Chapter 12: Quinn Has Friends?
First days of school had never been particularly extraordinary for Quinn. Yes, it was the day she finally let herself wear the new outfits she'd bought on her back-to-school shopping excursions; yes, her mother always took the traditional exasperated photo of her with her bag already over her shoulder and her foot halfway out the door with an appeasing smile adorning her face; but following Judy's minor procession, once she was off, it was just another day. Just another collection of hours spent passing the time until she could come back home and ready herself to go out the next day and do it all over again. No, first days of school were nothing special in the eyes of Quinn Fabray, and the inaugural day of her sophomore year, it seemed, was no exception.
Quinn woke up, exactly two minutes before her alarm clock was set to go off, to the sound of the front door slamming shut as her father left for work, as he did every morning, without saying goodbye. He had never been the most present father, a fact made especially apparent in the mornings at home, when only one of his two morning cups of coffee had been put away and all of the tasks that needed completing at work that day were buzzing around in his ears.
She opened her eyes but remained in a state between conscious and not; she lay on her back in bed, completely still, mind blank. She stayed under the covers, stared up at the clusters on the ceiling, and listened to the sounds of the movements of the house until her mom made the hike up the stairs to rap on her door and tell her to get moving. After she mentally braced herself to get up and face the world, she huffed a breath and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She wiggled her toes on the floor for a moment before she finally accepted that she would have to start using her energy for the day and stood up. She lumbered precariously into the bathroom, narrowly avoiding stubbing her toes along the way.
That was another thing about first days of school: when you've gotten so used to sleeping in every day over the summer, getting up for class is a real bitch.
Once she'd washed her face and brushed her teeth and taken care of the rest of her morning ritual, she strode back into her bedroom, far more gracefully than when she'd left it, and stuck her hands on her hips as she stared into her closet. Hanging in the front on a padded hanger was her uniform. She wasn't entirely sure if she was relieved that being on the Cheerios and already having a required school day outfit meant she was spared the anxiety of picking out an elaborate outfit for the first day back, even if her mom had taken her shopping for new clothes anyway.
When she had gotten herself dressed and ready, she gave herself a once over in the mirror and hesitated before she grabbed her favorite pair of striped shorts and a random t-shirt to change into once school was over.
Her Cheerios uniform was something she cherished, because it gave her a sense of purpose and belonging; it was proof to the world that Quinn belonged in a group, that she had something in her life that meant something. At least, that was how she felt about it before she put it on. Despite all of the power and unity that came along with the uniform, it had never quite been comfortable. It wasn't that the material was scratchy or the waistband didn't fit right, it was more a sense of disconnect with the garment. Quinn knew what being a Cheerio meant, and there were aspects of the role she had to play that just didn't sit well with her. The uniform was a status symbol at school more than anything. Quinn simply couldn't say if she truly wanted to bear a label that carried that much weight.
She absent-mindedly scrutinized herself in the mirror until she shook her head and conceded to herself that it was getting late and she needed to get her ass in gear. After she quickly made sure she had everything, she pulled her door open and bounded down the stairs toward the glorious smell of frying bacon.
Once she was dropped off at school, the day went by almost without notice. As humdrum as first days usually were, this one was particularly uneventful. Most of her classes were with the same groups of people as last year, and only one of the teachers made the kids play a name game before she passed out a syllabus for the class and left them to themselves; most of the so-called educators merely took attendance and told them not to make too much noise.
Quinn ended up spending most of the day with her nose lost in the spine of To Kill A Mockingbird. It was also one of those books she loved so dearly, because, no matter how many times she read it, she always came away with something new to wallow in wonder over. She had begun her fifth reading of the book that morning at the breakfast table. She was sure she'd be finished by the time she went to bed.
She spend a short amount of time chatting with Brittany and Santana, but the two had a game of hangman going, and based on the smirk that split Santana's face, she really didn't think it was a round she'd want to join in on. She considered striking up conversation with some of the other kids, but she knew that all the guys would want to talk about would be the videogames they spent their summers playing, and she reminded herself that she was a Cheerio, and therefore she couldn't interact with just anyone. She was an elite; it was important for her reputation that she surround herself with other elites.
At lunch, she sat with the usual crowd of cheerleaders and football players. Mike, Matt, and Finn talked excitedly about classic rock songs and dance moves for a number they were thinking of doing for glee club when it started up again. Puck had decided to sit with all of the rest of the lee clubbers at their own table. Quinn felt surprisingly isolated within her group of peers. She was never very close to any of the other cheerleaders, and Brittany and Santana didn't make their way into the cafeteria until there were only fifteen minutes left in the lunch period, so Quinn passed the time people-watching.
She watched the people around her – people she had known forever – interact with each other. She was mildly surprised when she realized that she wasn't surprised at herself for not saying anything. These were the people she considered herself friendly with, but the inclination to add her own words to the conversations being exchanged wasn't there. She was not so much a wall-flower as she was a seat-body. She filled her space at the table and looked the part, but she acted only as an observer.
She looked over her shoulder to the "gleek table," as it was known. It appeared as though Puck was telling a story, or maybe it was a joke; everyone who sat around him was laughing wildly. A few of them were dabbing at their eyes, they were laughing so hard, and Rachel had her head thrown back so far that Quinn worried for just a minute that her chair might tip over. She instantly and unexpectedly wished she could have been over there with them. With the other glee kids, it was so much easier. When they all sat in the choir room together, she could just sit in her chair, doodle and scribble words in her notebook, and listen to the others talk without feeling as though she wasn't included. She found herself bearing a soft grin as she saw them begin to wind down from their hysterics.
Her home-packed lunch found its way into the trash.
Quinn's afternoon classes passed much as the morning ones did. Everyone was still trapped in a summer mindset, so the students were in no mood to learn (not that they ever were, but especially so that day), and the teachers were in no way dead set on teaching; from the looks of it, most of the teachers spent their afternoons struggling with Tetris on their computers.
That final bell couldn't have come soon enough. By the time 3 o'clock rolled around, Quinn was more than ready to book it out of those constricting hallways back to freedom. Cheerios didn't officially start until the next week, after all the newbies tried out and the weakest links ran home crying, and glee wouldn't have its first meeting until after that, so she still had a few afternoons left to do with what she pleased. So, after a quick stop at her locker - more to make sure she remembered her combination than anything - she strode out the double doors at the front of the school with a natural air of Fabray superiority. There were people around, after all.
Quinn walked through the parking lot at a meandering pace. She weaved through the maze of cars and slipped a pair of Ray Bans onto her face as she eyed the other students walking around her. Most bounded over to the long line of big, yellow school buses or across to the student parking lot to drive themselves home. The mass of pavement was suddenly a hive overflowing with teenagers and their keepers all hustling and bustling to get themselves home or to work, wherever it was they went when school got out.
It was for that reason only that Quinn saw Rachel Berry that afternoon; Rachel was the only person around not moving in the sea of students and teachers alike that surged its tides away from the building. The brunette sat alone on a bench off to the side of the front entrance. She had her cell phone to her ear, and although she couldn't hear exactly what was being said, Quinn could see from her expression and body language that Rachel was mildly distraught.
She backtracked and waited until Rachel disconnected from the phone call with a huff, containing a bark of laughter when she realized that the twitch of the girl's foot was a result of her fighting the urge to stomp it, before she approached the shorter girl and took a seat on the bench next to her.
Quinn bumped Rachel's shoulder with her own as she lifted one corner of her mouth in a sort of half-smile and let one eyebrow wander up into her forehead in a friendly, silent question. "Hey."
Rachel turned to her with a soft smile and regarded her with surprisingly bright eyes. "Hi, Quinn. How are you today?"
The blonde bounced the question around in her head. "I'm okay. It's been kind of a... blah day. But you know." She nodded at the phone still clasped in Rachel's hands. "Everything okay there?"
The sun was warm on her face, and it was a moment before Rachel blinked and remembered that she was supposed to answer. "Oh, yeah. My daddy just called to tell me that he's working late today, and that he can't pick me up from school. I just really don't want to take the bus home. The last time I rode the bus, I had to sit next to some guy who smelled like congealing tuna salad, and the girl sitting behind me thought that her hilarious idea of spitting out her gum in my hair was a regular hoot and a half. She's lucky I managed to rock short hair when my dad had to cut it out."
Quinn knew that that last bit was supposed to be funny, but still her eyes grew wide with pity and sadness at the fact that Rachel didn't seem to realize how awful the story really was. Quinn knew from her limited experience with riding the bus that, yes, there was always that one kid who nobody wanted to sit next to because they smelled, but purposely putting gum in someone's hair, especially when one was past the age of five, was strictly mean-spirited. Quinn bit her lip. She had spent all day looking forward to her quiet and solitary afternoon. It was the thought of getting away from all of the meaningless chatter and monotony of school, and the people that came with it, for a couple of hours that had gotten her through those last few periods. But then she thought about Rachel, and how the kids on the bus were bound to treat her; the idea of Rachel walking into school the next day with puffy eyes and a bob because some bitch thought it was funny to stick her gum in her hair was suddenly too much for her. She blew out a long breath through her nose.
"Well, we can't have something like that happening again - not when it's grown back so nicely." She plucked her fingers absently over the ends of a few strands that had fallen over Rachel's shoulder. Rachel watched her curiously until her hazel eyes, which really looked more like green in the sunlight, cleared, and she snapped out of it. She consciously kept her eyebrows from furrowing at herself and played it off as coolly as she could manage. "Come on," she stood abruptly, grabbed Rachel's wrist, and started walking, regaining confidence with each step, "you're gonna hang out with me this afternoon. We can finally make good on that promise to spend time with just the two of us."
Rachel stumbled as she half jogged to catch up. "O-okay. Can I ask where it is that we're going?" She noticed offhandedly that Quinn hadn't released her grip on her wrist.
"Well," Quinn dropped her pace slightly so that she and Rachel could walk side-by-side, "there's this place I like to go sometimes when I don't have anything to do after school and I don't want to go home right away; this little book store over on Market Street. I love it there. It always has that old book smell, which is just... and it's kind of a hole in the wall kind of place, so no one from school or anything is ever there. It's kind of my hideaway, so don't tell anyone about it. It's just kind of... Peaceful, you know?" She stared ahead of her with a ghost of a smile for a minute before she jolted with the realization that not only had she probably just revealed way too much about herself, but she had also done it while practically holding Rachel Berry's hand. She dropped the offending appendage immediately and peered at Rachel out of the corner of her eye to judge whether or not her reputation had just been thrown out with the trash. To her surprise, however, Rachel just gazed at her with a gentle wonder.
The walked on in something close to a comfortable silence.
As she focused on putting one foot in front of the other, Quinn stared at the sidewalk just in front of her feet and tried not to notice Rachel watching her in her peripheral vision. Cars rushed by on the street beside them, and the sound of tires hushing the pavement whirled around their ears.
Quinn directed them around one last corner, and the storefront came into sight. An old wood sign, reminiscent of the olden days' taverns, creaked gently above the door. The paint was faded and slightly chipped, and it gave it a vintage sort of feeling. The lettering was a tad difficult to make out, but The Annex was still just legible. Though she couldn't say specifically why, it made sense in Rachel's mind that Quinn would be so fond of such a place.
She pushed the door open, causing the small bell attached to the frame to tinkle quietly, and held it open so Rachel could follow her in. She allowed herself a grin as Rachel stepped over the threshold. It grew exponentially wider when she closed the door behind her and looked over her shoulder to see Rachel gazing around the shop almost reverentially.
The place felt old, but not so much in the way that one might fear for the structural stability of the roof or that a wall might cave in; it was more that the store felt as if it held years' worth of stories and experiences and history. It was a small shop with one main room and a loft that wrapped around the opposite and two adjacent walls. Every inch was covered in shelving, all of which held countless, aged publications. There was a large, but not quite gaudy, chandelier hanging over the center of the room, though it wasn't lit; that afternoon, the light was provided naturally by the rays of sun that beamed in through the windows and the strings of holiday lights that danced along the tops of the walls near the ceiling.
Rachel turned back to face her blonde companion, who had all but melted comfortably into her surroundings and leaned easily over a shiny wood railing, with a twinkle in her eye to match the lights. "Quinn, this place… it's…"
"It's pretty great, right?"
"Yeah, it is…" she shook her head at the floor and laughed at herself, "I was going to say 'magical.' It kind of reminds me of the library from Beauty and the Beast, just on a much smaller scale."
Quinn's head bobbed in return. "I can see that."
Just then, a tall, stooped man with a shock of wild white hair and hazelnut skin appeared from within the stacks. He shuffled, more than walked, and had wrinkles around his eyes that indicated many years of laughter; his face was a kind one. He spotted the two girls just inside the door, and his lips peeled back in a wide grin. "Miss Fabray, is that you I spy over in the biography section? We haven't seen you in here in weeks, it's nice of you to remember the little people." He winked as he ambled to the front of the store. "And you've got company," he blinked in Rachel's direction, "I suppose there really is a first time for everything. Who is this charming creature?" He took Rachel's hand in both of his, and Quinn rolled her eyes.
"Otis, this is my friend, Rachel. Rachel, this is Otis Williams. He and his wife have owned this place forever. Speaking of, how is Bern?"
"Forever and a day, my dear." Otis's aged eyes sparkled. "Old Bernadette's as well as she's been all her life. She's busy consulting her ever-elusive muse at the moment, otherwise I know she'd love to come out and see you. As it is, is there anything I can do for either of you lovely ladies?"
Quinn glanced at Rachel and said, "I think we're just going to wander around for a little while."
Otis nodded, eyes studying the brunette whose own eyes couldn't seem to stay put. "Tell me, what kind of books do you like?"
It took a beat of expectant silence for Rachel to realize that the man was speaking to her, and she had the grace to look mildly embarrassed at having been caught not paying attention. She smiled shyly. "I'm not sure. I've found that I can at least appreciate most genres of literature."
He almost tutted, but not so in a way that was scolding. It was almost a chuckle, an acceptance of a challenge. "That makes this quest a most difficult one, my dear."
If she was a deer in headlights a moment ago, Rachel figured she was just a lost puppy, now. Her eyebrows knitted. "Quest?"
"She's a singer, if that helps you at all, Oats." Quinn's gaze was fixated on her fingernails, and Rachel's questioning look flashed, unnoticed.
At the comment, Otis's face lit up. A sound of exclamation escaped his lips, and he scurried back toward the stacks, calling over his shoulder for the girls to have a look around, he'd be back in a jiffy.
Rachel turned to a nonchalant Quinn. She struggled for words for a moment before she could get her inquiry out. "What… was that all about?" Quinn met her gaze, smirked, and uttered not a word until Rachel's eyebrows got lost in her bangs.
Quinn sighed sarcastically. "But if I told you, then you would know." The expression on Rachel's face made her add, "Look, you'll see soon enough. Don't worry, it's nothing bad."
Quinn drifted lazily over to the shelves and picked at the familiar titles. Rachel trailed behind her. She watched as Quinn's eyes scanned the spines and occasionally ghosted over the more faded letterings with her fingertips.
"So what about you?" Rachel queried. Quinn glanced back over her shoulder, so she clarified. "What kind of books do you like?"
Quinn paused with her eyes slightly glazed over. "Oh. Um, I don't know. I guess I'm kind of like you; I can at least appreciate everything."
The girls resumed walking, and when she looked closely at the shelves, once Quinn had passed them, Rachel was pleasantly surprised to find that there was not a speck of dust to be found anywhere. Quinn apparently found a title she wasn't familiar with, as she plucked it off of the shelf and flipped it around to view the cover. Rachel formed a new question. "Okay, well, do you have a favorite book?" She elongated her stride to match Quinn's.
The girl in question let her face soften. "Yeah."
"Can I ask what it is?"
"Have you ever read The Catcher in the Rye?"
Rachel shook her head. "No. I keep meaning to, though. My dad keeps telling me I should. Actually, that's his favorite book too."
"Your dad has excellent taste." Quinn just managed to stop herself from winking. Too soon for that.
Rachel sort of blew a laugh out through her nose. "If you don't mind me asking, why do you like it so much?"
Quinn licked her lips and looked up at the ceiling in thought. "Um, I don't know, it's just… Okay, so, you know how the best books are the ones that are written in a way that actually makes you care about the characters and what happens to them?" She paused and waited for Rachel to not in confirmation. When she did, she continued. "Well, this was the first book that really did that for me. The book's perspective, it just… Holden Caulfield breaks my heart every time. In the best way possible. And it's like, the way he talks about the people he cares about… When he talks about Jane Gallagher, who he's loved from the day he met her… Here, let me read you what he says about her." She halted where she stood and reached past the brunette by her side to pull a well-looked-after paperback from its place on the shelf. She flipped the book open automatically and turned almost directly to the page she was looking for.
She read the passage aloud, and Rachel couldn't help but notice that the blonde's reading voice dropped an octave or two lower than her normal speaking voice. She decided that she liked it.
"My mother didn't think Jane was pretty, even. I did, though. I just like the way she looked, that's all.
"I remember this one afternoon. It was the only time old Jane and I ever got close to necking, even. It was a Saturday and it was raining like a bastard out, and I was over at her house, on the porch – they had this big screened-in porch. We were playing checkers. I used to kid her once in a while because she wouldn't take her kings out of the back row. But I didn't kid her much, though. You never wanted to kid Jane too much. I think I really like it best when you can kid the pants off a girl when the opportunity arises, but it's a funny thing. The girls I like best are the ones I never feel much like kidding."
Quinn glanced up at Rachel from the book, a blush threatening her cheeks for a reason she didn't really understand. She decided it was probably safest to just keep reading.
"And it gets even better on the next page. I held hands with her all the time, for instance. That doesn't sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with. Most girls, if you hold hands with them, their goddamn hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hand all the time, as if they were afraid they'd bore you or something. Jane was different. We'd get into a goddamn movie or something, and right away we'd start holding hands, and we wouldn't quit till the movie was over. And without changing the position or making a big deal out of it. You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not. All you knew was, you were happy. You really were.
"One other thing I just thought of. One time, in this movie, Jane did something that just about knocked me out. The newsreel was on or something, and all of a sudden, I felt this hand on the back of my neck, and it was Jane's. It was a funny thing to do. I mean, she was quite young and all, and most girls if you see them putting their hand on the back of somebody's neck, they're around twenty-five or thirty and usually they're doing it to their husband or their little kid – I do it to my kid sister Phoebe once in a while, for instance. But if a girl's quite young and all and she does it, it's so pretty it just about kills you.
"I've always sort of wanted a love like that," she said dreamily. She closed the book carefully and eyed Rachel almost shyly. "Does that answer your question? Because if not, I think there's actually another quote in there that sums up my feelings about books perfectly."
"No, that's okay. I mean, if you want to, then by all means, I would love to hear it. But, I get it. From what you just read me, it seems like it's one of those books that would be personal to every single person who read it. That in itself is pretty amazing."
Quinn flashed an appreciative grin in her direction. It wasn't often she could get people to even consider understanding the reasons she loved certain books.
The sound of weathered feet shuffling behind them made the girls turn. Otis approached them with his hands behind his back. His expression was almost comically serious. "Alright, Miss Rachel. I have an important question for you." Rachel looked suddenly nervous. "Our friend here has told me that you are a singer by profession, but I need to know, what kind of music is it that interests you most?"
She blinked. Quinn looked on with interest. "Oh. Well, it is my ultimate goal to sing on Broadway."
"Ah, perfect!" Otis's face cracked open into a beaming smile before he subdued it again. "Now answer me this: what is it about Broadway's most famous show tunes that make them so successful?"
Rachel chewed on her bottom lip as she took a moment to think. "I think the reasons most people like the songs from Broadway shows are the upbeat rhythm and the fact that the lyrics are so easy to remember because they tend to rhyme."
Otis nodded as if that were precisely the response he was hoping for. He finally brought his hands around from behind his back, producing a crisp, almost-new looking book and holding it out to her. "Then I would like to introduce you to Mr. Robert Frost, a poet celebrated for his mastery of both rhyme and rhythm."
Rachel gingerly took the collection from him and flipped through, finding herself smiling at the pages upon pages of poetry. She looked to Otis with the warmest of eyes. "Mr. Williams, this is wonderful, thank you."
He waved her off. "To you, my lady, I'm just Otis. Or Oats, if you choose to employ the nickname Miss Fabray so lovingly came up with." He pointed to the book. "Come back when you've finished reading that, won't you? I'm very interested to hear what your thoughts are. If you enjoy it, I've got a collection of Emily Dickinson poems I bet you'd enjoy as well. You'll find as you go along that her poetry tends to have less of that upbeat feeling you mentioned, but something tells me they'll still suit you."
He led them back to the front of the store, where a woman, with curly grey hair cropped to her jawline and laugh-line wrinkles to match her husband's, had situated herself behind the counter. She looked to them as they drew nearer and smiled one of the brightest smiles Quinn knew. "Quinn Fabray, as I live and breathe, I thought I heard your voice floating around the shop. How are you, darling?"
Quinn returned the woman's grin, as well as her sentiments. "Hi, Bern. I'm good, how are you? How's the writing coming along? I am going to get to read this story eventually, right?"
The woman rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Yes, yes. You know these things take time." She seemed to register Rachel's presence, and her eyes widened slightly. "Hello, dear. We haven't been introduced, are you a friend of Quinn's? I was beginning to think she didn't have any." Her eyes twinkled in a way that indicated a lack of mirth as she offered Rachel her hand, and Quinn pulled both of her lips in between her teeth as her cheeks burned visibly. If she weren't so fond of both of them, she would have killed the old couple by now. "I'm Bernadette Williams. It's lovely to meet you."
Rachel, oblivious to Quinn's humiliation, received the hand graciously. "Rachel Berry. It's a genuine pleasure."
No other customers entered the store that afternoon. The four of them, two teenage girls and two elderly shop owners, lounged about the stacks within The Annex and chatted amicably as if they'd been a close-knit group for years.
By the time her dads called to tell her to come home for dinner, it was clear that Mr. and Mrs. Williams had almost instantly grown as fond of Rachel as they were of Quinn. When she asked how much she owed for the Frost book, Otis appeared accosted. Hand over heart, he said, "For this book, my dear, not a thing." She made to protest, but he held up a hand to stop her before she could launch into a ramble on how she would feel awful not paying for the book and his kind attention. Quinn was impressed. "I insist. This one is on the house. Please." He pushed the book further into her hands and fixed her with a look that said he wouldn't take no for an answer. It took several moment's worth of a practical staring contest, but finally she relented. She thanked the Williamses repeatedly, and Quinn was forced to basically push her backwards out the door by the shoulders.
Side-by-side, they walked back along the sidewalk they had come on. Rachel held her new book as carefully as if a speck of dust might cause it to disintegrate in her hands. Quinn took notice and chuckled to herself. "That book's perfect for you, isn't it?" Rachel nodded enthusiastically. After she read the first two pieces in the collection, she announced to the room that she had fallen in love and that she'd never known poetry could be so fantastic as it was in the hands of Robert Frost. Quinn tilted her head back and giggled. "Oh my god, he's like the Ollivander of books!"
Rachel's ensuing laugh was pure and uninhibited. In her best British old man impression, she said, "The book chooses the reader, Miss Fabray."
Their consequent hysterics earned them several odd looks from across the street, and it only led them to clutch at each other and laugh that much harder.