It had come as a shock to all of them when the words escaped her mouth.
"Oh, it wasn't just me, Mr. Schu," she continued, after the expected dramatic (which was, oddly, less dramatic and more of not) thank you. "Brittany and Santana helped me with most of the moves."
Brittany smiled graciously and Santana gave her a strange look. Mr. Schuester had to take a moment before asking them for an encore to round the practice off. Rachel wasn't one step forward, higher or ahead—she was just in the ensemble like the rest of them.
Even Ms. Sylvester was impressed when she saw the routine.
Rachel stopped wearing her argyle sweater vests and knee high socks.
With Quinn pregnant, the Cheerios needed another member to complete the team. Ms. Sylvester had called Rachel into her office in the middle of History class and her stare session at Pu—Finn and asked her to join the squad.
"You'd be perfect," she drawled on, "you're naturally cheerful and your choreography last week was good."
"Oh no, Ms. Sylvester, I had hel—"
"It's good for your stamina. You'd be able to sustain notes longer too," and, when Rachel just looked at her apprehensively, she added, "my doctor told me that. Why do you think Santana and Brittany are still in Glee?"
"But, I don't think—"
"Try it out, just for a week. It won't conflict with your Glee practice, and it'd be another notch on your already stunning repertoire."
Rachel nodded, half terrified and half surprised, and took the bag Ms. Sylvester handed her. The next day she walked into school wearing the red and white suit she used to dread seeing. Finn had to take a second look because he wasn't sure that it was her, and Kurt actually started walking briskly when she called him out to compliment him on his coat.
She thought she looked good. And when Puck gave her a mischievous smirk as she was walking to the field, her assumptions were proven correct.
Rachel hated getting slushies.
They were cold and sticky and messed with her floral conditioner. After a while she'd developed a sort of tolerance to them, though she still detested the way they stained her cardigans, and had been classically conditioned to fear an extra large cup of grape slushie, even if it was her favorite. So when she saw how that Carrington guy from the hockey team smiled at the rest of his group holding an extra large cup of (what was it?) cherry slushie and started heading towards Quinn, she knew what was going to happen.
Quinn slammed her locker door, Carrington was only inches away—and suddenly Rachel's red and white cheerleading uniform was even redder. Before she could even wipe the drink from her eyes she heard a body slam into the lockers.
"Do that to her again and I swear to god my fist is going to be the last thing you see on this earth." Puck was pushing Carrington by the lockers, and everyone was horrified to see that he'd slushied a Cheerio. Even his team mates stopped laughing, even though the Cheerio was Rachel Berry. "Got it?"
Carrington nodded mutely and walked away.
Rachel wasn't sure who Puck referred to when he said her. She had taken the slushie, but on the other hand she had taken it for Quinn. He liked Quinn, so she figured he meant Quinn.
She found that her long lashes retained slushies to the face more that it should. And it's because of it that she didn't see how Puck didn't even spare a glance at the blond behind her.
Rachel had demanded a Broadway solo from Mr. Schuester as a part of their arrangement for Glee.
"Okay guys, this week we're doing Broadway, and Rachel," he paused as he handed out the sheet music, "I think you're going to like this one."
"Defying Gravity," she read out loud. "I use this song for warm up!"
"Yes, and if we work on your lower octave I think this solo would be—"
"Actually, Mr. Schu, I kind of don't want to do it alone."
"Is everything alright?" he asked, concerned. Usually she would have started the song by now, after barking instructions to the pianist on how to compliment her voice with soft keystrokes.
"I was thinking maybe Kurt could do it with me," she suggested, which elicited a high pitched squeak from him, and a "did she hit her head too hard?" comment from Mercedes.
Emma later told Will how teenagers, though a tangled mess of hormones, are very adaptable, even one as stubborn as Rachel—dammit, she giggled again.
Rachel Berry stopped putting gold stars beside her name.
There were sign ups for a charity drive McKinley high was hosting, and her name was scrawled carelessly with a pen in between Kathleen Turner and Nathan Johns. Finn had to check twice to make sure the name was actually Rachel Berry.
She didn't think she needed them anymore. People said hello to her on the hallway, and, in a weird reverse psychological way, Mr. Schuester kept on giving here more solos and duets with Finn.
Not that she minded.
(But she actually did, when the notes of Neil Diamond would resonate in her head and she would find herself humming them as she brushed her hair every night.)
Rachel Berry stayed rooted to the spot.
She was in love with Finn; people expected her to run after him when Mike had successfully pulled him away from a bleeding Puck. Quinn was sobbing in the corner, mortified. She had just come from Ms. Sylvester's office with Santana and another girl from the squad.
"Aren't you going to go after him?" Santana whispered as Finn walked away.
Rachel walked towards Quinn and led her to the ladies' room. They spent a good two hours in there, accompanied by the Glee club of course, before they went out and Quinn could wear even a semblance of a smile.
She gives Finn an ice pack for his hand, even though it was two hours too late.
She doesn't give Puck one, however. She doesn't even grace him with a sympathetic pat on the back like she did with Quinn. She sat beside him, in the bleachers overlooking the field, and whispered:
"I'm still here."
The next few months moved very fast. Puck and Finn stopped speaking to each other, and they would only provide Quinn with polite nods, each feeling guilty of the situation they were all put in. Quinn gave birth to the baby and gave her away (to a nice gay couple Rachel's dads knew in Chicago; it's not like Terri was the best mother after having given drugs to the Glee kids) and everything seemed to go back to normal.
It was three in the afternoon on a Thursday and they were waiting for Mr. Schuester to show up. Every now and then she would glance at the door (which also happened to be right by Finn) and Quinn, noticing, sits next to her.
"You can have him if you want him, you know," she says. Her tone was not at all menacing or sarcastic.
"All he did was talk about how strange and wonderful you were, even when he thought we were," she paused, refusing to bring up the memory, "so you know, it's okay. You should go out with him."
Rachel couldn't think of a decent reply. So instead, she said: "We should go shopping with Kurt sometime. He has the best taste in shoes."
Rachel spared one more glance at the door before turning away. She could hear Puck strumming away in the corner.
Rachel Berry never shared the spotlight.
"All right, I think some power ballads would be good to stretch the vocal cords for today. Anyone care to lead?" Mr. Schuester instructed, looking at his students (who were, in turn, looking at Rachel.)
But she didn't even raise her hand.
"Rachel?" Mr. Schuester asked.
"I think Mercedes would be great," she suggested. So Mercedes, albeit hesitantly, belted out a few chords of Aretha.
By a stroke of strange luck, the football team had won another game which secured them a spot to the semi-finals. Everyone was cheering, the band was playing extra loud, the mascot was going insane and Rachel, well, she ran out to the field.
Finn saw her drop her pompoms and smiled. He walked towards her direction, bracing himself for—
No one expected her to run into Noah Puckerman's arms. He was smiling, and so was she, and their lips met in a long kiss and everyone was watching them now, and it was strange and unexpected and kind of perfect too. He was the cheating best friend and the bad boy of Lima and she was the queen of the Gleeks and MySpace (some old habits die hard). They had spent so much time trying to want to be worthy of blond ringlets and wonderfully goofy smiles that they've forgotten how perfect they were, as they were, and all they needed was someone else to see that.
And when they walked away from the field, hand in hand, she was pretty sure the applause was more for them than the win.