Disclaimer: Glee is not, has never been, and will never be my creation. The same goes for the characters within.

Synopsis: Over the summer (picking up after the end of last season), Quinn and Rachel begin to get better acquainted with one another, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the ex-cheerleader to keep her feelings for the glee club's leading lady a secret. The truth is eventually revealed, but what exactly does that mean for them—and their futures?

POV: Unless otherwise specified at the beginning of a particular chapter, it's pretty safe to say that it'll always be Quinn.

So, the scope of this story is pretty deep. I'm going to attempt to write it if not all the way, then most of the way through the girls' senior year at McKinley, including arguments with parents and impending performances and competitions. Everybody will make an appearance sooner or later. Ships will be pretty standard (i.e., Brittany and Santana, and Kurt and Blaine). I'm not quite sure how to incorporate Sue now that she's lost interest in destroying the New Directions, but she's too awesome not to write in, so she'll definitely be there somewhere. Other than that, I hope to keep you interested enough to follow. Enjoy.

And, of course, reviews are always welcome.

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Even in the summertime, I can't escape her. I see her all over town: at the mall, arm in arm with Kurt as they stroll from shop to shop; at the grocery store with her fathers, twirling and laughing between them, seeming to dance her way down the aisles; in the library; at the post office; at the movies, picking delicately at her popcorn; on the streets and the interstate, tucked safely into the passenger seat—because she's terrified of driving—her father at the wheel as she bounces giddily beside him, her lips always moving and forming the words to a song that I can never hear.

She's everywhere. Even at home, in the privacy of my own room, where I should be safe in my solitary confinement and wholly sequestered, obstructed from seeing her, I'm not, because I can never get her off of my mind. Not a single thought passes without touching the ghostly resonance of her that lives in my daydreams and fantasies.

She checks in on everything.

When I'm picking out clothes—What would Rachel think of this?

Staring at the radio—I wonder if Rachel knows this song.

Laying in bed late at night, wide awake, catching a glimpse of her face in everything I see—Is she thinking of me?

I drive myself crazy. As much as I try to keep her out of my thoughts, it never works. Sometimes I think that, by now, having lived with these thoughts for so long, I've deluded myself into believing that the Rachel in my head is an extension of the real one, a kind of astral projection, a piece of her heart that she's given me to keep inside mine at all times. Even though Rachel would probably be sweet enough to do that if I were anyone else in the world, I'm me, and for innumerable reasons, I'm not on the list of people Rachel Berry would give a piece of herself away to. Not the real one, anyway.

Sometimes these two Rachels collide, and it's never pretty. It usually ends with an unwavering bout of humiliation and a hasty exit. I'll say something sweet to the Rachel in my mind, only to be mortified when I realize that I've spoken out loud, standing face to face with the real one. I'll expect the real Rachel to say or do something that the Rachel in my head would say or do, and then die a little inside when she doesn't.

I accidentally told her she was beautiful once, and I couldn't look at her for a week.

These moments have been happening more and more frequently. I used to be good at differentiating, keeping them separate, but the longer this goes on, the more the two of them are blurring into one, melding together. It's getting harder and harder to discern which Rachel I'm talking to. My fantasy Rachel will sometimes deny me; the real Rachel will sometimes say things that I can't rationally explain—and I'm slowly losing my mind. It's gotten to the point where I can't even see her—either of her—without making a complete fool of myself.

So, when my mother drags me into the only cafe in Lima that serves smoothies and I notice her waiting in line, my first instinct is to drop to the floor behind the family of five to my right and hide. My conscious brain—dominated by flustered apprehension, I've come to realize—would rather dig through the linoleum floor than risk the consequences of facing her. Despite the threat, there is still a part of me that actively and desperately seeks contact. My subconscious mind never wants to let her out of my sight.

But today, even though she's so breathtakingly beautiful—with her hair down, loose around her face, but tamed with a simple band; her arms and shoulders bare in a summertime cami; bronze legs stretching for miles beneath her playful cotton skirt with its ruffled pockets and tiered hem—that I can't take my eyes off of her, my conscious mind wins out. My mother is here, right next to me, and I can't afford to humiliate myself in front of her. The only way to avoid the embarrassment that is guaranteed to occur is to leave as quickly as possible.

Feeling like a child, I tug my mother's sleeve. My heart is in my throat. "It's so busy in here today," I complain. I'm grasping at straws, appealing to her congenital impatience. "Why don't we go to Breadstix instead?"

Though I've been trying to keep my voice low due to the fact that Rachel's ears are insanely sensitive, my mother doesn't get the hint. She laughs, strangely good-natured, given the situation. She would usually be halfway back to the car by now. "Quinn, we've got all day to go shopping," she says, simultaneously chiding and assuring. "Your father will be late tonight. Calm down."

I'm not sure if she tries to tell me anything else, suddenly deafened by the heartbeat pounding in my ears.

At the mention of my name, even from ten feet away, Rachel's demeanor perceptively shifts. She turns her head in my direction without a hint of hesitation or uncertainty, instinctively, almost like she can feel me here. Her dulcet eyes—warm, in a way that always reminds me of hot cocoa—are searching, scanning the faces behind her with that ever-present intensity of hers, and I'm tempted to grab my mother by her ridiculously impeccable suit jacket and use her as a human shield to hide myself. But when Rachel's eyes settle on mine, and her lips stretch into a smile, I melt. I'm reduced to the human embodiment of Jell-O.

Even as the proverbial deer in the headlights, I can't help but smile back at her, and when she waves, I raise my hand to return it. I am a puppet on strings, and burning, unrequited love is my puppet master.

Despite the fact that she's the next to be called up to order and there are at least three groups of people between us in line, Rachel turns back, politely encouraging the others to go ahead of her, and crosses the cafe, which suddenly seems entirely too small. I concentrate on trying to keep myself upright as she reaches me.

"Hey, Quinn," she says. Her smile is radiant. "Fancy meeting you here."

In actuality, the chances of meeting someone anywhere in Lima are extremely high, as we've found out personally on numerous occasions, but the way she says it is the most adorable thing ever.

"Small world," I reply. I sound like a strangled canary.

Thankfully, Rachel doesn't comment on it, and her attention turns to my mother, who, by an iniquitous twist of fate that I'm still not sure how to explain or rationalize, she has met once before.

On my way home from Santana's right after the start of summer vacation, I found Rachel in my front yard, knee-deep in planting soil, helping my mother assemble and post a miniature fence in the garden. To say I was speechless would be a monumental understatement of my surprise. I was frozen—and when she peered up at me against the luster of the midday sunlight with an innocent smile, commenting that she was "deceptively good with her hands," I almost died.

"Hello, Mrs. Fabray," Rachel says. She offers another smile, polite, as always, but I convince myself that it isn't as bright or as sincere as the one she gave to me. "It's nice to see you again."

My mother returns the expression. "Likewise, dear. How have you been?"

I don't hear Rachel's answer.

Before I had ever entertained the idea of Rachel and my mother sharing the same atmosphere, let alone the same room, I had convinced myself that they would never be able to get along. They aren't just polar opposites—they are stellar, galactic, universal opposites. Rachel has never been the type to keep her emotions or convictions to herself, while my mother prefers everything to be left unsaid. Rachel is strong-willed and hardheaded, and even though it's adorable to me, my mother isn't the type to tolerate challenges. It's a wonder that the quandary underlying this situation hasn't been exposed yet, but as long as things remain reasonable and I'm not forbidden to see Rachel, I'm willing to deal with the peculiarity of it all.

Though I will admit that, right now, a small part of me wishes that my mother would disappear.

While I'm staring at the dimples in the corners of Rachel's smile, watching her lips move and thinking vaguely that the microscopic mite of the world devoted to my life has somehow been thrust into an alternate universe, my mother takes the opportunity to knock me off my metaphorical feet.

"Quinn and I were just about to sit down for lunch," my mother informs the girl of my dreams. "Would you like to join us?"

Everything grinds to a screeching halt.

I look incredulously to the woman who brought me into this world, the picture of composed nonchalance beside me.

Is this really happening?

The torn affliction raging inside of me must be obvious; Rachel notices, catching my eye, and hesitation washes across her face. My heart sinks into the pit of my stomach like an anvil, leaden with guilt. I could smack myself. Nice one, idiot.

I would give anything for her to say yes, to stay so that I can hold onto her—the real her—for just a moment longer, but she doesn't know that. She has no idea how easily she affects me, or how terrified I am of humiliating myself—especially in front of my ultra-Christian, no-nonsense mother. As abstruse as they are, she couldn't possibly know the origins of my distress, and she's misinterpreting everything because of it. She thinks that I don't want her to stay.

Her smile remains visible out of forced courtesy, but its strength fades. She looks from me to my mother, a meek apology in her eyes. "Oh, well, I wouldn't want to intrude…"

It feels like all of the air has been sucked out of the atmosphere.

I reach for her before I can stop myself. I grasp her wrist. "Stay. Please."

I'm desperate, and it's obvious. When it comes to Rachel, I'm about as subtle as a mountain ox.

I pray that my mother doesn't notice.

Indecision flickers across Rachel's face, lingering for a moment. She searches my eyes. Please, Rachel. Please, stay. I think, somehow, miraculously, she hears me, because her uncertainty dissipates, and a fraction of her usual effervescence returns. The vise grip on my heart releases. I feel like I can breathe.

"Okay," she agrees, and her eyes are bright, felicitous. Her dimples wink back into existence.

My newfound breath is effectively stolen. She's so beautiful that it hurts sometimes.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of my mother moving purposefully for the counter, but the implications are fuzzy. I have no idea whether the line has gone down or if she's simply going to get a better look at the menu.

I decide that it doesn't matter, and I don't follow her, immobilized by a lingering fixation on Rachel's lips. Intuitively aware that I don't have any intention of moving on my own, Rachel turns her hand, which is still held captive by my own, and uses the contact to her advantage, tugging me forward with her as she approaches the counter.

When we reach my mother, I drop my hand. Kill me now. My face burns; Rachel smiles.

I'm assuming that my mother has already ordered for herself, because she turns to the two of us. "What will you have, girls?" She trains her eye on Rachel. "My treat."

I mumble something about strawberries and kiwis, and Rachel thanks my mother for the offer and orders a Sunset Sunrise, which I have never even heard of before. I think I hear her say something about peaches, but I'm staring at her lips again.

Waiting for the smoothies to be made, the silence is patient. The hushed voices of other people filter in and out of coherence, the breath of the moment, the natural presence of background noise. I stare at Rachel and she pretends not to notice; my mother checks her watch, oblivious. My face has just started to cool down, when the woman who gave me life threatens to take it away for the second time.

"Do you have any plans this afternoon, Rachel?" she asks. All internal functions seize. "Quinn and I are going to the mall after lunch." Don't do it, Mom. "You should come with us. I'm sure Quinn would love to have you."

My cheeks are suddenly on fire. Did you really have to use those words?

Rachel looks to me for confirmation, but I've gone mute. My throat is dry. If I say anything, I'll lose it. I'll end up saying to the real Rachel what I would say to the Rachel in my head"Yes, Rachel, I would love to have you—in my lap, in my bed, in the shower, in the pool, on a table, on the floor…" And I don't think it'll go over very well, so I settle for nodding.

I try to smile to reassure her, but I can feel it waver.

My palms are sweaty. Yes, Rachel, I'd love to have you.

She smiles in return, innocent and blissfully ignorant. "I'd love to, Mrs. Fabray," she says. "Thank you."

There was a point in time when her manners used to annoy me, but now they pluck at my heartstrings just as intensely as any other facet of her personality. Somewhat consequently, imaginary Rachel has taken the role of my personal French maid more than once, polite and submissive and always conscious of her manners—until I make her forget them.

Oh, God. Stop. I need to stop thinking like this or I'm going to explode.

Finally, a teenage girl behind the counter calls my mother's name and hands us our smoothies.

I've never been so glad for the neutral indifference of a Styrofoam cup in my life.

My mother leads the way to the only available table left in the little cafe, a booth at the front window vacated only a couple of minutes ago. She settles herself on one side, placing her purse delicately beside her. Even though three other people could fit comfortably next to her, she remains at the very end, effectively occupying the whole bench. Rachel notices this as she sits on the opposite side, and she slides in further along her own bench, making room for me to sit next to her.

I stare blankly at the patch of viridian pleather. She offers me an encouraging smile, and yet, I'm frozen.

Sitting next to her, after thinking the thoughts I've been thinking, I don't know if I'll be able to control myself. So close to her, touching her, even on accident, might actually kill me. But I force myself to move, and I try to make it seem natural. If I sit too close, it might seem like I'm coming on to her; if I cling to the very edge of the seat and avoid every inch of her exposed skin, it will be obvious that I'm trying to keep my distance—even to my mother. I settle for middle ground, but even there, where I should be safely ensconced in my own personal space, her knee touches mine and her elbow brushes my arm.

Thoughts of imaginary Rachel begin to seep into my mind.

As soon as I'm settled, smiling briefly at the real Rachel to thank her, my mother stands.

I gape at her. You couldn't have done that before I sat down?

Her eyes are fixed intently on her cell phone, and it takes me a second, but I realize that I know this look: her 'emergency' face.

"I'm sorry, girls," she says, tucking the phone back into her purse. She doesn't sound particularly apologetic. "I've got to run. A client is having a meltdown, apparently, and I've been called in to mediate."

It hits me then that she's going to bail on us, and my heart stops.

What about me? What about my meltdown?

She's leaving.

I'll be alone with Rachel.

I'm not ready for this.

My mother digs around in her purse without sparing me a glance. "Don't you wait around for me though. You two go on to the mall and have fun." She pulls several bills from her pocketbook and hands them to me. I take the money with nerveless fingers. "I'll call you later, Quinny," she says, and when she bends down to kiss the top of my head, I feel like a child.

Thanks a lot, Mom.

"It was nice to see you, Rachel."

"Thank you for lunch, Mrs. Fabray," Rachel replies.

The bell above the door jingles and then my mother is gone.

Note: This chapter was originally planned to be more than twice as long. To keep a modicum of consistency between this chapter and future chapters, I decided to split the original into two parts. Therefore, the next chapter will continue in the current setting: a nameless cafe that sells smoothies. But we all know where they really are.

Cue feedback! (Seriously. If you don't review, I might cry.)