Title: Tripping on Stepping Stones (Falling with Grace)
Pairing: Quinn Fabray/Rachel Berry
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Just having a little fun.
Summary: 5 years apart, Quinn, at 15, had already known Rachel for a very integral part of her life. So falling in love with her just made sense. If only for Rachel it was that easy.
A/N: The age difference between Quinn and Rachel is significant in the beginning, and if that understandably makes anyone uncomfortable, please don't read.
Rachel knocked unassumingly on the mahogany door to an expensive house on a side of town she had never even visited. Lima wasn't known for its social scene, but what she was rapidly discovering, as she turned around to once more survey the neighborhood full of two-story homes, was that Lima had an underbelly of socialites, the likes of which she never had the opportunity to rub shoulders with.
But how she wanted to.
The door swung open to reveal a sturdy man. He was of average height with a round belly and keen eyes. His hair was the color of a daffodil that had faded from too much sun. But there was nothing daffodil in nature about the man before her. Rachel swallowed at the sight of his imposing figure and clutched her school bag tighter. "Hello…Mr. Fabray."
At the greeting, he smiled, politely, uninvitingly. "Hello. My wife already handpicks all the charities I give out to a year, and we've already divvied up a fortune giving back. So I'm afraid I have nothing to give you—"
"No, umm—" Cheeks flushing scarlet in embarrassment, Rachel hung her head. "Actually, I'm—I'm here to tutor Francine. Rachel—Rachel Berry."
Russell Fabray at least had the decency to look ashamed as he scooted to one side of the doorway. "Oh, forgive me, child! Come right in!"
Nodding, Rachel slid around his belly and into the house. Russell closed the door behind him and ushered her along. "We get so many solicitors a week, I figure I may as well start beating them to the punch. Forgive me, dear."
Rachel attempted to follow along with his long, quick strides. "It's quite all right, Mr. Fabray."
"Excellent. Dear, your friend is here!" he called up a flight of stairs once they reached the living room. And if Rachel thought their house was massive on the outside…
The living room had an obscenely high ceiling with a long, flat screen TV plopped in the middle and an even longer burgundy couch along the wall. Sitting in the middle of the couch was a little girl with brilliant yellow hair that reminded Rachel of sunrises. She wore a yellow sundress and a pair of white patent leather shoes. They clicked against one another as the girl swung her feet, nose buried inside a book.
For the first time since her arrival, Rachel smiled.
Her attention was dragged to an exasperated sigh coming from the top of the stairs. "I'm coming, daddy!"
Rachel winced at the loud thumping of one Francine Fabray stomping down the hallway. She arrived at the staircase and slid her eyes over Russell then Rachel. "Oh, great, the bookworm's here."
From the living room, the little girl's head popped up. "Hmm?"
Frannie laughed cutely at her little sister. "Not you, Quinnie—for once."
The little girl's eyes slid from her sister to Rachel, and Rachel noticed about the exact same time that the little girl took a finger and pushed the frames higher on her face. She wore glasses. Rachel's smile grew impossibly wider. She was quite fond of children, and this particular one couldn't be any cuter if she tried. The little girl hopped up from the couch, and Rachel gave her full attention once it was obvious she was striding over to her.
It became clearer and clearer the closer the girl got that perhaps she wasn't as little as Rachel had thought. The girl came to rest in front of her and, embarrassingly, their height difference was hardly any different at all.
She had her father's eyes, was the first thing Rachel noticed. They were just as sharp and observant behind a pair of glasses black-rimmed. However, her eyes were much prettier, a light shade of hazel with olive undertones—a pair of eyes Rachel had seen nothing like before. It was unfair that a kid had eyes that striking.
She opened her mouth in greeting, but the girl beat her to the punch. "Who are you?"
Russell nearly choked on his own tongue. "Quinn Fabray. What have I told you about manners?"
But Rachel could only continue to look at her. She had never seen a child with such a serious disposition. Children were meant to be playing outside, yet this child—this Quinn—was inside, in a dress with her nose in a book. She was peculiar.
Rachel recovered from the shock with a clearing of her throat and an outstretched hand. "I'm Rachel Berry. And you are?"
Quinn glanced down at the hand being extended to her, and Rachel marveled at how distrustful she looked. "Quinn." Then Quinn took her hand.
Rachel shook it with a broad grin. "It's nice to meet you, Quinn. How old are you?"
At this, Quinn tensed and removed her hand. Her eyebrows knitted, and with pursed lips she muttered, "Ten."
Rachel tried not to smile at her dour expression. "Ten's a good year," she attempted.
Russell barked out a laugh and looked at the staircase to Frannie. "I like this gal."
"How old are you?" Quinn grumbled with the same sour expression on her face.
"I am fifteen."
Rachel smiled. She reached out to playfully tug a long lock of blonde hair. "You'll get there."
Quinn flinched under the touch, and Rachel quickly retracted her hand with an alarmed expression. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I'm too affectionate for my own good."
Quinn said nothing as she continued to survey Rachel.
Frannie meandered down the staircase. "Ignore her. She's always been a grumpy child. Let's go."
Quinn frowned at her sister's back as Rachel followed Frannie toward the dining room. "I am not!"
The dining room had an old charm to it with a high ceiling and not just one, but three beautiful chandeliers smartly hanging out of reach. The table was a beautiful mahogany masterpiece that stretched the length of the room, easily accommodating a family three times the size of the Fabrays.
Rachel ran her hand across the smooth wood as her eyes mapped the floral wall paper along the walls of the room. The elegance of this particular room spoke volumes about the family.
A very pointed clearing of the throat caught her attention, and Rachel turned to find Frannie sitting at the head of the table, watching Rachel unassumingly.
Rachel tugged self-consciously at her school bag. "Forgive me for staring. It's just…you have a lovely home."
Frannie waved it off. "Don't worry about it. And thanks." She glanced around the room. "For all the money my father puts into this place, I guess it should look good. Now—are you gonna help me pass this damn history test, or what?"
Rachel nodded as if just remembering she came here for an actual reason. "Government, right. Shall we begin?"
The next time Rachel saw Quinn was when she again came over to help Frannie study for another history exam. Quinn opened the door this time instead of her father. Dressed in a white dress with red and blue polka dots, she looked like the quintessential all American girl.
Rachel smiled in amusement. "Is it the fourth of July already?"
Quinn quirked two thin eyebrows up at Rachel. "Huh?"
"Nothing." Rachel's smile turned warm. "You certainly look adorable. I love your dress."
At that, Quinn frowned deeply, though Rachel noticed the tiny blush coating her cheeks. "I'm not adorable," was grumbled with barely contained petulance.
Rachel filed that little fact away. Quinn didn't like to be called adorable. Self-esteem was a very fragile aspect of oneself, Rachel knew. After all, high school wasn't exactly the kindest to her at this moment in her life.
"Hey." When Quinn looked up at her, Rachel smiled. "Forgive me? I, in no way, meant ill will toward you by my comment. A-actually it was supposed to be a compliment, but if you don't like to be called adorable, I certainly won't do it again."
Quinn's hand remained firmly grasped around the door as if at any moment she was going to slam it. Her lips balled, creating tiny wrinkles around her mouth. Then she popped them loose and shrugged. "Okay." She stepped aside. "Come in already."
"Impeccable manners," Rachel muttered to herself as she stepped into the house.
They walked side by side through the house, bypassing the kitchen when Quinn asked, "Are you smarter than my sister?"
Yes almost left her mouth, but Rachel had just enough time to catch herself. "It's not that simple," she promised, despite the glaringly obvious. Even with tutoring, Frannie still situated herself just behind Rachel for every test, for reasons Rachel was pretty sure she could guess.
"Yes, it is," Quinn countered flatly. She came to an abrupt stop in the dining room, and Rachel followed suit. "You're tutoring her."
"Yes…" she conceded. The feeling she was walking into a trap crept upon her suddenly.
"Then you know something she doesn't. Therefore, you're smarter," Quinn concluded.
Quinn saw things in black and white, as most children did, Rachel noted. Still, she was amused, if a little flattered. She made a show of miming zipping her lips and throwing away the key.
Quinn giggled, an entirely giddy sound that Rachel found endearing.
Silence elapsed between them, and when Rachel was certain Quinn had no more questions, she began to walk toward the hallway leading to the living room and staircase. "Pardon me, Quinn. But I must go help your sister now."
Rachel paused in her steps and turned to find Quinn looking positively flustered. She was fidgeting with her fingers as she slowly advanced on Rachel. "Yes, Quinn?"
"Umm…" For the first time, Rachel saw Quinn falter. She had so much bravado and confidence for a little girl, that this waver in her usually strong characteristics felt so misplaced. But it would be the first of many times Quinn's confidence would falter in the face of Rachel. "Do you know how to do long division?"
Call it an ego boost, but Rachel wasn't blind to the hero worship that was beginning to form. After all, children tended to take a liking to her. Her fathers joked it was because she was closer to children in height than the general adolescent and adult population, but Rachel preferred to think it was because children could tell that she was special, even if popular girls like, well, Quinn's sister, could not. Out of the mouths of babes, after all…
Still… "Oh, Quinn…honey…" Rachel lamented.
"It's been a really long time since I've learned that. It's been maybe—"
Rachel chuckled a bit. "Yes, I suppose five years is accurate, huh?"
"Q, is Rachel here yet, or what?"
Quinn rolled her eyes and began to walk away. "I'll see you around."
Rachel turned to watch Quinn scamper off downstairs at the same time Frannie descended to greet her. Bemusement furrowing her brow, Frannie glanced downstairs to where Quinn was sitting beside Russell and Judy on the couch then back to Rachel. "Did she—"
"It's fine," Rachel insisted with a wave of her hand. "She's quite charming, actually."
Frannie laughed and grabbed a seat at the dining room table. "My sister is a lot of things—weird, too quiet for her own good, a nerd. But charming isn't one of those things."
Rachel hadn't grown up with a sister, or a sibling at all for that matter, and didn't understand the often tumultuous relationship one could have with someone who shared their own blood. Frannie and Quinn's relationship confused her to no end, but it was something she felt she should leave alone.
Instead, she reached into her school bag for her books to begin tutoring Frannie.
Rachel was a star in the making, which was exciting in its own right. But like most budding stars with career driven tunnel vision…she was unpopular.
And as much as she hated to admit it, it got to her.
She clutched her books close to her chest and flicked a lock of hair over her shoulder to appear confident as she walked down the hallway. She wasn't blind or deaf. She saw the way students glared at her mockingly, and whispered cruel things behind her back. Or worse yet, had the nerve to say them to her face.
Toward the end of the hallway came Frannie Fabray, strutting with two Cheerios flanking her. Rachel shuffled aside and leaned against the hallway with a wistful sigh. She would have given anything to be as cool as Frannie. It astounded her that just a few days ago Rachel was in the Fabray house, tutoring Frannie. They had shared laughs in between the awkward silences—she had been in Frannie's house, which was probably more than the two Cheerios beside her could say. Yet as Frannie walked past Rachel without a flicker of recognition, Rachel may as well have been a fly on the wall.
Aside from bigotry, and the fact that her fathers couldn't legally marry, high school politics were among the subjects that infuriated Rachel most. Still, she had three more years left, and had to settle in for the long haul. So she closed her eyes, and squared her shoulders as she tried her best to tap into the in control, aloof Broadway star she would be one day. Opening her eyes, Rachel strutted forward.
And got a slushie thrown in her face.
The school day had ended, and Rachel closed her locker and was heading toward the exit when she saw Frannie Fabray standing directly in front of her. Clutching her books tighter in distrust, Rachel's eyes narrowed in hurt and suspicion. "Oh, so you know me now?"
Frannie sighed. "Look, Rachel, don't make this a thing."
"Let me guess," Rachel continued. "You need me to tutor you again because you have another test."
Frannie rubbed at the back of her neck. "They keep sneaking up on me," she admitted.
"The tests are bi-weekly," Rachel retorted. "And listed on the syllabus."
"All of which are beside the point." Frannie sighed, stepping closer. "Look…please?"
She looked like an older version of Quinn, especially so when she pouted, which may have swayed Rachel's decision just a tad. What really swayed her decision, however, was Frannie's popularity and the power that lay behind it. "I'll tutor you," Rachel allowed.
Frannie grinned. "Awesome."
"If, and only if, you keep those pig-headed Neanderthals from throwing slushies at me."
She frowned at the request. "I can't—"
"We both know it's well within your power to do this, Frannie."
Growling, Frannie muttered the word fine, then stomped away. "Tonight!" she tossed over her shoulder.
With the hit taken off Rachel, and thus the social pressure looming over them, Rachel and Frannie were able to foster a bit of a friendship over the school year. They didn't talk much in the hallways, but whereas before Frannie wouldn't even look in Rachel's direction, now she would smile and wave when they passed each other in the hallways.
And Rachel visited the Fabray house more often for reasons other than helping Frannie study for exams. They hung out and watched movies, went to the mall, and were, generally, friends.
Hanging out at the Fabray house, Rachel had to admit, was one of her favorites. She had been a very outgoing child, so growing up without siblings had been an overall lonely experience. At the Fabrays, Rachel felt like she had sisters in Frannie and Quinn. Quinn was the moody younger sister who was growing to like Rachel despite herself and Rachel got to shower her with endless affection. And Frannie, though they were the same age, had always seemed older, more sophisticated, and Rachel was more than happy to learn how to be cooler from her.
"Stop it, Francine!"
Frannie snickered and threw another popcorn kernel at Quinn.
The only difficult moments came when the sisters were fighting, because both wanted Rachel to take their side.
"Rachel, tell her to stop!" Quinn whined.
"Pay your dues, scrub," Frannie laughed.
Despite how lighthearted the situation was, Rachel couldn't help the way her heart broke for Quinn in those moments. A victim of bullying herself sometimes at the expense of the very same girl, Rachel knew how Quinn must have felt in those moments.
"May I have the popcorn, please?" Rachel asked in a saccharine voice.
Frannie huffed in displeasure but handed the bowl of popcorn to Rachel. "You're only doing this to spare her." Frannie folded her arms across her chest.
"Not so. I simply enjoy the buttery goodness." Rachel glanced at Quinn from the corner of her eye and winked.
Sitting in her husband's lazy chair across the room, Judy smiled at the scene that had unfolded.
Once the movie was over, Rachel bid farewell to the three Fabray women and began walking out of the living room.
Judy stood to follow behind her. "I'll walk you out."
The walked to the door in silence, and Rachel spun around to thank Judy for allowing her over as she always did.
"Oh, it's no problem, dear. You're a delight." Judy smiled. "I was actually wondering—summer is coming up, and Quinn won't have school. Frannie is going to be at cheer camp, and Quinn is too young to stay home alone while Russell is at work and I run errands. I was wondering if you'd like to babysit. We'd pay you, of course."
Rachel's eyes glistened with delight. "I'd love to! Quinn is such a great kid," she gushed. "I'll absolutely babysit."
Several feet away, leaning against the doorway of the living room, Quinn smiled.
The summer was hot enough to drive even Quinn Fabray out of the house. Her parents had left money for her and even Rachel to do what they wanted, and Quinn wanted nothing more than to go ice skating.
"Have you ever been before?"
Quinn vehemently shook her head.
Rachel giggled. She couldn't yet drive legally, and relied on her father working his schedule around her and Quinn to drive them to the skating rink. LeRoy was a dentist who still donned his white coat, winding through the streets of Lima in between appointments while his daughter talked to Quinn in between belting notes on Lima's musical radio station.
"Well, you know, Quinn, I hear the trick is to use the buckets," LeRoy interrupted the pair with a teasing grin.
In the back seat, Quinn's head tilted. "Buckets?"
Rachel nodded at the sage advice. "At skating rinks, they have buckets that you can skate around with to assist with balance."
Quinn's face crinkled at the description. "Sounds like that's for babies."
Rachel rolled her eyes. Nothing made Quinn feel more insecure than her age. And with Rachel being five years older, and LeRoy practically four times her age, Quinn felt like a baby, relegated to the backseat for safety.
Rachel turned in her seat to lock eyes with Quinn. "Don't worry," she coaxed. "If you don't want to use the bucket then you can hold my hand instead. That way if you fall, we fall together."
Quinn's heart thudded in her chest at the promise that lay behind Rachel's words. A promise that made her feel safe and looked after for probably the first time in her young life. She turned toward the window to conceal her lips quivering in threat of a smile.
As it turned out, Quinn was a natural on the ice. Within the first hour, she had separated from Rachel, her arms windmilling as she skated around the rink. Rachel followed behind her, only slightly more coordinated. She was able to skate with her hands behind her back, which she considered an accomplishment in its own right.
"How do you like it?"
Quinn looked over at Rachel who had settled at her side. Losing balance, Quinn lurched forward, threatening to teeter over when Rachel grabbed her hand. The pair wobbled as Rachel attempted to save them, then fell on the ice.
Quinn laughed, an angelic sound that warmed Rachel's heart as she stood up, and reached down to help Quinn. Quinn dusted ice off the jeans Rachel made her wear. She didn't own many pairs, but these were her favorite because of the bedazzled pockets. And as an avid fan of all things bedazzled, Rachel liked them as well, had even picked them out. "It's great!" Quinn informed her. "Besides all the falling."
Amused, Rachel agreed. "Yes, well, I've yet to meet anyone who likes falling."
Quinn giggled. "You're funny. And weird."
Rachel sighed at the compliment, but forced a smile. Even a ten year old child could tell she was weird, which didn't bode well for her self-esteem.
But perhaps Quinn, too, was a little weird. She had a knack for reading people well beyond her age. And the second Rachel's mood shifted, Quinn could tell. "I like you," she felt the need to add.
When Rachel looked at her, Quinn sped away. Rachel watched after her in alarm. "Quinn, honey, no!"
Quinn sat at the dining room table with a sullen expression on her face while her parents spoke with Rachel in the kitchen. It had already been decided by Rachel once they got home, that she would take the blame for Quinn's broken glasses. But Quinn still felt guilty. She was the one who sped off and fell, she was the one who decided she was too grown up to use the buckets, she was the sole reason her glasses were broken.
And now her parents were likely in the kitchen with mean expressions on their faces, whisper-yelling at Rachel about how expensive the glasses were and how irresponsible she had been to allow Quinn to break them. And if Rachel were to get fired…
A lone tear trekked down Quinn's face. She didn't want Rachel to get fired. Rachel was kind of the best person ever. She was nice and well-mannered, and used words like magnanimous that exponentially expanded Quinn's vocabulary. She sniffled and wiped a tear, glaring holes through the table.
It wasn't fair. Rachel was the best friend Quinn had ever had. And she had managed to get Quinn out of the house for once. Their summer together had only just begun, and if Quinn had to spend the rest of the summer blind, running into objects, and falling down the stairs, it would be worth it to have Rachel as her babysitter.
"Hey there, kiddo."
Quinn looked up. Through blurry eyes, she saw a smiling face framed by dark hair. "Rachel!" Before she could think better of it, Quinn was out of her chair with her arms wrapped around a thin waist and her face buried in Rachel's neck.
Puzzled, but never one to turn down a hug, Rachel wrapped Quinn up in her arms and gave a small squeeze. "Is everything all right?"
Quinn pulled back, avoiding eye contact as she wiped her eyes. "What did they say?" Woefully, she met Rachel's eyes once again. "Were they mean?"
"They told her that it was completely understandable. And we'd get you another pair this weekend."
Glancing over Rachel's shoulder, Quinn squinted to find her parents in the doorway adjoining the kitchen and dining room. "So Rachel can stay?"
"You thought I had been fired?" Rachel asked with an incredulous tone. "Oh, sweetheart." She hugged Quinn once more. "We have the whole summer together!"
Quinn's throat bobbed with a tight swallow as more tears sprang to her eyes. She willed them away, and hugged Rachel tighter.
Rachel found she wasn't ready for the next school year. Her summer had been fun. Sure, she often missed the company of Frannie, someone her age, but she had spent the summer learning that Quinn was wise beyond her age. And like a sponge, she soaked up whatever knowledge Rachel imparted on her. It made Rachel feel important to someone other than her fathers. And sure it may have been pathetic given the fact that Quinn was only eleven, but Rachel didn't care.
She especially didn't care on the first day of school when she was once again reduced to the bottom of the social pyramid, much preferring Quinn's company to that of her peers.
But a shining moment of potential caught her eye despite her contempt for high school. There, tacked to a bulletin board in the hallway, was a sign-up sheet for a glee club at McKinley High. Rachel smiled impossibly wide. A glee club was just the kind of thing she needed to anchor her to school and keep her from writing in her memoirs one day that like many successful actresses, school just wasn't for her. She grabbed the pencil attached to the sign-up sheet and signed her name, placing a small golden star beside it.
She turned, and immediately felt the ice cold sting of slushie against her face.
Rachel's mouth opened in a gasp at the sound of Frannie's voice.
"What the hell are you doing?" Frannie didn't give the bumbling, oversized football player a chance to reply. "Get out of here!"
Wiping slush from her eye, Rachel peered up at Frannie now standing before her. Trepidation raced down her spine at the sight of her. Then Frannie smiled and grabbed Rachel's arm. "Let's get you cleaned up."
Glee was amazing.
And it always left Rachel feeling, well, gleeful. Sure, there were challenges that came with being the most talented and, subsequently, glee club captain. But it was a challenge Rachel was willing to face. Besides, glee afforded her other school friends besides Frannie, such as Kurt Hummel, and Mercedes Jones.
She found her schedule opening up, and she divided her time between Kurt and Mercedes and Frannie and Quinn as best as she could.
Midway through sophomore year, Rachel had even caught the attention of the most popular boy in school, quarterback Finn Hudson. He was a giant, towering over her by a full foot, with a heart of gold. He had joined glee club months ago for reasons Rachel was a little fuzzy on, but that didn't matter. What mattered to her, very much so, was his star quality. He was leading man potential, and most importantly, didn't try to out shine her. He was more than happy to co-captain the glee club with her with the understanding that she was still the one in charge.
After encouragement from Frannie who insisted she wanted nothing to do with Finn, he and Rachel began dating.
It was around this time that Rachel had begun to notice a change in Quinn. They had grown closer over the year until she started dating Finn. Then Quinn began to withdraw. Rachel began to see her moody side, a side Quinn had normally reserved for Frannie.
Rachel knocked on Quinn's door lightly. "May I come in?"
She heard a barely there, muffled voice gruffly reply, "Yeah."
She walked in to find Quinn lying on her bed with a book in her hand. She had a new pair of glasses now that framed her face cutely, and Rachel smiled when Quinn glanced over at her. "What are you reading?"
Quinn returned to her book. "Lord of the Flies."
Rachel approached the bed and sat beside Quinn. "Isn't that book a little too advanced for you?"
"I'm advanced, Rachel," Quinn drawled for the hundredth time. A blessing and a curse. Being smart didn't afford her many friends, but her parents assured her that if she kept it up, a very prestigious college would be looking her way one day.
"Quinn, I was wondering if we could talk."
Quinn sighed audibly. She placed her bookmark between the pages she was reading and closed her book. "What is it?" she asked as she sat up.
Rachel bit her lip, wondering if she should broach the topic at all. Maybe she was reading into things, and this was all just a coinci—
"Why are you dating Finn?"
The question was asked so forthright with a hint of sadness that Rachel felt a pang in her chest. "Oh, sweetheart," she lamented. She scooted closer to Quinn as she searched for an answer. "Finn is a very nice boy," she attempted to assure. "And he-he likes me."
"I like you," Quinn answered reflexively, meeting Rachel's eyes. She shrugged. "Probably more than he does."
Rachel swallowed. This was…unfamiliar territory for Quinn. Having spent a year and a half seeing the fairer sex in various states of undress, Rachel was sure she was somewhere in the middle on the Kinsey Scale. Quinn, however, had never expressed interest in boys…or anyone.
She was just a child.
So when she looked Rachel dead in the eye and professed her like, Rachel forced a smile because the implications of liking someone at sixteen were vastly different than the implications of liking someone at eleven.
Comforted by the thought that Quinn was simply expressing friendly fondness for her and not some romantic love that she was entirely too young for, Rachel surged forward and wrapped Quinn in her arms. "And I like you, too, Quinn. I do. You're extremely special to me, okay?"
She pulled away and affectionately ran her fingers through Quinn's long hair while Quinn nodded.
"I don't want you to ever think that Finn could come between us, because he can't. No one can."
Quinn dropped her gaze. She was growing like a weed with gangly legs hanging off the bed, and her socked foot dug into the carpet of her floors. "Promise?"
Rachel gingerly grasped her chin and made Quinn look at her. "I promise, sweetheart. You'll always be like a little sister to me, okay?"
At that, Quinn grinned. "Okay."
Rachel and Finn lasted on an off for her high school career, but that was it. In fact, they ended around the same time Rachel's dreams did. Ever since she was six years old, Rachel had dreamed of attending the New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts where they groomed stunning young ingénues such as herself. Be that as it may, NYADA was more expensive than her parents could afford in their wildest dreams, and Rachel truly didn't have the heart to pull the spoiled brat card and leave them in mounds of debt.
Having been confident in her attendance at NYADA, Rachel had only applied to one more school. And when fall rolled around, she would be attending Ohio State with Frannie.
"What's Finn doing?" Frannie asked.
The pair were in the backyard of the Fabray house, on the new porch swing Russell had gotten installed. It was a warm June evening, a full month after Quinn's thirteenth birthday. It still blew Rachel's mind that Quinn was now a teenager.
She sighed at the question that pulled her out of her thoughts. "He is now in the military, and will be stationed…who knows where." Her voice was uncharacteristically bitter, and Frannie turned toward her.
"Who broke up with who?"
"I did," was all Rachel said.
"Because I—I already feel stuck, staying in Ohio for the next four years, New York being so far away. And being with Finn felt like…a constant reminder that all of my work in high school was for nothing, that every good grade, and every glee club competition won was all for naught. That I'll likely end up a choir instructor like Mr. Schue."
"And that's so bad?"
"I had bigger plans for myself."
Frannie fidgeted in discomfort. She had never seen Rachel so morose. "So I was thinking…" she started, hoping to change the subject. "Since we're both going to State, and we're already friends…wanna be roommates?"
For the first time all evening, Rachel cracked a smile. "I think I'd like that."
"Mom, dad, I want contacts."
The summer before her freshman year of high school saw a very new Quinn. She had grown to about five-foot-six, put away her glasses for a pair of clear contacts, and had a very different frame of mind than just four years ago.
Popularity was the name of the game now. She was Frannie's successor and thus had to fill her shoes. If anyone was going to be captain of the Cheerios, it was going to be Quinn.
She strutted into school on the very first day in a flowy summer dress, hands on her hips. Being the recluse bookworm got her nowhere from elementary through middle school. It was time to reinvent her image, and she was going to do just that.
She didn't bother visiting Frannie and Rachel until she had the Cheerio uniform to prove to Frannie that she was following in her footsteps. Now, donned in her red, white, and black uniform, Quinn stepped out of her car with sneakered feet to find Rachel practically skipping toward her.
Quinn took in the sight of her with bulging eyes.
She had never seen Rachel wear anything other than skirts and dresses, so the pair of brown, neatly pressed shorts adorning her lower half threw Quinn for a loop. Her legs had always been long, but as she strutted over in a pair of heels Quinn had never seen before, they looked far more toned than they ever had.
"Hi, Quinn!" Rachel greeted with a small wave, dashing the rest of the distance to come to a full stop in front of Quinn. She leaned down to wave at Russell in the driver's seat. "Hi, Mr. Fabray!"
Russell waved with a friendly smile. "Hi, dear!" He opened the car door and stepped out to give Rachel a hug. "Where's Frannie?"
"She's in class. If you'd like to stay, she should be out within the hour."
Russell waved his hand. "Oh, that won't be necessary. Tell her I said hello!"
"I absolutely will!"
"I'll see you on Sunday, Quinn."
"Yeah, bye, dad," Quinn replied, distracted. She couldn't take her eyes off Rachel. In her heels they were nearly the same height, and Quinn took in the smoky eyes before her in wonder. "I—wow, you…" Quinn felt the back of her neck grow hot as she continued to scrutinize Rachel from head to toe. "A lot's changed," she finally settled on.
Rachel smiled, dazzlingly, with a hint of rouge on her mouth that caught Quinn's eye. Then, bashfully, she lowered her head, assessing what she was wearing. "Is it too much?"
"No-no," Quinn assured a little too quickly. When Rachel looked back up at her, she smiled. "Just different. But—you look great."
It was said with such shyness, that Quinn was instantly able to recognize the woman before her again. Externally, Rachel seemed to have transitioned from cute kid to adult, but internally she still seemed to be the same girl Quinn had met at age ten, and grown to like.
"Yeah," Quinn assured. "Like, really pretty."
Rachel squealed and lunged forward to wrap her arms around Quinn's neck. "Coming from the prettiest girl I know, that means a lot." She pulled back with a playful wink then linked her arm with Quinn's. "Come on! I'll show you around."
They toured the campus for about an hour then made their way back to the dorm both Rachel and Frannie cohabited. Quinn took in the sight of the dorm with wide eyes. She instantly dropped her overnight bag to walk about the apartment. "Wow, this is amazing. You guys get to live here? Like, seriously?"
Rachel smiled at Quinn's awe. She took a seat on the couch in the common space as Quinn bypassed the small kitchen toward the two bedrooms. "Yes, it's pretty impressive, huh? I think your father may have something to do with this."
Quinn huffed out a laugh as she walked back through the apartment to join Rachel in the common space. "He probably did. I hope I get something this nice when I go to college."
At that, Rachel's smile faltered. Quinn was probably going to an Ivy League school given her grades and her father's affluence. She was going to soar far beyond Lima, Ohio, far beyond Rachel. "I'm sure he will," was all she said.
Oblivious, Quinn walked toward the couch and plopped down beside Rachel. She surveyed her face once more with wonder and intrigue. "So, the make-up…"
Rachel laughed and self-consciously tugged at her hair. "You hate it."
Quinn shook her head. "No, it looks great." Her head tilted. "Really great, actually. It suits you. I just didn't think you'd ever go for the dark, smoky look."
Rachel looked away, staring down at her fidgeting hands. "I wanted to try something new," she mumbled.
Sensing Rachel's growing discomfort, Quinn scooted closer. She reached out to clasp Rachel's hand before she thought better of it. Quinn wasn't one for physical affection by any stretch of the imagination, but if it was one thing she had learned over the past four years, it was that Rachel was. And every once in a while, she could put away her own hang-ups regarding physical affection to comfort her friend. "What's wrong?" she asked lowly. "Are people here bullying you, too?"
There was a hint of a threat in Quinn's voice that was entirely new to Rachel. She looked up at Quinn to find determined hazel eyes boring into her own. She had never seen this Quinn, fierce and in control. And it startled her as much as it intrigued her. "No, no, it's not that," she assured with a hint of a smile. "I just—I have a dance instructor who's just…" Rachel laughed humorlessly, "kind of a bitch. And she's really about promoting an image, so—"
"But this isn't you," Quinn pointed out.
"But I like this," Rachel insisted, imploring Quinn to understand. "I feel…pretty for the first time in my life, Quinn. And-and boys look at me now. I mean, I—Rachel Berry—turn heads on the way to class. I never thought it'd be like this."
Quinn's eyes narrowed as she looked away. As a kid she had picked up on little cues regarding Rachel's insecurities, but she had never imagined it had been that bad. Listening to her talk now just kind of broke her heart. She bit the corner of her lip. "Are you sure you like it?"
Rachel beamed at her. "It's just make-up, Quinn." She reached up to run her thumb across the blush on Quinn's cheekbone. "You wear make-up."
Quinn's jaw clenched at the feather light touch. "But I have to for the Cheerios," she defended.
"And I have to for dance."
Quinn sighed. "I just—" Her gaze dropped to their clasped hands, and her grip around Rachel's tightened. "I just don't want you to feel like you have to change. For anyone. Because I—I like you for who you are, Rachel."
Rachel looked positively touched. "Oh, sweetheart." She grasped Quinn's hand tighter, and scooted that much closer. "Thank you, really. It's nice to always know that no matter how tattered I look, at least the prettiest girl in the world will still like me."
Quinn groaned in embarrassment and pulled away all together. "Where did the prettiest girl thing come from?"
Rachel chuckled. "It's true! Frannie's been showing pictures of how you've matured, and you're truly growing into a beautiful young woman, Quinn. I mean that."
"Thanks," Quinn grumbled, cheeks tinged red.
Rachel hiked her legs onto the couch and tucked them under her to face Quinn. "Now, tell me about this," she said, gesturing toward Quinn's uniform.
Quinn glanced down at her Cheerios uniform with a little shrug. "I made the team."
Rachel grinned. "So I've noticed. How do you like it?"
"It's great. I like the structure, the drive everyone has. Sue is absolutely crazy, though."
"I can't imagine how you do it."
Quinn smiled smugly. "It's a Fabray thing."
Rachel giggled at the sight. "Oh, please! So I assume you're going for captain?"
Quinn nodded. "Absolutely. I plan on proving myself this year, and going the extra mile at cheer camp this summer. And if everything works out, I'll have Frannie's former position."
Rachel shook her head in awe. "You Fabrays are something else." She continued to gaze at Quinn, then her eyes widened as if something had just clicked. "Where are your glasses?"
Shyly, Quinn looked away. "Uh, I got rid of them actually," she answered. "I figured if I was gonna cheer, I couldn't do so with them. So I asked my parents for contacts."
It wasn't a complete lie. Quinn doubted her glasses could survive her being tossed into the air multiple times. At some point they would have slipped off, and contacts were just the more practical decision.
But that wasn't the sole reason why she had chosen contacts. And after giving Rachel a firm speech about being who she is, Quinn felt like a giant hypocrite. "So, umm, how's college?" she asked in an attempt to change the subject.
Rachel settled more into the couch. "Freeing," she sighed. "Something about being out here on my own agrees with me. But still…" Her lips pursed in thought.
A shrug. "I just thought I'd be in New York right now, that's all. And a large piece of me is out there somewhere, on a stage. I'm just kind of going through the motions here."
Quinn forced an encouraging smile. "You can still get to the stage, Rachel. This is just like, a detour."
"I hope so."
They heard a key in the door, and both Rachel and Quinn turned to find Frannie walking through the door. At the sight of her little sister, Frannie dropped all her books and sprinted across the common space. "Baby sister!"
The pair, who looked more like twins by the day now that Quinn was taller, hugged in the middle of the room, and Rachel couldn't help but smile. They had given each other such a hard time when they were younger, but when Frannie moved out to attend college, it all seemed to change within a blink of an eye. They didn't talk often. Rachel couldn't imagine many Fabrays did. But they were the closest pair of siblings Rachel had ever seen.
"Look at you!" Frannie gushed. She wiggled her finger around in a circle, and Quinn rolled her eyes as she gave a twirl. "Wow." Frannie's eyes sparkled as she gazed at Quinn. "I can't believe you actually did it."
Quinn grimaced. "I said I would."
"Oh, no, I know. It's just—you were such a bookworm that I doubted you'd ever go outside long enough to learn a cheer."
Quinn folded her arms across her chest. "Yeah, well, things change, you know."
Bemused, Rachel glanced between the two of them as they began to bicker. Or so she had thought things had changed.
Quinn spent the entire weekend with Frannie and Rachel, mostly Rachel since Frannie seemed to have an exceptional social life. They spent hours on the couch in the common space watching Netflix movies, and the pilots of random shows, some Rachel would continue to watch after Quinn was gone, and some that both simply hated. Rachel would rest her head on Quinn's shoulder and Quinn would fidget quietly until Rachel would have to ask if she were all right.
It wasn't until her sophomore year of high school when Quinn realized that her feelings for Rachel fell into the more than friendly category. It was around the same time she became captain of the Cheerios and, subsequently, the most popular girl in school. With the pressure to fit in as well as very Christian ideals from her parents and the chastity ball looming over her head, Quinn felt the best she could do was put her feelings to the side. Besides, Rachel was away at Ohio State. They texted nearly every day, but hardly saw each other. It would be easy, keeping her feelings a secret.
In a weird way it made sense. Rachel was the nicest person Quinn had ever met, and Quinn had always been fond of her. And when she thought of anyone she wouldn't mind spending a significant chunk of her time with, Rachel was the only person that came to mind.
And then out of nowhere Rachel had just gotten so…hot. Granted, she had always been pretty in Quinn's eyes, but something about growing up and going to college agreed with Rachel in a big way. It made Quinn nervous to even be in her presence half the time. Which was just—
When Noah Puckerman asked her out, Quinn jumped at the chance. Anything to feel normal again. The past year she had spent not being a social outcast was the best year of her life. Come hell or high water, she was not going back by proclaiming some big lesbian love.
Ohio State wasn't as bad as Rachel had painted it out to be in her mind. Something about higher education seemed to attract the open minded, and for once she felt at home regarding her ideals on gay rights, and she was really beginning to get into feminist rhetoric.
But what drew her in most was the theater department because, it was no NYADA, but it certainly had a lot to teach her. Her junior year of college she received the lead in Grease, which was just lovely. She would practice night and day to ensure that she did Olivia Newton John justice.
Rachel shook his hand with a smile. Gabriel was a tall boy with black hair, playing opposite her, bad boy Danny Zuko. He had slender hips like a young John Travolta and a sly smile. The pair had little time to greet each other, thrown into a test scene to gauge their chemistry as soon as they were told they got the part. "I'm Rachel Berry," she greeted after the scene.
"Oh, I know." Gabriel flashed a confident grin. "I've heard great things about the illustrious Rachel Berry. Quite the talent."
She blushed with a demure tilt of her head. No one aside from her fathers and Quinn had called her talented before. To hear from a complete stranger that not only was she talented, but that other people had been talking about how talented she was proved to be a heady feeling.
"All right, guys, from the top!"
Like Finn Hudson, Rachel saw leading man potential in Gabriel and, after a four month stint performing Grease, the pair began to date. Above all else what Rachel liked about Gabriel was how much he validated her. He was never afraid to tell her how amazing she was, something even Finn had a hard time with sometimes. But Gabriel liked her, and Rachel liked the way he complimented her. And that was enough.
Once Quinn caught wind that Rachel was dating, she was decidedly uninterested in driving up to State the third weekend in January to visit the way she said she would. Besides, it was snowing, which was the excuse she had texted Frannie, then subsequently Rachel who was saddened by the news.
Instead, she spent that Friday evening in Breadstix with Puck, the guy she was seeing. The waiter delivered their drinks with a smile, and Puck swiped the straws off the table and placed them in his nose. "Check it out." Once they were secure, he pulled his hands away so she could marvel at his genius. "I'm a fucking seal."
Quinn rubbed at the back of her neck in embarrassment as people from other tables began to look at them. "I think you meant walrus," she replied.
Puck shrugged. "Whatevs." He removed the straws and placed Quinn's back on her side of the table. "So, like, what are you into?"
Quinn stared at the now contaminated straw. She wasn't quite into that. "Oh, you know, the usual," she answered, feigning interest as she casually knocked the straw off the table. It bounced off the booth she was sitting on and fell to the floor. "What about you?"
"Mario Kart." Puck's eyes began to shine. "Totally beat my own high score last night."
"That's really great." Her smile was tightlipped as she cringed inside. This wasn't one of her better ideas.
Dating was difficult for Quinn in particular, because she was hardly interested in anyone. It felt like everyone at her school was knee deep in their sexual awakening phase, and she was still paddling behind, waiting for the day someone would catch her attention.
She sighed and in a very un-ladylike display, placed her elbow on the table, chin in her hand. She technically was interested in someone, but Quinn knew it would never happen in a million years. Rachel, for all intents and purposes, was straight. She was also five years older, and had probably never thought of Quinn that way. Rachel was into college boys named Gabriel who could act and sing like she could—neither of which Quinn could do.
The date didn't last for long and Quinn called for the check the moment Puck asked her what her favorite sex position was.
The next day, Quinn joined glee club. She told herself it was only to expand her extra-curricular for college.
The next time Quinn visited Frannie and Rachel, it was to spend an entire week with them for her spring break. Sue Sylvester had a weeklong conference with other cheerleading coaches around the country, and in unprecedented history, the Cheerios would go more than two days without practicing.
She was again greeted by Rachel with open arms. Rachel snagged Quinn's suitcase and carried it for her.
"You really don't have to—"
"Nonsense!" Rachel insisted as she twisted away from Quinn's reach. A teasing grin adorned her face, and Quinn looked away. "You're a guest at casa Fabray-Berry; I'd be a poor friend to not offer my hospitality."
"Where was your hospitality last time?" Quinn drawled, and Rachel laughed at the jab.
Without the tour they went straight to the dorms, and Rachel placed Quinn's suitcase in a corner of the common space. They crashed on the couch together and spent hours catching up.
"So you're no longer seeing Gabriel?" Quinn attempted to ask in an even tone.
Rachel shook her head. "He's a great boy, really. But a part of me felt really restless. Like something was missing." She bit the tip of her tongue where the truth lay. The truth was that a sophomore majoring in English, Robin, had caught her eye. They had crossed paths in a gender women's studies class, and at the moment, Rachel was testing the waters.
She was the first woman Rachel had ever expressed interest in, and it was a very play-by-ear situation. Besides, Quinn had grown up in the most Christian conservative family Rachel had ever met. She shuddered to think how Quinn, who looked up to her and exalted her probably too much, would think of her.
"Well, can I be honest?"
Rachel's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Go ahead…"
Quinn laughed at her reaction. "I think he was a tool."
"You never met him!"
"I didn't have to!" Quinn defended. "Any guy you date is never going to be good enough for you."
The comment settled warmly in Rachel's chest. She smiled bashfully and dipped her head, leaning against Quinn's arm that rested along the back of the couch. "You're too good to me."
Quinn inhaled a deep breath at the sight of Rachel, looking incredibly small curled up on the couch and leaning against her arm. "It's true." Her voice sounded like a garbled mess even to her own ears, and she cleared her throat and tried again. "So, uh, what else has been going on?"
Rachel looked up at Quinn with a shake of my head. "Enough about me. I drive people crazy all day because all I talk about is myself. No, I want to hear about you."
She was a different Rachel from the one of Quinn's memory. She was still the same sweet girl Quinn had fallen in love with, but she carried herself differently, looked differently, and was much more self-aware than she had been at fifteen. And Quinn wasn't particularly fond of change, but she welcomed whatever Rachel Berry existed with open arms.
"Nothing, really. Umm, I joined glee club."
Rachel lit up. She scooted further along the couch to be closer to Quinn with bright eyes and a wide smile. "Really? Oh, Quinn, this is awesome!"
Quinn laughed at her excitement. "Yeah, well. It all keeps me busy."
"You're quite the busy girl," Rachel agreed. "How are your grades coming along?"
"Scholar roll, straight A's. Though I did get a B in chemistry last semester."
Rachel scoffed. "So disappointed," she joked in a mocking tone. "What about boys?"
Quinn eyed the way Rachel's thighs pressed together while she curled up on the couch. She was wearing a burgundy skirt, and a cream colored top, and for the life of her, Quinn couldn't figure out where Rachel had gotten her newfound fashion sense from. "No boys," she murmured.
Rachel's eyes bulged out of her head. "Absolutely insane. "You're beautiful." Her eyes narrowed. "Are you scaring them away?"
"Probably," Quinn laughed. It was a hollow sound.
"Well, I think you're just too smart for them," Rachel informed her. "Boys seem to always try to pick off the weaker girls, and you're anything but." She reached forward and patted Quinn's thigh. "Just promise me one thing. Never compromise yourself for the sake of some boy's affections. Because I can tell you, it's not worth it."
She looked so earnest, and all Quinn wanted in this candid moment between them was to tell Rachel once and for all that the reason she had joined glee club, the reason she didn't have any boys hanging around was because she was in love with her. Instead Quinn ignored the way her heart twisted inside her chest and forced a tight smile. "Yeah, of course."
When Frannie arrived, they all went to dinner.
They grabbed a booth at a restaurant about ten miles out and Quinn slid into the booth beside Rachel while Frannie, and her new boyfriend, Chet, occupied the opposite booth.
Quinn sized Chet up as he and the other three occupied themselves with their menus. He was a fellow blond, clean cut, shaven, and wore a red and blue striped tie with a blue blazer and khaki pants. Judging from the way he combed his hair to the side, he came from money. Quinn rolled her eyes. Every young boy who came from money seemed to adopt the same haircut, and she wondered if they all went to the same stuffy barber.
She felt a hand grasp hers and give a gentle squeeze. Quinn looked over to find Rachel staring at her. Rachel cut her eyes to Chet then back to Quinn. "Play nice," she mouthed.
Quinn's jaw dropped. As if she ever did anything but play nice. She shrugged a little, and Rachel's eyebrows rose in silent warning.
Quinn turned away and slouched in her seat. Some things never changed, and Rachel making sure she was on her best behavior at all times were one of them.
The waitress approached the table, and when Rachel looked up, she froze.
"Rachel? Fancy seeing you here."
Quinn straightened in her seat around the same time Rachel shrank three sizes. Robin.
"Robin, hi." Rachel gestured around the table. "These are my friends—Frannie, my roommate, her sister, Quinn, and her boyfriend, Chet."
Everyone waved, except Quinn who hadn't finished her assessment of Robin yet.
"You haven't called me yet," Robin informed her as she reached for the pen by her ear and fished out a pad from the pocket of her apron.
Rachel winced at the accusation in her voice. "Yes, my profuse apologies. Quinn here is visiting from Lima for her spring break, and she and I—I guess we lost track of time catching up." She shared a brief smile with Quinn.
Robin pursed her lips at the display. "No worries then. What drinks can I get you all?"
It was a brush-off. One that stung, but Rachel was nothing if not an actress. She rolled with the punch and casually picked up her menu. "I'll probably have water," she mused.
"Apple juice," Quinn chimed in.
Glancing up from her menu, Frannie smiled at Quinn. "Sue's no soda diet."
Quinn rolled her eyes. "She's so ridiculous."
Frannie closed her menu. "Since I am no longer a Sue drone, I'll have a Mountain Dew."
"Water for me as well," Chet added.
When the waitress was gone, Quinn folded her arms in her lap and squared her shoulders. "So, Chet, what is it that you do?"
Frannie stopped breathing. She glowered at Quinn in silence at Chet's side.
Chet undid a button on his blazer and placed his arms on the table. "I attend MIT."
"Engineering and computer science."
"So you should always be able to keep a job."
"Quinn!" Frannie hissed.
Underneath the table, Rachel placed her hand on Quinn's thigh as if soothing a wild animal. Quinn went to say something when she felt her mouth dry up. She swallowed a lump down her throat, and looked away from everyone.
"To answer your question, yes."
The table lulled into silence for a few moments until Robin returned with their drinks. She and Rachel held brief contact before Rachel looked away. The last thing she needed at this stuffy dinner was for either Quinn or Frannie to notice her holding meaningful eye contact with the waitress.
"How do you know her anyway?" Quinn asked once the waitress was done. Now that Chet's story had checked out, it was time to find out about this Robin person.
Rachel shrugged in faux nonchalance. "She's in my gender women's studies course on women in the media."
"That…actually sounds like a really cool class."
"It's quite fascinating—right now we're covering the dichotomy of the virgin and slut roles in mainstream media."
Chet choked on his water. "Such colorful language," he muttered to Frannie.
Quinn watched Rachel redden in embarrassment. "Yeah, I've noticed that recently," Quinn added, completely ignoring Chet. "How a woman can be sexy but not too sexy. It's seems like such an exhausting balancing act. Feminism is really interesting stuff."
Frannie watched the pair in bemusement. "Quinn, I was thinking of introducing Chet to mom and dad tomorrow."
Quinn cut her eyes to Frannie. "I just got here and you're already leaving? To go home no less?"
"You can come if you wa—"
"Pass. Tell mother and father I said hi."
Rachel nudged Quinn's side.
"What?" Quinn defended. "I just left them."
Frannie narrowed her eyes at Quinn but said nothing. Had Chet not have been there she probably would have stuck her tongue out at Quinn, flipped her off, or both. But Frannie was on her best behavior, and Quinn raised an eyebrow in question at how different her sister was acting.
Rachel grabbed her menu and scrutinized it with critical eyes. "Huh."
Quinn sighed and looked toward the ceiling. "Nothing vegan, huh?"
Rachel shook her head. "No matter."
"It matters," Quinn insisted. "Is there any other place around here?"
Catching wind of the conversation, Frannie dropped her menu. "Rachel, I'm sorry. It completely slipped my mind with all the excitement of Quinn meeting Chet."
"Oh, it's no problem at all," Rachel insisted. "I'll be fine."
"Are you all ready to order?" Robin asked as she approached the booth again.
Quinn reached behind her for her jacket and moved to stand. "Actually, I think Rachel and I are going to leave."
Rachel, still glued to the booth, looked completely flabbergasted. "But, Quinn—"
"They don't have anything for you to eat here." She turned toward her sister. "You and Chet enjoy your dinner. We'll catch up back on campus, okay?"
"Be careful," Frannie implored.
Standing, Rachel's hand slipped in Quinn's and they walked out of the restaurant, with Robin's eyes boring into their skulls.
Columbus Ohio was a little more modern than Lima simply because of the younger demographic of college students. There weren't many vegan choices, but Quinn and Rachel were able to find a restaurant a few blocks away.
Rachel gasped as they settled into opposite booths. "I've never made anything vegan for you, have I?"
Quinn shook her head, eying the odd names of dishes on the menu.
"I'll have to remedy that before you leave."
"Just don't make…this." Her nose scrunched up as she pointed to the dish in question.
"Sour cream and onion kale chips are fantastic!"
Quinn shook her head good-naturedly. "With odd taste buds like that, you belong in New York."
Rachel smiled ruefully. "I may have…given up on that dream." It pained her to admit and she wrung her hands on the table as she pretended to read the menu.
But she should have known that nothing got past Quinn, the most perceptive human being Rachel had ever met. Quinn reached out to still Rachel's fidgeting hands under her warm palm. "Gave up? On your dreams?"
Rachel shied away from Quinn's touch. "It isn't a big deal, really."
Quinn's face pinched in irritation. "Don't lie to me."
They locked eyes, and Rachel sighed. The last thing she wanted was for Quinn to be mad at her.
"I just feel that I've peaked here," Rachel admitted with a wistful sigh. "Besides, I'm penniless and will be even more so once I graduate. I can't make it to New York without a dollar in my pocket."
"Get a job," Quinn urged. "You already compromised by attending State; let your fathers worry about paying for it. Get a job to save up money, and once you graduate you can go to New York."
"But I'll miss everyone," Rachel lamented. "My fathers, Frannie, the friends I've made here—you."
This time Quinn shied away when their gazes locked. "Sometimes sacrifices have to be made," she concluded. "But you can never give up on your dreams. And…all you can really do is pray that at the end of the day that the things and people meant to be in your life will either remain…or find their way back."
Rachel fiddled with her menu as she mulled over Quinn's words. It amazed her how placid she had become regarding her dreams over the years. She used to sound like Quinn, a real go-getter. But becoming an adult had really put things into perspective for Rachel. Things like time and money, neither of which she had. She wasn't getting any younger, and college was draining her parents' money by the day. "Such sage words from a sixteen year old," she murmured with a gentle smile that belied the inner turmoil she felt. "But then again you've always been wise beyond your years."
Quinn flipped through her menu with a huff. "My father jokes that I'm an old man."
"Why a man?" Rachel asked with a head tilt.
It was met with a shrug. "He wanted a boy."
Frannie made true on her promise, and she was back at State within a day. She and Quinn spent the week bonding like they had never done when they lived together, but by the weekend Frannie was gone again, away at MIT.
Rachel had promised Robin she would call, but she couldn't seem to tear herself away from Quinn. She had babysat Quinn when she was just a child, and spent countless nights at the Fabray house. To go from seeing Quinn nearly every day to only seeing her once every few months was hard on Rachel. Robin and the rest of the world could wait, for now she wanted her friend.
It was odd for her to consider Quinn a friend. She had conflicting feelings of seeing Quinn as an equal, yet also someone who still a child. Most times the child aspect won, as Quinn would gush about how popular she was. Popularity hadn't mattered to Rachel in ages, and it often took effort to relate to Quinn on that level. After working so hard to leave her high school self in the dust, she often had to dredge it up for the sake of relating to Quinn.
It had been a busy week, and it wasn't until Saturday night, the night before Quinn was to go home that Rachel had the opportunity to cook for her.
Quinn sat perched atop the small island in the already cramped kitchen as Rachel presented the dish before her. She reached for it. "What is this?"
Rachel swatted her hand. "Quinn Fabray, at least have the decency to wait until we can sit like human beings and have a meal."
Quinn glared up at Rachel, but retracted her hand.
"And these are cabbage rolls," Rachel finished with a proud smile. "They're simply delicious."
"I'll be the judge of that." Quinn grabbed the rolls and set the table while Rachel grabbed a bottle of chilled wine from the fridge. She poured herself a glass then called over her shoulder, "What will you be having?"
Quinn turned to look at her, and sank against the kitchen table, drinking in the sight of Rachel's long, toned legs that disappeared under a pair of lounge shorts. She wore a tank top that clung to her body and her hair was pulled into a messy bun atop her head with loose strands of hair trailing down her neck. It only served to make her appear more mature, and the domesticity of the moment tugged at Quinn in an unfamiliar way. Her breath hitched. "I'll have a glass," she said lowly.
Rachel turned to cast a dubious glare. "You're fifteen."
"I've drank before," was all Quinn said.
The wine sloshed in the bottle, threatening to spill as Rachel spun around to face Quinn fully. "Excuse me?" She couldn't believe her ears.
She was rewarded with a grin. Even as a child one of her favorite past times was getting under Rachel's skin. "I have."
"How much," Rachel demanded.
"Not much. A few wine coolers."
Rachel eyed Quinn up and down. "Despite our height difference inversely correlating with our age, you're still a child, Quinn."
"I'm not a child," Quinn groaned as she approached Rachel. "One glass?" she asked in a saccharine voice. "Please, Rachel?"
Quinn took another sip of her wine. "This is amazing."
Around the lip of her glass, Rachel hid an amused smile that oozed through her voice. "The food or the wine?"
"Both," Quinn practically moaned. "I was referring to the food, though."
She was nearing the end of her glass and had loosened up quite a bit over the last half hour. Their conversation had a natural laziness to it, the kind that only came from having known a person for nearly six years.
"So," Rachel punctuated by placing her glass on the table. "Has Quinn Fabray ever been in love?"
"Once," was Quinn's automatic reply as she picked up another cabbage roll. It was her sixth one, and Rachel wondered where in the world Quinn packed it all away.
The answer was surprising, and Rachel leaned forward in her seat, a quizzical and perhaps hurt expression on her face. "You never told me that."
Quinn paused, as if her brain had just caught to the subject of this conversation. She swallowed the bite of cabbage roll in her mouth, and took a swig of wine. "Because it's…a secret," she admitted.
The wounded expression on Rachel's face only intensified. "I was unaware that we were in the business of keeping secrets from one another."
Quinn bit the corner of her lip in thought. It was the only thing she could do to keep from talking before thinking. "It's not like that," she responded lamely.
"Then what is it like?" Rachel asked. Her tone was bordering on accusatory, and Quinn's spine straightened.
"It's like—" Quinn's gaze dropped to the food on her plate. She was never supposed to tell Rachel. But she had a glass of wine and good food in her, her mouth was getting away from her, and there was a niggling little thought in her brain that kept reminding her that this felt strangely like a date. "If I tell you, you'll hate me," she whispered at last.
Rachel tossed her napkin onto her plate and stood to kneel at Quinn's side. She grasped Quinn's hand and held it tightly in her own, because suddenly Quinn looked like she was ten again with the long, pouty face. "I could never hate you," Rachel murmured fiercely. "Ever, Quinn. Sweetheart, I want you to feel comfortable telling me anything. You could rob a bank and I wouldn't think any less of you."
"Noted," Quinn replied with a breezy chuckle.
Rachel smiled with a shake of her head. She squeezed Quinn's hand once in comfort then stood and stepped away to grab her plate. "Also know that you don't have to tell me," she conceded, walking toward the sink. "I suppose I'll have to accept the fact that you're a growing girl, and you need your own secrets."
Quinn stood from her chair, staring at Rachel's back, and all her feelings came slamming against her ribcage at once. "It's you."
"I'm sorry?" Rachel called over the clanging dishes in the sink.
Quinn swallowed. "The person I'm in love with—it's you."