… … …
All it takes is one sentence.
One fairly critical, fairly rude sentence, but a sentence nonetheless. "Your voice isn't strong enough to handle something originally sung by Barbra Streisand, so you should probably just stick with something closer to your wheelhouse- like Britney Spears."
Rachel makes comments like that every day of her life. She tries to suppress them, but there is some hidden force that seems to draw words out of her- words she doesn't even mean to say. Of course, she's nearly always right, but that's beside the point. She tried to make a New Year's resolution to stop being so vocally critical, and she made good headway on it, too… Until January 4th when glee had its first rehearsal of the new year. Honestly, it's not her fault. She cannot help the fact that she has a pitch perfect voice and an ear to match. Other people might watch their teammates perform and be able to enjoy their performances just because they're fun or entertaining, but Rachel isn't privy to that joy. All she hears are right notes and wrong notes.
Unfortunately, most of the notes she hears fall into the latter category.
Santana Lopez is not a terrible singer. When she is singing something that fits her voice, she can actually sound quite nice. She's never going to be a star, of course, but very few people will be. Of those few people, Rachel knows none (herself excepted, of course). But Santana is not horrible, and she's far from the worst singer in glee. However, she is not talented enough to take on anything beyond your typical top 40 pop song. Her voice is not strong enough, nor are her emotions powerful enough. Rachel isn't being mean with this assessment, she's simply being honest.
So naturally, when Mr. Schuester offers her the lead in "Down with Love," Rachel has to speak up. And, of course, it does not go over well. Santana glares at her and appears to be doing some sort of voodoo hex with her eyes. Kurt tells her to sit down and stop whining. Mercedes accuses her of being a spotlight hog. Puck rolls his eyes. Quinn and Artie make faces at each other. And Finn looks down at the ground and feigns deafness so that he isn't forced to defend her. She is very used to all of it. She is also used to Mr. Schuester telling her that she's being unfair and rude and that they are a team and that teams work together and share things.
Rachel is pretty certain that the only thing Santana's ever shared in her life is a case of crabs.
(She at least has enough sense to not say that.)
After practice, she pretends not to notice the way the rest of her teammates are shooting her a mixture of evil little glares and smirks. She is good at pretending people don't hate her, so she gathers up her things and smiles brightly at Finn as she straightens up and pulls her bag over her shoulder. He isn't as good at pretending as she is, and she can tell that he's uncomfortable with the way people are looking at her and, by proxy, him as well. She knows that he's made himself somehow responsible by association, and she knows that he isn't all that okay with the idea. She tries her best to distract him.
"You sounded really good today," she says brightly, slipping her hand into his as they head out into the hallway toward the parking lot. "I told you that the B was doable with enough warming up."
He isn't really listening to her, and she knows this. He's got his eyes trained on the floor, and she can tell that he's counting the tiles as they head out of the building. He does that when he's trying to distract himself from something- he counts things. It's a habit she noticed about him months ago, but she's pretty sure he doesn't even know he does it.
"You wanna get something to eat?" Finn changes the subject altogether, but he stops counting and looks up just as they reach the glass double doors. He pushes them open with one hand and waits for her to step through before following her. She's still got his hand, but she thinks it's very sweet that he is so chivalrous. He always holds doors open for her and pulls out chairs for her and does all those things that don't even cross most sixteen year old boy's minds.
She tells him that yes, she would love to get something to eat, but she has to be home by eight because her father has insisted on implementing "Family Future Night" every Tuesday. Family Future Night usually consists of one or both of her dads sitting down with her and working on scholarship applications and college essays. She is Ivy League bound whether she likes it or not, and her fathers aren't going to accept anything less.
She hasn't yet figured out the perfect way to tell them that she's thinking more and more about Ohio State these days.
Finn takes her to Panera, which she thinks is his way of apologizing for not standing up for her during glee. She thinks this, of course, because his dinner of preference is more along the lines of a Big Mac rather than a strawberry poppyseed salad. She doesn't care, of course, because she counts any time she can persuade him away from McDonald's as a personal victory.
Finn is weird, though, throughout dinner. And he's weird n a way that's more obvious than his constant complaining about how he just paid nine bucks for a sandwich the size of his thumb. She isn't positive, but she's guessing that since he wasn't in a terrible mood before practice, the change occurred while they were at glee. She can't particularly remember anything offhand that would have bothered him, so she goes for the direct approach.
He looks up, and she can tell by his face that no, not everything is okay. He's obviously not going to admit this, though, because he forces a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes and nods. "Yeah, everything's cool."
She doesn't press the issue. They finish their food, and she talks his ear off about registering for the ACT. She's already made them both color-coded study guides (she needs hers far less than he needs his, but she doesn't say this), and he needs to make sure his mom sends in the check by the deadline. He looks sort of sick at the thought, but she assures him everything will be fine. Even if he doesn't particularly enjoy talking about standardized testing, it keeps him distracted enough from whatever's bothering him.
He takes her back to her house, and they spend about five minutes making out in his car before she goes inside. He smiles at her as she closes the car door and lifts his hand to wave right before she lets herself into the house. She hears him pull away and thinks for probably the millionth time how much she really, really likes him.
"Took you long enough." Her dad is at the kitchen table working on his laptop when she slips in the backdoor. He looks up and smiles at her, and she knows right away that he's well aware of the fact that she's just spent the last several minutes making out with her boyfriend in the driveway. "Finn didn't want to come inside?"
She forces her own smile and joins him at the table. "He's got a lot of homework."
"Did you eat yet? There's some take-out in the fridge if you're hungry."
She lets him know that she's already eaten, and then she does as expected of her and gets out the latest scholarship application so that they can start going over it. Her other father is at an overnight conference in Toledo, so it's just the two of them tonight. She feels less pressure when she's just up against them separately. When it's two against one, she sometimes feels overwhelmed in a way she doesn't enjoy speaking about. She knows they only want what's best for her, which is why she's dreading the day when she brings up state school as a viable alternative to Brown.
She doesn't bring this plan up to anyone at all actually. She hasn't shared it with anyone, and she isn't exactly eager to begin, either. Something tells her that no one will understand and that everyone she knows (including those who would benefit from her decision) will tell her to go to the best school she can get accepted into. She doesn't want to have that conversation, so she's just keeping quiet for now and appeasing her parents with thoroughly filled out applications.
After an hour or so, she kisses her dad on the cheek and tells him she's going upstairs to study. She rarely actually brings homework home, as she gets most of it done during her study hall and in the afternoon either before glee or while she's waiting for Finn to finish at football practice. She does do a fair amount of studying, though, because her class schedule this semester is packed full and busy, and she isn't going to let herself fall behind in anything.
When her phone buzzes, she assumes it's Finn texting her, but she's surprised to pick up her phone and see Puck's name instead. He wants to know if she's finished her Spanish, and she knows as soon as she types her reply that he'll want to cheat. She is already typing the reply to his second (so far unasked) question when her ringtone blares loudly in her hand.
"I am not giving you the answers," she says flatly in lieu of a more traditional greeting.
"Whatever," he says back, and she can practically hear his eye roll. "I don't need all of them, I just need some help."
"Help on what?" she asks, flipping open her Spanish book to the page of their homework assignment.
"On two through sixteen."
"We only have to do one through sixteen!"
"I figured out the first one on my own."
"I'm not helping you cheat," she repeats, falling back onto her pillows and staring up at the ceiling. She has a sudden urge to count the paint markings.
"Look, Rachel," and she can hear that he's done playing. "You're going to help me one way or another- either you just help me now, or I'll steal your paper before class and copy the answers then. Your choice."
"You will not!" she says, honestly outraged. "I'll tell Mr. Schuester."
"You think he gives a shit?"
"Uh, yeah? He's a teacher."
"He'll just give you another lecture on the importance of sharing. Is that what you want?"
She would argue if he wasn't so, so right.
"Why do you need my help?" It isn't as if she and Puck have are regular study buddies or buddies of any kind really. They tolerate each other because they have to, but that's pretty much where it ends.
He grumbles something and then says, "Because the Mexican who usually does my homework is currently not speaking to me, and you're the only person I know who pays attention in that class."
"Trouble in paradise?" She can't help the smirk that forms on her face.
"Something like that."
"What happened? Did Santana beat you at Halo?"
"Santana doesn't play Halo, dumbass," he says hatefully. "She's just a bitch."
"You don't say…"
"Yeah," he pipes up, and she can tell he's a little more eager about this part. "And you might want to remember that before you go spouting your crazy in her direction. She's out to fucking kick your ass, you know that, right?"
She purses her lips together, determined to show no reaction even though she knows he can't see her anyway. "I am not scared of Santana Lopez."
She hears him laugh, but it's really more like a scoff. She doubts he knows what scoff means, though, so she's assuming it's just a laugh. "You should be scared of Santana," he tells her. "If there's one person in the world you should be scared of, it's her."
She knows deep down that he is potentially telling the truth, but she will not worry herself with that at the moment. Instead, she turns back to the real subject at hand. "I'm not helping you cheat, Noah."
"Maybe you're not aware, but when you're dating someone, you're supposed to do his friends favors. That's like common etiquette and shit."
She can't help herself. "Yes, that worked out so well for Quinn, right?"
"Ha ha ha," he says sarcastically. "You're not even like a little bit funny. Oh, and by the way? Maybe in your dreams."
She rolls her eyes. "Good night, Noah," she says pointedly.
"I'm getting your homework tomorrow, Rachel. Count on it."
"No, you're not."
He ignores her completely. "Night, babe. Sweet dreams."
He hangs up then, and she can hear the smug look of total assery that accompanies his last sentence.
That night, she dreams that she's trapped inside a video game and that Neil Diamond comes to rescue her. She wakes up and promptly forgets about the dream.
The next morning, Finn picks her up as usual, and he drives her to school. He's in a better mood, and he starts telling her all about the Browns upcoming game that weekend and how Kurt's dad said he might be able to score some tickets and some other stuff that Rachel effectively tunes out. She doesn't feel particularly bad because she knows he doesn't listen to half the things she says. They don't share many common interests, but they work because they both at least pretend to care. Even if they both know it's all just pretend.
He hangs out at her locker as she puts her things away, and just as she shoves her Spanish book into her locker, he swears and says he knew he forgot something. She hands over her homework without really thinking about it, and he promises to give it back to her before second period. He kisses her quickly and then runs off to geography while she gathers her things for English and slowly makes her way down the hallway. No one rushes at her with a slushie or purposely slams her into a row of metal lockers, so at least that's a step up from this time last year. Still, no one rushes up to walk with her to class or share the latest gossip, either. She spots Tina across the hall and gives a little wave, which is quickly returned, but then Tina hurries off in the other direction without so much as another glance. She isn't surprised.
That's exactly how her life goes.
English is exactly the same as it is every day. She listens to Mrs. Miller lecture on A Separate Peace and wonders exactly how the majority of her classmates even manage to pass from one grade to the next, as more than half of them have their heads down napping. It's first period! She keeps her mouth closed, though, and manages to bring no attention to herself whatsoever. In fact, it isn't until she's halfway to Spanish that she even has a moment of verbal interaction.
"Rach!" She hears her name before she sees Puck running through the crowd after her. He's got some ridiculous smirk on his face, and curiosity totally gets the best of her, so she stops and waits for him to catch up. A couple of people look at him like he's lost his mind, but he either doesn't notice or doesn't care because he ignores them all. "Finn asked me to give this to you," he says, shoving a piece of paper at her once he's caught up.
She glances down and, of course, sees the homework she leant Finn earlier.
The glare she sends him is enough to cause that smirk to turn into a full-blown smile. "Told you," he says, dropping an arm over her shoulder lazily. "You should always trust me to hold up to my promises."
"Yes, you're the most trust-worthy person I've ever met in my life." She looks despairingly at the arm he's got around her, which, of course, just causes him to squeeze her tighter in annoyance.
She normally sits by herself in Spanish, but she isn't surprised at all when he drops into the seat beside her and flashes his teeth in innocence. There is nothing innocent about him, though, and she is more than a little bit worried by the fact that he doesn't even seem remotely fazed by the odd looks he's getting from his friends. He isn't building up to some huge prank or anything because he doesn't do that anymore. That doesn't mean he's being nice, though. He is purposely trying to annoy her, and she knows that the more she reacts, the happier he's going to be and the further he'll push.
So she does nothing.
Mr. Schuester begins the lesson, and just like nearly every day, most of the class zones immediately out. She will admit that Spanish is less than interesting, but she refuses to follow her classmates' examples, and she copies down all of his notes from the board and tries her best to follow along.
She hears her name whispered from beside her, but she keeps her eyes trained straight in front of her, refusing to acknowledge the fact that the boy beside her is repeatedly hissing her name.
"Rachel. Rachel. Rachel. Raaaachel."
"What?" she finally hisses, turning her head quickly to glare at him.
Puck just grins. "Can I borrow a pen?"
"No," she snaps quietly.
Trying her best not to throw the first punch of her life, she quickly drops her head down to his bag, which is sitting on the floor between them. Without a word, she reaches into it and pulls out a pen from the three that he has sitting in the front pocket. Then she shoves it at him and turns her attention back to the teacher.
There's something being said about conjugation, but Rachel finds it incredibly difficult to concentrate given the fact that she is being physically assaulted. A pen is tapping into her side annoyingly, and every few minutes, her hair is literally being pulled. Finally, she can take it no more, and she turns angrily and very quietly (but very firmly) gives a sharp order.
"Leave me alone!"
"Rachel?" Oh, damn. Mr. Schuester is staring at her with slightly raised eyebrows and the same sort of look he always has when he's about to make an attempt at ruining her life. "Could you maybe be quiet? People are trying to learn here."
He's a liar. No one in that class is trying to learn anything. This doesn't stop her mouth from dropping open in disgusted shock as she stares at him incredulously.
"Is there a problem?" he asks, slipping into his 'teacher voice.' He rarely uses that voice, and when he does, she can't help but find it incredibly hypocritical.
"Are you serious?" she asks, completely floored by the way he really, really does hate her. He just stares at her questioningly, and she throws one hand up in her neighbor's direction and assumes it's all the explanation she needs.
"Puck, leave Rachel alone." He doesn't even remotely sounds like he means it.
And Puck, for what it's worth, pulls the most horribly affronted look she's ever seen and does his very best innocence act. "I'm not doing anything to her!"
And that's that.
Mr. Schue gets bored and turns back to the blackboard. The rest of the class goes back to texting and/or sleeping, and she turns to the person beside her with what she hopes is a convincing look to adequately portray the complete and total disdain she's feeling. He raises his eyebrows at her and whispers, "I can't believe you just threw me under the bus."
She glares at him but says nothing.
Finn waits for her before lunch, and she joins him as usual at a table with a few of their (his) friends. He can obviously tell something's wrong because she refuses to show any type of reaction when he tells her that he got a B on his history test. When he takes her hand and offers her a fry, she just looks at him.
"What did I do?" he asks, lowering his voice as he glances around the table. No one is paying them any attention.
She sort of wants to smack him for being so incredibly dim-witted, but he also looks amazingly adorable as he looks at her in confusion. She won't stay mad at him- she can't stay mad at him- but she can at least throw out some empty threats.
"If you ever let Noah Puckerman copy my homework again, I am cutting you off."
Finn has no idea what she's talking about, she can tell. He probably gave Puck the paper and asked him to pass it back to her before their shared Spanish class. He probably has no clue that his idiot of a best friend harassed her for fifteen minutes the night before or copied all of her answers to turn her work in as his own.
That's exactly why she won't stay mad at him.
After school, they have a rare free afternoon. No glee, no football, no ballet… They are both one-hundred percent free with nothing to do. His mom is at work, and they go straight to his house after school. He eats some gross concoction from his refrigerator and tries to offer her some. She refuses, of course, wondering how he's even able to choke that crap down. When he's finished, he asks her if she wants to work on their homework, and she says yes because it is the responsible thing to do.
It isn't her fault that their chemistry books lay forgotten on the floor as he leans her back into his bed.
They've been doing… this for a few months now. They're getting better at it, she thinks, but she still isn't sure what the big deal is supposed to be. Finn seems to enjoy it more than she does, which she assumes is completely normal. It's not that she hates it or anything. She doesn't even dislike it. She just hasn't figured out exactly what she's supposed to do to see the stars and fireworks she's always heard about.
But Finn is happy. And that makes her happy. She's very glad that she waited for him, and the tearful confession she made after lying about what didn't happen with Jesse seemed to relieve him of quite a bit of anxiety. Knowing they were going to experience all of it together for the first time was amazing. She apologized over and over when she told the truth, and then she told him that waiting for him was the best decision she ever made. And she meant every word of it.
Things like this don't feel wrong when you're doing them for the right reasons.
He drops her off at her house right around dinner time. He kisses her and tells her he loves her, and she's not surprised because he nearly always says it after they've had sex. She doesn't feel like that's any indication that he's being anything less than truthful, of course- she just assumes that his emotions are heightened afterwards. It's nice.
After dinner, she opens her laptop to check her MySpace. The video she uploaded the night before should definitely have some hits by now, and she is eager to read her fan's comments. There are three nice comments and seventeen less-than-constructively critical comments. She chooses to ignore those. She especially chooses to ignore the comment from Santana that says she looks like an out of work drag queen auditioning for a low budget porn film.
School the next morning is relatively uneventful until fifth period when she finds her skirt absolutely soaked by an entire bottle of water that Santana happens to accidentally spill on her. Rachel is well aware of the fact that she now has the distinct appearance of someone who has wet themselves, but she tries not to let her humiliation show. It's been a long time since she had anything dumped on her, but if she thinks back to a year ago, this was a normal, nearly everyday occurrence. She can deal with it.
A whole group of Cheerios snickers at her as she walks as quickly towards the nearest ladies' room, and she does her very best to show them no reaction. There is no reason to get upset, and she tells herself this over and over again as she blots away at herself with a handful of paper towels. It's pointless. Her skirt is soaked, and no amount of paper towels is going to change that. She doesn't have any extra clothes with her because there's been no need. She has to go to her next class because there's a quiz, and she can't miss it. She has no choice.
She hears her phone vibrating from inside her purse, and she pulls it out, determined not to cry or be anymore concerned with her current situation than absolutely necessary. Finn is texting her, wanting to know where she is. She nearly ignores him, but then she finally gives in and texts him back.
He's waiting for her outside of the bathroom and hugs her tight before walking her to class. He gives her his jacket, and it's big enough on her to nearly hide the fact that she's got a huge water-stain where her skirt should be. He really is the nicest person she's ever met in her whole life.
By 3:00, her skirt is dry, and she has made a conscious decision to not care. School is over, and she's managed to make it the rest of the day without being covered in any other type of beverage. All she has to do is make it through glee and then she can go home and forget all about this entire day.
The choir room is at the opposite end of the school from the math wing, and she makes her way as quickly as possible. She likes to get to rehearsal early to give herself time for proper vocal warm up (Mr. Schuester's idea of warming up a voice is akin to warming up an Eskimo in Antarctica- it does nearly more harm than good). She also likes the few minutes she gets all to herself before the rest of her teammates start dragging in.
It doesn't appear that she's going to have those few minutes today.
"Yo, Rach. Slow down, will ya? Nobody's bombing the school or anything."
"What do you want, Noah?" She doesn't stop, nor does she even slow down as she makes her way down the quickly emptying hallway.
"Damn, girl! I'm just trying to say hi."
She rolls her eyes and keeps walking. To her surprise (and disgust), Puck keeps pace with her. "What's up your ass?" he asks, eyeing her as they turn a corner in the direction of the music hall.
"I am trying to make it to glee a few minutes early so that I can warm up," she says hotly, already more than a bit annoyed that he's going to interrupt her plans.
"Guess what," he says with fake enthusiasm. "That's where I'm headed, too!"
"There's fifteen minutes left," she says without missing a beat. "Haven't you got a freshman to toss in a dumpster or a female to disrespect somewhere?"
"Got one right here."
She glares at him. "You will not disrespect me!"
"Kidding!" He looks at her like she's lost her mind. "Jesus Christ, woman! What's wrong with you? Did Cats close or something?"
That gets her to stop. She looks at him with something she could only describe as a mixture of annoyance and pity. "Cats closed in 2000. We were in first grade, Noah." He rolls his eyes. "And is that really the only musical you know?"
"No," he shoots back defiantly, and she can tell he's going to argue for the sake of arguing.
"One that doesn't have a film version starring Amanda Seyfried."
He stares at her for a second and then comes back with, "Chicago."
"Or Catherine Zeta-Jones."
"That's what I thought." She flips her hair over her shoulder and continues on in the direction of rehearsal. She should have known he wouldn't give up that easily, though, because he catches right up with her and starts quizzing her instead.
"Name one player for the Yankees."
"Derek Jeter," she says smugly, not even bothering to hide the triumphant smirk that covers her face.
"One that doesn't have his own cologne."
"That's what I thought."
Glee is just as awful as she feared that day. Mr. Schuester has decided that they need to do more classic rock and has handed them sheet music that he's apparently butchered and Frankensteined into a medley of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. When put together, it sounds like a really, really bad version of a drunken Rock Band game. She doesn't care what Mr. Schue says- "Hey Jude" does not in any way mesh well with "Whole Lotta Love."
Rachel spends the entire rehearsal trying to avoid Santana who has apparently commissioned Artie to "accidentally" run over her foot with his wheelchair. She only suspects this because Santana giggles harder each time, and by the fourth "accident," she has to sit down to compose herself. She isn't the only one who finds it amusing, of course. Most everyone in the room laughs at one point or another- save Finn, of course, and Matt, who is too nice to laugh at something like that. She also notices that Puck doesn't seem too amused, but she figures this has less to do with him feeling sorry for her and more to do with the fact that he and Santana are in the midst of some non-lover's spat.
She cannot wait to get home.
"Just try to stay out of her way," Finn tells her as he drives her home. "Santana feeds on fear, you know that."
"I'm not scared of her," she repeats for what feels like the millionth time but is really only the second. "I just want her to leave me alone."
"She'll get bored. Just try and ignore her."
That's easy for him to say when he isn't the one who was forced to spend the entire last half of the day looking like someone badly in need of an adult diaper. Finn doesn't understand that 'try to ignore her' isn't good advice because no one's ever picked on him. It's hard to ignore, even when you're used to it. She thinks she does a pretty good job of it, but that doesn't mean it's easy.
She can't believe Santana is this upset over one stupid sentence.
When she logs onto MySpace that night, though, she finds a brand new comment under her latest video. It's adorned with three smiley faces, though it's not the least bit friendly.
"Hey babe, just thought I'd fill you in and let you know I fucked your boyfriend!"
One sentence is all it takes for Santana Lopez to win and officially ruin her life.
… … …
A/N: Agh, I've officially been bit by the Puckleberry bug! Not sure how long this is going to be, but we'll see where it goes. Hope you enjoyed it, and reviews are always appreciated!