"I'm really sorry about this," Finn murmured for the hundredth time.
Quinn looked in her rear view mirror to see Mike bouncing in the back seat. His expression was a picture of calm but his body language said different. He was really excited about his date.
She growled under her breath as she turned onto Berry's road.
"Which one's her house?" Mike asked, pulling on his seatbelt so that he could lean forward for a better view.
"You don't even know where she lives?"
Mike wasn't fazed by her exasperated tone. "Obviously I was going to ask, but then when I realized I wouldn't be driving it slipped my mind. I'll just call her house."
"Don't bother; it's the one on the corner."
Both of them stared at Finn, and Quinn knew she looked more jealous of his knowledge than the boy in the back, but that was only because Finn was her boyfriend, meaning he shouldn't know where any girl lived but her, and especially not Rachel Berry. She hoped no one ever asked her to give that explanation out loud, because if it sounded that bad in her head . . .
"And how do you know that?"
He was tense; like he knew he'd just lit the fuse and hadn't given himself enough time to run away from the bomb. "My Mom brought her home after a few of us went to watch Vocal Adrenaline that time. We gave Mercedes a ride too!"
After a long – well short actually because she was still driving albeit at five miles an hour – cool glare, she let him off the hook and turned back to the road. "This one?" At Finn's nod she coasted into the driveway and cut the engine.
She was unbuckling her seatbelt and ready to go to the front door when she remembered this wasn't her date and that would have been completely out of place. She covered her mistake by pretending she'd been reaching for her bag by Finn's feet all along.
"Good luck, dude!" Finn supported his friend as Mike spent a few seconds psyching himself up.
"Good luck?" Quinn raised an eyebrow. "He's walking across a well lit driveway and pressing a doorbell. I mean, I know it's Stubbles, but what does he need luck for?"
"You have no idea how scary this is for a guy, do you," Mike explained his fear.
"Yeah, especially a first date!"
"What if her Dad answers?"
"Or her other Dad?"
"What if they want to have the talk then and there?"
"And with Rachel that's two Dads, which is two talks . . ." Finn sounded almost as freaked out as Mike and Quinn narrowed her eyes, wondering just how much thought he'd put into the idea of dating Rachel. ". . . or one really big talk."
"What if they're like way bigger than you?"
"Or you know, kind of crazy."
Mike nodded, "Like with lots of tats of skulls and a machete fetish or something."
"And that's just the easy stuff. Then you've got to figure out whether to shake hands or go for the high-five or whatever."
"You'd high-five your date's Dad the first time you met him?" Quinn stared at her boyfriend in disbelief. "Oh God, you didn't try and high-five my father did you?"
Finn looked sheepish. "It was really embarrassing."
Quinn sighed heavily and turned in her seat to face Mike. "Ring the doorbell, once. If one of her fathers answers you introduce yourself, full name understand, and you offer your hand immediately. Give him a formal handshake and wait to be invited in. If you have to wait with him, make polite conversation about the weather or something. Don't tell him you're taking his precious daughter to a party because she might not have mentioned it. If you can't get out of it, tell him it's a birthday party and there will be adults there. As soon as you see Berry, lie and tell her she looks pretty and then get back out here as soon as possible so we can go." After a few moments she impatiently added, "Go on then!"
"Thanks Quinn!" He bounded out of the car eagerly and headed for the door.
Quinn smiled at her boyfriend and took a pristine handkerchief from her bag, holding it to her nose.
"Are you getting a cold?"
"It's just allergies."
"How have you been feeling, you know with the morning sickness and stuff?"
"It comes and goes."
It was actually coming right now but she didn't want to ruin his evening by making him worry about her, not when he couldn't help anyway. It took a minute for the handkerchief to do its thing and when the wave of nausea passed she tucked the square of cotton back into her bag. If Finn noticed that she never actually blew her nose he didn't find it necessary to mention it.
Mike and Rachel were already heading for the car and she smiled automatically until she got a good full length look at Berry's outfit in the security lights.
She startled Finn. "What? What is it?"
"She is not wearing that."
Finn turned to look. "What's wrong with it?"
"She looks like the Creature from the Planet Argyle!"
"Is that even a real movie?"
"And tartan too?" Quinn was appalled. "Is she trying to get herself humiliated tonight?"
She was out of the car before Finn could answer, intercepting the pair just as Mike was about to open the back door for the other girl.
"Good evening, Quinn."
"Go and change."
"I don't understand."
"Your clothes, Manhands. You can't wear that."
Berry looked down at herself and how the clash of patterns and colors didn't make her go blind was anyone's guess. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing? This is what I always wear."
"That doesn't make it okay. Look, it's bad enough that I have to walk into this party with you at all, you're not embarrassing me by dressing as Ronald McDonald's ugly cousin too. I know you have some decent clothes in there somewhere 'cause you looked hot today, so do us both a favor and go make yourself look hot again."
She'd just called Rachel Berry hot twice in one sentence. The boys were uncomfortable enough about the confrontation that they hadn't even registered it but Rachel's eyes were wide and Quinn had to swallow hard against her sudden awkwardness.
Praying she wasn't blushing, she forged ahead. "We'll wait for you but don't take too long."
"I can't," Rachel whispered. "With every outfit I tried on my mind started taunting me and finding fault." She shot Mike an embarrassed glance. "Now I don't know up from down and I'm terrified to look in my closet again."
Quinn's sigh of exasperation came out decidedly gentle considering. "Hang here for ten minutes, guys. I'm going to go and chase the boogieman out of Berry's closet. And as I'm pretty sure it's me, it shouldn't take too long."
"I'm sorry, what did you just say you were doing?" Rachel had to trot to keep up with her as she walked to the front door.
"I'm going to exorcise your demons for you so you can change out of that hideous mistake and into something . . ." 'Don't say hot! Not again.' ". . . that won't leave Santana room to ridicule you all night."
"I'm pretty sure she's going to ridicule me all night whatever I'm wearing."
"True." Quinn tried not to make it obvious that she was looking through the doors leading off of the small foyer like a nosy new neighbor. She gestured for Rachel to lead the way now. "But we can at least limit how much ammunition she has."
In Rachel's room she stopped trying to hide her interest (in the room!) and turned on the spot to look around. It was . . . not as gaudy as she'd expected it to be, but still far too Berryish. Her computer sat on a desk against one wall, dormant at the moment, but Quinn half smiled as she envisioned Berry sat there typing comments to her over MySpace.
The smile left just as quickly. "You did delete all the stuff we wrote yesterday, right?"
"Even the Facebook chat?"
"Quinn, the only person who has ever hacked my Facebook account is you – thank you for those enlightening status updates by the way, I actually gained seven new friends as a result – but our conversation was perfectly safe."
Quinn felt a surge of panic. "Santana taught me how to do that!"
Berry rolled her eyes, "It's just as well I cleared it all then, isn't it?"
Quinn nodded gratefully and looked around some more. She already knew one corner of it pretty well from the MySpace vids and now she saw the camcorder, set up on a tripod, in the other corner.
"Whatever you do, never invite Puck in here. He'll be trying to convince you to make a sex tape."
Rachel blushed and waved her hand to her closet, although most of her clothes had to be lying around the room. She really had tried a lot on.
"Okay, let's make this quick. Lose the clothes."
"I beg your pardon?" Now she was blushing harder and Quinn had to turn away to hide her smile.
"I've seen you naked before, Berry, it's no big deal. Not that I want you to take your underwear off too!" Oh great, now she was blushing, but at least her back was turned. "Right, this t-shirt."
She plucked a hot-pink fitted cotton t-shirt from the bed and held it out without looking until Rachel took it. Then she went to the closet and selected a dark blue skirt. It was shorter than Quinn was happy about but she only needed a glance, and experience of Rachel, to know they were all short.
As she handed it over, she said, "Lose the knee-highs too, they make you look six and it just makes everyone feel uncomfortable when six year olds drink alcohol."
Rachel took the skirt. "I won't be drinking any alcohol, Quinn."
"That's up to you."
"Actually it's up to federal law."
Quinn grinned and bent to pull out some blue pumps from the bottom of the closet. She placed them neatly on the floor before standing up.
"Are you decent?"
"I am, not that it would matter considering how you've already seen me naked."
"I never said it was an experience I wanted to repeat, smart ass." Quinn turned around and nodded her approval. "Much better. Now put the cardigan back on."
"You're actually advocating I wear argyle? I thought that's what you were against."
"No, I was against you matching a blue argyle cardigan with a beige argyle sweater-vest over a ruffled white shirt, matched with – or not as the case may be – a blue and green tartan skirt and green and red argyle socks. Not even people from Argyle wear that much argyle, Rach." She blinked at the way she'd affectionately shortened Berry's name but not long enough to miss the other girl's surprised smile. "Anyway, there's nothing wrong with wearing a little of your signature look, you just don't need to shove it down people's throats. So put the cardigan back on."
Rachel did so and then stepped barefoot into the flat pumps. Quinn nodded again.
"The tartan skirt is kinda cute too, but you need to match it with something plain. Like this." She pulled a short-sleeved green shirt out of the closet. "That way you won't damage people's eyesight."
"And you need to burn that ruffled monstrosity of a shirt. The eighteen-forties aren't making a come back any time soon."
"And sweater vests are okay for school, occasionally, but never for parties. Unless it's like a seventieth birthday party or something," she conceded.
"Thank you, Quinn."
"Don't mention it; I'm considering it one of my daily good deeds for humanity."
Rachel ignored the jibe, still smiling slightly. "Are we ready to go?"
"Nearly. I know this will probably sound rude, but do you mind if I go and throw up in your bathroom?"
Rachel's smile instantly morphed into a concerned frown and she was about to ask if she was okay, but obviously realized urgency was needed right now and just pointed the way.
Quinn was already off and running, hand over her mouth.
"Do you feel better?" Rachel asked as they walked down the stairs. "Maybe you shouldn't go to the party."
"I'm fine now. It just came on all of a sudden. It's passed."
The way Quinn was holding one of their bathroom towels over her nose made Rachel less inclined to believe her but there was undoubtedly color back in the cheerleader's cheeks. The way she'd gone so pale just seconds before asking for the bathroom had been a little scary.
"Was it looking through my clothes that made you feel sick?" she asked, only half-joking.
Quinn sounded like she was grinning as she said, "Maybe."
It was only as they reached the foyer again that Quinn seemed to realize she was still inhaling the towel. She let it drop from her face self-consciously.
"I'm sorry for throwing up in your bathroom. Do you think your parents heard? I don't want them to think I'm drunk-driving you to the party or anything."
"My Dads are out for the evening at their friends' engagement party. It's in Columbus. I'm not expecting them back until at least the early hours of the morning."
"So they just went out for the night knowing you're going to your first ever high school party. That's not very responsible of them."
"They're perfectly responsible parents, Quinn. As responsible as yours anyway. My Dads are unaware I even have a social event this evening, because I neglected to tell them, whereas your parents know all about the party but were easily duped into believing it is in fact something it isn't by either Santana or Puck."
"At least my parents care enough to check and they know where I'm going to be tonight even if they don't know the full truth."
"I assure you the only reason my Dads are in the dark is because I know if they knew I was going to this party tonight, with a date no less, they would have missed their good friends' engagement party to stay home in case I needed them at any point throughout the evening. Whatever your Mom and Dad have said about the perils of gay adoption I promise you my parents are every bit as responsible as yours."
"This isn't about that."
But Rachel could see in her eyes that it was at least something to do with that and Quinn didn't add anything to refute it further.
She tried to lighten the mood. "I think, really, during this discussion, we've more proved what terrible daughters we are than how good or bad our respective parents happen to be."
Quinn gave her a small smile but the tension between them that had eased on entering the house was definitely back as they left it.
They pulled up outside Puck's house at the same time as a dark green SUV. Rachel didn't recognize the car but she did the driver as Matt hopped out and gave them a quick wave. She was surprised to learn she knew his two passengers fairly well too.
"I thought you said this wasn't a Glee party."
"It's not." Quinn was frowning as she turned the ignition off. "What the hell is Matt doing bringing them?"
Mike apparently had the answers, well some of them. "When I told him I was asking Rachel he figured it was okay to ask Mercedes." That sounded a little insulting but Rachel let it go. "He's wanted to ask her out even since before we joined Glee club but he never had the guts before. I don't know why Kurt's here though."
The three were clearly waiting for them so they exited Quinn's car to join them. Matt and Mike greeted each other with one of those boy handshakes that always looked extremely complicated to her and Finn punched Matt's shoulder in a friendly, but also inexplicable way, as they said hi.
Quinn, Rachel noticed, was hanging back from the hellos but Rachel stepped forward politely to meet Kurt and Mercedes.
"I didn't know you were going to be here."
Mercedes obviously read her enthusiasm as sarcasm. "What, you think you're the only one who can mingle with the cool kids?"
"No, I . . ."
"Ignore her," Kurt waved his hand dismissively. "She's just on edge because she thinks Matt is playing a prank on her. Which nicely sums up my presence at what I can only imagine is going to be a terrible evening."
Rachel shook her head, whispering, "He's not. Mike just told us he likes you."
"Oh." Mercedes smiled a little, looking mostly shell-shocked by this information.
"Does that mean I can go now?" Kurt asked.
Mercedes grabbed his arm in hers tightly. "No! Now you have to stay more than ever."
As Kurt rolled his eyes with a patient smile, Rachel gave them both a little grin and then made her way back to Quinn. It was only after she was beside the girl that she realized she probably should be standing beside her date instead.
Quinn only reinforced this by muttering, "You can't talk to me in there."
"I don't mean to be a bitch, it's just . . ."
"I don't see why not, we should always play to our strengths, Quinn."
Rachel shot her a smirk that felt both natural and strange on her lips. It was flirty! She was fully ready for Quinn to knock her on her butt there and then for daring to be so, so the shock of receiving a smirk back almost knocked her there anyway.
"I kinda like you sassy, Berry. It's almost a turn on." Quinn winked and walked off to take Finn's hand.
The only thing that kept Rachel upright was Mike's arms suddenly catching her.
"Hey, are you okay?"
"Mmfhh," was all she could manage.
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