Chapter 29: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
Author's Note: Another long hiatus later, I'm back on my bullshit! I have the rest of this story planned out and will finish it eventually, I promise. How long that will take, the world may never know. We've still got a ways to go, but rest assured, despite my long absences between chapters, I am still committed to finishing this story. Hope you enjoy this latest installment.
Rachel entered her second day of the school year in a cheerful mood. She and all of her friends were looking forward to the New Directions starting up again, and she really did enjoy the routine of the school day, even if it did get monotonous at times. The outlook for her junior year was good.
Plus, she walked into McKinley hoping that the pre-class make out session she had had with Quinn the previous day might become a regular thing.
Thinking back on the prior morning filled Rachel with an unnamed thrill that she was eager to replicate. While the potential for getting caught kissing at school posed certain risk, that risk was a little exciting. Rachel found herself wanting to kiss Quinn even more than she had previously, and if doing so publicly wasn't an option for the time being, doing it in a public-adjacent setting would definitely at least come close to satiating her.
More and more, all she wanted was Quinn. And to eventually star on Broadway. But mostly Quinn.
Even though Quinn had texted her last night saying she was too exhausted from Cheerios practice to chat, Rachel was more than happy with the way their relationship was going. The two of them had delightful banter, were equals intellectually, and shared glee club, which she knew brought both of them an incredible amount of joy.
She loved that their bond stood true within the walls of the school as well as outside in their own spaces, and to be with someone who could share in her dearest passions was something she was extremely grateful for.
For a long time, Rachel had worried that she would never find someone to end up with, let alone someone who was as good for her as Quinn, and vice versa. And the fact that Quinn supported her singing aspirations and enjoyed taking part in them, well, that was a delicious cherry on top.
Rachel just knew that the New Directions would make it to Nationals again this year, and this time they'd actually go. She was positively filled with exuberance at the prospect of making it to that stage with Quinn and their friends, and perhaps with a few new recruits as well.
She, Kurt, and Mercedes had all eagerly agreed to sneak into the auditions Mr. Schuester was holding after school starting that day, and as soon as she spotted Quinn, she planned to strongarm her into joining. If she were honest, it was her hope to convince all of the current glee club members to get in on the spying. Who wouldn't be enticed by a bit of reconnaissance on their potential new teammates?
Rachel was desperate to get that first look at the handful of people who might join them on their journey to show choir stardom. She did have vague concerns that new members might disrupt the dynamic their group had come so far in building, but she also knew that there was power in numbers. There was no reason not to be optimistic at this point.
Rachel seated herself on a bench in the school's lobby while she waited for her girlfriend to arrive. They hadn't had a chance to recap their respective first days back, and she was eager to hear about how Quinn's junior year had kicked off.
She watched the second hand on the clock over the doors tick and bounced her leg agitatedly as it got closer and closer to the first bell. In general, Quinn tended to be more or less on time, and Rachel felt herself growing inexplicably anxious at her lack of presence.
Mere seconds before the garish ringing of the bell sounded, Quinn rushed through the front doors, backpack swinging wildly from one shoulder and a large coffee balanced precariously on a notebook in her arms.
Rachel jumped up from her perch on the bench and approached her, only to have her greeting cut off by the bell signaling that students should report to their first period class. Knowing that their time to chat was being cut short and that a few other students were still bustling through the halls around them, Rachel offered a simple, "Good morning, Quinn."
Quinn gave her a quick smile, looking relieved just to see Rachel.
"Hey." She shrugged her bag more securely onto her shoulder and took a long drink from her coffee. "I wish I could've gotten here sooner, it would have been nice to talk before we get separated all day."
Rachel nodded in agreement. "You're usually pretty punctual. I was hoping we might pay another visit to the auditorium before class."
Rachel grinned a little deviously when Quinn's cheeks reddened.
With a small shake of the head, Quinn responded, "Believe me, that would have been a major improvement on my morning. I got caught up at home because my dad wanted to have a discussion." Her voice intonated at the end to imitate sternness.
Both Rachel and Quinn bit their lips and nodded their assent when Principal Figgins walked past them and gave them a silent look telling them to get to class. Rachel wanted to inquire about what might have gone on between Quinn and her father, but her desire to avoid getting in trouble won out.
They parted ways with quiet "see you at lunch"s, and Rachel frowned slightly when she noticed Quinn rubbing at her wrist. She couldn't be sure, but Rachel could have sworn she saw a distinct red mark that shouldn't have been there.
Her brow knotted together, Rachel made her way to English class.
Of all of the classes she didn't share with Quinn this year, this was the one she was most disappointed not to have with her girlfriend.
Quinn was a voracious reader, and Rachel loved listening to her talk about the books she devoured. She had an uncanny aptitude for analyzing, drawing conclusions, and identifying even the most underlying themes in texts, and Rachel was happy to admit that she was fully smitten with hearing Quinn busting out her academic vocabulary and putting all of their peers to shame.
Rachel took her seat as the teacher began circling the room and placing tattered copies of The Catcher in the Rye on each of the students' desks.
Rachel sighed further into her lament. Quinn's favorite.
What she wouldn't give to get to look on while Quinn showed all of their classmates up with her vast knowledge and understanding of the book. Well, at least she could look forward to having those discussions more in-depth with Quinn on their own time. It certainly wouldn't be the same as getting to watch on like an adoring fan whenever Quinn might speak up and share her thoughts with the class, but she would take what she could get.
Fortunately, Kurt, Tina, Mike, and Mercedes were all in this section of English with her, so she still had some people in her corner during her first period class.
The desks in the classroom were arranged in two rows of two, facing each other, and Rachel and her friends occupied the corner closest to the door. The five of them turned to each other eagerly when a mini syllabus was passed around outlining the various assignments they would have coming up regarding the book they'd be reading and they saw that one of those assignments was a group project.
For perhaps the first time in her life, Rachel felt the relief that came with knowing she wouldn't have to scramble to find someone willing to work with her.
Their teacher returned to the front of the room and began going over the essay that would be due when the class got through the first half of the book, and Rachel allowed herself to zone out just a bit. She took the book in front of her in her hands and flipped absently through the pages.
She tried not to notice how the slightly musty smell of it reminded her of Quinn.
Lunch period finally came after what felt like a much longer morning than it actually was.
The cafeteria bustled with students shuffling around to various tables, waiting in line to buy their servings of pizza or macaroni or whatever happened to be their meal of choice that day.
Rachel took her usual seat at the glee kids' usual table and shook her tupperware of salad vigorously to distribute the dressing evenly. She was the first to arrive, but the rest of her friends joined her soon enough.
Santana and Brittany sat directly across from her, Brittany with her legs resting comfortably across Santana's lap. The two were as inseparable as ever, and it was encouraging to see the softer side of Santana make itself known on a more regular basis.
Artie, Puck, and Finn passionately discussed some video game or another with enough enthusiasm to entice Sam into joining the debate, despite his remaining apprehension around Finn.
Mercedes joined Kurt, Mike, and Tina in a friendly argument over the previous night's episode of Project Runway. Mike didn't even bother pretending that Tina had coerced him into watching; they were each equally impassioned.
It was the perfect picture of what the glee gang had become: a jovial tribe of teenagers who determinedly overcame their differences to form one of the strongest groups of friends William McKinely High School had ever seen.
The only one who was missing was Quinn.
Rachel picked disinterestedly through her salad with her fork. After two years of sharing at least a couple of classes with Quinn and spending almost the entirety of their summer together, being apart for the whole school day was more difficult than Rachel cared to admit. Time with Quinn had made a home within her heart, and being separated even just for the couple of days they had been back in school felt like a physical loss, a hole in her chest.
It wasn't until about halfway through the lunch period that her girlfriend's perfectly tied high ponytail came swinging through the cafeteria doors. Her bright red Cheerios uniform caught Rachel's eye like a beacon from across the lunch room and she turned eagerly toward Quinn as she made her way over to the table.
When Quinn slung her bag over the back of the plastic chair beside her and took a seat, Rachel murmured, at a volume low enough that she knew her voice wouldn't carry, "Hey, baby. Where've you been?"
Quinn's lips lifted upward just slightly at the pet name, but the grin didn't quite meet her eyes.
"Just had to drop something off in Coach Sylvester's office. She went off on one of her rants about Mr. Schue's hair, so it turned into more of an extended visit."
Rachel pressed her lips together and nodded. They had all been witness at one time or another to Sue's strange fixation on and rampages over Mr. Schuester's hair. It really was something to behold, and not something one was likely to be able to evade in a one-on-one situation.
Hoping to veer onto a more pleasant topic, Rachel brought her voice back to its normal noise level and gestured toward the rest of the group.
"Well, I had a thought for something we could do after school today. What would you think about sneaking in to spy on the glee auditions this afternoon? Personally, I think we should all be involved in the process to begin with, but…"
She trailed off, implying that it was an open invitation to everyone at the table, but kept her gaze on Quinn. The rest of her friends mumbled their agreement.
Quinn's head dropped forward an inch, and she twiddled awkwardly with her fingers in her lap.
"I really wish I could, but I can't. Coach Sylvester doubled practice times so I have to be there right after classes finish every day now."
A thud sounded from the other side of the table where Santana and Brittany struggled a bit to disentangle themselves from one another and lean over their lunches to frown at Quinn. It seemed they had been too consumed with each other to notice that Quinn still donned her uniform.
Santana shook her head. "Wait, Q, you're actually staying with the Cheerios? Britt and I both assumed you weren't gonna sign that stupid contract; that's half the reason neither of us did."
Rachel, herself, had been too distracted by wanting to catch up with her girlfriend to notice that neither of the two of them were wearing their usual red and white.
Quinn's shoulders stooped, and she visibly shrunk into herself as Rachel, Santana, and Brittany all stared at her questioningly.
Her voice was small when she answered, "I don't have a choice."
Rachel's brow furrowed, and she turned to the rest of the lunch table's occupants to find matching expressions of confusion. She once again faced Brittany and Santana.
"I'm sorry, you two aren't Cheerios anymore?"
Brittany shrugged and shook her head as Quinn subtly slumped further down in her seat. Santana sighed, rolled her eyes, and took on the task of filling in the rest of the New Directions on the situation that her former coach had put them in.
"Ugh, Sue basically gave us her version of an ultimatum. By which I mean, she obviously didn't want to give us an actual choice. Because of the cut Cheerios is taking to their budget, she's making the whole squad quit all of their other extracurriculars hoping the extra focus will drive more donations or whatever. Britt obviously likes glee way more than the fascist cult Sylvester calls a cheerleading team, and even though I feel like I might have had a shot at a cheerleading scholarship if I stayed, there's no way it would've been worth it. And yeah, the popularity was tight, but, you know, you guys are our people now. Honestly, I don't know what Q is thinking."
Rachel chewed her lip as she digested Santana's explanation, then whipped around to her girlfriend, who was nearly halfway out of her chair with how low she had sunk in it while Santana was talking.
"Wait, you're not quitting glee are you?! You can't!"
Quinn reluctantly sat herself back up and cleared her throat, not meeting anyone's eye.
"It wasn't my choice. My dad is making me."
Her long fingers wrapped unconsciously around her wrist beneath the table, where Rachel noticed the red mark she'd spotted there earlier was beginning to form into a splotchy bruise. She didn't want to call attention to it in front of everyone, because Quinn clearly didn't want anyone to notice it was there, but seeing it certainly concerned Rachel.
Rachel opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, unsure how to respond. The rest of the group fell into a stony silence as they digested their food and the news.
No one wanted to see their group of singing weirdos divided.
The sea of students around them erupted into chatter and the scraping of chairs when the bell rang overhead signaling the end of their lunch period, shaking each of them from their respective stupors.
Quinn immediately stood from her seat and power-walked to the cafeteria's exit without a word.
By the time the final bell of the day rang, Rachel had worked herself up to the point of absolutely seething. She had spent every one of her afternoon classes leaping back and forth in her mind between trying to figure out what could possibly be so great about Cheerios that Quinn's father would force her to quit glee, and just being furious with Quinn for giving in and following through with the quitting.
She could almost feel the steam waiting to burst out of her ears as her mind windmilled over the fact that her girlfriend was leaving one of the only opportunities they would have to spend together during the week.
They were already apart so much due to their class schedules, and now Quinn was opting out of their few hours together after school? She was furious.
And what hurt even more was that Quinn hadn't so much as mentioned the situation to her before she made her decision. This was the age of technology! Quinn couldn't even send a simple text to give her a heads up?
It was one thing to be dropping out of the New Directions at all, but to not even confer with Rachel about the decision, even after the fact, cut deep.
Relationships were built on trust and communication. By leaving her out of the discussion, Quinn had left Rachel wondering whether or not that foundation was as sturdy as she had previously believed it to be.
With all classes over, the majority of students scrambled to get out of the building to enjoy their freedom. Rachel, on the other hand, marched determinedly in the opposite direction of the exits toward the girls' locker room. No one else paid any mind to the clenched fists or driven scowl Rachel displayed as she stomped through the school. Only those who participated in after-school activities remained in the building, and even they had no attention to spare for the short of stature glee club enthusiast.
Just as she approached that end of the hallway, Quinn exited the locker room, water bottle in hand and dragging her feet.
"Were you even going to tell me?"
The words were out of Rachel's mouth before she even fully caught up with Quinn. Her hands were planted authoritatively on her hips and the expression on her face very purposely showed that she was in no mood for funny business.
Quinn turned slowly without meeting her eye. Rachel kept her face impassive as Quinn let out a long, defeated sigh.
Quinn's voice was soft but strained when she responded, "I was trying to figure out how. Quitting glee is the last thing I want to do, but I really don't have a choice."
Rachel let her hands drop to her sides as she tried to figure out what to say next. Quinn sounded so sad and beaten down, but that didn't stop Rachel from feeling justified in her own anger.
"But why? You love the New Directions! Even Brittany and Santana, who I'm pretty sure actually enjoy cheerleading, chose glee. I know for a fact that you don't actually want to be a Cheerio, so why can't you just tell your parents you'd rather do something that's fulfilling and allows you to be with your friends?"
Rachel knew that she was pleading, that she sounded desperate, but she couldn't bring herself to care. The halls had emptied quickly, so her girlfriend was the only person around to witness her begging.
Quinn's eyes brimmed with tears.
"I tried! My dad doesn't want to hear it. It's not about what I like or what I want. It's what's going to look good on an application to 'a reputable Christian university.' It doesn't matter if I think glee is more fulfilling or what I'm going to have more fun doing. My dad signed Sue's damn contract without a second thought and didn't give me the option of not signing too. This isn't what I want either, Rachel." Now Quinn was the one breaking into desperation, clearly willing Rachel to accept that there was nothing she could do. "It's just how it has to be."
Her voice lost most of its power by the time she finished talking, and Rachel felt her heart breaking for the position Quinn had found herself in.
Quinn looked so disheartened, so demoralized. She pleaded with her eyes for Rachel to understand, and Rachel, as hard as it was for her, relented much more quickly than she normally would have.
She was heartbroken. Losing Quinn as a New Direction not only meant that her time with her would be lessened even further, but that the team as a whole would have an integral member missing.
Selfishly, the former of the two consequences weighed much heavier on Rachel. With their separate schedules this year, lunch and glee were the only times during the day she would have been able to spend with Quinn, and now the most important of the two was being taken away.
Without glee, their feelings for each other would never have developed. Glee was a major part of what brought them together as a couple in the first place. Rachel felt it was a sacred space for the two of them, one of the only where they could be together as their truest selves and feel safe doing so. Their glee friends were the only ones who they were close enough with to be out to. Losing that time with Quinn, in that space in particular, felt like a significant blow to their relationship.
Rachel could tell Quinn was thinking the same thing.
Neither of them wanted to lose what they had. She watched Quinn's facial muscles contract as she clenched her jaw, clearly fighting back pain.
Working to keep her own tears at bay, Rachel stepped forward and pulled Quinn in for a long, intimate hug, hoping it might provide some comfort for both of them. She leaned her head back and wiped away the single tear that had escaped Quinn's eye before wrapping herself completely around her.
Quinn melted into her embrace immediately, resting her head gratefully in the crook of Rachel's neck. They breathed each other in, both holding on tighter than was strictly necessary. Rachel used her thumbs to rub soothingly at the knots she could feel in Quinn's back.
The sound of heavy footsteps had both of them pull back from their hug abruptly and jerkily.
Dave Karofsky strode past them, hands in the pockets of his letterman jacket, and eyed the pair up and down. They still stood suspiciously close to each other, despite having broken apart from any actual physical contact.
A smirk appeared on his face. He nodded brusquely, uttered a sardonic, "Ladies," and walked off in a way that left both Rachel and Quinn feeling distinctly uneasy.
A/N: As always, thanks to all of you for reading, and especially to those of you who follow and comment. Seeing excitement from readers is what motivates me to keep coming back. There will be rough waters ahead, but I promise it will be worth it!