Chapter 11: It's Not a Party
"Hey sweet potato, got everything ready for your party?"
"Well, I would hardly call it a party, Dad; it's really more of a small get-together with a group of my peers. But yes, I do think all of the preparations are in place." Hiram smiled at his daughter and shook his head good-naturedly. He started to walk away when she called after him, "And let me just remind you that while sweet potato is an adorable nickname," her voice grew louder and more hurried as he continued on his path down the hallway, "under no circumstances are you to call me that once people start getting here!"
Rachel pursed her lips as he waved at her behind his back with a chuckle. "Yeah, yeah, sure thing." He set off down the stairs at the end of the hall with a devious smirk.
Rachel huffed and continued talking, now to herself. "And now he's off thinking of a million other embarrassing terms of endearment for me. Excellent."
Leroy walked through the door just behind her and dropped a hand on her shoulder, halting her unintelligible grumbling. "Hey there, pumpkin. Shouldn't you be getting ready for your party?"
"Everything should be good to go already." She ticked everything off on her mental checklist again and nodded in confirmation. "Um, it's not really a party, though."
"What? Sure it is!" He waved her off. "All of your friends are coming over, we're barbecuing, we'll blast some music…" he shrugged, looking rather pleased with himself, "sounds like a party to me." Leroy rested a big, comforting hand on Rachel's shoulder and planted a kiss on the top of her head. "Now come on downstairs, your guests will be here any minute."
Rachel followed her dads' path down to the first floor and out into the back yard. The round table on the patio was covered with bowls of various chips, two pitchers of diet soda, and a pot of homemade salsa. Hiram had set up speakers so that their sound system could play outdoors. The grill was all set to be fired up at any moment and packages of burgers (both veggie and beef) and hot dogs (vegan alternatives included) were at the ready.
Though she would never, ever admit it, Rachel was more excited about this little shindig than she had been about anything in a great deal of time. It wasn't often that people her own age spent their free time at her house without being forced by their parents or hers. For the first time in a long time, they were actually opting to hang out with her willingly.
Granted, only four of the glee clubbers had actually RSVP'd, but she'd heard from several little songbirds that those who hadn't formally responded to the invitation were saying that they'd probably end up showing anyway. Finn, Mercedes, and Kurt had all promised to be there, along with Tina, who was bound to bring Artie. She knew Puck would come, if only out of loyalty as her longest standing friend. She had heard through the grapevine that the neighborhood pick-up game had gotten called off, so assuming they didn't have anything better to do alternatively, Matt and Mike would make their way over out of polite obligation.
The only question as to Rachel's guests was about the potential attendance of the unholy trinity. She had extended an invitation to the trio because even though they weren't always on the best of terms, the three cheerleaders were in glee, and Rachel hoped that the common ground and her newfound friendliness with Quinn might incite an appearance from them. She hadn't seen nor heard from Quinn since they day of her bike accident, but she was hopeful that she might still be compelled to at least drop by.
Regardless, for once, a semi-large group of people who somewhat liked her as a person was knowingly coming to a social event hosted by her, and she was almost vibrating with giddiness.
She was all decked out in her best summer dress for the occasion. It was a flowy, thin-strapped, light blue thing with large white polka dots and cute little pockets in the front at her hips. Her hair was tied back in a loose ponytail to keep it off of her neck against the heat.
Rachel's eyes positively sparkled as she surveyed her back yard one last time before her guests began arriving. The sun shone high in the sky with hardly a wisp of a cloud to threaten its rays. The grass was emerald green and trimmed to look like an image from a gardening magazine. Everything was perfect.
Not long after, her friends and fellow glee clubbers finally began to trickle in the front door. Rachel greeted them as they came in and led them out to the back, where they were introduced to her dads, who had begun cooking the barbeque items and who were officially banned from saying anything other than "hello" and "nice to meet you" after pulling nicknames like "our little Jelly Bean," "Minnie Mouse," "RaRa," and "Baby Bug."
First to arrive were Kurt and Mercedes. They each met her with a hug and knew the open layout of the first floor of her house well enough from the few times they'd hung out there to find their way to the sliding door in the kitchen that led to the back lawn.
Finn showed next with his hands shoved deep down in his pockets and his shoulders bunched up so that they nearly met his ears. He let Rachel guide him out to the patio. He gave everyone an awkward smile and a nod before he almost immediately gravitated to the familiarity of the food table.
Next to come was Puck, who was as at ease as ever. He walked straight through the house without a second thought. He said hello to both of the Berry men and shook their hands amicably before he went to join Finn by the Doritos. The taller boy looked a good deal less uncomfortable with the presence of one of his jock pals at the gathering.
Tina arrived a little while later, pushing Artie in his wheelchair. They both smiled kindly at Rachel and followed her to the back yard, where they all chatted easily for a while with Kurt and Mercedes about musical inspirations and the like.
Matt and Mike popped in just as Finn and Puck produced a frisbee and proposed a game of ultimate. Artie sat out for obvious reasons, and Tina chose to sit out with him, so there were an uneven number of people; being a gracious host, Rachel told everyone she would take the bench on this one.
Rachel's fathers finished grilling and loaded the steaming burgers and hot dogs onto a platter before they bid the kids a good time and headed inside so as to ease some of the awkward tension that accompanied parents' presence at a teenage party. They were hesitant at first to leave the kids alone, but they decided that they seemed like a good, nice bunch, and they figured with all the sunlight and neighbors around that they couldn't get into too much trouble unsupervised.
Puck watched their heels as the men disappeared into the house. As soon as the sliding door closed with a thud behind them, he whipped a deck of cards out of his pocket and waved it in his hand, fanning himself, with a gleam in his eye. "Alright, now it's a party! I hope everyone brought their wallets. We're playing Texas hold 'em, and I'm feeling lucky. Get ready to fork over some cash!"
Rachel looked at him with amused disbelief. "Noah!"
He shrugged and put on his best innocent smile. "What? Oh, come on, it'll be fun. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone."
She opened her mouth to counter his words, but she ended up just sighing in defeat. "I… fine. But don't you expect me to participate."
Puck's grin turned vainglorious. "Wouldn't dream of it, babe. Just crank the music, and you can dominate the conversation while the rest of us play."
"Ha ha," sarcasm fell from her lips with the fake laugh, even though she knew that that was probably what would happen. She walked over to the speaker and turned the dial so that the Strokes song that was playing rose in volume. She bobbed her head to the tune as she made her way back to the group.
Puck started dealing the cards as Rachel sat across from him in the space between Tina and Mercedes. Finn glanced at her over his cards. "I didn't know you knew the Strokes." His eyebrows crinkled together in surprise.
She cocked her head self-righteously at his comment as the others began to play. "That's a common misconception about me. I'm much more vocal about my appreciation for the clearly superior genre of Broadway musical songs, but that doesn't mean I don't know of, or even like, other types of music. As it so happens, one of my favorite groups is the band of sisters known as HAIM, whose music falls mostly under the category of indie and pop rock. My daddy has a whole shelf dedicated to the alternative rock portion of his record collection. Plus, it's important as a performer to be familiar with any kind of music that could be thrown my way."
Finn blinked. "Oh. Right, of course." He hunkered down a little and focused his eyes on the cards in his hands again, leaving the job of conversing with Rachel to anyone else.
After several moments filled with only the sound of the poker game, Tina struck everyone when she was the one to speak up and lift the blanket of quiet that had settled over the collection of mismatched teens. All she did was ask if anyone had started back-to-school shopping yet, but one could almost hear a collective sigh escape the group's mouths as the proverbial ice was broken.
From that point, everyone around the table seemed more at ease. Tina moved her seat to Artie's lap, Kurt gave up trying to out-stare Puck over the pile of one dollar bills and opted instead to just look over Mercedes' shoulder and whispered advice in her ear, Puck and Finn not-so-playfully punched each other in the arm when the other won, and everyone smiled easily as dialogue flowed and jokes were cracked. They all munched absentmindedly on the food spread out for them and sipped at their drinks.
Just as the not-party was getting into full swing, the sound of familiar voices could be heard over the fence that enclosed the Berrys' back yard.
"Are we even sure this is the right place? This house looks way too normal to be the cave where Stubbles lays her head."
"Wait, I thought we were calling her Rachel, now."
"We are, Britt. And this is the address that was in the email, so…"
Rachel was up and running toward the gate in a heartbeat. They actually came!
"Should we ring the doorbell, or…?"
Rachel pushed the gate open with a flourish and beamed unambiguously at the girls who shrugged at each other. They all started and turned to look at her when Rachel announced gleefully, "No need, I heard you coming. You can come right to the back yard. Everyone's already here."
Without a second glance, Santana strutted past her and joined the party. Brittany waved brightly at Rachel and thanked her for inviting them before she followed Santana through the gate.
Rachel watched as the two greeted and seamlessly meshed with the boys and girls gathered around their card game with an ardent smile. As haughty as Santana pretended to be, when she let herself loosen up, her affection for each of the members of the New Directions was obvious.
Soft footsteps padded almost noiselessly on the grass behind her, but Rachel's keen ears picked up on the sound, and she turned back to face the third of the late-coming girls.
Rachel's eyebrows raised just a fraction of a centimeter when she took in the sight of the girl before her. The Quinn in front of her eyes was a Quinn she didn't entirely recognize; it was slightly disconcerting to see the blonde in clothes that weren't her Cheerios uniform, though not necessarily in a bad way. Quinn looked more relaxed in her casual attire than she ever did at school. But maybe that was the point. She wore a pair of scuffed Chucks on her feet, and the endless expanse of toned leg from her ankle on was bare until it met the frayed edge of cut-off jean shorts mid-thigh; her Cold War Kids band t-shirt rode up over her hip bone as she shifted a large plate in her hands. Her hair hung in loose waves around her shoulders. She smiled almost shyly and licked her lips. "Um, hey."
Rachel returned the grin with a little rose in her cheeks. "Hi. I'm really glad you could make it. All of you, I mean."
"Me too, actually." She remembered the dish in her hands. "Uh, my mom told me I couldn't show up empty handed, so…" Quinn handed the plate to Rachel. "They're cookies. The no-bake kind. I told my mom you were vegan, and this was the only recipe she had that didn't use eggs and stuff. They're actually pretty good, though. Very peanut butter-y."
Rachel took the plate off of Quinn's hands in both of her own. The cookies did smell appetizing. "So I gather these are the reason you're showing up so late?"
Quinn scoffed silently. "Fashionably late. And no, actually, I'm not late because I was busy making cookies. The three of us just got back from Coach Sylvester's cheerleading camp," She inserted emphatic air quotes, "which basically means we spent the last two weeks sleeping on the football field and cartwheeling until we threw up. And then cartwheeling some more. I literally just got home an hour ago. Coming to your little hootenanny was kind of a last minute decision."
"Oh, well in that case, I am just honored that you've decided to spend your first afternoon of freedom at my – wait, hootenanny?"
Both girls cracked up laughing. "One of my better word choices, I think," Quinn said through punctuated chuckles.
When they both caught their breath again, Rachel gestured to the gate with the plate of no-bakes. "So, would you care to actually join this hootenanny?"
"When we're having so much fun at our own private party? Psh." She grinned and winked before she motioned for Rachel to lead the way.
The girls entered the yard to find the guys throwing the frisbee around again, this time joined by a delighted Brittany, Artie and Tina apparently having a soda-chugging contest (Tina was winning by a landslide), Kurt and Mercedes not-so surreptitiously passing judgment on everyone's outfits, Puck with his forehead flat on the table, and Santana laughing maniacally while counting a rather large stack of dollar bills.
The two girls on the edge of the scene broke out into a new fit of laughter, one because she could only imagine how her friend's antics could have landed her that much cash in that little time, and the other because for a group of people who would, under normal circumstances, never be seen within a fifty-foot radius of each other, they all just seemed to fit so perfectly and it brought her so much joy she had to blink a few tears away.
They glanced at each other sideways and out of nowhere Rachel's memory was jogged that she was supposed to be a hostess. She led Quinn over to where all of the food was located and poured herself a cup of soda while she was there. "So! With the addition of your cookies, we also have a variety of chips, although I think Finn may have worked his way through all of the Doritos already… we've got plenty of soda – all diet, of course – and both hot dogs and burgers. Except by the looks of it, all that's left is the vegan hot dogs and a veggie burger. The guys made quick work of the grilled foods, apparently." She raised her voice so that it caught the attention of the boys about whom she was speaking.
Finn looked over and pretended to just notice that Quinn had gotten there. He jogged over to the two girls and accidentally dunked his hand into the bowl of salsa. He pulled it out immediately and shook his hand out, spraying both girls. "Oh! Sorry! Crap." He wiped his dripping hand on his shorts desperately.
Rachel smiled graciously. "It's fine. I'll just go get some napkins." She bustled off towards the sliding door to fetch them.
Finn watched her go for a moment before he looked back at the blonde with a hopeful grin. "Hey, Quinn."
Quinn closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she turned back to him, the strain on her lips was less of a smile and more of a grimace. "Look, Finn, I don't know if you remember that I broke up with you because you cheated on me, but it is for those specific reasons that I do not want to talk to you. Okay?" His face fell and he nodded. She stared at him with quirked eyebrows, but he didn't seem to be getting the message. She huffed and got to the point. "Walk away now, Finn."
His mouth fell open a bit at her straight forwardness, but he turned and lumbered back over to the rest of the crowd. At that moment, Rachel made her way back over to the table with a handful of green paper napkins. She took in Finn's disconcerted expression and Quinn's decidedly down-turned mouth. "Everything okay there?"
Quinn's lips quirked up determinedly. "Yeah, I think we all have an understanding."
Rachel scrutinized her for a moment. "Well, okay then." She set the napkins down on the table and returned to the subject of Quinn's food. "So, again, it looks like the only options left are vegan hot dogs, which are a lot better than you would think, and the one veggie burger. Sorry we don't have any more to offer you."
Quinn shrugged, her hands in her pockets. "I guess that's just what I get for showing up late to a party that Puck and Finn were invited to. I'll take that veggie burger, though. It smells pretty good."
Rachel served up the sandwich on a paper plate. "There you go; one veggie burger, cooked to perfection."
"Well, I wouldn't expect anything less."
Rachel's cheeks pinked and she directed her gaze toward her feet. When she looked back up, she saw Quinn appraising her with an amused look on her face. She suddenly found her mind blank of anything to say. She wracked her brain for something to talk about. "So, how has your summer been so far? I see your knee recovered. I hope your bicycle is okay, too. I mean, I assume, since you were able to go off to cheerleading camp, that everything is just tip-top in that area."
"Oh, yeah, I've been good. Yeah, my sister wrapped my knee up as soon as I got home that day, and I was good to go a week later." She popped a potato chip in her mouth with an almost self-satisfied smile before she returned to a more neutral expression. "But other than Sylvester's boot camp and that oh so exciting afternoon, my summer's been… pretty boring. All of my friends actually have social lives all of a sudden, so half of the time I feel like I'm third-wheeling it, which is… weird, and… stupid. It kind of sucks not dating anyone, you know?"
Rachel focused her eyes on the tortilla chip she was picking the salt off of. She raised her eyebrows in a somewhat dejected manner and went to dip the chip in the pot of salsa before she remembered why she had run off for napkins and thought better of it. "Yeah… I do."
It was kind of a sore subject.
Quinn saw the pain in Rachel's eyes, as well as how hard she tried to cover it up. "Oh, crap, sorry. God, that was stupid, I'm sorry."
Rachel looked up through her eyelashes at the girl beside her. An unexpected sincerity came with the blonde's apology, and it eased the grip of the fist around her heart just a little bit. "No, don't… It's fine, don't worry about it."
Quinn nodded. "Okay." Her voice was softer than it had been with Rachel since they'd met. Things suddenly seemed too heavy for a summer barbeque-hootenanny-gathering-party-get-together-thing; she lightened up her voice considerably in an attempt to lift the mood. "Well, since you and I are both so single and bitter, and we're friends now, maybe we could hang out sometime."
Rachel brightened and giggled. "We can braid each other's hair and dish about how much we hate being on the market."
Quinn laughed along with her. "Until we're blue in the face."
Time moved forward, and the party went on.
The boys, and Tina, devoured the remaining food. Santana and Brittany disappeared for a good half hour, though no one answered directly when Artie inquired as to their whereabouts. Puck just waggled his eyebrows. After a somewhat tame round of Never Have I Ever, the ultimate frisbee game was rekindled, and everyone was surprised by the enthusiasm of one Quinn Fabray. When asked about it, she simply stated, "Yeah, I love frisbee. I used to play with my dad and my sister a lot. I'm definitely going to play on a team in college."
As the sun started to sink in the sky, a sweet, albeit very, very cheesy (and they all knew it) New Directions moment occurred when Don't Stop Believin' came over the speakers and they belted it out like it was their anthem. And it sort of was.
When the horizon tinged pink, everybody started to make their way home. Rachel beamed at all of them as they said their goodbyes. Even Santana managed an eyebrow quirk and a half-smile, and Puck gave her a less than innocent wink, as per usual.
Quinn was the last to leave, and the blonde paused before she exited through the gate in the fence. Her eyes danced as she placed a cautious hand on the shorter girl's shoulder. She took a breath and said matter-of-factly, "You threw a good party, Berry," before she scurried off into the impending darkness.
And for the first time that day, Rachel allowed herself to believe that yes, perhaps she had.