Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Glee writers and creators.

Colder Alone

Pardon my language, but I've had a shitty day. This is par for the course for me, ever since I gave B—

Anyway, since last year. My mother may be making an effort to actually, I don't know, be a mom, but hearing her sneak downstairs to the liquor cabinet at night doesn't really cheer me up all that much. Don't know why.

And I might be back on top of the pyramid (literally and figuratively), but it's more exhausting than I remember it being. It probably doesn't help that it cost me my best friend, who now grabs every opportunity she can to attempt to usurp me. She has no room to complain, in my honest opinion. She knew getting that 'summer surgery' would result in a demotion, and anyway, she would've done the same thing to me if our roles were reversed. Besides, I don't owe her anything. Where was she last year, when I really could've used somebody?

If I sound like I feel guilty, it's because I do. I just won't say it to her, which is probably something I'll regret, but at this point, why should I even bother keeping track of my mistakes?

This is another reason being on top is exhausting. The guilt. Seeing innocent people, people who've done nothing wrong, people who are just trying to get through high school with as much dignity as a teenager can manage—people who've been there for me—get bullied and thrown in dumpsters and slushied…it's awful. Especially knowing that I've been there, too, and that it's not happening to me anymore, and that I'm not doing anything about it now.

I excuse myself by saying I help my glee friends clean up whenever I happen to catch it happening, but the truth is I only do it for six—no, five, now that Kurt's gone—of them. I also excuse myself by saying that if I tried to intervene I'd be back at the bottom and being slushied faster than you could say 'glee club.' That's actually true. It's also true that I'd deserve it, unlike my friends.

I might also have the most popular boy in school for a boyfriend (and probably the hottest, too), but it has its drawbacks. Sam doesn't say anything, but I can see his impatience, ever since I agreed to 'go steady.' God, I hate being a teenager. Anyway, I only did it because of what he did for Kurt and the guy had been waiting for quite a while with no real payoff—other than the making out. I'm regretting it now, because I can see he thinks we should go a little further than we've been.

I'm just not ready. Maybe I never will be.

And Sam, sweet as he is, doesn't understand how I feel. He can act all nonchalant and cool about what happened to me last year when he brings it up. He can pretend to know how it feels because he squirts lemon juice in his hair or whatever. But he doesn't know, and he never will. At least, not as long as he dates me he won't. And I think he knows he won't.

Because when he sees me pressing my palm flat against my stomach, hoping to feel those tiny little thuds against my hand, hoping for that sign of life that once told me I wasn't alone—he's nervous. He panics. He runs away like the scared little boy he is and I'm reminded that I am alone, and that no one understands. No one but Puck, and I can't turn to him because he won't talk about anything seriously, even her. Instead he makes glib comments about our night together, and then I can't look at him for days.

What makes it worse is that nobody else gets it, either. Mercedes tried—still tries, sometimes—but even her experiences with being a minority aren't enough for her to really understand this gap. This hole, right in the center of my chest. She understands the loneliness. She doesn't understand the grief, the loss.

I think there's one person in this hellhole who might, besides Puck. Maybe not completely, and she'd see it from the other side, but she might get it. That hurt in my heart that never goes away, even though I pretend last year was a nightmare I just popped back up from without a scrape. Sometimes I think about what would happen if I ever went to her about it.

If she would welcome me with open arms, listen as I pour my heart out about the daughter I'll never know, hold me when I can't stop the tears. If she would be so excited that I want to speak to her, that someone wants to listen and understands her pain for once, that she'd railroad me completely and talk nonstop like she usually does until she runs out of steam, and only then let me talk. I don't think it would matter to me either way. Because at least someone would get it. At least she would get it.

But I always shove those thoughts aside. Maybe I just like being miserable. I feel like I deserve it most of the time. Maybe I just can't bear to be in her presence that long. I usually tell myself the latter, because it makes me feel superior again. A feeling I lost last year, when I discovered what it feels like to be her.

Anyway, back to my day. It's been shitty, and that puts me in a bad mood. Shocker, right? Quinn Fabray in a bad mood? It's almost unheard of!

Despite it being a pretty much permanent fixture in my expression, my arched eyebrow and deep scowl still sends other students scurrying around me, leaving a sizeable distance between me and them. They're unintentionally symbolizing exactly how I feel and it just makes me crankier as I reach my locker, twisting the combination without even really thinking about it and tossing my books in. I have a 'free' next, which means I'm expected to put on my track gear and run laps.

And Sue Sylvester sees all, and Santana's working extra hard to get me down now that she doesn't have 'Finchel' (I could not hate being a teenager any more than I do when my fellow glee club members say that) to bug, so I don't even consider altering my course to the library and settling with a good book for once. I miss reading all the time like I did last year, to B—

It calmed us both, like singing. I don't know if it would soothe or upset me now, and I resolve to give it a try this weekend, maybe during one of my frequent bouts of insomnia.

Just as I've settled my textbooks in a more convenient order, I feel a tingle at the back of my neck and look up, and sure enough, she's bounding down the hallway toward her locker, eyes going straight past me. I notice there is a bounce in her step, which is uncharacteristic of late. Ever since Finn dumped her, she's been rather morose, and her usual swagger has been reduced to a mere shuffling of the feet. She still glides like it takes her no effort.

Her sleek brown hair waves at me as it sails by on the breeze of her step, and then it catches my attention that she's not wearing that silly yellow cardigan she was earlier today. My eyes narrow at the grey t-shirt hanging off her shoulders, and my suspicions are confirmed when she wheels around to face her locker and I catch sight of the little red 'WMHS' logo on the right side of her chest. There is a whole tub full of them in the storage room. Sylvester is not going to be happy about this.

Before I realize what I'm doing, I've slammed my locker shut and I'm making strides toward her, sneaking up on the other side of her locker door. I realize we do this pretty much every time we want to talk to each other. I guess it's kind of our 'thing.' If you can really classify anything as 'ours,' anyway.

I tell myself I'm doing this to torture her. Like I told Sam, I need to find more ways to do that.

Really it's because I don't want her to get caught by Sylvester.

She shuts her locker and jumps visibly at the sight of me, and I allow my eyebrow to quirk upward, mocking her.

"You do realize that stealing is illegal in all fifty states, don't you, Treasure Trail?" I ask pointedly, not wasting any time as I eye the shirt on her with distaste.

She flinches at the nickname but doesn't fight me on it. Serves her right for calling me Barbie. I am not plastic, and my hips are not unnaturally wide. I almost glance down to check and make sure, but I don't want her notice my random insecurity. I know she would.

"I didn't steal it," she says evenly, tucking the binder she pulled out closer to her chest. "Coach Beiste retrieved it for me after my cardigan was ruined."

Oh. The wind is out of my sails and I try my hardest not to wince, because I know exactly how her shirt was ruined. I heard Amanda and Kristen giggling about it during practice earlier.

"I'm sorry," I say quietly, and I am, because no one deserves that kind of treatment.

It bugs me that her answer to this is to shrug, as though she is rolling it off her shoulders and letting it pass as acceptable behavior. I know she knows it's not acceptable, because she's not stupid. This just means she's used to it. And again, no one should have to be used to that treatment. It may have been a while, but I still remember what it's like to be slushied.

I hated it. I hated it more than anything, because if my father taught me one thing, it was that being humiliated was the worst kind of punishment. I work hard to avoid it. Just talking to her is probably undoing some of my hard work.

I realize she's staring at me and I straighten my spine all the more, keeping my hands on my hips because it makes me feel powerful and her stare tries to counteract that. Her eyes have always been so penetrating it frightens me. I feel like if I meet her eyes directly, she'll see right through everything to me—and that she won't like it.

She bites her lip as she continues scrutinizing me, contemplating something. She tilts her head, as though she's rolling the notion around in her head, and I'm about to snap at her and leave, overwhelmed by the warmth suddenly flooding my body, when she takes a breath.

"Quinn, do you remember the first week of freshman year?"

She says this so fast it's not even a question. It's a statement of fact and I can't breathe, because she's never brought this up to me before. Ever.

I never knew why. I never questioned it. I suppose I figured it was too painful for her, or she thought I would deny it. I probably would've a year ago. Now I can only stare at her and try not to let the fact that I want to cry show. I dip my chin gradually.

"Of course," I say. I'm proud of the harshness in my tone.

She's not fazed. A sparkle of something enters her eyes, and I don't know what it means, but it makes her smile look even brighter and steals my breath away for the second time in a row. She looks shy, and I'm not sure why until she says, so softly I almost don't hear her, "We were almost friends."

My lips become the ghost of hers. I feel myself soften at the gentle, teasing way she says this. She sounds like she's whispering some scandalous secret to me, except I already knew this secret. My heart clenches around its emptiness.

"Yes, almost," I reply, my tone matching hers, and the sparkle grows brighter.

I wonder if it's hope.

Her smile turns wry and I think I hear her chuckle to herself as she hides her face from me for a moment.

"Do you ever wonder what it would've been like?" she asks, smirking at me in amusement. I don't have to prompt her. "If we had actually become friends? We would've…had sleepovers and braided each other's hair and shared secrets nobody else knew?"

I feel my smile grow as I imagine it, too, this alternate reality she's putting in my head. I see myself dropping in the social pyramid, but I don't care about that part because I'm still a Cheerio and she's still my friend. We have pillow fights and giggle over inside jokes while other people stare at us like we have two heads. She comes to every football game to see me cheer. I come to every performance she's in, and I join glee without her even asking, because she doesn't need to. I'll follow wherever she goes.

We hold hands in the hallways sometimes, because Brittany and Santana get away with it, so why can't we? She isn't afraid to hug me like other people, because she and I both know when I'm upset that all I want is to feel her arms around me, giving me strength like nobody else can. I talk to her about my horrible family life and how much I just want to get out of Lima, which she completely understands.

We make plans to get an apartment in New York together. She'll become the big star she's always wanted to be, and I'll mooch off of her for life because I'm a starving artist. She won't mind at all, she'll be happy to do it. We'd giggle at the detail of our plans, because it even goes down to what websites I'll go to to try and make her vegan meals when I'm making up for not paying my share of the rent one week.

My mind hits a snag when I think of Puck. Would I have slept with him? Would I have gotten pregnant? Part of me wishes to say no, but a larger part thinks yes. And sooner. And even though she still wouldn't know why, because I would never tell her no matter how close we were, she would be there for me all the same. I know this because she was even in this reality. Even as enemies.

I frown at the word in my head, because it doesn't sound right to me. It brings me back to earth and I distantly wonder if the bell has rung yet. The thought exits my head just as quickly as it came in, because I see that she's frowning, too. I wonder what she thought of in her reverie that made her frown, and I hope it isn't that she sees me abandoning her later on, because I never would have if I hadn't failed that first test of friendship.

She meets my eyes suddenly and says sincerely, "I never would've tried to take Finn from you."

I see how serious she is about this. Her eyes are penetrating me and I scoff defensively, belittling her words.

"Why would it have been any different from now?" I ask, trying to hide my curiosity behind a veil of disbelief, like I think that lowly of her.

Again, she isn't fazed. Instead she smiles, but it's not shy or even bright. It's pitying, but a sympathetic sort of pity. Not the insulting kind.

"Because you would've been enough for me," she admits softly.

I can hardly believe she just said that. That with me as her friend, she wouldn't have wanted for anyone else.

I do believe I'm gaping at her. She lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug; the action is lighthearted, but her smile is almost pained and it wrenches at my empty heart. She looks me straight in the eyes again, penetrating me, and there's no escape from that beautiful brown gaze.

Once she captures me, I'm not sure I want there to be an escape.

"I liked you, Quinn," she says, in that equally quiet voice she's been using since she brought this whole thing up. "I still do."

And then she brushes past me, and it's only then that I realize the bell has rung, but I'm not even listening. I'm watching her rush to class, making those hurried yet graceful strides that seem so effortless while her lustrous brunette locks wave goodbye to me.

My unspoken answer lingers in my mind as I watch her depart, and I want to cry for the second time in a row.

I always loved you, Rachel.