Title: Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise (1/8)
Pairings: Rachel/Quinn; Rachel/Finn; Brittany/Santana; Artie/Tina
Rating: This part is G-rated, but it's going to get dirty (R/NC-17) at some point.
Spoilers: Up through "Sectionals"
Word Count: 6,490
Description: Rachel's answer to Quinn's melancholia is to take her on a summer road trip with the gleeks.
Note: The characters are fake, but the places are real. All the attractions mentioned in this story are actual places, if you ever find yourself on a cross-country road trip.
In the beginning, they were only going to New York City.
"We leave Saturday," Rachel announced one day.
Quinn was sprawled out on the couch, her empty eyes glued to the flickering television screen. Rod Serling was delivering his closing monologue, telling everyone that true beauty was on the inside. Quinn snorted derisively, then said,
"New York City!" Rachel chirped happily, even if it did sound a little forced.
"We can take the ferry and see the Statute of Liberty!"
"There are a lot of good shows playing right now. You've never seen a Broadway production, have you?"
"Well, we can do that!"
Rachel wished that Quinn would look at her. Or smile. Or frown or laugh or yell or scream or kick or something. Anything.
"It's just that you haven't done a thing all summer," Rachel said gently. "All you do is come over and watch The Twilight Zone and while I concede that it is quality programming, I think it would behoove you to-"
"I said okay," Quinn snapped. She instantly felt guilty for it. But Rachel just touched her arm gently and then passed her the popcorn.
Rachel called, texted and e-mailed all the glee kids until they all agreed to come on the trip. She organized the caravan, determined the drivers and drew up seating charts. Rachel decreed that Santana would drive, and that she would take Brittany, Quinn and Rachel. Artie, who would need a little help getting in and out of the car, would ride in Puck's truck with Mike. Kurt would drive Mercedes, Matt and Tina - who was originally supposed to go in Puck's car, but that idea was firmly rejected by Artie. Rachel didn't ask why. She had enough problems to deal with.
Like trying to convince Finn to come.
"I can redraw the seating chart. I'll put Matt with Puck and you can ride with Kurt."
"I've packed treats. Although I'm a firm believer in a healthy, nutritious diet, I believe that an exception may be made when engaging in a time-honored tradition such as a road trip. Therefore, I prepared Snapple and Cheetos for the road."
"We can go see Rock of Ages."
"We can go to FAO Schwartz and dance on the big piano like they did in Big."
There was a lull on the other end of the line. It seemed like Finn was actually considering it.
"I thought we were friends."
"We are. But I'm not going to drive 10 hours to New York City just to cheer Quinn Fabray up, okay? Not after what she did."
"But that was before."
"Rachel..." Finn sounded so tired that Rachel almost felt bad for badgering him like this. But then she thought of Quinn. She chose her side.
"She really needs this. She's been so despondent ever since she left the hospital. I'm concerned that she's sliding into a mild-to-moderate depression."
"No, Rachel," Finn said. "Quinn's not my problem anymore. And she shouldn't be yours either."
"She's my friend."
"You're not her friend," Finn retorted. "You're like one of those pieces of wood floating in the ocean that people grab on to when they don't want to drown."
"Driftwood," Rachel sighed. "You just compared me to dead, rotten wood."
"This is Mr. William Schuester," Mike said. There was a slight Southern twang in his voice. "May I speak to Mrs. Chang-Cohen?"
"Cohen-Chang!" Tina hissed besides him.
"Cohen-Chang," Mike corrected.
There was silence as they waited for Tina's mom to come to the phone. Rachel scribbled furiously her dry erase board. BE POLITE!!! Mike rolled his eyes at her. Rachel huffed and wrote, Try to sound Ashkenazic!!! Mike stared at her.
"Ignore her," Puck muttered helpfully under his breath. It was good advice, and Mike decided to take it.
"Mrs. Cohen-Chang," Mike said into the phone, very politely. "Ma'am, this is Mr. Schuester. I'm the faculty adviser for McKinley High glee club - yes, yes, I'm quite well, how are you?..... I'm glad to hear it. Anyhow, I was just calling to let you know that the glee club has arranged for a field trip to the Big Apple-"
"Don't say Big Apple!" Rachel whispered furiously.
"-and I'd like to ask for your kind permission to have Tina join us..... Yes, of course, it's chaperoned..... Ah, it'll be myself and- and-"
Rachel wrote hastily on the board.
"Mr... Pimpboy?" Mike read hesitantly.
"Pillsbury! Myself and Ms. Pillsbury..... Yes, I know it's summer vacation, ma'am. But you see, there are many concerts and recitals in New York City in the summer that I feel the kids would really benefit from seeing and it's VERY important for a budding musical talent like your daughter to keep her... ear... uh, honed," Mike finished lamely. Rachel looked like she wanted to strangle him.
"Of course, Tina will provide you with the name of the hotel and contact numbers..... I'm very happy to hear you say that..... yes, you too. Goodbye." Mike ended the call, and turned to the others with a broad grin. "She said yes."
"See? Told you. Piece of cake," Puck said.
"We should have rehearsed it," Rachel said gravely. "If you had only read the script that I prepared-"
"I did okay without it," Mike replied defensively.
"You were Southern!"
"I was not!"
"I think it'll be okay," Tina interceded. "My mom's never spoken to Mr. Schue before. She won't know. Anyway, thanks for doing this, guys. Otherwise she never would have let me go."
"Of course." Rachel nodded enthusiastically, not unlike a bobble-head. "This is important. It's imperative that we're all in this together. Now, to demonstrate our unity, we should let Quinn know as a group. Everyone, please follow me."
As they followed Rachel out of her room and down the stairs to where Quinn was once again camped out on the couch to Twilight Zone episodes, Mike turned to Puck and commented,
"That's a bold plan you came up with. How'd you get little Miss Rule Stickler to go along with it?"
"Wasn't me. It was all Rachel's idea."
"Rachel Berry?" Mike looked to the short girl bouncing down the stairs before them. "Seriously? She once yelled at me for taking two mints out of the candy bowl at the nurse's office."
"Huh," Mike said contemplatively. "I'm surprised."
They reached the living room, and Puck watched as Rachel dragged Tina to the middle of the room, in between the TV and the couch where Quinn was sprawled out on. When Quinn scowled at the obstruction of her view, Rachel flopped down close beside her, curling both her hands around Quinn's arm. She whispered something in the blonde girl's ear. Whatever she said was apparently soothing, because the scowl faded from Quinn's face and was replaced by a neutral expression, which was as close as Quinn got to smiling these days.
Puck turned to Mike, and said quietly,
They pulled off the highway for gas, lunch and more Cheetos.
Quinn insisted that she wasn't hungry, so Rachel ordered her a Big Mac and stared imploringly until Quinn, with an exaggerated sigh, gave in and ate the burger along with half of Rachel's fries.
"Mike was really good," Tina was telling the others. "He had my mom completely convinced."
"He had her convinced that Mr. Schue's from Texas," Rachel muttered. Her comment went ignored by everyone except Artie, who smiled (smirked, almost) but didn't say anything.
"Yeah, my mom wasn't happy either," Brittany said. "But then Santana talked to her and then it was okay."
Brittany frowned as she suddenly realized that she hadn't been privy to the contents of that conversation. She turned to her best friend and asked,
"What did you say?"
"Don't worry about it," Santana said lazily. So Brittany didn't. But everyone else silently speculated as to the manner of threats Santana might have used.
"What about your parents?" Tina asked the rest of the group.
"My dad was cool with it," Kurt said. "But he did make me promise not to come home with any piercings or tattoos."
The others all had a story similar to Kurt's. Some of their parents were concerned about letting a group of teenagers go to New York City by themselves and it took a little convincing, but they all yielded in the end. (With the exception, of course, of Tina's parents.) There was, however, one voice that had stayed silent throughout the exchange.
"Quinn?" Matt now asked. "How about you?"
"I didn't tell them," Quinn replied simply.
She suddenly found ten pairs of eyes hotly focused on her. The attention was very much unwelcome.
"They don't care," she said. "Trust me."
The ensuing silence was uncomfortable and palpable. This was a rarely broached topic. Quinn didn't like to speak of it. She didn't like having to tell people that just because her parents took her back, it didn't mean that they forgave her. She didn't want to tell people that she was a non-entity at the Fabray house whose presence was barely acknowledged. She didn't want to tell people that she fled to the Berry house every morning as soon as she woke up and only returned at night to sleep in her bed for eight hours before repeating the process the next day.
"Well!" Rachel said brightly, interrupting the awful awkwardness. "I think it's time we get a move on. Everyone, please utilize the facilities now. We will not be making any further stops for the next two hours."
Twenty minutes later, they stopped at another gas station. While everyone else lined up to used the bathroom, Rachel paced in the parking lot grousing to a disinterested Quinn, who was slouched in the back of Santana's car, her feet dangling out of the open door.
"I told them," she repeated for the third time. "I told them! We have a very tight schedule to adhere to. This is utterly unacceptable."
Quinn stayed silent. She remained looking forlorn, which was all that Rachel needed to make the transition from IndignantRachel to ConcernedRachel.
"We can turn back, you know."
"We can turn back. We don't have to go to New York."
Quinn shrugged lightly.
"It's not like I have anything to go back to."
"Just tell me if you don't want to go," Rachel persisted.
"No. It can't be fine." For once, Rachel actually sounded annoyed. "You've been fine all summer. You can't be fine about this too. Quinn, all your friends are gathered here, and they're driving ten hours to New York for you-"
"I didn't ask-"
"Regardless," Rachel interrupted sharply. "They're doing it for you. They've begged, cajoled and pleaded with their parents in order to be here. We lied to Tina's parents. So, no, you can't sit this one out. You need to have an opinion. It doesn't matter what it is, but you need to feel something about this. Now, do you want us to go back to Lima?"
Quinn suddenly found fascination with the pavement, which appeared slick and aqueous under the hot summer sun, like a black lagoon beneath Quinn's feet.
"I don't know," she muttered.
"Then tell me that you want this. Tell me that you want to go to New York." Rachel said. When Quinn didn't respond, she sighed and added, "Lie if you have to."
So Quinn just nodded, and answered in a voice barely above a whisper,
"I want to."
Artie had a big grin on his face when he got back. He held a brochure in his hands, which he passed to Rachel.
"We need to make a stop," he announced. Behind him, Kurt nodded his head in support. Rachel took the brochure, took one glance at it, and passed it back.
"We don't have time for this," she said firmly.
"It's half an hour away!" Kurt protested.
"We've already wasted twenty minutes because some people can't follow instructions to use the restrooms at the appropriately designated times."
"Excuse me," Mercedes piped up. "We don't all go on command like you do. And we've been taking orders from you all day, missy, waking us all up at six-freakin'-a.m. for this trip. If Kurt and Artie want to make a stop, I say we do it."
Rachel huffed in clear irritation, and grabbed the pamphlet back, taking a closer look this time.
"Punx-sut-awn-ey?" she read. "What's so important about Punxsutawney?"
"Haven't you ever seen Groundhog Day?" Artie asked in disbelief. Judging by Rachel's expression, she hadn't. "Groundhog Day! Gobbler's Knob! Punxsutawney Phil!" Artie did the perfect impression of a groundhog.
"There's no point in going right now," Rachel said flatly. "Groundhog's Day is in February."
"But the film's legacy is timeless," Artie retorted.
"As was the day of our aggrieved weatherman Phil Conners," Kurt added. The boys exchanged a smile, bonding over their mutual nerditude. They attempted to high-five each other. It was awkward.
"Really, Kurt?" Rachel asked in disbelief. "You're supporting this? You're picking Punxsutawney over window shopping on Fifth Avenue?"
"It's my dad's favorite movie," Kurt answered defensively. "I think he'd really like it if I got a picture of the groundhog."
"We don't have time for this!"
The others had been content to sit back and let Rachel sort it out with Artie and Kurt. But neither side was apparently willing to back down, and it was obvious that things were about to get ugly. So Puck stepped up to the plate.
"Come on, Rachel," he said. "It's not a big deal. It's not that far."
"Groundhogs are cute," Brittany added.
"We can avoid rush hour traffic if we get to New York City late," Mike opined.
Rachel just stubbornly shook her head to each and every one of their arguments. That is, until:
"I like Groundhog's Day," Quinn said casually.
So then it was agreed that they'd make a stop in Punxsutawney.
"Is it dead?"
"No, Brit, it's just sleeping," Santana answered patiently.
"Looks dead to me," Mercedes muttered, but not loud enough for Brittany or Santana to hear. Not even Mercedes wanted to bear Santana's wrath for upsetting Brittany. "A dead, fat squirrel."
"I think that it looks more like a ferret," Artie observed.
"Is this a library?" Puck asked.
"It's a groundhog zoo," Brittany responded. "The sign says so."
"Ferrets aren't fat," Kurt said to Artie. "You're thinking of a raccoon."
"Who puts a groundhog in a freakin' library?"
"It's not a library, Puck," Brittany insisted crossly. "Look, they even have that big creepy groundhog guy over there." Indeed, not too far off, there was a happy, creepy, oversized statute of a groundhog in a tuxedo. It vaguely resembled Mr. Ryerson.
"I'm pretty sure that I'm thinking of a ferret."
"Maybe you're thinking of a beaver," Mercedes suggested.
"Brittany, I can see the books right there!"
"It's not a library, Puck! I don't like libraries and I like this place."
"Or maybe he's thinking of a groundhog because he's looking at a groundhog," Rachel said impatiently.
"What's the difference between a beaver and a groundhog?" Mike wondered.
"Ask Santana," Puck smirked. "She's the beaver expert." And Santana slugged him on the arm. Hard. It looked like it hurt, and Puck stopped smirking.
"S, what's the difference between a beaver and a groundhog?"
"I don't know, B," Santana replied quickly. "Don't listen to that moron."
"You coddle her too much." Quinn spoke for the first time in twenty minutes. Santana whipped around to glare through dangerously narrowed eyes.
"You coddle her. She's not an infant." Quinn repeated before turning to Brittany. "Brit, Puck was making a stupid joke. A beaver is slang for the female anatomy and Puck was suggesting-"
"Don't you dare, Fabray!"
"All right, people, we've seen the groundhog!" Rachel interrupted with nervous, feigned cheer. "Everybody, we'll take five minutes for a group photograph next to the groundhog, then it's back to the cars. And please be sure to take care of your lavatory needs before we leave. We will be going directly to New York City and we will not be making any more stops."
Brittany bounced enthusiastically up and down on her bed at a room of the local Days Inn.
"Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate park tomorrow!" she cried joyfully. Santana then tried to explain to her, again, that Hersheypark isn't actually made out of Hershey's chocolate.
They were on their way to New York City. That is until Brittany discovered that they were only four hours away from Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the Hershey amusement park. And what Brittany wants, Santana makes sure that she gets. It was dark by the time they arrived in Hershey and so it was decided that they'd spend the night so that they could visit the theme park in the morning for three very simple reasons: 1) Everyone wanted to please Brittany; 2) No one wanted to piss off Santana; 3) There's chocolate.
"...But the rides aren't made out of chocolate," Santana said.
"But if it's called Hersheypark, where's the chocolate?"
"In the stores, B. They sell the chocolate in the stores."
"Just like they do at the Hershey store in Times Square," Rachel grumbled. "In New York City. Where we're supposed to be right now."
Santana looked like she was about to say or do something unpleasant. But Brittany, who may not have been great at grasping complex concepts such as inedible rollercoasters but excelled at gauging her best friend's temper and defusing it, quickly interceded with:
"But they don't have rollercoasters in Times Square."
"No," Rachel conceded with a crack of a smile. "You're right. They don't have rollercoasters in Times Square."
The tense moment passed, and Brittany and Santana began talking about which rides they would go on tomorrow. Normally, this is precisely the type of thing Rachel would relish. She would break out a map of the theme park and plot out an exact route for the group. But tonight, her heart wasn't in it. Instead, she excused herself and went to look for Quinn, who had left the room fifteen minutes ago for ice and hadn't came back yet, which frankly made Rachel more than a little worried.
It didn't help when she couldn't find Quinn by the ice machines. Or in the reception area. Or in the other two rooms the group had checked into for the night.
"I'll come with you," Puck volunteered when Rachel knocked on the boys' door and told them that she was looking for Quinn. He was already pulling on his jacket.
"It's fine. I'm sure she just went for a walk." Puck seemed unconvinced, so Rachel rested her hand on his arm and added, "I think Quinn would prefer it. I don't want her to think that we orchestrate search-and-rescue missions every time she goes for a walk." And truth be told, Rachel wanted to be the one to find her. One of the pitfalls of being a much-spoiled only child is that you never learn to share the things that you really like.
"Call me when you find her?"
Rachel promised that she would.
She finally found Quinn in the parking lot, sitting huddled in the back of Puck's pick-up truck with her back against the cab and her knees pulled tight against her chest.
"I've been looking everywhere for you."
"Congratulations, you found me."
If Rachel was bothered by Quinn's acidic tone, she didn't let it show. She just climbed into the back of the truck, and settled herself next to Quinn. She made sure to keep a respectable distance between the two of them so that Quinn wouldn't feel like her space was being invaded. They sat like this for a few minutes until Quinn decided to scoot closer and rest her head on Rachel's shoulder. Then Rachel felt comfortable enough to say,
"I wish that you wouldn't antagonize Santana. At least not about Brittany. I don't think Santana is very receptive to any criticisms on their friendship."
Quinn beat back the urge to tell Rachel that she knew more about Santana and Brittany's "friendship" than Rachel ever would. But she said nothing, because she knew that Rachel was right. Baiting Santana about Brittany would never, ever lead to anything remotely good. So instead, she changed the topic.
"Do you ever think about your mom?"
The sound of a sharp inhalation told Quinn that Rachel hadn't been expecting that question.
"Once in a while. Mostly on Mother's Day or when I'm watching something maudlin like The Joy Luck Club, I'll wonder what it would have been like to have grown up with a mother." Then feeling guilty, Rachel quickly added, "But I'm only indulging a healthy speculation. I'm grateful to the woman who brought me into this world, but my dads are my parents. A mom is more of a vague concept to me than a tangible entity."
"Oh," Quinn said softly. It was easy to hear the disappointment in her voice, and Rachel realized what she'd done.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"It's all right," Quinn replied curtly. "I asked, didn't I?"
But she sat up straight, and her head no longer rested on Rachel's shoulder. Rachel instantly missed the weight of it, and the heat that had emanated from Quinn's body. There was a lull as Rachel struggled to grasp the right words to make it all better. To have Quinn next to her again.
"It's not the same with you," she began hesitantly. "My birth mother was never going to be anything more than a surrogate. But you could choose to be in her life, if you wanted to. The Baums did say that they wanted you to be a part of her life. You can be someone to her, if you wanted."
"Right. I'll just fly out to Bakersfield, California on my private jet for some good, old fashioned mother-daughter bonding whenever I feel like it."
"You could write. I hear that they have this marvelous new invention called the internet."
"No, I know, it's just that..." Quinn faltered as she suddenly found fascination with her nails. "I can't."
"I don't know," Quinn mumbled. "I can't explain it."
Rachel touched her palm to Quinn's cheek, and gently pushed to have Quinn look at her.
"Try," she said.
Even in the dim of the parking lot lights, she could see something flicker in Quinn's hazel eyes.
"It's... it's like that moment when you first wake up but you..." Quinn faltered. She twisted away, out of Rachel's grasp and away from her gaze. Rachel's face fell as she realized that Quinn was shutting down. Again. But in the next instant, Rachel has forced her frown into a brave smile, for Quinn's sake.
"It's all right," she assured the blonde girl. Quinn sighed softly. Her body slackened, and her head came to rest upon Rachel's shoulder once more. And suddenly, Rachel felt pretty okay. She wrapped her arm around the other girl's shoulder, friendly-like, because that's what friends do.
"Can we stay out here for a little while?"
"Sure," Rachel whispered back.
Half an hour later, when he still hadn't heard from Rachel, Puck ventured out on his own search and found the two girls asleep in the back of his truck. For a moment, he just stood there and watched the nestled figures: tanned skin against pale, the look of rare peacefulness on Quinn's face, the faint smile at Rachel's lip. He listened to the sound of the crickets chirping, and he wondered why this tranquil tableau made his throat tight and his chest constricted. Then he decided that thinking about this kind of shit was hard, and the staring was kind of creepy, so he stopped doing both.
Chocolate Capital of the World or not, it was dangerous for two girls to sleep out in the back of a truck parked in a hotel parking lot. Puck wanted to wake them and yell at them for their utter stupidity - really, they should've known better. But as he reached for Quinn's shoulder to shake her out of her slumber, he saw again that look on her face. That peace. He hadn't seen her like that since... well, ever.
He dropped his hand to his side. Instead, he went to his truck, grabbed his jacket from it and draped it over the sleeping girls. Then he quietly climbed into the cab and stretched out in the back. He slept there with the windows down because if he didn't have the heart to wake them from a potentially dangerous situation, he'd like to stick around just in case they needed him.
In the morning, he woke before they did. He got them up, pretended that he had just found them, yelled at them for sleeping in the parking lot, and ushered the still-sleepy girls back to their room.
When he got back to his own room, the guys asked him where he'd been all night. With a cocky smirk, he told them that he ran into a hot maid and they spent all night vacuuming his hose, if they knew what he meant. They didn't, but they knew that it had something to do with sex, so they all gave him a high-five.
While Rachel perused one of the chocolate stores with Brittany and Quinn, everyone else went for one last ride on the Fahrenheit. Rachel had picked out a ridiculously oversized Hershey's Kiss, nearly as big as her head (but still nowhere as big as her ego) and she was showing it to Brittany. Although Quinn was nowhere in sight at the moment, Rachel still kept her voice low as she asked,
"I think he'd like this, don't you?"
"Yeah, totally," Brittany nodded.
"Who'd like this?" Then there was Quinn, having seemingly materialized out of thin air. She could be awfully sneaky sometimes. Not unlike a ninja.
"My dad-" "Mr. Schue-" came the simultaneous responses. Rachel and Brittany exchanged guilty looks. It wasn't difficult for Quinn to fill in the blanks.
Her question was silently affirmed.
"Well," she said in a voice too cheery to be natural. "Let's see what we have for Mr. Hudson then." She took the chocolate out of Rachel's hands.
"A Kiss," Quinn said flatly. As she passed the chocolate back to Rachel, the smile on her face was tight and strained. "Very nice, Berry. Flirtatious yet subtle. He'll love it."
"I didn't- I didn't mean it like that."
Brittany muttered something about looking for Reese's Pieces for Santana and slinked off into the next aisle.
"You know, you can just ask him out," Quinn said coolly. "I don't know what you're waiting for. You've been after him for the longest time. Or is it just not as thrilling to go after someone when he's no longer attached?"
By some extraordinary measure of grace, Rachel chose not to take the bait.
"Quinn, let me assure you that if I had the inclination to ask Finn for a date, I would have done so by now."
"Well, why haven't you?"
Yes, why hadn't she? She had many opportunities by now. The closest they came was weeks after Quinn and Finn broke up. He gave her a ride home after glee practice, and they kissed while they were still parked in the school parking lot. He pulled away first.
"It's just with everything that happened with Quinn and football and glee and sectionals and classes..." He had that guilty hangdog look on his face like he always does when he tries to justify not doing something with flimsy excuses. "I just want to get through the rest of the school year without any more yelling and fighting and crying. And that might be kind of hard to do if I start going out with you..."
Rachel forced a smile.
"But maybe we can hang out in the summer," he added quickly. "I really like you, Rachel. I just think it'd be easier if we did this when we don't have so much stuff going on."
So they agreed to put this "thing" they had on hold for the time. But they would spend the summer together, they both promised. When there wasn't so much stuff.
But then the baby was born. Then the baby was gone, and Quinn needed a friend more than ever. So when Rachel wasn't at her summer theater workshop, she was watching the Twilight Zone with Quinn. At night, Quinn would call and the two of them would talk on the phone until one of them fell asleep. Of course, she always invited Finn to come hang out, but he still couldn't forgiven Quinn just yet. So just like that, the summer that she was supposed to spend with Finn became the summer she spent with Quinn. And Rod Serling.
But she couldn't tell Quinn any of that.
"The timing isn't right," Rachel said simply.
It wasn't exactly a surprise that Quinn didn't find that answer satisfactory. Rachel was only temporarily spared from further questioning by the sound of familiar raucous laughter. Fresh off their rollercoaster ride, the rest of the glee kids entered the store, their faces flushed with excitement as they gabbed excitedly. They all quieted as they neared the two girls, their collective excitement ebbing into a nervous energy. Mercedes nudged Puck in the side, and he stepped forward, clearing his throat.
"So, listen, it's getting late." He appeared to be addressing both girls, but his shifty eyes darted to Rachel more often.
"Yes, thank you, Noah. We should go. Everyone, please use the facilities-"
"Actually," Puck interrupted, his voice soft and hushed. It was as close to 'meek' as Noah Puckerman was ever going to get. "We were talking about about dinner and some of us got the craving for crab cakes. Since Baltimore's only like an hour and a half away..."
"You want to go to Baltimore instead of New York City?" Not that they've ever had any doubts, but the shrillness of Rachel's voice more than adequately proved her astonishing high pitch. "For CRAB CAKES?!"
"Not instead of. First," Artie said hurriedly. "We can go to Baltimore first."
"It doesn't make sense to go to New York now," Kurt added. "It's already late and Saks will be closed by the time we get there. We might as well just spend the night in Baltimore."
"It might be fun," was Tina's contribution.
"We'll go to New York in the morning," Puck said.
"No," Rachel replied with firm petulance. "This is unacceptable. We made a plan, people. Besides, Baltimore is dangerous. Their society is rife with drugs, political corruption, journalistic fraud and school systems that fail their children and turn them into hitmen."
"You do know the difference between The Wire and real life, right?" Mercedes asked.
"I'm not so sure she does," Artie muttered.
"It's a very realistic show!" Rachel retorted. "Entertainment Weekly said so."
"Don't worry, princess," Mercedes said sardonically. "We'll keep you away from the black people."
"Don't pull the race card with me!" Rachel snapped indignantly. "I have a black father."
"What now?" Mercedes held up one hand. "The race card? You did not just say the race card."
It was painfully obvious to everyone present (even Brittany, who had reappeared with a bag of Reese's Pieces) that this was not going to end well. Puck turned to Quinn, and through gritted teeth, he urged,
Puck responded by elbowing her, knocking her towards Rachel. Instinctively, Quinn flung out her hand to steady herself, and found herself grabbing on to Rachel's arm. Rachel looked at her expectantly. Quinn briefly considered telling her that she actually didn't have anything to say, and that she only grabbed on because Puck had pushed her. But that would probably only end in bloodshed, so instead, Quinn said,
"If we go, we'll let you sing 'Good Morning, Baltimore' in the streets."
Puck winced. Rachel's eyes lit up.
Seeking approval, Quinn glanced towards Brittany, Santana, Matt and Mike, who - as the 'dancers' of the group - would be undoubtedly roped into whatever grand production Rachel was already mapping in her mind. One by one, they nodded, albeit a little reluctantly. (Except Brittany, who seemed absolutely enthusiastic.)
"Fine," Mike said. "But if this thing turns into an illegal street dance competition, I'm out of here."
"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
"So it's smaller than a breadbox?"
"Um... not really."
"Brittany, are you thinking of a damn breadbox again?"
"Yes, I am! You're so good at this, Quinn."
"Brittany, we're not going to play 20 Questions anymore if you're just going to keep picking breadbox every time."
"But I can't think of anything else!"
"Then we're not going to play!"
Santana shot Quinn a soul-withering glare. Quinn sighed.
"Fine. Let's start over."
Brittany clapped her hands together joyfully. "Okay, I'm thinking of an object."
"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
"My tummy hurts," Brittany moaned, sprawled out on the cool linoleum floor of the hotel room bathroom. Santana was perched on the edge of the bathtub, watching over her best friend with a mixture of worry and irritation.
"I told you not to have that last crab cake."
"But it was so good." Another cramp coursed through her body, and Brittany shivered. Santana sighed helplessly, and slid down to the floor.
"Why?" Brittany whined, dragging out the last syllable. "It hurts to move."
"Just come here." When Brittany only simpered, Santana sighed again. "I'm going to rub your stomach. You'll feel better." Brittany grudgingly half-crawled, half-rolled herself over to Santana, placing her head in the other girl's lap. Santana delicately brushed a stray strand of blonde hair away from Brittany's forehead, and with her other hand, began rubbing gentle circles on her abdomen.
"Mmm," Brittany murmured contently.
Quinn shut the door to the bathroom.
"Those two," she muttered as she climbed into the bed she was sharing with Rachel for the night.
"I think it's nice." Rachel was sitting up in bed, her back against the headboard with the covers drawn to her waist and a gold-star-adorned sleeping mask on her forehead. Quinn adapted a similar position next to her.
"Yes. I don't have any siblings, and I think it's nice to have such close friends."
"Seriously?" Quinn gaped. "You think that they act like sisters?"
"I don't care to speculate on the exact nature of their relationship, but I'm not stupid, Quinn. I understand that their relationship is a little... unconventional," Rachel answered carefully. "I only meant that not everyone has a built-in supportive social structure. It's not easy to find people we can depend on."
"I think they're veering into the territory of codependency at this point."
"Like I said, I don't care to speculate." Rachel turned off the light by her bedside, leaving the room only faintly illuminated by the light seeping in from the cracks of the bathroom door. "I just think that it's nice that they have each other."
Rachel slipped fully under the covers, and pulled her sleeping mask over her eyes. She expected Quinn to follow suit and go to sleep, but she felt no movements from the other side of the bed. Quinn was still and quiet. The only sound Rachel could hear was the noise of the occasional traffic outside and the hushed voices coming from the bathroom. A few minutes later, just as she was on the verge of falling asleep, she heard a near-whisper,
"It's like that moment when you first wake up but you're not really sure that you're awake yet."
Rachel recognized those words. She rolled on to her side, pulling her sleeping mask off. She could make out the dim silhouette of Quinn's profile. Quinn wasn't looking back at her. She was staring off into space, at some phantom spot only she could see.
"You hear sounds like your parents walking around the house or the alarm going off, and you can feel yourself in your bed, but your mind is still somewhere else. Nothing feels real yet, even though you know that it is. Somehow everything real feels like a dream, even though you know that it isn't. And you know that you can make everything real again if you just get up out of bed but you don't really want to. That's what it feels like now - all day, every day. It feels like I'm still half asleep and I can't wake myself up.
"I guess I don't want to. I guess I know that if I wake myself up and get on with my life, it'll be like it never happened. Like she never happened. And I guess that's what I wanted. I made that choice. I said that I didn't need her. I said that it's okay to let her go because I never knew her, I would never know her and I wouldn't ever miss her. So I can't see her. I can't write to her. I can't want to see her or write to her because if I do, that means that I was wrong about me not needing her. And if I was wrong about that, then maybe I was wrong about all of it. Maybe I've already made the biggest mistake of my life."
Quinn's voice ran hoarse in the end, until the whisper lapsed, and the tone of the room was once again just the sound of night traffic and muffled murmurs. These low vibrations, in the wake of such an emotional outpouring, sounded like cavernous echoes to Rachel's ears. She opened her mouth to speak, to comfort, to assure - but nothing came out. To compensate, she reached out and lightly grasped Quinn's hand in her own.
Quinn pulled away.
"Don't tell anyone what I said." Then she slid her body under the covers, and turned away from Rachel.
Rachel lay in the dark quietly. She lay awake as Quinn's breathing slowed to a sleeping lull. She lay awake as Brittany and Santana finally emerged from the bathroom and made their way to their bed. She lay awake as Brittany and Santana whispered and giggled to one another, before the two of them fell asleep, no doubt curled up tight against each other.
She lay awake, hatching her brilliant plan to save Quinn Fabray.