On the first day of high school, Rachel Berry was more excited than nervous.
She was wearing an outfit of her own choosing—white blouse, pleated skirt, knee socks—and was happy to be wearing something she liked so much. Her fathers bought most of her clothes with little input from her throughout middle school, which had been fine because Rachel had trusted their judgment, but this past shopping trip, they’d let her pick out her clothes. As a “mature for her age thirteen-year-old, about to embark into the tumult of high school,” her Dad had melodramatically prefaced the trip, they were going to “allow her the chance to find her own sense of fashion and personality.” Rachel had noticed they seemed a little…surprised by her choices, but once she had explained that it was important to look professional in such a setting, they smiled and patted her head warmly.
She was also excited because her fathers had assured her that a lot of the puerile behavior that had bothered Rachel so much in middle school becomes less common in high school. “There are still jerks and bullies,” her Daddy had explained seriously, “But there are jerks and bullies everywhere in the world, even on Broadway. At least now, most of your peers have gotten through the most confusing parts of puberty. They’ll be a little more chill, now.”
Okay. She could deal with that.
Maybe this was the year she would finally make some friends.
She survived middle school alone. She had a few acquaintances (her kind of creepy lab partner Jacob, that girl Ronnie that let her hang around nearby during gym class so no one would bother her, that Lauren girl who seemed willing to pair up with her in English, and on weekends, Noah would be nice to her at synagogue under his mother’s watchful eye), but no one she could really call a friend. She felt completely separate from the turmoil that afflicted her peers; how could she worry about inter-clique drama if she had no clique? She didn’t even really worry about boys; they mostly didn’t notice her, not that she could blame them, as she was still growing into her features (her dads assured her that one day her nose would look less awkward, more stunning). And, probably because she was almost a year younger than most of her classmates, she wasn’t very interested in them, anyway. She figured that would change, with time.
It was okay, really, because she had her dads, she had her voice and dance lessons, even though the other dancers weren’t really her friends, either, they weren’t mean. And even though both her dads were in stages of their careers where they were working more and longer hours, they still made time for her as best they could. But she did long to befriend some of her peers…she wondered if she’d ever find another person her age who loved Broadway as much as she did. Most of her classmates seemed so apathetic. Almost no one seemed to have any idea what they wanted to be when they grew up. Rachel knew her kind of ambition was rare, but she didn’t think it was that rare.
The high school was big. She should have known that; she’d been there a few times, to watch some of the amateurish stage productions the school put on, but it somehow seemed even bigger when filled with students. Rachel was short; her dads thought she might grow a couple more inches before she reached her full height, but Rachel wasn’t so sure. She’d always been small. She felt even smaller now, as a pack of six-foot tall upperclassmen in letterman jackets jostled by her, not even seeming to notice her. Her heart was in her throat every time she had to be in the school hallways. They were just chaos.
Once in the classroom, though, Rachel felt much more in her element.
There was very little about her schooling that felt particularly relevant to her future. Mostly just English class, though the extent to which they discussed stories seemed a bit superfluous. Music class wasn’t even particularly useful; Rachel knew more about music than she’d learned in any of her public schooling. It also wasn’t a regular class anymore in high school; there were under-funded extracurriculars instead that Rachel intended to look into. Still, though Rachel knew her Math or History scores wouldn’t be of particular interest to any performing arts school or Broadway director, she tried at them. It wasn’t in her nature to fail. Besides, she was taking as many Honors classes as she could; if nothing else, the most mature of her peers would be in them.
And she did find herself running into a lot of the same people in her honors classes. Some of them, she remembered. Some she didn’t.
She thought she might remember for a very long time the first time she saw one particular girl.
She walked into her English class, head held high, folders clutched to her chest. She usually sat toward the front of the room, so as to engage more comfortably with the teacher. But this time, she noticed a few faces toward the back of the room that made her want to head in that direction.
Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce, now clad in brand-new Cheerios uniforms, sat at one of the long tables with four stools back there (the English room had once been a science classroom, and there were two lab tables in the back). These were two girls that Rachel had wanted to befriend for a long time, Santana because she had overheard her singing once when she applied makeup in the girl’s room, and though her voice was very different from Rachel’s, it was appealing, and Brittany because she was a stellar dancer. She thought it might be possible to befriend them, too, because once Santana, as a scrappy seventh grader, had called off a group of eighth graders picking on Rachel with a “leave the midget alone, she’s not doing anything but looking weird.” Rachel suspected she did this out of self-preservation, because at that age, Santana was also quite short, and not exactly fashionable (she wore a lot of overalls). But she was respected, because she had taken on a pack of ninth graders when she was in sixth grade, and fought well. And she wanted to befriend Brittany because they had been acquaintances in a few dance classes, and though she always reminded Rachel that she was better than her, she also told her how to improve.
So, hope blossoming in her chest, she sat at the last seat at the lab table, a bit further away from the other three seats that were pushed closely together, and, not quite looking at them, murmured, “Hello, Santana, hello Brittany.”
“Hey,” Santana grunted noncommittally, while Brittany murmured, “Hi, Rachel,” without looking at her. Rachel smiled. It was a start. She looked over at them fully, and it was then that she noticed the girl sitting on Brittany’s other side, in an identical Cheerios uniform and high ponytail.
Rachel’s first thought was that she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen such a beautiful human, which then awakened a flutter of conflicting emotions. She was jealous, yet fascinated, and instantly knew she just had to get to know this girl better. She couldn’t quite explain her own curiosity. The girl was merely sitting there, absently reading the English anthology that had been left on the desk of each student, and though Rachel couldn’t see her eyes well, she was convinced that this was a girl who felt. This was a girl with passion and pain and everything Rachel felt was required in a person meant for the stage.
Maybe this could be her new Broadway best friend.
Rachel was about to clear her throat and ask Santana who her friend was when the teacher stood up and began to call roll. Rachel, always one of the first to be called, sat forward in her seat even after her name was called, listening intently. And not long afterwards, she found out this new girl’s name.
“Fa-bray,” the girl corrected the teacher in a low voice, “And here.”
Quinn Fabray, Rachel thought. That was a name with…power. A name that, in the True Musical Story of Rachel Berry, could be the name of her greatest adversary or her greatest ally.
Glancing again at the stunning blonde, Rachel hoped for ally.
Toward the end of the first semester, Rachel was feeling a little bit confident. Things were going slowly, because they didn’t have that much time to talk during English class. Even though Rachel did her best to arrive early every day, the times the three Cheerios showed up varied drastically.
There were generally mild exchanges, in which Santana would be prickly, Brittany rather passive, and Quinn almost always silent. Rachel got the impression that their interactions were completely forgettable to the other girls, but she found herself so focused on them that she remembered everything.
Like the way, three weeks into school, that Santana hissed to Quinn that she had to stop talking in class or risk the Cheerios getting reputations as geeks or nerds. Quinn had flinched, hard, at that, and hadn’t spoken very much since. For two days, Rachel hadn’t talked in English class, either, until she realized that, much as she wanted to be friends with these girls, she wanted to be herself more, and she continued to participate in class as she always did.
She had other honors classes with Quinn, but they didn’t really sit near each other, and Quinn had never participated much in them. Perhaps English was her favorite. It was certainly Rachel’s.
Or their exchange around Halloween, in which Rachel had asked them about their plans.
Santana snorted, “God, you’re not inviting us to go trick or treating, are you?”
“Of course not!” Rachel felt embarrassed at Santana’s tone, “That much candy is very unhealthy. I don’t partake in so much fat and sugar, because staying fit is important.”
“But you can be fit and still eat sugar…” Brittany answered slowly, her eyes narrowed in confusion.
Santana sighed and rolled her eyes, “Yeah, but the midget doesn’t get the er, supplements that Coach gives us.”
“Oh. True.” Brittany nodded. “So what are you doing?” she asked Rachel, looking at her curiously.
“I was wondering if any of you would be interested in seeing Lima Community College’s production of The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
At this, Quinn raised her head and actually turned to look at Rachel. Brittany’s eyes widened. But Santana shook her head and nudged Brittany.
“We can’t. We’re going to Puckerman’s, remember?”
“Oh, yeah!” Brittany said, sounding excited. Quinn just sighed and went back to her reading.
Already, Noah had a reputation for throwing the wildest parties. That worried Rachel, she didn’t want Noah or his mom to get in trouble with the law. She felt a little frustrated that she hadn’t been invited, but she hadn’t really expected it. They weren’t really friends, and she was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the kind of party she’d enjoy.
But she also felt reassured. Quinn had wanted to go! She felt sure, again, that this was someone she could really be friends with. This was someone who could go to plays and shows with her and really enjoy it.
She wondered fervently what Quinn’s singing voice sounded like.
By the time the second semester was ending, winter break was over, and the class was working on the short story “The Lottery.” This was a story that had actually physically hurt Rachel to read, and she had very strong feelings about it, the kinds of strong feelings that were usually positive, and usually only directed toward musicals.
So when the teacher asked for thoughts on the story, in order to open up class discussion, Rachel’s hand was first in the air.
“I found it barbaric and horrendous. It’s completely ridiculous that society should continue with practices that are so damaging just because they are a tradition. I think we’re better than that.”
“Are we?” the teacher asked, “Can anybody think of some examples of things we do in this society that are traditional, yet damaging?”
“Lie about Santa Clause?” Brittany muttered bitterly, her brow furrowed.
“Shh,” Santana murmured, “There’s no proof he doesn’t exist.”
Brittany smiled at her, then, in a way that made Rachel a little uncomfortable, but then Quinn’s hand was in the air. The teacher smiled pleasantly; she always liked when Quinn participated.
“I object to the tone of the lesson,” Quinn said firmly, before the teacher had really even finished calling on her, “Yes, the story was barbaric, but it also took the idea of blindly following tradition to an extreme, and I’m insulted by the insinuation that other traditions have no place in society. I happen to believe that many of the traditions our culture is based upon is crucial to our survival as a people.”
The teacher began to attempt to backpedal, reassuring Quinn that she certainly agreed and that she was looking for much less extreme examples, like maybe final exams. Quinn continued to scowl, not seeming placated at all, and Rachel watched her fingers move over something close to her throat.
Rachel wasn’t sure how she’d never noticed the little gold cross before, but there it was, sitting just beneath the hollow of Quinn’s throat. Quinn picked it up and moved her fingers over it absently, then let it drop, repeating the gesture over and over.
Finally, Rachel couldn’t stand it anymore, and raised her hand, speaking over another student to say, “With all due respect, tradition itself as a regulating force isn’t very effective. Look at how the culture has changed, even in the last century or so. We’ve made great progressive strides as a nation, and we’ve had to move beyond tradition to do so, in some cases. So while tradition is a force of order, I also believe that bucking order is often necessary to better society and humanity. Because sometimes tradition is the strongest force that stands against equal human rights.”
“Um, thank you, Rachel,” the teacher responded. Rachel glanced aside to see Quinn staring at her. Rachel was almost expecting hostility in that gaze, but instead she saw…uncertainty. Fear.
Brittany and Santana were staring, too, though a little less openly, their shoulders hunched as if embarrassed. But Rachel was mostly watching Quinn, who bit her lip, touched her cross one last time and then closed her eyes, deliberately, and looked away.
By the next week, the Celibacy Club was in full swing.
Rachel felt uncertain around all the girls after that. Brittany and Santana didn’t fully ignore her after that outburst in class, but for a week or so they acted as if she had said something terribly indecent, and spoke to her only hesitantly. Rachel stopped greeting them for a week or so until they seemed to relax around her again, and about a month later, Brittany and Santana joined the Celibacy Club, too.
By the end of the third semester, some kind of accident or injury had happened, and Quinn became Head Cheerio. Overnight, her demeanor changed. Where she had usually just seemed quiet and chilly, now she was stony and cold. She sat differently, her posture even more erect, and when Rachel spoke now, she actually looked at her with hard, calculating eyes. It made Rachel shiver, but not unpleasantly. She didn’t know what exactly Quinn saw, but she studied Rachel more carefully, and more often, since she was named a leader.
She also talked slightly more often in class, apparently no longer worried about what Santana thought it could do to their reputation. After all, she’d managed to get the cheerleaders into a Celibacy Club without anything going wrong.
This led to more verbal interaction between Rachel and Quinn.
Like when they read “The Cold Equations,” and Rachel was extremely upset that someone had to die, but understood it was done for the greater good. Quinn, however, felt that suicide was never martyrdom, and that the woman giving up her life was really just a victim of her own stupidity.
Or when they read Romeo and Juliet, and Rachel lamented the way society forced some people to hide their love, even to the point of death. It allowed her to go into another soliloquy about the ways social norms created discrimination and prejudice, and again, Quinn seemed to be rubbed the wrong way. She just said that the two were simply a pair of stupid teenagers who should have known better and probably should have listened to their parents. There was no future for them, and teenage romance wasn’t worth their lives. This was an instance, Quinn insisted, that social pressure to conform would have been a good thing.
As their eyes locked, and Brittany and Santana looked uncomfortable, Rachel just trembled.
She had never stopped being fascinated with Quinn, despite the other girl’s obvious socially conservative religious views. To Rachel, this was perhaps the first time she enjoyed disagreeing with someone so completely. Quinn was passionate, to a degree rarely seen in the apathy of high school culture. And Quinn was clearly intelligent, and much of what she said indicated that she believed high school was just something to get through, on the way to greater things. Rachel could identify with that sort of drive to succeed.
Besides, it gave her an excuse to look at Quinn, when they would argue on either side of a topic, not exactly addressing each other, but still communicating. And she liked looking at Quinn, more than she could really articulate. She liked the way it made her belly dip unexpectedly.
To the rest of the class, Rachel was sure, this was boring class discussion. They probably barely took notice of the fact that the two girls in the back were frequently on opposite sides of a debate about a piece of literature; they just took their notes and watched the teacher. Brittany and Santana always noticed, and it seemed to make them anxious. But mostly it was just her and Quinn, their eyes locking, their mouths set, their minds made up.
It made Rachel feel warm and squirmy and breathless but good.
By the middle of the last semester, Rachel was not quite ready for school to be over.
She felt a little disappointed that she didn’t seem to have befriended anyone, not really. There was a boy in her Math class who was clearly gay, but who refused to talk to her. It seemed to be her skirt and knee socks that put him off. She thought at first it was her exposed legs, and wondered if they could really be that disgusting to a gay boy, but eventually figured it out. She felt frustrated, because some of the guys in the class hassled him, but he seemed to shake it off. Still, it seemed that he probably needed a friend, and she wished she could be one for him.
And she still hadn’t made much progress with Brittany, Santana and Quinn.
After her botched attempt to invite them to see a play, she hadn’t tried again in a very long time. She waited to see if they would invite her anywhere. Then, she invited them to see a local, amateur performance of Chicago in the spring, but it happened to be the same weekend as some big cheerleading competition.
Still, their demeanor had not changed much. Santana eventually began to make more snarky comments about Rachel being a brain, but Rachel was pretty sure she was teasing, considering she was in the same English class and seemed to be doing fine. Brittany was the same as ever, generally just trying hard to concentrate on class (she was easily distracted, usually by whatever Santana was saying to her). And Quinn was mostly the same distant verbal sparring partner.
The one thing that changed, though, was that Quinn seemed to be wearing an involuntary smirk when they’d debate in class, now.
It made Rachel smile, too.
It seemed so ridiculous and foolish, to be staring at each other, hotly debating literature on opposite sides of the sociopolitical spectrum, grinning slightly. Until Quinn’s mouth would thin, and her eyebrows draw together, and she’d snap back into her hard, calculating look. Rachel’s own grin would falter, and she would be left bemused.
It was moments like that that made it impossible for her to feel confident approaching Quinn directly.
But soon, things started to change. It was Santana who was standing tall and strong, it was Quinn whose shoulders were hunched awkwardly. Soon, the rumors reached even Rachel. Santana had slept with two guys, and was continuing to sort of see both of them. Brittany had also lost her virginity.
And one day, toward the end of class, she heard Santana and Quinn muttering to each other.
“Okay, but Celibacy Club is a joke.”
“Not to me,” Quinn hissed back.
“Okay, virgin, do you realize you’re the only one?”
“Coach Sylvester would kill us.”
“Yeah, well, this school would kill us if they found out.”
“Found out about what,” Quinn asked, ice in her voice.
“You know what I mean,” Santana hissed back. “You know why Brittany and I did what we did. She’s still hooking up with Mike. I’m seeing Matt and hooking up with Puck on the side. And I’m in Celibacy Club to hide all of this from the adults. It’s the only way.”
“It’s not,” Quinn whispered harshly, “Don’t you see what I’ve done? No one harasses us. We can be whoever we want.”
“No, we really can’t,” Santana growled.
The teacher called the end of class, and in the bustle of students packing up their bags, Rachel barely heard as Santana stood up and walked around Brittany to lean over Quinn’s shoulder.
“You need a boyfriend, True Love Waits. Because everyone is going to think you’re gay.”
“Nobody thinks that,” Quinn scoffed, but weakly.
Santana shrugged, “They will. I can make sure of that.” And with that, she linked pinkies with Brittany and sauntered out of the classroom, head held high.
Quinn sat frozen at her desk for several seconds, then glanced over at Rachel. Their eyes met for the briefest moment, and Quinn seemed to read something in them that made her scowl and gather her things in a swift motion, sweeping out in a swish of red and white. Rachel fumbled her things into her arms in an attempt to follow.
Out in the hall, Rachel reigned in her apprehension, the apprehension that always plagued her here. She felt tiny and powerless, swept along in currents of students. She swiveled her head, catching sight of red and white and a golden ponytail, and followed. A few turns down the corridors later, and Quinn was out of sight. Rachel frowned. This was a nearly empty hallway, without much use. But it was also the hallway to the backstage of the auditorium. Without thinking much about it, Rachel opened the door very quietly. She could hear piano keys, played softly, half-heartedly, but not without skill.
As she stepped through the door, Quinn looked up from the piano, facing her, then immediately back down to the keys. She played a few chords, then released the keys and her foot from the pedal, and the sound cut out. She glanced up again at Rachel, who felt awkward and compelled to speak.
“I…didn’t think anybody else ever came here,” Rachel started lamely, “Don’t you have class?”
Quinn snorted, “Mr. Schuester won’t care. Not like I learn anything there anyway. And this is like, the only quiet place in the school, since half the arts budget goes unused and gets scooped up by the athletic department.”
“Wait, it does? There could be…more arts?”
Quinn shrugged and didn’t answer, but Rachel was already lost in thought. She had tried to find extracurriculars that would interest her this year, but though she had joined many clubs, none were really music based. There was a Glee club, but for some reason, only males made tryouts. But there could be more…she decided next year, she would make sure to find a way use more of the arts budget. Maybe a Glee club that had more of a purpose than just giving Mr. Ryerson students to perv on…
“What do you want?” Quinn asked brusquely, interrupting Rachel’s thoughts.
Rachel shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably for a moment. Quinn’s gaze, however brief, was piercing. “I was just…checking on you. It seemed like Santana said something that upset you.”
Quinn snorted, an attempt to sound derisive, “Santana is always saying something stupid.”
“Is it true?” Rachel asked, “Did she and Brittany really have sex?”
Quinn’s eyes went wide, “Don’t be disgusting.”
Rachel flushed, suddenly realizing the implication. “Oh my God. I didn’t mean with each other. Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” she rambled slightly.
Quinn squeezed her eyes shut and said nothing, but something about the haunted look in her eyes, when she opened them and started back at the keys, told Rachel everything.
“Oh,” Rachel said softly, “So they…so, the boys they slept with…were to cover that?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Quinn growled shortly.
“Okay,” Rachel said, subsiding again. They faced each other in silence again, Quinn still avoiding her, until Rachel asked softly, “So, you play?”
“Why are you here?” Quinn asked abruptly, sounding tired, now.
“Because…” Rachel didn’t know how to answer at first, until she said, “Because we’re friends. Or could be.”
Quinn just snorted and shook her head, “We could never be friends.”
“Why not?” Rachel challenged, feeling hurt.
“I don’t have friends,” Quinn snarled then, “Don’t you get it? High school isn’t about that. It’s just about doing what you need to do to get out. Nobody matters, nothing matters, it’s just about surviving, and using whoever you can to make it through. And I’m going to do it without friends, without boyfriends, without anybody.”
“If that’s true,” Rachel started slowly, “Then why wouldn’t you want to get a boyfriend? If just to keep people like Santana off you back?”
“I don’t want—” Quinn began hotly, and then closed her mouth, looking away.
“I understand,” Rachel nodded, “I don’t really want one either.”
When Quinn looked back at her, her gorgeous, expressive eyes were very direct again. Calculating. Guarded. “What do you think of me? What do you think I am?” she asked softly.
Rachel didn’t really understand the question. What did she think she was? God. She was Quinn, she was… “I just think…I just think you’re amazing. Talented. Intelligent. Beautiful. Strong. And I think…I think we might have a lot in common. If you’d let me in.” She felt the heat on her face, under the scrutiny of Quinn’s gaze, saw the way Quinn’s eyes seemed to soften and glow, seemed to pull her in, and…oh my God. Why did this feel so…powerful? Why did she have butterflies?
Then Quinn was standing up slowly, circling around the bench and around the piano, stalking toward her, and Rachel’s gaze fell to Quinn’s hips, Quinn’s legs, then back up to her arms and shoulders and…she realized she was holding her breath.
And she finally realized what it was that had her so fascinated. What that feeling of pulling she’d always felt was.
Attraction that had grown into…God, these stupid, confusing feelings about…Quinn. This crush.
And Quinn was standing right in front of her, the closest they’d ever been, close enough that Rachel could see her legs shaking slightly, her fists curling and uncurling uncertainly, her chin trembling. Could see the way Quinn’s eyes closed and she took a deep breath, as if gathering strength.
Those beautiful eyes opened, and Quinn’s hand extended slowly. Rachel opened her own hand, bringing it just slightly forward, and for an instant, felt cool fingers brush against her own. Soft fingers.
Rachel shivered, her breath caught. Quinn stopped. Her eyes flicked back up to Rachel’s. Rachel tried to smile, encouragingly. “See?” she murmured, “You can let someone in.”
Quinn’s eyes widened, and in an instant, Rachel knew it was the wrong thing to say. Quinn’s hand jerked back as if she’d been burned, and she spun, striding furiously back to the piano bench to get her bag, all legs and spanks and pleats.
“Quinn, wait,” Rachel tried, hurrying after her.
Quinn whirled, and this time, her teary eyes made Rachel’s belly quiver in fear, “Don’t you dare speak to me you…you disgusting freak,” she snarled, her fists clenched. She seemed barely able to resist physically pushing Rachel away, so Rachel backed up several steps herself, feeling her legs turn to jelly.
Quinn was gone in only moments, leaving Rachel standing, confused and hurt, next to the piano, backstage.
Rachel spent that night pondering what had gone wrong. She thought back on their previous interactions, marveling again at how slow she was to recognize her own feelings, her own attraction to Quinn. But there it was.
It was not really a secret that her fathers were gay. But it didn’t exactly come up very often, mostly because no one really talked about her. When she thought about that, she realized that a lot of her debates with Quinn certainly sounded like she was arguing from a very personal standpoint. And she was, she was protecting her fathers. And perhaps also herself, unconsciously. Probably, no one had ever bothered to tell Quinn about Rachel’s dads when she moved to the district. So that, she realized, was probably construed by Quinn as outing herself. Maybe even flirtation, she thought with a delicious little tremble.
And other things they said. Rachel telling Quinn she thought they were similar. She meant an interest in music, but how could Quinn know that? From Quinn’s perspective, it probably felt like Rachel had somehow sensed she was…well…whatever she was. Queer? Gay?
No wonder she had gotten spooked.
So Rachel spent that night arranging and recording a version of West Side Story’s “Somewhere,” to post on her Myspace page. It was a song she had always wanted to do, and now she had reason to. Now she had someone to sing it to.
She posted it with just “Hold my hand and we’re halfway there” beneath it.
She didn’t know what she wanted, really, just Quinn. In some way. Whether just to comfort her, or…more.
She spent so much time that evening thinking about Quinn that she didn’t even start her homework, a first for her, but she had to go to bed or risk upsetting her entire sleep schedule.
The next day at school, Rachel came in with every intention of finding some way to talk to Quinn. She wanted to reassure her, that her secret was safe with Rachel, to encourage her, that everything would be okay.
But within ten minutes of being there, she heard the gossip.
Quinn Fabray had a boyfriend.
His wasn’t a name she really knew. She recognized it a little, she knew it was a guy in her grade, but she couldn’t put a face to the name. One of the jock boys, she thought, and found she was unable to keep the name in her memory.
It hurt, more than it had any right to, to hear about it. Now, she was sure she needed to talk to Quinn, to tell her not to do anything she didn’t want to do, that being unhappy wasn’t worth blending in for another three whole years until she could really start her life.
It was still early in the day when she spotted Quinn in the hallway, walking with Santana and Noah, who leaned against each other heavily, sharing a drink, while Quinn scowled next to them. Rachel had a plan. She would approach Quinn and politely ask if they could converse about their science project—it was a class they didn’t have with Santana, so she couldn’t know about any work they could be doing.
As she began to approach Quinn purposefully, Quinn’s gaze shot up and met hers. Her mouth twisted and she leaned over to whisper in Santana’s ear. Santana’s gaze fired around until she spotted Rachel, and then she smirked slightly.
Rachel felt her steps faltering a little, but she steeled herself and continued walking. Whatever Quinn had just said to Santana, she couldn’t imagine it would be anything that could out Quinn.
She was just steps away from them, her eyes on Quinn, her mouth just opening to say, “Hello, Qui—” when—
She saw it out of the corner of her eye, the way Santana’s hand quickly slapped up at the drink Noah was holding. A startled cry escaped him as it flew out of his hand, and Rachel abruptly realized that it had no lid, and then…
Red ice pelted her face, her chest, trickled down onto her bare legs. She stopped in her tracks, her eyes closed. She felt like her heart had stopped, it was so cold, it burned.
There was a moment of collective silence, as everyone in the hall stopped to look.
Then Rachel opened her eyes, blurred with unwilling tears, and all at once, the hall was ringing with laughter. She could see Santana’s pride that her shot had landed so well, could see the way Noah’s pity melted as fast as the ice crystals in her shirt until he was laughing helplessly, could see the way Quinn’s expression changed from hard and steely to a wide, sadistic smile.
She also thought she saw, for a fleeting moment, sadness in Quinn’s eyes, but then she and Santana were high-fiving and moving on, leaving Rachel standing in a puddle of slush.
As she passed, Quinn leaned in to murmur in her ear, “Tell anyone about it, and I will make your life hell.”
Rachel tried to clean up, and appropriated as much of her semi-clean gym uniform into her outfit as possible. In English class, a glance toward her usual seat showed her it was covered with slushy, and she ducked her head and found a different one.
When she got home that night, someone called Sky Splits had commented on her “Somewhere” video, Who would ever want to hold hands like yours, Manhands?
She thought, then, that if she kept her mouth shut, she would be left alone.
She had no idea that one moment with Quinn Fabray, one brief moment when their hands touched, had doomed her to a high school career of nearly daily slushies, social isolation, and contempt. That everyone had decided, the moment the slushy hit, to push her away.
Which would be bearable, maybe.
If she didn’t always feel Quinn’s eyes on her from far away, pulling her back in.