Seventh grade, Rachel had always heard, was supposed to be the worst year of a person's life. Bullying and cliques were at their height, awkward physical development or lack thereof in her case was starting, and everyone, absolutely everyone, felt terrible about themselves. She had read and been told over and over that if she could just survive seventh grade, then surely everything would be better from that point on.
What all those people hadn't counted on, though, was the fact that Quinn Fabray would transfer to Rachel's school right in the middle of the eighth grade year…and Quinn Fabray, for some reason, would make it her mission in life to make certain Rachel never forgot exactly how stupid, pathetic, and ugly Quinn found her to be.
Rachel wasn't sure why it was that Quinn got so much enjoyment out of making so many people hate her even more than they already did. She would have thought that a girl like her, who was so easily and widely popular with everyone, would be so busy basking in her throne that she wouldn't even deign to notice Rachel, let alone make a specific and elaborate plan of attack against her. But Quinn never let a day pass by without insults and comments, directly to Rachel's face as well as behind her back, without distributing mocking cartoons and spreading disgusting rumors, and Rachel knew, because she never failed to take credit, that they were all directly traced back to her or one of her groupies.
The ironic thing of it all was that Rachel would have done anything to make Quinn happy, to try to make the girl like her, if only Quinn would let her. Quinn was beautiful in a way that Rachel could only dream of being, Quinn was smart and well-dressed and could so easily make so many people like her. All the boys were in love with her and all the girls wanted to be her, and although Rachel was firmly grounded in her own dreams for the future, that didn't mean that she didn't have fantasies sometimes of being more like Quinn instead. It would be so much easier, and at least for right now, in the eighth grade, so much happier.
So Rachel tried, in little ways, to warm Quinn up to her. She tried to be around her group in the background, inserting what she saw as interesting additions to their conversations, and she tried to offer to lend Quinn pens or other objects in the classroom, even knowing that Quinn would make a public spectacle of not accepting. She tried to always greet her with a bright smile even when she felt like she was shaking in her shoes, and still, Quinn's venom towards her never faltered.
And by extension, nearly all the other children in their grade, and even the grades below, followed Quinn's example. Especially her two instant best friends, Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce.
Wherever Quinn was, there they were, on either side of her, joining right along with her insults and sly comments, her mocking pranks and rumor starting. It didn't' matter that Rachel had many times defended Brittany against people who called her a "retard" or Santana against the racist "wetback" or "Taco Bell" jokes that were inevitable in middle school, even if they saw her doing it; if anything, Santana would be angrier at her for her defense than the people actually insulting her. It didn't matter that before Quinn had come, their own mocking of Rachel had been sporadic and prompted by personal encounters rather than a daily and intentional basis, an extracurricular sport more than an occasional hobby. They were with Quinn now, and every day, Rachel received evidence of their renewed disgust.
Still, she held out hope for a while that this could change, that through her own efforts and continued attempts at kindness, at least those two girls would come around. Brittany was easily confused, after all, and hadn't Santana sometimes been civil or even nice to Rachel, over the years? Hadn't Santana known Rachel the longest and knew, more than her friends, how Rachel had been kind to her ever since kindergarten? Surely that would make a difference.
It wasn't one particular incident that finally resigned Rachel to believe otherwise, but rather an accumulation of all the previous ones, finally reaching a breaking point in her mind. It had started, in fact, with her simply looking at a sign up sheet.
Rachel had had no intention for signing up for varsity cheerleading for ninth grade, or even junior varsity. She had simply been looking at all of the other sign ups for their upcoming freshman year, intent on scouting out possibilities and signing up for as many as she felt beneficial- which happened to include everything except for most sports. She had simply been standing there when she felt several bodies nearly elbow her out of their way, as though they didn't see her at all, to reach for the cheerleading sign up sheet. Looking up, she had seen Quinn, Santana, and Brittany, each pretending not to see her at all as they took turns signing their names.
Rachel had found their behavior to be very rude, but she had swallowed back her indignation, forcing a smile as she addressed them.
"Oh, so you're trying out for cheerleading then? I'm not surprised, you are all naturally athletic and you certainly look the part, though perhaps Brittany will have to be on the bottom of pyramids as she is a bit tall. And you are all popular as well so you're surely going to make the squad. Good luck all the same!"
She couldn't say that she had exactly expected the other girls to exchange pleasantries with her and wish her luck with her chosen clubs and activities. She hadn't even expected them to necessarily acknowledge that she had spoken. But she certainly had hoped it would be this way, for a chance. Hadn't she spoken pleasantly to them? Hadn't she refrained from mentioning all the times they had been rude to her before? She certainly hadn't said anything to upset them…had she?
But they had all cut their eyes at her as though she had said something incredibly amusing, and Quinn even curled her lip at her, her eyebrow quirking in a style that Rachel had noticed Santana recently picking up as she angled her body towards Rachel in an almost aggressive manner. Sneering at her, she remarked, "Don't tell me YOU are trying out for cheerleading. Our boys would take one look at you in the uniform and run away screaming in terror, and they certainly don't need any further assistance in losing another season."
"It's like looking at that Medusa or the Harry Potter snake…one look and you turn to stone," Santana chimed in, her hands on her hips as she angled herself in a nearly identical posture as Quinn's, and Rachel could see Brittany just behind them, copying their pose as well several beats behind, though the expression on her face told Rachel she wasn't quite sure what either of her friends was talking about. "Maybe she could help us out, though, Q. We could always sic her on the other team."
"Is she sick?" Brittany wondered, cocking her head. "Would she have to kiss them, because that's Rachel and it's gross, even if her lips do look soft. Maybe she can sneeze on them instead."
Santana gave her an indulgent smile, shaking her head at her, but Quinn ignored her, only rolling her eyes as she took a step towards Rachel, invading her personal space in such a way that Rachel swallowed, stepping back away from her.
"Get this straight, Manhands," she said slowly and deliberately, so Rachel could not miss what she was hearing. "You'll never be a cheerleader or anything else that any normal person would ever want to be in. You'll never have anyone who's not a total loser want to date you, and you'll never be accepted by our people or win any favors from us, and we'll never want you around us except to do our homework or to mock your pathetic existence. You will never be anything but a Lima Loser…so stop even trying to pretend otherwise. And STOP talking to us…ever."
Rachel blinked rapidly, turning her head away from the intent glare of the other girl as she backed up a step, needing space between them.
Her head swiveled slowly, looking between Brittany and Santana as she tried to entirely avoid looking towards Quinn- she already knew what she would find in that direction. But Brittany just blinked at her, looking blank, and made no comment, whether to defend or further mock her. Santana too made no sign of defending her. Instead, she smirked, crossing her arms over her chest. It was as though Rachel had never spoken up for either of them, as though they had never heard this, never had one moment pass between them that had been anything less than total disgust or hate.
And there was not even a flicker of doubt or regret in Santana's expression. Not anymore.
"Has all your constant yammering and yodeling deafened you to the sound of any voice but your own?" Santana asked, her smirk becoming more of a sneer as she uncrossed her arms, linking one through Brittany's, the other through Quinn's. "Let me spell it out real slow and clear then." She raised her voice, enunciating her words loudly and distinctly. "Go away. Hasta la vista. Sayanara. Buzz off, scram, flee the coop. Or if you need your own language- exit the premises promptly."
But although she had told Rachel to leave, it was the three of them who walked away, arms linked, laughing to themselves. As Rachel stood, unable to move right away from the embarrassment, sadness, and slow rising anger pressing so tightly against her chest, she bit the inside of her cheeks, her hands slowly forming fists at her sides as she thought about what had just occurred- and the deeper meaning behind it.
It had never hit her for absolute certain, with no hope of any other outcome, until this moment. Those girls, all three of them, but Santana in particular, would never be her friends. It didn't matter what she did or didn't do, how she acted or how hard she tried or how much she might want otherwise. It didn't matter…and this was something she should have known long ago, probably way back to when she and Santana had met on the very first day of school. She should have known then, from her very first efforts to ever reach out to her, that it would never matter.
It didn't' matter that once, Santana had helped her up after Dave Karofsky tripped her and then ran after him, decking him in the face. It didn't matter that Santana had once let her finish coloring with the red crayon, in kindergarten, when it was Santana's favorite color and she really wanted it. It didn't matter that in the first grade, Rachel had been sad on mother's day because she had no mother to make a card for, and Santana had told her she could make a card for her own mami since her mami didn't have but one daughter to make her a card. It didn't' matter that there had been one shining moment, in the second grade, when the two of them won a dance-off in PE and had danced together for joy, smiling broadly and laughing with absolutely no animosity in between them, nothing but happiness in their own ability. Had Santana forgotten all those moments, or had they simply had less meaning in her mind? Did she simply not care about them anymore…or had they only existed in Rachel's mind?
All those times Rachel had hoped, as they were growing up, that she and Santana would gradually be drawn together, all the times that their friendship had seemed possible, even eminent…all those times, and yet maybe they had never really been there at all. Maybe it had been a hope and a wish more than a reality, and the truth was only now beginning to crash down on her.
She and Santana had never been friends and never would be. That was the way Santana wanted it, that was the way she liked it…so it would be best for Rachel if she simply accepted it and preferred this too.
But even so, as she watched Santana walk away, her eyes burned, and for a few moments, all she saw was little Santana, thumb in her mouth, tearstains on her cheeks, reaching out her free hand for Rachel to take in hers. And it took every ounce of will Rachel had not to call her back…to let her keep her back turned, and continue to walk on.