Disclaimer: None of this is mine; take no offense and hire no lawyers.
Rachel wakes in an unfamiliar bed, in an unfamiliar room, to the sound of light knocking at the door. When she rolls over, she finds herself staring at a large poster of what looks like a cross-section of a spaceship, and—oh. She's in Kentucky.
"Rachel?" Sam's mom calls from the hallway. "Can I come in?"
She sits up and rubs the sleep out of her eyes, then stretches. "Of course."
Mrs. Evans opens the door, but doesn't step inside; her smile is broad and friendly. "Good morning. I washed your dress; I figured you wouldn't want to brave the drive wearing Sam's old things," she says, hanging the dress on the doorknob. "Did you sleep okay?"
"Just fine, thank you. And thank you again, for letting me stay," Rachel says, wanting to be as gracious a guest as possible.
"Honey, it's the least we could do. Sam told us you're a vegan, and I'm afraid we don't have much for breakfast for you, but I've made peanut butter toast and there's plenty of fruit in the fridge."
There's an acute pang in her chest at that. Even Sam remembered that she's a vegan, despite the fact that she only ever told him once, when they went out to Breadstix before prom last year. Whereas Finn couldn't even be bothered to—
But she's not dating Finn anymore, and that's part of the reason why.
She swallows. "That's very kind of you; I'll be downstairs in a minute."
Mrs. Evans just smiles, and closes the door behind her.
Rachel isn't entirely sure of what to do with Sam's clothes after she takes them off, so she just folds them neatly and puts them back on the bed before retrieving her dress. It's still warm—obviously fresh from the dryer—but it smells like Sam, which takes a moment to get used to. She makes a mental note to sneak into their laundry room and take a look at which brands they use before she leaves; it would be nice, she thinks, to give Sam a little reminder of home while he's staying with her.
The floor is covered in boxes and duffle bags, as he did most of his packing last night, and she bites her lip as she surveys his room one last time.
She hopes she's doing the right thing.
"Are you sure that's everything?" she asks as Sam shoves the last of his stuff into her trunk.
He chuckles at her. "For the last time, Rachel, yes. And if I've forgotten anything they can just FedEx it."
"I'm sorry you won't have a lot of leg room," she apologizes, gesturing at her small, outdated Honda. "My dads said there wasn't much point in buying me a new car when I'm moving to New York anyway and public transportation there is so stellar."
"That makes sense," he shrugs. "And, y'know, I'm not super-tall like Finn so I'm sure I'll be fine."
She nods, staring at her shoes, and he suddenly feels like an asshole.
"Are you, like, okay?" he asks quietly. "With the breakup?"
If she hears him, she doesn't show it—instead she wordlessly opens her door and slips into the car. "I can't drive without music, but feel free to pick from anything in here," she says, reaching under the passenger seat and pulling out a CD binder.
He gets in and flips through it curiously as she starts the car and sets up her GPS. A lot of her collection is Broadway shows he hasn't heard of, which he expected, but there's also a bunch of oldies and a few unanticipated gems that raise his brow: Daft Punk, Marina and the Diamonds, Pink Floyd, Mumford and Sons… Beyoncé, which on second thought doesn't surprise him at all.
"How about this?" he asks, pointing to a Best of the Beach Boys compilation.
Her smile is brief, but bright. "Perfect."
They've finished "Surfin' Safari" and are a part of the way through "Surfin' USA" ("I never understood why they chose to start with the two surfing songs—it makes the album feel top-heavy" Rachel had remarked) when they get onto the highway.
"Okay, I'm sorry, I just have to ask," Rachel says as "Shut Down" starts up, "What's the story behind the water tower?"
Sam laughs a little to himself as the words FLORENCE Y'ALL rise in the distance. "That was the first thing I asked when we moved here. Um, apparently it was supposed to say Florence Mall, but then there were zoning issues, I think? Something about how the mall is a private business and the water tower was public property, and there was a whole big fuss about advertising, and this was the compromise."
"… Kentucky is weird."
"Yeah," Sam agrees. "Thanks for getting me out."
They spend the drive back to Lima harmonizing with Brian Wilson, grinning at each other when they break type: Rachel taking the tenor part and Sam singing in his falsetto.
Despite the cheerful mood of the drive up, Sam's pensive and silent by the time they pass the Lima city limits. Rachel spares the occasional glance at him while he stares out the window, trying to gauge his mood.
"It must be strange, being back," she offers, and he hums in vague agreement. "I—maybe this is a conversation we should have had about a hundred miles ago, but… I hope you don't feel as though I've forced you into anything. I know I can be pushy."
"What?" he asks, startling out of his stupor. "Rachel, no. If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't be here. You didn't twist my arm."
"Well. I kind of did."
"I kind of needed it. All of this has just been, um, really sudden, and I'm not sure if it's all sunken in yet. I mean, yesterday morning I was living in Kentucky, student by day, stripper by night. It's just a lot of change all at once."
She does her best to mask her anguished expression at the mention of his job. "I just don't want you to miss out on anything, or regret coming here. Maybe I should have given you more time to decide…"
"Don't put yourself through that, okay? Because if you want me to be really honest, that decision was made months ago. Forget coming back to Lima; I never wanted to leave in the first place. I have so much unfinished business here. I mean, me and Mercedes were only just getting started…"
He trails off, and Rachel bites her lip. She wants to ask him how he's handling the fact that Mercedes is with Shane now, but maybe she shouldn't—she's hardly ready to have a conversation about Finn. She decides to respect his privacy for now. "What about Florence? Was there anyone you got close with you'll miss?"
"Not really," he shrugs. "I mean, there were a few people who were nice to me, but mostly… I couldn't try out for sports because I had to keep a job, and their music program was, like, nonexistent. Mostly I just focused on my family."
She swallows. "I heard how upset Stevie was about you leaving," she admits.
"I'm… I'm really sorry, Sam."
"Don't be. I chose this. And it's going to be good, right?"
She turns onto Birch Hill Road, and spares him a smile. "I really think it will be. Things can only improve from here, and—oh god, they're waiting for us."
Sam looks ahead—a few houses down, he can see Rachel's dads out in her yard. He's never learned to tell them apart, but… her black dad is mowing the lawn, and her Jewish dad appears to be weeding the garden. "Waiting for us? Looks like chores, to me."
"Trust me; they never do yard work on Saturdays. They just wanted to catch us as soon as we arrived and this is them trying to look busy."
"That's kind of cute," Sam chuckles.
"Kind of embarrassing," Rachel corrects in a mutter, pulling into her driveway. Regardless, she pulls on a happy expression as she gets out of the car. "Hi, Daddies! See? Home safe, just like I promised. Dads, meet Sam."
"Hello, sirs," he says, walking around the car and waving.
"Sir? Ooh, I like him already," her black dad laughs, wiping his hands on his shorts and walking over. Her other dad takes off his gardening gloves and stands up.
"Sam, this is my daddy, Dr. Leroy Berry, and my dad, Hiram Berry, Esquire."
"I love it when she does that," Dr. Berry chuckles. "We sound so fancy. Nice to meet you, Sam." His handshake is firm, but not competitive. Sam likes that.
"Too fancy. Just Leroy and Hiram will be fine, Sam," Mr. Berry—Hiram—says, shaking his hand as well. "Was the drive up okay?"
Rachel rolls her eyes. "It was fine. Mr. Evans advised us to take 275 to avoid Cincinnati, and even though it added on some time, I think the traffic would have made it worse if we'd tried a straight shot up 75."
"She wasn't a radio tyrant, was she?" Leroy asks Sam with a grin, and Rachel flushes.
"No, sir. We listened to the Beach Boys the whole way up."
"We've been waiting for you to arrive so we could figure out dinner," Hiram says. "Sam, any preferences? Better make some bold decisions now, before your guest privileges stop being a novelty and we get bored of you."
Sam blinks, taken aback. "I—"
"He's kidding," Leroy reassures him, "though we really would appreciate your input about dinner."
"Aren't you going to finish the yard?" Rachel asks pointedly. Her fathers reluctantly glance back at their forgotten mower and spade.
"She makes a well reasoned argument, Lee," Hiram says. "Rachel, why don't you and Sam pick a menu from the take out drawer while we finish up out here?"
"Traitor," Leroy mutters, turning back to finish the lawn.
Ultimately, they settle on Thai—which Sam has never tried, but promises he's game for. Her fathers leave to pick up the food with instructions for the two of them to set up Sam's room and pick a movie for tonight in their absence.
"I'm sorry it looks so generic," Rachel says, as she follows him into the guest bedroom with his last duffel bag. "Seeing as this is an extended stay, feel free to decorate however you want."
"I'm not really a decorations kind of a guy," Sam chuckles, but she shakes her head.
"I know that's not true; I stayed in your room last night. We should have taken some posters down before you left; you could have brought them with you."
"Honestly, Rachel, it's fine. Maybe I'll grab a few when I go home for Christmas or something."
"But that's a month from now."
"I'll live," he promises, closing the drawer he'd been filling with clothes. "I'll unpack the rest later; we should pick a movie before your dads get back."
"I hope you don't mind the fact that we're staying in tonight," Rachel says as she leads him back downstairs. "Saturday Night Movies are an old tradition in this house. We had to stop for a while because I'd generally be out with…" her mouth dries out, but she powers through, "with Finn, but we're trying to reinstate it now."
"No worries. Besides, I'm not sure if I'm ready to see anyone else yet. I kind of like the idea of surprising them all at school on Monday."
She stops in front of a large tower filled with DVDs in the living room. "We had a Gene Kelly marathon last weekend, but other than his oeuvre, everything is fair game."
"How about Blues Brothers?" he asks, happy to find a film he likes so quickly in their collection.
"I… everything but that. Please."
Rachel bites her lip, crossing one arm uncomfortably over her midriff. Blues Brothers had been one of her favorite movies to watch with Finn. He loved the car chases and explosions, and she loved the musical numbers, and they'd both appreciated the absurdist humor. She has a lot of memories attached to that film, and she really doesn't want to revisit any of them right now.
To her relief, Sam doesn't comment; just shrugs and keeps examining the tower. "Who's the Tarantino fan?" he asks, reading through the titles.
"Daddy is. We make him watch those alone; Dad and I are too squeamish."
He nods, but then pulls one of the cases off the tower. "A League of Their Own? What's a baseball movie doing in the Berry household?"
"Well, I think my fathers are contractually required to own it on DVD, seeing as both Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell are in it," Rachel giggles. "But really, it's a wonderful film. I appreciate any media representation of strong female characters. And Tom Hanks is an absolute chameleon. He's like the male Meryl Streep."
He grins. "Say that three times fast."
"I'd rather not, thank you."
"So… is this one okay? Can we watch it?"
"Sure, why not?" she says. "I can't remember the last time I saw it from start to finish."
"Cool. I should warn you, though, the ending makes me cry. So you can't make fun of me."
"I wouldn't dream of it," she promises.
Before he can say anything else, the front door opens. "Kids? We're back!"
"Excellent timing, Dad; we just made our selection."
"Did you? Fantastic."
Sam follows Rachel into the kitchen, where her dads are already getting out plates and silverware.
"I hope you feel welcome, Sam—after all, you're not really a member of this family until you've participated in Saturday Movie Night," says Leroy.
"He's lying," Rachel whispers, standing up on her tiptoes to put her mouth near Sam's ear. "You're actually not really a member of this family until you've seen my dad do the whole rap from Super Bass."
Sam raises an eyebrow before subtly pointing a finger at Leroy's turned back. Rachel giggles, shakes her head, and jerks her thumb at Hiram instead. He coughs in an attempt to hold back his laughter, which only makes him choke.
"You okay there, Sam?" Hiram asks, turning around.
"I'm fine. So, ah, you're a Nicki Minaj fan, Mr. B?"
"I'm pelican fly," he confirms with a serious nod and a deadpan expression. "And it's Hiram."
Turns out, Sam loves Thai food—and true to his word, his eyes are a little red-rimmed when Rachel turns to look at him at the movie's end.
"You okay there, Sam?" Leroy asks with concern, proving that Rachel wasn't the only one who noticed.
"What? Um, yeah, just… a little allergic, I think. Something in my eye."
Her dads share a look; she can tell they think he's missing home. And maybe he is, but at least she was warned that movie also upsets him.
"Well, we're gonna head on up to bed. We get a bit of a late start on Sundays, so don't worry about setting an alarm unless you're a crazy early riser, like this one," Hiram says, nodding at Rachel. She scoffs, and stands up to kiss each of them goodnight.
"Allergic?" she asks with a raised brow, as soon as they've left the room.
"I told you this was going to happen," he mumbles defensively.
"I thought there was no crying in baseball," she jokes in a half-hearted impression of Jimmy Dugan.
"It's not the baseball that gets to me. It's just—they're all old ladies, but they still care so much, and then they start singing that stupid song and I just turn into a three year old. It's not my fault."
She chuckles, and returns to sit next to him on the couch. "I've always wanted to learn more about baseball."
"Why didn't you ask…" Finn is on the tip of his tongue, but he's made that slip-up too many times already, "one of your guy friends? I thought you've been tight with Puck since you were little kids."
"If by 'tight' you mean he cheated off of my worksheets in Hebrew school and in exchange protected me from older bullies, then sure," she says, but she's smiling in a way that makes him think maybe there was more to it than that. "But the men in my life have always been more football people. Personally, I've never seen the appeal. It's more complicated than chess and Stratego put together, but people hit each other."
"Like wizard chess," Sam jokes, and she chuckles.
"I guess. But baseball's always seemed more… peaceful."
"It is, yeah. George Carlin actually has a whole routine about the differences between baseball and football; remind me to show you on YouTube sometime. A lot of people say baseball is, like… poetic? Walt Whitman said, um…" he closes his eyes and concentrates, trying to call the quotation to mind, "He said it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere."
"How do you do that?"
"Remember things like that. You're always doing impressions and quoting things and—and speaking in other languages. Fictional languages, at that."
"It just comes to me. My parents think it's how I compensate for my dyslexia. I'm shit with reading, but if I hear it, it's locked in the vault," he says, tapping lightly at his temple. "It's how I'm able to learn music so fast, too. Mom says it makes me an idiot savant. And then Dad says I'm just an idiot. I could teach you, if you want."
"To remember things?"
"No, baseball. I've been a center fielder since Little League."
"Really? Why didn't you play last year?"
He raises a shoulder in a half-shrug. "Got sort of sick of the McKinley jock scene, y'know? Not my favorite people. And last spring, um. It wasn't really the best time for me to be away from my family, let alone needing permission slips for away games and money for equipment and stuff."
"Oh my gosh, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. Of course not."
"No, it's cool. Maybe I'll play this year. That might be fun." The corner of his mouth twitches up in a lopsided smile. "And, uh… either way, I can teach you. If you want."
"Sure. I mean, it's as simple as turning on the game, right? I mean, you kinda missed the World Series, but once the season starts up again in a few months, they'll be on all the time. Besides, if you're gonna be a New Yorker, you've gotta be able to talk about the Yankees."
She shrugs. "I'm not so sure about that. Going off of the little I know about both teams, I've long debated declaring my allegiance as a Mets fan."
His gasp is loud and melodramatic. "Bite your tongue!"
"What can I say? I'm a member of New Directions; I like an underdog."
He shakes his head and smiles. "But you're Rachel Berry."
"Yes? And?" she laughs.
"And, that means you're a born winner. Totally meant to be a Yankees fan."
She blushes as she giggles, brushing her hair behind her ear. "Are you always so complimentary?"
"I should be," he says honestly. "I try to be. And… I'm really sorry it took something like this for us to hang out. We should have been closer a long time ago."
"Well, nothing like second chances, right?" she asks.
He smiles. "Right."
When she wakes up Sunday morning, Sam's already in the shower—she can tell because she can hear him singing "(You're The) Devil In Disguise" through the wall. She bites back a giggle at the thought of him twisting his hips in the shower, using her loofah as a microphone. As Elvis impersonations go, it's not half bad… which, considering the fact that it's Sam, is unsurprising.
She's missed his voice, and so she sits there in the hallway and listens as he makes his way through "Suspicious Minds," "Stuck on You" and "A Little Less Conversation." The sound of water running through the pipes ceases somewhere during the bridge of "Can't Help Falling In Love," but she just wants to wait until the end of the song before she—
Of course, then he walks out of the steamy bathroom wearing nothing but a towel around his waist.
"Rachel!" he yelps, jumping back, and she goes bright red at the sight of him.
"Sorry, I wasn't trying to—it's just that you were singing in the shower. You sounded good."
He's flushed, but she's not sure if it's from her presence or from the hot water. "I thought that the walls here were soundproofed."
"Only my bedroom."
"You don't sing in the shower?"
"Of course not; it would interfere with the efficiency of my routine." He smiles at that, and she sighs with relief that she hasn't scared him off by being… herself.
"We've gotta stop meeting like this," he quips, gesturing to his towel, and her cheeks heat back up again.
"Yes, well, now we're even, I guess…?" She trails off and clears her throat. "What are you doing up so early?"
"Yes, so… shouldn't you be sleeping in?"
He frowns slightly. "I have church."
"Oh!" She feels stupid for not remembering. "Do you need a ride?"
"I was just gonna take the bus…"
"That's silly," she decides, reaffixing her smile. "I'll drive you. And I'll talk to my dads about getting another key for my car, but they may not want you driving it often until you're on our car insurance plan."
"That's… fair," he says, looking at her carefully. He fists the towel at his waist. "Um, is it cool if I…?" he trails off, nodding down the hall towards the guest room.
"Of course! Sorry. I'll see you downstairs."
The memory of the sight of his ridiculous abdominal muscles refuses to leave her as she gets dressed.
They both have cereal for breakfast—skim milk for him, almond milk for her—and are out the door by seven thirty.
"Is it cool if we, like, run some errands after you pick me up?" he asks as they walk out to her car. "I was gonna look around town and see what places were hiring. Maybe see if I could get my old pizza delivery job back."
"Are you sure? I don't mean to, like. Kidnap you."
"I really don't mind. Besides, you'll have Mr. Arnstein all to yourself before you know it."
He blinks at her. "Mr. Arnstein?"
"My car. I named it after the male lead in Funny Girl," she explains. "Mostly so I could say Hey Mr. Arnstein, here I am every time I drove, but even I got tired of that after a month or so."
Sam laughs. "Hey, don't feel bad. It never really worked out, because we couldn't afford it, but I always dreamed of having a vanity license plate that said NCC-1701." At her confused look, he clarifies, "That's the registration code for the Enterprise."
"And that's… Star Trek?"
"Right!" He grins. "I'll make a geek out of you yet."
She puts on Godspell for the drive over; it's tied with Jesus Christ Superstar for the most Christian music she owns, but JCS feels too controversial.
He's never been to church alone before in his life.
It's not like he's in a room full of strangers—after all, this was their church when he lived here—but Sunday mornings have always been a family thing. He mills around in back waiting for the Fabrays to come in, so he'll at least have people to sit with, but they never do. Sheepishly, he takes a seat in the last pew.
The absence of his family settles into his chest like a dull ache.
Sam gets out of church at ten, and they pound the pavement for the rest of the afternoon—by Rachel's estimation, he's left an application at just about every fast food place in Lima.
She knows their situations aren't really comparable, but… she feels guilty. She's never worked for anything a day in her life. She's worked at things, sure—practiced her craft with dedication, honing her skills—but her dads always paid for lessons and told her that volunteer work looked better on her resume, anyway.
She'd never realized before what a privilege that is.
"Have you considered looking outside of food service?" she asks, when they stop for lunch.
"What, like retail? I'm really not—because of my dyslexia, I can't be a cashier. I need more time than that to look at numbers. Being stared at when I'm trying to do math gets me all flustered, and when I get rushed I mess up more."
She winces empathetically. "I take it you're talking from experience?"
"Yup; I didn't last two days at the Old Navy. So I'm pretty much only qualified for, like… fry cook, ice cream scooper, or delivery guy."
"Don't sell yourself short like that; you're qualified for so much more."
"Yeah?" he asks. "Are there any strip clubs around here?"
Her face falls. "That's not funny, Sam."
"You're right," he agrees, "it's not. …Sorry."
"You have nothing to be ashamed of. It was brave of you, to do that for your family. But that's not your life anymore. Okay?"
He swallows. "Okay."
That evening, he finally gets some time to himself. He spends his time finishing unpacking, but right as he's getting ready for bed, there's a light knock at the door.
"Sam? It's Rachel."
"Come in," he says, closing his underwear drawer. He gestures at the bed when she peeks her head in, and she sits down gingerly. "What's up?"
"I need to talk to you about school tomorrow."
"What about it?"
"I know it might get a little overwhelming, with everyone wanting to see you, but—there's something I'd like you to keep in mind."
"Yeah?" he goads, when she doesn't elaborate.
"I… I need you to watch out for Finn."
"Is he gonna deck me or something?"
Her brow furrows. "Why would he do that?"
Sam shrugs. "You sort of made it sound like he'll think I've started something with you because we're living together. And I thought you said he was suspended?"
"He was, but his suspension ended just as mine began. It's only glee club he can't participate in. If he sings, Santana won't—and she's a featured soloist. But I don't mean watch out for him as in watch your back. I mean watch over him."
Sam walks over to sit beside her. "I'm… really not the smartest dude, so you'll have to spell this out for me. Why do I want to be on Team Finn right now?"
She stares at her hands. "Because no one else is. He's made terrible mistakes, but he lost his girlfriend and his step-brother in one stroke; Kurt won't talk to him because of what he did. So I tried to support Kurt in the election, but that obviously backfired, and I just… I know his home life is terrible right now. They're thinking of sending him to Dalton."
"But why should I care? He deserves it."
She shakes her head, trying to gather her thoughts. "Finn's not an intolerant person; he just… has no concept of the kind of impact his words can have. But he won't learn to be better unless someone teaches by example."
"Won't that just teach him he can get away with whatever he wants?"
"I'm not saying I want to get back together with him. Of course his actions have consequences. But you can't just turn off how much you care for someone, no matter how badly they may screw up."
"Hey, no worries. Believe me, I know all about that feeling," he assures her.
"I'm sorry; I know it's a lot to ask, but…"
"No, it's fine. I'll talk to him, I guess. But the whole point of me coming here was for glee, and if everyone else gets pissed at me being seen with him, I can't be Mr. Savior Guy."
"I understand that; do whatever you feel is appropriate. It's just that… you've always been such an excellent ally. And a good friend. He could use that."
Sam stares at her a moment before shaking his head in disbelief, laughing a little to himself.
"What?" she asks, self-conscious.
"Nothing. You're just… really one of a kind, you know? You're awesome."
"Not awesome enough, apparently," she mumbles. "I just can't believe… I should have taught him better. I should have been paying more attention. How could he be around me so much and not learn these things unless I'm just…?"
"Rachel. There is nothing wrong with you. Finn's issues are his, okay, not yours. You can't teach people to be as accepting as you are any more than you can teach them to sing as well as you can. All you can do is set an example, and care. And any time you need a reminder that you do that—you can just come right across the hall. Because I'm living here now, and that only happened because you cared."
"Well. That and I wanted to win," she adds sheepishly, but she's smiling.
"Last I heard, wanting to win never hurt anybody's chances."
"I suppose not. Well—thank you, Sam. I'll let you get some sleep," she says, standing up. "Dad arranged everything with the car insurance company while we were out, so you're all set to take Mr. Arnstein in the morning; you can use my key for now."
"Wow! Is Rachel Berry going to actually sleep in for once?"
"We'll see," she laughs, and closes the door behind her.
A/N I want to thank everyone who's added this story to their alerts and favorites since I posted the last chapter; I know it's been a long wait. I also wanted to say that, as much as I have the major events mapped out for this fic, there are still plenty of details that need filling in. So if you have any requests—friendships you want to see developed or touched upon, a plot point you just REALLY WANT TO SEE HAPPEN… let me know, and I'll see what I can do. This is very much a season three fix it, for me, so I'd like to fix as much as I can.