The sound of a pan hitting the floor resonated through the apartment, stirring the brunette beauty still lying under the thick duvet in the master bedroom. Her messy hair and some of her forehead peeked out from under it. Her arm reached for the other side of the bed, finding it empty but still warm, meaning the other occupant had just vacated it to probably make some breakfast. Rachel yawned, stirring slowly before slipping out of bed to pad barefoot towards the source of that noise. Her eyes still felt a bit drowsy from the sleep, but it was nothing that a good cup of coffee couldn’t solve.
As soon as she reached the open kitchen area, she leaned against the doorway and stared at the back of her lover’s head, who was flipping pancakes and humming to the music coming out of his iPhone, plugged in the dock station. She smiled at the sight and paced around the kitchen island, slipping her arms around his slim waist and dropping her forehead between his shoulders.
“Hey you, did I wake you up?” Jesse chuckled and stretched his neck, to place a gentle kiss against her forehead. “I still haven’t gotten used to your kitchen.”
“It’s fine. Tell me you started the coffee machine, though.” She mumbled against the fabric of his t-shirt.
“Of course, how could I expect to engage you in any conversation if caffeine is not in your system?” He handed her a fresh mug, chuckling at the way her posture changed. She stood straighter, eager to take the first sip. “Sometimes, I wonder if you could ever love me as much as you love that thing.” He pointed at her, with a hint of sadness in his voice.
“I am afraid coffee will always be my first love, but keep on being that cute and I’ll try and place you second.” She smiled and took a seat at the kitchen island. Her iPhone beeped with a few emails and texts, both from her manager and best friend. She replied to some and scrolled through the news, before Jesse joined her and placed a plate full of vegan pancakes, in front of her.
“There you go, star.” He reached for the newspaper, going straight to the politics section and failing to notice the pensive look on his girlfriend’s face, caused by the nickname that had slipped from his mouth.
Rachel stared down at her phone, her thumb itching to go back to her Facebook page and search for a familiar name. Search for a familiar face and eyes that still haunted her dreams.
When Leroy woke up, that morning, he was surprised to find a moving truck in the driveway across from his. He had seen the “on sale” sign for a while and families had come and gone, visiting the property and asking the other residents information about the neighborhood. He still remembered the day he and Hiram decided to move back to Lima – his hometown – after getting their college degrees on the West Coast; they were just looking for a safe and peaceful neighborhood where to raise a family and grow old together. Lima had not always been open and warm to them, but they had managed to find good and private neighbors that welcomed them like any other family settling there.
“What are you staring at, Lee?” Hiram kissed his shoulder with affection and took the mug from him, borrowing a sip before making a disgusted face at the taste of sugar free coffee. “I will never understand the appeal of black coffee.”
“Next month, we are celebrating 15 years together and you still don’t know how I like my coffee?” Leroy chuckled and grabbed another mug from the cupboard, pouring some fresh coffee in and adding three sugar cubes. “We have new neighbors, maybe you and Rachel could bake them some fresh cupcakes?”
“What’s the special occasion?” The short brunette came bouncing down the stairs, greeting her fathers with a kiss on the cheek before grabbing a fresh apple from the basket and taking a bite.
“I was just informing your dad we have new neighbors, sweetie.” Leroy handed her a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and joined her at the kitchen table, opening his newspaper. “I am sure they’d appreciate a ‘welcome’ basket with your baked goodies.”
“I will work on that, soon after breakfast.” She smiled at him and looked at her other father, who was rummaging through the cupboards to ensure they had all the ingredients.
“You have plans for the rest of the day, honey?” Hiram took a seat at the table, stroking the back of Leroy’s hand as he took a peak at the entertainment news on the back of the newspaper. “When is Finn going to come around for an official dinner? You have been dating the boy for almost a year, now.”
“I tried to set a date with you, but I think he is afraid of Daddy and his lawyer attitude.” Rachel took a sip from her glass and looked out of the window, catching the sight of a blonde haired girl walking down the new neighbors’ driveway towards the main door. “It looks like there is a girl in the new house; maybe we can invite them all for dinner?”
“That’s not a bad idea at all, baby girl.” Leroy stood up and grabbed his laptop bag, draping it over his shoulder before grabbing the jacket for his matching suit. “Don’t burn the house down, you two.” He kissed both their foreheads and headed towards the door.
Once out, he threw a glance at the house across from his, trying to get few more information from afar. He saw a blonde man – probably around his age – instructing some movers to carry the heavy furniture inside the house, whilst a younger girl took some boxes marked with a black Q on their sides. The girl was not much older than Rachel and that relieved him. Maybe his daughter could find a new friend to bond with, that wasn’t Finn or some envious kid from the Glee club. With that thought, he slipped inside his Land Rover and drove off, towards his workplace.
Despite being at the top of her Broadway career and seeing her face all over the billboards in New York, Rachel wasn’t really one of those ‘party girls’ who liked clubbing and getting hammered until she forgot her name. She had a different notion of relax and fun. She’d rather stay home, curled on her couch with a musical playing on her TV, while nursing a good glass of wine or maybe having dinner in a nice restaurant, away from the crowd. Even when she met Jesse, she was lucky enough to find someone who would share her same passion for those kind of nights, despite his preference for gangster movies. But they could always compromise.
Tonight, though, she was dragged out of her cozy apartment to help her best friend in reviewing a newly opened night club, in the SoHo area. She couldn’t really say no. Tina had begged and pouted until she had given in, taking advantage of that invitation to catch up with her. In High School, she would have never imagined their friendship would blossom in such a strong way, but once in New York they had gotten to know each other and found they had more things in common, than Kurt or Mercedes ever had. Maybe it was because they hadn’t to compete for anything. Maybe it was because they really got each other, without needing to keep a score of who had helped whom. Maybe it was both. Truth been told, Tina had been everything she had ever wanted in a best friend and it was definitely a mutual thing.
“Rachel! Here!!” Tina stood in the middle of the club, having snatched a table close to the bar, but not near enough to get smothered by the customers getting in line for their drinks.
“Hey!” Rachel waved back, walking through the crowd and looking around. The club was definitely a step-up compared to what it used to be. Leather couches, glasses table, comfortable seats and elegant design elements were all over the walls. The staff also wore uniforms, compared to the usual outfits she was accustomed to see in these places.
“Glad you could make it. Feels like ages since the last time I saw you” Tina hugged her tightly and then plopped back in her seat, waving the waiter over to get another round of drinks. “Can we have another Martini Dry and a Vodka Lemon? Don’t hold back with the vodka.” She handed him her credit card for the payment.
“Very well ma’am. I will come back shortly with your drinks.” The waiter typed on his iPad and then walked back towards the counter, to proceed with the payment as the bartender mixed the drinks.
“It’s a nice place, how’s your review going so far?” Rachel settled in her seat, staring at her friend’s notepad sitting close by.
“Pretty well. This is a very classy place and the prices are not even that high. Great combo.” Tina looked through her notes, scribbling something else down as her eyes caught the expensive paintings on the walls behind the bar.
“Combo? Is that a technical word?” Rachel chuckled. Leaning back, she thanked the waiter for her drink and took a sip, coughing a little for the amount of alcohol in it. “That’s Vodka + Vodka, with a hint of lemon.”
“Oh hush, it’s not like you can’t handle some booze.” Tina pocketed her receipt and took a long sip from her own glass. “So, tell me about you. We haven’t had a chance to talk since your last Broadway opening. Any new shows on the way?”
“I have been auditioning some but I might take a small break from it.” Rachel smiled at the puzzlement on her friend’s face. “Universal wants me for my first album!”
“OH MY GOD! That’s amazing!” Tina leaned over the table, almost spilling their drinks, to hug her friend and squeal joyously in her ear, earning few glances from the other patrons of the bar. “Is that definite already? Have you closed a good deal?”
“Cassandra is working on that, you know her. She is a shark and that’s why I hired her.” Rachel chuckled and finished her drink, licking her moist lips.
“And what does Jesse say about that? Are things alright with you two?” Tina sat her own drink down, leaning forward to stare at her friend, whose smile had visibly faded at the mention of her boyfriend. “Did something happen with him? I swear if he hurt you, I will-“
“Calm down, tiger. He is fine, he is actually more than fine. He has been so patient with me and I can tell he’d like to move things further, but I am not sure about that.”
“Has that something to do with a blondie with hazel eyes and a charming smile?” Tina sighed gently, knowing that the aforementioned blonde was still a too vivid memory in her friend’s mind and, mostly, heart.
“It’s stupid, I know. I have had boyfriends since her, but I can’t shrug the thought that…I don’t know, that maybe she will drop on my doorstep and I won’t know what to do.” Rachel dropped her face in her palms, sighing in deeply.
“Maybe it won’t be on your doorstep, you know?” Tina’s eyes caught a familiar silhouette moving behind Rachel. A familiar blonde, who had visibly matured in the years, adding more appeal to her natural beauty.
“Why? What do you mean?” Rachel stared up at the other brunette, whose gaze was lost on something behind her shoulders. When she turned around to catch a glimpse herself, she felt her breath catching in her throat and her heart drop in her chest.
When Leroy walked back into his house, later that evening, he was surprised to hear more and unknown voices coming from the living room, the scent of vanilla cupcakes was still lingering in the air, making him feel home like usual. He dropped his suitcase by the door and hung his jacket on the coat rack before joining his family and guests in the living room.
“Dear, we didn’t hear you come in.” Hiram stood up to place a gentle kiss on his cheek, before turning towards their guest sitting on their ample couch. “These are the Fabray’s, our new neighbors.”
“Welcome to the neighborhood. I am Leroy Berry.” He extended his hand out, sighing in relief when the man around his same age took it, with no disdain nor anger in his grey eyes. He had met so many people in his life, who had judged him and his family for loving his husband.
“Russell Fabray, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting us over.” He smiled gratefully and then wrapped a strong arm around his wife’s shoulder, kissing her temple as she took his hand. “Judy and I had no time to run to the store and grab some groceries. We would have called some place for delivery, but we don’t know anyone.” He chuckled softly.
“Oh don’t worry, Hiram and Rachel here know the best places in town. If they didn’t, we’d starve ourselves or end up burning the house down.” He nudged his husband’s arm with his, before turning to the still silent teenager standing beside her mother. “Oh gosh, is your daughter a model or something? She is very pretty.”
“Thank you, sir. You should see my elder sister, she is the model in our family.” The blonde switched glances between him and his own daughter, who was staring at her with rapture. “My name is Quinn, thank you again for having us over, sir.” She took his outstretched hand in hers, returning his grip with a strong one.
“So polite too. You must be very proud of her.” Leroy turned back to Judy and Russell, who just nodded with a smile. “So, I gather you already ordered take out? Why don’t you girls take a tour upstairs, while your dad and I trade information with Russell and Judy?” He turned toward his daughter, who smiled and took Quinn’s hand, tugging her upstairs towards her room.
As soon as the teens reached the brunette’s room, Quinn took her time in looking around. Even if she barely knew Rachel, she could tell the room was nothing but a great way to mirror Rachel’s bubbly personality and interests. She walked to the tall bookshelf on the far corner of the room, staring at the different pictures with interest. There were pictures of Rachel with her fathers. So many pictures of the three of them. Then, there were a couple of pictures with a tall boy, whose crooked smile made her want to roll eyes at him, and a group picture of a school club called “Glee”.
“What is Glee? A music club?” Quinn examined the photo. She could see the happiness radiating off Rachel, as she held their Regional trophy high in her hands. But she couldn’t see the same enthusiasm in the other people surrounding her. The tall guy with the dopey smile looked bored and everyone else either looked away or stared at the back of Rachel’s head, with annoyance or envy.
“Sort of. We don’t play any instruments, but we sing and dance and compete at Regional and National levels with the best school choirs from around the Country.” Rachel took the photo from her hands, pointing at the trophy in her hands. “We had just won Regionals and that had granted us access to Nationals, in New York. It was a special moment for us.”
“How did Nationals go? You must have been enthusiastic to go to New York, right? I mean, from what I can tell here, it’s your biggest dream?” Quinn pointed to the Broadway posters on the walls and the books in her bookshelf.
“I was. I even got the chance to see where my favorite musical plays, but we didn’t win.” She sighed sadly and placed the picture back down, rubbing her hands together. “During our performance, Finn…well, he chose that moment to kiss me in front of the whole audience. We have a rocky relationship and we had broken up, again, so he thought I’d appreciate the romanticism behind his gesture.”
“Let me guess, he got the girl but you didn’t rank high?” Quinn stared back at the picture of the tall guy, assuming it was the tool Rachel had just mentioned. “So, you still took him back?” She pointed to the picture of the two of them, earning a small nod from the singer. “Maybe he has some hidden talent, after all.” She muttered to herself and walked to the brunette’s desk, picking the Barbra’s biography. “You know, my mom is a huge fan. She has all of her movies and albums. You will probably have a lot to talk about, I think she even met her once.”
“Oh my god, your mom met Barbra? That’s amazing. I must know everything about her. I am such a fan and I can’t wait to be on Broadway to make a duet with her or even work in a remake of Funny Girl. It’d be such an honor for me to be in Fanny’s shoes, after her.” Rachel took Quinn’s hand and dragged her back toward the door. “I need your mom to start telling me everything!”
Rachel felt like passing out. Her eyes couldn’t help but follow the familiar blonde navigating through the club, talking to the staff and greeting the customers, leading them to their tables. Her palms were sweaty and her heart was thumping hard in her chest. She couldn’t believe at what she was witnessing with her own eyes. Was her mind tricking her? Was it some sort of a sign? Was the universe telling her something?
“Rachel? Tina?” Another familiar voice broke her out of her daze, making her lose sight of the blonde woman. Turning around, she found herself engulfed by none but Dave Karofsky. His arms pulled her tightly in, before a soft kiss was placed on her forehead, out of old habits. “What are you two doing here?”
“Funny, I was going to ask you that question.” Tina stood by Rachel’s side, hugging him briefly, as she nudged her still silent friend. “What brings you here?”
“I am a co-owner of this place. We just opened this place here, as a part of our plan to expand our chain to the East Coast. Next stop: Boston.” He turned towards Rachel, who was still trying to find Quinn with her curious eyes. “She is upstairs, first door on the left.” He whispered in her ear, pushing her towards the staircase that led to the staff area. He exchanged a short nod with the security team standing by the bottom of the stairs, who let Rachel pass without questioning her motives.
“This is going to be a mess; you know that?” Tina turned towards Dave, who sighed knowingly. “How has she been?”
“You know her, putting up a strong mask even if she is breaking inside. How has Rachel been doing?” Dave waved towards the bartender for a refill and sat in the recently vacated chair.
“Not good. Your best friend destroyed mine, you know that?” The brunette girl took a sip from her new drink, staring into the guy’s face who could only nod. “What’s her plan? Is she going to stick around or what?”
“I think she is here to stay. It was her idea to come here and we know why she chose New York, of all the places.” Dave leaned back in his chair, undoing his tie and running a hand through his perfect hair. “I hope she has stopped running away.”
“The two of us, Dave.”
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to show up at this party, Rachel? I don’t want to impose. These are your friends and I don’t know anyone but you.” Quinn helped the girl out of her mother’s SUV and closed the door behind them, locking it with her remote. “If you want, I can just come pick you up when you’re done. So I know you will be home safe.”
“That’s very sweet of you, Quinn, but you really don’t need to worry. Knowing Noah, he probably invited half of the school at this party for the 4th of July, so it’s not like I know these people either.” She grabbed the girl’s hand and led her up the driveway, not even bothering to knock. She pushed the door open and stumbled back, when a pair of football players passed by, already drunk on beer.
“Hey, watch it.” Quinn called out after the two boys, who just ignored her protests. The blonde rolled her eyes knowingly. She hated these gatherings. It was another chance for people to get drunk, lose their inhibitions and even get in bad situations. There were plenty of these things back in Boston. “Let’s find your friends, shall we?” She whispered loudly in the brunette’s ear, who held onto her hand and led their way through the sweaty teens dancing in the living room.
“I see my friends!” Rachel bounced happily and pushed her way through the crowd, finally standing in front of some of her Glee friends. “Hi everyone. This is Quinn, my new neighbor. Quinn these are: Mercedes, Kurt, Tina, Brittany, Artie.” She pointed to each member and then turned around in search of a tall boy, who was still missing.
“You are hot. Are you going to join the Cheerios?” Brittany asked her innocently, while playing with her hands. “Are you flexible enough? Can you do this?” She slipped one of her legs behind her head and smiled back at the other blonde, who raised her eyebrow in puzzlement wearing a clear ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ look on her face.
“Shit, Brittany. You shouldn’t be doing this in public, I told you.” An angry Latina pushed between Quinn and Rachel, straightening Brittany’s pose so that she could be sitting properly, before plopping down in her lap. “Who is this blonde bimbo? That’s why she is friends with you, Hobbit? Cause her IQ is lower than average?”
“Listen bitch, I don’t know who you think you are, but if you think you can insult Rachel or myself without any consequence, you have another thing coming.” Quinn stepped into the brunette’s face, who could only smirk when Rachel slipped between them, to stop her. “Let me go, Rach.”
“It’s no use, Quinn. Santana is a bitch to everyone, that’s how she deals with people who make her feel threatened.” The brunette rubbed her back gently and looked up into her hazel eyes. “Let’s get something to drink, I also need to find Finn.” She steered her towards the kitchen, making sure to keep a safe grip on the blonde girl, so that she wouldn’t try to slap some sense into Santana.
“Girl is feisty and hot, wonder why she hangs out with that loser.” Santana muttered and leaned back into Brittany’s arms, who just sighed at her girlfriend’s attitude.
It took all of Quinn’s willpower and Rachel’s warm hand to keep her from running back to Santana and punch her in the face or those fake boobs she had. Why didn’t anyone take a stand to defend Rachel? Was it so hard to be loyal to her? She really didn’t get it. She squeezed the smaller hand with her fingers, reminding herself that she had just met Rachel and that she wasn’t free. She was being a welcoming neighbor and friend, with no further motives. She couldn’t misinterpret her kindness for something, that was probably just in her head. She had just left a silly teenage drama behind herself, she couldn’t jump head first into another one. Not so soon. Not by risking to ruin her tentative friendship with Rachel.
“Finn, there you are. I’ve been searching for you anywhere.” The moment Rachel caught sight of her boyfriend, she let Quinn’s hand go, failing to notice the look on the blonde’s face. “I want you to meet Quinn, my new neighbor and friend.” She side hugged the tall boy and leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss his slightly sweaty cheek.
“Hey, what’s up?” He barely looked at the girl in his arms, but took his time to stare at her from head to toe. Quinn couldn’t help but roll her eyes at his attitude. She was aware of her own beauty, but she would have expected him to be more considerate of his girlfriend standing there.
“Nothing is up. Having fun with your beer pong game?” She snorted at his dopey smile. Was he actually trying to charm her, with Rachel there? “Rach, what can I get you?” She moved toward the bar counter, ready to mix drinks herself when another boy popped out of nowhere, wearing even a worse smile on his face.
“Sorry hottie, only the Puckzilla is allowed to mix drinks.” He leered at her, probably undressing her in his mind while leaning toward her. “I could make an exception, though. Wanna see my liquor collection in my bedroom? I will allow you to touch, whatever you want.”
“In your dreams, maybe.” She pushed him back and grabbed two beer bottles, uncapping them against the edge of the counter. She tried to walk back toward the oblivious brunette, when the guy stepped in front of her, trapping her against the counter. “You better move, if you want to be able to procreate.” She gritted between her teeth.
“C’mon baby. Why are you playing so hard to get? I bet you and I could have so much fun, together. Do you like wine coolers?” He tried to place his hand on her cheek, but before being able to do that, he found himself on his knees holding onto his groin. “Fucking bitch!!” He groaned in pain, breathing hard and fighting the urge to throw up.
“That will teach you a lesson. No means no, idiot.” She stepped over him and handed Rachel her beer, whilst Finn kneeled by his best friend assessing the damage. “Has that guy ever tried anything with you?” She looked at the brunette with concern, who shook her head and just watched Finn helping Puck up.
“Are you crazy or something, new girl? You could have injured him. He is one of our best players.” Finn towered over her, trying to intimidate her with his height advantage, but she just wanted to ignore his bad smell of sweat and alcohol. How could Rachel stand that?
“Finn, right? If your best player had taken no as an answer, he wouldn’t be standing there, holding a pack of green peas against his groin and praying he doesn’t need a surgery for those blue balls.” She took a sip from her beer and looked around the room, feeling more eyes on her than what she had expected. “He was a jerk and got what he deserved.”
“It was a harmless joke, are you a carpet muncher or something?” He chuckled humorlessly and smirked at the approving cat whistles from the other guys.
“Finn Hudson, I can’t believe you!” Rachel slammed the beer bottle on the table and pushed a finger against his chest, adding more space between him and the girl behind her. “Just because Quinn is not falling in bed with Noah, it doesn’t mean she likes girls and even if she did, that’s none of your business!” She crossed her arms over her chest and stared up at him, with annoyance.
“C’mon Rach, she just came into town and you are taking her side over Puck’s or mine? She harmed your friend, doesn’t that count?” He tried to grab her hands with his, but she just stepped back. “Fine, act that way. Don’t come cry to me, when someone throws a slushie in your face, because you turned your back on me.” He grabbed his own drink and walked out of the room, putting an end to the whole argument.
“I’ll go, call me when you are done? So I can come pick you up and give you a ride home.” Quinn squeezed her shoulder softly and slipped out of the back door, toward her car. What a welcome party…