The following day, after a night with barely any sleep – making her morning exercise routine seem particularly grueling – Rachel walked into American Literature a few minutes late.
She was halfway through her apology when the teacher stopped listening – if he ever had been – and shouted, "Okay, Hudson, front of the class!"
"What?" Finn innocently looked up from his seat at the back beside Quinn, the hollow pen in his hand forgotten in his surprise at getting caught. A band geek a couple of rows in front was scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck. "What did I do?"
"I let the first two spit balls go, third strike and you're out. Come on." The bearded and bespectacled teacher waved the boy to the only seat left at the front of the class and Finn reluctantly stood up to lumber forward.
"But, Mr. Laxforth, that's my seat," Rachel protested.
The teacher showed no remorse. "Then you should have been on time."
There was only one empty seat left in the class, the one Finn had just vacated, and with heavy feet she walked towards it. Quinn was smirking at her, until she was a desk away and then the blonde averted her eyes to the board at the front of the room.
Sitting down, she set her books neatly on the desk, doing her best to ignore the girl to her left. Class began and she was confident she could get through the entire lesson without ever looking over, not that that stopped her body from being on red alert the whole time.
She couldn't remember ever sitting beside Quinn in class before, not since they'd started high school and left alphabetically assigned seating behind. It wasn't all bad. She was sitting at the back of the class with a popular cheerleader; this was the stuff reputations were made out of. But it was distracting too, and there was never a good reason for being distracted during a time when she was trying to learn something. And so far she hadn't heard a thing Mr. Laxforth had said because all she could concentrate on was not paying any attention to the girl beside her!
It turned out that her body's warning system was lacking however, because when Quinn suddenly whispered to her she jumped, her leg knocking against the desk and her pen slipping from her hand to skitter off of the edge.
"Not like you to be late."
She bent down to pick up her pen and then looked studiously ahead again. "I didn't sleep well."
"What kept you awake?"
Rachel didn't answer.
"Do you really think ignoring me is in your best interests?"
Probably not. "I had things on my mind."
Now that, Rachel definitely wasn't going to answer.
"Your silence speaks volumes, you know."
She felt a flash of irritation. She hadn't done anything wrong! "Like?"
Unseen, a firm leg pressed to her own. As she registered the sensation of skin on skin Rachel had to suppress a squeak as she jumped again, this time banging both knees painfully on the underside of the desk.
Quinn chuckled. "Maybe next time you'll think twice before getting cocky."
Rachel was thankfully ignored for the rest of the lesson but she noticed Quinn's smirk as, when the bell rang, she had to limp out of the classroom.
Quinn couldn't believe her bad luck when Berry was told to sit next to her.
She'd spent the previous night alternating between trying to pretend nothing had happened in the showers and coming up with ways to make it all Rachel's fault, using it for her own benefit and praying for forgiveness for her weakness over what had turned out to be a poor lapse in judgment (i.e. Looking!).
Teasing Rachel now gave her some power over the situation but it was superficial because even if the other girl did have a crush on her, it didn't erase the fact that she had let it go so far yesterday. She should have walked away the second Berry had turned around but instead she had indulged the other girl's lunacy, and, okay, indulged her own temptation too and now . . .
. . . And now she was screwed because there was no physical way of taking a scouring brush to the inside of her brain to scrub away those visuals, and short of drinking a bottle of bleach and saying: Goodbye Cruel World, she didn't know what to do to make the memory go away.
But one thing she did know: if she had to live with it, Berry was going to live with it worse!
They weren't even halfway through Fall semester but already the weather was beginning to turn. The morning had started out bright enough but by the time Quinn emerged from her last class the sky had turned gray and a blustery wind played and tugged with the skirt of her Cheerios uniform. There was the promise of rain in the air but Coach Sylvester didn't believe in promises and unless there was a torrential downpour in the next five minutes they would still be practicing on the sports field instead of in the warmth of the gym.
It was twenty minutes later when the rain came but it was light – not enough for Coach to worry about being electrocuted by her battery-powered bullhorn – so there was no reprieve.
They were going through the jump offs from the second tier of the pyramid and as feet constantly slipped off of wet shoulders, Quinn was glad she wasn't needed for this particular exercise. Hopefully the stream of weather-induced screw ups would continue long enough that they wouldn't have time to run through the top tier jump offs today. She didn't want to risk a fall from the top but she couldn't exactly tell Coach why.
She stood off to the side with Santana and Brittany, laughing at the struggling girls and grading their falls on hilarity, poise-under-pressure and most likely to cause severe maiming.
"Oh God, what's it doing here? Please tell me she's not trying to get on the squad. I can't take her here too."
Puzzled, Quinn followed Santana's line of sight to the bleachers. Rachel Berry was sitting on the third row, a notebook open on her lap and an umbrella held low over her bent head. The strong wind kept catching it and Quinn chuckled as she watched her continuously stop writing to grab the handle and hold it steady.
She turned back to the show in front of her. "There aren't any positions open on the squad."
"Then what is she doing here?"
"I bet she's here to watch Finn practice football," Brittany turned to the boys running around at the other end of the field. They didn't care about the rain, in fact the wetter and muddier it became the more they seemed to enjoy themselves. They were definitely getting louder; their grunts and the smack of pad on pad rivaling the Coach's yelling. "Oh, sorry, Q."
She turned from watching them herself. "Why?"
"Well, Finn's your boyfriend. You probably want to be the only one watching him."
"Want me to cut a bitch?" Santana asked with a way too enthusiastic grin.
Quinn laughed at her, "Okay, quick round of Success, Marriage or Juvie." She pointed to Santana on the last word.
"Yeah, well, I ain't built to marry and we both know Britt's gonna be the one who succeeds."
As Brittany smiled angelically at the compliment, Quinn huffed under her breath. Everyone assumed the pinnacle her life was going to be getting married, even her friends. It was like her future was being put together on an assembly line: Head Cheerleader; Honor Student; Ivy League College; Meet Upstanding Christian Guy; Have Perfect Wedding; Move to the Suburbs; Raise Two-point-four Kids; Die.
Her Dad was so proud of all of her achievements so far but he would have an aneurysm if she said she wanted to have a career of her own after leaving college. A daughter of the great Russell Fabray having a job, it was -consciously rubbing her stomach she remembered that the aneurysm was actually already scheduled for whenever she stopped being able to hide her latest achievement because she'd already done the unthinkable.
The reminder of that curbed her inner-rebellion but she knew it would resurface again because, sure, marriage and kids would be her goal one day but she wanted more than that too. Otherwise she'd have already found a way to have Finn put a ring on her finger. She wanted to live before she settled down, to do at least one exciting, wild, unexpected thing. Something she could look back on with a smile when she finally let that assembly line carry her off into suburban, domestic oblivion.
And for the record, having Puck's baby at sixteen was not going to be that thing.
"So, back to Manhands," Santana was saying and Quinn was aware she'd missed a whole conversation while she'd been thinking. "We should run her out. Remind her this is Cheerios' turf."
She thought about it, it could be amusing. Coach's bullhorn was unattended right now and Berry's head was scrunched over her notebook. They could use it to scare the crap out of her. But . . . she had better things to do right now than waste her time pranking Berry.
"No, if she wants to sit out in the rain like an idiot, let her."
"Seriously?" Brittany asked, "You don't mind that she's watching Finn?"
Quinn smirked. She wasn't there to watch Finn, if she was she'd be watching him instead of huddling in a ball over her notebook. Besides, even Berry wouldn't be that stupid, right? She'd made it perfectly clear yesterday that any more advances on her boyfriend and she was going public with Rachel's little lesbian crush on her. Surely she had more sense than to disobey her the very next day and force Quinn's hand like that?
God, please let her have more sense than that! Because she really didn't want to have to follow through on her threat. The idea made her feel . . . not guilty as such but . . . uncomfortable. The whole situation made her feel uncomfortable. Just thinking the words 'Rachel's little lesbian crush on me' caused the most intense sense of discomfort deep inside that had her knocking her knees lightly together as she shifted from foot to foot, hands twitchily fisting the perfect red pleats of her skirt until a curious glance from Santana made her drop the material self-consciously and tightly cross her arms over her chest. And, really, considering the adverse reaction those six little words caused it would be ludicrous to ever think about any of it again. She needed to just let it go and concentrate instead on things that actually mattered.
'Rachel's little lesbian crush on me.'
No! Stop that!
"You okay, Q?" Only Santana would consider that smirk a show of concern. "You look like you tripped and sat on your electric toothbrush."
"What? I don't even have an electric toothbrush."
"You should totally get one. Mine even has rabbit ears; it's so cute."
"Uh, Britt, that's not your toothbrush."
"Well, I know that, it's an electric toothpolisher, that's why it's shaped like that and doesn't have bristles . . ."
Quinn didn't have the first clue of what they were talking about, lost at the first mention of toothbrushes, so she didn't take much notice as Santana dragged Brittany away to whisper frantically in her ear. Casting an eye back up at the bleachers she saw that Berry's umbrella had finally succeeded in its quest for freedom and the girl was now climbing over row after row of tiered benches to reclaim it before it could go airborne on the next strong gust of wind.
She was such a loser! Why couldn't she just walk around and up the steps to get it like a normal person? Better question, why was she sitting out in the wind and the rain at all when she had no reason to be? Why was she up there, tormenting her like this? For Finn? Or for . . . her? Was it possible that she had stumbled on the truth yesterday (if by stumbled you meant stared it right in its naked face!) and Berry really did have an actual crush on her? If she was prepared to be more honest with herself it made more sense than simple curiosity did, but she wasn't prepared to be, because it implied she was tarred by the same brush and . . . just, no, okay!
If Rachel Berry had a thing for her, fine. It was actually kind of hilarious when she thought about it, but that didn't mean she needed to think about it or worry about it and she certainly didn't have to return it. The best thing she could do was ignore it, just like she always had with Puck's little obsession with her.
Yes, always, right up until the night the temptation he offered was more of a comfort than her chastity vows or her boyfriend and she'd let him take her to bed . . .
Okay, so Puck was a bad example.
Coach had finally gotten bored of the pathetic display of pyramid building and had them run laps for the remaining time, something Quinn couldn't get out of. So she was feeling drenched with sweat as well as rain water by the time the two hour practice was up and she could finally head into the locker room.
As was becoming her custom she didn't head into the showers immediately with the rest of the squad – she just didn't have the confidence to strip off in front of them all now – staving off comments about it by taking her role as head cheerleader very seriously. As everyone else took off their soggy uniforms she went to the closet and handed out towels – remembering as she did that there was one missing, which was just great because it meant there wouldn't be one left for her. Then she put the pompoms and batons away in the equipment cupboard. Wet pompoms felt disgusting! In the past these were jobs she'd happily delegated to someone lower down the Cheerios food chain but they were certainly a useful procrastination tool right now.
"Do you want us to wait for you?" Brittany asked, dressing into a dry uniform.
"No, you guys go ahead. I'll see you tomorrow."
While she waited for the other girls to straggle out she pretended to be absorbed in the training roster but as soon as the door shut behind the last one she breathed a huge sigh of relief. If she didn't get this uniform off soon it was going to melt into her skin.
She was naked under the hot spray, enjoying an especially long shower because she was alone, when she heard the door open and close. She froze; if it was Coach Sylvester looking for her she was screwed! Looking down she sucked in her tummy. It really didn't make a difference. Oh God!
She exhaled sharply, feeling so much relief and annoyance that there was no room to feel uncomfortable as well.
"What do you want, Berry?"
"I, um, I came to return the towel." She rounded the partition and her eyes went wide before she quickly turned her back to Quinn. "Sorry!"
"Exactly what state of dress did you expect to find me in back here?"
"I . . . I wasn't thinking."
Seeing that Rachel was clearly nervous calmed her down and gave her back some confidence over the situation. Rachel was the enemy right now and it was always good to have your enemy off-balance.
"Sure you weren't."
"Fine." Quinn turned off the shower and waited. Nothing happened. "So can I have the towel?"
"Oh, sorry." Berry thrust her arm behind her without looking.
"Thank you." She wrapped it around her and the scent of something fresh and citrusy wafted up.
It smelled different than usual. Coach insisted the scent of cheap, generic laundry detergent was the scent of champions, but whatever this was infinitely better. She gave it an audible sniff.
"It's Lemon Zest. It's the fabric softener my Dads use. It's supposed to make you feel invigorated."
"It's not bad. Maybe I should get you to wash my towels every day."
"I'm sure if you were to provide the softener and say, a dollar expenses a day, we could come to some arrangement. My college fund would appreciate the extra income."
"You'd charge me for washing my towels?"
Berry started to slowly turn around; peeking over her shoulder to make sure the towel was where it was supposed to be before fully facing her. "Would you wash my towels for free?"
"No but . . ."
"But what, Quinn? Do you think that just because you think you know something about me but have absolutely no evidence to back it up that I am suddenly going to become subservient to you? Perhaps it has escaped your notice that even after many years of you tormenting me, I have yet to bow down to you."
Quinn was thrown by Berry's reaction to what had started as a joke. Of course she didn't expect the girl to wash her towels but she had expected Berry to jump at the chance to do something like that for her. Heck, there were at least two freshmen Cheerios and one sophomore who would gladly hand-wash her towels in tiger tears and asp milk if she asked them to.
Maybe Berry didn't have a crush on her then. Or maybe she was just so socially inept she didn't even know how to do that properly.
"Okay, no towel washing. You can run along now."
"Did I say something to offend you?"
"Every word you say offends me," she said as she breezed past the other girl to the lockers.
"I find that hard to believe."
"I know we've had our differences in the past . . ."
"No, we haven't had differences, we are different. Are you actually going to watch me get dressed?"
"Oh!" Berry turned her back again.
Quinn rolled her eyes. "Do you remember what I said about things speaking volumes?"
In the following silence she took the towel from around her and used it to dry herself vigorously.
"Does . . . does that mean you want me turn back around?"
"No, it means you should do whatever you feel comfortable with, and the fact that you feel most comfortable turning your back to me . . ."
"I should probably go."
"If that's what you feel most comfortable with." Quinn took her fresh uniform out of her locker.
Damn, she was going through them fast this week. They were only assigned a limited number of uniforms each and after having to change yesterday because of the slushy incident she was already down one. If it was still raining and this one got wet too she'd be forced to wear regular clothes by the end of the week.
Coach had demoted people for less.
Berry hadn't moved a muscle yet so the waiting came automatically. "Yes."
"If I ask to borrow your umbrella to walk to my car, are you going to charge me?"
"Of course not, but it doesn't seem fair that I have to get wet as a consequence."
"You're already wet."
"I'll have you know that I may have many qualities that you find less than appealing but being wet is not one of them."
"I meant physically," Quinn explained with a derisive shake of her head.
"Oh, well in that case, yes I am rather damp."
"That's what you get for sitting on the bleachers in the rain. Which you were doing why exactly?
"I was waiting for you." To have her assumptions confirmed was both gratifying and terrifying. "To give you the towel in private. I thought you'd prefer that."
Quinn shrugged, that took nothing away from the fact that Berry had been there for her and not anyone else. She didn't have to wonder why that was important. An ego boost was always nice, especially when her ego needed all the boosting it could stand just at the moment.
And now she could practically taste the strawberry wine cooler on the tip of her tongue and hear Marvin Gaye crooning in the background. She pushed the memory or premonition or whatever it was away because there was still one big difference she could focus on: Puck equaled Boy, Berry equaled Loser Freak.
"Whatever, just don't make a habit out of watching me from the stands."
"I wasn't planning to."
Dry as she was going to get, Quinn started to dress. Once her underwear was on she said, "Okay, you can turn around again now."
Berry did so, caught sight of her bra and panties and spun back the way she had been facing.
"Oh my God, are you twelve?"
"No, it's just, after yesterday I don't think it's appropriate to see you half-dressed."
"Volumes, Berry. Large volumes."
"Believe as you wish, Quinn."
Smirking, she put on her uniform and went to the mirror to run a comb through her damp hair before pulling it up in the regulation high pony. "So about that umbrella?"
"You may have it if you must. But not because of . . . whatever reason you may think I am giving it to you, but simply because I am a charitable person and I would not like to see you get wet if I can do anything to help you avoid the situation. So you may have my umbrella." Quinn was making sure her purse, cell phone and keys were all in the pocket of her bag before zipping it closed. "Well, Quinn?"
"What? Oh, sorry, I stopped listening when you started speaking. Why don't you just walk me to my car? That way you can keep the umbrella and neither of us has to get wet again."
Rachel didn't argue and Quinn threw her towel in the laundry bin before grabbing her bag and heading for the door.
She was walking Quinn Fabray to her car!
And, she wasn't even sure why that felt like such a big deal but it was – her heart was skipping to a whole new beat and the clamminess of her hand holding the umbrella handle had nothing to do with the poor weather and . . . and there were butterflies, big cliche-ridden butterflies in her tummy. She was, dare she say it, nervously excited to be walking across the school's dull, wet parking lot with the girl whose main hobby was making her life a misery.
Her feelings were completely inappropriate and incomprehensible and Rachel . . .
"It's the one at the end there," Quinn said, gesturing towards the only car left in the lot and then dropping her hand with a sheepish chuckle as she realized she was being redundant. "Obviously."
. . . couldn't stop smiling!
There was a downside to her nervous-excitement though. Her umbrella wasn't that large and she could only imagine how it would be perceived if she huddled up close enough to Quinn to keep it completely over both of their heads. And she couldn't help making sure Quinn was more covered than herself. As a result her entire left side was feeling even damper than before, positively soggy in fact by the time they reached the bright red car.
As the cheerleader stepped forward to open the door, Rachel stayed back but held the umbrella up and out at arm's length so that she remained dry. Quinn laughed when she noticed this and turned in the space between the body of the car and the now open door to face her. Seeing the sparkle in her usually cool eyes, Rachel waited for the disparaging comment about her pathetic eagerness to please and steeled herself in preparation for it, only to flinch and squeeze her eyes shut when knuckles met softly with her cheek, brushing away some raindrops.
Quinn retracted her hand faster than she'd reached out and held it in a way that suggested she suspected it had been demonically possessed, but it didn't stop her from chuckling as she stage-whispered, "You're awfully jumpy for a girl with nothing to hide, Berry."
Rachel thought about possible answers, trying to settle on the most intelligent one, but in the end she just said, "I thought you were going to punch me."
"I will if you give me reason to, are we clear?"
She was being treated to a fairly intense look now, which she didn't understand the meaning of at all, but Quinn seemed to think she'd got it because after a nod of . . . approval? she turned to get into her car.
Rachel was already pulling the umbrella back over her own head – although it was a little late to worry about staying dry now – when Quinn stopped and turned back again. Rachel reacted quickly and Quinn glanced up, laughing softly to find herself being sheltered from the rain once more.
"I was just going to say thank you." After giving her a small, apparently friendly smile, Quinn slipped into the driver's seat and pulled the door closed.
Rachel continued to stand there, umbrella still in the air and still not over her own head even now. The smile, the thank you, had her routed to the spot. Such a simple enough thing, perhaps, but coming from Quinn Fabray and sounding genuine, that was big!
She had to step back as Quinn reversed out of her parking space and then she watched as she drove out of the lot without so much as a glance in her rear-view mirror. That was probably a good thing though, because if Quinn did happen to look back she'd see her standing in the pouring rain watching her leave and that might not send the most helpful message.
It was very important that she only sent the right messages from now on. It wouldn't do to give Quinn any more reasons to think she had romantic feelings for her – which she did not! – but at the same time their amiable interactions over the last twenty minutes or so – Quinn had touched her face! And smiled at her! – seemed like an excellent start to a lifelong, mutually-rewarding friendship and she would be a fool to let it pass her by.
She just needed an in, something that would be the first building block cemented into their friendship. Something that would make it not impossible - no even better, acceptable - for her to walk Quinn to her car again, regularly, because friends did that all the time, right?
She nodded, although she wasn't certain, and then it dawned on her that she was still standing in the rain with her umbrella hanging open but useless at her side and it spurred her into action. She had to meet her Dad at the front of school any minute . . . she checked her watch . . . ten minutes ago anyway.
They'd exited through the rear doors closest to the gym and it would be quicker to retrace her steps and dash through the corridors than make her way around the outside of the building. So she was racing past the girls' locker room when the idea hit her; and it was exactly as if it had hit her, because she stopped so suddenly her momentum carried her upper body forward a little before she rocked back on her heels.
She'd found it already. This was her building block towards a tentative friendship with the most popular girl in school.
She stared at the door to the locker room while she thought through the pros and cons of her idea and frowned when she realized there were far more cons. In fact there was only one pro: the chance to recreate Quinn's smile and gratitude as she inhaled the revitalizing lemon freshness. It could fatally backfire on her of course – okay, maybe not fatally, to her knowledge no one had ever died from a slushie attack – but if anyone found out besides Quinn . . . For that matter, Quinn herself might not appreciate the over-familiarity; she had said she was joking about it after all – and even if she hadn't been, was doing her laundry really a good precedent to set for their future?
All of these were very good arguments for why Rachel should just keep running to meet her Dad without any detours, but even though logic ruled against it she found herself, after a quick glance up and down the hall, pushing through the heavy door anyway. She stopped to listen for any sounds of Coach Sylvester inside before walking boldly (if extremely quickly) around the corner to where the large laundry bin was stationed. Luckily she knew which towel was Quinn's, she'd noticed the way a corner of it had snagged on the lid leaving a triangle of white terry-towel hanging down the side. She raised the plastic lid, nose wrinkling at the musty smell that rose up, and snagged the triangle between her finger and thumb. Pulling it clear she bundled it up before shoving it in her school bag.
It was only after she was sat in the passenger seat of her Dad's station wagon that she realized what she'd just done, which was steal Quinn's dirty towel. If anyone had seen her . . . ! She felt both guilty and anxious and thrilled about the risk she had taken and the combination made her feel slightly sick.
What if she was wrong? What if this afternoon hadn't been the start of something good but the prelude to something bad? What if she was being lulled into a false sense of security? What if Quinn's apparent niceness was simply subterfuge for another nasty prank? It would be true to form and Rachel hadn't forgotten how easily she had fallen for the "Sweetie, we're a team now" just a few weeks ago that had led to the almost-spirit crushing experience that had been Dakota Stanley.
What if this was like that . . . only personal? Rachel had admitted to kissing her boyfriend after all and from what she knew Quinn didn't take such offenses lightly and she already thought she had her ammo . . .
And she knew from experience that once it was out there no one would care if it was actually true or not.
She looked down at her bulging bag like it held a ticking time bomb and cringed slightly.
Of course, stealing Quinn's towel wouldn't help her fight her case either.
Perhaps she was being needlessly pessimistic though. There was every chance Quinn's friendliness just now had been genuine. Why shouldn't she hang on to that at least until it had been proven otherwise? There was no inappropriate crush and surely the cheerleader knew that deep down, and if not it was up to Rachel to prove it to her by showing nothing but a platonically friendly front.
Although, she had to admit to herself, if she could stop seeing Quinn naked that would be so much easier to do.
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