Chapter 13: Make It Up
"So, Rachel, have you found yourself a date yet? I'm sure that Puckerman boy would love to accompany you." Her daddy's lips curled up, and his eyes twinkled as he took a sip from his glass of water.
Rachel looked up from her fork poking around her dinner plate to blink at Leroy across the table. Her expression suggested a feeling caught somewhere between disbelief and amusement. "Seriously, daddy? Noah and I are friends. Just friends. Always have been, always will be. Best friends, at times, even, but not anything more than that. Besides, either way, he can't come; he's grounded for a month because he got caught setting off illegal fireworks at the football field. His way of kicking off the school year right." Her tone implied air quotes, while her eyes rolled back down to the tofu salad in front of her. Leroy frowned a bit, more out of confusion as to where Puck would even have gotten illegal fireworks than anything, Rachel suspected, as Hiram struggled to cover up a snicker-turned-choke. He waved her off when she turned a worried gaze on him. He reached across the table, less than discretely stole his husband's water, and took several large gulps in attempt to wash down the chunk of food that had lodged itself in his throat.
Leroy patted him on the back while continuing his conversation with his daughter. "Alright, so he won't be joining us, then. Is there anyone else you'd like to invite?"
Hiram wheezed mutedly and, with difficulty, unnoticed by either of his family members, "No, really, I'm fine. Great. Don't mind me."
"Um…" Rachel bit her lip as a face flashed in her mind. "There might be someone."
"Hey Kurt!" Rachel yelled at an incredibly high decibel as she scurried to the boy's side with some difficulty. The halls were as crowded as ever, and, as usual, no one was eager to take the energy to take a whole step to one side to allow her to pass.
Kurt stopped to wait for her, but when she approached him, he adopted a playfully aloof expression. "Ah, Rachel. It always is a pleasure being yelled at by you from the opposite end of the hallway. We should do this again sometime."
He patted her on the shoulder and turned to enter the nearest classroom before she caught his arm and his resolve to hold a straight face broke. "Kurt! That was not funny. And I was not yelling at you. I was… flagging you down."
His smile grew as he shook his head at her. "Flagging me down? Rach, everyone within a ten foot radius of you just went deaf."
Rachel was slightly offended. "That is preposterous, and you know it. Even if my voice was elevated, I was calling to you, not yelling at you." She blinked and shook her hair to the side. "This is all trivial, anyway. I wanted to ask you something."
"If it's to be your date to homecoming, I'm going to have to remind you that just because my outfit today did come from the men's section does not mean that-"
Now she was slightly more offended and a little taken aback. "What? No! I was just wondering if you have any plans for two weekends from now."
Kurt raised a carefully sculpted eyebrow. "Why?"
Rachel smiled at the fact that she had finally gotten his full attention. "My cousin is getting married, and-"
"So you want me to be your date?" he cut her off.
"No! Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. You'd be my plus-one. But everyone would know we were just friends. There'll be lots of cute boys in formalwear for you to look at. And I know you've always wanted to see Vermont."
Kurt's eyes suddenly became very excited. "Wait, Vermont? It's a gay wedding? Forget everything I just said to you, I will gladly be your date. Can I wear ruffles?" He looped his arm with hers and started walking them in the direction of their respective classes.
"Well, actually, it's a straight wedding." He frowned, so she continued. "Yes, believe it or not, there are some people who get married in Vermont who aren't of the homosexual persuasion. It's a shock, I know."
"Oh." He appeared momentarily discouraged when he asked, "So when is this hetero shindig taking place?"
Rachel answered him brightly. "The wedding itself is on the first of October. We're not actually in the wedding, so we would only have to get there the night before."
He nodded as he thought it over before he jerked to a stop and alarmed regret took up residence on his face. "Wait, but that would be the 30th, right?" He looked distraught when she nodded. "I can't. Mercedes and I got Beyoncé tickets for that night. Anyone else, and I totally would have blown them off – you're right, I'm dying to see Vermont – but… it's Beyoncé. And we've had these tickets for months. You understand." The regret read all over his face as he placed a hand on her shoulder sympathetically.
Rachel nodded, a bit dejectedly. "Yes, I do. You should absolutely attend your concert. Of course. I'm sure it'll be a night to remember."
"But hey, you'll still have a blast at your cousin's wedding; even if it isn't a gay one and despite the fact that I can't be your date. Maybe you'll meet someone there."
He winked and chuckled quietly when she made a show of crossing her fingers.
To say that Rachel was disappointed would be something of a gross understatement. In the span of a single conversation, her top two candidates for accompaniment at her cousin's wedding were taken undisputedly out of the running by one Beyoncé Knowles. She couldn't rightfully hold it against either Kurt or Mercedes, either. She would have done the same in their position, and she would have done it without the bat of an eye.
With Puck's name crossed of the list as well, it seemed she was running out of options. Truthfully, he probably would have been her first choice if he hadn't gotten himself in so much trouble. Despite his sometimes crass, crude, and just plain cruddy use of the English language, Rachel did enjoy Puck's company the majority of the time. He had a very jagged exterior, but she had known him, and been close to him, for long enough to know that he was very much like a jellybean, in that past the hard shell was a gooey gummy center. Not to mention the fact that he wasn't at all terrible to look at and he would have done an excellent job of keeping her extended family from asking if she had any "little boyfriends at that big grown-up high school of hers."
She sighed as she stood alone by her locker. She still had three periods to get through before lunch, when she supposed she could just ask if any of the glee kids were free and hope for the best.
The warning bell sounded, and she pushed herself off of the metal. She cradled her books in one arm and delightedly used the other to wave as a flock of Cheerios traipsed around the corner ahead of her. Her smile was, as always, enthusiastic. "Hi, Quinn!" She really was glad that they'd been able to become friends, especially after all of the drama of the previous year.
Quinn, who was very clearly leading the pack, looked her way upon hearing her name. What looked like a smile started to form on her lips before… something… flashed in her eyes and she stopped short. "Um…" Quinn glanced back at the girls in uniform who had fallen into rank behind her. They each bore some degree of an "is this girl for real?" raised eyebrow and amusedly scornful expressions, all directed at the petite brunette who had unwittingly offered herself up for slaughter. Quinn gulped visibly, but the cheerleaders were too busy sniggering to themselves over the humiliation their new captain was sure to exact on this lower being who dared address her directly. Rachel noticed that Quinn looked unusually nervous for a moment before the blonde set her jaw painfully. "What, so, so you think just because I joined your little glee club that it's okay for you to talk to me in the halls? Let's get this straight, Berry. This school runs based on a series of social circles. I belong to, and am now head of, the Cheerios, the highest up, most sought after circle you can find here. We are the top. Then there's you: glee club nerd, loser. Your circle is the link that got cut from the chain because no one wanted to be connected to you. We," she motioned dramatically between herself and Rachel, "are not associated."
Quinn's voice had lost most of its strength by the end of her monologue, but the words still hit home with plenty of impact. "But…" Rachel didn't understand. It did not compute in her mind that Quinn could turn such a 180 and revert back to the vindictive agenda that she used to rely so heavily on. They had moved past this, long ago. They had progressed to the point where Rachel had truly begun to think of Quinn as one of her closest friends. After everything with the not-party and the book shop, it just didn't make any sense.
Tears welled in her eyes, but she blinked them back with all her might. She wouldn't give everyone looking on in amusement that satisfaction.
She watched the group of red and white clad girls continue on their way, sauntering past the other students with a pompous, self-important air. For a moment, she thought she saw a pair of green-hazel eyes turn back to look at her, but she couldn't be sure.
Rachel lasted about ten minutes in class before she whipped out her phone. Even if it was by text, she was going to demand some answers from a certain blonde cheerleader.
She thought for a moment and stealthily typed out What the heck was that, Fabray? behind a notebook propped up in her lap.
No, she immediately decided that it had the wrong sort of tone. Much too forceful for her taste. It almost sounded like Santana.
She backspaced back to the beginning. Something a bit gentler… Would you mind explaining where that attack came from?
Not quite it either.
She decided to try out the sarcastic route. So when exactly did we time travel back to last year, Quinn?
Rachel sighed. She couldn't send that. Sarcasm had never really been her thing. She didn't want to appear rude, despite the fact that most people would consider it justified given the situation.
She looked at her phone for several minutes, mind blank. None of the messages she could think of to write in the text were sufficient to convey the range of emotions that whirred inside her like ingredients in a blender. She was so confused and hurt and betrayed and angry and humiliated, and for reasons she couldn't work out at the moment, sorry for Quinn, and they all spun around and mixed together until she couldn't quite discern one from the other.
Rachel could hear the droning of her teacher's voice coming in her ears, but she couldn't make her brain put the sounds together to make sense of the words being spoken.
Her thumb twitched over the keys on her phone, and she knew that a text message wouldn't get the job done. She clicked 'options' and cancelled the message.
She spent the rest of the period pretending to take notes.
By the time lunch rolled around, Rachel was about ready to burst. She had spent the last two periods rendered completely unable to focus on whatever it was that her teachers had tried, and failed, to carve into her brain, because she had been too caught up in agonizing over the fact that her internal movie player had gotten jammed and played nothing but the scene starring her and Quinn in the hallway, on repeat.
Thinking retrospectively, Rachel berated herself for not trying any harder (or at all) to pay attention in her algebra II class; despite her best efforts, math remained a subject she struggled with consistently. Quinn was in her algebra class, though it didn't make any difference. Rachel was pretty sure that math was a strong suit of Quinn's, but the blonde had spent the class staring tensely at the lines in her notebook without ever writing anything down. Not that Rachel had been watching her or anything like that; she had simply glanced in Quinn's direction once or twice a minute in hopes of catching her eye and silently communicating her frustration and bewilderment at the sudden, uncalled for, and demeaning treatment. However, the girl's gaze was focused firmly on the emptiness that filled the opened page of her notebook for the duration of the lesson, so Rachel was left to listen to the harsh words from earlier replay in her head.
She took her usual seat at the table that had been claimed early on in the year by the glee kids, joined shortly by Puck and the gang. Their presence lightened her mood a bit. She even managed a smile when Puck nudged her shoulder. He watched her for a minute as she fought fruitlessly to get the straw into her juice box. Eventually, with a small snort and a shake of the head, he took the beverage off her hands, got the straw in without any trouble, and asked, "Penny for your thoughts?" His eyes revealed a hint of concern.
She smiled her thanks and shrugged. "It's nothing." She averted her gaze, and, of course, the fates directed it onto a particular cheerleader who stood, almost, but not quite, awkwardly in the middle of the cafeteria, books in one hand, lunch in the other. Hazel eyes glanced in the direction of the long table reserved for football players and Cheerios and then shifted to where Rachel sat, her hands gripping the sides of her chair tightly. Quinn held the eye contact a little too long before she blinked and looked around her, appearing almost dazed. People were beginning to give her strange looks. Quinn exited the lunchroom at a brisk pace and dumped her brown-bagged lunch in the trash as she went.
Rachel heaved a breath, stood abruptly, feeling suddenly empowered to take some sort of action, and followed Quinn out. As she went, she heard Puck behind her mutter something that sounded distinctly like, "Doesn't look like nothing." She chose to ignore it.
Rachel marched purposefully in the blonde's wake. The indignation and sting of betrayal that she had only somewhat successfully buried over the course of her morning classes resurfaced with a vengeance upon locking eyes with the one who had brought it about in the first place. She burst through the double doors of the cafeteria into the hallway and scanned the mostly uncrowded corridor for Quinn like a predator stalking its prey. The phrase "eyes like a hawk" finally made sense to Rachel as she caught the tiniest flash of a red Cheerios skirt disappearing into the girls' bathroom.
She shook her head. As if anyone could hide from Rachel Berry. She had prey-stalking hawk eyes, for goodness' sake.
She tromped down the hall. Her arms swung tightly by her sides like she meant business. And she did, gosh darn it. She passed Finn on her path of fury, and his greeting died on his lips when he saw the expression on her face. "Hey, Rachel – are you okay?" He glanced around nervously. "You look kind of like scary Quinn, and, well, yeah, it's kind of hot, but it's also, you know, scary-"
"Can't talk now, Finn, I'm hunting."
"Oh." He nodded for a moment before he registered what she had said and his brow furrowed. "Wait, what?"
Shoot. She did need to work on that whole filtering what she said thing. Some thoughts just weren't meant to be shared. She closed her eyes and planted what she hoped was a reassuring smile on her face. "No, I just mean – I'm kind of on a mission. I have to go, I'll see you later." She patted him on the arm as she brushed past him and yanked the bathroom door open with a flourish.
Finn watched her stride into the restroom with an almost triumphant smirk on her lips and walked away even more confused about girls than he normally was.
As the bathroom door thudded shut behind her, Rachel faltered. The room was empty, bar an abandoned binder left on the far sink. The smile slipped off of her face as she began to second guess her raptor-esque sharp eyes, until her equally keen ears picked up the sound of a sniffle, and she stopped in her tracks. She inspected the stalls more closely, hoping no one would come in and see her peeking under. That was a situation sure to send her on a very much unneeded social downward spiral. There, in the last stall, the larger, handicap-friendly one; all she could see was a pair of knees hugged tightly to the body they belonged to, which looked as if it were trying to be as compact as it possibly could, sitting on the floor beside the toilet. The angry fist in Rachel's chest unclenched a smidgen when another sniffle sounded, this one a touch louder, and a hand reached up, Rachel assumed to wipe the nose and/or eyes.
Rachel couldn't control the compulsion to help someone in pain - even someone who had inflicted their fair share of it on her. "Quinn?"
The gasp that resulted inside the stall was small, not only in the sense that it was quiet and staccato, but also in the sense that Rachel thought, if gasps were measurable in terms of space, it would take up a very little amount.
The body in the stall scrambled to its feet and cleared its throat roughly. "Who is it? Go away." The sound of a toilet flushing filled the room.
Rachel stood wordlessly for a moment, unsure if she should comply with the girl's request and leave, or stay and get the answers she came for. A couple seconds' deliberation had her decide on the latter option. She tried again. "Quinn, please, it's me."
The silence that followed was tangible. Rachel bit her lip in anticipation of whatever verbal attack she had surely just called upon herself.
After several long moments, the stall door inched open, and Quinn appeared behind it, eyes focused resolutely on the floor tile just in front of her feet, which was a slightly different shade of white than the rest. When at last she looked up, Rachel could see Quinn physically stop breathing. After a single moment's hesitation, Quinn seemed to decide that her best option was to make a break for it. She started an abrupt power walk towards the door. Rachel brushed her surprise aside and grabbed Quinn's wrist, just before she could make her exit. "Quinn, please wait. I just want to talk." She wasn't sure what else she would have followed her in for, but it seemed to stop Quinn from trying to escape again. Or perhaps it was simply that Quinn couldn't muster the energy to wrench herself free.
Rachel waited patiently for a whole half a minute before it became clear to her that Quinn was not going to initiate the impending dialogue; she steeled herself and decided to plunge right into it. She looked Quinn directly in the face, unfazed by the fact that she adamantly refused to do the same. "So, are you going to tell me why you've come to school today haunted by the ghost of bully past?" Quinn squeezed her eyes shut, and Rachel pushed her empathy away and let the tear that slid down the plane of Quinn's fair cheek spur her on. "What happened to you? We've moved on from this. We've made amends. What happened to that truce, which was incited by you, by the way, that we called over the summer? I thought we were really becoming good friends. What, was it all just a big, elaborate hoax to get back at me for kissing your boyfriend last year? Because if so, the Oscar belongs to you, unquestionably. I'm sorry, Quinn. I'm sorry that your boyfriend cheated on you, and I'm sorry that I'm the one he did it with, I really am, but this is old news. A cold case. I thought we had reconciled. What has happened that's made you forget these last few weeks and relive this part of your life? What, Quinn?"
As her speech progressed, Rachel's voice elevated dramatically in volume and her grip on the thin wrist in her grasp tightened. Somewhere in the middle of it, hot tears had begun to stream, unnoticed, down her own face. Quinn seemed to shrink with every word Rachel spewed at her, and her eyes had been kept screwed shut for the entirety of it. Her single tear had grown and evolved to silent, quaking sobs that shook her frame, coming from deep in her core. She looked as if she was trying not to exist, and it was the most painful thing in the world.
Rachel's breathing was labored, but with her rant ended, she began to calm down and regained a shred of her composure. Her verbal expression had worked most of the hostility out of her system. As her anger subsided, her natural humanity started to rematerialize within her. Her eyes softened at the sight of the still weeping girl before her. Her voice was little more than a breath when she tried her name again. "Quinn."
The girl in question finally lifted her gaze at the sound of her name spoke so softly. The harsh lighting in the bathroom caused the runs of mascara that streaked her cheeks to look particularly severe. The whites of her eyes were rimmed with red and her hair had come partly undone from the tight, high ponytail that was required of all Cheerios; blonde strands fell in loose wisps around her face.
Green-hazel eyes locked with brown, and the fist in Rachel's chest closed again, this time right on her heart. It was all she could do to catch her and not follow suit when Quinn collapsed into a new fit of tears. Her face disappeared into Rachel's shoulder; her voice was muffled, and Rachel was sure her hair was getting in her mouth, but she could just make out the words "I'm sorry" spilling from Quinn's lips over and over.
The bathroom door swung open, and Rachel gave a wide-eyed freshman her best impression of a Sue Sylvester glare. The girl left in a rush.
For several minutes, Rachel just held Quinn, her arms around the girl's waist, supporting her weight. It reminded her of when she helped Quinn after her bike accident, and the familiarity made her pull away slightly. She craned her neck until she was once again looking Quinn in the eye. They were both breathy. Quinn's skin was hot. Rachel gently took her chin between her thumb and forefinger to keep it from dropping again. "Just… explain to me what's going on with you."
Quinn wiped her nose shakily with the back of her hand. She stared at a spot on the wall with a furrowed brow, not really seeing. "I just… wanted everything to be okay again." Her voice was far away.
Rachel raised an eyebrow, hoping to draw her back. "And you decided that the best way to do that was to return to your old ways of emotionally scarring the people you're close to?"
Quinn blinked and another tear slid down the bridge of her nose. "No, it's just, my dad… yesterday, he found out I got a C+ on a biology test, and he said that being in glee was turning me into some kind of fruity artist type without any regard to the future or my family's status within the community… It was the first time he ever told me he was disappointed in me. He said Fabrays were better than this, and he used to be so proud of me. I didn't even get to tell him that I made captain. I don't even really like Cheerios. I only joined because it's what my parents expected. All I wanted was to make them happy. It tore me apart. I just wanted to go back to what it was like when he didn't look at me like I let him down."
Rachel didn't have a clue how to respond. Her heart throbbed and her mind reeled and she was rendered speechless.
Quinn continued, hardly seeming to notice Rachel's uncharacteristic lack of words. "It made so much sense in my head when I decided to go back to how I used to be. But then I had to follow through with it, and, and I hurt you. And, I don't want that. I don't want to be that person. You're the closest anyone's ever been to me, and that's kind of terrifying to me, but when I think of what I said, and how I knew it would tear you down… that's even worse." She broke free from Rachel's hold and slumped over a sink, clenching the sides with white-knuckled force. Her voice lowered, and Rachel couldn't figure out if it was defeated or newly determined. Maybe it was a bit of both. "I try so hard to be perfect for everyone, to make them all happy, but I can't keep it up; not without breaking myself apart." She let her head fall forward, down below her head, as she shook it. "I am so sorry, Rachel."
Rachel bit her lip. The words she said came much easier than she had assumed they would.
"I forgive you."
And she did. Holding on to grudges had never been on her list of talents. She hated the way Quinn had made her feel that morning, but more than that, she hated the way Quinn had made herself feel. "I understand why you did what you did." She crossed the few steps over ugly bathroom tile between herself and Quinn and closed the space between them. Her hand fell instinctively on Quinn's lower back, and she saw the blonde's reflection swallow in the mirror. "But I think you need to think less about what other people think of you," she saw Quinn start to roll her eyes and inflected importantly the remainder of her sentence, "and focus more on what you think of yourself." She was speaking almost directly into Quinn's ear at this point. She knew she was probably too close for comfort by now, but she could tell that she had Quinn's rapt attention, and she intended to get her point across while it would be heard. "You should do what makes you happy. Be who you want, not who you think your dad would think would reflect well on the family name."
Quinn turned to her with a watery chuckle. "You know you sound like an after-school special, right?" Rachel giggled along with her and nodded, because yeah, she did sound like a children's sitcom whose purpose was to boost self-confidence. But hell, that was what she was trying to do. Quinn's voice dropped again. "Would – is there any way we could just go back to the way things were before all of… today happened?" She looked nervous and genuinely unsure of the answer.
Rachel's heart cracked, and she couldn't stop her voice from doing the same when she answered. "Of course we can. I would like nothing better."
The relief on Quinn's face was palpable. She licked her lips. "Should we… shake on it?" She stuck her hand out, but before she knew what was happening, she was engulfed in a hug that seemed entirely too big relative to the size of the person giving it. Rachel's arms squeezed her around the neck, and after only a moment's hesitation, she returned the hug and slipped her arms around the tiny waist pressed against her middle. She breathed in a long breath, and it was the most relaxed she had been all day. "You smell like apple juice." She smirked into Rachel's hair.
Rachel pulled away and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear embarrassedly. "Yeah, sorry, I had juice with my lunch and it sprayed me a little when I tried to get the straw in."
Quinn's grin remained intact. "I didn't say it was a bad thing." Her face fell a bit. "I'm sorry. I keep making you feel bad today."
"Oh! No, Quinn, it's fine, really." She placed what she hoped was a bolstering hand on Quinn's forearm.
Quinn ran her other hand through her hair. "I just feel… I want to make it up to you. Is there anything I can do? I want to do something to make things better between us again."
Rachel was just about to hearteningly refute her offer and tell Quinn that, as far as she was concerned, everything was as it was before, hunky dory and peachy with a side of keen, when something stopped her. There was something Quinn could do.
She cocked her head to the side, noting the lift of Quinn's eyebrows. "How do you feel about Vermont?"