Chapter 20: Welcome (Back) to the Inner Sanctum
Quinn awoke, much as she had the morning after her last experience with a party at Puck's house, with a hangover. Sunlight came through the blinds in her windows as it always did, and she groaned as she forced her body to turn over so she could face away from it.
Admittedly, this time around her morning after misery was more manageable. By the time she'd gotten home the night before, she had sobered up enough to chug several glasses of water before she collapsed in her bed. When she finally cracked her eyes open, she smiled when she saw that she had remembered to leave herself Gatorade and a bottle of ibuprofen on the nightstand as well.
She shifted under the covers when the distant sound of shouting made its way to her ears from downstairs, alerting her to the cause of her abrupt awakening. She would never have roused before noon otherwise. She groaned again.
Russell and Judy seemed to be fighting more and more these days. Quinn couldn't make out what exactly it was they were arguing about this time, not that it mattered. Her parents fought about any little thing recently. Sometimes Quinn's name came up, but mostly she got the impression that her parents fought just for the sake of screaming at each other. Usually it ended with Russell storming out or locking himself in his office with a particularly harsh slamming of the door while Judy worked her way through a bottle of chardonnay by herself in the kitchen.
With a gruff grunt of effort, Quinn pushed herself up into a sitting position and blinked until her vision stopped swimming. She reached for the painkillers, barely avoided knocking the bottle over, and popped two into her mouth. She washed them down with a big gulp of her sports drink as the volume of her parents' voices increased.
She sighed deeply then got to her feet and made her way into the bathroom for a shower, removing her pajamas as she went. The running water almost drowned out the sound of the argument that raged on elsewhere in the house.
The hot water coursed over her body, and Quinn slowly started to feel like a normal person again. Without the sound of voices beating against her ears, her mind began to wander.
After a moment, her eyes shot open as the memories from last night flooded her brain. "Oh, fuck!" She clapped a hand over her face, half because she'd gotten shampoo in her eyes, half because she remembered that she had almost kissed Rachel. She turned her face to the showerhead to let the soap wash away as she panicked internally.
She couldn't believe she had done that. What was she thinking? That was such a goddamn stupid thing to do.
At the time it had seemed like Rachel might have been leaning in too... but they were drunk! Who's to say they weren't both just swaying off balance and she misread things? Who was she kidding, of course she was off balance! When she went in for the kiss she had put all of her weight on her injured leg and practically crumpled onto the pavement. God, that was so dumb.
What if Rachel didn't want to kiss her? What if she tried to kiss Rachel and got rejected? How did she know Rachel wouldn't be totally disgusted by an advance like that from Quinn?
What if Rachel did kiss her back? She didn't want their first kiss to be some random drunken accident. It was Rachel, if they ever did kiss it should be special. Romantic! That girl was all about over the top gestures.
Or what if Rachel had kissed her back but it was only because they were drunk and she thought it was just meaningless inebriated fun?
Quinn rested her head on the shower wall, resigned to the understanding that she was just a huge dumbass. There were so many ways her attempt to kiss Rachel could have gone wrong.
But hell if she didn't want a chance to try again.
The thought of kissing Rachel consumed her more and more ever since she realized what her feelings for the girl really were.
She thought about the moment the night before, just before she had started to lean in, and felt a little tingle. Their bodies pressed together, arms around each other.
If her leg hadn't given out, things might have gone very differently… Hands on waists, tangled up in each other's hair, softs lips crashing together, breath intermingling, bodies pressing closer, tongues-
Quinn snapped back to reality at the sound of Judy knocking on the door, calling her for breakfast.
Quinn arrived at The Annex with some time to spare before she had arranged to meet Rachel. Natural light streamed in behind her. She tugged unconsciously at the hem of her Billy Idol t-shirt and tightened the knot on the denim shirt she had tied around her waist. Her nerves had been firing over the idea of seeing Rachel again after last night, but nevertheless she was excited to spend time with her short, brunette friend.
Plus, the bookstore always had a way of instilling her with a sense of calm. In her opinion, it was one of the most peaceful places in Lima. From the moment she first stepped inside, on a day when she had just happened to be wandering by and got curious, the shop had filled her with a feeling of warmth and inexplicable familiarity. She had been thirteen then, killing time while her mom did some shopping down the street. Otis and Bernadette had welcomed her immediately and become instantaneous fixtures in her life.
It was where she felt most at home.
At the sound of the bell over the door, Otis appeared from behind one of the shelves and greeted her enthusiastically.
"Quinn! A pleasure to have you in as always."
"Oats! A pleasure to be here as always," she replied easily.
"I take it you've finished Ta-Nehisi Coates' first memoir?" he asked as he moved behind the counter and produced a book from the shelf underneath. "I have his second already lined up for you." Quinn grinned at him affectionately and nodded her head. "I've also got the latest Khaled Hosseini novel, if you're interested." His eyes twinkled, already knowing she would be.
She pretended to ponder for all of five seconds before purchasing both.
"We haven't seen our young friend Ms. Berry with you in a while. Bern and I found a thing or two for her to read as well."
Quinn felt her pulse pound just a bit harder at the mention of Rachel, and she took half a beat before she answered to ensure she didn't stumble over her words. "Um, yeah, she's actually meeting me here a little later this afternoon."
"Ah, lovely!" Otis leaned back behind the register with a thoughtful expression. "She seems like a keeper."
It was all Quinn could do to look down at the books in her hands and nod in agreement. He patted her on the shoulder with a big, kind hand and returned to his work.
Bernadette appeared as Quinn settled in an armchair with one of her new books to wait for Rachel. The old woman gave her a sweet smile and playful hair tousle before leaving her to her reading.
Quinn flipped the book open and slumped further into the chair. Her eyes ran over the first page without retaining a single word. Rachel would be on her way by now.
When she scanned the words without actually reading them for a third time, she gave up and closed the book again with a huff. She couldn't focus on the writing when thoughts of Rachel and questions about the nature of their relationship buzzed continuously between her ears.
Her gaze wandered over the interior of the bookshop. The twinkling lights, the smooth wooden shelving, the furniture that was well-worn but still comfortably inviting.
Rachel was the only person in her life that she had ever felt comfortable bringing in here. She had never even considered showing anyone else this place that was so close to her heart. She never imagined that she would let someone else into what she considered her own private sanctuary.
But when she brought Rachel that first time, she hadn't even thought twice about it.
What she did think twice about was their conversation after the party last night.
She told Rachel she liked her. Quinn wanted to slap herself for making that admission the way she did, but then she fast-forwarded to the part where Rachel said it back. Her heart fluttered thinking of the sincerity in Rachel's eyes in that moment. But for the life of her, regarding the situation in hindsight, she had no idea if Rachel had meant it in the same way. Did she (and Quinn shook her head at herself for the juvenile lingo in her own mind) like-like her? Or did she just like Quinn as a friend? They had both been drunk when they talked, so there was no saying how much of their conversation should be taken at face value.
Quinn's friendship with Rachel had grown beyond anything either of them might have hoped for when they first made their truce. They were real, honest to goodness friends now. They joked with each other and chatted about random things and just being around Rachel made Quinn feel better about the world. Risking that for what might just be an unrequited crush wasn't a move she was sure she wanted to make.
Especially with Puck's hat in the ring.
She saw the way Puck looked at Rachel, and Rachel's affection for him was nothing to sneeze at. Those two clearly had history that Quinn doubted she could compete with, and as much as she started worrying about the state of her teeth based on how much she was grinding them thinking about it, if Puck made Rachel happy, well… Quinn didn't want to mess with Rachel's happiness.
Damn it, she had it bad.
Quinn doubted she deserved Rachel anyway, given their own sordid past.
With a regretful frown, she thought back to the bullying she had dished out in the not so recent past. So much of it had come from wanting to fill the expectations her father had for her in his mind. All he wanted was the perfect nuclear family to show off to his rich, conservative, similarly image-obsessed friends without any regard to how said family felt about playing those roles.
Then she thought about how fully disapproving her parents were likely to be if, by some miracle, she and Rachel did end up together. She let out a small but agonized whine and flopped her head back against the chair. This infatuation was a disaster in the making.
Just as Quinn checked the clock on her phone, the bell over the store's entrance jingled and Rachel arrived, hair pulled back into a loose ponytail and wearing a shockingly stylish short romper that flaunted her toned legs. Quinn took just a moment to appreciate the outfit before she shook her head with a chuckle. The girl was nothing if not punctual; she walked in at exactly the time they had agreed to meet.
Rachel didn't see her right away, and Quinn watched as she meandered inside, eyes bright and looking more comfortable in the space by the minute.
Quinn's body flooded with nervous energy at the sight of her. Her hands stopped shaking only slightly when she saw Otis greet Rachel warmly and hand her two books of poems, one by Emily Dickinson and one by Mary Oliver.
Quinn felt her lips pull up at the sight of Rachel being so pleasantly surprised by his thoughtfulness that she actually jumped up and down a couple of times.
She heard Otis say, "We've also got a collection of Broadway biographies in, if you're so inclined." He gestured to the appropriate section, which just so happened to be the part of the store where Quinn had situated herself.
Rachel turned, and Quinn locked eyes with her. Before she knew it, she was smiling ear to ear and getting up to approach her. Rachel was positively beaming.
"Quinn! I'm so glad you suggested we get together here, I almost forgot how wonderful this bookstore is."
Quinn felt herself light up and shrugged contentedly. "Happiest place on Earth."
Rachel squinted her glinting eyes slightly. "I thought that was Disney World."
"Eh, to each their own, right?"
Rachel giggled, causing Quinn's heart to pound just a bit faster than usual.
Quinn led her up the stairs to the lofted area and they sat on the edge with their feet hanging through the wooden bars that lined the railing, overlooking the expanse of the first floor. Their legs were almost but not quite touching. A few quiet moments passed as Quinn hesitated to speak and they watched Otis putter around below.
With a deep breath and increasingly rapid pulse, Quinn eventually broke the silence. "Hey, um… I hope you know I meant what I said last night. I like you." Rachel gazed at her receptively, but Quinn could only let her words hang in the air for a few seconds before trying to play it cool. "I mean, nobody else gets access to the inner sanctum." She gave her head a tilt, indicating the shop that surrounded them.
Rachel gave her a meaningful smile and covered one of Quinn's hands with her own, giving it a quick squeeze. It was gone as quickly as it had come, and Rachel moved her hands to loosely grasp the edge of the balcony.
"It's an honor to be allowed into the secret lair," Rachel said with just a hint of jest. "For the second time, I might add. I guess you really do like me."
Quinn dipped her head bashfully and nudged Rachel with her shoulder, which she returned. Quinn still couldn't tell if Rachel had understood what she really meant when she said she liked her. She couldn't even tell if she wanted Rachel to understand.
They both watched idly as another customer perused the shelves near the register. Quinn swung her feet lazily back and forth.
"So…" Quinn started. The lapse in conversation wasn't an uncomfortable one, but something inside her drove her to keep the words flowing between them. "Were you as hungover as I was this morning?"
Rachel scoffed. "Me? A hangover? Unheard of." Quinn raised her eyebrows and Rachel relented. "Okay, maybe I was the tiniest bit hungover when I woke up. Nothing half an hour on the elliptical, a full water bottle, and a long shower couldn't fix." She shook her head. "It was… quite a night, last night."
Quinn couldn't argue with that.
"I still can't believe how badly you beat me at Flip Cup."
Rachel laughed. "It would seem my natural abilities extend beyond my performing expertise." She shrugged with faux modesty. "Not that you didn't hold your own too. I'm more surprised the guys didn't keep it together, I would have thought the competition would have gotten more out of Noah, at least."
"Just another example of the inferiority of men," Quinn mused.
"Here here," Rachel agreed with a smirk. "I'm still not over how hilarious Mercedes was on the sidelines of that game." She did a poor excuse for an impression. "Zomboni! Zamboni!"
"Y-yeah." Quinn felt her cheeks flush when the image of Rachel's full lips running over the tabletop, slurping at the spilled beer flashed through her mind. The way they pursed and sucked… She quickly redirected. "What about her and Santana dragging everyone into that Cotton-Eyed Joe marathon?"
Rachel's grin widened. "Oh, that was nothing compared to Mike trying to teach Finn the Cupid Shuffle."
Quinn nearly cackled. Mike really should have known that trying to get Finn to dance smoothly in any way that wasn't swaying or bopping his head was a non-starter. "Yeah, that was doomed from the beginning." Rachel's smile was warming her from the inside out. "And then of course there was Britt, Kurt, and Tina showing everyone up when Single Ladies came on."
Rachel's expression clearly showed her disbelief at how well their three friends knew that choreography. Her chuckling continued. "Not to mention that guy Sam actually taking the dare to twerk on the wall."
Quinn had a good chuckle at that memory. Sam was going to fit in just fine with this ragtag group of weirdos.
Rachel's eyes trailed along the string of lights over their head when she went on. "Is he really as good of a kisser as you said?"
Quinn fumbled a bit at that. "Oh, right, yeah, that was a, uh, spur of the moment kind of thing… Drunk me thought it seemed like an okay idea." She twiddled her thumbs, suddenly unaware of what to do with her hands.
Rachel nodded, still not looking at her. Before Quinn could say that it was most definitely just a one-time thing, Rachel piped up, "He's very handsome, you two would make a cute couple."
Quinn opened and closed her mouth once. Her heart sank, taking Rachel's words as a clear indicator that Rachel did not feel the same way she did.
If she were interested, she wouldn't suggest Quinn get together with some kid she barely knew.
After a moment, Quinn eventually shrugged noncommittally. "I don't know, I'm pretty sure he's into Mercedes, anyway. It's whatever." She paused for several beats then dove back in, doing her best to swallow her feelings. "You and Puck seem pretty cozy these days."
Rachel inhaled sharply before similarly avoiding answering the implied question directly. "We've always been close. But if I'm being honest, I'm not exactly sure what our situation is right now." Her eyes dropped to her lap. Quinn couldn't read the emotions on her face, which was strange, considering how out in the open Rachel usually was with that kind of thing.
She resisted the urge to take Rachel's hand.
"I hope you figure it out," she said in a voice just above a whisper.
Rachel finally faced her again and gave her a long look with glistening eyes. "Back at you."