She's standing in the parking lot, covered in egg, tears streaming down her face. At least four jocks and seven Cheerios have walked past her and laughed.
Everyone else ignores her as they go about their lives, unaware of the souls of those baby chickens being crushed under the shells beneath their feet.
Another group of jocks come walking past and she waits for the cackles and taunts. They hit her like the ocean smashing against a cliff, the cruelty washing over her. But suddenly there's an angry exclamation and one of the boys is pushing his way towards her.
"Rachel? What the hell happened?" a gentle hand is on her shoulder and Matt's concerned face materializes through her blurred vision.
She opens her mouth and a sob escapes. "Vocal Adrenaline. They… Jesse told them I was a vegan."
He looks at the shattered egg in her hair and on her face, and his expression twists from shock into anger. "Those fuckers! We can deal with them psyching us out, but this is just plain sadistic. It's over the line, Rachel, I'm so sorry."
"Why are you apologizing?" she stammers. "You didn't do anything wrong."
"I know, but you must be feeling horrible," he tentatively wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "I'm sorry for that."
She almost considers tossing her hair and snidely informing him that she doesn't need his pity. But then she realises that she's just had an egg smashed in her face by the boy she thought she loved, so she really does deserve some sympathy at the very least.
So instead she offers him a wobbly smile and picks away the fragments of egg shell that she's transferred onto his football jacket. "Thank you."
"Do you need a ride home to get changed or something?" he suggests as he brushes some of the quickly congealing poultry fetus off her shoulder.
"Yeah," she sniffles. "Thanks Matt, you're really nice."
"No problem," he grins at her and she can't believe she never noticed how his teeth are small, perfect little squares of white. "I need an excuse to skip biology anyway."
"Yo, Rutherford, let's go!"
They both look towards Matt's uncomfortably condescending friends, clearly at a loss to why he was associating himself with this weird, annoying chick. He can hang out with her in glee club all he likes, but he needs a reality check. Life isn't a musical. He can't just sing and dance his way through college, through his 9 to 5 job for the rest of his life. Why is it so hard for him to accept that?
Rachel takes a step back from him, looking at the ground, avoiding the conflicted look on his face. But she lets out of sigh of relief as a strong hand grasps her wrist.
"Actually guys, I'm taking Rachel home," he pulls her in the direction of his car, shrugging off the catcalls and rude comments coming from his group as they walk away.
"Sorry about them," he sighs as he opens the car door for her. "They don't get why I'm so into New Directions."
"It's fine," Rachel pats his arm. "People always seek to destroy what they don't understand."
He just gives her a funny look out of the corner of his eye and she suppresses the lump that suddenly arises in her throat. And so he drops her off at her house with a promise to not to tell her story until she's worked out all the details to make her look more like a victim and less like a desperate, broken-hearted loser.
The next day at school, while she's telling her nightmarish story and Puck and Finn's faces turn red and their fists bunch into angry balls, Matt wonders why he didn't fly into a furious rage and wasn't overcome with a tremendous urge to defend the honour of the glee club. Sure, both Puck and Finn have made out with Rachel, but Artie and Kurt are livid too, and it wasn't as if they're going to much good at face re-arranging with their respective wheelchair and soft baby hands. So he stands up when Puck calls to arms, but looking at Rachel's distressed face, he just doesn't feel like punching in anybody's teeth. He just wants to win regionals for her. For everyone.
Rachel catches Matt looking at her strangely, like he did in the car, at every rehearsal that week. He picks her to dance with, to sing with, to get funky with. She's both flattered and confused. What was his deal? He'd barely shown any interest in her before. Did he feel so bad for her that he thought she needed a Glee chaperone to make sure she wouldn't lose the will to live?
So after they owned Vocal Adrenaline in the auditorium on Friday, he slung an arm around her waist as they glared at Jesse, but as everyone congratulates each other backstage, she realises that his hand is still firmly attached to her hipbone. She gazes up at him questioningly. He just winks teasingly.
"Wanna hang out this weekend?" he offers.
"Um, what?" she bit her lip contemplatively, but she couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face.
"You're my friend, and you've been through a lot this week. I want to take you somewhere fun," he shrugs.
The word friend rings around Rachel's mind, and her heart swells. I have another friend, she thinks delightedly to herself. A real friend.
"Sure," she nods as Mercedes comes over to hug her and Kurt gives Matt a high five before a slap on the butt.
"Cool," he nods, after sending a confused glance after Kurt. "Pick you up at 8 tomorrow night. Wear something Spanish."
"Spanish? What does that even mean?" she asks, but he's already gone off to talk to Mike and she doubts he could hear her over Brittany's squeals.
"Wow," Matt's jaw drops as Rachel answers her door.
"Is it too much?" she fingers the rose in her hair and the multicoloured ruffles of her flamenco dress as she take in his casual jacket and jeans.
"No, not at all," he shakes his head vigorously. "Well, yeah, a little. A lot. I was just going to take you to a Latin dance club, but don't worry, you'll look better than everyone else there."
"Should I go change?" she shrinks uncertainly back into her house, but he stops her by taking her arm lightly and laughing.
"No, don't, you look great, trust me," he smiles that perfect smile at her again and she can't help but feel a little lightheaded.
The club is in a part of town she's never been before, and she nervously grabs at Matt's hand as two seedy looking gentleman tip their hats at her suggestively.
"Are you sure we're perfectly safe here?" she squeaks.
"Rachel, my parents own this place," he sighs, pulling back a curtain to reveal a thriving dancefloor with sweating people thrusting against each other to some dangerously sexy salsa music.
"Let's dance," he squeezes her hand tighter as he pulls her into the heaving, sweltering mass of people, and Rachel can't resist the pounding bass or the tantalising way Matt is moving his hips. He draws her in and dips her down low as one song ends and another begins. His hands are everywhere as they sway from side to side, but not in an inappropriate or perverted way. It's just what the music does to them. He spins her under his arm and his face lights up and he sees the pure joy that this place is bringing her.
"This is really cool," she whispers in his ear, her hot breath burning against his skin.
He just nods and grabs her waist again as the music changes tempo to something slower, more sultry. Their chests, their stomachs, their pelvic bones, every part of them is connected as Matt leads her along, step by step.
"and if you said this life ain't good enough, I would give my world to lift you up."
They both know the words to this song, and softly sing along as they dance to the rhythm. It was so easy, just being with each other.
Rachel feels like the world is closing in around her, and there's no escape. Not does she want there to be. She could just stay here and dance with Matt until she dies of exhaustion, or a talent scout sees them and whisks them away to New York or Los Angeles where they can just do this for a living.
But the night ends sooner than she wants it too, and before she realises it they're back out on the street. The slick sweat that coats her bodies cools in the late night air, and she hugs herself to try and remind her of the warmth she felt indoors. But suddenly a jacket is wrapped around her and Matt links her arm in his, leading her down the street and back into his car.
"Thank you so much, Matt, I can't remember the last time I had that much fun!" she gushes as he pulls away from the curb.
"You don't even know fun until you've partied with me," he joked.
"And your parents own the club? You get to do that all the time?" she's on a roll and she can't stop now, she's still feeling the adrenalin rush and she's pushing herself to go higher, faster.
"Not all the time," he chuckles. "I have school and football and glee club. They're all pretty time consuming."
"But still," Rachel sighs wistfully. "You get to go there whenever you want. I'm so jealous."
"You don't have to be," Matt takes a sidelong glance at her. "We should make this a weekly thing. It'll be cool."
"Yeah, it will!" she chirps. "But, you know, I have so many co-curricular activities that I just don't know if I have the time."
"No excuse," he grins and elbows her lightly. "See you there in next Saturday. It's a date."
All of Rachel's tumbling thoughts come screeching to a complete stop. She feels her mouth go dry. "Date?"
"Yeah," Matt raises one shoulder indifferently, like he hasn't realised the impact of his momentous choice of words.
"Listen, Matt, you're really nice, but, you know, I just got out of a relationship, and somehow they all with traumatic break-ups. Couldn't you date someone like, oh, I don't know, Mercedes?"
He scowls and raises his eyebrows as her. "Oh, really? You're seriously typecasting me? I'm black so of course I have to date little miss Jennifer Hudson?"
Rachel is aghast. "No! No, I didn't mean it like that! One of my dads is black, I would never use that sort of racial stereotyping! You know, it's just, I thought…"
She trails off when she sees his lip twitching into a playful dimple. "Rachel, chill, I'm messing with you. I didn't mean date as in a 'yo, let's make out' date. I meant it as a recurrent scheduled event that two friends can share with each other."
"Oh," her cheeks burn pink and she looks down at her hands folded primly in her lap.
"Seriously though, you think I should date Mercedes? Why?" he looks at her quizzically.
"Well, you know, she's pretty, and she's a really good singer, and you guys seem to get along really well," she shrugs.
"Yeah, well, Santana also falls into all three of those categories, but you don't see me jumping in line to date her."
"Maybe because you don't want to contract a venereal disease," Rachel snorts.
"Harsh, but true," Matt laughs, and she feels the tension starting to ease. "But I don't really see myself with anyone from New Directions. What would a rising star want with a back-up dancer?"
For the first time, Rachel feels a flash of empathy for him, and she reaches out and squeezes his bicep reassuringly. "You're a star too, Matt. You just haven't realised it yet."
"Perhaps," he shakes his head. "But I don't think so. I'm not in glee club for the fame or the glory. I just really love it. I want to win regionals because if we lose and the club gets cut, the best part of my day goes out the window."
As his finishes speaking, he pulls up outside her house. They sit in silence for a few moments, he's thinking about how much he wants to dance with her again, and she's thinking how she's never met someone quite as remarkably opposite to her. Quietly, she leans over and softly presses her lips to his cheek.
"I'm really glad we're friends, Matt," she whispers, opening the car door and sliding out. "Same time next week?"
"Count on it," he beams, flashing his flawless teeth as the engine turns over. "See you at school, Rachel."
She waves as he drives off down the street, then turns towards her house, pulling the wilting flower out of her hair as she sings to herself.
"and it's just like the ocean, under the moon."
I love Glee so much it hurts.
And Matt is one of my faves, I have a soft spot for secondary characters. Especially if they can dance the way he can. LOVE IT.