Chapter 28: Exclusive Non-Disclosure Agreement
Author's Note: Before you say anything, I know I haven't updated in forever! Again. Obviously dealing with grad school and Covid and all of that hasn't been a walk in the park. But also, after all of the issues that came to light since the posting of the last chapter around Lea Michele regarding her and others' racist actions on the set of Glee and elsewhere, I felt like I needed to take a step back from this story. I've seen a number of people talk about the concept of separating the art from the artist, and fortunately, I believe that this is one of the cases in which that can be done productively. In my opinion, consuming work from someone whose beliefs or actions are, to put it simply, wrong, is fine so long as that person does not benefit from your consumption. Fanfiction, in its very essence, is about taking source material and changing it to suit your own narrative's needs. Neither the cast nor the creators of Glee accrue anything from my writing about the characters that came from them. The Rachel Berry in this story is a product of my own mind who is merely inspired by a character played by an actress. I also think one of the most important parts of consuming media or creating original work based on media, is acknowledging where that content (and the people who made it) fails and being aware of and vocal about its problems, which is why I post this note. I have invested myself in this story and the characters I have made my own and the narrative I have created for them for several years now, and despite any misgivings I might have had, I think I owe it to myself to see it through. All of that said, please enjoy this update.
As the summer reached its end, Quinn found herself feeling bittersweet about returning to school for her junior year.
It wasn't that she particularly disliked the classes or the work; she had done well academically all her life, and the act of learning was something she valued. Not to mention, the school year restarting meant that the revival of glee club was soon to follow. Quinn had no problem admitting at this point that she was more than a little bit excited for the merry band of misfits that was the New Directions to reconvene and get the ball rolling on a new season of show choir competitions.
She missed performing, and more than anything, she missed seeing Rachel so fully in her element. There was no denying Rachel when she was onstage. She commanded attention and admiration, and when Quinn watched her perform, she couldn't believe the amount of talent and charisma and soul that was contained within that tiny body. Quinn couldn't wait to see Rachel be able to fully embrace that side of herself with actual performances for real audiences again.
But the freedom and frivolity of summer vacation was, nevertheless, difficult to let go of. Quinn had had the best summer of life with Rachel. Other than her week of being grounded, Quinn felt like she had lived a summer break straight out of a romantic, idealized teen indie movie.
She and Rachel had spent nearly every day together, wandering around their familiar little home town in the sunshine, sometimes with their friends, sometimes just the two of them, but always cherishing the moments they were able to share.
With all of the New Directions, they'd had a team movie night in Rachel's basement and a series of off-the-books late-night wiffle ball games for which they'd snuck onto the high school fields with beers stashed in backpacks. They'd gone on mall trips, to the movies, and rotated between all of their houses for karaoke nights.
On their own, Quinn and Rachel had a picnic in a secluded corner of the park, where they fed each other strawberries dappled in shade until a squirrel appeared out of one of the nearby trees and made itself aggressively at home in their basket, at which point both girls had no choice but to run screaming.
One night, Rachel had surprised Quinn with a costume and taken her to a midnight sing-along showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the theater downtown.
Most days, they alternated between hanging out with Otis and Bernadette at the Annex and shopping around at Rachel's favorite vintage record store.
Of course, all of these activities, group or just as a couple, were punctuated with lots of hot and heavy make out sessions. It seemed like every day was filled with fun and laughter and a warmth that had nothing to do with the heat of the season. Quinn couldn't have dreamed of a better couple of months to start off a relationship.
Even so, Quinn couldn't help walking around feeling weighed down by the knowledge of her father's feelings about the glee club and the friends she had chosen for herself, and about Rachel and Rachel's dads in particular. Whenever she was at home, she grew more and more nervous around him, afraid of what he might say about the Misters Berry, who she could tell, even from an outsider's perspective, had a love for each other and their family that was stronger than any hate someone like Quinn's own dad could throw their way. They chose each other every day, regardless of the nasty looks and comments, because what they had built together was worth it.
And still Russell Fabray would take time out of his own life to criticize, judge, and denounce them under the guise of moral superiority. It was hypocritical and unwarranted, and each time it happened, Quinn was afraid that her resolve would break. She wanted to defend them, to convince her father that their shared gender had no bearing on what kind of people they were. She wanted him to realize that the love they had was true, and their kindness had helped her more than she could ever thank them for.
But Mr. Fabray was unshakable, and Quinn knew that he would never listen to anything contradictory she might have to say on the subject. It wasn't a daughter's place to talk back to her father. Interacting with Russell, more often than not these days, left Quinn fearful, somber, and anxious. She could only imagine what his reaction would be if he were to find out that his perfect youngest daughter did not, in fact, dream of marrying his ideal of a whitebread all-American man.
It was for this reason that Quinn was still so apprehensive about coming out with Rachel at school. She knew that Rachel was eager to stand proudly in front of the world and declare who she was and how happy they were, and she also knew that she could trust her glee friends to do what they needed to in order to protect her, but if the truth were to reach the rest of the student body, and by proxy their parents, it would only be a matter of time before it got back to her own household. Not only did maintaining the straight-laced queen bee persona at McKinley keep her in good standing with her peers, but even more so it kept her off her father's intimidating bad side.
Quinn approached the school that morning, once again back in the Cheerios uniform that she had been able to shed for the length of the summer. As much as the skirt and top felt like its own iteration of a suit of armor, there was a large part of Quinn that never quite felt at home in it.
The second she stepped through the front doors of the school, a pair of arms were thrown around her neck, nearly knocking her back outside. She recognized the scent of Rachel's hair before she even looked down to find the beaming face looking back up at her and allowed herself to wrap her up in a quick, tight hug before she released her with a swift glance around at their fellow students. It felt so good to have Rachel in her arms again, but she couldn't shake the disquiet that settled in her mind at the thought of her relationship being found out.
Quinn had spent the last two weeks at Sue's Cheerio bootcamp, so she and Rachel had spent the tail end of the summer vacation missing each other. It had felt like an incredibly long time to be apart. Quinn had found herself feeling almost grateful that Sue had worked them for incredibly long hours to the point of exhaustion, because it left her less time in the day to dwell on all of the time she could be spending with her girlfriend.
All she really wanted to do during that time was to laze around with Rachel, sing to each other in her car with the top down, find a secluded spot where she could trail her lips up and down Rachel's body.
Rachel blinked up at her. "I missed you."
She had no doubt the excitement she saw on Rachel's face was reflected in her own. Damn, it was good to see her again. Her heart felt immediately fuller than it had just moments ago.
Quinn had to close her eyes for a moment and blow out a long breath as she reminded herself that they were very much in public and she couldn't just lean down and kiss Rachel silly like she wanted to.
But god, did she want to.
"I missed you, too." She glanced around once more before she leaned in to whisper in Rachel's ear. "We've got some time before first period. You want to go make out somewhere?"
Rachel took half a step back, scanned Quinn's eyes, nodded, and immediately took off power walking in the direction of the auditorium. Quinn bit down on her lip to suppress her grin and followed hurriedly after her.
"I think that was the warning bell," Rachel panted from where they stood chest to chest in the wings of the stage in the auditorium.
The light was dim, and they were both completely relaxed in the knowledge that they were entirely alone. No one ever occupied the auditorium during the school day, and the only sound in the room was their own heavy breath and the rustle of clothing as their hands roamed each other's bodies.
Quinn disconnected her mouth from Rachel's neck with some effort. Quinn sighed. "The phrase 'time flies when you're having fun' has never felt so true."
Rachel nodded in agreement and ran her fingers delicately through Quinn's hair. She looked out at the stage to her right. Quinn noticed a distinctly sentimental twinkle in her eye and felt herself soften further at the sight. Her hair was a bit mussed and her cheeks were flushed, and Quinn didn't think she'd seen anything prettier in her life.
Rachel turned back to her, gentle and nostalgic. "You know, that day when we sang in here after we realized we weren't going Nationals, I really thought you were going to kiss me."
Quinn slithered her hands further around Rachel's waist. She leaned back against the wall and pulled Rachel closer between her legs. Her voice came out of her lips softly when she replied, "I wanted to." She pressed a feathery peck on the corner of Rachel's mouth. "If Mr. Schue hadn't barged in, I don't think anything would have stopped me."
Rachel grinned up at her, eyes twinkling. "You weren't nervous?"
Quinn chuckled and shook her head. "Oh, no, I definitely was. Wanting to be with you won out, though."
"Well, allow me to make up for that missed opportunity."
Rachel tightened her hold on the back of Quinn's neck and brought her in for a long, deep kiss that sucked the breath from her lungs.
She let out the smallest hum when Rachel eventually pulled back.
"Mmm, I missed this. I missed you so much the last couple weeks."
Rachel beamed as she took Quinn's hand and started leading her back out toward the hallway.
"Keep missing me while you're off in your genius class, okay?"
Quinn chuckled and gave Rachel's hand a squeeze.
With Rachel's encouragement, Quinn had finally given in and enrolled in an advanced placement math class. Math had never been of particular interest to her, but she knew that having AP classes on her transcript would look good on a college application, and she was hearing more and more from parents and peers alike that junior year was likely to determine which colleges she'd have a chance of getting into. In an academic regard, it was time to focus on her future educational opportunities rather than her reputation as a non-nerd.
She had always prided herself on her success in school, and she knew that Rachel was proud of her for taking that next step. It did, of course, mean that their schedules no longer aligned, so the only time they would see each other during the school day was at lunch.
They shared a final peck before they reentered the populated area of the school and parted ways.
When lunchtime did finally roll around, Quinn seated herself between Rachel and Santana at the same round table in the corner that the glee kids had claimed for the past two years. The smell of greasy food wafted around, and the students at the tables around them chattered animatedly. Despite the fact that the glee clubbers had all spent a lot of time together over the summer, everyone seemed happy and excited to be back together in familiar territory.
Quinn lounged easily in her chair with her elbow resting casually on the back of Rachel's. She joked and laughed along, feeling at home with her friends until Finn approached carrying a tray piled high with chicken nuggets and french fries. Quinn felt herself stiffen when he sat down across from her to various greetings from around the table.
She had managed to avoid him for most of the summer; even when he was present for group activities, she tended to ignore his presence, though she knew that her continued resentment was often evident.
It seemed as though everyone else had forgiven his transgressions and allowed him the second chance he sought, but Quinn had yet to make that peace with him within herself. There was still something about what he'd done to Sam in the hallway at the end of last year that she couldn't make herself get past. His actions and his motivations were disturbingly familiar to her, though she wasn't entirely sure why. It had become a sharp, heavy rock that lived deep in her gut, and it made her extremely uneasy.
She could tell that he felt her dislike toward him, and was appreciative of the fact that he at least generally remained quiet when she was around.
"Classes can suck it, but I am glad to be back with you losers on an everyday basis," Santana said as she leaned back in her seat and rested her feet on Brittany's lap.
Mercedes laughed. "Girl, being in a relationship really turned you into a sap, huh?"
The word "Yes" flew out of Brittany's mouth brightly with a smile even as Santana flicked a french fry at Mercedes' hair, prompting the group to devolve into a bout of giggles and their own mini food fight. French fries and celery sticks and apple slices soared through the air until Artie caught sight of one of the lunch ladies giving their table the evil eye and alerted the rest of them that they were on the verge of getting in trouble.
When they settled down again, conversation turned, predictably, to glee. Mr. Schuester would be auditioning potential new members over the next couple of days, and regular meetings would start up again soon after.
The New Directions were all nearly beside themselves with excitement to get back into the choir room. Everyone was itching to try out new songs and start learning new choreography.
When someone mentioned performing on a real stage again, Quinn couldn't help but surreptitiously squeeze Rachel's shoulder and shoot her a sly smirk as her mind flashed back to how steamy things had gotten between them while they were on the edges of the stage that very morning. By the blush that appeared on Rachel's face, Quinn could tell that it was on her mind as well.
"Y'all heard about the new football coach?" Sam asked through a mouthful of salad.
Mike cocked his head. "Her name's Beiste, right? I'm guessing she lives up to it."
Puck leaned forward enthusiastically. "Yeah, dude. Apparently she's coming off some huge winning streak wherever she was working before. I hear she's super tough, but we might actually win a game this year with her."
Mike nodded. "I overheard her talking to Figgins this morning. He seems very excited about the idea of having a successful football program for once."
Santana snorted. "It might be nice to actually cheer for a winning team for once."
Kurt raised his eyebrows and picked coyly at the crust of his sandwich. "Well, I heard Figgins might be taking some of the cheer budget and funneling it into football with this new coach in charge."
Quinn blanched. She glanced at the other Cheerios at the table and saw her expression reflected in their faces as well. Their funding getting slashed and given over to a sport with a brand new coach?
Sue Sylvester was not going to like that.
"Sloppy babies!" Sue screamed at the cheerleaders with her megaphone. "Again!"
Quinn took off for the thirteenth time that day, following instructions and making the sprint across the field. When she reached the other side, legs feeling more like jelly with every step, she turned and went straight into the ordered round of cartwheels to get back.
She had no doubts that the rumors she'd heard at lunch were true. Sue had always worked her team harder than was strictly necessary, but today's practice was turning out to be particularly grueling.
Sue snarled and snapped and screeched. Her fury was undeniable.
It felt a bit like military bootcamp; for every blink or breath that Sue perceived as being lazy or indifferent or disagreeable, all of the Cheerios were made to do push ups. When one of the guys wavered slightly trying to carry off a lift, Sue called him out and made him carry her on his back until the next exercise.
By the end of practice, four people had vomited from the strain of the workout. One girl sprained her ankle, and was made to crawl her way off of the field, as Sue refused to pause the drill that they were in the middle of.
She was clearly taking out her frustrations on them.
When at last the drills and sprints and splits were through, they were all sweaty and disheveled and barely able to remain on their feet. Coach Sylvester had all of the Cheerios line up on one of the sidelines and resumed yelling through the megaphone.
"That was atrocious!" she bellowed, making her way down from her vantage point in the bleachers. "You should all be ashamed of yourselves!"
Quinn did her best to stand tall, even as her chest heaved in a struggle to catch her breath.
Sue continued to speak into the megaphone while she walked down the line of Cheerios and handed out a sheet of paper to each of them. Her voice was gruff and unforgiving, and Quinn had to fight off the urge to cover her ears.
"You're all embarrassments. I'm amazed none of your parents chose to keep you locked in the basement."
Quinn pursed her lips, waiting for the insults to be out of the way so Sue could get on with explaining the papers.
"As I'm sure you've all heard, the grizzly bear that the school's administration found at the zoo and decided to hire to coach the football team has stolen nearly all of our hard earned funding. As such, I am doubling down on my focus on my Cheerios. That means you all will be quadrupling down. If Figgins wants to take money out of my pocket, you have to get it back from booster donations and prove to him that the only thing fans care about is you. These pieces of paper," she paused as she handed one to Quinn, who glanced over the text printed on it in a font so tiny she could barely read it, "are contracts. This year, I am mandating that all Cheerios be dedicated to this squad and nothing else. All of you are forbidden to take part in other clubs and activities. You and your parents are to sign these contracts and have them back to me by tomorrow."
Quinn looked with despair at her coach and then at Brittany and Santana, who both sported matching grimaces. Quinn knew neither of them wanted to quit the glee club any more than she did. Quinn felt like her chest was being filled with liquid dread. Glee was one of the only things that actually made her want to come to school. It was one of the few things in her life, other than Rachel and their friends, that really felt right. What the hell was she supposed to do?
"Hit the showers!"
That night at dinner, Quinn sat at the side of her family's long dining table, between her parents at either end. Anxiety was tight in her chest as she pushed her green beans around her plate haphazardly. The air in the house was as stiff and overbearing as ever. For most of the meal, the only sound in the room was that of glasses being picked up and put down and cutlery clinking against plates.
Quinn had to clear her throat when her mom asked about her day at school, knowing that it was time to bring up the Cheerios vs. other extracurriculars situation with her parents.
She slid the contract Sue had given her across the table and bit down on the inside of her cheek, breathing sharply in and out her nose.
Russell, still chewing and sipping at his scotch, took one look at it before pulling a pen out of his shirt pocket to sign.
Quinn's voice trembled a bit when she spoke up just before his pen touched the paper. "Um, so that says that if I do Cheerios this year, I'm not allowed to do any other after-school activities."
Russell harrumphed, "You're staying with cheerleading."
Quinn twisted her hands in her lap as she worked up the nerve to contradict his command. She didn't want to do cheerleading anymore. She had never really enjoyed it for what it was. It was a great booster for her reputation at school, and she knew that it was the picture perfect role that her father needed her to fill, but for her personally, it was brutal and unrewarding. Mostly it just made her miserable. Her voice was small and meek when she finished her thought.
"I think I want to quit and keep doing glee."
Russell slammed his fist on the table, causing both Quinn and Judy to flinch and shrink away. His face rapidly became red with anger.
"I have had it up to here with that fruit fest!" He pointed a meaty finger at Quinn. "Cheerios will guarantee you acceptance at a good Catholic college. I won't stand for any more of this nonsense, so help me."
Quinn's throat constricted. Her father's threatening demeanor cut straight through her.
Judy looked at her husband demurely. "You know, Russell, with the glee club Quinnie would still be performing-"
"Don't you start with me now!" He planted his knuckles on the shiny wooden surface of the table and stood. "I will not tolerate your enabling our daughter's descent into delinquency and damnation." His jaw was set gravely as he glared at his wife.
Quinn sniffled, and Judy told her gently, "Quinnie, go on up to your bedroom."
Quinn swallowed harshly as tears brimmed in her eyes and pushed back in her chair. She was barely out of the room when the sounds of her parents screaming exploded behind her, shocking her into crying full force. Her body curled in on itself.
She couldn't say that she didn't at least partially expect her father to react the way that he did, but she had let herself cling to that minute thread of hope. Having that thread snipped so viciously was devastating. It was becoming clearer and clearer that her father would never embrace her for who she was. A man that couldn't even support her following her interests would never come around to those other aspects of her personhood that fell outside the realm of what he deemed acceptable.
She climbed the stairs through silent sobs, and the noise of her parents' yelling followed her up. She paused to listen at the top, swiping at her cheeks and wiping her nose with the back of her hand.
Russell and Judy's screaming reached a crescendo, there was an unidentifiable banging noise, and then suddenly the voices stopped.
Quinn heard her father storm off into his office. Her mother was quiet the rest of the night.
A/N: Before I leave you for another undetermined amount of time between now and the next update, I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on this story. I've put a lot of myself into it over a very long course of time, and being able to go back and read all of your reactions over the years has meant so much to me and is what inspires me to keep coming back. I really appreciate you all.