Disclaimer: I don't own Glee and am writing this purely for fun and not profit.
"Do you wanna talk about it?"
"I don't want anything from anyone. Especially either of you."
Marley watched helplessly as Ryder stormed away, his words like a slap in the face. When he'd first come up to her and Jake, accusing them of tricking him with a fake online identity, her first reaction had been to get defensive. They were Ryder's friends! How could he even think that they would do something like that?
But as he'd ranted on, spewing out hurtful theories about how she and Jake were catfishing him as some sort of twisted revenge, it had become harder and harder to ignore that he was in pain. Even if his red-rimmed eyes and tearstained face hadn't given it away, the way he had attacked them, his closest friends, would have. Marley leaned against the nearest locker, frowning. "Do you think one of us should go after him?"
Jake shrugged helplessly. "And say what? Clearly he doesn't want to talk to us right now." He put his arm around her shoulders. "Let him cool down. We'll see him in glee later anyway."
"You're right." she sighed, and put Ryder from her mind... or at least tried to.
She had been the first person Ryder had accused of being Katie. Not Jake, not Unique, not Kitty or her bitchy cheerleader friends or the dumb jocks on the football team. Her. Had Ryder really thought that it had been her? Or had he hoped it?
The kicker was that if she didn't have Jake, she would have fallen for Ryder in an instant. But she'd met Jake first, and she'd dated Jake first, and she wasn't going to cheat on him, not even online. It was heartbreaking to think of Ryder thinking, hoping, dreading that Katie was her, that the girl he'd trusted online was someone he could trust in real life.
God, she hoped he was okay.
Sitting on the floor in the dark, huddled against the wall in Mr. Schue's classroom, every minute seemed to stretch on for hours. After the gunshots had gone off, everyone seemed to be operating on adrenaline, panic, and pure fear. Marley's phone was conspicuously silent in her hand—not so much as a single text from her mother. Jake squeezed her hand to reassure her, but the comfort barely seemed to penetrate the shell of shock and fear that surrounded her. Even Kitty's confession of having altered her costumes to make her think she was fat didn't seem like a big deal at the moment.
There were a few gasps and some shushing as Ryder scrambled across the room, keeping low to the ground, and crawled in beside Marley. What was he doing?
There were tears shining on his face as he pressed his back to the wall and took a deep breath before facing her and Jake. "Marley," he whispered, barely audible even in the near-silent room. "Jake. I'm sorry. The way I acted earlier. I should never have accused—"
Marley gave a little whimper, cutting him off as she threw her arms around his neck. "It doesn't matter." she murmured, a few tears sliding out of her own eyes and onto his shirt.
Jake reached around his girlfriend and clapped Ryder on the shoulder. "She's right. Don't worry about it."
Ryder's arms came up around Marley slowly, hesitantly. "Still friends, then?"
"Of course!" Marley mumbled into his shoulder. "I'm glad you're here, with us." she confessed. "I'm glad you're not out there." She'd been worried all day that Ryder would skip glee club after his outburst over the catfishing incident, and now she was thanking god that he wasn't out in the school somewhere, miserable and alone, with some unknown shooter on the loose. No matter how stupidly dangerous it might have been for Ryder to risk moving over to them, she couldn't deny that she felt better with him beside her, and with no fights or bad feelings in the air between them.
Finally, she pulled back, keeping her arm pressed against Ryder's even as she reclaimed Jake's hand.
Ryder was silent for a few more minutes before murmuring, "I want to call her. I want to call Katie, make sure she's okay."
"I thought you said she was fake." Jake protested.
Not to be deterred, Ryder pressed the 'call' button on his phone. "That doesn't matter right now; she's still someone I care about." He pressed the phone to his ear.
Marley's eyes widened at the sound of the answering ring somewhere in the choir room.
A few days later, when school let out, Marley decided to take advantage of the lack of glee rehearsal and use the empty auditorium while she waited for her mom to finish up in the cafeteria.
She only played the piano a little, but she played a few scales as she warmed up her voice, still deciding what she wanted to sing. Lost in thought, she jumped a little at the sound of a voice behind her.
"You're Marley Rose, right?"
Marley turned to find a thin, pretty, blonde girl standing at the foot of the stage. The girl looked familiar—she must have seen her around school—but they'd never spoken before. "Um, yes, that's me. Hi."
"I'm Marissa." the blonde said. She ducked her head a little before continuing, looking a little embarrassed. "I was actually looking for, uh, someone else, but I'm glad you're here."
"Okay..." Marley was intrigued. Even at a school with as much drama as McKinley it wasn't that common to be randomly approached for a chat by a stranger. "What can I help you with?"
Marissa's white teeth flashed in a nervous smile. "Am I that obvious?" She placed her palms on the stage and boosted herself up to perch on its edge, and Marley joined her in sitting side by side, their feet dangling off the stage. "So... you know Ryder Lynn, right?"
Marley blinked at her in surprise. "Yeah, of course. He's one of my best friends."
Marissa continued, "So, this is totally awkward, but the other day, there was this weird misunderstanding-"
The pieces came together for Marley all at once. "Oh! You're not-Katie!" she blurted, suddenly realizing that this must be the girl Ryder had accidentally humiliated himself by serenading. She straightened up, a little defensive now. She wasn't making fun of Ryder, was she?
The other girl grinned. "Yeah, that was kind of his reaction too. Only, more upset."
"He was upset." Marley said seriously. "That was a horrible trick for somebody to play on him."
"So he never found out who his dream girl really is?" Marissa asked. At Marley's negative head shake, she said, "That sucks, but... I'm kind of glad." Leaning in with a secretive grin, she lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Girl to girl? I've been crushing on him in a major way since he sang me that song."
"Oh..." Marley didn't know what to say to that.
"I mean, have you ever heard him sing?" Marissa rolled her eyes as she answered her own question. "Of course you have, you're in the same glee club. But he sounded really fantastic. And he just seemed so sweet and earnest and vulnerable—You know him; is that what he's really like?"
Marley couldn't help but smile at the completely accurate description of Ryder. "He really is."
"Not to mention, hot, right?" Marissa went on. "I mean, his arms alone: totally swoonworthy."
She couldn't exactly disagree. "I guess..."
"And after I got over, you know, being completely freaked out by the way this random guy just kind of yanked me into a classroom and sang to me? I thought, that was really romantic and brave. I mean, what girl wouldn't want a guy who makes amazing gestures like that?" Marissa rhapsodized.
On one hand, it made Marley happy to hear such nice things said about Ryder... on the other, she felt irrationally and inexcusably jealous. "I know, he's great, you don't have to convince me." she said, sounding a bit more snappish than she really meant to. She winced. If Jake could have heard the way she said that...
Marissa must have noticed her irritable tone, because she frowned. "You and he aren't..."
"What?!" Marley said defensively, maybe just a smidge too loud. "No. There's nothing between me and Ryder but friendship."
"Are you sure?"
Marley forced herself to relax, dropping her shoulders and mustering a smile. "Totally."
Marissa's eyes met hers seriously. "Because I was thinking of asking him out."
"Oh." Marley said with a little nod. Obviously this was what Marissa had been building up to; she didn't know why she felt so surprised. "Cool. But, I mean, it might take him some time, you know? Because of the whole Katie thing. I don't think he's over it yet."
Marissa shrugged cutely. "All the more reason to ask him out; give him something else to think about."
Marley couldn't argue with that... despite the vague feeling of wanting to. "Cool. So... cool."
"And when I saw you in here, I got to thinking..." Marissa twisted her fingers together. "You're friends with him; you said it yourself. Maybe you could just, give me some tips? You know, tell me what kind of stuff he likes?"
"Well..." There was absolutely no good reason why Marley shouldn't help her out, and they both knew it, and they both knew they both knew it. Besides, if she refused, it would only make Marissa think that Marley had some sort of romantic attachment to Ryder, which was not true. "I mean, he likes your normal guy stuff, you know? Football, superheroes, action movies. Die Hard.And he loves music, obviously."
"Old stuff, right?" Marissa guessed. "That song he sang me in the choir room was so pretty, but it was definitely something my parents would listen to."
Marley bristled just a little bit. Who didn't love Elton John? And to get serenaded with "Your Song"... it was almost as romantic as dueting on "You're All I Need to Get By." Ignoring the slight blush she could feel rising to her cheeks, she said, "Well, yeah, he likes the classics. A lot of classic rock—Foreigner, REM, Aerosmith. And Motown, just like me. But he likes recent stuff too. Pop, alt rock. He's not like a music snob or anything."
Marissa laughed. "Thank god, because I'm kind of a Top 40 girl, myself. So what else?"
Marley thought about it. Why did it feel so hard to give up these simple bits of information? It wasn't like she was saying anything incredibly personal. "Hm... he really likes salty foods. He likes being outside... I don't know. What do you want to know?"
"If you were going to ask him out, where do you think you'd take him?" Marissa pressed.
Marley sighed. It was completely uncool that she'd even thought of what it would be like to go on a date with Ryder at all. It was downright unacceptable that she knew exactly where she'd take him, that she'd thought of him the moment she'd seen the signs in the park and imagined how much he'd enjoy being there with her. Which was why she had to give it up. "All right... you know the bandstand down in Oak Park? They do this weekly concert series there, every Friday night during the spring. You could bring a blanket—or, you know, chairs. I always thought... I mean, that might be kind of romantic."
Marissa nodded excitedly. "That sounds perfect, he's totally the kind of guy who's into romantic stuff like that! So do you think he'll say yes?"
Honestly, Marley had a hard time picturing Ryder saying no to anyone—not because he was desperate or anything, just because he was too nice to hurt anyone's feelings by rejecting them. Especially someone as sweet and pretty as Marissa. "I think he probably will."