The Final Lesson
It took a lot of work to get where she is now.
Quinn. She's Quinn now.
The first step came half-way through seventh grade, when she was humiliated beyond belief at a school dance – why had she even gone? Humiliated Carrie style. Lucy had hated herself for a long time before that – the bullying, the teasing, the jokes, the looks, the smirks – but never more in that moment did she hate who she was. Never had she hated who she saw in the mirror than in that moment. It was that moment she knew she needed to change. She needed to strip herself down and build herself back up again, the way she wanted to, the way she dreamt of but never thought possible.
The way her mother had always wanted her to be.
The second step was actually doing something about it. First she bought a calendar and hung it in her bathroom, behind the door. Then she bought a scale, and recorded what it said each day. Motivation. She wanted to be like the pretty girls in her class. The pretty and popular ones that everyone loved. She didn't want to be the ugly, overweight outcast anymore.
She went on runs, every night. Hard at first, but pushing herself to go further and further without breaks each time. Only at night though, when people wouldn't recognize her. She stopped eating anything sweet altogether. She ate healthy; she didn't starve herself. She worked for what she wanted.
In the beginning of eighth grade, she worked up the courage to ask her mother to enroll her in gymnastics and dance classes. The gymnastics first, she wanted to build her body up. The dance came later, when she didn't feel so much like a graceless elephant. It was hard; all the other girls knew she didn't fit in there. Whether it was trying to do cartwheels or pirouettes, they knew, and she knew. She didn't belong. But she worked silently, watching her instructors, and watching her peers. Watched how they moved, how they interacted, how the commanded.
The final step came when her dad got a raise at work. They moved, and she was enrolled in a new district for high school. And that summer, she asked for the nose job, dyed her hair, and asked for her parents to call her by her middle name. She went to cheer camp after her surgery healed, the final thing she needed. She wasn't just going to be some new girl named Quinn now. She was going to be Quinn: popular, beautiful, a cheerleader. That summer was her transition, the final stages in locking Lucy away for good. At camp she learned how to manipulate her body, and to manipulate people.
On the first day of high school, she is ready.
Quinn hardly interacts with anyone during the first day. Even though all the freshmen are new to the school, she still has the air of the new girl about her, because she didn't go to middle school with any of them. But for now, she wants to keep that mystery. She hasn't yet ascended to the ranks of the naturally popular girls, but that's okay.
For now, it's okay to keep quiet, to keep the mystery about her. Not the nerdy, shy quiet though. She ignores most of the students around her, and so what if they think she's a bitch? She plans to be popular, and being popular means only associating with other popular students.
She won't fall back into the trap of Lucy, being weak and a loser and letting others walk all over her. That's why she doesn't interact with anyone. Because if she did, Lucy would surface, and try and be nice and sweet to everyone. And that isn't her any more. She's Quinn now. Quinn is popular. Quinn is beautiful.
And Quinn? Well, she can be a bitch. All part of the image.
Cheerleading tryouts are held the first day, once school ends. After only a few hours inside McKinley High Quinn learns that the cheerleaders and football players really do rule the school. The girls twirl by in their pleated reds, and the boys swagger past in their Letterman's jackets.
She also learns pretty quickly that cheerleading isn't just taken seriously by the school population, but by the cheer coach herself.
All the freshmen girls that are trying out are ordered into the gym, the coach berating them with her bullhorn the whole time. Some of the other girls around her seem to think it is an act, this woman's mad preaching. But Quinn knows it isn't; the coach is serious in every single thing she tells the new girls. She isn't going to let just anyone on her squad.
Quinn isn't just anyone.
Lucy had been. But Lucy is gone now.
Quinn sits on the bleachers in the gym with the twenty or so other freshmen girls who are trying out for the squad. The sign-up list had been longer, but a large handful of girls had left whimpering the first time the coach addressed the group. Good for them. It meant less competition for Quinn.
The group sits and listens as the coach drills her expectations and laws into them further. Then she walks to the lone table that is set up, list of names waiting on top, and sits down, her back to the girls. She starts calling names, one by one.
Quinn watches silently, inspecting every girl. Some take it seriously, but most seem to think cheerleading might be a fun thing to try. It won't be fun, the coach has assured them that. But Quinn watches. She watches the awkward and stiff girls, the bubbly and giggly girls, the nervous and scared girls. A few have confidence and potential.
None of them want this as much as she does though.
The girls on the bench whisper, in between routines and during them. Some talk about how scary the coach is. Others criticize the girls trying out, commenting on looks, weight, and personality. But Quinn knows those aren't the deciding factors. Yes, the coach wants pretty, skinny, enthusiastic girls. But it's the passion that matters, how much they want this.
Just from watching Quinn can see which girls know each other, which girls went to the same middle schools. She's the odd one out here, the only new girl among them. The others all have at least one other person they can whisper with. But that doesn't matter to Quinn.
Two girls, down on the end of the front row, Quinn can see they stand out. They didn't just go to the same middle school, don't just share the 'I never talked with you last year but now we need to stick together' quick friendship the others are making. Quinn can see they're actually close friends. They talk only with each other, hands clasped between them. Their bodies hover close together as they affectionately touch each other's hair or knees.
The darker one stands when the coach barks out the name, "Lopez, Santana!"
She's beautiful, in her looks and in how she carries herself. Her tanned skin doesn't ghost in the harsh light, her dark hair isn't pulled into a bushy mess. She walks with confident, if not casual, steps towards the center of the gym to begin her routine.
When she moves, Quinn can see the wildness inside her. This girl has passion. Her movements quick and fast and precise. She has cockiness too. When all the other girls finished their routine they don't dare to meet the coach's eyes, instead looking out nervously at the sea of judging girls.
Santana cocks a hip and looks directly at the coach, waiting. She knows she was good, and is waiting for the coach to acknowledge it. The coach gives a slight nod and Santana smirks as she glides back to the bench, revelling in the nervous and jealous looks from the other girls on the bleachers.
When the coach reads out the name, "Pierce, Brittany!" the lighter of the pair leaps to her feet and skips towards their make-shift stage.
Where Santana had sureness in her movements, Brittany has grace. Quinn can see that she's a dancer through-and-through. Some of the other girls have probably been to cheer camp, or done gymnastics or a year or two of dance. Not this girl. Quinn can see that the girl on the floor lives and breathes dance. Her body flows effortlessly though her moves, not with rehearsed but with natural ease. It looks almost like she's swimming, how easily each step comes to her.
Her routine ends with her dropping down painlessly into the splits, and she has the audacity to flash a winning smile, like she too knows she's got this. Some of the other girls smiled nervously without making eye contact with the coach, if at all. Brittany smiles happily, teeth showing. When the coach gives her a nod too Brittany leaps up to her feet and gives a little fist pump before making her way back to the bleachers.
Santana, Quinn sees, smiles her encouragements for Brittany where she'd looked on impassively at all the others.
There's only one problem.
Quinn is sure she's seen Brittany before. She can't place where yet, but she knows her from somewhere.
Which is bad. Because it isn't Quinn that recognizes Brittany, it's Lucy. This girl knowing her could be Quinn's downfall, this could ruin everything. She's worked so hard, come too far to be brought down by some blonde dancer who may recognize Lucy. She won't let this happen.
Quinn stands and silently walks down the bleacher steps, the other girls watching her the whole time. They all seem to know she's new. Even though they all come from a few different middle schools in the area, they all seem to know she isn't one of them.
She isn't one of them. She's better than them.
Stepping down onto the floor she hesitates, nerves suddenly building up. The fear that she isn't better than them, that this will all crumble before her, fall apart before her eyes, suddenly becomes so intense it momentarily freezes her. What if they can see through her? What if the coach can see through her? What if-
No. That's Lucy. Lucy was afraid. Lucy was weak. Lucy was a chubby loser with no friends. Lucy had no place on a cheer squad.
But she isn't Lucy anymore.
Sucking in a deep breath, Quinn squares her shoulders and sets a determined look on her face as she approaches the middle of the gym. So what if she's the new girl? Quinn enjoys the mystery being the new girl creates; none of them know what to expect with her. All they see is a stunning-looking and confidence-breathing girl.
Quinn locks eyes with the coach as she starts, because ultimately it's the coach she needs to impress to pass the first test. Impress the coach, get on the squad. Once she's on the squad, then the intimidating of the other girls will come into play. For now, only the coach's opinion is what's important.
She flows through her moves easily enough, her body remembering each move and performing it as it's supposed to. Lucy would be winded after only a few steps, but Quinn nails her routine. She doesn't smile, not like Brittany did. Instead her lips hold a confident grin, but nothing cocky like Santana wore. Quinn's smile is precise and practiced, eyes bright with determination and lips curling into a secretive smirk.
When she finishes, Quinn knows she needs to make a statement. She can't stand still and avoid the coach's eyes like the others, and she can't simply stare her down like Brittany and Santana did. No, she needs to be bold. She needs to be commanding and show everyone, the coach especially, just what she's here for.
She finishes, flashing a fully fake grin at her crowd, the grin all cheerleaders learn to master, before locking eyes with the coach. "Well?" she asks, arching an eyebrow.
It took weeks to master that, the eyebrow arching.
But it was so worth it.
If she's surprised, the coach doesn't show it. There's a collective gasp from the bleachers, running up through the levels in a wave. Quinn has been the only one to address the coach. But the woman herself holds back any surprise she has at Quinn's address. Instead her eyebrows draw together and she studies Quinn, looking her up and down.
Lucy would squirm in discomfort. Quinn doesn't even hold her breath in anticipation as the judgement of her is made. Quinn knows she was good.
"Nicely done, Q," the coach finally says, her words slow and calculated. She's grinning like a Cheshire cat though, and Quinn knows she's impressed.
Quinn doesn't need to look at the wide-eyed, gaping stares the other girls are giving her as she walks back. She holds her head high, steps with determination, and goes back to her seat. She doesn't need them to show her they're shocked-yet-impressed, she wants them to know she expects them to be, as if nothing else is acceptable.
She's spent a long time building this new persona of Quinn. Everything is perfectly planned out.
Once the try outs are finished the coach barks at them through her bullhorn; Quinn refuses to flinch like the others do. The woman gets them to run laps around the gym, to the grievances of many of the girls, who don't think it's fair they need to run laps if they haven't even made the team yet.
Quinn doesn't grumble, but nor does she leap into an enthusiastic run like some of the girls, hoping to impress the coach. Brittany runs with enthusiasm too, but she seems to be a different category all her own. The other girls who are throwing themselves into the motions are begging for the coach's attention, hoping to impress her. But Quinn knows the woman is hardly paying them attention, at least not for their enthusiasm for running.
Right now, all the coach is looking for is the true athletes among the wannnabees.
Lucy was no athlete.
And it's for this reason that Quinn knows that she doesn't need to lead the pack. She doesn't need to be the fastest, not right now. The coach is looking for stamina, girls who are physically up to enduring whatever torture she'll put them through. And torture she'll put them through, Quinn can tell from the look in her eyes.
After the initial few laps, where a few of the girls used up all their energy in useless trying to be noticed by the coach, the group falls into a steady rhythm. Brittany and a dark-skinned girl named "Armstrong, Tammy!" are at the front of the group; Quinn listened to each and every girl's name. If she wants to fit in, if she wants to be the best, she needs to know exactly who will fall in line behind her and who she has to beat down. She needs to know them all by name.
Quinn doesn't need to be first, but she still needs to prove herself. She stays a few paces behind Brittany and the other girl.
She happens to be in-step with Santana, who also seems to be using Quinn's plan of needing to be fast but not necessarily the fastest. Santana doesn't force herself to keep up with her friend, instead stays a few steps behind, running at an even pace.
Santana, it seems, is the only one Quinn has to look out for.
Quinn would go with the whole, 'keep your enemies closer' tactic, she would. Except, at this point, allies might be better than enemies. And Santana? Definitely the kind of ally she wants. Because Santana knows how to play the game. She has the looks to become popular, and the attitude to stay popular. She brushes off the stares of the other girls around her because she knows she's better than them. She doesn't bother with them.
Quinn doesn't know if Santana was popular in her middle school, or if, like Quinn, she's building herself up now. But it doesn't matter. Because Santana has the same air about her Quinn does, the need to be on top. She wants this the way the other girls don't. They want to be cheerleaders because they think it might be fun, win them dates, make others think they're pretty. Santana, and Quinn alike, want the power of popularity, and know cheerleading is the only way to the top. They both know this won't be fun, won't be easy, but are willing to risk it if it means they can rule.
Santana could be a good ally, and Quinn isn't going to waste the opportunity. She wants Santana to know she's in it for the same reason she is, she wants Santana to take her seriously, not to write her off like she's probably done with the other's they're running with.
But Quinn knows the game. She'll make the first move, she's not afraid of that, but she has to be sure first.
She runs in-time with Santana for the first few laps, keeping Brittany and the other girl at a constant distance ahead of her. Then, when she feels the back of the pack start to fall further and further away, Quinn pushes a little bit harder. She runs, feat pounding on the tile floor, and slowly closes the gap between her and the two girls in the lead. Not by much, she doesn't want to overcome them, she just wants to see what Santana will do.
Santana does exactly what Quinn hopes she would do. She pushes just as hard, increasing her speed to match Quinn, stride for stride. Santana is definitely playing the same game Quinn is; she doesn't have to be fastest, but she won't let anyone else be faster.
After a moment Quinn eases up, sliding back into her steady rhythm from before. Santana stays ahead a few steps, but eventually she realizes Quinn isn't beside her any longer. Quinn sees her toss her head and give a little snort in annoyance before she too slows slightly.
Quinn has a sinking suspicion that Santana may have chosen her the same way she chose Santana.
After another three laps of matching pace with Santana, Quinn is thinking out exactly what she wants to say to the other girl, but Santana speaks first.
"You were good," she says, words heavy as she runs. The way she says it makes it sound not just as a compliment, but as a statement of fact. Like Santana expected her to be good from the moment she walked into the gym, and Quinn lived up to it.
"So were you," Quinn returns, watching. Santana's face remains impassive, like she expects everyone to tell her this, like this is nothing new. "So was she," Quinn adds, nodding her head towards Brittany.
It's easy to see that the two are a packaged deal. Santana has the attitude for greatness, and Brittany has the moves for greatness. If she wants to win Santana over, she needs to comment on the potential she sees in Brittany too, like letting Santana know she approves of the darker girl's choice in friends.
It's a risk, because Quinn is still sure she knows Brittany from somewhere. From somewhere back when she was Lucy. But she knows if she wants this, not just to be popular, a cheerleader, but to be the best, leader of the popular crowd, then she can't do this alone. Santana is an obvious choice. And even if they weren't attached at the hip, Brittany would be too. Brittany was the only other girl to walk to the center-floor like she owned it, look the coach in the eyes after her routine, and walk back to the bleachers knowing she aced it. Brittany may be bubbly to Santana's prickly, and maybe a little too bubbly for this particular cheer coach's atmosphere, but Quinn needs Brittany too.
It's this comment, and Santana's reaction to it, that lets Quinn know she's in. Santana smiles and gives a slight nod, turning her head slightly to look at Quinn as they run. It isn't the hard look she's worn all afternoon, bored and unimpressed with her competition. This look is one of a lioness strategizing with another member of her pride to take down a kill. Not friendship, they aren't there yet, but comradery. Alliance.
"Damn right she was," Santana says, a playful smirk breaking out.
It's few days later and Quinn is in the locker room; not the cheerleader's special locker room, she isn't officially on the squad yet. She's made it through the first two waves of freshmen cuts though. And, as it's worth mentioning, so have Santana and Brittany.
It's a few days later and Quinn has realized where she knows Brittany from. Quinn – no, Lucy, Lucy spent time living at Brittany's house when her mother was under investigation by Child Services. Lucy lived with Brittany and her family as a foster child. Lucy made friends with the bubbly blonde when they were much younger.
So far, her Quinn persona is holding up. Brittany hasn't said anything about recognizing Quinn. Maybe she does look different enough that Brittany won't notice. Or maybe Brittany doesn't remember Lucy well enough to remember in the first place.
It's risky, the slow alliance she's building with Santana and Brittany. Brittany could ruin her at any moment. But she needs Brittany and Santana if she's going to make it here.
Quinn is sitting on the bench, having changed out of her gym clothes and back into her dress, and is doing up the strappy sandals on her feet. She longs for the day she can be like the older girls, who wear their uniforms every day to school, showing everyone just how worthy they are.
Santana is at the sinks, fixing her makeup in the mirror. And Brittany is dancing around the room, rapping out lyrics to some song Quinn has never heard. Brittany is just as bubbly and ridiculous as Quinn remembers her.
There's two other almost-Cheerios – "Jules, Sara!" and "Anderson, Katie!" – in the locker room with them, giggling softly to themselves as they finish changing. Quinn doesn't really mind that they're there; they aren't half bad as cheerleaders, they've made it past the first waves of cuts, just like Quinn has. All the really annoying girls and the girls who don't take it seriously have been weeded out.
But clearly Santana has other ideas. Quinn watches as Santana catches Sara's attention through the mirror, her hand pausing where she's been holding the eyeliner pencil and her eyes widening expectantly, waiting. Sara doesn't catch on quick enough to what Santana wants, so Santana darkens her expression, glaring at her through the mirror.
Quinn plans on mastering that look. She's got the eyebrow arch down. She's got the 'I'm bored and you aren't impressing me' look down. And she's got the cheerleader fake smile down. Next she plans on learning a few of the different styles of glares Santana is so good at.
The girl squeaks under Santana's heavy gaze and grabs her friend, dragging her from the room.
"Bye!" Brittany says, waving at them.
"Any particular reason you chased them from the room without even moving?" Quinn asks, leaning back on her hands and lounging on the bench.
Santana shrugs, going back to her primping. "They were bugging me."
Santana has a little too much spunk for the persona Quinn is still building to want to borrow more than the glares, and knows she could never pull it off herself. But aligning with Santana is good enough. Santana has enough attitude for the both of them.
And Brittany has enough cheerfulness; as sweet as Brittany is, Quinn won't be borrowing any of that. It reminds her too much of Lucy, who was meek and nervous and too-kind to people, letting them walk all over her.
If this partnership, this friendship, that she's slowly building between the three of them works out, then Brittany can be the heart and Santana can be the attitude. And Quinn? Quinn plans on being the leader.
So long as Santana agrees to this plan and falls in line. She still isn't sure if Santana is using her the same way she's using Santana, or if the other girl is simply putting up with her for now but hoping she gets cut in the next wave. Santana is hard to read.
"They were just talking, San," Brittany chides, plopping herself down on the bench next to Quinn. Quinn also can't tell if Brittany genuinely likes her or not, because Brittany seems to like everyone. She isn't sure if Brittany is aware of the shift going on, drawing the three of them together, or if she's just happy to be meeting new people.
Santana rolls her eyes, "Whatever."
Brittany elbows Quinn, "She's just cranky because she hasn't been to the ice cream parlor since school started."
"B, I told you," Santana says, turning and leaning her back against the sink. "No more junk food, not if we want to get on the squad."
"Ice cream once a week can't hurt."
"For you maybe," Santana scoffs.
Quinn looks at Santana, a small smirk on her face. "Is she one of those?" she asks, pointing at Brittany. "One of those girls who can eat anything and never have it show?"
Santana laughs out a, "Yes," at the same time Brittany pouts and cries, "Hey!"
"It's true though, Britt. You're a dancer, you naturally work off anything you eat. Me and Quinn here?" She glances from Brittany to Quinn for conformation as she speaks, "We have to work to look this good."
For a second Quinn panics. Is Santana on to her? Has Santana figured her out? Does Santana know she's all a lie?
"But she's like, gorgeous," Brittany states, looking Quinn up and down.
Quinn tries not to let her cheeks burn. Lucy would be embarrassed with any sort of praise. Quinn expects it. Quinn shouldn't be surprised when people complement her looks.
"Looks have nothing to do with it," Santana says. "She's hot. I'm hot. No arguing there. But we still have to work to look good."
Brittany gives a big dramatic sigh, flopping down to rest her head in Quinn's lap. Quinn resists the urge to cheer because, is this it? Are they friends? Is she finally one of them?
"You aren't fat, San," Brittany insists.
"No," Santana replies, shaking her head and smiling a little. Her looks are always softer around the blonde. "I'm just saying we would be if we didn't work at it."
"It's true, Brittany," Quinn says, finally adding her opinion. "You run every evening?" she asks Santana, still worried that maybe the other girl has caught on to her charade.
"You know it," Santana laughs and Quinn feels the panic fade. Santana hasn't figured her out, she simply identifies with Quinn.
Lucy would be awed by the situation. Quinn just shrugs it off.
"I go to dance three times a week!" Brittany argues, her voice taking on a whine. "I work hard too!"
"That's not what she-" Quinn stops and pats Brittany's hair before shifting her out of her lap so she can stand up, "Never mind, Brittany. She was complimenting you."
"Because I'm a good dancer?" Brittany asks, looking back and forth between the two girls.
"Because you can eat ice cream and be a kick-ass dancer," Quinn answers, smiling. A real smile. She hasn't had any real smiles like this since school started, all her looks are calculated and perfectly crafted. But around these girls? Quinn finds she does smile.
It's… odd. Lucy never really had friends before but, is she friends with these two? Quinn only wanted to succeed, make a treaty between them to help her get to the top. She hadn't expected to win friends out of it. False friends maybe, the bitchy 'I'll humour you' friends the cheerleaders all seem to be with each other. Not genuine friends.
She still isn't sure though. She isn't used to this. She doesn't know where they all stand yet.
Brittany smiles big and wide at the complement. "Oh, okay." Then she giggles and gets up to twirl around the room once more.
"Don't waste all your energy, B," Santana says, her face gentle as she speaks with the other girl. "We have a hard day of more try outs tomorrow."
"Yeah," Quinn adds, "We've got some interesting competition."
"Interesting?" Santana scoffs, shaking her head in amusement at Quinn. "More like lame competition. We've got this. They have nothing on us."
We. Us. Meaning all three of them.
That's all she needs; she knows now. She's in. They're a power group now. They're going to make the squad, and they're going to rule.
And she's won some friends in the process.
Two months into the school year and she's made it. Quinn is a Cheerio. And so are Brittany and Santana. They've made it. Already their peers' attitudes towards them have shifted. Now, the three wear their red and white uniforms every day, and from it demand instant respect.
It's almost eerie, how easily the crowds in the hallways part when one of them walks down the halls now that they are officially popular. It's amusing, how during the first few weeks people were put off by Quinn's distant behaviour and hesitation to make friends until she had ascended the ranks of popularity. Now? Other cheerleaders smile at her sneers and quick-witted comments. Boys who were thrown by her icy demeanour now fawn over her. She was pretty before, but with the uniform, now she's beautiful.
Of the freshmen girls that made the squad, Quinn, Brittany, and Santana are on top. They rule the freshmen. And in the internal social ranking of the Cheerios, the three even seem to have more respect and power than some of the sophomores. No one touches the junior or senior girls, they rule. But they also don't tend to associate with the younger underlings. Which means Quinn, Santana and Brittany rule the younger girls with cruel comments, snarky sass and condescending smiles.
And of the three? Quinn rules. Quinn is the leader, with Brittany and Santana flanking her on either side.
She and Santana had butted heads at first, both trying for the top spot between them. But eventually Santana bent, backing down and letting Quinn be top dog. Santana is strong, possessive, and cunning. But she doesn't have what it takes to be the alpha. She's better off relying on Quinn to take the lead and leaping in to help when she's needed.
The official moment that assured Quinn she had beat out Santana in the number one spot, not just above Santana but above all the younger girls on the team? That was when their coach told her, in front of everyone, "I see a young Sue Sylvester in you Q. You've got the passion." That was the moment everything came together.
Currently she's in the Cheerio's locker room, freshening up after a hard practice. She's standing at the sinks, fixing her hair in the mirror. She has a date tonight with Finn Hudson. He appears a little dim, but he's cute, is actually a decent guy, and he's on the football team, so.
The locker room has slowly been emptying out, and she heard Brittany shoo Santana off a few minutes ago, promising to catch up later. But Quinn isn't aware that the room is near empty until the silence settles over her. It's suddenly uncomfortably quiet. Gooseflesh rises up on her arms and her hand stills where it was fixing her hair.
In the mirror she can see Brittany a few steps behind her, on foot propped up on the bench as she ties her shoe.
The silence doesn't seem to upset Brittany, or maybe it does, and that's why she suddenly speaks, voice clear and happy. "What's your favourite movie?"
"Um," Quinn says, picking up her hairbrush.
"Come on, Quinn," Brittany says, switching feet. "Everyone has a favourite movie."
"The Notebook," Quinn eventually says, because that sounds like a good response. Girls love that movie. It's about love and it makes you cry and stuff. All the popular girls love it.
"My favourite is Jumanji," Brittany replies easily.
Quinn's hairbrush clatters into the sink. She sucks in a shaky gasp as her whole body freezes, muscles clenching in fear.
Looking into the mirror her eyes meet Brittany's. The other girl doesn't look malicious or conspiring or angry. She looks calm, her eyes gentle but inquisitive. Quinn's stomach drops just from seeing the look. Brittany is standing a few paces behind her, hands clasped behind her back, looking intently at Quinn, waiting.
Quinn can't move.
"Have you ever seen it?" Brittany asks when Quinn doesn't say anything. But her tone of voice implies she already knows the answer.
Brittany wears the shiest of smiles as she nods her head slightly.
Quinn's hands are shaking; she grips the sides of the sink, forcing them to stop. Her head bows, looking down into the drain and sucking in a deep breath. Her whole life, the life she built for herself, is about to crash and fall apart.
But still, even as the illusion unravels, she is still Quinn. Lucy would cry. Lucy would be weak and ugly and pathetic. But she isn't Lucy, not any more. She's Quinn, and she'll cling to that as long as she can. Quinn takes things with dignity, with confidence, her head held high. Quinn won't go down without a fight.
Slowly, she turns to face the other girl. Her hands grip at the sink behind her, grounding her to something solid as she faces Brittany head-on. Her heart is pounding and she can feel the blood draining from her face. Her life is about to end. A second time.
"When?" she hisses.
"After the first cut for Cheerios," Brittany answers, looking apologetic.
Weeks. She's known about Quinn for weeks. Was she waiting until the moment Quinn reached her highest? Waiting for the perfect moment to rip the rug out from under her?
This can't be happening.
"How?" she chokes out, her voice a hoarse whisper. She will not cry. She refuses to cry.
Brittany's face softens further, clearly not liking seeing Quinn so distraught. "I don't know…" she gives a helpless shrug. "I'm good with people? I just… you felt familiar. From the first day I knew I recognized you from somewhere. I had to really think though, you… you look different. Your eyes though. You have the same eyes."
"I wore glasses," Quinn snaps. It's the only thing she can think of to say.
Brittany sighs at her, and it makes Quinn feel very small.
"Your name was Lucy before," Brittany says after a while, shifting on her feet. Quinn can't tell if it's because she's uncomfortable or because she feels bad.
"Lucy's dead," Quinn spits. "Lucy's gone and never coming back. I'm not her anymore."
Brittany's voice is small and hesitant as she asks, "Why?"
"Does it matter? She's gone."
"It matters to me," Brittany says, eyes narrowing slightly.
"I hated her. I hated who I was. I was sick of-" she pauses, words stalling as every single thing she hated about herself comes to mind. There are too many things. "Everything!" she says, because that sums it up. "I was sick of everything in my life, I hated everything. Every single thing about who I was. Lucy was broken-down and dying, she was weak and pathetic and I hated her!" She's breathing heavily by this point, but the words vomit up from inside her, unstoppable. "People hated her and abused her and bullied her until there was nothing left, until she couldn't stand on her own, until there wasn't a point to exist anymore. So I killed her. I killed her and buried her and she's as good as gone now. She isn't coming back. I'm Quinn now." She stresses her name, wanting Brittany to understand.
Brittany doesn't look like she understands though. Her eyes are wide, lips pulled in a thin line. Brittany is the type of girl who loves everyone. She may get annoyed with people, have people she dislikes, or dislike parts about them. But she'd keep it to herself. And maybe there are things about herself she doesn't like, her hips or her ears or how she comes off to people and how they treat her because of it. But Quinn is sure Brittany could never understand, because Brittany has never hated herself, not like Quinn has. The girl standing before her does not have the capacity to loathe every single thing about herself. To detest herself so much that she would rewrite herself, to rip and shred and hack away at everything she is until there's finally something acceptable, something she can use, to build from, to start over with.
That is what Quinn did. And Brittany will never understand.
They stand in silence a long moment; Brittany blinking sadly at her and rocking on her feet, Quinn clutching the sink behind her and trying to calm everything that is swirling around inside her. She's a typhoon of emotion. Everything is falling apart for her, and all she can think about is how much Lucy hated herself. How much Quinn hates Lucy. How much Lucy hated the type of girls Quinn chose to become. How much Lucy, locked away inside her, hates Quinn.
"I'm sorry," Brittany says. "I'm sorry you… that…" her eyes plead with Quinn's. "I'm sorry." Then she looks down, ashamed.
Quinn doesn't know if Brittany is apologizing for asking, or if she's apologizing for Quinn-Lucy-whomever's self-hatred.
"Why didn't you say anything," Quinn asks, once she's calmed down and her hands are at her sides, no longer clutching the counter. "You knew, this whole time you knew. You could have ruined me."
Brittany's eyes lift to meet hers. She looks anxious, afraid of the monster she's awoken.
But Quinn pushes all the hatred down, locks the monster away with Lucy, and keeps her tone even. "You could have ruined me; told everyone I wasn't a real cheerleader. You could have told everyone I was actually a fat, ugly kid with glasses and a big nose. A shy, friendless loser."
Brittany blinks at her, but not in confusion. Quinn doesn't know what the look means, the look Brittany is giving her. It looks like a mix between… surprise and disappointment.
"You could have told Santana," Quinn goes on when Brittany doesn't speak. "You could have told her about me and the two of you could have ruined me, you could have ruled without me. Why drag me along, when you knew what I was, what I had been."
"Because you changed."
Quinn doesn't understand the other girls answer. What kind of answer is that? "What does that mean?"
"You…" Brittany frowns slightly, organizing her thoughts. "Once I realized it was you, that you had changed who you were… you did it for a reason, right? I didn't know what it was, but you… I mean, clearly you worked hard to erase everything you were."
She takes a slow step closer to Quinn, "You changed. It didn't matter who you were, you changed yourself. You lost your little-girl baby weight and dyed your hair. Got…" she squints, "a nose job? And got eye contacts and became athletic. You aren't shy or nervous like you were. You rebuilt yourself for a reason. That's why I didn't tell."
Quinn still doesn't understand. She shakes her head, insistent, "That doesn't make sense."
Brittany edges closer. She takes a slow breath and tries again, looking apologetic because she can't manage to explain so Quinn will understand. "You changed. You may be… harder now, not as soft or light like you were. You may be a little colder, with more confidence and inner-strength. But you did it for a reason." She reaches forward, fingertips touching Quinn's cheek. "Why would I question that?"
Quinn is unsure how to deal with what Brittany has just said. That doesn't… that still doesn't make sense inside her head. Brittany is trying to be a cheerleader. She's friends with Santana. Why wouldn't she try and bring down the competition?
"But why keep me around?" Quinn snaps, slipping out from under Brittany's touch and away from the sinks. Then she spins, facing Brittany once again. "You had Santana, the two of you could have been cheerleaders without me. You would have made it on your own, you could have ruled without me. Why didn't you tell Santana, isn't she your best friend? Why wouldn't you tell her? You two could have had fun, tearing me apart. Why not try and break me?" It's what everyone did. Everyone she knew, all the kids at her old school. They took every chance they got to try and break Lucy into pieces.
Brittany is still looking at Quinn like she can't believe Quinn doesn't get it. She doesn't look mad, like she's upset Quinn would think so little of her. She wears a sad grin, like she's frustrated with and pities Quinn, but she still wants to help her.
"Because," Brittany finally answers, "Because Lucy was just some girl I knew a long time ago, and Quinn is…" She pauses and Quinn holds her breath, unsure what the other girl will say. "A friend?"
Quinn feels the whole ground slip away under her, leaving her floating. The edges of the locker room blur around her, but it's almost like a light shines brighter on Brittany.
She wasn't expecting Brittany to say that.
Her lips part, eyes widening in astonishment. She breathes out, but can't form any words.
Brittany is giving her a hopeful look. "We… we are friends, right?"
Quinn swallows. Then she nods. "I… I think… yeah." Her words are quiet, afraid to be spoken.
"Good." Brittany walks towards her, and for a second Quinn flinches, unsure what to expect. Then Brittany is pulling her into a gentle hug, arms squeezing slightly around her. She leans back, smiling at Quinn, and Quinn feels like she's eight years old again and she's done the right thing in Brittany's eyes. "It doesn't matter who you were. This is who you are now, and that's okay. Everyone deserves to be who they are. Everyone deserves to be happy."
She gives Quinn one more tight squeeze before stepping away. Brittany walks over to her locker and shuts it, picking up her backpack from the floor.
Quinn feels at ease. Brittany hasn't told. Brittany won't tell. And Brittany… Brittany really wants them to be friends. Quinn turns to look back in the mirror, watches herself as she smiles. She's never really seen her own genuine smile, not since she became Quinn. She knows she has been smiling, usually when around Brittany and Santana, but she's never seen it.
She picks up her bag at her feet and turns, finding Brittany watching her with a gentle, satisfied look. "I have one question, though."
"Okay," Quinn says, a little nervous.
"Before, when you were L… when you were at my house," she corrects. "You used to move so… softly, hesitantly. But when we're at practice," she frowns, trying to find the right words. "You don't just have confidence, you actually know what you're doing. Where'd you learn to dance like that?"
The pattern from when she was so much younger continues once more, as if she were eight years old and still living in Brittany's house. Every time she thinks she has the world figured out, Brittany teaches her something new. From teaching her how to hug, to how to make-believe, to how to make friends, now Brittany's helping her to learn that not everyone is out to get her.
Quinn doesn't answer Brittany's question. She simply smiles, tightens her grip on her bag, and walks past her, letting her hand brush past Brittany's as she does so.