Chapter 27: The Girls Go Galavanting
It was a little more than halfway through summer break, and Rachel was lost in thought as she glanced in the mirror while she got dressed for the day.
Her mind, as it tended to be these days, was on Quinn.
Rachel wasn't entirely sure what was going on with Quinn, but she could sense that there was something. Quinn had informed her a couple of hours after she'd returned home the day following the pool party that her parents had found out that she had lied about her whereabouts and that she had consequently been grounded.
Rachel had worried, that week that Quinn had been locked away in her house. Rachel texted her often, knowing how frustrating and lonely isolation could be, but Quinn's responses had been clipped and few. She had grown concerned that Quinn might have started to blame her for the trouble she had gotten in and begrudge her for the punishment it had incurred.
But when Quinn had finally, after what felt more like a month than a week to her, been granted her freedom again, she had embraced Rachel ardently, almost desperately. If anything, Rachel could have sworn that Quinn had held onto her even tighter than she normally did, as if Rachel might slip right through her fingers at any moment. Rachel didn't know why, and her questioning gaze was only met with a shrug, so she simply accepted Quinn's affection and squeezed her back, matching her intensity.
Today, she, Quinn, Mercedes, Tina, Santana, and Brittany had agreed to a glee girls' day out. It had been Mercedes' idea, and initially she had forgotten that two thirds of the group were coupled up with each other, so, in order to be good sports, she and Tina decided to spend the first few moments of their outing pretending that they were dating each other too.
The group's first stop was the Lima Bean. It was mid morning, and they all knew that they were more likely to have an enjoyable day together with caffeine in their systems. The place wasn't too busy, as most adults with day jobs had already cleared out, but there were still some people lingering about with books and laptops.
While Mercedes went to grab them a table, Rachel and the rest got in line to order, and Tina asked, kissing Mercedes' hand dramatically, "What can I get for you, darling?"
Mercedes replied through a bout of giggles, "Oh, anything with mocha, sweetheart, you know what I like."
Rachel shook her head at their antics and laughed along. "How is it that Tina and Mercedes are the most like an old married couple out of all of us here?"
Brittany turned to her with a questioning look. "Wait, I thought Quinn was the oldest out of all of us?"
Quinn, standing beside Rachel, put her hands on her hips with a sarcastic sense of superiority. "Oldest, smartest, most mature… the list goes on." Rachel gave her a playful nudge in the gut with her elbow, so Quinn amended, "Kidding, I'm kidding."
It took the group a few moments to get through the line, order, and collect their various drinks. When they got back to the table Mercedes was saving for them, they found that their friend had been joined by none other than Kurt and Blaine.
"Hey ladies!" Blaine greeted them, chipper as ever. "I hope we're not intruding. Kurt and I were just here for our bi-weekly coffee date and saw Mercedes over here all by her lonesome. Thought we'd keep her company."
Rachel pursed her lips and replied flippantly, "Well, I do believe the proposed topic of conversation was, to put it bluntly, the boys. If you think you can keep it confidential, I suppose it would be rude to turn you away."
Kurt immediately perked up. "Our lips are sealed! You know I can't resist a good gossip session."
And so they settled in together, the girls of New Directions, plus Kurt and Blaine. Rachel shifted slightly in her chair so that her shoulder leaned lightly against Quinn's, and Quinn brought her hand to rest on Rachel's knee under the table in return. She sipped steadily at her iced soy latte, and Quinn practically downed her cold brew in one gulp.
Tina was the first to launch into what gossip she had to share.
"Okay, so, nothing super substantial has happened yet, but Mike and I have been flirting, like, kind of a lot recently." She ducked her head shyly as she concluded her statement, but Rachel could see quite clearly that a giddy smile was wide on her face.
Santana jumped in, "Hold up, I thought you and Rolling Thunder were all up on each other."
Tina managed a laugh at the nickname while Mercedes crumpled up her straw wrapper and tossed it at Santana's face, then Tina went on to explain, "We kind of were for a bit there. Artie took me on a couple of little dates, but after a while the chemistry just kind of dissipated. He also has a tendency to make kind of questionable jokes, and that's not the kind of man I want on my arm."
Everyone around the table lifted their coffee cups with a resounding "Here, here!"
Next, Mercedes offered an update on her and Sam.
"Yeah, he can be super nerdy, but somehow he manages to make it cute. We're taking things slow for now, but we always have a great time together, and it turns out we have a lot in common. We're both obsessed with Disney Channel Original Movies, we both secretly love taking those stupid personality quizzes in magazines, and we've even been talking about starting a YouTube channel. I was mostly joking when I suggested it, but he seems pretty excited about the idea so I guess we'll see."
Kurt reached over and squeezed her hand supportively, and she received several other nods of congratulations from around the table.
Santana offered her boy-related news then.
"Obviously my guy gossip is more limited these days," she put her arm around Brittany's shoulders for emphasis, "but I've been keeping up with Matt a little since he moved. He says the new town isn't too bad, and he got a job with their rec center as a basketball camp counselor for the rest of the summer, so he's not as much of a friendless loser as he could be."
After the group voiced their happiness on his behalf and told Santana to pass their well-wishes along, Rachel, Quinn, and Brittany shared a look. It turned out none of the three of them had gathered much intel on the other half of the team since they'd all last been together.
Kurt, ever the scuttlebutt monger, seized the opportunity to share what knowledge he had.
"Well, I for one, have been seeing quite a bit of Puck over at my and Finn's house. It would seem that those two have made nice in the wake of… everything. He's there almost every day, just throwing footballs and playing video games. Honestly, I don't know how they aren't bored to death with the monotony of it all."
Rachel slumped a smidge in her seat and chewed her lip guiltily. Pool party aside, she hadn't spent any time with Puck all summer. In years past, hers had always been the house at which Puck passed the unscheduled days of his vacation. She made a mental note to reach out to him.
Kurt continued, "I think having him around is good for Finn, though. He seems to be doing a lot better recently. There was a lot of pouting and complaining early on, but I managed to talk some sense into him, and he says he really wants to earn back everyone's trust. He seems like he's ready to put in the work. I know he misses all of you."
Rachel considered this. She certainly harbored disdain for his actions, but if he was serious about making the effort and showing that he had his anger under control, then she was open to giving him a second chance. She relayed as much to the group, who hummed in agreement.
Rachel looked to Quinn, who nodded absently, though her face was stony. The hazel in her eyes was clouded with thoughts Rachel couldn't interpret from her expression.
She bumped her nose against Quinn's shoulder, and Quinn seemed to snap out of whatever had its hold on her mind. She shot Rachel a grin then brought her straw to her lips and sucked up the watered down dregs at the bottom of her cup.
Once everyone finished their drinks and was feeling sufficiently caffeinated, the girls bid Kurt and Blaine farewell, with a promise to see Kurt and the glee guys later on. They piled into Santana's mom's minivan, which they had on loan for the day with strict warning that if anything were to happen to the vehicle, none of them would escape Mrs. Lopez's wrath.
Santana, from the driver's seat, turned on the radio. It was set to an old school hip hop station, but Brittany automatically tuned it to one that played top 40's songs. As they drove, they sang with and to each other songs about love, partying, and the time of their lives.
Rachel felt like she was living in a daydream.
After some time, they pulled up to the destination of their afternoon activity, and looked out upon a gleaming little river.
It was a bit after noon by then, and stomachs were beginning to rumble. Rachel cleared her throat and opened the cooler she had packed for them.
"I'm assuming we'll want to eat before we take to the water. We've been eating together in the cafeteria at school for a year and a half now, and I happen to be keenly observant. I also have a spectacularly impressive memory, so I've made everyone something they're sure to enjoy based on what they tended to have for lunch in the past."
The others gathered around her, and she passed out each of their respective sandwiches with a humble grin, hoping that they liked what she had prepared.
For Quinn, a BLT with extra bacon, a thin spread of mayonnaise, and stone ground mustard on sourdough.
For Mercedes, a classic club: smaller portions of ham, turkey, and bacon with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on white toast.
For Tina, waldorf chicken salad with spinach in a wheat wrap.
For Brittany, a simple grilled cheese.
For Santana, turkey, guacamole, tomato, greens, and maple balsamic vinaigrette on a spinach wrap.
And for herself, roasted red peppers, arugula, tomato, cucumber, and pesto on sourdough.
Each of her friends expressed their gratitude as they ate. Rachel was right, she had identified what they would like perfectly. Quinn made sure to thank her for the extra bacon, which prompted Tina to express her own surprise that she had so readily made non-vegan meals for all of them.
Rachel shrugged, happy to share her thought process with them. "I know a lot of vegans have this reputation for condemning anyone who doesn't follow the same rules for themselves and what they eat, but I've never felt like it was my place to try to police or regulate someone else's dietary habits. I have my own reasons for avoiding animal products, but I know I don't have any right to try to make those decisions for anyone else. I could certainly tell you all about animal cruelty and sustainability if you want, but I know plenty of people who support animal rights and still consume animal products. It's just more complex than some people want to assume, I guess. And I don't want to impose anything on you other than a gentle encouragement to be healthy."
Santana frowned. "I feel like I want to make fun of you for that speech for some reason, but… nothing is coming to me."
Quinn slung an arm around Rachel's shoulders and shot her friend a smirk. "Yeah, and we're all terribly disappointed not to hear it, too. Where would any of us be without your half-hearted innuendo and biting sarcasm?"
Santana put on an overly friendly smile as she raised her middle finger to Quinn, who mirrored the action before breaking out into a soft chuckle. Rachel rolled her eyes at the crass way in which those two often communicated, but she couldn't help but be amused by them all the same.
"Anyway," Santana turned back to Rachel, "thanks for the food, Berry. It was decent."
Brittany leaned forward, over Santana's crossed legs, and whispered to Rachel at a volume everyone could still hear. "She totally liked the wrap you made, Rachel. I could tell because she made this satisfied face while she was eating that she usually only makes when I-"
"Okay!" Santana wrapped an arm around Brittany's chest and pushed her back to her other side again. "How about we get the tubes out of the car and get on the river, huh?"
Rachel and the others quickly agreed. As funny as it was to see Santana be in that mild state of embarrassment, none of them actually wanted to know how Brittany was going to end that sentence.
They retrieved the inner tubes from the trunk of the car and set about inflating them. They only had one air pump, so Rachel and Mercedes had a competition blowing them up with their breath to judge who between them had the stronger lung capacity. Neither of them got more than a third of the way through filling their tubes before they got lightheaded and had to stop before they fainted.
Once all of the tubes were inflated, Rachel followed her friends into the river, trying not to wince at how cold the water was around her legs as she waded through the lazy current.
Santana came in behind her and jumped into her tube, echoing Rachel's thoughts, if not in the exact words she'd been thinking. "Fuck, it's cold!" She was carrying with her another cooler that she set carefully in her lap.
Rachel climbed into her own tube as gracefully as she could, then awkwardly paddled herself over to the rest of the group and grabbed ahold of one of the handles on Quinn's inflatable craft. Everyone else followed suit so that they formed a line and floated along the top of the river's surface in a line. Quinn entangled their fingers around her tube's handle. Rachel grinned and leaned over, tapping her lips with the pointer finger of her other hand to signal that she requested a kiss. Quinn smiled back at her and swiftly obliged.
Santana popped open her cooler and revealed that it contained several packs of hard lemonade. "Drink up, bitches! It's not a girls' day out without a little party juice."
Tina looked moderately scandalized. "Santana! You drove us here, how are we going to get back?"
Santana huffed. "Cool it, T, I'm only having one. I've accepted my role as designated driver, only because I would literally never see the light of day again if anything happened to my mom's car and I don't trust any of you… but a single lemonade isn't even enough to get me buzzed, and we'll be here long enough for it to wear off by the time I have to drive anyway. I can be realistic and responsible when I have to be."
The drinks were passed out down the line, and the girls drifted gently down the river, toes dipping in and out of the stream as the sun glinted brightly on the water around them. Rachel worried for just a moment about getting caught with alcohol in public, but their group aside, the river was deserted. She brought the sweet drink to her lips and was silently thankful for Santana having chosen something so refreshing. She raised her bottle, and the group maneuvered, granted with some difficulty, to get their tubes in a circle long enough to clink all of their drinks together, celebrating their day out together.
Quinn sat low in her tube so that her feet were submerged, and every so often she would kick up and shower Rachel with little droplets. Every time it happened, Rachel would emit a short shriek before bubbling with laughter and pulling sharply on the handle of Quinn's tube to bump their vessels together and knock Quinn ever so slightly off balance.
It wasn't long before the action caught on, and soon all six of the girls were bumping each other around and bursting with giggles as their lackadaisical trajectories became wayward and erratic.
One of these bumps sent Santana's tube careening into a rock that jutted out from the water. Rachel and the rest cackled wildly as Santana was toppled into the water, shouting, "Britt! Save the cooler!"
By the time they loaded back into the minivan, everyone other than Santana was delightfully tipsy, and they headed back into town to Rachel's house in order to change and recharge for the evening.
When they arrived, Hiram and Leroy welcomed all of the girls exuberantly, and when the collection of teenagers matched their excitement and dramatic flair, the men fortunately seemed to interpret their minor inebriation as mere congeniality.
Her fathers had grown to be quite fond of her friends, and though Rachel knew that it was in part because they were aware that she had been the target of some bullying at one point, she could tell that they genuinely thought they were good people and could see how happy Rachel was, how happy they all were, when they spent time together.
They were still unaware of Rachel's relationship with Quinn, but it was clear to them that she was special to Rachel, and so they extended extra special kindness and warmth to her. Rachel was more than pleased to see this in their interactions; it boded well for the eventuality of their telling Rachel's fathers who they really were to each other.
Quinn was very vocal about her appreciation for the Berry men's hospitality, but Rachel sensed an undertone of dejectedness in her demeanor. Her mood seemed higher as she chatted with the girls, and especially with Rachel, though, so Rachel chalked it up to the buzz they all had putting a haze on their vision and let it slip from her mind.
The girls' final destination of the day was the Hummel-Hudson house, where the boys had planned a backyard bonfire and the New Directions would end the evening all together. Of course, by "bonfire" they meant a gas fire in a mid-size manufactured pit Burt had found at Home Depot, but Rachel was a firm believer that it was the thought that counted.
The effects of the alcohol they'd had at the river had almost entirely worn off by the time they arrived, but Finn had managed to sneak a 30 rack of beer past his parents, so their intoxication picked back up again as they seated themselves around the little fire in the darkness and declared their despondency at the fact that there weren't any s'mores to be had.
Rachel and Quinn, in the safety of the night and tree-lined yard, shared a chair. Rachel was an affectionate person by nature, and with the nudge of alcohol, she was daring enough to claim a seat right on her girlfriend's lap. Her arm draped loosely over Quinn's shoulder, and her fingers trailed leisurely through Quinn's hair, seemingly of their own accord. Quinn, one arm around Rachel's waist and the other resting across Rachel's thighs, pressed soft kisses to her neck and collarbone every so often. Each time she did, Rachel hummed appreciatively and pressed her fingers more firmly into the back of Quinn's neck.
When everyone seemed comfortable around the fire and there was a lull in conversation, Puck produced a bottle of honey whiskey out of nowhere and proposed a pass-around.
"Basically, you take a swig, then you pass the bottle to someone and say something nice about them. Only pass to someone who hasn't gotten it yet, and whoever starts should be last so there aren't any repeats. Also, if you pass it to the person you're dating that's a cop out and you're officially a dweeb."
"That sounds wonderful, Noah," Rachel affirmed immediately.
Artie chimed in, "Lots of potential for things to get sappy, but that's pretty much par for the course for this group. Let's do it."
"Sweet," Puck smiled as he opened the bottle. "I've already got the bottle, so I'll go first." He raised the bottle in a wordless toast to the whole team then brought it to his mouth and took a long pull.
"I'm gonna kick this off with a pass to my boy Mike. He kicks ass on the football field, dances circles around the rest of us, and never has a bad word for anybody. Thanks for keeping all our heads on straight. Love ya, man."
He handed the bottle to Mike, who took a gulp and made a face at the taste before speaking.
"I'll pass it along to Brittany. She keeps all of us on our toes, literally most of the time. Britt, you're the definition of a bubbly personality and I consider it an honor to be your friend." Never a man of too many words, Mike ended it there and sent the bottle over.
Brittany took a long gulp and licked her lips, clearly a fan of the sweet liquor. As she twisted the cap back on, she seemed to consider her choice with care.
"I'm going to pass this… to my friend Kurt. He was the first of us to be brave enough to be himself at school, and he can sing like a girl, which is like, a superpower." She faced him gravely. "Just make sure you use your gift for good and not evil."
Kurt took the bottle from her with a smile and took a dainty sip. Apparently, it wasn't as bad as he'd presumed, so he took another before closing it back up.
"I'll go ahead and pass to Sam. You may still be somewhat new to the team, but we all knew you were a good fit right away. I still don't understand half your impressions, but you never fail to make me laugh. I also know that you seem to make Mercedes happy, and that makes me happy. I'm glad you're here, golden boy."
Sam grinned endearingly at the nickname and swallowed his own mouthful of the syrupy booze as he thought over what he wanted to say.
He took a long breath, then, in a bit of a twist, he said, "I'm going to pass this to Finn." A hushed silence fell over the team. "Obviously, we didn't start out on the right foot, and I don't think you'll ever be my favorite person in the world, but I can see that you're trying to do right by this group. As much as I resent what you did to me, I know how hard it can be to admit when you're wrong and to make a real effort to fix it. Owning up to mistakes takes guts. I respect you for that. As long as you keep your cool, we're cool."
Rachel, tipsy once again, put her hand over her chest at the display of maturity and open-heartedness. Her eyes found Quinn's face, whose eyes rolled and jaw was clenched.
Finn took the bottle graciously and nodded to Sam. He seemed to struggle to maintain eye contact, but did so nonetheless. He took his drink then let his gaze fall to and remain on the golden liquid as he held the bottle in both hands.
"I'm gonna pass it to Rachel. Even though she can be a little… much sometimes-"
Quinn cut in with a severe scowl and practically growled, "Watch it."
Finn paled and continued, "But besides that, she's like, really awesome. She works harder than the rest of us put together. This team would fall apart without her. She's nice to everybody, and that's really cool."
Rachel thanked him quietly as she received the bottle from him. She took a gulp and thought about who to pass to next. If she could have passed it to Quinn without reproach from her friends, she would have. She had so many compliments she could give to her. But as it stood, she would have to choose someone else, and she could say plenty of good things about any of them as well.
"I will pass this bottle along to someone who I am not too egotistical to admit is sometimes a better singer than I am." Almost all of her friends gave exaggerated gasps, but she pressed on, unfazed by their mocking reaction. "Mercedes, you're one of the best friends I've ever had, and I'm so lucky to have you in my life. You always push me to be better. You're the heart of this team. Your optimism and support means everything to me. Sam is a very lucky guy."
Sam called out in response, "Don't I know it!"
Mercedes cupped his face and pressed her lips to his cheek before she accepted the honey whiskey and drank. She looked around at who was left and chose who to give it to next.
"I'm gonna send this over to my man Sir Arthur. Artie, if I'm the heart, you're the spirit. You mean so much to all of us, and your energy is what keeps us going. You've got a sick-ass voice, and you own the nerdy chic aesthetic better than anyone I've ever seen, and I'm so happy that I get to count you as a friend."
She passed him the bottle, and he took it with an affectionate wink. After he raised it to his lips, he shook his head at the taste.
"I'll pass to… Tina-"
Puck interrupted with a shout. "Dweeb!"
Artie went on as though he hadn't been heckled, "Even though we aren't dating, I still think you're beautiful and talented and fun to hang out with. I probably wouldn't be in the New Directions if it weren't for you. You helped me come out of my shell and that's not something many people can do. You're kind, you're smart… you're just the best."
Rachel noticed the smallest pinpricks of tears in the corners of Tina's eyes as she took hold of the bottle, and she was unsure if her emotions were heightened by the alcohol or if her emotions were getting the better of her.
Tina cleared her throat and took her turn.
"I'll pass this to Santana. When we all first started high school, you were kind of a bitch," Brittany glared at her pointedly, but softened when Tina finished her thought, "but now you're the bitch. Nobody messes with you. You're an incredible singer, and I'm so glad that you're in glee with us. Underneath it all, you're a really good person. You're a tough nut to crack, but you've turned out to be someone we can all really rely on. Suffice to say, I'm a fan."
Santana took the bottle and the compliment and mouthed a thank-you to Tina before pouring just enough of the honey whiskey to fill its tiny cap and drinking that. She was driving, after all.
"Alright ladies and gents, I'm going to be sincere for once. Don't get used to it." Rachel chuckled as she stroked a thumb over the side of Quinn's neck and listened to Santama's speech. "Q, this has to go to you, because Mohawk Man over there closes the loop, but I would have picked you anyway. You are the strongest, bravest person I know. It truly kills me to admit this, but I've always admired you. You carry yourself with dignity. You're always embracing challenges and striving to be the best version of yourself, which as we're all aware, is not a quality most of the rest of us have mastered. Your heart is bigger than Sam's enormous, inhuman mouth. Whenever I'm in a bad situation, my first thought is 'what would Quinn do?' If any of you repeat that outside this circle I'll claw your eyes out. Love you, blondie."
Rachel felt Quinn's chest tremble as she stifled her laughter to accept the bottle from her friend with a gruff, "Thanks, S."
Quinn took a large gulp and smacked her lips.
"Nowhere else to turn but you, Puckerman. And that's a good thing, because over the past two years I've learned that when any of us needs someone to turn to, you're always there for us. You're rock-steady. It blows me away how much you care and how ready you are to stick your neck out for anyone on this team. None of that comes from you being tough or a football player. Yes, you've got muscles, but your strength comes from your kindness and groundedness. You're the kind of man that others should aspire to be. Also, thanks for the alcohol."
Everyone had a good laugh at that parting note, and as Rachel looked around, she realized that several of her friends, and she herself, had become teary-eyed over the course of the pass-around.
The night came to a close not too long after that. The guys, who had consumed the majority of the beer Finn had provided for the bonfire, crashed on-site, while the girls clambered clumsily back into Santana's mother's minivan to be dropped off back at their homes.
They were each, except for their driver, modestly drunk and were rather emotional in their lowered inhibitions over the kindness they had all shown each other with their words. The boys' emotional vulnerability wasn't an everyday occurrence and was certainly something to behold.
When Tina began to gush over Sam's pass to Finn and how nice it was of him to call a truce, Rachel and the others hummed in agreement, but Quinn, who was sprawled beside her in the back seat, groaned just loudly enough for everyone to hear.
Rachel, who had been leaning sleepily on her girlfriend's shoulder, shifted so that she could see Quinn's face and found that it bore an expression that was quite unimpressed.
Rachel felt her brow knit together, not understanding why Quinn seemed so reluctant to let go of her anger.
Everyone else in the car was looking at them expectantly. Even Santana cast the occasional glance back in the rearview mirror.
Rachel prodded gently, "Quinn? You don't think Sam should have forgiven him?"
Quinn heaved a sigh and shrugged.
Mercedes turned all the way around in her seat seeming a bit exasperated. "What's with the nonverbal, Quinn?"
Rachel brought her hand to Quinn's arm and squeezed lightly. "You still don't forgive him?"
Quinn pressed her lips together. All of the other girls were still watching her, waiting for an explanation. She tossed her head back against the headrest.
"I don't know. I guess it just feels like he's getting off too easy. I don't want to hold a grudge, it's just… What he did, and why he did it… Obviously Sam should set the tone for forgiving him, but Sam wasn't the only one he hurt. I don't know why I can't shake this. It feels like, like righteous indignation or something. Finn felt so entitled to me, another human being, that he actually beat someone up for joking about kissing me. This guy who supposedly cares about me, who thought he loved me? He went off the rails and tried to grind Sam's bones to make his bread. Why? Because he heard someone talking about me in a way that doesn't fit his idea of who I'm supposed to be to him. It's humiliating, and it's… dehumanizing. I'm worth more than that, and knowing that I'm worth more than that is something that doesn't come naturally to me. I just don't think saying he's sorry is enough."
Rachel stared at Quinn for a long time, then pulled her over so that Quinn's head rested on her chest. She looped her arms securely around Quinn's middle and held on. There was something more contributing to Quinn's attitude, Rachel could tell, and though Quinn obviously wasn't ready to divulge that information, Rachel was determined to show her support, even if it wasn't necessarily in the form of conversation.
The remainder of the car ride passed in sobered silence.