Despite all signs to the contrary I haven't given up on this ...yet! Massive thanks to Eyghon for the proofreading (I've changed some things since your stirling work so all errors will definitely be mine).
Quinn stared intently at her reflection in the mirror, pleased to note there was no sign of her inner turmoil. She inhaled slowly trying to separate her swirling emotions - her anger at Kurt's oblivious meddling, building her up to have false hopes that had been so completely dashed was only surpassed by her rage at that manipulative blonde bitch who had ensnared Rachel so effortlessly, ready to use, abuse and throw her away. Slow exhale. Quinn glanced down to where her hands gripped the edge of the sink and willed herself to relax. Rachel was vulnerable to the influence of friends; she and Rachel hadn't danced around each other for years just for some old crone of a dance teacher to step in and ruin things. She breathed out slowly again - she could do this. All she needed to do was to point out the unsuitability of Miss July and then prove herself a better - so much better - alternative. Okay, she'd need to start discussing their current closeness and unusual relationship through school but with the right build up Rachel would finally see her as less of an ex high school bully and more of an ideal love interest. It would just require more time than she'd originally thought. Finally Quinn's knee jerk panic and despair were subsiding. She just needed to persuade Rachel to open her eyes to the possibilities around her rather than grasping desperately at the first suggestion of love interest - from a distinctly unsuitable and unsavoury character too.
As Quinn's gaze returned to her reflection in the mirror she became aware that there was someone standing next to her - inappropriately close given that none of the other washbasins were in use. All her efforts to calm herself were instantly undone as she immediately recognised the woman alongside her, the nerve of the bitch with her smug, gloating expression. How dare she even stand there? Quinn managed to hold back a snarl as she turned to face her. Surely carefully applied make-up wouldn't be able to disguise the toll that age and excess alcohol took - Quinn scoured the woman in front of her for evidence of either to no avail. All that beauty wasted on someone so unworthy... Quinn noted the woman's amusement at her scrutiny and brought her racing thoughts to heel. Cassandra July's presence next to her could hardly be a coincidence; the witch was here to revel in Quinn's impotency.
Cassie glanced at Quinn and schooled her features into what she hoped was a neutral expression. As uncomfortable as this conversation might be now she needed to bear in mind it was about smoothing the way for her and Rachel's relationship later. 'We must stop meeting like this' flitted through her brain as possibly the least appropriate way to start the conversation and her involuntary smile of wry amusement wasn't missed by the other girl. The hostility Quinn was projecting only seemed to have intensified. Cassie concentrated on not reacting to the animosity being directed her way. She needed to give Rachel's friend the opportunity to vent - although quite why that was a good idea was becoming less apparent with every glower Quinn aimed at her. Time to get the show on the road.
"I wanted to give us the opportunity to talk as I sensed a little hostility earlier," Cassie finally managed once it became apparent that Quinn wasn't going to be the one to start the conversation. There was a silent tense pause when a dropping pin would have been deafening.
Quinn's expression didn't falter from a something-unpleasant-I've-stepped-in look. The nerve of the woman.
"Sensed a little hostility? - How very perceptive of you," Quinn's sarcastic withering tone encapsulated everything Cassie found so intensely irritating about teenagers. All that self-important worldly-wise sneering cynicism without the benefit of any life experience to justify such a stance. Cassie swallowed down her irritation and reminded herself that this was Rachel's best friend. Rachel's rather bad tempered, rude best friend. The best friend Rachel ran to when Cassie had upset her so one who probably wielded far too much influence than was healthy.
The silence lengthened so Cassie raised an eyebrow inquisitively as an invitation for Quinn to say whatever it was she needed to about Cassie's teaching methods. It was a bit rich for Miss-plank-in-her-eye Skysplitz to be annoyed with her about her giving Rachel a hard time but hey, angry teenagers were hardly known for their self-reflective skills and if it smoothed the path of her relationship with Rachel, well she was prepared to grit her teeth and ignore the hypocrisy. She wasn't sure what to make of the arched eyebrow Quinn raised in response to hers - hopefully this wasn't going to degenerate into some kind of face-pulling contest as the cat's bottom expression Quinn was pulling would be hard to beat. She eyed Quinn coolly and considered her options carefully. Maybe she'd misread the signs and Quinn had no wish to talk to her. No skin off her nose, she might as well cut her losses.
The stillness and silence that had grown between them was shattered by Cassie suddenly straightening up and glancing at herself one last time in the mirror before she said, "I was under the mistaken impression you wanted to talk, my apologies."
Cassie turned to head for the door trying to keep her relief in check.
Quinn's inner turmoil increased as the opportunity to have her say seemed to be slipping away. Should she say anything? Was there anything she could say that would impact on the behaviour of this amoral conniving woman who seemed intent on despoiling Rachel? Would she be able to live with herself if she didn't even try to save Rachel from making a big mistake that she'd live to regret? Quinn looked at herself in the mirror - it was potentially now or never.
"I'm on to you," Quinn finally managed to say in a low quiet voice. For a moment she thought the other woman hadn't heard her until she stepped back to her previous position. Quinn kept her stare resolutely fixed on herself in the mirror even as fear raced through her. She didn't have time to assess quite what she was afraid of.
"On to me?" queried Cassie, uncertain how that remark made any sense.
Quinn allowed herself a wry smile at the puzzlement the former Broadway actress managed to project through her speech alone. Quinn didn't check but she suspected a wide-eyed politely bewildered look accompanied that remark. All that false confusion when she'd obviously come into the bathroom to gloat in some way over Quinn – she didn't fail at Broadway because of her acting skills then, noted Quinn's inner bitch.
Quinn's ill concealed irritation erased any last vestiges of doubt Cassie had that this conversation was a really bad idea.
"On to you," affirmed Quinn. Oh please, it was hardly complicated. She glanced down at where her hands gripped the sink tightly before adding, "I'm not stupid."
Cassie stared at the tense girl in front of her as her brain raced to find meaning in her words. Somehow she didn't think this conversation was about her role as Rachel's harsh dance teacher and yet there was nothing else it could be about - just her own slightly guilty conscience nagging at her. She pushed memories of kissing Rachel aside - Quinn couldn't be 'on to her' about that.
"And cryptic conversations give me a headache so if you've got something to say..." Cassie didn't need to finish the sentence, as the implication hung clearly in the air.
Quinn was again paralysed by indecision. It was one thing to run through in her head all the things she would say given the chance, to relish the imagined stunned-into-silence recipient of her cutting but accurate comments suddenly pleading for forgiveness after a tear sodden confession. Reality was however somewhat different - no one listened to a verbal onslaught, justified or not, in silence (except maybe Rachel and she was a notable exception rather than the rule). She knew this dance teacher had a reputation for a malicious turn of phrase so what would she do - to Rachel not to her - if provoked by Quinn? Quinn had spent much of her life being silenced by fear - fear of angering her father (she'd still managed to do so rather spectacularly), fear of losing her popularity (ditto), fear of rejection (on so many fronts but the most recent being the reason she was currently in this awkward situation) but never fear of saying what she thought (once the first three fears had been considered). So maybe now was the time to speak out? She tried to channel her outrage to give her the courage to speak. She was committed now. Rachel needed her to do what Rachel was incapable of doing for herself.
"Stay away from Rachel," Quinn growled as she shifted her gaze in the mirror to the dance teacher's face to try and discern whether her words were having any effect. The face that met her look remained impassive. "Or is that too cryptic for you - shall I dumb it down?" Quinn knew she was being deliberately provocative but the cool sophisticated air the woman projected was beyond irritating.
Cassie felt a flash of alarm that she quickly damped down. Various responses jockeyed for position in her head, the initial ones more scathing than the later ones as she gave herself time to think. She reminded herself that this was an over protective friend of Rachel's - although a warning off about her treatment of Rachel was laughably too little and far too late now that their lessons were over. She smothered the start of a wry smile that had threatened to show on her face. This was about lessons wasn't it?
"Quinn, you might not have noticed when you crashed the party but this is my farewell do, so..." Cassie might be censoring her remarks but she couldn't help her tone from dripping with as much patronisation as she could muster. The tightening of Quinn's lips let her know her efforts hadn't been in vain. Cassie slowed her delivery of words further as if explaining to a rather clueless child, "I won't be teaching Rachel anymore."
Quinn seethed at the wilful misunderstanding. Maybe not teaching Rachel dance but instead teaching lessons on betrayal and being used.
"Oh this isn't about your treatment of Rachel in the classroom even though that was outrageous," snarled Quinn as she struggled to contain the urge to slap the smarmy faced older woman as hard as she could, partly as an outlet for her growing anger and partly to see if she could literally wipe that smile off of Ms July's face. She was an adult now and words, not violence, were her weapons.
"Pot meet kettle," snarked Cassie as her hand gestures mimicked a formal introduction. There was a beat as she paused to consider the wisdom of her next remark and then threw caution to the wind. "Or do you prefer Skysplitz?"
The words had an immediate impact as Quinn's face suddenly turned a bright red and she pulled her gaze away from Cassie's. If she hadn't been so caught up in painful memories of her own culpability in bullying Rachel then she'd have had time to wonder how Ms July knew about her old online pseudonym - she could only have acquired this information from Rachel and it was hardly a topic of conversation that would have arisen in dance class; ergo her feeling of something more than teacher-student going on would have gained a somewhat firmer foundation than it currently had. Unfortunately Quinn's intense guilt about her previous treatment of Rachel blinded her to Cassie's unintentional slip. It took an immense effort to enable her to look at the self-satisfied expression of the dance teacher in front of her. Time to take the metaphorical gloves off.
"At least I didn't have the ulterior motive of trying to lure Rachel into my bed," stated Quinn clearly, pleased to see the effect her words had on the stunned older woman. She kept her expression neutral even as she rejoiced inside at finally scoring a point. Not so damned smug now. Hah.
On later reflection Cassie knew this statement was patently false - Quinn's motives for picking on Rachel were remarkably similar to her own - but at the time she'd been shocked by the accurate implication of Quinn's words once she realised her ears had actually heard what her brain was finding hard to compute. The mere mention of Rachel and bed in the same sentence was enough to have her burning with embarrassment. Her thoughts raced at whether Rachel had inadvertently or even deliberately let something slip - Quinn was her best friend after all - so she only managed to form a weak (and in the context of the previous conversation, illogical) response of:
"But she's my student..." Cassie winced internally at how evasive she sounded but she didn't know how much Quinn knew so she needed to tiptoe through the conversation. Besides, her slight delay in responding had practically confirmed the truth of the accusation.
"Oh right, like that's stopped you before," sneered Quinn trying to rein in her glee at having so easily ruffled Ms July's feathers, time to rattle her cage a bit further, "Is Brody one of your more recent bed notches or is he a bit down the list now?"
Cassie had been in performance and teaching long enough to know how to keep her face expressionless, particularly when something hurtful or upsetting was said, however her blood vessels were less obliging and the truth of Quinn's words was borne out by the renewed redness of her face and neck. Fucking Brody - an unfortunate phrase and an even more unfortunate act. Cassie allowed herself a moment to berate herself before refocusing – she couldn't change the past, nor could she defend her behaviour. Arguing it was only Brody, just that once, would hardly make any difference to the harsh opinion Quinn held about her.
"I don't care if you're some serial student seducer with a pathetic need to live vicariously through your most talented students - just leave Rachel out of your machinations," hissed Quinn. She had Ms July on the ropes so now was the time to press home her advantage.
"Well I wouldn't consider Brody one of my most talented students…" quipped Cassie immediately, the unintentional double entendre making her grimace internally. She sounded like some kind of sex-crazed vamp. The remark however served its purpose; it infuriated Quinn causing her to lose her train of thought and it gave Cassie a moment to collect herself. It was only a fleeting moment as a disgusted Quinn quickly found her voice.
"Rachel deserves better than being used by an aged alcoholic bitter has-been..." Quinn was frustrated that her outrage at Ms July treating this all as some kind of joke had robbed her of her more carefully planned insulting epithets. She'd just have to settle for free-style cussing. The woman had all but admitted to being the lowlife that Quinn had suspected - being right didn't make her feel any better.
Cassie could see Quinn's lips moving but tuned out the words. There really wasn't an insult Quinn could hurl at her that she hadn't already been called or directed at herself in her darker moments. Yadda, yadda, yadda, water off a duck's back although - woah - 'depraved sexual predator' would have to count as new. Rachel's incredibly rude, deserving of a slap friend, she reminded herself even as the urge to exact revenge made her jaw and fist ache from all the clenching.
Quinn had shocked herself into silence - maybe her last insult had been a bit out of line. She'd been trying to gain a reaction from the once again insufferably calm dance teacher but maybe she'd gone a little too far.
Cassie exhaled in a deliberately loud and controlled manner, pleased to note a look of apprehension flit over Quinn's features. She was right to be afraid as her remark was bang out of order and in a previous life Cassie would have risen to the bait.
Quinn resisted the urge to swallow nervously as the awkward tense silence extended while Cassie scrutinised her.
"Out of interest, who appointed you the guardian of Rachel's chastity?" asked Cassie calmly and conversationally - it was time to move things along. Quinn's bewilderment at the switch in topic and tempo allowed Cassie to continue, "because last time I looked," okay maybe not the most tactful choice of words, because looking was all she was allowed to do at the moment, "Rachel was an adult and hence capable of making her own choices," she leaned into Quinn's space in an intimidating manner, "even if they're ones you don't like."
How Quinn hated the supercilious manner of Ms July, the hint of a smirk that just played around her lips, her arrogant assumption of superiority and her sneering dismissal of Quinn's right to be concerned.
"I'm her friend," managed Quinn defensively, annoyed at how her voice quivered slightly.
"Oh right," drawled Cassie enjoying Quinn's discomfort, "so you've spoken to Rachel and you're intervening at her request?"
Quinn didn't need to respond as her inability to meet Cassie's gaze and her awkward posture spoke volumes. Cassie clamped down on any hint of gloating, tempting though it was.
"Of course you haven't and the reason I know that is because there is nothing going on between Rachel and me." Quinn's disbelieving gaze snapped up to meet hers as Cassie added a barely perceptible, "at the moment," before continuing more confidently, "not that I expect you to believe me but hey feel free to ask Rachel."
Cassie stepped back as they continued to glare at each other. Quinn pondered the significance of 'at the moment' - maybe it wasn't too late to save Rachel from her trusting naïveté.
Cassie weighed up the futility of adding anything extra to her denial. Quinn had made her disdain for Cassie completely clear so she'd merely be wasting her breath adding anything further. Maybe she owed it to Rachel to try and smooth things over slightly - perhaps something vaguely reassuring in the way of an olive branch?
"I care about Rachel," Cassie said sincerely. She felt an embarrassed blush cover her face even as her eyes flicked around the room in a guilty manner. The bathroom was thankfully still relatively empty.
Quinn fought the urge to sneer her disbelief and had to bite back an array of caustic responses.
"If you truly care about Rachel, " started Quinn wrestling with strong emotions and even stronger language poised on the tip of her tongue, "then you'll find someone your own age to fuck with," Maybe it was just too much to ask that she be civil.
Cassie sighed resigned "If you truly care about Rachel then you'll let her make her own choices." It wasn't a conversation that was going anywhere.
"Not if that means..." Quinn's angry response was cut off by the sudden dramatic slamming of the bathroom door against the wall. As they both turned instinctively to look at the origin of the commotion, a slightly flustered, wide-eyed, heavily breathing Rachel burst into the room.
Once Rachel had realised that both Cassie and Quinn were in the bathroom - thanks Lydia for the heads up - she'd rushed here, barrelling through the door in her haste to... well she wasn't sure what she was afraid of. Nothing was going the way she'd anticipated - she'd be lucky to even gain a kiss from this evening, never mind her now wildly out of reach grand plans to finish the evening in Cassie's bed. There had been a moment, as she stood alone in a crowded room when she was tempted to scream her frustration to the rafters but it quickly passed. Paul's unexpected presence was an obstacle that was solvable but then Kurt had to up the ante. He had scuppered her careful plans with his well intentioned organising of Quinn's surprise visit - she could hardly hope to sneak off for a passionate evening with her now ex-teacher without eagle-eyed Quinn noticing (even if ignoring her genetics and being a poor host were even a remote possibility). Kurt implying she and Quinn were a couple barely caused her to bat an eyelid but Quinn had looked so shocked. Rachel decided the evening had one redeeming feature in that at least she and Quinn had cleared that ridiculous notion up. Still a sense of foreboding was difficult to shake.
So as soon as Lydia had mentioned she'd seen both women having an intense conversation in the ladies room Rachel couldn't help but be alarmed. Quinn had a preference for showdowns in bathrooms and had even slapped Rachel round the face in one. Bathrooms were Quinn's home ground but surely her and Cassie chatting was mere politeness rather than a moment of high drama as implied by Lydia's gleefully excited declaration. Rachel had raced to the bathroom as a feeling of dread invaded her senses - some kind of showdown wouldn't have surprised her at this point because that was exactly how her evening was going.
"There you both are," Rachel breezed as she quickly stood between the pair of them totally ignoring her slightly louder than intended entrance. Was the atmosphere tense or was that her projecting? Maybe her unintentional door slamming had just scared the life out of everyone?
Rachel barely noted the surprised somewhat guilty looks both women cast her way, as she was too busy anxiously scouring Cassie's face for sign of injury - no hand prints on her cheeks, phew. Rachel disguised her relief as she glanced quickly at Quinn, no signs of injury there either although Cassie's verbal beatings didn't leave physical scars. She took a calming breath and scolded herself for her active somewhat paranoid imagination fuelled by Lydia's fantasist tendencies. Both Cassie and Quinn looked a little red in the face come to think of it but then it was quite warm in here. Maybe she'd just completely over reacted?
"So what were you two chatting about?" asked Rachel with a light friendly tone hoping her slowly dropping level of anxiety wasn't leaking from every pore. Rachel was too focussed on her own feelings of awkwardness and projecting the absolute opposite to pick up on Cassie and Quinn's guilty air.
Rachel's beaming smile raked first over Cassie and then more briefly Quinn. Quinn suddenly felt like she was five years old and had been caught scribbling on newly painted walls with indelible ink. It was hard to read anything from Ms July's face beyond a tightening in her expression.
"Cassie?" Rachel looked from one to the other. Her anxiety levels were rising again so the concern in her voice grew, "Quinn?"
The slight raising of Ms July's eyebrow at her told Quinn she was being left with the responsibility for clueing Rachel in to their discussions - or not. She didn't know if that was a kind move (although given the manipulative woman in question, probably not) so she fired a quick glare at the dance teacher just to cover the bases. The minor eye roll she received in return irked her but the increased frequency in the nervous tapping of Rachel's foot warned her she didn't have time to delay a reply.
"I was just thanking Ms July for allowing me to attend her retirement party," explained Quinn with a sweet smile that dropped as soon as she caught Ms July's eye.
Cassie laughed - managing another eye roll for Quinn's benefit before saying, "and I was just explaining that rather than retiring I was moving on to explore virgin," Cassie flicked a meaningful glance at Rachel, "green pastures." Cassie could see Quinn bristle, "thoroughly."
Rachel looked slightly bemused. Her mind raced to understand the green pastures reference, hindered by her nervousness. Then she suddenly realised Cassie must be referring obliquely to her possible return to Broadway. Here she was expecting the worst with some kind of hostile exchange when in fact Quinn and Cassie must have been getting along rather well if Cassie had shared that very private piece of information.
"Hardly virgin, it's not as if you haven't been there before," added Rachel, happy to be able to join in the conversation and feeling all tension dissipate from her body.
Cassie burst into laughter - rather more exuberantly than her remark required in Rachel's opinion but seeing Cassie laugh so uninhibitedly was a rare treat so she wasn't complaining.
Quinn stood looking distinctly unamused. It was hard not to notice Rachel's dewy-eyed adoration directed Ms July's way. It was harder still fighting the urge to cry as Rachel slipped her arm through Quinn's and gushed about how pleased she was to find her and Cassie getting along because they were really quite similar with tough exteriors that hid fluffy caring interiors - Quinn had barely managed to control her snort of disbelief. Rachel missed it as she continued on with how it was reassuring to know Quinn had grown out of the need for bathroom showdowns and how daft was she (Rachel) for even thinking it was a possibility? Rachel's verbosity was an indication of her nervousness and judging by Ms July's indulgent expression she wasn't the only one who found it endearing. The lack of attempt by the dance teacher to rectify Rachel's incorrect assumptions annoyed Quinn until a glimpse in the mirror made her realise she was guilty of exactly the same behaviour. There wasn't an ideal moment to point out to Rachel she'd called Ms July a depraved sexual predator and that was one way at least in which they differed. She hadn't grown out of bathroom showdowns either.
Further conversation was curtailed by a flustered Miss Fairweather appearing and fussing about Cassie not being where she needed to be - the disparaging look directed Rachel and Quinn's way clearly indicated who she held responsible for such an inconvenience. A reluctant Cassie was being dragged away for Carmen's speech and presentation but not before she and Rachel exchanged some meaningful eye contact. It made Quinn feel nauseous at just how easily Rachel was being played.
"I thought Ms July was responsible for making your life miserable and singling you out for undeserved ridicule. It's hard to see how you would become friendly," Quinn mentioned as they made their way back into the round room. A crowd was gathering near the stage where Carmen was again wrestling with the microphone.
"I wouldn't have any friends if I bore grudges on that basis Quinn - Kurt and you weren't always very nice to me..." Rachel smiled to soften her words. If she was honest she wasn't really sure how she and Cassie became close. She still couldn't quite believe Cassie was attracted to her.
"Ah but we were also immature, stupid and in high school. Ms July doesn't have those excuses," replied Quinn trying to keep her annoyance out of her tone at the dreamy look Rachel had at the merest mention of Ms July. Sowing the seeds of doubt needed to be her first step in saving Rachel from her desperate need to be loved that made her such an easy prey.
Rachel stopped so she could face Quinn. She'd had to listen to so much unwarranted criticism of Cassie from her NYADA peers that she had no wish for Quinn to begin joining in.
"Cassie has made me improve my dancing to a level beyond what I thought myself capable by challenging me to be better," Rachel paused to gather her thoughts as she scanned Quinn's face for understanding. "She might have been exceedingly harsh at times but nothing compared to how it gets in the real world competing for roles."
Quinn's unconvinced, "yeah well," served only to prompt Rachel to expand further.
"Bottom line being I don't have a problem with Cassie so you're hardly in a position to have one on my behalf," she smiled to lighten her words and then added, "I thought you two were getting along." Rachel paused to scrutinise Quinn carefully as another more uncomfortable thought struck her. "And if not, what were you really talking about?"
Rachel's confused expression was one which always caused Quinn's heart to melt. Fortunately she was spared from answering by the timely start of Carmen's speech. After ensuring she held the attention of the entire room, Carmen eloquently expressed her sincere gratitude on behalf of herself as well as students past and present for Cassie's extensive and rich contribution to dancing at NYADA - Quinn resisted the urge to eye roll at what was obviously a speech rolled out with minimal adaptions every time someone left. As Rachel eagerly hung on to every word about an 'outstanding if somewhat unconventional teacher' with humorous examples of Cassie and Carmen clashes and then examples of all the times Cassie had gone the extra mile for students, Quinn searched the audience for Kurt. He and she needed to have words somewhat urgently so once she spotted him she kept an eye on him before allowing some of her attention back to the stage.
Quinn grudgingly acknowledged the sense of camaraderie Ms July's witty self-deprecating speech managed to create in the room. The embarrassed laughter from the crowd as she referred to her many nicknames - from her perfect driving record leaving her puzzled as to the origin of 'CarCrash Cassie' through a succession of less than flattering terms to a brief mention of Wicked Witch of the West which seemed to have Rachel blushing. Fortunately thanks were kept to a minimum - Carmen for taking the chance on a 'mentally unhinged menace to performance', which seemed to be a quote from some caustic review judging by the knowing laughter - and future plans were left suitably vague after a jokey plug for her private lessons. There was a brief serious moment where she thanked 'those who have given me the courage to move on' and Quinn thought Ms July's gaze flicked momentarily to Rachel but that hardly seemed likely. Finally the band was introduced and the guests encouraged to dance the night away. Quinn was already making a beeline for Kurt before the applause had even died away and it wasn't to ask him for a dance.
Cassie was surprised that the applause, which greeted her off the cuff speech, had her on the verge of tears. She had thought about performing a song - her dress was far too expensive to be dancing in - but once on the stage with all eyes upon her (she was only concerned about a particular dark brown pair which still shone with admiration and hence her fears of what Quinn might have said were temporarily alleviated), she realised there were too many people beginning to suspect something so singing to Rachel would have to wait. Carmen's far too casual remark of only 'needing to look for Rachel if she wanted to find Cassie' combined with Quinn's more bluntly expressed accusations in the bathroom caused Cassie to rethink the saying-it-through-song idea. She managed a significant if somewhat brief look at Rachel and had to hope that Rachel had picked up on the heartfelt sincerity of her words. She'd watched Quinn striding across to Kurt and felt her heart sink - events were rapidly spiralling out of control. Quinn sharing her suspicions with the gossip addicted Kurt could soon see the mood of the party shift. Surely Quinn could foresee the impact on Rachel of making her suspicions public and telling Kurt was equivalent to making a public announcement. Such scandalous gossip of a possible teacher-student liaison would spread lightening fast via the gayboy jungle drums. Maybe she owed it to Rachel to précis her earlier conversation with Quinn and warn her of her impending notoriety.
Cassie was thwarted by Carmen's arm suddenly encircling her waist and directing her to where a group of individuals were waiting to talk to her. Cassie managed to manoeuvre herself so she could keep an eye on Rachel as yet more former students surrounded her to chat. Rachel had been joined by Paul although his teasing smile and wink at Cassie followed by Rachel's amused glance in her direction had her inwardly groaning. Rachel's gales of distinctive laughter floating across the hall only confirmed what she suspected - Paul was recounting his version of childhood tales at her expense. Paul had far too many amusing tales of a younger Cassie-in-denial and her intense focus on performing, never mind that story of how long she'd been willing to queue for Streisand tickets. Cassie tried not to show her impatience to escape the tales of 'who was where now and how much she'd been an inspiration'. She'd had to concentrate when asked about her future plans because she really couldn't think much further than getting Rachel alone.
Mind you, Paul's embarrassing stories of her younger self were a minor irritant compared to what was potentially going on between Rachel's best friend and Rachel's flat mate. From the glimpses she gained through the smiling faces that surrounded her, there was an intense conversation happening. She was waiting for Kurt to shoot a disapproving or outraged glare her way but either she'd missed it or Quinn was taking a long time to reach the punch line. It suddenly occurred to her that this might be her only chance to have a few words with Rachel while both Quinn and Kurt were otherwise distracted. Her motivation to extricate herself from the current conversation increased exponentially as she noticed that Kurt's expression was becoming angrier by the minute. She abruptly excused herself with some lame excuse about neglecting her brother and hurried to where Paul and Rachel were stood chatting amicably. Cassie paused to allow herself to take in the sheer beauty of Rachel laughing uninhibitedly with one hand on her chest and the other holding on to Paul's arm as if she was in danger of collapsing from amusement. Her heart swelled further with affection at the widening of Rachel's smile as she noticed her.
"A former cheerleader eh?" grinned Rachel before adding mischievously, "I may well have a thing for cheerleaders."
"I'm sure Cassie can show you some of her old routines," added Paul.
"Play your cards right and I'll be more than happy to jiggle my pom-poms for you Rachel," said Cassie suggestively noting the blush rise on Rachel's face. Over Rachel's shoulder she could see the Kurt-Quinn conversation had moved on to a somewhat heated exchange and it reminded her she needed to warn Rachel of the imminent gossip explosion.
"But first you and I really need to talk," Cassie's serious tone caused the smile to quickly vanish from Rachel's face even as Paul stepped away to allow them some privacy in the rather busy room. He held his phone to his ear as if in conversation.
Rachel's worried expression and anxious searching of Cassie's face for some clue to the nature of the problem made Cassie feel a bit guilty about spoiling the mood so abruptly. She smiled reassuringly which seemed only to worry Rachel further. She wanted to lay a soothing hand on Rachel's arm but touching was out of the question. Carmen had her beady eye on them; Quinn had been watching Rachel like a hawk even during her conflab with Kurt and to the right of them she could see the attentions of her Dance 101 students were directed their way. Still, looking at Rachel's anxious face maybe cutting straight to the chase would be a bit harsh.
"I just wanted you to know that under any other circumstances I'd ask you to dance," whispered Cassie on impulse. The dazzlingly smile that rewarded her remark would do little to dampen down suspicions.
"And if I was wearing any other heels I'd accept," replied Rachel, relieved to see the serious expression fade from Cassie's face.
"If we weren't under such close scrutiny, rest assured I'd be caressing your face with my fingers, teasing your lips with mine," Cassie murmured hearing the hitch in Rachel's breathing at her words, "and dancing with you pressed tightly against me."
Rachel's overheated brain could only manage a rather ragged, "Oh," in response.
Cassie leaned in to whisper in Rachel's ear, "I want you. Don't ever doubt it," she drew back, "but your peers from dance 101 are avidly watching, hoping to see me tear into you and Carmen is watching this exchange as well so..."
Cassie reached into her purse and proffered one of the new business cards Paul had given her. Rachel finally managed to extend a steady hand to reach for it even as her heart raced. Her fingers touched Cassie's and they both stood eyes locked with Rachel trying to convey through the little physical contact they shared all the feelings she couldn't find the words to express.
"Soon," Cassie promised before the outside world so rudely intruded on them. She hadn't had the time to mention her suspicions about Quinn.
Kurt was struggling to contain his outrage as he stormed towards where Ms July was futilely trying to persuade Rachel to pay for extra lessons judging by the business card she was trying to press on to a distinctly reluctant Rachel. He was speechless with indignation, brimming with a sense of injustice and he wasn't going to take such blatant misunderstanding of his motives lying down. He was poorly used by his friends; his efforts were unappreciated and as for Quinn's ungrateful, unfair, ill-timed and ill-judged haranguing of him - well...'Not being able to see what was right in front of his face'. How dare she? Rachel's deliberately clumsy and unconvincing denials of anything going on with Quinn were designed to mislead him into thinking the complete opposite. How skilfully she'd dragged him down the wrong garden path, practically forcing him to believe what she so half-heartedly and unconvincingly rejected. It wasn't as if there were an excess of possible candidates for a romantic liaison with Rachel besides Quinn, so excuse him if he'd jumped to the obvious conclusion. Apart from interacting with Quinn, Rachel spent most of her time and efforts trying to avoid being singled out for ridicule in her dance lessons. Maybe Quinn thought Ms July was Rachel's secret love interest? Kurt snorted at the ridiculousness of the idea before refocusing on his outrage. He barely had time to register Rachel's surprise as he saved her from Ms July's unwelcomed attentions.
"How could you?" accused Kurt his voice quivering with outrage as tears formed in the corners of his eyes. He pushed away the hand Rachel reached out to reassure him with. How dare she look all confused and hurt by his rejection of her attempt to comfort him, he was the victim here.
"Kurt?" Rachel queried, bewildered by the rapid turn of events and just exactly what she was being accused of.
"Don't even," Kurt trailed off to wipe his eyes in a theatrical fashion and considered briefly how he should end that sentence before abandoning it. "You deliberately... I can't believe... We're meant to be friends."
Kurt couldn't find the words to express the depths of the betrayal he felt at being deceived by Rachel - distracted by Rachel's deliberately awkward denials into believing Quinn was her secret admirer when really it was someone else.
"You're upset," diagnosed Rachel as she yet again reached out a comforting hand only to be rebuffed but this time slightly more fiercely. She wasn't sure quite what she was supposed to have done but seeing Kurt so distressed over rode her bafflement for the moment.
Kurt managed an inelegant snort at Rachel's statement of the glaringly obvious, but the tart remark he was going to make at her amazing perceptive abilities died in his throat as Ms July's growl of displeasure at his forceful knocking back of Rachel's hand reminded him of her presence. Perhaps now wasn't the time for this conversation. He made an obvious effort to control himself and dismissed the idle thought that for someone who hated Rachel, Ms July spent a lot of time in her company voluntarily. Probably only Rachel was well mannered enough to be civil to her.
"I'm staying at Stefan's indefinitely, effective immediately - not that you'd care - because I'm just too... just too..." Kurt shook his head in frustration, "If you ever decide you want to talk to me, or I don't know maybe apologise for how you've treated me then you know where to find me." He turned and strode away pleased that he had been magnanimous enough to give Rachel a chance she didn't deserve to atone for her behaviour. She and Quinn could feel guilty together in an apartment rendered cold, quiet and somewhat less bright without his presence.
Quinn watched the Rachel-Kurt interaction unable to hear precisely what was said but perfectly able to imagine Kurt's woe-is-me performance while blaming Rachel for his mistakes. She should have known when she berated him that he would feel the need to pass that on to Rachel. Watching the concern and hurt on Rachel's face as Kurt walked away, barely giving Rachel the chance to speak, made her suddenly realise an ironic truth. They'd all thought themselves too good to bother being friends with Rachel in high school when really it was becoming increasingly apparent that Rachel was and had always been too good for them. Quinn closed her eyes - too good and therefore vulnerable to Ms July's manipulations. She should have stayed happily oblivious in New Haven.
"Quinn, are you okay?" Rachel's suddenly close worried voice caused her to open her eyes to find Rachel gazing in concern at her. A quick glance around confirmed Ms July was not in tow.
"Kurt's already left," explained Rachel when she noticed Quinn looking around, "I think he could still teach me a thing or two about storming off." Rachel's smile to accompany her weak joke was less than half hearted and quickly dropped. There was a moment as Rachel gazed at her as if she was trying to puzzle something out. "Why is he so annoyed with me? What were you talking about?"
Quinn sighed and closed her eyes momentarily to fight the onset of tears
"Sorry Rachel but I'm feeling a bit under the weather" Quinn replied softly, resisting the urge to drag the back of her hand across an imagined fevered brow, "so I think I'll head back to yours if you can lend me some keys."
"Lend you keys? Don't be daft I'll go with you," insisted Rachel as she carefully placed an arm around Quinn's waist and decided her questions about Kurt could wait, "Is it your back?"
"More a severe headache," exaggerated Quinn. She wasn't sure quite why she felt so drained of energy - beyond having all her hopes and dreams dashed and alienating Kurt, it was a fairly standard evening out "but you really don't need to leave the party on my account."
"Quinn what kind of friend would I be if I didn't look after you? Come on let's get a cab," replied Rachel leading Quinn gently towards the exit. She tried surreptitiously searching the room to find Cassie but without success. Her explanations would have to wait.
It had been Paul's hand on her shoulder that had prevented Cassie from following Rachel as she made a beeline for where Quinn was stood alone with her eyes closed. She hadn't had time to ask him about it as suddenly her former work colleagues surrounded her and blocked her view of whatever was happening in the Rachel-Quinn exchange. She found herself presented with a card and a neatly wrapped gift. A few embarrassed thanks, handshakes and hugs later she'd lost track of Rachel and there was no sign of Quinn either. She could feel the fear that Rachel was in someway angry or disappointed with her even as she shared amusing memories with her work friends. Had Rachel left? Why hadn't she said or texted anything? Cassie was so distracted she found herself agreeing to come back as a guest judge at a NYADA showcase in the future. Paul again saved the day by insisting he danced with the sister he so rarely got to see when an appropriately slow number was played indicating the evening was finally drawing to a close. He held her gently, guided her around the floor and reassured her that she and Rachel hadn't come this far just to be derailed by an overly dramatic flatmate and a jealous lovelorn best friend.
Once in a cab, with Quinn brushing aside any attempts to make conversation, Rachel texted Cassie to update her on her location and to apologise for not saying goodbye. It took a torturous number of minutes for Cassie to reply giving Rachel a small insight into how Cassie must have felt when she had ignored her texts for days on end. Cassie's long reply about how amazing Rachel had looked, how wonderfully she'd sang and how hard Cassie had found it to be near her and yet not allowed to touch her caused any unease at leaving without saying good bye to dissipate. Rachel basked in the warm glow brought about by Cassie's text. She sent an equally long text back in a similar vein – that dress, the effect of Cassie's last spoken words to her, how 'soon' couldn't come soon enough and that she'd phone if the chance arose as she just wanted to hear Cassie's voice before bed. Rachel was unaware of Quinn watching her as she smiled her way through her texting. The evening hadn't turned out at all how Rachel had expected it to but, despite Kurt being angry with her, Quinn feeling under the weather and avoiding conversation, she felt it had been a partial success. She was finally sure Cassie felt the same way she did and now she was no longer her student, it was only a matter of time before their relationship moved onto a more intimate level. First however she'd need to soothe Kurt's injured ego and coax out of Quinn whatever it was that was causing her to retreat into herself. For the first time ever the treacherous thought that her life had been easier when she hadn't had friends feelings to navigate flitted across her brain. She quickly dismissed it – if there wasn't still the need for secrecy she knew if she shared with her friends her good fortune in finding love they'd just be happy for her and cheering her on.