Chapter 16: Like a Heartbeat, Drives You Mad
Author's Note: Almost two years since I've updated this baby! If anyone is still following this from when I started it, know that I haven't given up on this story! Inspiration definitely comes in waves, and real life has a habit of getting in the way of these things. But! I've finally written a new chapter, and I hope it's worth the wait!
"Alright, guys," Mr. Schuester called out to quiet the chit chat buzzing around the choir room, "I know we got a by for sectionals and are therefore heading into regionals technically undefeated, but that does not mean that we can walk into this competition with a chip on our shoulders. If anything, we are going to need to work even harder than ever in order to out-perform the other groups who have had the advantage of competing and being in front of an audience a lot more recently than we have."
He walked back to the whiteboard and, rather unnecessarily, wrote the word Regionals with the squeaky dry-erase marker. Quinn resisted the urge to roll her eyes and leaned forward in her seat to rest her elbows on her knees.
"So," he went on, "in order to put our best foot forward, we've got to come up with a killer set list. Last week we voted, and Mercedes is going to close us out with some Whitney Houston." He paused for the smattering of light applause that popcorned around the students before him. Quinn silently prayed he wasn't thinking up another comment about a song Mercedes sings being "dipped in chocolate."
Rachel, front and center of the choir room chairs as always, straightened up and raised her hand. "If I may, Mr. Schue," she started without waiting for him to call on her, causing Quinn to smirk behind her hands, which she had folded in front of her face. "I believe that our set at regionals would be best served by utilizing the star power that we know we have. As the most experienced performer in the room…"
Out of the corner of her eye, Quinn saw Santana next to her lean back in her chair and cross her arms. Quinn tensed up unintentionally, feeling Santana's desire to mock the confidence with which Rachel spoke about her own abilities. As arrogant as Rachel seemed at times, Quinn paid enough attention to know that a great deal of Rachel's cockiness came out of an effort to cover her insecurities.
She was also observant enough to see that it was an earned hubris. In the end, Quinn knew that there was no other option but to respect and admire Rachel's talent.
Beside her, Santana uttered under her breath, "Ugh, Berry, you love attention, we get it."
Without thinking, Quinn turned to Santana with an exasperated lift of the eyebrow. Santana returned with her own raised eyebrow, giving Quinn a strange look. "What? I know we're being nicer to her or whatever, but she's still annoying." When Quinn's face didn't change, she added, "You feel differently?"
And just like that, Quinn was thrust back in her mind to the night of the wedding in Vermont.
"Do you have feelings for Rachel?"
Quinn's mouth fell open as she took in Charlie's question. Suddenly her palms were sweaty, and she resisted the urge to wipe them on her pants by crossing her arms.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hiram and Leroy inside the tent twirling each other around the dance floor. After a moment spent trying to decide if she had heard Rachel's cousin correctly, Quinn could only cough out an uncomfortable chuckle.
"I-I'm sorry. What gave you that impression?"
Charlie adopted a smug sort of smirk. With a little shrug, she said, "Just your guys' whole vibe together. You seem like you're into her. And obviously as her cousin, I feel it's my duty to get the skinny on the situation. You seem cool, but I've only known you for a couple of hours, so I figured I'd get it straight from the horse's mouth."
"I, um," Quinn cracked open her soda in an attempt to be casual and it sprayed her hand with foam, so she tried to save face by taking a sip, only to have the fizz go up her nose and cause her eyes to water. "I don't know what to tell you," she finished weakly.
Charlie cocked an eyebrow. "You don't know what to tell me, or you don't want to tell me?"
"I'm not, uh, I-" Quinn dissolved into a stuttering of nervous laughter.
Charlie's eyes twinkled. "Okay, okay, maybe I jumped the gun. It's probably none of my business anyway, I just really love being in the know, you know? You don't have to tell me." She paused, and Quinn nodded along, relieved. "But," she added, "it seems like maybe you might want to have this conversation, just like, with yourself. Maybe, eventually, with Rachel."
With a friendly shrug of the shoulders, Charlie made a half-turn, looped her arm through Quinn's, and led her back to the fire pit.
Quinn returned to her lawn chair, and without prompting, Rachel leaned toward her, took her hand gently, and placed an impeccably made s'more on her palm.
With her eyes, Quinn followed the line of Rachel's arm up to her face and exhaled a small, "Thank you." Rachel shot her a wink, then slipped a new marshmallow onto the stick at her feet and turned back to the fire.
Quinn was quiet the rest of the night.
Quinn shrugged at Santana, thinking to herself, in the back of her mind, that maybe she didn't know how she felt.
The room was humming with several voices, all tossing out song suggestions. From the corner by the band instruments, Finn called out, "How about some classic rock? Let the guys shine for once, something like 'The Boys Are Back in Town' by Thin Lizzy, maybe."
Quinn groaned out loud before she could stop herself. Everyone in the room turned to her with varying degrees of surprise and interest.
Suddenly faced with having to explain herself, Quinn addressed their teacher. "Oh, come on. Mr. Schue, we've already done too many 'manly men' classic rock numbers. If anything, the guys take the forefront and outshine the girls more than not. We've done Journey and Boston and AC/DC and Van Halen and the Stones. It's tired. It's exactly the same thing we've been doing for a year and a half. And it's exactly what people are going to be expecting."
Mr. Schuester looked entirely taken aback at her comment, having smiled and tilted his head at Finn's suggestion in a way that made it clear he was on board. No doubt he was already imagining rehearsing with the boys and reliving his own high school glee club days. "Well, I don't think I would call it 'tired,' Quinn-"
"I have to disagree with you, Mr. Schuester." Rachel sent a flash of a smile over her shoulder at Quinn. "I think Quinn is right. While classic rock as a genre may not be expected in a show choir venue in general, for us as a group, it has become something of a calling card, and not necessarily in a good way. It was great for us when we were starting out, because it set us apart and gave us an edge compared to the groups we were competing against, but if we continue on this trajectory without any deviation, we lose our 'wow factor.' I'm certainly not suggesting we abandon classic rock altogether, but in order to continue to push ourselves and maintain interest from our audiences, we must at least make an attempt to subvert expectations."
Mr. Schuester stared at her mutely for a moment, and Quinn had to suppress a snort as he appeared to be frozen mid-shrug. Quinn was half convinced it was because he had zoned out when Rachel started talking and didn't actually know what she said. She shook her head mentally, unimpressed with his tendency not to listen to the views of his female students when it wasn't convenient for him. Eventually, he said, "Well, Rachel, do you have a counter proposal?"
"As a matter of fact, I-"
"No, no!" Finn rose from his chair and went up to stand next to Mr. Schuester. "Guys, we don't need to change anything. What we've been doing has gotten us this far, I don't get why you want to mess with that. There's nothing wrong with us having a stick."
The room was quiet for a moment as expressions of confusion spread across the club's faces.
Without making an attempt to hide her annoyance, Quinn clarified, "You mean a schtick."
Finn's face grew pink. "What the hell, Quinn, I don't talk like that."
Santana smirked, enjoying the controversy. "She wasn't making fun of the way you speak, Michelin Man. Schtick is another word for gimmick."
"Hey, hey, that's enough!" Mr. Schuester rose his voice and clapped a hand on Finn's shoulder to regain authority over the room and prevent the tall teen by his side from continuing to argue with his classmates. "Alright, well, we clearly aren't getting anywhere right now, so how about we rehearse the number that we know we're doing and come back to the discussion afterward."
The group grumbled collectively as they rose from their chairs.
When Quinn and Rachel passed each other on their way to their marks, Rachel placed a hand on Quinn's bicep and grinned as they side-shuffled through their milling peers. The back of Quinn's neck grew hot and she let out an involuntary, and slightly embarrassing, giggle. She closed her eyes and puffed out a long breath as she reached her spot across the room.
Mercedes stepped up to the front of the pack, pride at having landed the lead on the only song they had decided on radiating off of her. Quinn glanced toward Rachel, expecting to see an expression of jealousy or indignation at having been snubbed. Instead, the look on Rachel's face was one of happiness for a friend. As much as Rachel believed that she deserved the spotlight, and rightly so most of the time, she was a bigger person than most of the glee club gave her credit for, and Quinn felt a sudden fondness for her spread through her chest.
Mercedes glanced over her shoulder to make sure everyone else was ready before she made eye contact with Mr. Schuester and he silently counted her off.
For those next few minutes, as I'm Every Woman could be heard throughout all of the halls surrounding the choir room, Mercedes became Whitney Houston. It didn't matter that her stage was the middle of a dinky choir room in an underfunded public high school in Ohio. As they danced along and sang backup, Quinn was amazed at the demonstration of absolute musical power that was taking place before them.
At one point in the choreography, she and Rachel passed each other, and Quinn could have sworn that she spotted a joyful tear shining in the brunette's eye. She thought that only happened when Rachel was the one singing.
Quinn looked around at her other teammates. Every female in the room was sporting a genuine, beaming smile. Even some of the guys seemed hyped up by Mercedes' rendition of the song. Or maybe it was the fact that a portion of the choreography involved the girls shimmying down and back up right in front of them. Either way.
Once Mercedes trailed off at the end of the song, and Mr. Schuester had provided them with a short round of applause, Quinn stepped out of the formation the group still stood in and turned to face them, her eyes catching on Rachel's face, which gazed back at her with what Quinn could only assume was simple curiosity.
Quinn steepled her fingers in front of her chest as she spoke to her peers. "Guys, I'm having an idea, and I think it could be really good. Based on people's reactions to I'm Every Woman, and the girl power the ladies brought to it… what if we did a set that paid homage to female powerhouses?"
After a beat in which everyone digested the idea, the room erupted with conflicted responses.
Tina breathed a quiet but enthusiastic "Yes!"
Kurt put a hand over his chest and nodded at Quinn with complete approval.
Mercedes beamed at her. "Hell yeah girl, now we're talking."
Brittany, on the other side of the room, said something Quinn couldn't quite hear about mitochondria.
Mike and Matt both shrugged with easy acceptance, as the two most easy-going members of the club were apt to do.
Finn and Puck, on the other hand, rolled their eyes simultaneously. Finn once again pushed his way back to the front of the room. "Guys, come on. Obviously girls are great and have contributed a lot music or whatever, but," he turned to Quinn directly, "you really want to just exclude the boys altogether?"
Quinn looked at him incredulously, at a loss for words.
Santana actually laughed out loud. "Oh my god, is Jolly Green Giant really trying to make the argument that men don't get fair treatment compared to women?"
Before Finn could make another retort, Mr. Schuester rose from his seat on the risers and stepped in. "I don't think anyone in this room is trying to discredit the fact that women in our society deserve better." He glanced at Finn, clearly taking the boy's side-eye as confirmation. "Now before we make any decisions, it's only fair that we hear specific song suggestions." He looked around the room while all of his students looked at the floor.
When no one said anything, Rachel made her way to the front of the crowd to join Quinn, Finn, and their teacher. "Actually, if no one has any other proposals, I've been wanting to try out an Adele song for some time."
All of the New Directions made some form of interested, or at least conceding, expression, and Quinn saw Santana physically restrain herself from making a comment about Rachel finally having a song idea that she didn't insist on right away, knowing that it was solely due to Santana's love for Adele.
Mr. Schuester spread his arms and grinned. "Alright, I'm game. Let's hear it, Rachel."
The rest of the students ambled their way back to their seats as Rachel centered herself and produced sheet music out of nowhere to hand to the piano player.
Quinn leaned forward and rested her chin on the heel of her palm. She recognized the tune of Chasing Pavements immediately and snapped her mouth shut when she realized it had dropped open just a centimeter.
The slow, emotional pace of the song seeped into Quinn's pores and engulfed her entire body. For a moment, they locked eyes, and the words that poured from Rachel's mouth seemed to drive the beat of Quinn's heart.
She took a deep shaky breath when Rachel closed her eyes as she sang into the chorus. The words melted into her and all of a sudden she realized her eyes were starting to well up. Watching Rachel perform was unlike anything, and even just in the choir room, without a stage or a spotlight, there was no doubt. Rachel was a star. And the way she was singing that song…
Quinn jerked in her seat. The others were visibly impressed by Rachel's delivery of the song, but none were affected the way she seemed to be. She blinked hard to alleviate the outward emotional response she was having before anyone else noticed. Then she kept blinking. Disbelief washed over her as she realized what she had begun thinking.
There was no way that Charlie's intuition was correct. Quinn couldn't have feelings for a girl. She especially couldn't have feelings for Rachel Berry.
But the way her pulse jumped when Rachel glanced in her direction again…
No. There was no way. She and Rachel were friends now. That was all.
Yet the way Rachel's voice, singing those lyrics, cut into her, made her wonder if, maybe, Rachel was thinking of her while she was singing them. But that was ridiculous.
The piano dropped off for a moment, and the room brimmed with Rachel's voice alone. Quinn was inexplicably frozen, afraid that the movement of a single muscle might shatter the delicate moment that existed all around her.
Then the piano came back in, and Rachel's voice reached a new height of emotion, and Quinn felt like a fist clamped around her heart.
Maybe Charlie was right.
The realization nearly blew her over. If she hadn't been securely seated in her plastic chair, she would surely have fallen straight to the floor. Rachel's voice filled Quinn's body until it overflowed and she couldn't deny it to herself.
She did have feelings for Rachel.
At long last, Rachel's eyes opened. Quinn watched her gaze slide across the rows of chairs before her.
Her heart dropped below her stomach and onto the floor.
When Rachel's eyes came to rest, Quinn followed her line of sight to a chair at the edge of the room to find Noah Puckerman, whose soft smile showed something unmistakeable. His eyes positively shone as he watched her, and Quinn's chest felt fit to burst.
Rachel shot a quick smirk in his direction, and Quinn closed her eyes as a single tear escaped onto her cheek.
What the hell was happening to her?
Quinn was not accustomed to feeling like this. Seeing something and knowing that she couldn't have it was a foreign idea to her. Working for something? Easy. Doable.
But the way Rachel and Puck were looking at each other, the familiarity, the affection… what else could it be?
Quinn closed her eyes as she sucked in a long breath in attempt to make her outward expression more neutral.
It figured. The second she realized she really, actually wanted something, someone, someone else snatched it all away.
Rachel's eyes closed again as her song ended, and Quinn forced herself to clap along with her classmates. Rachel gave a small curtsy and swept back to her chair in the front row.
Before she knew what she was doing, Quinn stood. She felt Rachel's eyes carefully trailed on her as she stepped down the risers toward the front of the room.
"Um. If it's okay, I have another song. It's still technically classic rock, Finn, but it's also definitely encompassing the female powerhouse scheme. Stevie Nicks is a legend, and I think she would be a good addition to the setlist. I mean, she is one of the greatest female powerhouses of all time."
Various mutterings of approval and inquiry flooded the room. Mr. Schuester raised his eyebrows in interest. "The floor is yours, Quinn."
Quinn darted back to make sure the piano player knew the song she was thinking of, then centered herself on the tiles before the rest of the glee club.
The tune to Dreams rose, and Quinn let her eyes flutter closed for just a moment. Performance anxiety wasn't an affliction she normally suffered from, but the butterflies that erupted in her stomach made it clear that this song was a different story.
"Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom," Quinn started before opening her eyes. "Well who am I to keep you down?"
Her gaze landed squarely on Rachel's face. Those brown eyes watched her unflinchingly. It was with a great deal of effort that Quinn dragged her stare from its fixation and looked around at anyone else.
Her throat felt like it was about to close up, but she forced herself to keep singing.
The words came through her mouth on a trajectory from her heart toward the last person in the world she ever expected to be singing to.
"Thunder only happens when it's raining.
Players only love you when they're playing.
Say women, they will come and they will go…"
Quinn's eyes flashed back to Rachel, and her voice nearly cracked.
Apparently realizing that she had feelings for Rachel made it impossible to look at her without her heart constricting. The chorus rose again and she balled her hands into fists as she tried to shove all of that feeling into the lyrics. She sang with all she had, half hoping that releasing the words into the air might also release these new feelings from her chest.
If Rachel and Puck were into each other, well…
"Oh thunder only happens when it's raining.
Players only love you when they're playing."
She allowed herself to stare at Rachel for one more short moment as the song neared its close. In those few seconds, she wasn't sure if she wanted Rachel to understand her motivation for the song or if she hoped it would just sail over her, and everyone's, head.
"Say women, they will come and they will go.
When the rain washes you clean, you'll know."
But what if Rachel didn't want Puck? Quinn's pulse pounded as the music began to wind down.
Her voice softened with the last words, and she saw Rachel watching her with a look of uncharacteristic stoicism. As she gazed back, she decided, fuck it, she hoped that when she sang it was clear. It only took a minute's consideration for Quinn's resolve to set in.
Rachel would hear how she felt.