A/N: This is a project that I've had on the back burner for a while. It's a little angstier than I tend to write, but I really wanted to explore a future where Quinn was actually getting her shit together and Rachel was the one who felt absolutely lost.
When Quinn took the position as assistant manager of the women's soccer team, she assumed it would similar to her duties as Head Cheerio: She'd be in charge of schedules and arranging the dry cleaning pickup and making sure everyone on the team had their paperwork in order. It turns out, the job's really a lot more like being the team's bitch, and not in the way she's used to being one.
Whatever, though, because she's out doing something with a new group of people, she's able to travel to away games, and it's something to chalk up to the college experience.
Bryn Mawr is full of those kind of things.
She's sure Yale would have been, too, but while Yale is great and Yale is Ivy League, Yale is also very expensive.
And the drama school is a graduate school, which meant Quinn would have had to commit to four years before she'd even able to pursue the dream she chased out of Lima. It was barely a semester before she decided to transfer to something more economical, something that wouldn't leave her in debt for the next fifty years.
Bryn Mawr isn't cheap, but it's cheaper, by about twenty thousand a year. It's also a little closer to home, which makes her mom happy.
She's been learning a lot about herself, ever since she transferred. Like, she's actually really interested in women's studies, to the point where she's made it her major. Maybe it's the influence of being enrolled in a women's college with a strong emphasis on, well, women.
Theater is still an interest, but it's been shifted to her minor. Originally, it was the other way around, but things change and Quinn's learning that change can be really, really good.
She'd much rather be playing sports, but after the accident, her back's never quite been the same, and the school doesn't have a cheerleading squad, anyway.
So, away games and clipboards and picking up dry cleaning. She's okay with it, because she's genuinely happy.
It's an overcast afternoon with a forecast for light rain, but the game's still on. The third of the season, it's their first away game and there's a bit of a rivalry between the schools, but nothing like Yale vs. Harvard. Still, Dickinson beat them out for the final four, last year, so there's a sense of competition in the air, even though this game isn't the end all, be all for either team. The season's barely even begun.
Quinn's still getting the hang of working out the rosters since Brooke, the team manager, primarily deals with them. Even so, she has her own clipboard with both teams line-ups on them and she knows enough about the game to understand exactly what it means. But because her duties are more about keeping the uniforms clean and making sure all the samples are submitted for drug testing, she's had to learn what she can on the fly.
Midway through the first half, she finds herself looking across the field at a player who's on the bench, her Red Devils jacket zipped over her uniform. She's bent over, adjusting her sock over her left shin guard, but when she looks up from it to watch the current play on the field, Quinn can't stop looking at her face. It's uncanny.
She picks her roster up off the empty space on the bench next to her and scans the player list, but she doesn't spot the name she's looking for until she looks at the list of substitutes and there she sees it: Berry, R.
Except, Dickinson is definitely not NYADA and Carlisle, PA is a far cry from New York, NY.
It's been a whirlwind couple of years for Quinn with switching schools and changing majors and basically realigning her life and finding her chi or whatever's happened that's left her feeling so centered, but she feels like she'd know if Rachel Berry was going to college in Pennsylvania and playing soccer.
It crosses Quinn's mind that maybe she's undercover, studying for a role. Maybe she's starring in She's the Man: The Musical and this is a character study. It's a stretch but if anyone's been known to reach further than necessary, it's Rachel.
The game closes without Rachel taking the field, which cements the idea in Quinn's mind that this must definitely be observational.
She's driven herself, because it's the weekend and she's heading back to Ohio to see her sister's new baby, so she's not bound to the bus when it pulls out of the parking lot for the two hour drive back to campus. Maybe it's a little weird to wait for someone to come out of the locker room, but it's not like she's a stranger. She'd call or text or something, but she bought a new phone over the summer and had to reprogram all her contacts and she's realizing, right now, that Rachel's Facebook has been locked down and the number isn't accessible.
It's okay, though, because here comes Rachel, along with three of the other Dickinson players, and Quinn approaches the group to say, "Good game, today."
They return the sentiment and one of them good-naturedly comments that they'll be ready, next time.
"I'll meet you guys there, okay?" Rachel says. It's the first time Quinn's heard her voice in over a year. Rachel's teammates nod and offer Quinn a polite goodbye before they continue on.
"It really was a good game," Quinn says.
Rachel shrugs, eyes on the parked car behind Quinn. "I didn't even play."
"Maybe if you had, you could have had a chance at beating us."
"Yeah," is the quiet reply. "So..." Rachel's energy is somber, not at all like the vibrant ingenue Quinn got to know back in Lima.
"What are you doing here?"
Another shrug. "Running late for a party."
"Oh. I can... If you need to meet your friends-"
Rachel scoffs. "I'm just their designated driver. I don't even know if they like me." Her arms are crossed over the front of her red and gray hoodie and the rest of her small frame is lost under a pair of slightly baggy track pants.
"Oh," Quinn repeats. "Did you want to-"
"No," Rachel's already pushing past her as she speaks.
The resemblance between this girl and Rachel Berry is uncanny, but Quinn has no idea what's happened to the girl she once considered a friend.
But she's determined to figure out where she went.
She has a six hour drive ahead of her and she's already not going to get to Columbus until after midnight, but she's starving and she now has an extreme aversion to multi-tasking while driving, so she stops at a cafe in town reads her copy of The Handmaid's Tale while she works through a bowl of vegetable soup and half a tuna melt.
She remembers to leave a decent tip and packs her book in her bag. On her way back to the car, she detours into a coffee house. The place certainly isn't empty, but the energy pales in comparison to the pizza place across the street that's still buzzing from Happy Hour and, though the window, Quinn can see the two dollar beer pitchers being passed around.
Her drink of choice is a dirty chai and while she waits, she looks over the selection of bagged coffee beans and travel mugs. She makes an impulse buy of a french press and a bag of decaf for her sister, who's a coffee junkie, but she's been pregnant and now she's breastfeeding so caffeine is still cautious territory. It's funny, because during the length of Frannie's pregnancy, she kept calling Quinn for advice and it was a weird shift in dynamic, because Quinn's always been used to being the little sister, the one who's supposed to learn from her big sister.
By the time the press and beans are wrapped up, her order's ready and she claims her cup. It's not until she's walking toward the door that she sees Rachel sitting in the corner, hunched over a textbook, highlighter in hand and color coded Post-It tags in immediate reach.
Despite the way Rachel abruptly left her alone in the parking lot, Quinn has no qualms about approaching her table. When she gets there, though, she isn't sure what to say, so she tries to quickly make out what Rachel's studying, but she doesn't come up with anything fast enough.
"What?" Rachel asks. She doesn't even look up from the section she's highlighting.
"I..." Okay, maybe Quinn will stick to a topic she knows is obvious. "I've never seen you actually study for anything, before. It's basically just how I imagined it."
Rachel scoffs and snatches up a green tag, which she uses to mark the section she's been highlighting, then she dramatically flips the page.
"I have a big test next week, so maybe you could leave me alone?"
Quinn adjusts her grip on the gift bag in her hand. "I just wanted to say hi."
"You did that after the game." Rachel raises her head enough to make eye contact with Quinn. "But, hi."
This is so unlike how Quinn remembers Rachel, at all. "Sorry I interrupted your studying. I guess I'll see you at the next match." She waits, but Rachel doesn't seem to have any further comment, so she adds, "Bye," and pivots away from the table.
As she unlocks her car door, she spots a few of the other players from Rachel's team through the window of the pizza place. She knows Rachel's always been the studious type, but it seems a little out of character for her to completely avoid a celebration with her teammates.
She still has no idea why Rachel's even here. But the textbook and the intense focus suggests that it's not just some kind of three week stint for a character consultation. But if Rachel isn't here to play someone else, where is she, at all?
Quinn's dirty chai is gone within her first half hour on the road and with it are her thoughts about Rachel. She's completely wrapped up in her "Girls Like Us" audiobook that she's listening to for one of her classes and it's impossible for her not to get lost in the examination of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon. Her mother's album collection was one of her earliest exposures to music outside of church and Quinn's just about always been aware of these women and their songs.
This is just one of the reasons why she absolutely loves her major. She finally feels like her entire life, as rough as things seemed to get, was preparing her for something bigger instead of setting her up to fail.
She stops at a gas station in Bedford and tops of her tank, checking her Facebook while she waits in line to pay for a bottle of water. There's a message from Santana and wall post from her roommate, Justine, that's some video she doesn't have time to watch. The line's taking forever, so she has time to type "Rachel Berry" into the search box and there, where it always is, at the top of the list, is a locked account that just shows Rachel's name and blank profile photo.
This is the same Rachel Berry who, once upon a time, had a headshot in that blank space and requested that all casting inquiries be sent to her agent, which was really just an email domain she'd set up for herself. This was the kind of stuff they talked about for the short time they actually were friends, that first semester of freshman year, when Quinn was just a train ride away.
Before she can stop herself, she sends a friend request. It's not the first time, but it's been a while since she's tried to contact Rachel this way. She's never gotten a response since Rachel deactivated her old account last year and she assumes she probably will be ignored again.
When Quinn first noticed Rachel's Facebook was gone, she sent a text message. It went unanswered. It was right after finals and she'd gone to send Rachel an early birthday message, something to suggest that maybe they could meet up in Lima over the holiday, because they hadn't really been talking that much, with school and scheduling. Rachel was either always in class or auditioning or socializing and Quinn didn't expect anything less from her. She was busy with her own academic career, attending rallies and book readings and learning just how fucked up the world was and how much she wanted to help fix it.
During her time back in Ohio, she drove by the Berry home a few times, hoping to stop by and wish the family a Happy Hanukkah, but the house was dark and there was never any sign of anyone being home. She assumed that Rachel's dads possibly opted to spend the holiday break in the city with their daughter. She didn't blame them, because New York City at Christmas certainly had more draw than the famous dancing Christmas lights house, over on the north side of town.
She wondered about her friend, because she still considered Rachel very much a friend, even if they hadn't spoken in weeks or seen each other in months. Rachel was a constant in her life, even when she wasn't present.
But Quinn also had other friends. She had classes and projects, study groups and lectures, and before she knew it, her sophomore year of college was over and she was spending the summer with her sister, helping Frannie pick out colors for the new nursery, because Doug was tired of his wife always changing her mind and begged his sister-in-law to help with the decision.
She's shaken out of her memory when the cashier waves her forward.
In the car, as she twists the cap off her Vitamin Water, she wonders what Rachel was doing that summer.
She honestly has no idea.