Author's Note: Peeps. Yes this fic has so far been similar to others you've read. Tropes become tropes for a reason. This is a slow burn style story. Patience. Enjoy the ride.
Chapter 7: "Kind of Awesome"
It had to be a joke; it was probably just the football players and Cheerios thinking they were funny. There was no way they were serious. This kind of thing didn't happen in real life, did it? No. Of course not. Right?
Rachel was flabbergasted, to say the least. She was utterly thrown for a loop. Mr. Schuester's words flooded her brain, but she couldn't make them make sense.
"All right, gang," Mr. Schue announced, "I've got some great news. We have got ourselves some newcomers to the club! They auditioned for me yesterday, and I think they'll be a great addition to our little family. So, without further ado, please welcome the newest members of the New Directions: Quinn Fabray, Santana Lopez, and Brittany Pierce! Let's make them feel at home."
It just didn't come together in her head. They didn't seem the types to want to join glee club. Rachel, when she pictured Santana outside of school, always imagined her simply wandering around the streets of Lima Heights Adjacent, practicing her insults on anyone and everyone she met, and possibly hip-checking the occasional senior citizen. Brittany, for her part, did seem to actually fit the role somewhat, but Rachel thought she seemed like she would be more inclined toward joining the dance team if she were to double up on extracurriculars. And then there was Quinn: the third piece to the unholy trinity, the apparent ringleader of the trio of cheerleading freshmen-class rulers. Rachel found that she was the hardest of the three to get a read on, the hardest of anyone she'd ever met, really.
Honestly. It wasn't that she was ungrateful for any additional talent that could be coming into their group of misfit music makers – the New Directions would always welcome anyone with a voice to become a part of their lineup – she just could not comprehend their reasoning as to why they would want to. She couldn't figure out their motive.
Nevertheless, as was her nature, Rachel piped up and added her own greeting on top of Mr. Schue's. It was only proper etiquette, and she was nothing if not polite; she had always had wonderful manners, even to her classmates, who thought 'please' was a small, round green vegetable. "Yes, welcome! This really is a lovely bunch you've found yourselves a part of. I'm sure I speak for all of us here when I say that I am very much looking forward to singing with you. Despite past altercations, I feel confident that soon we'll all be a splendid, close-knit and well-harmonized system of singers. Furthermore-"
"Yes, thank you, Rachel," Mr. Schuester cut into what was only the opening of the girl's salutation speech before he addressed the three girls whom she had been trying to bid welcome to directly. "Why don't you girls find a seat?" He gestured to where the other students lounged in their seats.
Rachel crossed her arms rather huffily at being interrupted. She clenched her teeth in irritation, laced with a stinging bite of hurt when she heard Santana whisper to the other two, "I swear, if Shrimp Cocktail goes off like that every time she opens her mouth, not even a lifetime pass to Breadstix will make me stay in this stinking club. No me gusta."
The trio of Cheerios made their way to the back row of plastic chairs and sat behind the short brunette while she glanced around the room to gage how the rest of the club was reacting to the news of the new members; she was met with varying degrees of interest.
Puck, apparently, found the information less than stirring, as he was dozing in his seat.
Tina, Mercedes, and to an extent, Kurt, looked pleased to have a couple more females in the room.
Mike and Matt, two football players who Puck and Finn had coerced into joining with them, each nodded at the girls respectfully. Cheerios and the football team lived within the same social circle; even if they weren't necessarily all close friends, they stood by their own.
Artie and Finn both glanced back at the girls with just a hint of that spark of fear in their eyes, though Finn's was mixed with a puffy cloud of confusion and a lightning bolt flash of misplaced hope.
It was all Rachel could do to cross her legs, hunker down a bit in her seat, and hope that they didn't all end up struck and electrified.
That day, for the first time, Rachel was not the last to leave the choir room after glee. As she surreptitiously snuck glances at them while she slowly and carefully packed up her bag, she concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Future Head Cheerleader had hung back to be able to talk between just themselves. They looked as if they were trying very hard not to fight.
Quinn's voice grew gradually less hushed as she spoke. "I don't get why you're upset with me right now. This was supposed to be something nice that I did for the both of us. God, Finn, we're supposed to be the 'it' couple, why do we have to fight all the time? You told me you thought that this could be something fun that we could do together, okay, you're the one who wanted this!"
Rachel's eyebrows raised, and she felt the tension in the room thicken and harden like cement around her. She fought her initial instinct, which was to stay as still as possible and hope that the two would just forget she was there and leave, and slung her bag over her shoulder as quietly as she could and tiptoed out the door. When she reached the hall, however, her curiosity made her stop where she was to hear some more. She knew eavesdropping was wrong and incredibly rude, not to mention the implications of getting caught listening to a private conversation, but she knew that her forever inquisitive mind would be in overdrive for the rest of the day if she didn't catch at least a bit more of the almost-argument.
Finn's response to his girlfriend came rather heatedly. "I just don't understand why now. Two days ago you would have given anything for me to quit glee club, and now out of the blue you want to join. As much as I don't want to believe it, part of me thinks that you and the other two muskets are up to something. We all know Coach Sylvester would love to see the end of the New Directions, and you three are her new favorites. I just can't help feeling… My gut is telling me that you didn't join glee for me."
"Okay, first of all, it's musketeers, not muskets, and second, are you sure you're not just hungry? Because I bet if you eat something your gut will sing a different tune." Quinn's voice was mocking, but not in a particularly malicious sort of way.
Rachel smirked in spite of herself, but the amused look quickly slipped off of her face and was replaced by a furrowed brow when the football player said, "That's not funny, Quinn, I'm trying to be serious here! I know you guys think this is some big joke and that glee club is stupid, but I actually think it's kind of awesome."
Rachel stopped listening as she felt her heart grow soft. As much as her friends said they enjoyed glee club and thought it was a jolly good time and whatnot, she knew none of them fully appreciated it the way she did. But "kind of awesome" from a guy like Finn was one of the highest praises one could receive at McKinley. It pleased her immensely that something she was such a big part of could get a positive reaction like that out of one of the most popular guys in school. Rachel, who was so overtly enthusiastic about glee, was just thrilled that someone else, especially someone of Finn's status at McKinley, felt strongly enough about it to defend it against queen bee Quinn Fabray. Even more so since said queen bee was his girlfriend.
Finn really did seem like a good guy; he was nice to everybody, he seemed like a very wholesome, well-rounded individual, and while he may have been lacking a tad in the academics department, no one could dispute that the boy had a marvelous singing voice, and that was something that would always score people major brownie points with Rachel. He never failed to make the people around him smile, which was a trait she deeply admired. He was almost as passionate as she was, about certain things. He was dedicated and caring. And yes, okay, fine, he was a total stud. Everyone knew he was hunky, and he was actually nice to her.
Oh no. Rachel cursed herself when she realized what was happening. No, no, this was not good. This was very, very bad. She could not have a crush on Finn. He was already dating Quinn.
Oh dear God, he was dating Quinn. He was taken, entirely spoken for, by the most powerful girl in their grade. Rachel couldn't be that girl who just went after someone else's boyfriend. That was a horrible label to get stuck with for the next three and a half years of her life. And she definitely did not want to incur the wrath of Quinn Fabray further than she already had. But… he really was very cute. And darn it, what Rachel Berry wanted, Rachel Berry got.
This was not going to end well.
"So, do you wanna hang out after school? We could hit the arcade or do a movie or something?"
Rachel sat sideways in her desk while her pen tapped away in her fingers against her blank notebook and she stared wistfully at the clock and willed the bell to ring.
"What? Oh, I can't today, Noah. While some may feel that it is not unproductive to use their free afternoons for leisure time, I will be in the auditorium, practicing some songs for glee. Just because the club won't be meeting today is not an excuse to slack off. If we hope to continue competing this year, then we really must buckle down. I-"
"Okay," Puck interjected, deciding to use the side of Rachel's chair as a footrest, "I get it. You work and I'll play."
Rachel heaved an internal sigh and wiped her palms on her skirt. She shouldn't have been as anxious as she was. She hadn't even been lying to him. She did plan on spending her afternoon practicing in the auditorium. "Thank you for understanding." He rubbed a hand over his mohawk and shrugged.
"Yeah, yeah. Just remember: all work and no play makes Jackie a super dull chick."
She stuck her tongue out at him playfully and gasped in mock indignation when he tossed a crumpled piece of paper at her head. She picked the offending ball of stationary up from where it landed on the floor and threw it back at him, catching him right on the nose. Puck cocked his head to the side with a sly grin plastered on his chiseled face. Before she could register his motives and move to stop it, he took careful aim and the paper ball sailed through the air and right down the front of her shirt. "Noah!" He chuckled smugly as she glanced around quickly to make sure that no one was looking, and then unceremoniously shoved her hand down the opening of her own blouse to retrieve Puck's stupid crumpled up piece of paper. She immediately threw it back at him again, perhaps a bit harder than she had intended, and watched with satisfaction as it bounced off the top of his head and out of reach. She giggled and he tried to hide his own pleased smirk.
Mr. Schuester, whose Spanish lesson they were both blatantly ignoring, was a good deal less amused by their antics. "Puck, Rachel. What does a guy have to do to get you kids to pay attention? Honestly-"
Their saving grace came in the form of the final bell. The curly haired teacher threw his hands up in defeat. "Forever saved by the bell. Have a good rest of the day, guys. Hasta luego!"
The class pushed their way out the door as speedily as their shuffling teenaged feet would carry them. When they reached the hallway, Puck gave Rachel a half wave, and they parted ways. Rachel swallowed he guilt that had begun to build up in the back of her throat. It wasn't like Puck didn't have other friends to go to the arcade with, and they saw each other every day in class. Because that was what was really eating away at her. Yes sir.
She paced distractedly to her locker as the corridors quickly emptied to put her texts books away and giver herself a short pep talk before she marched with purpose in the opposite direction, towards the auditorium. Her shoes clicked on the tile with each driven step.
As she expected, when she arrived, the stage and surrounding plush seating were deserted apart from herself and the dust floating in and out of sight as it passed through the beams of light let in by an open door backstage. It was a nice kind of empty, in some respects; it was an inviting silence. All Rachel wanted at that moment was to have that one person with whom she could share it. Someone to make it less lonely.
She set her bag down off to the side of the stage, and as if on cue, the sound of approaching footsteps reached her ears. She put an adoring grin on her face before she turned to face him.
"Hey, Rachel. How's it going?" The boy stuck his hands in the pockets of his puffy vest and smiled back. His shoulders were hunched slightly. Rachel couldn't help but think that he looked… out of place.
"Hello Finn. I'm well, thank you. I can't tell you how pleased I am that you agreed to meet me here today. I was hoping to enlist your help."
"Oh. Uh, yeah sure, I'm your guy. What do you need me to do?"
Rachel clapped her hands together; Finn blinked. "Wonderful! Well, you see, I will be performing a number for glee club at our next rehearsal, but I'm not one hundred percent sure that my song selection is up to par." She broke eye contact. "All I need from you is your honest, unobjective opinion."
The look on Finn's face told her loud and clear that he had no idea what 'unobjective' meant, and that it intimidated him more than a little, but he glossed over it and said, "Okay, yeah. I can totally do that. What song are you thinking of doing?"
"I had some classic ABBA in mind…" Rachel said with a self-conscious smile as she brought a microphone stand out to the center of the stage.
"No, though I am impressed that you know the song and that it's by ABBA. No, I'll be singing Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. Both songs are featured in Mamma Mia!, which is why they are so well known. They are excellent songs in their own rights as well, though."
Finn nodded slowly, not really following what she said, but also not at all wanting her to repeat herself. "Right."
She beamed at him. "Great. So you just take a seat in the audience, I'll sing, and then you can tell me what you think." She sidled up to the microphone, but turned back to him with an urgent look in her eyes. "Oh, but please keep in mind that this is only a very rough rehearsal. When I perform it for the club, I will have instrumental backup and a much better acquaintance with the song."
"Oh, no, yeah. I'm sure you'll be great. You always sing great." The corner of his mouth pulled up into what was undoubtedly meant to be a reassuring grin. Rachel resisted the urge to correct his grammar and returned the smile before she stepped up to her place, center stage, and began the song. She tapped her toe quietly as the intro played in her head, and then she was lost in the music.
"Half past twelve, and I'm watching the late show, in my flat all alone,
how I hate to spend the evening on my own…"
Rachel's eyes were screwed shut as she sang. As with every performance she gave, she committed all of herself to the song and poured herself into the lyrics. If only for that moment, Rachel was ABBA. She took the song in and brought it back out so that every word, every note said, "Right, here, right now, Rachel Berry believes this. She feels this with all of her soul, and now you will too." Even a song as upbeat and dance-y as Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.
"Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight…"
Rachel finished the song and took a deep breath to bring herself back to reality after letting herself wander so deeply into the song. She turned to Finn and looked at him expectantly as she carried the microphone stand back to its resting place backstage.
"Well," she said as she came to stand in front of him again, "what did you think?" She placed her hands on her hips with a bright simper, eager for his feedback.
Finn was frozen for a moment before he could respond. He had never exactly had a way with words. "I don't even really know. It was kind of weird for me, to be honest."
Rachel felt as though her heart had hit an iceberg and was beginning to sink in a Titanic-esque manner. "Oh…" She clasped her hands together and stared hard at the space between their feet on the floor. "I see."
Finn sensed that he had phrased that wrong and rushed forward to put his hands on her shoulders in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. "No, no! I mean in a good way. It was just different. Like, no song has ever made me feel it the way you made me feel that song." He leaned a little closer and spoke a little softer. "It was kind of awesome."
She lifted her head back up and looked in his eyes. She suddenly doubted that he could see the insecurities displayed on her sleeve and just as swiftly swept it under the carpet of her mind. "Really?"
He smiled with half of his mouth and nodded. "Totally."
All of a sudden, Rachel was hyperaware of Finn's hands still on her upper arms, and before she knew what she was doing, she was reaching around to wrap her hands behind his neck. They were both leaning in, and his eyes closed, so she followed suit, and then his lips were on hers, and…
It wasn't at all like she'd imagined. Everything had gone just as she'd planned. They were alone in the empty auditorium, she had sung her song with all of the emotion she could muster, he had been blown away, and then they were supposed to share a magical first kiss that would have them both erupting with fireworks. But, there was nothing. Not even a spark.
And Rachel knew it wasn't right.
They opened their eyes and pulled away at the same time. Simultaneously they said, "This is wrong." They both took an awkward and hasty step backward and looked anywhere but at each other.
"I have a girlfriend," Finn stated bluntly. Rachel wasn't entirely sure whether he was speaking more to her or himself.
"You do." She agreed and nodded matter-of-factly, accepting the fact for what it was.
"I should go." He took several steps backwards before he stumbled over his own forgotten backpack; he picked it up, flung it over his shoulder, and hurried from the large, open room.
Rachel watched him go in silence. When he was gone, and the door had slammed shut in his wake, she turned to collect her own bag and nearly fell off the stage when she saw none other than Noah Puckerman standing between her and the stage door with a look of mixed sympathy and disappointment adorning his face. "For goodness' sake, Noah, you can't just sneak up on people like that. Were you trying to give me a heart attack? Because I can tell you right now that if I were to suffer any kind of crippling medical condition at such a young age and rendered unable to reach my dreams of Broadway, your life would be just as miserable as mine." She raised her hand to her chest to emphasize her point as she rambled away her embarrassment and shame.
Puck merely shrugged his shoulders. He waited for her breathing to calm down before he spoke. He had seen the whole thing; he was thoroughly unimpressed with both of his best friends' behaviors. But because he had utilized that patience thing his mom was always talking about, and hadn't made his presence known until after his fellow football player had left, he had seen the way they both stopped themselves before things got out of hand. He was disappointed, yes, but he knew things could have gone a lot worse than they had.
In the Rachel before him, he noticed that subtle hint of pain and confusion in her eyes, and his tense shoulders slumped. "Do you need a ride home?"