It starts the day her agent, Everett, hands her another manuscript
"My buddy over at Random House thinks this is the next big thing."
Everett's buddy at Random House always thinks something is the next big thing. It never is. Still, Rachel reads it, because she's on the lookout for a project that will round out her trophy collection.
At twenty-nine, she's landed a Grammy and a Tony, plus a handful of other statues like the People's Choice Award and that orange Nickelodeon blimp. In her original life plan, she had both Oscar and Emmy on the list of desired achievements before she was thirty, but that deadline's since been extended to thirty-five.
This book, which is due to be released in about a month, is actually good. It's a Prohibition era romance about a femme fatale and a rum runner, who meet during a botched smuggling job.
Even if a cinematic adaptation doesn't seem likely to attract the attention of Academy, she can already see the HBO miniseries advertisements in her mind, and she's already convinced she can, at the very least, make room for a Golden Globe with this one. The Hollywood Foreign Press loves a good historical romance.
She has six weeks left with After All: The Mary Tyler Moore Musical and then she wants to already have something lined up for the big or small screen. Any screen, she just wants to be on it.
"Make it happen," is the message she texts back to Everett, the moment she sets the pages down.
She knows her agent will make the connection for her, but she's impatient and decides to look up the author, herself. There's something about the style that makes her feel... something.
And, anyway, Heathcliff Darcy. There's no way that's anyone's real name.
But, Mr. Darcy, fictional or not, has apparently done some very real work in the comic book industry, including a best-selling series of graphic novels that merge classic works of literature with science fiction. The concept reminds her of those novels that inserted zombies and other creatures into Jane Austen novels.
When her search reveals that the comic book company is Darcy and Evans Publishing, she knows it can't mean Sam Evans, because that would just be too coincidental. And yet, when she finds an interview from last year's New York Comic Con, there's his picture at the top of the blog article and under the image it, sure enough, says, "Sam Evans of Darcy and Evans Publishing."
Among the questions about who would win in a battle between Wonder Woman and a cyborg clone of Jo March, is an exchange that catches Rachel's attention.
So, tell us how you two came up with this concept:
Uh, sure. So, we were roommates in college, back in Ohio, and I've always had to really work harder when it comes to reading, because I'm dyslexic. And, there was one night when I was trying to work through, uh, it was Don Quixote because I had a test on it later that week. So, I'm doing my best to study and, you know, learn all the right stuff, when he shoves this drawing of this kind of crazy looking dude on a horse right in my face. And I'm like, "What is that?" And he's like, "That's Don Quixote." There was so much detail in the picture, like the fact that he was a knight and he read all these books and he was kind of an older dude. I learned more in three seconds of looking at that picture than I did in three hours of reading that book. So, we were like, what if we took the important parts of the books and illustrated them, like Spark Notes and stuff, but better.
And how did the cross-genre element come into play?
[Laughs] I don't know. It just seemed awesome.
Her Google searches, image based or otherwise, yield results about the books and really nothing about the two gentleman who run the company. It's still a smaller publishing house, and she's sure that a couple of comic book creators aren't really high profile enough for the paparazzi.
Two days later, she's given an opportunity to meet the elusive Heathcliff Darcy, in person.
It's not, however, thanks to her agent.
It's thanks to the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. In the window are several posters announcing the upcoming book signings. One of them features what looks like an image of Sherlock Holmes firing a laser canon at a horde of zombies and under the picture is the name Heathcliff Darcy.
At two in the afternoon on the following Saturday, Rachel is there, in the back of the room filled with folding chairs. She's wearing a blonde wig and a pair of glasses, because she wants to be able to observe without being observed.
The seats are mostly occupied with NYU students and what look to be stereotypical comic book fans, but she also knows from an overheard conversation that there are some high school literature teachers in the crowd, as well.
And then, there he is, Mr. Heathcliff Darcy. For a moment, Rachel's sure she's looking at Sam Evans and that he must have tagged along for the event, but then she realizes it's a different familiar face. Sure, the jaw is more prominent and she's never seen the glasses before, but even with the goatee, she'd know that face, anywhere.
She's looking at Quinn Fabray. Sure, the tweed blazer and v-neck tee shirt are a far cry from the vintage style dresses she remembers from high school, but this is definitely Quinn.
"The downside of writing graphic novels is that it's difficult to do readings," Quinn says, addressing the audience. The voice is deeper, yet there are qualities that are similar to what Rachel remembers. "So, I decided to write non-graphic one so I could dazzle you all with my public speaking skills."
Light laughter rolls through the crowd and Quinn begins to read a selection from the very same manuscript that's sitting on Rachel's coffee table at home.
She's not even sure if she's supposed to think about Quinn as Quinn or as Heathcliff, because she's the one who's always lecturing everyone else about what's socially correct when it comes to anything LGBTQ related.
Mostly, though, it's because she can't possibly believe that anyone would seriously call themselves Heathcliff Darcy.
While the reading continues, Rachel resorts to searching for "Quinn Fabray" in the Facebook app on her phone, but she doesn't find any matches. She broadens the search to just "Fabray" and seven entries down, she selects "L.Q. Fabray" which takes her to a locked profile, but the picture matches the man who stands in the front of the room.
There is one major difference from the Quinn Fabray she know in high school, though: He looks genuinely happy.
She waits through to the question and answer session and notes how the questions are always similar, regardless of the artistic field. "What motivates you?" "Do you have any advice for people who want to do what you do?" "Are you single?"
The crowd titters at that last one and even Rachel finds herself wanting to know the answer.
"I'm currently not involved with anyone, unless you count my editor."
The Q and A comes to a close and a line forms in front of the signing table. Rachel contemplates leaving, but she finds herself buying a copy of the latest graphic novel compilation and steps into the line between a kid in a cape and a woman who's grasping what seems to be a fan art rendition of Quinn as Indiana Jones.
When it's finally her turn, she wonders if Quinn will even recognize her under the wig and glasses.
"Hi." Quinn's always had a dazzling smile, but it was rarely ever genuine. It is now, though.
The book slides across the table and the cover's flipped open. "Who do I make this out to?"
Sally. Christine. Fanny. Anything but- "Rachel."
Hazel eyes pull away from the page and look up at her, but it doesn't seem to be anything other than a glance, because he goes right back to signing the book. "Rachel."
"I really enjoy your new work."
"Yeah? Thank you, so much."
"You have a lovely speaking voice."
Quinn laughs. "I'm glad someone thinks so."
"Oh, we all do!" chirps the woman behind her.
Rachel's first instinct is to glare at the woman and tell her to wait her turn, but the line is long and she knows she only has a second or two left. "I'm sure you also possess a quality singing voice."
"I haven't done a lot of singing, recently." He says as he pushes the book back across the table. "But I'll keep that in mind."
She feels like an idiot, because who says things like that to someone they don't know? She's worked so hard over the last decade to think before she speaks, to not blurt things out the way she did when she was younger.
It's not until she gets home that she even bothers to look at whatever Quinn's written.
"Rachel - You posess an unforgettable star quality." Under that is something that's meant to resemble a signature, but it just looks like a series of loops.
There's no time to wonder whether or not Quinn says this to all the stunningly attractive women who cross his path, because she has a show in a few hours.
Except, later, with an hour until curtain, she's still obsessing over it. She hopes it doesn't ruin the show. It can't. She's a professional. When she takes the stage, she's Mary Richards, not Rachel Berry.
There's a knock on her dressing room door and she almost hopes it's someone coming to tell her the show's cancelled because something is on fire.
"Ms. Berry, there's a gentleman here to see you? He says you're expecting him?"
She's not expecting anyone, but she'll accept any distraction, right now.
"Send him in."
And then he's right there, in front of her, as close as they were earlier that afternoon, but this is much more personal. He's swapped out the t-shirt for a purple button down and she can detect a hint of Ralph Lauren Romance for Men mingling with the bouquet of gardenias he holds in one hand. "I wanted to tell you that it was an amazing show."
"But we're still an hour from curtain."
"I was here last night. And, you were also brilliant earlier today. I think I pull of blonde better, though."
He knew. He knew the whole time. "Why didn't you say something?"
"You were obviously going incognito."
"Quinn, I- Oh, or... Sorry. But you're not actually going by Heathcliff Darcy, are you? I mean, I fully understand the need for a pseudonym, especially given the make up of your fan base, but it's also somewhat pretentious."
He laughs. "Outside of the publishing circuit, though, I'm still Quinn. Always have been."
"Heathcliff Darcy is what keeps the more... uh... persistent fans from showing up at my doorstep. I'm sure you know what that's like."
Rachel nods. "I achieved my diva status by refusing to do stage door signings for a year after some creep manhandled me." There's a flash of what looks like anger that flashes over Quinn's face. "I was okay. It just scared me." As Rachel accepts the flowers she suddenly feels like she's sixteen. "I'm happy for you, Quinn. You seem very content."
"I'm doing all right. Could be better, though."
"I'm thinking that if you say yes to whatever I'm about to ask you, I'll be all right."
Rachel doesn't even care what the question is, she knows the answer is yes.
Because this, whatever's happening, is the next big thing.