They'd come in second. It was their first time at Nationals, they were up against several very talented schools, and really, they deserved second place. That knowledge didn't keep Rachel from pouting, just a bit.
"Rach, you did a great job," Finn was elbowing her as they walked down the corridor of the hotel.
Ducking her head, she smiled and exhaled through her nose. "I know. Everyone did. I just—"
"Who beat Vocal Adrenaline?" Behind her, Puck was pumping his fist in the air and when she turned to look, she couldn't help but really smile. It was true, they had beaten Vocal Adrenaline. The loss of Jesse St. James and Shelby Corcoran as director really set the team back, and it had given the New Directions the edge they needed.
First place, however, had ended up going to a club from a small high school in Colorado. Like New Directions, the Lionheart Lyricists wrote their own, original songs, and were experiencing Nationals for the first time—neither had really been prepared for the other, but the Lyricists had edged them out, just a little.
The rest of the club was dancing and laughing behind her, and Rachel couldn't help but smile and join in. They hadn't won, but they had done very, very well, and for once the team hadn't experienced game-changing drama beforehand. Everyone was in a pretty good place with each other, Rachel noted, as she glanced to Finn at her side.
After her Barbravention, of which Finn was a vocal proponent, the two had come to a sort of stabilized relationship. It wasn't romantic, at least not like it had been, though she suspected she'd always carry a small torch for Finn. But they had formed a tentative co-captain friendship, and it had proven to be what the club needed. With their tumultuous love saga dissipating, they'd all been able to focus on Nationals, and really prepare.
Rachel stopped in front of the girls' room, smiling at Finn as he patted her on the shoulder and walked to his room. "We did good, Rach." She nodded, before sliding her key into the slot and walking into the room, followed by Mercedes, Quinn and Brittany. They'd arrived the night before the competition, on Tuesday, and Mercedes had agreed to be Rachel's bed buddy, while Quinn bunked with Brittany. (Santana had immediately taken the remaining single bed in the room with Lauren and Tina to herself, walking away from Brittany without another word.)
Rachel sat on the edge of her bed, taking off her performance heels. The tall pumps never bothered her onstage, but it was always a relief to take them off after the adrenaline ran out. Mercedes spread out on her side of the bed, groaning, and Quinn and Brittany both sat down on their bed.
"We did good and all, but I really want to win next year," Mercedes grumbled around the arm she'd thrown over her face. Rachel nodded, rubbing her foot, before getting off of the bed and dropping her shoes in her duffle bag by the window.
"I can't believe those Colorado kids. I mean, who was expecting that?" The sound was muffled, now that Rachel was farther away, but she could still make out Mercedes' words.
Rachel ran her hands over her dress, turning back to the beds. "No one, according to the forums. Their talent is almost unrecorded—I can't believe they made it through Regionals without alerting someone. It's actually very unusual…" Before Rachel could muse on that thought, the rest of the club knocked and came in, easily pushing open the propped open door.
The guys claimed space quickly, and the club ended up sprawled on top of each other on the beds. Rachel sat of the floor next to Mike, smiling as he handed her a red cup. Warily, she looked inside before seeing that the cup was empty. "What's the cup for?"
Before Mike could answer, Mr. Schue came in with four bottles of sparkling cider and his own cup. Rachel laughed, and Brittany held up her cup with, "But we didn't win."
Mr. Schue shook his head, passing around the bottles. "Ah, but you did come in second, and you beat Vocal Adrenaline, so I'd say these are quite deserved." The club cheered, passing around the bottles of juice and devolving into laughter.
The club stayed together, talking for a while, until Mr. Schue excused himself and went back to his room. Everyone got louder after that, but Rachel noticed Quinn staying quiet on her spot against the headboard.
Rachel stood, excusing herself from Tina, Mike and Brittany, and sat across from Quinn, on her own bed. After Rachel's relationship with Finn had shifted, and they'd gone to the plastic surgeon together, Quinn had stopped picking on Rachel so much. Rachel suspected it had a little to do with how quickly the term "Lucy Caboosy" had made its way through McKinley. They, too, developed a tentative friendship, though it was similar to how she imagined she'd treat a co-worker. Still, Quinn's silence during the party was strange, so Rachel asked, "Quinn? Are you all right?"
Quinn looked over to Rachel and gave a small smile, nodding. "Yeah, thanks." Rachel wasn't quite convinced, and though she didn't want to pry, she also didn't want to risk alienating Quinn further by not making sure she was alright.
"Are you sure? You haven't really been talking to anyone."
Quinn narrowed her eyes. "I didn't ask you to keep tabs on me, you know." Rachel just looked down, shifting, until Quinn sighed. "I'm sorry. Thanks for checking. I just…I've been thinking about Beth." Rachel looked up to see Quinn wringing her hands in her lap.
"Oh." Rachel wasn't quite sure what to say, and fortunately, before she could offer an only-mildly-related-story, Quinn cut her off.
"Shelby moved to New York last year, you know." Oh. Actually, Rachel didn't know. She shifted again, sliding her hands under her thighs, and clearing her throat.
"Are you thinking about calling her?" Puck made a crash near the door, and they both turned to see him righting a small table with a sheepish grin, before they looked at each other again.
Quinn shrugged, pulling her knees to her chest. "I…I think so. I just, she has my daughter, you know?"
Rachel nodded. She did know, in a way. She'd spent sixteen years knowing she had a mom out there that she'd never met, wondering if the mysterious woman had ever even thought about her. Rachel considered telling Quinn, explaining exactly how well she understood, but she bit her lip instead as Quinn got up.
Watching as Quinn crossed the room, Rachel saw her lean down, reaching into her purse and coming back with her phone. Quinn looked at her, holding up her phone and said, "I'll be back in a minute."
No one else seemed to notice as Quinn left, so Rachel just leaned her head against the headboard, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. Thinking of Shelby was painful—more so than Rachel thought it would have been, after almost a year since she'd seen her last.
Still, as Rachel waited in the loud room, she wrapped her arms around her stomach and closed her eyes, thinking about how Quinn knew Shelby was in New York and Rachel, her own daughter, had no idea. The thought left a strange taste in Rachel's mouth, and as she reached for her empty cup, she wondered why it hurt so much that Quinn had Shelby's phone number.
As Rachel felt a stinging at the back of her eyes, Quinn came back in and made her way to her spot across from her. Rachel hesitated, but eventually whispered, "What did she say?"
Quinn's cheeks were very pink, and Rachel could tell she was holding in a nervous smile, by the occasional twitch of her lips. "She's meeting me here tomorrow morning, with Beth." Rachel gave Quinn a show smile, mumbling some words of encouragement before she got up and excused herself.
Stepping quickly over the various legs sprawled out on the floor, Rachel made her way into the hallway. Once outside the stuffy hotel room, Rachel leaned against the wall, closing her eyes. Really, she wasn't sure why, exactly, this was so upsetting. So Shelby hadn't wanted to be her mom. She'd assumed as much merely by the fact that her mother had left her.
Running her fingers through her hair, Rachel wandered down the hall, wanting to walk a little. As she migrated toward the elevator at the end of the hall, Rachel felt herself getting angry. Why should Quinn have Shelby's number? Why should Quinn know where Rachel's mom lived? Why was it always Quinn? They'd been doing so well, treating each other with respect after Finn went back to Quinn, but Rachel was feeling it all start to bubble up.
She changed course, heading back to their end of the hallway, before Rachel leaned against the wall opposite their door, her shoulder blades banging against the wall harshly. Sliding down to the floor, Rachel tucked her legs up, pulling them against her chest.
Exhaling, Rachel tried to calm herself down. She wasn't mad at Quinn, not really. But, for all the reasons she had to be, she wasn't mad with Shelby, either. At that thought, she heard the door to her left open, and Mr. Schue stepped out. "Rachel? Are you OK? I heard a thud."
Blushing, Rachel realized her teacher was in pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt, what she assumed was an undershirt. She shook her head quickly, "I'm fine, Mr. Schue. It was just getting a little crowded in there."
Mr. Schue nodded, before replying, "OK. You guys should get some sleep, soon. Lots of sight-seeing to do tomorrow, and you all earned a day of fun." He smiled at her and she returned it, before he shut the door.
Rachel stood, slowly, and walked back into their hotel room. Rachel didn't want to kick everyone out, not when they were having so much fun, so she just walked over to her duffle bag, and grabbed her pajamas, before ducking into the bathroom to change.
While she slipped on her t-shirt and sweatpants, Rachel heard more laughter and cheering from the beds. Stepping out again, she hung her dress up with the other girls', and sat back down on her side of the bed.
"Hey, Berry. What were you doing?" Puck walked over Tina and Mike, sprawled by the foot of the bed, and stood in front of her.
She gave him a half-answer, shrugging her shoulders and saying, "Mr. Schue thinks we should go to bed soon." Quinn, smiling from her bed, nodded.
"I think we should, too. We have a lot planned for tomorrow." Some of the guys nodded, glancing at the alarm clock on the nightstand, and slowly, the rest of the club filtered out, Tina and Lauren stepping through the adjoining door into their own room, where Santana had spent the past few hours, despite most of the club trying to get her to join them.
Once it was just the four of them, the girls stood, changing and brushing teeth, before they all crawled into their respective beds. There was small chatter between the four, with Mercedes and Brittany doing most of the talking in the almost pitch-black room, and Rachel mused that this was what a sleepover was supposed to feel like.
Turning to her side, facing away from the other girls, Rachel noticed that Quinn wasn't saying much, and wondered what exactly she was thinking about. Was she nervous to meet her daughter for the second time? Excited? Was this actually only the second time? They'd grown closer over the past few weeks, she'd even called her "friend" to her doctor, but they certainly weren't to secret-sharing, so anything was possible, really.
Despite her focus on Quinn, Rachel wondered what Shelby was thinking, too. Was she scared to let her daughter meet her biological mother like Rachel had assumed her dads would be? Was she planning on visiting the whole club? Was she planning on visiting Rachel?
The thoughts bounced around her head as she drifted off, fitfully, and as her eyes fluttered shut, she thought Quinn's shuffling was a sign that Rachel wasn't the only anxious one.
The alarm clock in the room went off at 8:00, and Rachel was grateful to sleep in for a change. The hotel room, plus the adrenaline from the previous night and her jumbled feelings about Shelby made sleep quite difficult, and, looking over at a wide-awake Quinn, she thought it was much of the same for her.
Rachel slid the covers back, against a still-sleeping Mercedes, and dropped her feet to the ground, getting up to get ready. She grabbed her duffle and shut the bathroom door, trying to move quickly. Her shower was as long as she dared to take, considering Quinn was meeting Shelby in just two hours, and she dried off hastily before dressing and moving out of the bathroom.
Quinn brushed past her in the doorway, and she wondered if Quinn was upset with her. Glancing at her phone, she exhaled as she confirmed she'd taken less than a half-hour. Rachel tried to shrug it off, figuring Quinn was just nervous, but she couldn't help the kernel of doubt that Quinn blamed her, just a little, since Shelby was her mom.
Rachel slipped her earbuds in, turning on her workout music, and focusing only on curling her hair in the mirror on the back of the door. Around her, Brittany and Mercedes were talking, but she only turned up the volume and kept twirling her hair around the hot metal.
Finally feeling refreshed, Rachel unplugged the iron, wrapped up her iPod, and swiped on some foundation and mascara. As she slid the tube back together, she heard a knock at the door. Rachel moved to the door, pulling it open.
Mr. Schue stood on the other side, back in his dress-shirt and jeans everyday look. She smiled, and he asked if they'd be ready to go at eleven. Rachel thought of Shelby, and wondered if they would, but just nodded and said, "We will, Mr. Schue."
As she closed the door she saw him walk down the hall to the other rooms they were occupying with the guys. When she turned around, Quinn was dressed, sitting on the edge of the bed, staring blankly at the closed bathroom door.
Brittany was already dressed, as she'd showered the night before, so Rachel realized Mercedes was taking hers. She wondered if Quinn was still doing OK, and took in her appearance. She was wearing a yellow sun dress, much like the ones she'd worn through her pregnancy, and her hair was held back with a white headband. Rachel hesitated, but sat down next to Quinn, her own green halter dress shifting as she sat.
"Quinn?" The blonde wasn't looking at her, so Rachel tried again.
"I just need some quiet right now." Rachel froze before nodding, and moving to stand again. She shifted uncomfortably by the door, and glanced at the alarm clock: 9:40. Quinn wasn't moving, just sitting and staring, and suddenly Rachel got really nervous. Quinn hadn't looked this pale since right before Sectionals, when Finn had confronted her about the paternity of her daughter.
Rachel was wringing her hands, trying to figure out if she should go tell Mr. Schue, but before she could decide, the phone rang. Mercedes looked up, before reaching for the phone when it became obvious that Quinn wouldn't. "Thanks, she'll be right down." Mercedes hung up the phone and Rachel watched Quinn's face as she added, "Quinn? Shelby's waiting downstairs for you."
The shift was so quick, even Rachel, who'd been watching, couldn't see the tears coming before they hit. Her face was growing red as Quinn's lips started to tremble, and big tears started to pool in her eyes, before spilling over and down her cheeks.
"I…I can't, I'm changing my mind."
Rachel stepped forward, reaching for her hand. "Yes, you can. Beth—"
"No! I can change my mind! I can't do this," and Quinn stood, finally.
Rachel started to walk over, and she caught Mercedes' eye, but the other girl just shrugged her shoulders. "Quinn, I'm sure Beth will be happy to—"
"NO! OK, Rachel? I said no. I just—you don't understand, OK?" And Quinn's voice was getting much, much louder. Rachel could feel herself shrinking, stepping back, and then there was a knock.
Rachel hesitated, but Quinn wasn't looking at her, just sitting on the bed again, her face in her hands, so Rachel opened the door. Finn, Puck and Mike were in the hall, and they all stepped in when Rachel stepped back to reveal a crying Quinn.
She'd started to breathe heavily, and then Finn looked from his girlfriend to Rachel, his eyes shifting around quickly. "Is she having a panic attack? Quinn?" He tried to step forward, but Quinn just wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head.
"I can't, I was wrong, I don't want to see her!" A jolt of ice shot down Rachel's back at that, and she stepped away, leaned against the wall by the door as the three men tried to comfort her. Another knock sounded, and Rachel opened it again to reveal Mr. Schue and the rest of the club.
"Rachel? What's going on?" Rachel gulped and stepped back again, as Mr. Schue took in Quinn's sobbing form on the bed. He turned, telling the others to stay out for a minute, before stepping in and closing the door. "Quinn? What's wrong?"
Mr. Schue's voice was soft as he asked, and Rachel couldn't help the stab of jealousy at his tone. He was never soft like that with her. The thought felt wrong, when Quinn was in such obvious distress, but she could only look down and lean back against the wall.
Quinn was shaking, trying to push Finn away from her, and her sobs were growing in volume as she gasped out, "You don't understand!" Rachel could tell Quinn was angry, but also thought that she seemed mostly scared, and probably felt very guilty.
Mr. Schue looked at Rachel, confused, and she realized he probably had no idea what was going on. She cleared her throat, and raised her voice so Quinn could hear her. "I'm going to go downstairs, OK? Quinn? I'm going to tell Shelby you changed your mind."
Rachel could feel Mr. Schue's eyes as he tried to decipher the origin of the situation, but she just watched Quinn, waited until she saw her nod, as she clung onto Puck, who'd started to stroke her hair softly, while muttering, "I understand, OK? I do."
Rachel stepped back, slipping through the door quickly, and was stopped by the rest of the club in the hallway. Rachel tried to explain quickly, mostly begging them to give Quinn a minute, before rushing to the elevator. As the doors closed, Rachel watched the bulk of the club talking in the hallway, trying to listen to what was happening in their room.
Her head was spinning as she reached the lobby, but when she stepped out she was greeted by a blast of cool air. Across from the elevators was a small set of chairs and couches, arranged in a small but open lounge area. A head of dark, thick hair stood above the back of the couch, and Rachel could see a small face peeking over the shoulder.
Stepping forward, Rachel could see the small girl more clearly. She was absolutely gorgeous, all big green eyes and chubby cheeks and smile. As she neared the back of the couch, Rachel could almost swear the toddler was smiling at her, not at the tickling fingers Rachel could see play against the baby's sides. "Is this your belly?"
She heard a low, familiar voice question the little girl, and Rachel couldn't help but say, "Mom?" She knew it wasn't what she was supposed to say, Shelby had told her that wasn't what she was, but as she watched the older brunette be so nurturing, so loving, so motherly, she couldn't help but pretend, just for a moment.
Shelby stopped her tickling of Beth, and turned her head, holding Beth to her as she stood up to face her daughter fully. "Rachel. What are you doing here? I thought Quinn want—"
"She's having a panic attack." Rachel dropped her hands from her stomach to her sides, trying to stay poised, no matter how uncomfortable she felt. "I volunteered to come down here." Her fingers twitched against her dress.
"Oh." Shelby shifted in front of her, sliding Beth to her hip, as Beth's tiny fingers fisted into her blouse, and rested her blonde head on Shelby's shoulder, her eyes watching Rachel's movements. "I heard you guys beat—"
"Is this Beth?" Rachel didn't want to talk about glee, the tournament, anything other than what was in front of her, this unexpected family.
Shelby nodded, and Rachel walked around the couch, coming to stand by the other end of the couch. She was shifting, bouncing the little girl slightly, so Rachel sat, letting her mother know that she wasn't ready to stop talking.
Hesitantly, Shelby sat down, facing Rachel from the other end. She watched Rachel's face for a moment, but the younger brunette didn't waver, just sat there, watching the baby in her mother's arms.
Finally, Rachel caught Shelby smile out of the corner of her eye. "Yes, I'm sorry. Beth, this is Rachel." The toddler gripped Shelby's shirt tighter, but lifted her head, watching Rachel in fascination. "Can you say 'hi' to Rachel?"
Beth smiled, flashing Rachel a mouth of tiny teeth, before lifting one hand free and waving. Rachel couldn't stop the grin that broke out as she waved back. "Hi, Beth. And how old are you?"
"15 months next week," Shelby said, her eyes not drifting from the girl in her lap.
Rachel bit her lip. "It doesn't seem possible, that only 15 months ago—"
"Rachel, I don't think—"
"Can I hold her?" Shelby seemed hesitant, Rachel watched her grip on Beth's hip tighten slightly, so Rachel added, "I'm kind of her sister, after all."
Shelby nodded, curtly, before she scooted closer, and waited for Rachel to put her arms out. Once she had, Shelby handed Beth to Rachel, and Rachel helped situate the little girl in her lap. Looking down at her, Rachel smiled as Beth smiled up, her hands pushing against Rachel's stomach curiously. Before Rachel could react, Beth was pulling at her dress and lifting herself up, until she was standing on the couch between Rachel's legs, their faces now at the same level.
"Well, Hi." She was smiling, despite her surprise, and Rachel watched a small hand shoot out and touch her nose.
"Nose!" Rachel caught from in between toddler jabber. Rachel laughed, no longer self-conscious about the large appendage, and ran her hand over Beth's spunky pigtails, her bangs short and plastered to her smooth forehead.
Rachel wanted to laugh, make a joke about even babies giving her grief about her big nose, but when she looked over Beth's shoulder at Shelby, she caught the pained look on her mother's face. A tugging on her neck brought her back, and Rachel looked down to find Beth focused on her gold star necklace, her fingers wrapping around it in between small tugs.
"Ouchie!" She said with a smile, and watched Beth copy her before dropping the chain.
"Rachel, I—Beth and I better get going." It hurt. It hurt the most of all the thoughts over the past night, because it wasn't something she was thinking Shelby might feel—this was Shelby, telling Rachel that she had time for Quinn, but not time for Rachel.
Rachel just nodded, smiling despite herself as Beth reached for her nose or necklace (she couldn't be certain) while Shelby hoisted her to her hip and murmured a goodbye as she turned to go. Over Shelby's shoulder, Beth was waving, and smiling, and Rachel felt the tears sting behind her eyes as she waved back.
She dragged herself to the elevator after that, idly pressing the buttons to her floor and closing her eyes at the feel of the ascent. When the ding signaled the doors opening, Rachel exhaled and opened her eyes, breathing a sigh of relief that the glee clubbers were no longer in the hallway.
Rachel slid her key into the lock, startled to find the same group she'd left in the room. Quinn had stopped crying and struggling for breath, and was now just sitting against the headboard between Brittany and Santana (the latter really throwing Rachel for a loop). Puck and Finn were sitting on the edge of the bed, watching the cheerleader, and Mr. Schue was leaning against the wall by the door. From their bed, Mercedes, sitting next to Mike, asked if Shelby was gone.
Rachel nodded, and looked over at Mr. Schue. His eyes looked soft, and she figured he knew what was going on by this point. She also couldn't help but notice he looked a little upset, and she realized that he was probably hurt that no one had told him what was going on.
Rachel looked at Quinn again to find the blonde looking back at her this time. "Was Beth down there?" And Rachel thought it was obvious that yes, that was the reason for all of this, but instead she just nodded.
With a shrug of her shoulders, she hazarded a smiled, and added, "She looked really healthy, and happy, Quinn." At that Quinn's tears started anew, and when she was met with a combination of glares and sympathetic smiles, she felt Mr. Schue's hand on her shoulder. She turned her head slightly, looking at him, and he gave her a sad smile, before squeezing her shoulder. Letting out a breath, Rachel closed her eyes to him in a silent show of gratitude.
After that, Mr. Schue left, and their room descended into silence, as Rachel figured everyone was too afraid to upset her like Rachel just had.
No one came by the room, and she figured Mr. Schue had warned them all to stay away until Quinn was better, and she was grateful. The silence lasted what felt like hours, and as she watched the clock flick to 11:32, she realized that sight-seeing was probably cancelled. She didn't blame Mr. Schue—after her blunder earlier and her conversation with Shelby, she was fairly content to just lay on her bed.
A few minutes more passed, and Rachel was still reflecting on her conversation (or lack thereof) with Shelby when Quinn's cell phone rang. Brittany was the one to pick it up, and hand it to Quinn, who reluctantly took it from her.
Her voice was a weak, "Hello?" when she finally answered, and Rachel didn't want to eavesdrop, but what was the alternative? "Shelby Corcoran? But, her baby—is her baby all right?"
Rachel's heart started to race as she looked from face to face of her glee mates, trying to decipher Quinn's conversation. Quinn was nodding then, not speaking, until finally she agreed, and hung up the phone.
Her voice catching, Rachel asked, "Quinn? What's going on?"
Quinn's voice wavered to match, and as Brittany rubbed her back, she choked out, "Shelby was in a car accident."