This was it. This was finally it. Today was the day. The day everything changed. The day her life would finally, really start. This was the day all of those scattered puzzle pieces that all looked exactly the same would magically come together to make a whole that actually made sense. Things would fall into place the way she’d always been told they would. This was the day she would finally shine like the star she always knew she was.
The first day of high school.
Rachel Berry sat in the back of her dads’ car, her heart beating away like a hummingbird in her chest. Whether it was from excitement or fear, she wasn’t entirely sure; it was probably a combination of both. She squeezed her hands together in her lap in an attempt to make her nerves stop buzzing.
Rachel had certainly heard the horror stories of what went on inside the walls of William McKinley High School; she knew that most of them were nothing more than tales told to frighten the impressionable incoming freshmen, like herself, before they’d even arrived, but she couldn’t help the anxiety that kept telling her she’d get lost in the hallways or get trapped in her own locker by an upperclassman or get yelled at by a teacher or catch a slushy in the face.
She knew for a fact that the last item on that list of fears was more than a possibility. It had been big news around Lima when the slushy machine was acquired by the local public high school. It was almost unheard of that any school funds went toward a program other than athletics - cheerleading specifically. For money to go into the cafeteria was a minor shock to the entire community and a dinner party talking point for weeks.
But Rachel did have a fair amount of hope in her. Being in high school meant a far wider selection of clubs and sports than her middle school had to offer, which had her nearly trembling with excitement when she’d been imagining it over the summer. To be specific, Rachel was itching to get her name on the audition list for the glee club. As much of a dork she knew it made her, Rachel wanted nothing more than to spend her life singing and dancing in the spotlight on a stage. She’d been singing since she could open her mouth, and the dancing followed closely behind. She took every class she could find to become the best in those particular areas of interest; the shelves in her house were littered with her trophies and medals, little mementos and reminders of the fact that she was meant to be greater than a small town in Ohio.
Her dads told her from a young age that she was absolute, pure talent, and she had always believed them. All she wanted to do was put that talent to use. Her entire life was dedicated to pushing her that much closer to her dreams, and the glee club was but one of many important stepping stones that would send her in that direction.
She’d heard recently that the school had gotten someone new to teach the glee club - one of those teachers that went to the high school they grew up to teach at.
Apparently the old coach had had a case of the grabbies when it came to his students, and somebody eventually came forward about it. She prayed that the faculty member they got to replace him would be able to adequately direct the group. She certainly did not want to have to put up with some inexperienced, random teacher who didn’t know the first thing about leading a show choir. Rachel thought she remembered hearing that he had been in the show choir during his high school years, so there was a chance he might be good for the job, but she had trouble believing that the school would be able to find someone who would be able to understand and fully utilize her skills on short notice. Rachel closed her eyes. She hadn’t even met the man yet; now was still the time for optimism. Her dads had told her time and again not to write people off before she’d given them a fair chance.
The car pulled up to the curb in front of the school’s main entrance, and Rachel paused to stare up at the suddenly formidable building that loomed over her. Her heart stopped for just a moment, and she felt all of the nerves in her body jump at once. She licked her lips and bounced her leg.
Maybe today wasn’t the day. Maybe she wasn’t ready for high school. Maybe she was feeling a little sick and should just go back home and stay curled up in bed all day with the covers over her head. Maybe that pounding of her heart was some kind of health issue and she should get it checked out by a doctor or go spend the day waiting in the hospital’s emergency room, just to be sure she hadn’t contracted some kind of terrible, terminal illness. Her face grew pale and her palms began to sweat and her all but empty backpack suddenly weighed several tons.
One of her dads, Leroy, turned around in the driver’s seat to look his daughter in the eye. He could see the horrifying thoughts running through her head the moment he stopped the vehicle. He cocked his head to the side a bit. “Rae.” He paused and waited for her to meet his gaze. His deep voice snapped Rachel out of her stupor, and she swiveled her gaze to meet his soft, dark face. She was calmed a bit as she basked in the pride she found in his eyes; it was unwavering, and that reassured her. “It’s going to be okay,” he said evenly. “I know it’s scary, starting high school, but baby girl, believe me. You are going to rock that place.”
Her other dad, Hiram, turned and placed a slender hand on his husband’s knee and smiled at him before he too turned to his daughter, stating very simply, “You know he’s right.” Rachel coughed up a little chuckle. “I mean come on, you’re Rachel Berry. You’ll have these simpletons begging for your autograph in no time.”
That was all she needed to hear. She smiled and kissed each of her fathers on the cheek. “Thanks dad, daddy.” She opened the door and stepped out of the car, giving a small wave as the two drove off. They were right. She was Rachel Freaking Berry. High school would be cake. Right? Right.
She made her way inside the building and felt her heart rate pick back up again as she realized how much bigger everyone else was than her, in physicality and confidence. She wouldn’t get trampled trying to cross the hall, would she? No, no that was ridiculous. Right? Right.
Rachel bee-lined for her locker, which she’d purposely come in and located previous to the first day, and blew out a sigh of relief when no one shoved her inside and slammed the door.
She made sure she had some sort of writing utensil and an empty binder before closing her locker and turning to search for anyone who looked as lost as she felt. Students from several different middle schools in the district ended up coming to McKinley for high school, and Rachel hoped she might be able to make some new friends. She didn’t have many from her own middle school days.
After she volunteered to play Romeo in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet when no boys stepped forward, her freak status went through the roof, and her popularity went from slightly below average to practically nonexistent. That, combined with the fact that she had no problem pointing out where others were wrong and asserting her points of view, effectively shrunk her friend pool to a measly two: Noah Puckerman and Mercedes Jones.
Noah was a family friend – they attended the same temple and what started as a hesitant friendship grew to a true bond when they’d been forced to have a joint thirteenth birthday party, an extravaganza that was what their parents had so cleverly dubbed their “bart mitzvah”.
Mercedes shared Rachel’s passion for singing, and the two had grown close over their time spent as the only two who had gotten/tried out for any solos in their middle school chorus classes. There was quite a bit of rivalry between the girls, but at the end of the day they had each other’s backs.
She glanced around, but spotted neither of them. The hallways were busy with unfamiliar teenagers. The fluorescent lights overhead cast a harsh glare on everyone.
Deciding her best bet was the cafeteria, Rachel spun around to find some sort of indicator as to where it might be, and effectively plowed into the middle of a trio of girls who made their way towards the gymnasium. Her clumsiness knocked the books each of them carried in their arms to the floor. She stepped back, apologized rapidly, and struggled to control her pulse, which raced with embarrassment.
The girl on the left, all gleaming dark eyes and a sense of sass that could be felt miles away, glared at her so hard Rachel was sure flames were about to shoot from her eyes. She let her gaze drop to the floor and glued it there. She bent down and began to pick up the scattered books from the red and white tiled floor, “I’m sorry”s still spilling from her lips. The girl cut her off, harshness dripping off of her tongue. “Are you blind, Man Hands, or are you just too short to see us coming?”
Rachel mumbled one last apology before she handed over the books and dropped her eyes to her feet once again. The girl on the right, a tall blonde with innocent eyes and dancer’s legs, turned to her friend. “Santana, that’s mean, she can’t help that she’s so short. Her parents are probably part oompa loompa or something. It’s not nice to make fun of someone because of their heritage. How would you like it if Q and I made fun of you because you’re Lebanese?” Rachel’s instincts were to take offense at the oompa loompa comment, but there was a naivety about the girl’s voice that made her let it slide.
The girl, Santana, crossed her arms and shot the blonde a somewhat exasperated look, incredulousness evident, but the annoyance that creased her brow never fully reached her eyes. “Britt. I’m Hispanic. And I mean, come on. We’z gonna rule this school. It’s better she learn her place now.” She turned to the third girl, “Quinn, back me up.”
The girl in the middle, who was also blonde, hadn’t made a comment yet. Rachel found herself almost curious as to what she would say and peered up to lock eyes with her through her lashes. Quinn had spent the entire encounter simply letting her light green, or perhaps they were hazel, eyes take it all in. She sparked an interest in her, though for what reason Rachel couldn’t be sure. She didn’t seem to be enraptured by Rachel’s torment the way Santana was, and the innocence coming off her was of a different nature than Brittany’s. She contemplated for a moment before answering the impatient girl beside her, though her gaze never left the coffee colored irises of the girl whom they were discussing. “Yeah, Brittany, I think Santana’s right.” She tilted her head slightly and pulled her lips in between the teeth, and Rachel knew that the next comment was directed more at her than the third member of what she’d named in her head the Unholy Trinity. “It’s for her own good.”
Rachel hugged her own books to her chest as the three girls brushed past her, Santana intentionally knocking into her shoulder, and practically strutted down the hall as if it were a catwalk. They stopped outside the gym doors to write their names on a large sign-up sheet.
Rachel took several deep breaths and started to fast-walk in the other direction; she did her best to swallow the tears that threatened her eyes. As emotional a person she was, she really didn’t need the entire school to know how easily she cried before she’d even gotten to her first class.
Rachel made it to the end of the hallway before one rogue drop snuck its way out of her eye. She stopped abruptly and turned to face the wall; she hoped no one saw the streak on her face before she swatted the salty drop away. She sucked in a long breath of air and collected herself as best she could.
She glanced up and her spirits lifted the tiniest bit when she realized she had stopped right in front of the bulletin board that contained the sign-up sheet for the glee club. The name made her smile; it was perfect. The New Directions. After digging hastily through her bag, Rachel pulled out her pen and went about writing her name as neatly as she could on the first line. She placed a shiny star-shaped sticker next to her curvy scrawl after less than a second’s hesitation.
Gold stars were sort of her thing.
The excitement that had coursed through Rachel earlier that morning returned full force. Auditions were tomorrow, and the first meeting would be the following day. Maybe things were looking up.
Rachel did end up finding Puck in the cafeteria. He was sitting with a boy she didn’t know, talking animatedly on the opposite side of the room at the end of a long table. Despite the thin crowd, the jostling tendencies of high schoolers meant she managed to bump shoulders with nearly everyone she passed as she crossed the stain-coated floor and approached the pair. She planted a grin on her face and steeled herself in preparation of the inevitable awkward introduction that was to come. She walked quickly around them and plopped herself down in the empty seat next to Puck. “Hello Noah. How are things?”
He turned in his seat as an easy smile spread across his features. He leaned back in his chair to include her. “Hey Rach. This place is crazy, right? It makes the middle school seem tiny.”
“I know! Everything’s bigger… and different.” She paused, forcing herself to stop thinking about the way social hierarchy had already created such significant rifts between kids who all used to be friends. Granted, she knew that had been happening throughout middle school as well, but it was still something that bothered her about adolescence. She shook her head, hoping that the motion might also shake the thoughts from her mind. “Speaking of which, I like the new haircut. It makes you look all tough.”
A self-satisfied smirk settled over Puck’s face as he ran a hand over his newly shaven mohawk. “Thanks. I thought it might help up my cool-factor,” he said with a self-deprecating shrug.
Rachel smiled genuinely and came back with a giggle, “Oh, well, mission accomplished.” They both laughed openly, and second by second the tenseness that Rachel felt eased. As their chuckles subsided, Rachel noticed that the boy Puck had been talking to was looking around uncomfortably and remembered that she had just come over and interrupted the two of them. In an attempt to reintroduce him to the conversation, she asked Puck, “So, uh, who’s your friend, Noah?” She gestured across the table.
“Oh, right!” His eyebrows shot up, having already forgotten that the other boy was there. “This is Finn. We’re both going to be on the football team.”
Hearing his name, the boy, Finn, turned back to the two at the table. He sent a boyish grin in Rachel’s direction. Despite the outward confidence he was clearly consciously exuding, Rachel detected some shyness from him as well.
She supposed he was kind of cute, in a really tall, goofy sort of way. She lifted her lips into a small grin at the quiet “hi” and small wave he gave her, then promptly clenched her face into a frown when something her friend had said pushed its way to the forefront of her mind.
She whipped her head around, hair flying in its wake, to stare hard at a now guilty looking Noah Puckerman. “Wait. Football? You’re joining the football team? But you said… you promised you’d be in glee club with me!”
“I know, I’m sorry. But I’m good at sports. And Finn says being on the football team is like a fast pass to popularity in this school.”
Rachel chose to ignore the fact that Finn shrank into his chair and the look of instant panic and apologetic smile that came from her friend’s new friend at having part of the blame thrown on him, and pleaded with Puck. “But you are such a fantastic singer, Noah. Your voice would be a pivotal addition to the club.”
“Rachel, you haven’t even met the club yet,” he rationalized. “I totally would do glee with you, but being on the football team will really help me become a full-blown stud. And I don’t think I can handle taking a slushy in the face everyday. I’m not like you, I don’t know that singing with the glee kids is going to get me out of this town.”
Rachel saw, out of the corner of her eye, Finn bowing his head to stare at his lap. The girl mimicked his motion and twisted her hands together. “I see.” She stood and made to leave; she knew that the first bell of the day would ring any second. Puck turned after her, about to apologize again, but she stopped him with a hand on his arm. “It’s fine,” she said, voice little more than a murmur, eyes not quite meeting his. “You’ll be a great football player. Let me know when your first game is.”
She was the first one to make it into her first period class. She chose a seat just off center of the room, slightly left and to the front. She pulled her pen out of her bag for the second time that day, along with a brand new notebook and placed them both carefully on the desk in front of her. She was sitting calmly, with her hands clasped. She was ready for the day to be over by the time the first bell sounded.