my friend. Jeff is my friend. That's never changing.” It never failed. Judy never stopped hoping for Quinn to start dating again, as if that would be the magic sign that her little girl was all better. If a boyfriend had caused Quinn's mental breakdown, her mother seemed to reason, well, maybe getting another one could fix it. It was as if Quinn had amnesia from a head injury and the idea was that maybe another whack to the noggin would restore everything to rights.
It was a nice thought, Quinn guessed, if nauseatingly fairytale like. And Quinn read fairytales, she wasn't blindly optimistic enough to think anyone could live one. Least of all her.
Her mother sighed, catching Quinn's attention. “I just wish...”
“I know, Mom.” On impulse, she leaned to give her mother a hug. “Thank you for wishing.”
“But you could go anyway, Quinnie.” Judy leaned back but kept her hands on her daughter's shoulders, smiling fondly. “You're so smart and you got such good grades even after everything that happened. Maybe you should think about college, if you're ready.”
But getting rejected by Columbia still hurt. Quinn shook her head. “It's a thought,” she began, hoping to placate her mother. Then a musical ding from her computer indicated that someone was trying to message her. “Um, Mom -”
“Talk to your friends, baby. We're going to have Chinese for dinner, okay? Let me know when you're hungry and we'll order, and you can really tell me all about your trip while we eat.” She patted Quinn on the knee and whisked out of the room as abruptly as she'd appeared in it. Quinn shook her head to clear it before turning back to her desk.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : whaddup?
ProzacNationRefugee : I can't take you seriously with that screen name.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : oh yeah cuz yours is so deep, whatever. hear back from TBA yet?
ProzacNationRefugee : ...TBA? What the hell? What is that?
PourSomeSugarOnYou : Tall, Blonde, Adorable duh
ProzacNationRefugee : Are you writing personal ads now?
ProzacNationRefugee : I need a Sugar to English dictionary.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : DID YOU OR NOT
ProzacNationRefugee : Yeah. Just now.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : OMG AND
ProzacNationRefugee : Uh...he said I could come back any time and he'd see me at Christmas, maybe?
PourSomeSugarOnYou : THAT'S IT!?
ProzacNationRefugee : ...yeah?
PourSomeSugarOnYou : it took him 2 days 2 send THAT?
ProzacNationRefugee : YES.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : yeah u are screwed
ProzacNationRefugee : It's a totally normal email, Sugar.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : uh sure took him 2 days 2 send a normal email, OK
ProzacNationRefugee : He's busy.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : bullshit
She wasn't surprised when the phone rang then, and even less so when she saw 'Sugar Motta' on the Caller ID. Why had she gotten a separate line put in for her internet, again? Rolling her eyes, Quinn picked up the receiver. “What?” she snapped, irritated.
“Two days to send you a normal email,” Sugar shot back, sounding just as irritated. “Just like it took you three days to send your totally normal email. Still wanna tell me there's nothing there, Q?”
“Getting back to how we were takes time. I mean, I'm not going to lie and say it's going to be easy to forget -”
“Do you really want to forget it?” came the challenge, so clear Quinn could practically hear the gauntlet hitting the ground. “Honesty time, chick. I let it slide on Monday because I was totally happy for you and you were obviously in denial, but that vacation from reality is officially over.”
Quinn opened and closed her mouth a few times before slamming a mental door shut once again on the niggling idea that it might not be so bad... “It's the best thing,” she replied, keeping her voice strong and resolute. “I want to keep my friend.”
“Are you dumb?” Now Sugar's voice was off the charts with the screeching. “You get to keep your friend! And make out with him! Best of both worlds, hello!”
“Sugar -” Quinn was finding it more and more difficult to keep a lid on her temper.
“I'm just sayin'! I think it's kind of obvious he has feelings for you and he's just not telling you. He's going along with your little forget it thing 'cause he'll do anything you say because it's Jeff and he's probably totally in love with you.” Words spilled out of the receiver in a rush as Sugar fought to make her point. “And I know you, Q, I know we made those plans but you totally weren't going to go along with them -”
“Sugar.” She tried to stop her friend, but it was an impossible wish. You couldn't stop Sugar when she was off and running like this.
“Because you're you and you want that kind of thing to mean something even if you think you're some kinda tough bitch and whether you admit it or not what you did means you have feelings too -”
“This conversation is insane. You are insane. We're done here.” Ignoring Sugar's vociferous shrieking protests, Quinn slammed the phone down and unplugged it from the wall. And for good measure, she went back to the computer and began to sign out of AOL.
One more message popped up.
PourSomeSugarOnYou : bet u haven't even told blaine yet
PourSomeSugarOnYou : chickenshit
PourSomeSugarOnYou has signed off
“What about the third member of your little trifecta?” Sebastian was five beers in now, and Jeff was actually kind of impressed that he not only remembered the word trifecta, he pronounced it correctly, too. “That Blair dude.”
“Blaine.” Jeff himself was feeling the effects of drinking too much too quickly, and really, really wanted a nap. “What about him?”
Sebastian waved his hand randomly, a look of intense concentration on his face. “Are you gonna talk to him about it?”
“Nnnnnnoooooooooooo,” Jeff breathed, horrified by the notion. “I'm supposed to be forgetting about this, Quinn would like, know, because she always knows and I'm too young to die, Sebastian.”
“He's been your buddy for longer than I have, I just think -”
“No.” Jeff shook his head and immediately regretted it when his vision began to swim. “Bad enough you and Nick know, an' Nick's still pissed.”
Sebastian's response to that was an eyeroll. “Whatever. You and I have both known that asshole for years. He'll get over it. Nah, seriously, bro. Blair -”
“- Blaine might have some insight I'm not gonna have 'cause I don't know both of you. You know?” He let out a burp. “Urgh. Think we're gonna need some pizza to soak some of this beer up, dude.”
“I can't tell Blaine. What am I gonna say?” Resting his head on the table, Jeff stared at his last bottle of beer and wallowed in his own woes. “'Hey, man, I slept with Quinn and she wants to forget about it but surprise, I'm totally in love with her and how do I get her to love me back?'”
In the periphery of his wavering gaze, Jeff saw Sebastian's eyes go wide. “Maybe don't put it in quite so much a 'Silence of the Lambs' kind of way.”
“I should just forget about it. Like she said.” A huge sigh crawled up what felt like the bottom of his soul. “I'll move on to someone else.”
He felt a none-too-gentle patting on his shoulder. “Dude. Hate to break it to you, but if you haven't moved on in five years, you're sure as hell not gonna move on after you slept with her.”
Well. Wasn't that just awesome .
From: Quinn [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Blainers [blainesk8stheUK@yahoo.co.uk]
Subject: need to talk
Need to talk to you about something.
From: Blaine [blainesk8stheUK@yahoo.co.uk]
To: Quincy [email@example.com]
Subject: Re: need to talk
I'm up. Talk to me.
Hey, you saw Jeff last week, right? How's he doing?
From: Quinn [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Blainers [blainesk8stheUK@yahoo.co.uk]
Subject: Re: Re: need to talk
Funny you should mention Jeff.
Can I call you?
From: Blaine [blainesk8stheUK@yahoo.co.uk]
To: Quincy [email@example.com]
Subject: Re: Re: Re: need to talk
Like you even have to ask. Give me five minutes to finish up here, I have one more new email. Love you, Quincy.
From: Jeff P.[firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Blaine [blainesk8stheUK@yahoo.co.uk]
qunn was here last week
shit drink too much
slept with her
i love her but she doersn't love me
what do i do
By the time the phone rang in Blaine's bedroom at his parents' home in Eriswell, he was thoroughly confused. Only his best friends could manage this kind of dilemma, he decided. Only Quinn and Jeff could manage to completely baffle him in the space of five minutes. Seriously. Only them. And when they were scattered to all parts of the world, too.
Wishing Kurt was up from London for a visit this weekend – he could use the moral support – Blaine picked up the receiver and very carefully held back his sigh, the sigh of a man who knows full well that things are about to get incredibly messy.
“Quincy,” he began slowly, still staring at the screen he hadn't closed when he signed off of the internet, “can you maybe explain this email that Jeff just sent me? I feel like it has got to do with whatever you're about to tell me.”
Love to Katrina and Tina for their beta scans of this chapter! Would not have posted without them.
Quinn and Jeff seem to be on a roll of talking to everyone but each other about their problems. Still if anyone can help them work it out - or figure out if it even should be worked out - it's the one person who knows them better than anyone.
There was a long silence on the American end of the line after Blaine asked his question. Long acquaintance with Quinn made him sit quietly and wait for her to say something. He let his mind roll over the very little he knew of what was going on to try and make any sense out of it.
It already felt like a giant mess, and he was only about five minutes into it. Blaine scrubbed a hand through his curls and guiltily wished he'd gone to bed an hour ago like he'd planned. Not that he didn't want to help his friends, he just wasn't sure how, exactly.
He'd kind of never seen this one coming.
“What email?” Not surprisingly, Quinn's voice was tight with anxiety, making Blaine feel even more guilty about just blurting out his question before he'd even said hello. He really should have thought his conversation starter out a little better – well, no, then again, he'd sort of been thrown into this. Once again, Blaine wished for Kurt to magically appear next to him and help navigate this. Kurt was way less inclined to react on instinct and better at getting his thoughts together in a rational order fairly quickly. Too bad Quinn had drawn the short straw and gotten Blaine as a best friend instead.
“Jeff sent an email saying that you two had...er...”
“Hooked up,” Quinn snapped, voice whipping down the line with a familiar crack. “Yes. So much for forgetting about it. God, I wonder who else he told?”
Pointing out that it was slightly hypocritical to be complaining about Jeff talking to him about an issue they were both apparently supposed to forget would only result in Blaine getting flayed alive the second he set foot on US soil again. “Probably no one,” he tried, keeping his tone light. “The email was short. What happened , Quincy?”
She sighed, and it was so heavy he could almost feel the weight of it through the phone. “It wasn't supposed to be Jeff.”
“Wasn't supp – wait, Quinn, did you have a plan?” Blaine was both baffled and impressed. Quinn had spent the last two years adamantly refusing to date, let along sleep with anyone. And now – no. Wait. He had a sneaking suspicion... “Sugar was involved in this, right?”
The silence was deafening before a sullen, “Yes,” was finally muttered into his ear. Blaine loved Quinn, so he tried very hard not to laugh. It was an effort that nearly killed him, but laughing at Quinn was something that would kill him, so he suffered through it, almost gnawing the inside of he cheek raw where he bit at it.
“Sugar's plans are...kind of crazy, I've learned,” he began carefully when he could speak again, trying to choose the best way to phrase it. He still remembered being frankly terrified by a suddenly predatory Kurt last summer in his car, the result of Kurt approaching Sugar for help in apologizing to Blaine. Trying to imagine what a Sugar Motta plan would look like when sex was on the agenda from the get-go made his head spin. “They seem to mostly involve Cosmo tips she's never actually tested.”
“It's not like I had any other options,” was the irritable retort. “I'm not asking Mom for advice and no one else is here.”
That hurt. But he knew she hadn't meant it to, and knew she didn't think he'd abandoned her even though that's what he thought of himself most days, so he pushed it aside. “Fair enough,” he replied as amiably as he could manage. “Want to tell me about it?”
Silence told him she was trying to find the right words. “I got lonely,” she finally admitted, “and that got to be harder to deal with than being afraid to date.”
“So you want to date Jeff?” This was getting more confusing by the moment, and Blaine wondered how he'd managed to miss something so huge. Granted, he hadn't been around sophomore and junior year, but he really would have thought that he'd have picked up on it at some point between Quinn's suicide attempt and moving back to England, because they'd all been inseparable.
“No! Well, ye-I don't know.” The frustration came across the ocean loud and clear. “It wasn't supposed to be Jeff.”
Blaine shook his head. Carefully, because it was starting to hurt. “You keep saying that. I feel like I'm missing a lot of info, Quincy.”
“I was going to sleep with some random guy at Berkeley, Jesus.” Now Quinn sounded thoroughly exasperated. “I had this insane idea that if I could get sleeping with someone over with, I'd maybe feel more ready to try and date again.”
“Quinn.” He was honestly shocked. “If we'd had 'Least Likely To Have A One Night Stand' as a Senior Superlative, you'd have won, you know that, right?”
“Fuck off, yes, Blaine, I know that. That was the point.” Her eyerolling was practically audible. “I was trying to shake things up like my therapist always told me to do. Be not me, not careful, not scared, not wound up too tight.” She went quiet again, and Blaine heard only her soft breathing and the tapping of her fingernails on her desk. “It almost worked, too. I met a guy at a party Jeff took me to.”
Bizarro world . That had to be what was going on, there was no other explanation for it. “Okay. And?”
“And right when things were getting hot and heavy, Jeff barged in to rescue me.” A rueful sigh. “If it's not you looking out for me, it's him.”
“Yeah, but up till now you never turned around and slept with us afterward.” Argh no, Blaine immediately thought, cringing in anticipation of her fury. He was really not helpful in these situations, he realized. At least this time he was too far away for Quinn to easily throw things at him. Though he wouldn't be surprised if she were saving up for when he went home at Christmas. “Sorry! I didn't mean it like that! I suck at this!”
“You really do,” she agreed, snorting in derision. “Your boyfriend is a saint for putting up with you. Anyway. So Jeff comes running in, which was kind of okay because I was sobering up a little and going, wow, even Finn is better than this guy. He kept asking me stupid questions and he was...gross. You know?”
“Yeah...” He thought he was getting a clearer picture of how this happened. “You were drinking, right?”
“It was a college party, Einstein.” The delicate ticking of her fingernails drumming on wood started up again. “So Jeff comes in like freakin' Prince Charming, and literally carries me back to the dorm, which, fine, you guys always give me piggyback rides, but I don't know...” She trailed off. “It was nice to be taken care of. And I know! I know you guys do it all the time even when I tell you to fuck off. But this was different. Suddenly Jeff gets me out of a weird situation and he's carrying me back to his room and it was just...really...nice.”
“You deserve really nice, Quincy.” Now was the time to tread lightly. Blaine still wasn't sure what his opinion was on Quinn and Jeff as a potential couple, but Quinn spooked easily – not that he could blame her – and he didn't want Jeff to catch the fallout for it. Unless it was too late. “So then what? Um...besides the obvious.”
“I thought it might be good to be with someone who obviously gave a damn about me. Just once.” Her voice went distant and there was a tiny smile in it. “It was. I felt safe and comfortable and happy and really, really taken care of.” The audible smile puffed into smoke. “And then I freaked out.”
Blaine glanced back at Jeff's email. “Ah.”
“I don't know what to do with nice anymore, Blaine.” On the other side of the ocean, Blaine knew Quinn was curling up in her chair, wrapping one arm around her knees and huddling in on herself. “What if it goes wrong, you know? And I lose not just a guy, but one of my best friends. I can't. I just can't.” Her voice began to shake, and he wished desperately he could be there to give her a hug. “I kind of like the idea of a happy ending, Blaine, I do, but I don't think I can get one and I don't want to fuck anything up but I think I already did -”
“Quinn, Quinn, Quincy, shh.” Never had Blaine felt so helpless and useless and so very, very far away. “It's all right. You have to do what makes you happy. You first, okay? Jeff'll get that. Whatever you decide you know he and I will totally be right with you on it.” He hoped. Hard to know for sure without actually speaking to Jeff. Usually he'd be more confident in Jeff's stance but then usually his best friends didn't make a habit of sleeping together.
She sniffled, and he heard the sound of a tissue being pulled out of its box. “I keep telling everyone I don't need to be taken care of, and I don't .”
“I know you don't.”
“But I liked it.” She sounded both confused and angry about it. Well, that was...that was about right, for Quinn. “Jeff knows who I am. He knows everything about me, just like you do. And he wanted me anyway. He took care of me anyway. And I liked it. What am I supposed to do with that?”
“Nothing, if you don't want to.” Not very good news for Jeff in the end, Blaine guessed, but he'd deal with that later. “Quincy, you can't change what happened -”
“I know that,” she snapped, a little watery. He ignored it.
“But look, you said you wanted to forget it. Maybe right now just...go with that.” It seemed like maybe the best solution, even if something was nagging at the back of his brain saying that he could do better. He shoved it aside. “It's not like you two are in the same state right now. Is he going to be home at Christmas?”
“I think so. Yes.” The sound of more tissues being pulled free, and then she blew her nose. When she spoke again, Quinn sounded a little more steady. “You think I should bring it up then?”
“If you want to. You know, time and distance and stuff. Or don't bring it up. That's up to you, Quinn.” Blaine wished so hard he had better advice. Being in his first relationship and ridiculously happy didn't really equip him for this. He actually felt even more useless than he had when he was giving Quinn advice about Finn; at least then he'd been happily unaware of how many holes there were in his experience. “I'm sorry, Quincy. I'm sorry that I'm not there, and that I suck so bad at this.”
“It's okay. Mostly I just had to talk it out. And it's good that you don't have a solid opinion on it.” She sounded so small and tired and softly confused around the edges. “Sugar thinks I need to get over it and jump him.”
“Sugar doesn't know you like I do.” This was firmer ground for him. No one knew Quinn like Blaine did. Not even Jeff. Their lifelong friendship was where he had the total advantage. “She wasn't there for Finn or any of that bullshit. I know she means well but she's a little...I mean, she gets all her advice from magazines that smell like baby hookers, Quinn.” He was rewarded with a barking laugh. “Any time you want to vent, you call me. My advice is just as questionable, but it doesn't come with disgusting perfume samples.”
She laughed again. “I miss you, Blaine. So much. I miss when everything was less complicated. Before last summer. ”
“Me too.” He wouldn't trade Kurt for anything, but he understood what she meant. “I'd be there for you if I could.”
“I'd kill you for leaving Kurt after all the bullshit we all went through getting you two together,” she shot back. “But you're definitely coming home at Christmas too, right?”
“Like I'd miss Puck's New Year's party two years in a row. Yes, I'm coming home this year, my entirely too cute nephew actually drew a picture letter begging me to and my mother said if I didn't plan to go she'd ship me to Ohio herself.” Blaine glanced over to where Jason's crayoned picture was taped to his wall. “I don't know where he gets it.”
“Right, charming doesn't run in the Anderson family at all,” Quinn snorted, and then fell quiet. “Blaine...don't tell Jeff about this, okay? I'm going to just act like everything's normal and maybe by Christmas it will be.”
Doubtful, but Blaine couldn't say that, not when he wanted Quinn to be happy more than anything in the world, no matter what it took to get her there. “Are you sure that normal is really what you want?”
“Normal is all I know how to deal with right now.” He heard her swallow hard. “Hoping for a fairy tale ending almost killed me.”
But you deserve one. “Finn's not a bad guy, but he's no Prince Charming. And I think when the time is right, you'll get one. I'll wish on a star for you.”
“You always do.” Affection flooded her voice. “Keep doing it and one day, there won't be any stars left.”
“Then I'll go back to the beginning and wish twice.” He missed her so much it hurt. Kurt was the other half of his heart, but Quinn was the other half of who Blaine was. And he wanted her to have what she deserved. “I'll always get your back. Always.”
As they hung up, Blaine glanced at the clock on his desk. 2 AM. That meant it was...hm. Either 5 or 6 PM in California. Something like that, he still hadn't quite managed to mentally adjust to all the time zones and Daylight Savings and everything that separated him from his friends now.
Well. At any rate, if his mental calculations were right and if Jeff was getting started with drinking that early, no way was he going to be in any shape to talk right now. Blaine shucked off his clothing and slipped into bed. Maybe in a few hours Jeff would have slept it off and be ready to talk.
The sound of the phone ringing was a bullet through his brain. Groaning, Jeff struggled to sit up and squint at his clock. 6 AM. He would kill whoever it was. “I will kill you, whoever this is,” he croaked into the receiver when at last he'd crawled over to the desk.
“Dude, you don't sound like you could kill a fly right now.” Blaine sounded sympathetic, but also like he was working hard not to laugh. “How drunk did you get last night?”
“Too drunk to deal with 6 AM phone calls, even for you.” Jeff pulled the phone away from his ear. “Later.”
“Wait, your email -”
Clicking the cordless off, Jeff burrowed back down under his covers and shut his eyes. Across the room, Sebastian was making grouchy grumbling noises. “What the hell, Jeff, who calls at this hour?”
“Blaine. Sorry. I guess he wanted to give me shit about getting drunk.” Groping around for a spare pillow, Jeff pressed it over his head, so he only barely heard what Sebastian said next.
“Huh? How did he know you were drunk?”
All of Jeff's body went rigid with panic as his eyes flew open. “Oh, God.”
Misty alcohol soaked memories of stumbling back to the campus from the bar flooded his brain. They'd moved on from beer to tequila at some point and that was when things got really blurry. He remembered telling Sebastian he was going back to the computer lab. And now he vaguely remembered sending Blaine an email, God only knew what it said.
“I have to call him back.” Throwing back the covers, Jeff leaped to his feet, only to instantly regret the sudden motion. His head felt like it had been torpedoed from the inside and his stomach was letting him know in no uncertain terms that it was both hungry and nauseated. “Shit, everything hurts.”
“Yeah, remind me next time that it's liquor before beer and not the other way around.” in the gloomy dawn light filtering through the blinds, Jeff watched his roommate ease up to his feet. “I'm gonna shower and go for a run.”
“You're insane.” With very great care and being sure to cover his eyes, Jeff flipped on his desk lamp and rummaged through the jumble of belongings there, moving as quickly as he could without wanting to scream. “My phone card, shit, where's my phone card.”
“Use mine, drink water, take Midol, and chill out.” A bottle of pills and a little plastic AT&T card dropped down on the desk. “Back in a while, enjoy your phone call.”
“I can't use your card, your dad will kill you. And why am I taking Midol? Why do you take Midol?” Jeff wasn't sure now if it was confusion or the hangover making his head hurt worse. Either way, Sebastian was already out the door, so he wasn't getting any answers. Obediently, he dragged a bottle of water out of his desk drawer, took two Midols, and crawled back into bed with the phone and the long distance card.
“I sent you an email,” Jeff blurted out as soon as he heard Blaine's voice. “Oh, Jesus, I sent you an email.”
“You did. The good news is, you didn't send it to Quinn.” At that, an awkward silence fell between them. Jeff racked his brain trying to remember what exactly he'd typed. It couldn't have been anything coherent – he'd lost count after 5 tequila slammers and control of the English language not long after that - but if Blaine was saying that, then oh, fuck, that wasn't good. The sound of throat clearing came from the receiver. “Sorry about miscounting the time difference, but...Jeff, you uh...you want to talk about it?”
He grabbed a pillow and groaned into it, wishing that hangovers were terminal. “I don't know. Depends on what I said in the email.”
“Not much, yet so much.” Blaine sucked in a breath before he went on. “How long have you been in love with her?”
Damn, it was so much worse than he'd thought. “Wow. Is that something I said? It doesn't sound like -”
Jeff squeezed his eyes shut. Might as well go in headfirst. “Since I moved to Lima. My first day at McKinley.” He still remembered rounding the corner from the guidance counselor's office, squinting at his new schedule, and running straight into the surprised cheerleader with the pretty green eyes. Her enormous boyfriend – tall, even to Jeff, and Jeff had been taller than average even at 15 – snapped at him for it, but she'd only smiled at Jeff's apologies while they both knelt and picked up their binders and books.
Love at first sight was kind of a dumb idea in theory, but since Jeff was a certified victim of it, he couldn't really bring himself to trash it.
“Wow.” Blaine's startled outburst shook Jeff out of his memories. “Seriously! How did I not know this? We all thought you weren't interested in girls. I mean. Wait.” He coughed and sputtered for a moment. “Not the way I'm not interested in girls. Just, you know, generally. Not into them.”
Jeff badly needed for this conversation to be over or at least less squirm-inducing. “I'm not,” he replied shortly, rolling over and cocooning himself in blankets. “I'm into Quinn. Just Quinn. There've been girls since I got here but...Quinn's it, really.”
From holding his deepest secret in for five years to telling his roommate and his best friend in the space of a week. It felt like unblocking a waterfall that had been dammed up; there was a lot of relief, followed by terror at how uncontrolled it all was now.
Over in England, Blaine seemed to still be lost in amazement. “And I thought I held the record for having a crush and not acting on it. Jeff, fuck, man.”
“Fuck off, Blaine.” It was way too early in the morning to be having this conversation. At least it was Saturday and he didn't have class. “When was I supposed to say anything? When she was dating the star quarterback? Or when she was in the hospital with her wrists all cut open? Or maybe when we were at Puck's graduation party and Finn was such an asshole that Santana made her drink half a bottle of tequila to cope? Oh no, wait, maybe while I was trying to keep you from eating yourself into a coma when you and Kurt were fighting? That would have been super romantic.”
Ooh . He knew the last one was a low blow, but damn, his head was killing him and he really wanted a Pop-Tart.
Blaine took a few long, deep breaths. “I'm going to let that slide on account of the fact that I know you're an asshole when you're hungover and because this is a really fucked up situation.”
“I'm sorry. Thanks.” He still felt guilty, but he'd make it up to Blaine later.
“No sweat.” Jeff could hear Blaine moving around his bedroom, listened to the click of CD cases and the shuffle of pages as his friend mindlessly picked things up and put them back down like he always did when he was thinking. “Jeff...what are you...I don't know. Wanting to do here? I mean, are you going to do something about this or just kind of keep sitting on it?”
“I don't know. It's only been a week.” He pushed himself up to sitting, untangling his legs from the blanket. “She wants to forget it.”
“And I don't think you do.”
That made two people in 24 hours who'd homed in on exactly the problem. Which, okay, not much of a surprise given who the two people were, but still. “That's about it. I hope you have better advice than my roommate.”
Silence, then a sigh. “Probably nothing you'll like. You talked to your roommate about this? Better hope Quinn never finds out. She was saying earlier -”
“Wait, does that mean you've talked to Quinn?” Jeff was on his feet before he realized he was moving. Ouch, too fast, his aching head was swimming. “Ow. Ow. What did she say?”
“Well, shit,” Blaine swore, and the sound of a foot connecting with a chair leg came through loud and clear. “Ouch. What did your roommate say?”
It was a blatant avoidance of his question. Jeff ground his teeth – and immediately wished for death, as the sensation of having holes drilled into his head intensified. Clearly the Midol hadn't kicked in yet. He breathed in deep and silently begged whoever ran the world to please make the pain stop.
All of it.
“Blaine, please,” he finally got out, being careful not to jostle his head as he sat back down. “I'm kind of going a little nuts over here. I never expected...that...to happen, but it did, and she wants to forget it, and I can't. You're the only person who knows us both. What do I do?”
The sigh that came now was even heavier. “Man, right now, I've gotta tell you to go with what she wants.”
“Oh, come on -”
“I know, it sucks.” Raising his voice, Blaine overrode Jeff's heated protest. “Seriously. It blows, and it's not your fault, and I get it. But you know what the last couple of years have been like, man. It's just...” Jeff could picture what Blaine looked like right now, rumpled and worried and groping for words while he paced some tiny room covered in skate posters and pictures of everyone from home. “I wish I could tell you to go after her. If anyone could be good for her, yeah, it'd probably be you, I think, but...”
Hearing the caution to back off from Sebastian was one thing, but to have Blaine in agreement made it even worse. His shoulders and spirits dropped. “Can you at least tell me something she said? Anything?”
“Jeff...” Blaine sounded torn, now, and Jeff hated knowing he'd done that. He should never have dragged Blaine into this.
No more tequila with Sebastian. Ever.
“You wanted her for her. That meant a lot to her,” Blaine finally replied. “But that's all I'm telling you.”
Jeff shoved himself to sit with his back up against the wall, pulling his blanket back over his lap. “I don't know how to go back to normal after this, Blaine.”
“Fake it till you make it?” Blaine was obviously trying to lighten the conversation, to do the best he could from five thousand miles and half the world away. “Just...try. For her. It'll be kind of easy, right? You're out there till Christmas anyway. This is practice time.”
And that was as good as it was going to get, wasn't it? “I'm really supposed to forget it happened.”
Hesitation, then - “I'm really sorry.”
Dropping the receiver back into the cradle, Blaine wound both hands through his hair and pulled as hard as he could. “Grrrraaaargh.”
“What was that, honey?” His mother poked her head around the door frame, an inquiring look in her eyes. “Did you say something?”
“Ah, no, um, not really.” He released his grip on his hair and put on a bright smile. “Sorry. I was just talking to Jeff.”
“I see.” Jacqueline Anderson beamed an equally bright smile back at her youngest child, but hers was considerably more genuinely cheerful. “You've been on the phone a lot today. Everything okay back home?”
“Yeah, yeah, pretty much.” If you ignored the hot mess currently going on, this was actually not a lie. God, he had no idea how they were going to fix that. Quinn was terrified of herself and Jeff sounded like he was two steps away from a week-long Smiths marathon.
Blaine tried to remind himself that he'd only heard about all of this a few hours ago and that it didn't need to be repaired in a day, but it wasn't sinking in. It was just so hard to be so far away from your favorite people when something this big was going on. All he wanted to do was to hug them both.
The worst part was that after talking to both of them, Blaine could actually see where they'd be so good for each other, and he was kicking himself for not seeing it before. Then again, Jeff had a point – there'd never been a good time for it.
He was completely lost in his thoughts, so much so that his mother had to actually come into the room and tug on his hair to catch his attention. “Blaine!”
“Sorry!” Blaine shook his head and glanced down at her. “Sorry, Mom. Did you want something?”
“Not me, no.” Her smile got even broader and she stepped back out of the room to beckon to – someone? - in the hallway. “Your visitor does, though.”
Before he could mumble visitor? , Kurt appeared in the doorway, grinning broadly and carrying a garment bag. “Surprise! Tech malfunction, our rehearsals were called off for the weekend.”
“Oh, thank God you're here,” Blaine breathed, feeling a large portion of his worry drop away. This was exactly what he needed. Not that either of them had huge experience with untangling the knotty messes of dating, since they'd only ever dated each other, but hey, two heads were better than one and all that. Plus, snuggles. That was never a bad thing.
“Tea at the usual time, Kurt, I hope you came hungry.” Jacqueline smiled fondly, if a touch nervously at her son and his boyfriend. “And we always have your room ready for you.” Which was the source of some of her nerves. It was a well-known but unspoken fact in the Anderson house that Kurt might start his weekend evenings in the guest room, but he sure didn't finish them there.
Still, apart from that, the two men tried to keep things polite for the sake of meeting the Anderson parents halfway. Kurt smiled back at Mrs. Anderson and gave her a hug. “Thank you.”
As soon as she'd left, however, Blaine found himself grabbed and kissed until both of them were dizzy and jelly-kneed. “God, I'm so glad I got to come up. Weekends without you feel wrong .”
“Yeah they do.” Blaine nuzzled at Kurt's neck, happily taking in the smell of his cologne and moisturizer and the feel of his abdomen under Blaine's palms. “What happened?”
“Harness problems. Kelsey got dropped in yesterday's rehearsal. And I know I always say she deserves to be dumped on her ass – I still can't believe there's anyone in the world who can out-diva Rachel Berry - but I actually meant by her stupid boyfriend, not Declan the Tech Director.” He shook his head. “On top of all the other crazy stuff going on with cut-up scripts and Nick Bottom's donkey head disappearing, you'd think 'Midsummer Night's Dream' wasn't the Shakespeare play we were putting on.”
“I hope Kelsey's okay, but I'm glad it wasn't you.” Pulling Kurt closer, he breathed in even more deeply and felt a profound gratitude for his friends helping them get to this point. It firmed up his resolve to help them in return, however it turned out. “In fact, I'm really glad you got to come up today. I was thinking this morning that I needed you here.”
“I overheard your mom say you were on the phone to home today. Everything okay?” Kurt pulled back to look down at him, blue eyes brimful of concern. “Is it Quinn?”
“And Jeff.” Blaine's cheeks puffed out with the sigh that widened his eyes, and once again, his hand found itself tangled deep in his curls. “Let's see if I can explain this mess to you in the time we have before Mom serves tea...”
Curling up on the floor by the bed to talk with his boyfriend felt like coming home, no matter where in the world they were. Blaine hoped that somehow, sometime, they could work out a way to ensure their friends got to experience that safety and comfort, too.
They'd been there for him and Kurt. Time to return the favor – if he could.
Both Quinn and Jeff have certainly had better Thanksgivings.
“So I'm actually the world's best roommate.” Sebastian dropped a brochure on Jeff's Biology textbook, blocking his efforts to study for his next test. “Behold, your Thanksgiving plans.”
Raising an eyebrow, Jeff picked the brochure up and scanned it. “The Cimarron Valley Resort and Spa?” Jesus, only the premier resort in Napa Valley. He glanced up at his roommate. “Wow, Sebastian, I had no idea you felt this way about me. Ooh! Are you going to propose?”
“Fuck off.” Sebastian rolled his eyes. “You said you weren't going home for Thanksgiving and I'm not leaving your mopey ass here to get all weepy about your chick friend, so – we're going to Napa.”
Jeff flipped through the glossy pages. His parents and sisters were going skiing in Banff over Thanksgiving break. They'd wanted him to go along with him, and he had been really tempted – he hadn't been snowboarding in way too long. But then he realized how much time and energy he would have to spend on pretending everything was okay, and just thinking about that made him tired. Not to mention the fact that his mother had a genius for knowing when her only son was in trouble or upset, and Jeff was in no shape to cope with being mothered. He'd had yet another carefree, breezy email from Quinn full of gushing about how much fun she and Sugar had had going out together on weekends and frankly, all Jeff wanted to do was sulk about it.
Which Sebastian was evidently not going to let fly. “Mom and Dad are back in France and it's just not even worth the effort to fly over for a long weekend. And God knows there's nothing the fuck to do in Ohio in November – well, anytime – so I'm not going home. And so, Dad told me to pick somewhere nice to go and put it on his card.”
Jeff looked back up. “You know he's just going to think we're hooking up.”
“Uh-huh.” Sebastian's grin was pure smug satisfaction. “I won't correct the misunderstanding if you don't.”
“You have problems, you do know that? Remind me never to hire you as my therapist.” But Jeff couldn't help the rueful grin that spread across his face as he set the brochure down. His roommate actually was pretty awesome, even if it was best not to tell him so too often.
“When my father stops trying to buy my heterosexuality, I'll stop rubbing my total gayness in his face.” Sebastian was unrepentant. “So? You in? We leave tomorrow after your Bio class.”
Jeff had the feeling if he didn't agree, he was going to be kidnapped and dragged along anyway, so he just nodded. “Yeah, okay. Why not.”
The good thing about sulking was that it was a completely portable activity.
“Quinnie?” Judy bumped the bedroom door open with her elbow and bustled in, securing a gold hoop earring into her ear. “Are you almost ready?”
“Yeah.” Tilting her head, Quinn surveyed her reflection for a moment. Hm. Not enough eyeliner. She leaned towards the vanity mirror and opened her eyes wide to smudge another line of black pencil at her lash line. “Just a minute.”
Her mother sighed. “I wish you'd left your hair alone. The pink was almost all gone.”
“I like the pink.” They'd had some variation of this argument every day since Quinn had returned from Hot Topic two weeks ago with a fresh box of Manic Panic and locked herself into her bathroom for two hours. Not that Judy had ever liked the pink hair to begin with, but now she seemed to be extra annoyed about it. Too bad. “It makes me happy, Mom.”
“But you're so pretty,” Judy argued. “You don't need to go around looking like a skanky punk girl at some basement rock concert!”
It being a holiday and murder being a felony, Quinn pressed her lips together and breathed slowly in and out through her nose, reaching for a calm she didn't quite feel. “I like my hair. I like how I look. And anyway, I wore a dress because you asked me to.” She tugged at her short black skirt self-consciously, pushing back the flood of Berkeley memories it called up.
She only had the one dress these days, and if she hadn't promised her mother she'd at least try to look presentable, it would have stayed shoved in the back of her closet with all of its uncomfortable recollections.
“You're wearing it with combat boots!” Gesturing to Quinn's feet, Judy looked like she was going to actually clutch at her pearl necklace and keel over in a faint. “Your grandmother is going to have a heart attack.”
“She didn't have a heart attack at her birthday party when I wore ripped up jeans and a flannel,” Quinn pointed out as she slapped the eyeliner pencil back down on her dressing table. “Mom, please. I get it, you don't like the hair, you don't like my clothes, you don't like that I'm not your perfect society daughter. But I am nearly twenty years old, thank you, and I pay for my wardrobe and makeup, so as far as I'm concerned, I get to wear what I want, when I want. Okay?”
So what if the childish, petulant tone in her voice made her sound more twelve than nineteen?
Judy's jaw tightened in anger, but as Quinn had known she would do, she simply drew herself up to her full height and jerked out a short nod. “Fine. As you wish. I'll be downstairs when you're finished dressing to upset everyone.” Spinning around, she stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Dropping her head, Quinn sighed and closed her eyes, willing the stinging tears to not fall. She knew she shouldn't take her frustration out on her mother, she really did. Judy had been nothing but supportive – apart from her issues with Quinn's appearance – for the last several years even though she'd earned the right to fall to pieces herself. And Quinn knew that her appearance was especially bothersome to her mother since her father had inexplicably run off with a girl from his office that Judy derisively referred to as a 'tattooed freak'. It hit too close to home, and she knew her mother sometimes thought she was doing it for that reason on purpose. That was what the news and TV shows said it was for, right? Teenagers were assholes, so of course that had to be it.
It couldn't be because Quinn had been starting to flinch when she looked in the mirror, in exactly the same way she had after she'd gotten out of the hospital and seen herself for the first time. The hair, the clothing, the makeup – it all afforded her an iron-clad protective armor, made her look like someone who wasn't vulnerable and couldn't be hurt, not like the blonde girl who looked like any other upper-middle-class Midwestern teenager, not soft and weak. And because it made her look tough, it helped her to feel like she might be tough, a little, enough to get her through each day.
Sometimes it got confusing, though. By now she wasn't sure which Quinn was really her – Quinn Before, Tough Quinn, or the hybrid Quinn that had seduced her best friend and then run screaming.
Not a comfortable thought.
Tearing her eyes away from the mirror, Quinn bent down and unlaced her boots with fingers that shook, ignoring the teardrops that fell and shone on the scuffed up leather. It was too late to do anything about the color of her hair, but maybe she could concede on a few points to make her mother a little less tense. She kicked the boots aside and stuffed her feet into a pair of black flats, desperately shoving down the nasty little whisper that kept trying to tell her that maybe she was only who any given person needed her to be at any given time, and there wasn't a real Quinn Fabray, after all.
“To not being in Ohio in November.” Sebastian raised his wine glass and waited for Jeff to clink it in response. When no response was forthcoming, he rolled his eyes and set the glass back down. “Hello, Pauling. We are in the middle of Napa Valley having Thanksgiving dinner on a train. If nothing else, your inner twelve year old ought to be freaking the fuck out right now.”
Jeff ignored him. “I don't understand why she doesn't feel the same way about me.”
“You do know I'm still two, maybe three years away from getting my Bachelor's? I'm not actually qualified to be your therapist. Like, at all.”
“I'm a nice guy!” Picking up his own wine glass at last, Jeff drained the contents without tasting it, not noticing Sebastian's wince. “I mean, I know who she's been with, I know everything. I'm literally the nicest guy she knows. Finn's a thoughtless dick, Puck's a punk-ass jerk who talks before he thinks, I'd never be an asshole to her like they were, so what the fuck?”
Sebastian reached across the table and tugged the empty wine glass away. “That wine is $40 a bottle, plus I had to pay corkage. If you're going to treat it like it's Boone's, then I'm cutting you off.”
“Please, your daddy paid for it.” Jeff snorted and slumped back into his seat.
“Are you sure you want to go on claiming to be the nicest guy ever?” Sebastian had one skeptical eyebrow raised and he looked distinctly not amused. “Because you're kind of being a raging cock right now.”
Jeff knew his friend was right, and he felt guilty about it, but that only made him angrier. “Why don't I get to be a raging cock? How come I'm supposed to be the nice guy?”
“Okay, confused now.” Sebastian scratched at his ear and frowned. “Do you want to be the nice guy or the raging cock?”
“I...fu...I don't know! Which one gives me the right to be pissed off about not being able to be pissed off? Because seriously.” He groped for words, waving his hands a little while he tried to get everything in order and not sound more like an idiot than he already did. “Everyone tells me to shut up and let her take her time, and all I hear about from her is how much fun she's having going out and dancing and flirting with guys and, I just. Jesus! I can't tell her how I feel, I can't call her out for being insensitive, I'm supposed to just sit here and take it?”
“From everything you've told me, um, yeah?” Relenting, Sebastian poured out another half glass of Riesling and shoved it across the table. “Drink that like a grown-up or I'll stab you with my salad fork. And listen, from your own mouth, that Quinn girl has had a rough time. She's the broken one, not you.” He paused and lifted the wine bottle away from his own glass, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Yet, anyway. You're going to be if you can't get a grip. And not to be your mom or anything, but eat.”
Obediently, Jeff sipped at his wine, glaring at the mostly untouched plate of roasted turkey, dressing, and green beans in front of him. “Thanks, I'm good.”
“Nope. I'm not wrestling your drunk ass into the hotel room. I will leave you here on this train and let the cops take care of you.” Tilting his head, Sebastian shrugged. “And anyway, come on, dude. I got my dad to drop a lot of money on this weekend because I didn't want to be alone on Thanksgiving. Can you at least pretend to enjoy it?”
In two years of being roommates, that was the closest Sebastian had ever come to admitting that his family situation actually bothered him. The confession had the net effect of – whether Sebastian had meant it to or not – erasing Jeff's need to wallow in self-pity, at least for the moment. “Sorry, man.”
“Nah, bro, don't get all mopey. I just wanted you to chill for a sec.” Sebastian forked up a mouthful of dinner and shoved it into his mouth, taking what felt to Jeff an excessively long time to chew and swallow. When at last he spoke again, it was slowly, with a lot of care behind the words, and Jeff knew this was an even heavier admission than the one about Sebastian's family. “I know what it's like to be in love with someone and not be able to say anything about it, okay? I know how it makes you angry. I know how it knots up your stomach.”
Jeff looked up, surprised. “Not Thad?”
Sebastian shrugged and avoided answering him. “I also know how you have to kind of get on with shit. You're not going to get over it but...it's either going to straighten itself out or not, right? There's not really a gray area here.”
“I guess.” When Jeff took a bite of his own meal, it was as tasteless as the wine had been. “I hate it.”
“Right there with you.” The train was pulling into the next stop on the Thanksgiving winery tour; Sebastian stood up and clapped Jeff on the shoulder. “Set a goal, man. You did decide that you're going home at Christmas, right?”
“Yeah. My turn to pick the family winter vacation and I chose Lima. My sisters are furious.” Now it was Jeff's turn to shrug, adding a contemptuous snort. “I think they were hoping I'd choose Italy again so they could go shopping. Whatever, I haven't seen my other best friend since he took off for England, they can deal.”
“Mm.” Sebastian rubbed the back of his neck while they filed off the train behind the other passengers. “Mom and Dad are going home too, turns out – some kind of probate drama with a dead relative and the court date's in January, so they figured we'd try to do the happy family thing for Christmas. So we can fly back together and hang some, if you want.”
“Yeah, you could come to Puck's party with me. Meet everyone.” Jeff brightened up. Puck's legendary parties were always good for a pick-me-up. “It'd be fun.”
“Hey, I could meet the legendary Kevin and Blair!” Turning around, Sebastian gave Jeff a thumbs up.
“Kurt and Blaine,” Jeff corrected with a roll of his eyes. “What kind of goal?”
Sebastian stepped down to the ground and turned back, confused. “Huh?”
“You said set a goal.” When Jeff hit the ground, he wobbled, and wondered if he should give the wine tastings a miss at this stop. Maybe Sebastian had a point with the eating thing. “What goal?”
“Oh yeah.” Extracting a pair of Ray-Bans from his jacket pocket, Sebastian slipped them on and squinted up at the winery sign. “Uh, um. Oh, right. Try not to think about it too hard till Christmas.”
“Simple as that?”
“Obviously not, asshole, but the effort of trying might actually keep you too busy to whine about it.” Sebastian's wink over his lowered sunglasses took some of the sting out of the shot. “Come on. Let's get back to our original Thanksgiving plan: eat turkey, get shitfaced. We've got an hour and a half to go after this.”
Well. It was as good a plan as any.
Worst. Thanksgiving. Ever.
Quinn wondered how many family members she was going to have to murder before a jury would acquit her by reason of insanity. Or could she get away with copping that plea if she simply murdered her older sister in a spectacularly creative way?
“Come on, Quinnie, the clock is ticking!” Francine's merry voice grated on Quinn's nerves like lemon juice in a paper cut. “It's silly that you're not even dating yet. When was the last time you even went out on a date with a boy? You broke up with Finn two years ago.”
This was the first time Quinn had seen Francine in a while – she couldn't even remember the last time. And nothing had changed. Frannie was still gorgeous, prom queen blonde and bright white smile, a veneer of perfection over a core of pure venom. As hateful as they came.
With effort, Quinn sucked in a deep breath and willed herself not to leap over the table and try to strangle Frannie to death. “I'll know when I'm ready to date, Francine. And I know that time is not now.”
“How are you ever going to get married and have kids if you don't date, though?” Frannie's smile was saccharine sweet and didn't reach her blue eyes. “Time is running out for you to stay young and...well, kind of pretty.”
No jury in the world would convict me, Quinn thought, taking another breath and trying not to lose her temper. It was difficult, though. Ever since she and her mother had arrived at her grandmother's house, Quinn had been the target of well-meaning but painfully pointed snipes and insinuations about her future in dating. Much to her annoyance, her cousin Jeannie had gotten married over the summer, leaving Quinn as the last unmarried girl in the family who was over the age of 13.
It was a new and special kind of hell. Quinn wished she had talked her mother into skipping the holiday again. Last year they'd gone on a cruise and the year before...well. Quinn had been fresh out of the hospital, so they'd stayed at home.
But Judy had been adamant this year. There had been no getting out of the family holiday. So here Quinn was, stuck across from her bitch of a sister and next to her mother, who wasn't even trying to defend her, was instead trying to pretend that her daughters were actually behaving like civilized human beings.
The rest of the family had fallen silent five minutes ago and pretended to focus on their desserts while the two Fabray sisters went at each other's throats.
And the thing was, Quinn knew she ought to ignore it, Frannie had always been a complete bitch, everyone knew that. It was the way things were. But cracks like this were a new low even for Frannie, and they were finding new chinks in Quinn's fragile armor to pierce and prick. All Quinn could do was try to fight back with logic and hope eventually Frannie would get bored and wander off. It had worked before. “I'm nineteen .”
Frannie beamed a poisonous smile across the table. “Tick tock!”
Let it go let it go let it – But Quinn ignored the cautionary voice in her head. Enough. “Hey, some of us are built for more exciting things than being tied down to a housewife life in Westerville,” she snapped without thinking, enjoying the outrage that flashed across her older sister's face. Ooh, that felt good.
Judy laid a hand on her younger daughter's arm. “Quinnie,” she murmured reproachfully. “That was unkind. Apologize to your sister.”
“No.” Quinn yanked her arm away. “She doesn't get to sit there and pass judgment on me like we've lived the same life! Her first.” Okay, so she was behaving worse than her little cousin Annie having a temper tantrum, but fuck, her sister was annoying.
“No, it's fine, Mom,” Frannie spat, tossing her fork down. Quinn felt a chill go down her spine – far from backing down, Frannie was clearly about to take the gloves off. “Quinnie's always the victim, right? Poor little Quinn, poor Lucy Caboosey who got Daddy to give her a nosejob for her twelfth birthday so she could try to be popular instead of lame. Poor Quinnie, head cheerleader and quarterback's girlfriend.”
Quinn swallowed, suddenly aware that this was getting severely out of hand. “Stop, Frannie. Don't.”
“Is that what you said to Finn when he dumped you for that freakish little girl in the animal sweaters?” Frannie's smirk was deadly, and Quinn braced herself. “No wonder you came out the loser in that one. Do you have any spine at all?”
It was like waiting for the eye of a hurricane to pass through. Quinn's fingers shook as she put her fork down. Be cool . She regretted being so hasty with her words now. “Frannie -”
“But oh, no, none of that was enough, was it? Not enough being Daddy's Little Sweetheart, didn't get enough attention, so then she goes and slashes her wrists.” Francine gulped down her wine, slamming the glass down and pointing across the table at her little sister. “You can't even take being dumped, so, okay, maybe it's not a surprise no one wants you. Crazy Quinn Fabray, spoiled brat and town loony with her oh-so-rebellious pink hair and -”
“Shut up.” Quinn hadn't even realized she was getting to her feet until she felt Judy yanking on her sweater to try and drag her back to sitting. “God, Frannie. You are such a clueless bitch. You have literally no idea what it's like, sitting there in your glass house of...of privilege. You're disgusting.” She wanted to say more, had so much more to say, but the entire family was already sitting horrified and watching them like a particularly awful trainwreck. And she wanted to be the better person. “I didn't come here for this. You don't know my life, Frannie. You don't know who I am. I don't know who I am, either. So shut up.” She realized she was clutching her linen napkin in her hands, twisting it and rumpling it with white knuckled fingers. Throwing it down in her seat, she jerked out of her mother's grasp and glanced at her grandmother, sitting in furious silence at the head of the table. “I'm sorry, Grammie. Happy Thanksgiving.”
On shaking knees and unsteady feet, Quinn made her way out to the front porch, collapsing into the porch swing as soon as she was within reach. It was freezing outside, so her nervous, angry shivering was immediately exacerbated by the chilly wind sweeping snow through the city. But at the same time it actually helped to cool her temper, and it dried her hateful tears before they could even fall from her eyes and betray her weakness.
Goddamn it. She wished for a cigarette as she tried to calm down. Obviously she shouldn't have let Francine provoke her into making a thoughtless comment, but damn , she had really underestimated how heartless her sister was willing to be in front of an audience.
Quinn glanced at her car. They'd been the last to arrive, so she wasn't parked in by any of her relatives. The temptation to just leave ran high. But she didn't want to ditch her mother without being sure Judy had a ride home, and she absolutely didn't want to have to go back inside to find out yet.
“I'm not a spoiled brat,” she muttered, swiping a hand across her eyes to catch at one wayward tear that had escaped the wind. She wasn't. Frannie totally was, she'd never had to fight like Quinn had just to have a life that was tolerable. Frannie had always had dozens of friends. Quinn, really, had only ever had Blaine and later, Jeff. The kids in Glee with her had been acquaintances at best and the Cheerios even less than that. There was Sugar, now, but that friendship was bizarre and loaded with questionable advice.
God, she missed her boys. But Blaine was so far away and the situation with Jeff was still so fucked. She kept trying to act like things were even anywhere near normal, kept trying to push him away, but she didn't want him to go away, so why was she doing that?
And why did everyone want her to get together with someone like that would fix everything?
And...and what did Quinn want?
The screen door creaked behind her, and Quinn's head jerked around to see her mother stepping outside, Quinn's coat in her hand. “You're going to catch your death, Quinnie.”
With a shrug, Quinn took the garment and slipped into it, stifling a sigh of relief at the instant warmth. “Thanks.”
Judy came to sit beside her, but didn't say anything for a long time. She merely slipped one gloved hand over Quinn's, squeezing gently. “I'm sorry,” she murmured at last, not looking at her daughter. “I'm so sorry, Quinnie.”
That was unexpected. “What for?”
“This was a bad idea. We should have gone on that cruise again.” She kept her gaze steadily straight ahead as she went on. “I didn't realize everyone was going to be so crazy about getting you paired off with someone. I didn't think about it being too soon for you to have to deal with them. I certainly didn't realize that Frannie was going to go off the deep end.”
“Fuck Frannie.” It burst out of Quinn before she could rein it in, but she couldn't feel sorry about it. Francine had indeed been a queen bitch. “Seriously, I know she and I never got along, but that was totally not called for.”
“I know. And I told her so before I came out here. Though I had the sense not to do it in front of your grandmother.” Judy cast Quinn a sidelong glance and lopsided smile. “I'm not sure we're going to be welcome back next year.”
“Fine by me.” Quinn shoved her hands into her pockets and scrunched down further into the bench of the swing. “I didn't want to do this anyway.”
“I know that, too.” Hesitating, Judy chewed on her lip a little, obviously thinking of what to say next. “Not that it excuses anything she did, but Frannie and Dennis are getting a divorce, Quinn.”
That was news. Quinn almost felt bad for her sister, for a split second. Then she shook her head. “Well, I hope she's not surprised, getting married the day after they graduated and all. That never turns out to be the American Dream or whatever.”
“It does for some people.” Judy was gently reproving. “Though I do feel like Frannie got married much too young, yes.”
Quinn snapped her head up, shocked. “What? You never said.”
“Of course not.” Judy's gaze had returned to being fixed on the distance, focused on nothing. Or maybe the past. “Frannie wouldn't have listened. She never did listen to anything anyone said. Neither of you girls did...” A tiny smile curved her lips up. “But you, at least, Quinnie, you have always learned from your mistakes.”
“Fat lot of good that's done me.” Quinn looked back down at her hands, at her wrists with the giant snaking scars trailing up her arms. “I mean, I'm a pathetic loser no matter what.”
“You are not.” The swing creaked as Judy shifted around in order to look at her daughter, grabbing her face gently in both hands. “You are not a loser, Quinn, and you never, ever have been. I know I haven't been the best mother...I know no one in this family has ever been the best anything for you. But you are my beautiful daughter, my Quinn with the heart of gold and the will to go on even at her lowest. You are so strong, Quinnie.” She released Quinn's face and gathered her daughter into her arms, holding tight even as Quinn tried to wrap her head around what was happening. “I am proud of you.”
“I don't...” Was she jinxed? Why was nothing about her life making sense lately? Granted, this was all good, but she didn't understand any of it. “Why?”
“Because you aren't looking for anyone to save you or fix you. You're not like any of us in this family, Quinnie.” When she pulled back, Judy's eyes were bright with tears. “You're so much stronger. So much more in every way. I don't know that you've ever seen it, but you should.” Her hand came up to cup Quinn's cheek. “I do want you to find someone, Quinn. Someone who deserves you, who makes you happy. They do exist, I believe it with all my heart. But I only want you to find them when you're ready, sweetheart. And I trust you to know when that is more than I ever trusted your sister to do.”
Now Quinn couldn't stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. “Mom,” she choked out, overwhelmed. “I can't...I don't...”
“Shh.” Judy embraced her daughter again and held her close. “You can. You will. When it's time.”
Quinn sobbed and shook in her mother's arms, unable to stop despite the freezing cold piercing through her dress and coat and tights. The day had been too much for her. The last month had been too much for her, and there was no end in sight.
What if I already found him, but I messed it up, Mom? Then what?
But she didn't dare ask, didn't dare open the door to more questions she wasn't ready yet to face.
He'd been pretty sure that Quinn wouldn't be home, but Jeff couldn't help the tiny pang of disappointment that shot through him at the sound of her answering machine.
“Hey, Quinn.” Jeff glanced at the bathroom door, keeping one ear out for the sound of Sebastian concluding his shower. His roommate had actually tackled him to the floor and sat on his chest in order to extract a promise that Jeff would not, in fact, do exactly this.
“Drunk dialing never ends well, Jeff,” Sebastian had lectured, complete with upraised finger and stern expression. “You've already had the one exshper...eperry...experience with drunk email, an' that wasn't even to Quinn. Don' do it. Promise.”
It wasn't technically breaking his promise, Jeff decided guiltily. After all, he was sober now, so it didn't count as drunk dialing, right?
“Listen,” he began, twirling Quinn's half-used vanilla lip balm between the fingers of his free hand. “I know we said we were gonna pretend what happened didn't, right? And I've been trying to, I really have, because I know you're still really not...you're not where you need to be, I get that.
“But I just want to say my piece, Quinn. Just to get it out there and we can deal with it or not when I come home at Christmas, okay? Because it's kind of not fair...I don't know. Maybe I'm an asshole, but I have to say it.
“I don't want to forget it. I want to be with you, Quinn. And not because I think you need saving or because I'm some kind of awesome guy – I'm not, I'm just a dude. A dude who really cares about you. And I felt like it was important that you knew that.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Quinn. I love you, okay?”