She waltzes out the door, head held firmly high, and boards the next bus out of this little town. She can deal with the pointed stares of everyone at school – she's used to that, but for other, less judgmental, reasons.
She always felt as though her dreams rested in a higher place than a small little Ohio town.
This would be her chance to prove it. Start a new life in a city where no one knew her name.
She pulls her jacket closer around her and gazes out the window at the blur of speeding cars, and drums her fingers against the glass, and prays for sunshine.
She knows that tucked inside her knapsack is a small pocket Bible that a touring pastor pressed into her hand with a smile and a whispered blessing when she was twelve, and she wonders if it could provide her with some form of guidance.
It always used to, after all.
She takes it out, cradles it in her hand gently, and opens to a random page. "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed."
Seeing as how this had been a spur-of-the-moment, throw-all-plans-to-the-wind decision, she felt real comfort coming from the page. Advisors? What advisors? No one knew what she was doing.
Somehow, it feels better that way, and she closes the Bible, puts it back in her knapsack, and closes her eyes.
Dream of a better tomorrow, Quinn, she thinks, as she drifts off to sleep, her hand resting on top of her stomach.
It's somewhere around Fort Wayne when she realizes the full impact of what she has done. She imagines her fellow New Directions participants canvassing Lima, and maybe Dayton, and making contact with her sister in Cincinnati – it'd all be to no avail, but they didn't know that.
Maybe when she reaches wherever she's going, she muses as she thoughtfully chews on a tuna sandwich, she can send them an e-mail, let them know that she's alive and didn't get chopped to pieces by a lunatic murderer.
Or, then again, maybe she won't.
When they reach Tomah, Wisconsin, it's the middle of the night – the moon hangs low in the sky, and a mass of twinkling stars makes it appear as though there is more light than there really is – and she wonders for the first time if her decision was such a good one. Second-guessing herself is not one of her stronger suits, but she's further from home now than she ever has been on her own, and for a fleeting moment, she wonders if her and her child will be better off.
She decides, almost as quickly, that it is for the best, and shuffles her feet against the cold concrete of the parking lot as they switch busses.
A few days, and two time zones, later, and she steps off the bus in Washington. Seattle may not have been her ideal city, when she would play pretend when she was younger, it was always somewhere more glamorous – Los Angeles, New York, London – but Seattle would do. For now, at least.
One of the girls from her church youth group, Hailey, had moved out here after high school, and proclaimed it wildly to be an amazing place to live. Quinn was banking on it.
She rents a small apartment in a quiet neighborhood, finds a job at a local café, and settles into a new routine: early to bed, early to rise, makes Quinn's checking account balance rise. And when Eliza Noelle Fabray is born, the spitting image of her father, she dutifully fits the baby into her life, arranging with Hailey for child care, in return for Quinn cat-sitting on Hailey's weekend trips to Portland.
It's an uneasy balance, she figures, but it works for them. Her dreams and desires would have to take a raincheck.
She's been in Seattle for over a year now, serving drinks and sandwiches to innumerable people, when one day, in early May, she sees a familiar face sitting in her section, tapping the menu against the tablecloth. "Are you ready?" she asks, pasting a smile across her face.
He looks up at her – the eyes are so familiar, Eliza has his eyes – and glances at her name tag. "Yes," he pauses, "Quinn, I'm ready."
"What would you like?" She fears that he recognizes her, fears that even with a haircut she still looks too much like the scared high school girl that left Lima. At least she's not wearing Cheerios-regulation ponytails anymore.
"What's your wine cooler selection?" It's sly, and she sees a smirk tugging at the edges of his lips, and she feels anger and resentment and something distinctly tasting like bile bubbling up inside of her. God damn him.
"I – I have to go," she stammers out, shoving her order pad in her apron pocket.
"You always do." It's not a simple statement; it's an accusation, she can hear it in his voice.
With three words, she feels everything shatter within her. "I really have to go," she says, turning away from him.
"At least come say hi to the rest of us. You know, if you haven't become too cool here."
"The rest of us?" she says. She sees her manager giving her a pointed stare from across the room. "What do you want, anyway?"
"Didn't you hear? The Lima Misfits made nationals."
"So where are they now?" she asks, grabbing her order pad from her apron. If he doesn't answer soon, he's getting an egg salad sandwich and lemonade.
"I ditched them. Wanted to check out the 'cool' side of this city," he says, and somehow, she doesn't quite believe him. "Roast beef and Coke."
She gets Daisy, one of the other waitresses, to deliver Puck his food, as she feels herself getting sick. She doesn't quite throw up, but there's the definite feeling that she could have, and she presses paper towels soaked in water against her forehead and wishes for an aspirin.
Instead, she gets Daisy handing her a note, with a name of a hotel and a room number scrawled across it in Puck's handwriting. "The guy at table seven wanted me to give this to you," she says, and Quinn can only meekly nod.
She calls Hailey, tells her that she had to pick up a second shift at work, "can you take care of Eliza overnight?" and instead hitches a bus – this sounds familiar, she thinks – but instead of heading away from everything, she's headed toward something.
She reaches the hotel, and asks the concierge for room 764. He points her to the elevator, and she sucks in a deep breath and takes the elevator up. There's a group of students sharing the ride with her – they're laughing and taking ridiculous photos of each other on their digital cameras, and she thinks that in a different life, this could be her right now. They bound off the elevator at the fifth floor, and she rides up in thankful, blissful, silence, alone with her thoughts.
Maybe it's too quiet being alone.
Standing at his door, she smoothes her hair back over one ear and says a little prayer, before knocking twice. He answers almost immediately, a towel around his neck. "I didn't think you'd come," he says, ushering her in.
"I'm full of surprises," she says, her eyebrow quirked.
He grunts in acknowledgement, or perhaps agreement, and she sits on one of the beds, as he sits on the other, facing her. "So," she says, "what made you ask me to come all the way down here just to make small talk in your hotel room?"
"I had to see you," he says, picking at the loose threads of the comforter on the bed, and she runs her tongue over her lips. It all feels so – she searches for the word she's thinking of – unexpected. "It's been so fucked up and crazy since you left."
She nods, and her mind flashes to Eliza, who's probably sleeping on Hailey's couch tonight.
"So why'd you do it, Fabray?"
"Why did you skip town with -" He twists his fingers in the comforter, and Quinn's fairly sure he's about to rip it in half without even trying. The unfinished question hangs in the air; they both know the last two words.
She digs through her purse, hands him a picture of mother and daughter, taken on Eliza's first birthday a few weeks before. "This is why," she states simply, easing back on her hands as Puck, for the first time, sees his daughter's face.
There was something almost imperceptible – if it was anyone else in the world, she'd say they were sniffling, but it's Puck, after all – and then he looks up at her. "What's her name?" he asks, an even tone in his voice.
"Eliza. Eliza Noelle Fabray."
"Eliza," he repeats, with a small, nearly invisible except to the trained eye, smile, "she looks a lot like me."
"She does," Quinn says quietly.
They sit in silence, Puck taking in the young mother and daughter in the picture, Quinn feeling uncomfortably out of place. "I should probably go," she says, standing up, "you can keep the picture."
"Are you coming to our performance?" he asks. "You should."
"When is it? I'll see if I can trade shifts or something."
"I'll be there," she says, turning to walk out the door.
She nods, almost dismissively, as she opens the door. Turning back for a moment, she sees Puck staring at the picture, and she smiles as she closes the door behind her and walks out to the elevator.
Friday night was going to be interesting, to say the least.
-to be continued-