Chapter 14: "I Do"
"I'm actually kind of offended that you didn't ask me to go initially. I would've thought I'd be first choice, all things considered. You know, before I pulled an Angelus and turned evil overnight."
"Did you just reference Buffy the Vampire Slayer at me?"
"What if I did? Answer the question."
"Actually, technically speaking, you didn't ask me a question."
"Whatever, it was implied. Answer me, woman."
"Well, to be perfectly honest, I did consider it, but I spent several complete and consecutive hours convincing myself of all the reasons you wouldn't want to go."
"What? That's crazy. Name one." Quinn looked dubious.
Rachel tapped her chin. "Let's see… For starters, coming along means spending an entire weekend with Rachel Berry and her family… Guess I didn't think you were up to it." She reached a hand into the bag of corn chips that sat between them and popped one in her mouth.
Leroy and Hiram chuckled at their daughter's antics, unnoticed by either of the girls. The four were packed up snugly in the Berrys' station wagon and en route to the Green Mountain State. Leroy drove, and naturally, Hiram took up the passenger seat next to his husband. Their car was an old one, admittedly so and much loved by its owners, with fraying seats and crank windows that let a rush of breathy air gust through when they were opened; there was a distinct scent inside the car – not necessarily a bad one, but one that was instantly associated with the interior of a mature automobile. It was a car designed in a way that made climbing over the rows of seats very easy and sitting in the open space of the trunk almost preferable, particularly so to younger, smaller travelers. So, when it came time to load up the car and go, instead of packing all of their belongings into the boot of the car as they usually did, everyone's bags were flung into the backseat in a pile, and the two teenage girls accompanying the Berry men disappeared behind it with a warning from Leroy about ducking down if they happened to drive past a police car.
Quinn and Rachel both sat perpendicular to the trajectory of the vehicle, facing each other, leaning against the windows, Quinn with her knees pulled up to her body so that her elbows had a place to rest, and Rachel with her legs stretched out; her feet extended to either side so that they wouldn't be forced onto Quinn's lap.
Quinn let a half smile twitch onto her lips. "You were probably right. In fact, now that I think about it… Oh, dear god, what have I gotten myself into?" She feigned panic, and she and Rachel both giggled.
Leroy chuckled again, but Hiram let a small frown depress hid features. He was wary of Rachel's friendship with her former bully, and, as the former bully, Quinn had been made well aware of that fact. She knew how recently it seemed her life was dedicated to the torment and suffering of his little girl, but she assured him that she had only the best intentions this time around. Leroy had graciously offered her a clean slate in his book, knowing all too well the woes and bad decisions of high school, but Hiram was less eager to forgive her.
They rode along in comfortable silence for some time until Leroy called out, "Po-po!" This prompted the girls to drop below window-level so they wouldn't get a ticket for riding without seatbelts… or seats.
Rachel slumped all the way down; her body sprawled like a rag doll, while Quinn curled more tightly around her knees and scooted so she sat shorter. Her position was very reminiscent of the one she was in when Rachel found her in the bathroom that day a few weeks ago. It clearly registered in both of their eyes.
Quinn was the first to find her voice, though it was hushed; being in a physical state of hiding made her feel as if her voice should be small. Rachel could barely hear her over the sounds of the highway. "I'm still so sorry."
She had felt the pangs of guilt and regret every day since it had happened. They had begun to ebb away as she made an honest effort to be a good friend to Rachel, in school and otherwise.
She faced up to her fear of her reputation. She sat with the glee kids at lunch on alternating days, even letting Rachel steal food off of her plate, only because she so genuinely believed that she was being sneaky about it. She walked with Rachel in halls openly when they had classes in the same areas of the school.
Her crowning moment had been saving Rachel from a slushy attack just the day before. Her timing was perfect. She turned the corner to see an unsuspecting Rachel in the center of the hall chatting happily with Kurt and Mercedes, who were equally unaware of the impending corn syrup shower. Azimio waltzed toward her from one end of the hallway as Dave Karofsky came at her from the other, effectively trapping her in the middle. Kurt and Mercedes froze and were unable to react when they noticed the hulking boys surrounding her. Just as Azimio drew back his arm to unleash the frozen drink on Rachel, who was giving her two friends questioning looks, Quinn nimbly pushed her way between her stunned comrades and pulled Rachel out of harm's way by the front of her sweater. Azimio, whose reflexes were not as sharp as he, or Karofsky, would have liked, ended up splashing his fellow football player with a large, cherry-flavored cup of ice. Rachel was spared, and Quinn used her captain status to ensure that all of the Cheerios and football players knew that she was off-limits in that regard from then on. It certainly earned her some looks that implied she'd lost her marbles all over the cafeteria floor, but in the end, she had enough respect and fear from all of them that her word was pretty much final.
Hiram's voice bounced over the sound waves of the station wagon. "Okay, girls! You're all clear."
Rachel reached out a hand and used it to cover Quinn's. Her eyes shone with sincerity as she husked, "You've more than made up for it."
Quinn swallowed as Rachel sat back up across from her. She didn't feel as though she had.
"Wow. I mean, I've heard people talk about it before, but… I don't think I've ever been anywhere as beautiful as this." Quinn stared at the landscape surrounding her. She struggled to take it all in. the trees looked like they were flaming; the leaves all clung to their respective branches in varying hues that ranged in a gradient from vibrant, peak-of-sunset red to mellow, greenish yellow. It was breathtaking. She shook her head in wonder. The leaves changed in Lima, sure, but it was never anything like this.
Hiram nodded along with her. "Fall is curious in New England. It's like coming here in the autumn and winter months is entering into a completely new world. Everything is more beautiful here. Even when the leaves fall out, Mother Nature brings in a bag of fluffy white snow and shakes it out so it falls to the land in a flurry and covers everything in glitter. And right now the hills are just… on fire."
Quinn smiled as Rachel grinned at her father's words. Taking in everything around her, she was inclined to agree.
Leroy put an arm around his husband and said to the girls half-jokingly, "I keep telling him he missed his calling as a poet." Then to Hiram he mused, "I'm sure that's why the wedding is this weekend. It's outdoors; this time of year, it'll be unforgettable."
The sun had just dropped below the horizon as they settled into their hotel room. There were two double beds, Quinn and Rachel in one, Leroy and Hiram in the other. "I hope everyone's okay sharing."
Rachel turned to her dads with entertainment evident in her eyes and jerked her head in Quinn's direction. "As long as this one doesn't hog the covers, I think we'll probably survive for two nights." Quinn rolled her eyes good-naturedly.
Hiram shrugged and checked his watch. "Alright, we are definitely too late for the rehearsal dinner… Do we want to stay in and do room service or go out? Oh! I know, I'll take you all to downtown Burlington. Okay, that's what we're doing, everyone get ready to go." He practically danced with excitement and a look of amusement passed between the other three occupants of the room.
As they piled back into the car, the girls in the backseat this time, Quinn cleared her throat and attempted to engage Hiram in conversation. "So, Mr. Berry, sir, did you, um, grow up here, or…?"
Hiram made eye contact with Rachel through the rearview mirror, and she answered for him. "Dad went to school here. He graduated at the top of his class from UVM in '85. Didn't you Dad?"
He nodded proudly at his daughter with a sparkling grin.
Quinn nodded, her lips pressed together slightly, impressed. "Very cool. I take it you enjoyed your time here."
Hiram's lips melted into a soft, reminiscent smile. As much as he didn't want to admit it, the girl was creeping past the border onto his good side. "I really did. My college years were some of the best of my life."
"Yeah, all six of them." Leroy winked at the girls, and they giggled as Hiram smacked him playfully on the thigh.
Hiram turned around in his seat to address the teenagers who were biting back the laughter that was fighting its way up their throats rather unsuccessfully. "It was five years, and only because I took a semester off to travel." He faced forward again only to bounce in his seat and lose any cool points he had just won back. "Ooh! There it is! Here, turn here Lee, park in the garage." He watched his window with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a child at a carnival. "I can't wait to show you all Church Street. I can't believe I haven't brought you here before; it's one of my favorite places. It's lovely. The culture and the authenticity of it all… Just wait. You'll see what I mean."
They parked on the top level of the garage in a spot overlooking the town. Lights twinkled in the semi-darkness. The moon illuminated the water of a lake at the bottom of the hill and a staggering of mountains on the opposite shore.
They took the stairs back down to ground level and followed the pavement through a sort of alleyway. The brick to their right was painted into a mural of a jungle and tropical animals… along with a family of penguins.
The end of the walls opened onto a brick street, busy with pedestrian traffic. Light was provided by storefront displays and fairy lights that spanned the overhead of the entire length of the lane.
"You know, Church Street is one of the only surviving outdoor malls in the country. Way back when, all sorts of outdoor marketplaces cropped up, but the majority of them were pretty unsuccessful." Hiram stuck his hands in his pockets and soaked in the sights that were simultaneously new and familiar to him. "I don't know why this one has done so well, and still does, but I sure am glad for it."
"I bet it has to do with the atmosphere." Rachel smiled at him understandingly. She'd only been there for two minutes, and already she could tell she would be in love with the place by the end of the night.
It was such a stark contrast to the conservative Ohio environment they were all used to. All around them, people walked up and down without a single thought as to what their fellow passersby thought when they looked them over. It was a place where people went to feel free to be themselves, as much as to get some shopping done or grab a bite to eat. There was a college-age boy with dreadlocks all the way down his back, and a girl with a great big sweater foraged from the men's section of a thrift store and glasses that obscured almost half of her face, and someone with shoulder-length, wavy hair whose gender was indistinguishable, and it was all beautiful. The appeal was apparent immediately.
Hiram led them up the street past coffee shops and colorful little boutiques and even more colorful people to a small bistro or café-style restaurant called Halvorson's, where they were quickly seated in a booth next to the window. Quinn and Leroy both ordered the teriyaki burger, while Rachel and Hiram opted for simple dinner salads. When the waitress approached the table with their dishes, all four of them felt themselves salivate.
They ate rapidly, and after leaving an entirely too large tip for the waitress, Hiram led the way back outside, where a street performer could be seen over the heads of the surprisingly large crowd surrounding him on a tower of interlocking chairs. As they passed by him, he began to juggle flaming torches, and they clapped along, because the joke he told about living with his parents was rather amusing.
When they got back to the car, Rachel noticed Quinn pause before sliding into the backseat. She strained her ears to hear the blonde mutter to herself, gaze lost in the view from their elevated vantage point. "It really is beautiful here." Unnoticed by her friend, Rachel's lips lifted into a grin, and she nodded her agreement.
When Quinn woke the next morning, it was to the sound of Hiram and Leroy Berry singing "Here Comes the Bride" at the tops of their lungs around the hotel room. Sunlight lit the room, but only through the blinds, so it was more of a glow than a glare. She groaned inwardly and lifted her head heavily, her hair falling over her eyes and blocking her vision.
As she came to, lying on her stomach, she realized that her legs rested, one on top of and one between two others. With another minute, she realized that there was an arm slung lazily over her shoulders and that her head had been resting in the crook of a neck whilst she slept. She closed her eyes again and sighed. Drifting in the state between dreaming and reality was only too peaceful.
There was a fragrance to the air, something light and natural, a scent that was more like a subtle something that had always been a part of the air, and Quinn had only just really noticed it, but now that she had, it was the only thing she could smell. It was like walking into someone else's house and realizing how distinct the scent was, while going to one's own house doesn't seem to have a scent at all. After considering it for quite some time in her half-conscious mind, Quinn decided that she would like to live in a house that smelled like this. Another long while, and she realized that the aroma was familiar.
When the dots connected that she had woken up almost completely intertwined with Rachel, Quinn was suddenly wide awake, and she rolled over fast enough that her momentum landed her on the floor with a thud.
The sound apparently woke her slumbering companion, who shot up in bed with wild sleep hair and startled eyes. Rachel looked around; she had clearly woken up unaware of where she was or what was going on, but she seemed to quickly regain her bearings and smiled sheepishly at her fathers across the room, who had only just realized that the girls had woken.
"Ah, ladies, you're up. Get dressed let's get down to breakfast. We have a wedding to attend!"
The wedding was as perfect as anyone could have hoped for. It was held at an overlook with a stone fence and gorgeous fall scenery abound. Everyone was dressed as nicely as they could manage while accounting for the chill in the air. Aside from the flower girl forgetting that she was supposed to walk up the aisle and not roll down the hill for fun, the ceremony ran smoothly. Leroy was in tears the whole time, though he denied every second of it. The bride looked beautiful, and the groom's eyes shone the moment he laid eyes on her gracefully stepping toward him on her father's arm. Quinn was sure in the moment the father of the bride gave her to her husband-to-be that there was one last threat having to do with if you ever hurt my little girl, but the younger man just chuckled and nodded.
To everyone's relief, the reception was held at the bride's parents' house, and the dress was casual, so everyone stopped back wherever they were staying to change into slightly warmer and more comfortable attire.
The house had a shockingly large backyard with grass so green, Quinn got the impression that the yard was attempting to go out with a bang before the winter came and turned it brown. A large white tent was set up and housed numerous tables, a small dance floor, a DJ station, and a buffet. Champagne was set out in bundles of glasses, dispersed around the space. Soft drinks were located in an oversized cooler on the ground by the food, and harder drinks were served at an open bar by the entrance to the tent.
The adults milled about, chatting with each other and enjoying the commodities. Younger children were shooed towards the garage where a basketball hoop was set up, and the teenagers, after trying and failing to steal glasses of champagne, gathered around the fire pit a ways off in the corner of the lawn by the edge of some woods. Several dogs scrambled among all of the people, excited by all of the commotion.
Quinn and Rachel walked toward the group, having arrived later than most because their hotel was a farther drive from the house.
"I think you'll really like my cousin Charlie. I bet you two will really hit it off," Rachel enthused as she and Quinn trudged over the grass.
"Oh?" Quinn raised a trademark eyebrow. "Is he hot?" she joked.
Rachel faltered and then giggled. "Oh, that's not really what I meant, but now that I think of it, you two would be adorable together."
They reached the flock of their fellow adolescents and Quinn surveyed the scene. Two boys, who appeared to be around fourteen and fifteen years old, struggled to light the logs piled into the pit, three girls, two of whom seemed to be twins around the age of thirteen, snickered at the boys' inability to make a spark. The third, who looked to be approximately sixteen, knelt down by the hole in the ground to give the boys some sarcastic advice about being careful not to catch each other on fire.
The last of Rachel's cousins, who appeared to be around seventeen or eighteen, lounged in the background at a picnic table, not bothering to pay attention to the activity of the others. Quinn appraised him carefully. He and Rachel looked startlingly similar for cousins. He had a stronger jaw, and his features were distinctly less feminine, but if the two stood side-by-side, Quinn would have sworn that they were fraternal twins. It was surprising, seeing as they were related through her father, and Rachel proudly boasted that she took after her beautiful mother, though she'd only ever seen the woman in photographs. There were certainly things that clearly came from the paternal side of her heritage, and apparently her father's siblings had passed along the same traits to their children. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact, Quinn found herself musing about how attractive he was.
A throat cleared beside her, so Quinn swiveled her head to find Rachel smirking at her with a twinkle in her eye.
Quinn rolled her eyes and uttered quietly enough that only Rachel could hear. "Okay, he's cute. Whatever."
Rachel couldn't contain her amusement. She laughed silently as she shook her head at the blonde. Without taking her eyes off of Quinn's, Rachel called in the general direction of her cousins, "Hey, Charlie, come meet my friend, Quinn."
Quinn resisted the urge to roll her eyes a second time and broke eye contact with Rachel to glance in the older boy's direction. His eyes had followed the sound of his cousin's voice, and his dark eyes raked briefly over the blonde, but he made no move to get up. Quinn's brow pinched together in a slight frown, because in her book, that was kind of rude.
Movement in her peripheral vision caused her to shift her gaze again, and she watched, confused, as the sixteen year old girl cousin bounced over to them. "Hi. Nice to meet you." The girl's hand thrust forward, offering a shake, and the corners of her mouth perked up in a bubbly smile.
Quinn stared at the girl, dazed and uncomprehending. If the boy was Rachel's twin in looks, this girl was her twin in personality; this girl who was introducing herself to Quinn; this girl who jumped up when Rachel asked for Charlie. Realization hit her in the chest like a punch, and all of her breath flew out of her lungs into one whispered word.
The girl, Charlie, blinked, but took it in stride. "Okay. So, I can go back to staring into the hole in the ground where the fire's going to go…" She pointed her thumb over her shoulder.
"No. No, I'm sorry." Quinn let a single chuckle escape her lips. "That was not directed at you." She cast a sidelong glare at Rachel. "It is lovely to meet you, Charlie."
They shook hands, and Quinn took the opportunity to look the other girl over. Girl. Rachel was so going to get it.
Charlie was a slender girl. She was on the taller side; she had two or three inches on Quinn. Her hair, which was light brown and corkscrew curly, was cut along her jawline and bounced jubilantly every time she moved her head. Her eyes were bright and shockingly blue. Her skin was olive-toned with a smattering of dark freckles across her nose and cheekbones.
"It's cool." Charlie lifted her hands passively. "And, just so you know, I kind of go by Charlotte now. My given name. Charlie is just the nickname my family gave me when I was little. Some of them," she eyed Rachel pointedly, "haven't let it go yet."
Rachel waved her off. "Calling you Charlotte at this point just sounds weird. You've always been Charlie to me. Calling you anything else would just mess with my head."
"Yeah, Chuck, it just wouldn't be the same." One of the boys in the fire pit flashed his teeth and flicked a twig in the girls' direction. His laughter was cut short when, in pleasured retaliation, Charlie revealed that his name was Marion.
They all fell into an easy comfort as they all settled into folding lawn chairs around the pit. The boys eventually got the fire started with some help from Quinn. It was fascinating for her, watching Rachel interact with her cousins; she seemed very much at ease with them. She joked and laughed, and it wasn't that she never did with her friends back in Lima, but there with her family, it came without a thought, without fear of reprehension. She looked genuinely happy, and Quinn was content to sit back in her very low-to-the-ground chair and observe Rachel and her cousins as they shared stories and reminisced and made fun of each other. They all spoke in ways that made their tales accessible to Quinn, and after a while, her cheeks started to ache from all of the smiling and laughing she'd been doing. She couldn't tell them how appreciative she was to be made welcome and included. She had gone into it apprehensive that she'd be seen as an outsider and things would be awkward. Nevertheless, she ended up having a remarkably good time.
After a while, thirst began to prick at the back of her throat, so she stood with a flourish. "I'm going to grab a soda, anyone need anything?"
Rachel started and got to her feet as well. "I'll go with you."
"Nonsense, cuz." Charlie hopped up. "I'll escort your lady-friend. I could use another rootbeer myself." She jiggled her empty soda can to prove it.
Rachel shrugged and sank back into her seat, before licking her lips and rejoining the conversation carried on by her cousins.
Quinn and Charlie hiked back up the slope of the backyard to where the tent had begun to illuminate the darkening field. Inside the white drapings, the cake had been cut, the woman who'd caught the bouquet was parading it around like she'd won an academy award, and Leroy, tipsier than a toddler on one leg, swayed around the dance floor to a tune that Quinn was sure was not the one being played through the massive speakers. She chuckled fondly. She really did like Rachel's family.
The two made their way through the crowds of adults to the drinks cooler. Quinn reached in and tossed Charlie a rootbeer, grabbing a Diet Coke for herself.
Quinn watched Charlie watching the chaos of the dance floor, and after a minute of looking at her, couldn't help the snort of laughter that worked its way out of her. Charlie turned to her with a curious look. "What?"
Quinn bowed her head momentarily in an effort to conceal her struggle with her hilarity. "Nothing, it's just…" she giggled. "I just remembered that when we were on our way to meet you, all of you… cousins… Rachel said you and I would hit it off, and I asked if you were hot, because from the name I assumed you were a guy, and she just got this evil little glint in her eye and said that we would be adorable together." She snorted again and covered her nose. "Remind me to kick her ass sometime, will you?" Her eyes were alight and playful.
Charlie surveyed her for what seemed like several minutes with a thoughtful expression. When she broke her silence, she said, "Okay, spill."
Quinn lifted her eyebrows. "Spill what?"
Charlie let a flash of incredulity cross her features, then leaned in toward Quinn conspiratorially. She glanced around to be sure they weren't overheard. Her voice was soft, but the words got through to Quinn's ears loud and clear.
"Do you have feelings for Rachel?"