Chapter 9: First Annual Start o' Summer Puckerman Palooza
"Hey, Hot Mama! You're going to Puck's party tonight, right?" Mercedes asked enthusiastically as she caught up with Rachel in the hallway and linked their arms. It seemed like everyone was in a good mood that day. It did, of course, make sense; it was the last day of school. Inconsequentially, it was also three weeks minus a day since the McKinley-famous breakup of Quinn Fabray and Finn Hudson.
"I haven't decided yet whether I shall be gracing the celebration with my presence or not. Do you know who all's going?"
Kurt came up and linked his arm through Mercedes' free one and immediately jumped into the conversation as if he'd been there with them all along. "When he invited me, begrudgingly, I might add, he said it was probably going to be mostly just us glee clubbers, but then I overheard him inviting Satan – I mean, Santana – and Brittany, and he told them to invite as many of their Cheerio friends as they want, and you know every guy on the football and basketball teams are going to be there, which means the whole school is liable to show up at one point or another. Faculty included. Rachel, you can't not go. What are you going to do otherwise? Sit at home and knit? Play scrabble with your dads?"
She blushed brilliantly and looked down at the red and white floor tiles; with the addition of setting up her video camera and recording a couple of new songs for her MySpace page, that had been exactly what she'd planned on doing that night. "I suppose I could stop by for a bit."
"Oh, excellent!" He almost squeaked in excitement. "We can all get ready together!" When she started to cut in , he immediately beat her to the punch. "Rachel, Mercedes and I are picking out your outfit. Friends don't let friends wear argyle to house parties. We'll be at your place at seven. It'll be just like the movies…" Kurt and Mercedes smiled and peeled off from Rachel before she could respond. She was left to walk, a bit dumbfounded, down the hall with a shy grin peeking out at the world.
"Are you sure I look okay?" Kurt rolled his eyes as Rachel yet again pulled self consciously at the hem of the dress. They approached the front door of Puck's house. They could hear music blaring and voices chattering loudly on the inside.
Mercedes sighed while Kurt knocked twice. "Rachel. You look great. We all do. Believe me, little black dress is applicable to all situations. You'll be turning heads tonight. Besides, I'm sure this one's sequins will take over some of the attention," she said, with a jerk of the thumb in Kurt's direction.
The door was flung open, and a widely grinning Noah Puckerman appeared. "Rach! Hummel, Mercedes!" He stepped aside for them and all but bowed them in. "Welcome to the first annual Start o' Summer Puckerman Palooza! Karofsky's older brother got us a keg!"
Upon first examination, it seemed as though Kurt's hypothesis was correct; it looked like nearly everyone who attended McKinley was wandering around the house. Kurt and Mercedes were off and mingling in a matter of seconds.
Puck dashed off to the kitchen but returned quickly, bearing a red solo cup, which he handed politely to Rachel. She was hesitant at first, but after she watched her friend practically chug all of his in one go, she figured a sip or two of whatever it was couldn't hurt. It burned a bit as it slid down her throat, but it was still pretty smooth.
She groaned internally when she saw Finn trying to make his way over to her from the other side of the room. She'd been avoiding him ever since Quinn had broken up with him; she knew it was her doing, and she didn't want to deal with whatever it was he had to say to her. She felt bad enough as it was. Before she could look for an escape route, however, the sensation of being watched overtook her. She scanned the sea of bodies until her eyes landed on the grassy greens of none other than the queen bee herself.
Quinn downed the rest of her drink and blinked several times before she remembered that she hated Rachel Berry and turned her stare into an icy glare. Rachel almost physically winced from the daggers that were being thrown in her direction. She could only imagine what would happen if Finn actually reached her and struck up a conversation. She shivered.
Rachel scanned the room again and panicked mildly when she noticed that Finn was about to close the distance between them. She grabbed Puck almost violently by the sleeve (she took a millisecond to allow herself to be impressed by the fact that he had actually gone the distance and worn a button-up with a skinny black tie for the party), pulled him roughly to the nearest vacant couch – thankful that he managed to keep a hold on his drink – and did her best to look as if they were in deep conversation. Finn saw the proximity between Puck and Rachel and stopped abruptly before he awkwardly changed directions and entered the kitchen to watch the beer pong tournament.
Without thinking about what she was doing, Rachel brought her plastic cup to her lips and took a large gulp. She grimaced at the taste. "Ugh. I don't understand why adults enjoy alcohol so much; it really doesn't taste good at all." She turned to face Puck more directly with a warning finger. "And you should know as my longest friend that under any other circumstances I would never condone such illegal behavior."
"Rach, I know. Believe me. But come on, loosen up a little. It's summer! Most people have designated drivers, and I told everyone that the couches are open for business if they need a place to crash. My parents are gone all week on a cruise. I think they wanted on last hurrah before they're stuck with me at home for two months. Everyone just wants to have a little fun, you know?"
Rachel considered that for a moment before she answered, "I suppose that's acceptable." Conversation trailed off for a moment, and they both listened to/felt the vibrations of the thumping music and watched the other party goers with interest. Most of the glee kids were together in the space near the speakers, dancing and singing along. The jocks and Cheerios were dispersed around the rest of the house. A group composed of mainly football players were huddled in the kitchen, still engrossed in their beer pong. An assortment of what looked like mostly underclassmen were playing Spin the Bottle in a corner while a group of older boys played poker on the other side of the room. The odd couple could be seen making out on random couches or against the walls. All in all, it was pretty much everything Rachel had expected a high school party to be. It was almost comforting.
She looked back over at Puck, who happened to be looking back at her. They smiled warmly at each other, and Rachel said, "Noah, have I mentioned yet how much I admire your choice in attire for this evening's event? You look very dapper."
His smile faded slightly. "That's… a good thing, right?" He twisted his cup in his hands between his knees almost self consciously.
She giggled and rested a friendly hand on his bicep. "Yes, Noah. It means you look nice; dashing, even."
He nodded in understanding and his smile was back in full force. "Well in that case, I'm nothing compared to you. Have you seen the dress you have on? You look amazing… and that's coming from me."
She felt a light blush creep its way onto her cheeks and tried (and failed) to hide it in her cup. When she glanced up again, she saw Finn once again fighting his way through the crowds in her direction. Her gaze immediately fixated on the sloshing brown liquid at the bottom of her solo cup. Her neck muscles became tense, an occurrence that did not go unnoticed by Puck, whose arm had mysteriously found its way around her shoulders, where it hung loosely. He looked at her questioningly, and followed her eyes when they peeked out over the rim of her drink to his six-foot-four friend as he struggled to maneuver past the mass of bodies that separated him and Rachel.
It only took Puck a moment to deduce that Rachel's darting eyes, fidgeting fingers, and general discomfort meant that she was not interested in talking to Finn, and his instincts prompted him to jump up and take his best female friend's hand just before the teen giant descended upon them. "C'mon, Rach. It's not a party if you don't annihilate everyone here in a karaoke battle." She beamed and nodded enthusiastically, and with that, he led her across the house to get the music and microphones set up, pausing on the way to punch a bemused Finn amicably on the shoulder.
Rachel grabbed a mic delightedly, well before Puck had gotten the karaoke set up. What could she say, singing, in any environment or circumstance, was exciting for her. She started to search eagerly for a worthy opponent. She looked around, but most people looked preoccupied with whatever it was they were doing. The prickly feeling of being watched found her again. For the second time that night, she was met with the intense gaze of one Quinn Fabray. She watched as the blonde once again downed what was surely a near-full drink and stood up clumsily. Santana and Brittany, with whom it appeared she had been in the middle of a conversation, offered helping hands as Quinn swayed on the spot, but she rebuffed them. She sent another strange look towards Rachel and stumbled off to join the older boys at the poker table. Rachel wondered briefly how much the girl had had to drink that night and if she should have been more concerned, but beside her, Puck had gotten the karaoke all set up and announced to everyone who could hear, "Okay, listen up! We got karaoke up in here! So if anyone out there isn't too much of a wuss to take on my girl Rachel here, come on down and prepare to get your ass kicked." The other glee members eagerly volunteered themselves.
Quinn was quickly banished to the back of Rachel's mind.
After eight straight songs, all of which she rocked, Rachel relinquished her microphone and excused herself to the bathroom. Singing was thirsty work, and Puck and the others had no problem refilling her drink whenever it ran low. Not that she particularly paid attention to what she was drinking, nor how much.
As she stumbled across the floor, she ran into a grand total of six pieces of furniture, two of which got knocked over, and five of which she apologized to. Uproarious laughter filled her ears, but she couldn't figure out what it was that everyone found so amusing; she laughed along anyway so she might still seem in the loop.
When she finally reached the short hallway in which the bathroom was located, the wall became her most trusted support in the form of an immobile walking stick. She was eternally grateful that there weren't any end tables or similar furnishings in that hall; she knew without a doubt that if she'd had to move away from the wall she would have fallen straight to the floor and not have been able to get back up.
Her hands found the bathroom doorknob, and her brain took its time telling them to twist and push. The door creaked open and revealed a blonde and a brunette both crouching by the toilet. Brittany sported a moderately concerned expression and held Santana's hair away from her face. Santana emerged from the toilet bowl and looked as though she was beginning to recover from a hefty bout of vomiting.
Rachel kept her eyes squinted against the harsh brightness of the light. She asked politely for the two girls to vacate the bathroom and reacted too late when Santana said, "Nice seein' ya, Hobbit."
Immediately after, she vaguely made out Brittany's voice down the hall when the blonde asked, her tone growing more excited with each word, "Do you think she's related to Bilbo? Does she know Gandalf? He's my grandpa."
Rachel's giggles burst from her throat much louder than she expected, and she struggled between laughing and cringing at the noise of her own laughter.
After a moment she remembered why she was alone in a room with a toilet.
Fifteen minutes later, after she took care of her business, stubbed her toe on the bathtub, washed her hands thoroughly, and had a quick cry over the fact that there weren't any hand towels, she threw the door open and ran head first into what she was sure was a brick wall. Of course, upon closer examination she concluded that it was just an overly tall, unnaturally thick boy. An even closer inspection showed her that it was a football player, a guy in the grade above her named Azimio. "Hey, watch yo'self, girl. Most people don' get away wit' runnin' into me like that. I guess I can make a 'ception for you, though." His eyes were bleary and hooded as they traveled up and down her body.
"A-zee…zee-mo." She tried to ignore the way he licked his lips. "You're… and I am… super flattered, but I'm… you are way too tall for me." Her words were slurred, and she knew it, even as she started to stutter-step away.
"Aw, no, wait, hey… Come on, girl, hey, I know you like me, come back here." He pushed himself off of the wall he'd been leaning on and effectively fell forward, almost on top of her, eliciting a short, high-pitched squeal from Rachel.
Her beer… rum… tequila… whatever-addled brain panicked at the realization that a giant, letterman clad mass threatened to smother her. She was too young to die. The raw fear that flooded her brain sobered her enough to regain her opinion that she was also too young to be drinking and getting drunk and being attacked by large males.
Just as she was preparing her extensively trained vocal chords to scream bloody murder, she heard a familiar voice and the weight equivalent to a small Chevy was lifted off her. "Azimio. Cool it, man, okay? Chill out."
With some effort, she located her savior and flashed him a relieved grin until she remembered that she was avoiding him. "Finn. Thank you for pulling that neanderthal off me. I appreciate you saving me from what would have most likely ended up in my sexual assault or suffocation."
"Oh, it's no problem. He's just drunk, you know."
She frowned at that. Could he really shrug things like that off so easily? "Well, it was chivalrous of you either way."
"Okay, yeah." She could tell that her vocabulary had once again proven too much for him, but couldn't muster the energy to enlighten him before he started again. "So listen, I've been meaning to talk to you, you know, about what happened… in the auditorium." His voice lowered to a whisper as he spoke.
"Oh. Well, I can't say that I'm… all that surprised, but here's the thing," she tapped him on the chest, probably less gently than she meant to, to emphasize each word, "you and me… it's just not gonna work out, okay? You, you're great, don't get me wrong, there's jus' isn't a spark there."
"Actually, that's kind of the same thing I was going to say to you. I think you're awesome, and everything, but that kiss was a mistake. I really like Quinn, I-I think I'm in love with her. And I'm going to try to make things right with her. I just didn't want you to think I was leading you on or anything."
"Oh. Sure, yeah. I totally understand."
"Cool. So, no hard feelings?" His mouth pulled into a crooked grin and he stuck out his hand.
"Of course not." Rachel grabbed the proffered hand and they shook. Somewhere inside, there were a few hard feelings, but she didn't really know what they were about, so she disregarded them and agreed to a tentative friendship with Finn.
They reentered the party together. Rachel was amused to see that Mercedes and Artie had completely taken over the karaoke and were performing only songs by Michael Jackson. Matt, Mike, and Brittany competed fiercely in a dance-off to Smooth Criminal. Santana watched them from a nearby sofa while she simultaneously cried and yelled in Spanish at a random, very uncomfortable looking boy before she forcefully grabbed his face and started full-on making out with him.
Finn looked at his watch and stated that he should get home before his mom started to worry. Rachel nodded and gave him a tight, drunken hug before she sent him on his way.
For the third time that night, Rachel felt that neck-hair-raising sensation of someone's eyes on her. When she turned around, Quinn was already making her way clumsily toward her. Rachel swallowed hard. Her palms were suddenly clammy. Quinn was clearly on the warpath. Rachel gulped again. This was the girl whose boyfriend she had kissed, while they were still dating. Crap, that was a stupid thing to do. Why did she do that? Oh god, she was getting closer. All of a sudden Rachel was concerned that there wasn't enough air in the room.
Quinn came to a halt inches away from her. Rachel squeezed her eyes shut and prepared for a slap or a punch in the face. She just hoped that Quinn would have the decency to avoid her nose. When no impact came, she chanced a peek out of one eye, and then opened both. The blonde was simply standing there, staring at her with red rimmed eyes. Rachel hoped that she hadn't been crying over the whole her-and-Finn thing. She knew she probably had. "Quinn, I-"
Quinn shook her head, her lips turned down in a purposeful frown. She raised a finger and held it right up to Rachel's face, so close that the girl went momentarily cross-eyed watching it. Quinn dropped the finger back to her side but leaned her face in a little closer. Her nose was runny and she sniffed loudly. Rachel tried not to flinch.
"This is all your fault."
Quinn looked like she might say something else, but her face abruptly paled. Before another word could be uttered, the wan color tinged green and she sprinted in the direction of the vacant bathroom with a hand over her mouth.