Chapter 15: One Plus One
Rachel rubbed at the back of her neck with both hands as the sound of chalk hitting the blackboard echoed through the otherwise silent classroom. She stared down at the figures in her notebook without comprehension, willing the numbers and letters to come together in her mind in a way that actually made sense.
She knew she was smart, but this whole math thing constantly eluded her. Her teachers could explain it at the front of the class a hundred times, with increasing impatience, and she could make her best effort to follow along, but the second she was alone with the practice problems in her textbook, her mind emptied of an semblance of any mathematical knowledge or aptitude. She simply couldn't understand why she couldn't understand.
Rachel glanced around the room at her classmates, all in varying states of note-taking. Puck, of course, was leaned back in his seat, not even pretending to pay attention, drawing what was most likely an unflattering caricature of their teacher on his desk. Kurt, in the front corner of the room, watched the teacher scrawl on the board with slightly glazed-over eyes, breaking from his boredom every couple of minutes to jot down example problems before drifting off again.
Then there was Quinn, who sat just off the center of the room, whose eyes followed their teacher's explanations without a hint of confusion, pencil flowing occasionally over the page of her notebook with precision. Her head was propped delicately in her hand, her chin resting on her palm, elbow on the edge of her desk. Rachel watched as Quinn lightly tapped her cheek with her fingertips.
Rachel bit down lightly on her tongue.
Quinn had been acting kind of weird ever since they got back from the wedding. She was still friendly, Rachel supposed, but she'd become a little distant.
Rachel worried maybe her cousins had been too overbearing or that they'd made Quinn feel out of place. Everyone had seemed to be having a good time, but looking back on the situation, Rachel wondered if she'd been having such a good time herself that she simply hadn't noticed Quinn feeling uncomfortable or alienated.
As she was making a mental note to put in effort to make up for anything she or her family might have done to cause Quinn to harbor negative feelings toward her, she was snapped from her thoughts by the jarring sound of the bell signalling the end of the class period.
Scrambling to collect her things and cram them into her backpack, she zipped her bag and slung it over her shoulder as she followed the rest of the class into the hallway.
She spotted Quinn opening her locker and marched up with determination to tap her on the shoulder.
Quinn jumped at her touch, hand flying to her chest. "Jesus, Rachel, you startled me." She returned her eyes to the inside of her locker, her fingers running over the spines of the different books stored inside.
Rachel pressed her lips together into a small, apologetic smile. "Sorry about that. I certainly didn't mean to sneak up on you. I just wanted to check in with you, make sure everything is okay, you know, with us."
Quinn's eyes flicked to Rachel for a fraction of a second before locking back in on her books. "Of course, why wouldn't it be?"
Rachel faltered. "Well because… um…" She frowned. "I don't know. Something has been feeling off, but I guess it was just me."
Quinn stilled for a moment before she tugged her books out of her locker and tucked them under her arm. "Yeah, I'm fine. We're good. So, I should get to my next class now." She gave a weak excuse for a grin and made to walk away.
"Wait, before you go," Rachel stopped Quinn with a hand on her arm. "I had something else I wanted to ask you."
Quinn froze instantly, but Rachel kept her hand at rest by Quinn's elbow. Quinn cleared her throat before she spoke again. "Oh?"
Rachel nodded. "I know it's very forward of me to ask but…" She took her hand off of Quinn's forearm to twiddle her thumbs in embarrassment. Quinn's eyes finally rose to meet hers expectantly.
Quinn almost seemed nervous. Rachel saw her swallow. "Ask what?"
Rachel tucked a bit of hair behind her ear and glanced around them. "I was wondering if you might consider helping me with algebra?"
Quinn's shoulders dropped from their raised position, almost even with the top of her neck, as she let out a soft chuckle. "Oh."
Rachel bit her lip. "I hate to ask like this, but I'm having some trouble with it, and you seem to really understand it."
Quinn hugged her books tighter to her chest. "I don't know Rachel, I'm really busy with the Cheerios and glee club and everything…"
Rachel took a step closer and put a hand on each of Quinn's shoulders. "Please, Quinn? I understand it's an imposition, but I'm verging on desperation here. I'll do anything."
Quinn stared at her for what felt like a long time before heaving an exaggerated breath. "Okay, okay. If you're that desperate. I hate to see you all damsel-in-distress like this."
Rachel beamed. "Really? Thank you, Quinn! You won't regret this, I promise I'll repay you somehow."
Quinn rolled her eyes in amusement. "Yes, I'm sure you will. Now I really do have to go to class."
"Yes, yes of course! Thank you." Rachel released her grip and stepped aside to let Quinn pass. After a moment she called down the hall after her, "You're the best, Quinn Fabray!"
Without turning around, Quinn raised her hand in a wave before she turned the corner and disappeared from sight.
With a satisfied smile, Rachel turned and stopped just short of colliding face first with a human wall. She took a surprised step back and raised her head to find Finn looking down at her with a poorly hidden frown.
Rachel took another step back so she could look at him without craning her neck. "Hello, Finn. How are you?"
He shoved his hands deep in his front pockets. "I'm good. I mean, you know, fine."
He looked as though he wanted to say something but remained quiet for a moment, so Rachel prompted him, "Is there something you wanted to talk to me about?"
His frown deepened. "So you and Quinn are like… friends now?"
Rachel was taken aback by his forwardness, but she soldiered on, hoping that there was a point he would get at with enough encouragement. "Yes, we've managed to put our differences aside and form a friendship. Surprising as it may be to some, knowing our collective past, Quinn and I have found that we're able to spend time together and actually enjoy it."
Finn nodded, maintaining solid eye contact with his shoes. "Cool, cool. Good for you guys." He paused again. As Rachel was gearing up to force the conversation forward again, he charged in once more. "So look, do you think you could maybe, like, talk to her for me? You know, see if there's any chance she'd like… give me another chance?"
Rachel's mouth opened slightly as she took in his request. "Oh, well… I mean…"
Finn dipped a bit lower so his face was only slightly above her sight line. "Look, I know I messed up and stuff with her, but I really think she's like, the one. For me."
Rachel's breath escaped from her lungs all at once. "Wow. That is… quite the realization."
"Yeah." Finn flashed a lopsided grin. "So you'll help me out?"
Rachel took a breath, preparing to tell him that she didn't feel it was her place, but as she started to speak, Finn gave her what she could only assume were supposed to be puppy dog eyes, and it became clear that refusing wasn't going to be an option. With a sigh, she acquiesced. "I supposed I could give it a try."
Finn's body jerked as he clearly suppressed an urge to fist pump. "Thanks, Rach. This is really cool of you."
"Yes, well… We should both be getting to our next classes."
Rachel stepped past him without waiting for a goodbye. The whole situation gave her an increasingly strange feeling the longer it sat with her.
Since the couple's break-up, Rachel had been having more and more trouble picturing the two of them together in a significant way. They really didn't bring out the best in each other.
She couldn't imagine what kind of future Finn thought they might have together. He was content to live a small town life in Lima forever, but Rachel knew that Quinn would be so much happier somewhere else, that she could do so much more. That she could do so much better.
Quinn rubbed at her temples, narrowly avoiding knocking the pencil from behind her ear. Rachel's mind felt numb as she listened, frustrated and uncomprehending, to Quinn's exasperated attempts at explaining whatever it was that they were learning about in their algebra class.
The two sat at the desk in Rachel's bedroom, crowding the small structure that was only built to accommodate one. Rachel's textbook rested between their notebooks and acted as the only barrier keeping their elbows from bumping each other.
They'd been working at the problem set for almost two hours by that point, and she could feel her eyes slowly going out of focus as the words passed into some sort of abyss between her ears and her brain.
Quinn sighed and tried again. "Okay so you just have to approach it like any normal equation - whatever you do to one side you do to the other to simplify it. It's the exact same process, it's just that the two sides have different values. Think of it like, without the variables. 20 is greater than 10, right. Divide both 20 and 10 by two, you get 10 and 5. 10 is still greater than 5, right? Whatever you do to simplify it, as long as you're doing it to both sides, the inequality stays true, with whichever side being greater than or less than. Unless you're dividing negatives, in which case you have to flip the sign, but we're getting ahead of ourselves there."
Rachel stared at her blankly, momentarily forgetting how to use words as she tried make sense of even one part of what Quinn had just said. "Sorry, I think a bird flew into my brain's power lines, all I'm getting right now is static. Would it be okay if we took a break?"
Quinn paused for a moment. "Oh, um… Sure, I guess."
Quinn pulled out her cell phone, and Rachel watched out of the corner of her eye, anxiously tapping her pencil against her thigh as she considered the best way to approach the conversation she had been tasked to have.
Now that she was here, she didn't know what Finn could have been thinking asking her to broach this topic. Her history of talking about romantic feelings was riddled with bouts of word vomit, misspeaking, and losing herself on irrelevant tangents that distracted so much from the original subject neither she nor whomever she was talking to would even remember that they'd been discussing romance once the conversation was over.
Rachel took a deep breath and tried to clear her throat in a way that came off as nonchalant. It didn't work.
Quinn looked over in her direction with raised eyebrows. "You okay?"
Rachel's cheeks flushed as she fought to recover from her embarrassment. "O-oh yes, I'm just fine. I just had a little something in my throat."
Quinn gave her a an amusedly skeptical look, but let it slide.
Rachel steeled herself to press on. She wasn't entirely sure why talking to Quinn about her ex made her so nervous. In the end she chalked it up to not wanting to touch a nerve and bring about bad memories for her friend.
But, she had told Finn that she would at least try.
"So Quinn," she started, unsure of how to phrase her question, "um, you and Finn, done forever?" Rachel turned her gaze to the floor and stared at her carpet in wide-eyed astonishment at herself. She'd been speaking English with impeccable grammar practically from the day she learned to talk. That monstrosity of a sentence did not just come out of her mouth.
Quinn, who had fished her water bottle out of her backpack and was taking a sip when Rachel began her question, spluttered a bit when the words finally made their way into the air between them.
Rachel rushed to clarify. "What I meant to say was: Do you think there's any chance you and Finn might get back together?"
Quinn swallowed what water remained in her mouth forcefully with a hand over her chest. "Um. Wow, okay." A frown made its way onto her face. "Yeah, no, that's not going to happen." Rachel silently signaled for her to elaborate. "I don't think he and I work anymore. Like, at all. I mean, he cheated on me, and obviously that's pretty unforgivable. He and I, I've been realizing more and more, weren't even really well matched to begin with. Things wouldn't have worked out between us either way. It was just a matter of time, there's no reason to go back now."
Rachel trailed her eyes on her lap for a moment. She was a bit taken aback by all of Quinn's honesty.
More quietly this time, Quinn added, "Why? Are you… Do you want to date him?"
Rachel had to stifle a bark of laughter. "No. Absolutely not." She took Quinn's eyebrow raise as a request to explain so she continued with her answer as well. "I have also come to the conclusion that Finn and I are not compatible. My interest in him was incredibly short-lived to be honest. He and I are friends at best."
Quinn's lips twitched in what might have been an attempt to smother a smirk. Rachel suspected that her own small grin was just as unsuccessfully hidden.
Quinn stood suddenly, her chair nearly tipping over in the process. Rachel watched her expectantly.
Quinn froze for a second, then moved to stoop over her backpack. She dug through its contents for a moment, her hand reemerging with a pack of gum. She pulled a piece from it, hastily unwrapped it, and popped it in her mouth.
She held the pack out to Rachel in a silent offer. Rachel straightened a bit in her seat. "Oh, thank you, Quinn."
She reached out a hand to take a stick. Her fingers wrapped around one of the tinfoil-wrapped pieces of gum and as her hand retreated with it, one of her fingertips grazed the palm of Quinn's hand.
Rachel took a breath in as Quinn closed her pack of gum and deposited it back in her bag.
"So, um," Quinn rubbed at the back of her neck, "I think we've done enough math for tonight. It's getting pretty late, and I think you probably know it better than you think you do. I should be getting home."
"Oh, I hadn't even looked at the time. I'm so sorry for keeping you so long. Thanks again for all of your help, Quinn."
Before Quinn could hike her backpack over her shoulder, Rachel popped up and wrapped her arms around Quinn's shoulders in an emphatic hug. "I really appreciate it."
Quinn's hands patted her tentatively on the back. "It was my pleasure."