Disclaimers: Please see Chapter 1
A/N: I know it's been forever since I last updated, so I hope there's still interest in this story. I hope the fact that I'm making the chapter long will make up for the time in between. Enjoy.
A/N2: Self-edited, like everything I write. All mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Rachel's first instinct is to call Andy. Her cousin always has good advice and more often than not, she helps Rachel put things back into perspective. She only stops when she remembers Andy is probably in the midst of replacing her cell phone and making sure she has a way to stay in touch with work-related people and news sources. She wants Quinn, but for now, that is also not a possibility. She feels slightly guilty she left her girlfriend to deal with the downfall of another mess of her creation. What surprises Rachel to no end are Santana and Brittany's reactions. Out of the three of them, she had expected Santana's behaviour to be the worst, especially after the way the Latina had behaved at school when they were overheard. She had thought it'd be up to Quinn and maybe Noah to get the Latina to back off, instead of the three Cheerios keeping Noah in line. She knows she should be downstairs trying to do some damage control and hope that things won't revert back to the way they have always been. The more jaded side of her can't help but think that if anything, she should have left Lima the second her freshman year of high school had ended and her bullying instead of stopping had gotten worse.
"Is Rachel going to be okay?" Brittany asks the moment the front door slams with such force that the noise makes her jump.
"I hope so." Quinn manages to say after she sighs. "Thank you for not jumping down her throat the way Puck did." She adds a bit surprised.
"Have things really been that shitty for her?" Santana asks out of nowhere, ignoring Quinn's comment.
"I think so, but I honestly don't know. Rachel doesn't like talking about that too much, so I don't push." Quinn answers looking ashamed.
"It's not your fault, Quinnie. Most people are poopyheads who are too afraid of love that isn't the kind we're used to seeing." Brittany says to Quinn before she turns her attention to Santana.
Quinn pales at those words. She thought they were being so careful with their relationship. Then again, she has never been one to be overly physically affectionate with anyone, but Rachel and she are always touching in some form. She really shouldn't be surprised. She wonders if the entire school knows, or if it's just Brittany and by default, Santana. She's about to ask for clarification and maybe ask them to keep yet another secret when Brittany continues to speak.
"And yes, Sanny it really has been that bad for Rachel. When I started going to the dance studio, I heard parents tell their kids not to go near the fags' daughter because they might catch something or be converted. Some went as far as ask Madame Bouvier to kick Rachel off the dance classes and ban her from the studio. At least she's always been good to Rachel and told those meanies that if they had a problem with how she runs her studio that they didn't have to bring their kids to her." Brittany says, answering the Latina's question.
Quinn has to force herself to not sigh in relief. They don't know. Brittany is talking about Rachel's dads and how Rachel has been treated as a result. She feels a horrible wave of guilt wash over her once the dancer's words register. Her 'father' was one of those parents, and sadly, she had listened then, because it was easier than to go against him. At least she has the comfort of knowing that even though she bullied Rachel, she never said a single negative thing about her fathers' sexual orientation. She has to fight the urge to laugh because the moment Russell finds out she's in fact gay, or at the very least bi, he'd be sure to spout how he had been right all along, and Rachel and her family brainwashed her.
"At least it hasn't all been bad. That was just a fluke, right?" Santana says as a way to assuage her own guilt. Growing up in a devout Catholic family, she knows only too well how Christianity in general views homosexuality, and she has of course, heard some of the comments her Abuela Alma has said about it. It's the reason why she's hidden so deep in the closet.
"It's been mostly bad. Mrs. Kingston, our fourth grade teacher was a bitch to Rachel, always taunting her about going to her daddies whenever she was bullied by the other kids. She went as far as to say that it was the way certain families raise their kids, by always putting the blame on others, and by having others fix their mistakes for them. She had to transfer to a different class because of it." Brittany counters sadly.
Quinn and Santana close their eyes in sympathy as they feel their hearts clench. Aren't teachers supposed to be impartial and look out for the best interest of all students? Right. If that were the case, then all the bullying that takes place in McKinley wouldn't be so obvious and out of control.
Quinn is sure leaving is the best solution for Rachel and once again vows to make sure it's as painless as possible. If she has to bring her inner HBIC out to play, then so be it. At least this time, Rachel will benefit from her darker side. As much as she hates to admit it, she didn't just inherit her last name from the Fabray side of her family tree, but she also inherited the ruthlessness and conniving nature from them.
"Not that I don't appreciate it, but what brought the change of heart. I know you were ready to go all 'Lima Heights Adjacent' on her when you overheard us talking earlier." Quinn says before Brittany can provide more examples. The guilt is overwhelming, and it's getting more and more difficult to not go postal, and she's only hearing about it. She can't imagine what Rachel has gone through living like that since moving to Lima. No wonder the girl is at her breaking point. She also needs to know Santana isn't going to suddenly change her mind again and start acting like an ass. It'd be nice to have one of her best friends in her corner once Rachel is off to greener and better pastures.
"You're right. Rachel didn't have to give any of us a second chance. I get that it takes more than a couple of months of being nice to gain someone's trust, especially hers, considering how we've treated her over the years. God knows there are a lot of personal things about me she doesn't know and that I'm not exactly comfortable sharing with her. Then Puck's words to her were like a slap on the face. That asshole really thinks that Rachel should be grateful we finally pulled our heads out of our asses and befriended her, when it should be the other way around." She adds looking between Quinn and Brittany.
"So you're not going to all of a sudden change your mind and start treating her like shit again?" Quinn asks.
"I won't. I'm arrogant as hell, but I'm not stupid. In her place, I'd have never forgiven us. And if I did, I'd be having a hard time trusting us as well. I get it." Santana answers.
"We won't say anything to anyone either. We'll let Rachel be the one to tell others when she's ready. We'll make sure to keep Puck from blabbing." Brittany says. "Come on, San. We gotta go so Quinn can make sure Rach is okay." She adds as she gets up from the couch and starts to pull Santana up with her.
"Thanks guys. We'll talk. Once Rachel realises you guys aren't going back to treating her like crap, she'll stop pushing you away." Quinn says as she guides the other two to the front door.
"Let Rachel know that we're not mad and that we'd like to clear the air between us for real. That we won't go back to being shitheads." Santana says.
"We're not going to change our minds, even after we go home and think about it." Brittany says as if reading Quinn's mind.
"You know me so well. Thanks for all the support." Quinn says as she waves gratefully at them.
Quinn finally closes the front door after she sees Santana's car drive off. She can't help the relief she feels when she notices that Rachel's glass of water is still sitting on top of the coffee table, and even though she drank about half of it, at least it's not empty and she didn't need a refill. She nearly does a happy dance at that. She quickly takes it to the kitchen, refills it, and takes it up to Rachel's room just in case. Her heart breaks when she sees her girlfriend curled up on the side of the bed. She can't help but think how tiny she looks like that. She quickly sets the glass on the bedside table and gets up on the bed, gently spooning the girl and draping her arm lovingly over the diva's side.
Rachel smiles when she feels a strong arm warp around her, but she can't help looking at the clock on her iPod dock. She's surprised she's been alone for barely ten minutes. She turns around so she's now facing Quinn.
"The girls and I were persuading Puck to stay quiet. They left after they made me promise I'll take care of you and that we'll talk after you're not so sad. I'm sorry it took me so long to come back." Quinn says.
"I'm sorry I put you in such a spot. I was being selfish again. I should have dealt with everything first, but I didn't like the idea of them attacking me here where I'm supposed to feel safe and…" Rachel starts to rant, only to have it cut short when strong arms pull her closer.
"Shh. I'm glad I was able to do something. I'm sorry I couldn't stop Puck from saying all that crap. I'm sorry he took things the way he did. At least Brittany and Santana understand." Quinn says.
"You had nothing to do with how Noah reacted. I was expecting some sort of backlash, but it still hurt. I'm surprised Santana and Brittany didn't. If anything, I was expecting Santana to be the one lashing out. I'm glad they seem to be taking things so well, but will that change once they realise Noah is right and I've been lying to them for better part of a year now?" Rachel says.
"Rachie, no matter what, you are well within your right to keep any and all parts of your life private. Just because someone became your friend over the last couple of months doesn't mean that they get an in on your life. What you tell us and how much depends on what makes you comfortable. If we can't take it, then it's our fault for making assumptions. Real friends understand the need for privacy. We know trust is earned. That's why San backed down once she had a chance to think things through on the way here. It's why Britt never lashed out. We get that we messed up with you in the first place and blaming you for having trust issues with us is stupid. Puck is wrong. Just because you don't share every nuance of your life with everyone in it doesn't make you a liar any more than it makes me or others. You're a great person to have as a friend." Quinn says as she traces patterns wherever her fingers happen to touch.
"I love you. You always know what to say to keep me calm. You've been keeping me safe even at the risk of your own popularity. Thank you. I trust you with my life. You've shown me that when it comes to you, I have nothing to be afraid of. I know I can tell you anything." Rachel says with adoration.
"I love you too, Baby. And the feeling is mutual." Quinn answers immediately. "What good is popularity if I still have to conform to the others? I'm only sorry I didn't step up to it sooner. I'm sorry we can't be a couple in open." She adds, ashamed that she's afraid.
"Eggie… don't. Your parents would disown you in a heartbeat. We know how small-minded people here are. I can't bear the thought of people treating you the way my dads and I are treated, or that you'd have to face that type of discrimination by yourself until graduation two years away. In a few months, Lima will be nothing more than a bad memory for me. I could never forgive myself if being with me were to expose you to the uglier side of discrimination. I admit that it'd be nice to be able to walk around having people know you're off the market, but right now, the price is too high. Your safety matters more than my insecurities and jealousy. I trust you." Rachel says as she shifts enough to capture Quinn's lips with her own.
"That's one of the reasons I love you so much. No matter what happens, you always do your best to protect me in your own way. Don't worry, Rachie. I'll make sure Puck stays quiet." Quinn says once they pull apart.
"I'm afraid." Rachel says as they shift yet again so Quinn is on her back with Rachel draped nearly on top of her.
"Of what, Baby?" Quinn asks, though she has a very good idea.
"What if you can't get Noah to back off? What if he tells everyone out of spite? I know that I'll be gone so they can't ridicule me for being rejected. Still, I don't think I can take the looks of sheer happiness everyone is going to have because they finally will be rid of me." Rachel admits.
"If the worst happens, we'll deal with it together. They might react poorly, they might not. But one thing I can say for sure is that everyone will be even more jealous of you." Quinn says.
"They won't. What's there to be jealous about?" Rachel asks seriously.
"Tons. Everyone knows how talented you are. It's the reason Shelby sent Jesse to spy on you in the first place. Before you joined Glee, McKinley's show choir was nothing more than a joke. Suddenly, after one invitational, we have the vocal coach of one of the best show choirs in the country nervous enough to send in a scout. Now, your talent is getting you out of Loserville a hell of a lot sooner. We all want to leave. Most won't get to. It sounds sick and pathetic, but their jealousy will only grow and unfortunately, they'll show it in the same horrible ways they've done, but you won't have to go through it alone. I'll be with you every step of the way." Quinn answers.
"What happens with Santana, Brittany and Noah now?" Rachel asks.
"I can't speak for Puck, because he's being a dick. But you don't have to worry about San and Britt. What happens with those two is really up to you." Quinn tells her with a smile.
"What do you mean up to me?" Rachel asks.
"You told me that you've been keeping your distance because you were afraid to get close in case they were going to regress once they found out. Well, you confirmed you're moving and as far as I know, they still want to be your friends. I think you should talk to them and hear what they have to say." Quinn answers.
"Will you be there?" Rachel asks.
"Of course, Baby. That goes for everything and every situation. I'll be with you for as long as you'll allow me." Quinn says with a sappy smile.
"I love you, Quinn." Rachel says in awe.
"I love you too, Rachel. We've missed maybe a period. If we hurry, we can make the last two and make it to Glee. Would you like that? Or would you rather take the day off?" Quinn asks.
"Do you know if Noah is back at McKinley?" Rachel asks slightly worried.
"If you're worried about running into him, don't. He's the type of person that'll take any excuse handed to him to skip school, so I honestly doubt he'll return. Even if he's there and tries to start something, I'll put a stop to it before he can say your name." Quinn answers.
"Daddy will excuse me from the rest of the school day, but will you get in trouble for skipping?" Rachel asks.
"No. I can always say Coach needed us for something Cheerio related, since San and Britt are also gone. Unless we do something stupid, Figgins won't go to Coach to confirm our alibis, and in the off chance Coach finds out, all I have to do is tell her that we were brainstorming ideas on how replace the Cheerios that are graduating this year. After all, that was the reason we were called in a meeting with her in the first place. She'll just see it as initiative on our side and not push things because it saves her tons of work." Quinn answers with a gentle smile.
"What happens if Ms. Sylvester asks you what ideas you came up with?" Rachel pushes. She doesn't want Quinn to get in trouble. Maybe she should do the responsible thing, return to school, and deal with the possible repercussions.
"I've already come up with a list of which alternates will be bumped to full cheering status. We won't be holding try outs yet because we want to see what the new crop of freshmen will yield. I'm not captain just because I sit around stroking my chin maniacally while trying to come up with ideas on how to best terrorise the lemmings. I know what I'm doing to make sure our team remains number one. It's the reason why I'm captain and San is my second in command." Quinn tells Rachel with a proud smile.
"Then may we enjoy the day off? I've been through so many emotions, I'm mentally exhausted." Rachel says blushing slightly, for once letting go of her need to be on top of every little detail that might affect her life. If Noah chooses to make an announcement, there really isn't anything she can do about it, and she honestly doesn't think Quinn could either. At least not without getting in trouble.
"Anything you want, Baby.I should have you sign something as proof that Rachel Berry is willingly skipping class. No one would ever believe me." Quinn says with a mischievous smile.
"It's your bad influence on me." Rachel says as she captures the blonde's lips.
No more words are exchanged for the time being.
"San, why are we going back to school?" Brittany asks when she notices the direction Santana is driving.
"I want to circle the parking lot and make sure Puck isn't going to do something stupid like blabbing his big mouth just for shits and giggles." Santana replies casually.
"That's so sweet of you. That's why I love you so much." Brittany says as she kisses the back of Santana's free hand.
"Whatever. Just make sure no one knows this side of me, or I'll never be able to protect us." Santana says as she glances nervously to make sure no one has seen them, even though they're safely ensconced in the privacy of her car. Tinted windows rock, but one can never be too sure.
Once she is sure Puck's beat up truck is nowhere near McKinley, Santana drives them back to her place so they can enjoy the rest of the afternoon doing something a lot more enjoyable than the reviews some teachers have already started in order to get them ready for finals. She knows that as usual, the three of them will be each other's alibis if their absence comes into question the next day. Ah, the perks of being a high-ranking Cheerio.
When Quinn is sure Rachel is out to the world napping contentedly, she pulls out her phone to call her second in command.
"Is Rachel okay? Did Puck show up to throw another temper tantrum?" Santana asks worried. Damn. She really does have a soft spot for the diva.
"No, but I don't trust that asshole. You have any clue where he is? I want to deliver a message in order to pre-empt anything he might try." Quinn answers in a low voice.
"Why the fuck are you whispering?" Santana asks, knowing full why, but she's curious to know if Quinn will trust her enough with an honest answer. They have drifted apart, but she knows a lot of it is her own fault with how she treated her captain after the baby scare became public fodder.
"I'm still at Rachel's, and she finally settled down into a nap. I want to make sure she doesn't wake up. One, I want her to rest, and two; I doubt she'll be too happy with what I've planned. Even though it'll benefit her, she'll try to talk me out of it." Quinn whispers back.
"Gotcha. What did you have in mind, Cap?" Santana asks with a smile on her face. Maybe things aren't as bad as she thought.
"Well…" Quinn starts her explanation. "But, it all hinges on your willingness to help to make it even more believable. Are you in?" She adds with an evil glint in her eyes. So much for not stroking her chin maniacally. It takes everything in her not to do so and cackle like a mad woman.
"My God Q! No wonder Coach thinks you're a younger version of herself. I'm in. Remind me to never get you truly pissed at me." Santana replies with awe. "You want to come pick me and B up, or do you want to meet at Puck's? He should be there now 'cause today his mom is working late and he has to be home for the brat." She adds after she checks the time.
"I'll pick you up. Be there in ten." Quinn says before she ends the call. She scribbles a quick note to let Rachel know that she's heading home to pick up a few changes of clothes and at the last second decides to add that she'll also have a talk with Puck to make sure he hasn't said anything and to make sure it stays that way.
Quinn makes double sure Santana's parents aren't going to return suddenly. What she wants to do, cannot be done with any parent present, and she wants to make sure phase one is complete before they confront Puck. She carefully and quickly hacks into Dr. López's home computer to access Lima General's labs. She fills in a few forms with practiced ease, prints them. After making sure nothing can be traced back to them and that it won't incriminate Santana's father, the hazel-eyed blonde turns everything off.
"You sure my dad won't get in trouble at work? He could lose his license or some shit like that." Santana asks for what feels like the millionth time.
"No one will know. Lima General isn't known for its kick-ass firewalls. Only another master hacker will be able to find out their server has been compromised, and even then, it'll only show that someone piggy-backed off of your dad's machine. I made sure to re-route everything through countless severs around the globe. Since no one has any reason to even suspect someone in this backwater town would want to hack into the hospital records, there's no reason to check." Quinn answers with a shrug of her shoulders.
"If you can do all that why did you have to do that here? Why not use the internet café in town, or one of the computers in the library or back in school?" Brittany asks.
"Dr. López's computer has the remote access link to Lima General's servers already, so it's like a built in back door that won't leave traces. I would have used Dr. Berry's computer, but the man uses a laptop that is only in his study when he's home. Hacking through the internet café's ISP would have required more time that we don't have because I'd then have to do more work fooling the firewall from an un-authorised machine. I'd also have to disable the software they have that tracks what sites those machines visit. Same with the local library and school's computers. Besides, everyone knows us and we'd have stuck out like Finn in a dwarf convention. No one would believe we'd brainstorm Cheerios related stuff in school, an internet café or the library. I promise you no one will know." Quinn answers, hoping her answer will reassure her friends.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Q. How come I never found out about your computer skills before? And how in the world did you learn to do shit like that?" Santana asks with a shake of her head.
"I had to pass my time somehow while in Bible study or Christ Crusaders meetings, so let's just say I've done a lot of reading. Besides, there's no way I want Coach to know I can do all this geeky shit. Unlike most hackers, no one knows I exist in the cyber world, and I'd like to keep it that way. It's not the hacking that gets people in trouble. It's their need to brag about it." Quinn replies.
"Why are you even bothering with photography? Why not become some super rich consultant to some dot-com start up company? Or better yet, why not start your own?" Santana pushes.
"Because I love photography. My, uh, less than savoury skills are more like something that were born out of necessity and boredom." Quinn says. "Come on, I want to finish this before Rach wakes up." She adds hoping that's enough for Santana and Brittany to drop the subject.
Puck isn't really that surprised to see the three Cheerios at his doorstep. He's only surprised it took them this long. "Abby, go to your room and do homework, read, play or whatever it is you do there, and don't even think about trying to sneak out to listen in." He says in a stern voice. He has a feeling this is one conversation he doesn't want his sister repeating to their mother.
Abby looks at the cheerleaders and his brother and decides it's best to do what he says. She has dealt with the cheerleaders in the past. Out of those three, only the taller blonde is somewhat nice, mainly because she stays in the background while the other two do their thing. The Latina is quick to call her names and the hazel-eyed blonde who stares at her as if with nothing but sheer will she could be frozen on the spot. She's well aware of their reputation and all the rumours, so she wouldn't be surprised if somehow they manage to make her unpopular like they have with other kids in the high school. She wouldn't put it past those two to have that kind of influence in her elementary school or leave a set of instructions for others to do their bidding as she moves through middle, and eventually high school. She has seen first hand what those cheerleaders can do. So Abby all but runs up to her room, slams the door shut and turns on the radio loud enough to drown anything from downstairs just so she won't be tempted to listen in. She can get dirt on Puck another time.
"What the fuck do you want?" Puck asks with false bravado. He knows better than most not to cross the Unholy Trinity. When it's just one of them it's no big deal, but for whatever reason, those three feed off of each other, and together, they're just plain scary.
"Stop playing dumb. We all know why we're here. In war, it's called a pre-emptive strike. You should know all about those, seeing as you waste your free time with Finn playing Call of Duty. But, in case you've taken too many hits to the head, I'll dumb it down for you and we shall call this a warning. Here goes, so pay attention. You will not say a word about Rachel's plans until she's ready. Simple enough, or do I need to dumb it down for you some more?" Quinn says with distaste. She really should consider having her head examined. How in the name of all that is holy did she ever agree to give her virginity to this tool? Right, Finn had been mooning over Rachel like a sick calf, and to top it off, she was having a fat day. The bastard preyed on her insecurities when she went to him for a little ego-stroke.
"How do you know I haven't said anything yet?" Puck asks.
"I've checked Jewfro's blog already and there's nothing posted. You hate school too much to return there unless you absolutely have to." Quinn fires back with a smirk. So predictable.
"What makes you think I won't say anything tomorrow? Hell, all I have to do is act shocked and ask if the rumours about Rachel transferring are true." Puck counters.
Quinn shakes her head. What is it with some men and their inability to deal with a sad situation? She pulls out her iPhone, opens up her e-mail client, and the photos app. She shows Puck a screenshot of a document stating he has tested positive for just about every STD known to human kind that isn't HIV, followed by an e-mail addressed to Jewfro. "Right now, the only people who know about Rachel's plans are Rachel, her dads, Santana, Brittany, her cousin Andy, you, and me. If anyone else in Lima or adjacent towns finds out I'll send Jewfro the e-mail I just showed you sitting snugly in my drafts folder. In case you were unsure, that photo I showed you is a screenshot of the attachment in said e-mail." She says with a self-satisfied smile.
Puck pales at those words, but valiantly tries to save face. It won't do to let them see him squirm. "No one will believe you. Everyone knows I'm clean. I'll just have to tell them you're lying and trying to get back at me for pushing you off the top." He says hoping to sound confident.
"Ah, but have you forgot, people don't really care about the truth? People certainly didn't care I wasn't pregnant, yet the rumours aided by your stupid bragging were enough to leave me to deal with the consequences. I was nearly kicked out of my house. It took some creative lying to convince Russell you were nothing but a conniving, lying bastard spreading vile rumours about me in order to raise your popularity. Thank God your manwhore ways speak for themselves. That pregnancy scare can now be used in my favour, since it's confirmation you lie about using protection. A few keystrokes, and the entire school will know via Jewfro's blog that you're a walking Petri dish of STDs." Quinn says casually.
"You'd fuck up my life for one of the school's biggest losers?" Puck asks.
Before Quinn can even react, Brittany once again slaps him. "Why do you have to be such a meanie? I thought you cared about Rachel. I thought you were her friend. I even told Quinn she didn't have to do this. Now I see I'm wrong." Brittany asks sadly.
"I was, until she decided to lie to us like we don't matter. Real friends don't keep secrets from each other." Puck starts to say only to be interrupted by a fuming Quinn.
"Right. Because you're such a great friend and such an open book to all of us." Quinn retorts.
"That was different." Puck hedges.
"I personally don't give a flying rat's ass what your dirty little secrets are. I'm only here to make sure you keep your mouth shut, or the biggest manwhore in the state of Ohio will have to become very well acquainted with his right hand." Quinn says eerily calm.
"What if Brittany lets it slip or her dads talk about it. You're gonna ruin my life if someone else blabs?" Puck asks in a near panic. He knows he's clean, but he also knows that even if he subjects himself to get tested and posts the results in his Facebook page it won't do him any good. Quinn is right. No one cares about the truth. Their fellow schoolmates only care about wild and crazy rumours, regardless of whether or not there's an ounce of truth in them. "Look, if you're sore about how I didn't back you up and stuff when our little affair became public, you know I couldn't deny it. My rep was at stake. I really like you, but everyone knows that the Puckzilla doesn't do relationships." He says, but judging by the looks on the girls' faces, maybe he should have kept that to himself.
"Then you better pray Dr. Berry and Mr. Berry will keep their mouths shut, huh?" Santana says almost in a sing-song voice. At first, she was feeling slightly guilty, but after watching him rip apart Rachel when only a few hours ago he was claiming to be the diva's friend and vowing to protect her from whatever and watching him justify his actions with Quinn, any sympathy she felt flew out the window.
"That's not fair. You can't blame me for what others might do or say." Puck whines.
"All of this could have been avoided had you just pulled your head out of your ass long enough to see that Rachel moving to New York isn't a bad thing." Quinn says quietly.
"The hell it isn't. What happens to Glee then? We're gonna lose our best singer and you're fine with that? How can you claim to be her friend when you're letting her take the coward's way out?" Puck counters, getting angry again.
"If it means it helps her future, then we lose our best singer. And don't you dare call her a coward. She wasn't the one bragging about bagging the Head Cheerio and the president of the Celibacy Club the first chance she got just to save or bring up her rep." Quinn says in the same eerie calm tone of voice.
"No, she was just the one to tell your oh so perfect boyfriend who's been sporting a boner for her fine Jew ass so she could bag him instead. How does it feel to know that the quarterback of the varsity football team would rather be with the school's loser rather than the town's ice princess? Besides, you're not the only one who can start rumours. It didn't take much to turn you into the school slut, now did it?" Puck says not knowing when to shut up.
It takes everything in Quinn not to kill him on the spot. Even Santana knows to restrain the cheerleading captain in order to prevent the girl from committing homicide.
"You're right, but that's all because of who I had the misfortune to sleep with. I'd slap you again, but I swear it's like you enjoy it a little too much. If you want to see a loser, take a good look in the mirror. It's pathetic the way you're trying to manipulate me by pitting me against my best friend. No wonder Santana dumped you for being a Lima Loser. I have you by the balls and you know it. Rachel is off limits. Until she's ready to say something, you'll keep your mouth shut. I don't care if you go back to ignoring her, but bully her, and you'll be sorry. That little e-mail with the fake lab results is only the very tip of the iceberg. You know very well rumours work both ways. What do you think will happen to your reputation if everyone found out that the only way you managed to sleep with me was to get me drunk because I wouldn't touch you with a ten-foot pole while sober, and I wasn't the only girl you got that way. Sure, some of the pigs will think nothing of it, but most girls with a little self respect won't be caught dead near you." Quinn says in a nearly bored tone.
"You weren't drunk. You had only two wine coolers. You could have easily said no." Puck says, swallowing hard.
"They're called rumours for a reason, aren't they? I'll attack you where it hurts most, and for you, it means you'll only get intimate with your hand or an inflatable doll." Quinn says.
"Fine. I'll keep quiet, but once Berry is gone, you better watch your back." Puck threatens. All four know it's nothing but an empty threat. There's really nothing he can do because all it'd take is for one person to see that fake lab report and he might as well get himself castrated for real.
"I'm glad you see things my way." Quinn says. She then turns on her heels so she's facing Santana and Brittany. "Shall we go, ladies?" She adds with a flourish.
"Remember, Pucky. Whether or not you become Jewfro 2.0 is all in your hands. Your parties only draw a crowd because Cheerios support them. Once we stop showing up everyone else will follow. And believe me, if all of a sudden Quinn deems you a loser, it's only a matter of time before the rest will follow like the good little sheep they are. Not many have fallen from grace the way she did only to return to the top with a fucking vengeance." Santana says as she links pinkies with Brittany and both girls follow their captain.
Puck slams the door shut in frustration. He has no clue how Quinn got a hold of that fake lab report, but he knows that as long as the blonde has it in her possession, he knows he has not choice but to ask 'how high' each time Quinn feels like yelling 'jump'. Everyone knows no one crosses Quinn Fabray. Unfortunately, he knows that the only one who might be able to call off the Head Cheerio is the girl he basically verbally attacked just a few hours ago. Why can't they see that a few slushies to the face and being called a few nasty names here and there isn't the end of the world? Women are such drama queens. If anything, they should be mad at Rachel for lying to them all this time.
"Damn, Q. Do you even feel a little bit bad for blackmailing Puck like that?" Santana asks once they're inside the car.
"Of course I do. But I can't risk him ruining things for Rachel just because his feelings got hurt." Quinn answers as she starts the drive back to Santana's place.
"I'm not trying to be insensitive, but help me out a bit here. Why are you so adamant in protecting her secret? It's not like it'll remain secret for long, and what's the worse that could happen?" Santana asks.
Brittany sighs. Of course the Latina wouldn't truly get it. While they have all experienced some type of bullying and prejudice since joining Glee, it's never been close to what Rachel has gone through. She's about to say something to chastise Santana, but stops when she sees Quinn's head shake in the negative.
"I owe it to Rachel because of all the shit I've put her through. It's that simple. Whether or not I think her reasons are valid is irrelevant. They're important to her so they're important to me by default." Quinn answers.
"Fair enough. God knows I'd be doing the same for Britt. Do you think we could join you for lunch tomorrow? Maybe we could start over for real." Santana asks.
"I'm sure Rach will be fine with it. You've already exceeded all her expectations when you didn't go ape-shit like Puck. Just, you know, don't push." Quinn says as she pulls into the Lópezes' driveway. "Anyway, I gotta head out. I still need to go home and shit." She adds, omitting the fact that all she'll do when she gets 'home' would be to pack a few things to take back to the Berrys.
"Yeah, see you tomorrow. God. I can't believe that with no competitions or games looming in the horizon, Coach still has us in full practice schedule. That woman is certifiably insane." Santana grumbles as she opens her door.
"See you tomorrow Q." Brittany says as she's stepping out from the back seat.
"Bright and early as usual. At least we're in better shape than ninety percent of Lima." Quinn calls out as she waves to the girls before backing out and driving away.
The rest of the evening is spent cuddling and talking with Andy.
Quinn can't help but tease both brunettes that overreacting seems to be another family trait, along with questionable taste in clothes once Andy explains in full details what happened to her phone. They only get off the phone once Nigel arrives at Andy's place and the reporter promises to call Rachel to let her know what's going on with the Miranda front.
Andy considers going into work. It figures that the one day she has no access to her phone for a few hours is the day just about every source she knows decides it's urgent they talk. In the end, she decides against it. She needs to call Nigel and smooth things over and to try and figure out what to expect from her former boss. That's definitely a conversation she doesn't want to have in front of her coworkers or on the street on her way home where anyone could overhear her end of the conversation. She is tempted to call Rachel but a quick glance at the time tells her the diva is still in class. She'll have to wait until the girl is done with Glee. She is thankful that the salesclerk at the AT&T store managed to import all her contacts from her old SIM card without any issues. At least she doesn't have to hunt around for those numbers and she can return all her calls at home.
Andy makes quick of returning every work-related phone call first. She schedules a few face-to-face meetings for the upcoming days and smoothes over a few ruffled feathers when she explains she didn't return their phone calls sooner because she had a mishap with her smartphone. Eventually, she calls Nigel and invites him to dinner (take-out since she can't cook to save her life) and talk because that's not a conversation she wants to have over the phone.
Andy calls Rachel while she waits for Nigel. She nearly flies to Ohio once she finds out how Puck reacted once he found out about Rachel's plans. It's only Quinn reassuring her and confirming that she handled things and Puck will not only keep quiet, but the boy will also leave Rachel alone that she calms down. When pressed for more details, the blonde eventually admits to the blackmail that she once again calls a warning. Andy doesn't know whether to laugh, cry, be angry, be shocked, or be proud that her favourite cousin has found someone who is willing to do almost anything for her. It's only the reassurance that there is no way anyone could get in trouble, unless some other master hacker is involved (unlikely because really, why would anyone want to break into Lima General's network?) that again, calms her down. Andy goes as far as to say that a secret only remains so when very few people know. She asks Quinn how she can be sure Santana or Brittany won't say anything about the girl's hacking abilities.
Quinn easily says that no one would ever believe she's capable of doing that without proof, something her friends can't do without implicating themselves as well. Andy only gets off the phone when her buzzer goes off indicating either Nigel's arrival or dinner being delivered. She can't wait for Rachel to get there so she doesn't have to survive on take out, cold cereal, canned soup, and sandwiches all the time.
"Hey. Food should be here any minute now." Andy greets when she opens her front door.
"Food is here actually." Nigel says as he hands over the paper bag with Thai take-out to Andy. "I ran into the delivery guy and I managed to convince him that he won't get in trouble since I was on my way to meet you for dinner." He adds once he notices Andy's questioning look.
"Thanks Nige. Here, this should cover dinner and tip." Andy says as she tries to hand Nigel what she was planning on giving the delivery man.
"Dinner's on me. Just tell me what happened with Miranda earlier. The woman returned to the office with a mood that would rival a tsunami. I don't think there was a single detail she didn't criticise. I swear people were ready to offer a virgin to sacrifice in order to appease the woman. Dragon Lady didn't even come close to describing her. After today Miranda's new nickname has become 'the right hand of Satan while ruling the ninth circle of hell.'" Nigel says in one breath.
"My God Nige, that rant was worthy of Rachel. There's not much to tell…" Andy says as she explains what she could recall of her earlier encounter with her former boss.
"Miranda never attacked you and the phone thing was truly accidental?" Nigel can't help but ask.
"She never did. It was a freak accident. But judging by your question, what you told me about Emily's reaction, and what I could see of Marissa's reaction I can understand why Miranda insisted on replacing it." Andy replies rolling her eyes. "Think about it a little, Nige. With as much as Miranda cares about her image, do you honestly think she'd be capable of doing something as crude and careless as grabbing and destroying someone's phone? That'd be the equivalent of giving the paparazzi an invitation to spend the day with her while she's at home. Not to mention that could get her arrested for assault. It's absolutely preposterous." She adds.
"You do have a point." Nigel concedes. "So Miranda still has no idea that Rachel is your cousin or that it's a sure thing she's starting at Dalton this September? How can you be sure Dalton's faculty or administration staff won't say a thing to her?" He asks once he's done telling Andy what little he knows from his end.
"Dalton's staff can't. By law, they're not allowed to say anything about a student to anyone who isn't a parent or legal guardian. All Miranda knows is that I was looking into Dalton for a friend who might be moving to New York. Problem is I doubt she buys that if she went back to the school. Shit. She won't give up until I can convince her all my stories and articles have nothing to do with Dalton or any other school." Andy replies.
"Good luck. We all know that no one tells Miranda she's wrong, even when she is. Besides, it's only a matter of time before she finds out that your cousin is going to the same school as her children. Especially when one or both twins are in the show choir Rachel wishes to join. Maybe you should just fess up to her." Nigel suggests.
"And risk painting a target on Rachel's back? No way. You say Miranda won't retaliate using children, but how can I take that chance when the woman has no qualms blackballing people for mistakes outside of their control? Or how she went and betrayed you the way she did with the James Holt deal?" Andy asks.
"Oh Andy, I hope you didn't walk out on Miranda because of me. I couldn't say anything then, but that was all part of the plan to make things believable. Do you honestly think that Miranda wouldn't have found out ahead of time what Irv was planning on doing? She might have a lot of enemies, but the woman also has a very tight-knit group of very loyal people in the industry that would follow her to end of the world and back. Had she played dumb and allowed Irv to think he was successful in ousting her, other publications would have snagged her in a heartbeat, and all the top designers would have followed her. She made sure to stay because the day she leaves Runway will be by choice and not because of someone like Irv, which at the moment she was very tempted to do. But, she knew Jacqueline and Christian would have gutted the senior staff and replaced all of us with their handpicked choices. She might criticise us, but she also knows we're the best at what we do. And as much as she could have brought some of us over with her to whatever publication she might have chosen, a lot of people would have been either fired or demoted. As ruthless as the woman is, she does take care of those who are loyal to her." Nigel says quietly.
"You never said anything. How come?" Andy asks shocked.
"At the time I couldn't. Not even Emily knows all the details, even after all these years. After you quit, you made it very clear that whatever had to deal with you and Miranda was off limits in our talks. I was just acquiescing to your wishes. As much as I'm still dying to find out why you left so suddenly, and you know what a gossip I can be, I'll respect your privacy." Nigel answers honestly.
"It's not that I don't trust you. Miranda herself doesn't know. I feel like I owe her the explanation before I can tell anyone else. For now all I'll say is that my perception of what I thought she did to you played a role in my decision to quit, but it was by no means the only or even the main reason." Andy admits. "Believe me when I say that I've wanted to call and apologise." She adds.
"Then why haven't you?" Nigel asks, though he knows that first Andy would have had to deal with Emily first, and he knows the Brit still has a chip the size of Jupiter on her shoulder when it comes to Andy.
"I never thought she'd ever agree to see me. Not after the way I left. I know I lucked out and I didn't want to risk my new job by angering her further. I know what I did was extremely unprofessional and to this day, I thank whatever deity that has been looking after me. God knows the woman was well within her right to blackball me all the way to Andromeda." Andy admits.
"Well, with Rachel starting at Dalton soon, maybe it's time for you two to clear the air. Besides, it sounds like it's something you need to do." Nigel pushes.
"Like she'll actually listen to an apology from a former junior assistant that's been overdue for nearly four years. I'm still surprised she hasn't torpedoed my career to bits yet. I mean, I get it that our target readers are completely different, but even then, the publishing world is very small." Andy counters.
"Andy, don't sell yourself short. After I talked some sense into you, you proved your worth in ways that impressed her so much that she promoted you to Emily's position within months. When you quit, it left a huge void because no one could measure up to you. It's an unspoken rule that no one mentions your name because the few times it happened, Miranda went on a warpath." Nigel says with a shake of his head.
"That's probably because I was hot-headed enough to defy her in such a childish way so hearing my name only reminds her of that." Andy says with a self-deprecating smile.
"That's definitely not it. I have no idea what it is about you, but everything that has to deal with you has been different from day one. Miranda personally interviewed you, and even after you so blatantly admitted to having no clue who she was and your complete lack of knowledge of the fashion world combined with your atrocious fashion sense, she still hired you. You're the only junior assistant that Miranda ever bothered calling by her real name. She still calls everyone Emily. You can see why we thought World War III was declared the moment we realised she had ran into you, and why we thought she acted out of character when she had Marissa replace your phone. We really thought she was doing damage control after an outburst. She has always acted out of character with you." Nigel shares after some thought.
Andy is stunned into silence with the latest revelations, something that's nearly impossible to do.
"There's more to your fears for Rachel or even your career. You had the perfect opportunity to talk to her earlier, but you chose not to. What's going on Six?" Nigel asks when it's clear Andy won't be saying much any time soon.
Andy takes a deep breath. "It's a combination of pride, fear, and self-preservation. I've done a few human interest stories and one of them was about substance abuse and how it affected not just the addict, but those around them as well." She says.
"I know. That was one of your best pieces to date, but what that does have to do with anything?" Nigel asks interrupting.
"I'm getting to it. During my interviews with recovering addicts and their families and friends, they all told me the toughest parts were steps eight and nine. Every single one of them told me that it wasn't asking for forgiveness or even admitting that one has to make amends. They told me the toughest part was when someone didn't accept the apology. It was one of the biggest setbacks because it gave a lot of recovering addicts that excuse to fall off the wagon. My point is, I don't know how I'll react if I were to pour my heart out and apologise to Miranda only to have her dismiss it as nothing, because then it validates every single time she has treated me as nothing more than pond scum.
"Rachel wasn't the only one who had to deal with bullies growing up. Granted, my situation wasn't nearly as bad as hers, but it took me a while to find myself and work on having a positive image of myself. And even though the entire situation was and is of my own doing, I'm still afraid of what her dismissal will do to my self-image. We know her words won't be nice and fluffy." Andy admits aloud for the first time what has stopped her from seeking Miranda and doing the right thing.
Nigel takes a few moments to gather his thoughts. He looks at the expectant look on Andy's face, and he can't help but think of the shy, young woman who started out as the junior assistant to one of the most powerful women in the New York City so eager so please and so eager to prove herself.
"You've forgotten one very important truth here, Six. No matter what you think or anyone else thinks, Miranda has already forgiven you, otherwise, you would've been lucky to get a job working as a janitor scrubbing toilets for The Enquirer. No one knows why or how you managed to walk away unscathed." Nigel points out. "I suggest clearing the air before Rachel moves here, so that inevitable meeting between the two of you in front of D and the twins won't be as awkward, and those girls won't get caught in the crossfire." He adds.
"I'm not so sure about being forgiven, since it is Miranda we're talking about. That woman has turned holding a grudge into an art form. But, you're right about Rachel and the twins. If and when we cross path in anything Dalton related, it'd be a shame to have them in the middle of whatever is going on between Miranda and I. I guess it's about time I do what should have been done a long time ago. I know I'm not the same awkward teenager from Cincinnati with a full academic scholarship for Northwestern or the same wide-eyed girl fresh out of college with a chip on her shoulder and a point to prove. I also know she's justified to say whatever she needs to me because of how I handled things." Andy says determined.
"Does that mean I should warn Emily that you're going to be calling to make an appointment to see Miranda?" Nigel asks.
"Don't be silly. Like I would ever make an appointment to see Miranda during work hours for something personal. I don't know when, but when the next opportunity presents itself, I'll take it and apologise. That is, if she'll hear me out." Andy says.
"You do realise that if Miranda is dead set that you're working on some Dalton exposé that she'll hound you until you talk, right?" Nigel asks the obvious. "It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when she'll contact you." He adds.
"I know. Miranda won't go through the proper channels because she won't want to draw attention to herself by contacting anyone from the press willingly. That should buy me some time until she figures out a way to do so without drawing unnecessary attention to herself. " Andy muses. "Does she know we still keep in touch? Well, after the favour you did for Rachel and Quinn, I guess the question is who else knows we keep in touch and how long until it reaches Miranda's ears." She adds.
"Out of everyone that you know that still works there, only Serena and Roy know, and that's because you've kept in touch with them as well. Like me, they've been very discreet. No one wanted to be the reason for Miranda to completely lose it. We were all sure she was going to blackball you, and when that didn't happen, we didn't want to take chances." Nigel answers truthfully.
"Thank you. I always knew staying in touch with me was basically career suicide, so I appreciate the risks you've taken for me." Andy says touched. "How hasn't Miranda figured anything out yet?" She adds.
"Why would she all of a sudden think we've been keeping in touch when the subject hasn't been broached in years?" Nigel asks.
"Uh, I thought she'd be suspicious when all of a sudden samples from The Closet disappeared out of thin air." Andy states the obvious.
"The Closet isn't a black hole. If we didn't purge it from time to time, we'd have to continuously add space to it. Besides, have you forgotten that all samples are standard size two and four?" Nigel points out.
"Rachel is a size two, Nige." Andy counters.
"Yes, but she also falls into the petite category. I didn't have to alter a single item because I called in a few favours to procure the samples for our little songbird." Nigel admits.
"And Miranda wasn't curious why all of a sudden you were calling in favours like that?" Andy asks surprised.
"No. They were personal favours. They had nothing to do with Runway, and so long as my personal life doesn't affect the magazine in a negative way, I'm left alone. Miranda usually gives the impression she micromanages everything, but that only holds true for work." Nigel replies.
"How is it that no one has said anything to Miranda about both of Rachel's visit to Runway?" Andy asks with a shake of her head. She remembers all visitors need security clearance and they need to sign in and out of the premises.
"Stupid question Six, but I guess old age affects some of us more than others. How much free time did you have while working there?" Nigel asks with a roll of his eyes.
"Well, old age must definitely be affecting your memory then. I never had free time unless it was late into the evening and only if I was lucky no emergency came up." Andy answers rolling her eyes as well.
"Then what makes you think the rest of the minions would have enough free time to notice? You forget that the time I helped Rachel and Quinn was during the time they were set to compete against Dalton as well. Miranda was hell bent in making sure her weekend was free, so work was even crazier. At the time, we were also considering doing a spread on an up-and-coming designer who favours petite women, so Rachel's and even Quinn's presence at Runway looked like something for that idea. I made sure the petite models we were planning on using for that spread, had it run, showed up earlier that same day." Nigel says with a sly smile.
"So basically your guess is as good as mine as to when or how Miranda will contact me." Andy says, though it sounds more like a statement than like the question it was intended to be.
"Basically. I'm surprised it's taken you this long to have a meltdown over Rachel's gift for Quinn." Nigel says with a chuckle.
"Very funny." Andy says as she slaps the side of his arm.
"Watch it woman. I bruise easily." Nigel says rubbing his arm.
"It was barely a tap, you big baby. Keep this up and you'll be giving Rachel a run for her money in the drama queen department." Andy states.
"When you finally talk to Miranda and apologise, will you be telling her about the real reason why you were at Dalton today?" Nigel asks as he helps Andy clear out the empty take-out containers.
"I don't know. I've already lied about it once, and I don't know how that will play out for Rachel. I don't want her caught in the middle and if what you're saying about things being different and unpredictable when it comes to me, then I don't know if I can take the chance of having her use Rachel to get to me." Andy admits.
"Miranda has never attacked or used children to get back at someone before." Nigel says once again, feeling the need to defend his employer.
"I know, but you also said that when it comes to me, acting out of character is nothing new. Unless you can guarantee that to me without a shadow of a doubt, it's too much for me to risk. Rachel is leaving her parents in order to start fresh with me. She comes first. She's the reason why I'll apologise to Miranda the next chance I get as opposed to putting it off indefinitely the way I've been doing. But if Miranda doesn't accept my apology I'm not going to be the one making it easier on her to get back at me by attacking me where it'll hurt me the most." Andy says.
"It won't come to that, but I see your point. I've known that woman for the last twenty years or so, and I still can't predict her moods any better than that of any stranger off the street. Anyway, as lovely as dinner was, I must take my leave, what with tomorrow being a workday and all. I'll keep you posted if there are any changes in Miranda's behaviour in the coming days." Nigel says as getting up to grab his light coat.
"Thanks for the company and the talk. I'll definitely keep you posted if anything changes on my end." Andy says as she walks him to the front door.
Andy thinks about the events of the day and her conversation with Nigel. Even she has to admit that there is something to what the man said about Miranda's behaviour. Now if she could figure out a way to predict the outcome of her encounter with her former boss, or how she'll react when she finds out that Rachel, who more than likely will be in Glee with one of both twins, is her cousin. Of course, it'll probably be easier for her to predict when the next hurricane will hit just by sniffing the air.
A/N 3: Thanks to everyone who has added this story to their favourites list and/or their update list. The support is truly appreciated it.