Rachel hurried down the hallway. She wouldn’t say that she was in a blind panic, even as she freely admitted that she had no idea where she was going to go besides away from the trouble stalking her. This school had never been her refuge, not until Mr. Schuester had taken over Glee and even that was only for a couple of hours every day and only when he wasn’t in the mood to try to destroy her career by giving away solos that she rightfully deserved.
Then she spotted Matt and, yes, he was surrounded by several of the other barbarians that were on the football team but she was desperate. Plus, she trusted him. She had danced with him and he’d never dropped her, despite whatever difficulties or temptations he’d been feeling. (She’d dated Noah and made out with Finn. She knew that Glee on top of football practice sometimes led to weary, overtaxed bodies.)
“Matthew!” she called, relieved, grabbing him by his arm, then continued around him until she was behind him.
He turned to face her, as bemused as he always seemed to be around her. “Rachel? What’s up?”
She cleared her throat because, with Matt facing her, she was boxed in on all four sides and she’d never realized quite how short she was but behind her, Azimio looked as though he’d been carved from a semi-solid, yet gelatinous mountain and the gentlemen to her left and her right were similarly built and…
“Rachel!” Matt said, grasping her shoulders and gently shaking her, bending until he was looking her square in the eye. “What’s wrong?”
“I stomped on Marcus Leslie’s toes,” she blurted, biting back tears. She never cried in front of jocks. It was like chumming the waters. Matt raised his eyebrows in query and so she started to ramble in a quick rush, “I was in the computer lab making a video to my fathers because they’re out of town for the week and I’d just gotten up to switch off one of the monitors because pictures of naked women had come up as a screensaver and Marcus appeared out of nowhere and grabbed me and told me it was my lucky day, that we were going to party.”
She grimaced, eyes a million miles away even as her hands smoothed away goosebumps on her arms, pushing up the sleeves of her short sleeved shirt and flashing the angry red prints that were sure to bruise. She didn’t notice the outrage on Matt’s face or Azimio grumbling like an angry bear. “I told him to cease and desist touching me and he laughed and tried to kiss me and I stomped on his toes. He got angry, of course, and he shook me and I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted him to let go. So I kicked him in his privates and he fell over and I ran. He was swearing he would get me and you were the first person I saw and yes, you were with your friends but I trust you and while they’ve slushied and mocked me, they’ve never actually touchedme and I possibly wasn’t thinking.”
She was breathing too fast and was possibly about to break her policy of never crying in front of jocks because if this situation called for anything, it called for tears.
Matt’s face was tight with anger as he said, “I’m gonna kill him,” and his calm, reasonable tone made it that much more frightening.
“Nonono,” she said, shaking her head and grabbing hold of his shirt to keep him with her. Then her eyes widened as she saw Marcus with Dave Karofsky and half the hockey team coming down the hallway. She backed up and squeaked as she bumped soundly into Azimio who gently shoved her behind him so that she was sheltered between his broad back and the lockers.
She fisted her hand in the back of his shirt and pulled herself up onto her tiptoes so that she could see and she was certain that it likely looked comical because the only parts of her that could be seen were her eyes and the top of her head but she couldn’t help it. This pertained to her and she wanted to know what was going on.
Matt and Karofsky were having a low, menacing conversation and Rachel couldn’t really hear what they were saying but she got that Marcus had tried to say that she accosted him first.
“That’s not true!” she burst out, bouncing a little in her agitation. “And I can prove it!” Everyone stilled, then Azimio suddenly moved aside and Rachel would have fallen but between her natural dancer’s grace and Matt’s quick reflexes, she merely stumbled. She straightened herself and nodded her thanks to Matt before saying, “I was making a video. I didn’t pause it when I got up from the computer and I didn’t delete it, obviously, because I was in a hurry to leave. If you wish to know the true details, all you have to do is watch the video.”
She smoothed her hands down the pleats of her skirt nervously then swallowed when Karofsky stepped aside, the other hockey players parting so that she could pass. Matt wrapped an arm across her shoulder and guided her through and it should have been ridiculous but then Marcus sneered at her and she jerked. They made an odd little train, her tucked into Matt, three football players, then half the hockey team trailing them, but Rachel just wanted to get it over with.
She queued up the video, then stepped back and turned away. Living it once had been enough, thank you; she didn’t need to see it. Matt wrapped an arm around her and she leaned into his comfort. When he tensed all over, she pressed harder into him.
Silence fell and she jerked at the sound of chairs scattering in a scuffle. She twisted to see Karofsky and Azimio hauling Marcus Leslie out of the room, presumably to his execution, the rest of the jocks besides Matt following.
The last thing she heard as they left was Dave Karofsky snarling, “We don’t force girls. Not even geeks.”
Rachel slumped into Matt for a moment, trying to perform her breathing exercises to control the quaking in her legs. He held her up because that was what good dance partners, teammates, and sort-of friends did.
She pulled away and moved towards the computer saying, “Thank you. Undoubtedly, Marcus’s brand of vengeance would have been unsavory.”
Matt nodded and pulled out a thumb drive. “Here. Save the video, in case you need it later.”
She swallowed, really wishing she could just erase the video, the whole day, honestly. But she nodded and took the drive with a grave, “Thank you.”
Matt smiled, one of those startlingly sweet smiles he unleashed during Glee occasionally. “You’re welcome. That’s what friends are for.”
She beamed, even as she saved the video. She hadn’t been precisely certain that they were actually friends. “Right, of course. I was honestly shocked, though, by the way your football friends reacted. They have never been my friends.”
“Yeah, well, Azimio’s got a thing about touching women without their permission,” Matt said, shrugging when she looked at him. “It’s why the football team always left girls to the Cheerios, besides the slushees.”
“And the hockey team?” Rachel asked as she fiddled with the drive.
“Karofsky’s got a single mother and two sisters,” Matt frowned. “He’s a dick but he’d never push up on a woman.”
Rachel swallowed, holding out the drive. “Keep this for me? I don’t want to…” When he hesitated, she added, “I trust you.”
He took the drive, a confused look on his face. “Rachel…”
She was bad with people, she knew this. They found her abrasive and she found them confusing. But this was simple. She stepped into him, hugging him fiercely as she said, “You’re my friend. And you’ve never dropped me.”
And those were terms that Matt understood because he hugged her back, then said, “Hey, we better get moving. We’re gonna be late for math and I think even Puck’s showing up today.”
Rachel let him guide her out of the computer lab even as she looked up at him and asked wearily, “We’re watching Gladiator again?”
He smiled sheepishly and she rolled her eyes. Of course Noah would only show up if there was senseless violence and gore.