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I've Been Trying to Reach You

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In most ways, Carmel isn't that different from McKinley.

Her classes are lame, her teachers are disinterested, and the worst part of her day by far is trying to find out what the hell the mystery meat being served at lunch is. Santana and Puck and Sam seem to flit in and out of classes without worrying about detention, which within three days becomes more or less pre-band-practice time, with Santana writing down all the songs she can think of that suit her vocal range while Puck and Sam talk about how to harmonize on them.

Quinn makes a vague attempt at actually doing some homework the first two days she's kept late, but then gives up and starts adding to Santana's list with stuff that isn't in her range but with a quick key change quickly could be.

As soon as they're let out from detention, they head over to Sam's and start toying around with the things they've been plotting throughout the day. By the end of the week, they're getting Santana going on rhythm guitar on Puck's Jazzmaster, and Quinn discovers that she herself sounds really good with Sam, which leads to a few more songs being added to the list—stuff that Santana's voice is too gritty and emotional for, but that they nonetheless all like musically.

It's on Friday afternoon that Quinn takes a break, dropping the sticks onto her right tom and running a hand past her forehead. "So—what's the plan? When do we gig?"

They all look at her like she's said something crazy.

"What do you mean?" Sam finally asks.

"Well, we're … doing something with this, right? Or are we just hoofing around?" she asks, looking at all of them.

Santana purses her lips and then says, "Never really something that came up when we were like, you know, the gimp band without a drummer."

"Like, where would we play?" Puck asks, scratching at his hair.

"I don't know—school talent shows? The town fair? … we could throw a party?" Quinn suggests.

Santana laughs. "Yeah, because we're going to get permission to put something on at school. The town fair isn't for another three months, and like—who the fuck would come to our party?"

Sam runs his hand along his acoustic guitar and then says, "If we can figure out a way to get some booze, I'm pretty sure we could get some people to come along."

"Yeah, your folks will love that," Puck says, dryly.

"Mine wouldn't care," Quinn says, after a moment. "I don't think they'd go so far as to buy us a keg, but—"

"Marry me," Puck says, sounding completely serious. "Or hell, scratch that; tell your mom to marry me."

"Are you for real?" Santana asks, raising her eyebrows.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure after last year they'd rather have me drinking at home than, you know," Quinn says, trying not to wince. "Not that—"

Santana tilts her head and says, "Well then. Puckerman can take care of the booze, Sam can bring some fucking Chex Mix or something, and I'll print up some flyers."

"We need a name first," Quinn points out. "And uh, a little more time to rehearse."

"End of the month, and let's just fucking play as Untitled Band. It's growing on me," Puck says, looking at the rest of them.

"It's kind of clever, in a really fourth wall kind of way," Sam says, with a shrug.

"I don't even want to know what the dork that means, but it's better than MILF Patrol, so..." Santana says, with a barely hidden grin.

"Cool," Quinn says, and then stretches her neck out, twisting it from side to side. "So—what are we doing this weekend?"

"Bake & bake," Sam says, high-fiving Puck.

"I'm sorry?"

"Santana disappears into the kitchen for two hours; then we get high; then we eat baked goods," Puck says, pulling Santana into his side. "Best housewife ever."

"In your fucking dreams, Puckerman," Santana says, but then smiles at Quinn. "You up for this?"

Quinn shrugs. "As long as we can bake vegan, that's cool."

"Vegans can still eat sugar, right?" Sam asks, sounding a little worried. "Because I'm okay with not having meat in my baked goods, but no sugar?"

Quinn just rolls her eyes. "Just let us take care of it."

Some loud noises upstairs have Sam looking at his watch and saying, "Crap, my siblings are home; I need to get up there and feed them."

"Yeah, I'm out, too," Puck says, giving Santana a look. "Gotta pick up Becky from her dance class. You want to come with?"

"Nah, Q will drop me off," Santana says, heading over to the nearest amp and flicking it off. "Right?"

Quinn shrugs, because even if it's not on the way, it's at best a five minute detour.

...

Santana's silent for the first few minutes of the drive, notwithstanding directions, and then gives Quinn a kind of sharp look.

"What?" Quinn asks, spotting it from the corner of her eye.

"Don't take this the wrong way—but you are setting my gaydar on like Defcon 1," Santana finally just says, looking away. "I seriously don't care, I just—you know. Digging chicks doesn't usually lead to pregnancy."

Quinn takes a deep breath and runs her nails across her jeans a few times, trying to figure out what to say. She could go with, "Actually, according to my dad, gay teenagers are much more likely to end up pregnant than heterosexual ones," but that just turns her into a statistic. She could also tell Santana to mind her own goddamned business, but they're in a band together now.

That shit runs deeper than blood, if it's good.

"Nevermind," Santana says, after a long, awkward moment.

"No, it's fine. My dad says that I should—try to talk about it. I mean, we're friends, right?"

Santana looks out the window and then takes a deep breath and says, "I used to—I don't really know what to call it, but in freshman year, I had a thing with a girl, so like, no judgment here."

"Okay," Quinn says, stalling in front of a traffic light and taking a deep breath. "Yeah. I'm gay. I just wasn't always… okay with that."

"Your parents don't sound like homophobes," Santana says.

"They're not. It wasn't them. They think it's fantastic, actually," Quinn says, trying not to roll her eyes. "It was just—you know. It wasn't what I thought my life was going to be like. I was popular, I was a cheerleader, I had a sweet boyfriend—and I was completely into my very straight, very much not interested best friend."

"Sucks," Santana mumbles, wringing her hands together.

"Pretty much," Quinn sighs, taking a left at Santana's nod. "Anyway, and Finn was just—there. That night, we were at a party, and Amy disappeared with this other guy at our school—this football player named Matt, and—I don't know. I just didn't want to care anymore, y'know?"

Santana nods after a moment. "And you were drunk."

"Oh, yeah. I would've never—you know, without a condom, otherwise," Quinn says, as calmly as she can. "Obviously. I'm not stupid."

Santana says nothing else for a long time, not until she goes, "Third on the right" after another two turns, and then she gives Quinn a wry little smile.

"That was cool. You didn't have to tell me."

Quinn shrugs, because there's really not much else to say. "I trust you won't like, go blabbing to the entire school about it. It's bad enough that it's common knowledge that I was pregnant. Nobody needs to know about… this."

Santana's eyes go distant again for a moment, and her smile falters. "No, they don't."

She's out of the car in a flash, with a "see you tomorrow" that leaves Quinn confused.

...

She wakes up on Sunday with serious cotton mouth and hazy vision, and even swinging her legs out of bed is the most sluggish movement she's ever made. There's some sort of karmic retribution in the fact that her dad's singing in the kitchen while making breakfast—loudly, some Broadway tune she doesn't know—and it is ridiculously sunny for late September.

Her dad sing-songs her name when he spots her, and she grunts and winces before gingerly sitting down at the breakfast table. He laughs at the look on her face and then gives her a glass of water and, heading to the bathroom for a moment, two tabs of Tylenol.

"Thanks," she mumbles, taking them both quickly, and then resting her head in her hand.

"Oh dear, someone had a good night," her dad says, teasingly. He flips the omelet he's cooking and then sprinkles a bit more salt over it. "Anything we need to discuss?"

"Nope," Quinn says, finishing the glass of water. "I feel terrible. Lesson learned, I guess."

Her dad chuckles and then says, "You up for working on the car today?"

"Yeah, sure," she says, after a moment. "I just think I need another nap, and maybe a shower or something. My head feels like it's—cotton candy."

"Ah, so that's what that glazed look on your face is," her dad says, and then serves her some crazy-delicious smelling egg. "Well, as someone who lived through the 60s: I could have warned you."

She laughs and starts mashing the omelet apart with a fork. "I'm so grounded, aren't I."

"Oh yeah," her dad agrees, before sitting down across from her.

...

She calls Santana to say practice is going to have to either take place during school or not at all for the next week, who just laughs and says, "I thought your parents were cool."

"They are, but I'm not being raised by wolves, jeez."

"Well, whatever, it's cool. You're fucking crazy good, we can just send you notes and you can practice at home."

Quinn taps her finger against her cheek and says, "Actually, why don't we just move practice here?"

"Uh, because you're grounded?"

"Yeah, meaning I can't leave the house. This isn't Soviet Russia, I'm not like, being shackled to the wall or anything," she says, with a laugh.

Santana's silent for a few moments and then says, "Can your parents like, talk to mine? About how to be awesome?"

Her dad shows up a moment later with a rag in his hand and a raised eyebrow, and Quinn holds up one finger; he nods and disappears. "I think not, and anyway, I have to get going. My dad and I are fixing up this 1968 Ford Fairlane and—"

"Oh my God, are these words actually coming out of your mouth or am I just hallucinating gay stereotypes?"

"Shut up."

"Right, well, have fun, Ellen. See you on Monday," Santana says, and hangs up.

Quinn looks at the phone and snorts before putting it down.

...

It's a really relaxing way to spend a Sunday, especially since she can't leave the house. Her dad whistles softly throughout most of the work and Quinn sings along when she recognizes what he's humming; they tap out different parts of 60s classics on the hood of the car, and everything goes swimmingly until her dad goes, "Oh no," and holds up a heavily corroded head gasket.

"Shit," Quinn says, and looks behind her at the collection of bits and pieces they've already ordered and are ready to start putting into the car; the entire radiator will need to be replaced eventually, and the clutch needs a lot of work, but somehow they've missed this. "We don't have a spare gasket."

"That blows," her dad says, before turning to her with a slow grin. "See what I did there?"

"I don't know why my mother married you," Quinn says, shoving him in the shoulder.

"Well," her dad says, straightening. "My dashing good looks, obviously."

"Gross."

"It's just your typical cylinder head; a modern set should work, according to the internet," her dad says, scratching at his temple for a second.

"I can stop by the garage, see if I can pick one up?" Quinn suggests.

"You're grounded."

"You're covered in grease," she points out.

Her dad tilts his head and then says, "My wallet's in my coat. Straight there and back, okay? And, by the way, you're cycling over there. Your reaction speed isn't going to be back to a hundred percent until at least tomorrow afternoon."

She sighs. "I'm really sorry, it was just—you know."

"Just take your bike, and don't worry, I know you won't do it again," her dad says, already ducking back under the hood.

"Thanks, Dad," she says, because Santana's right—her parents are in fact great, and she knows that other parents would've shipped her off to a convent by now.

...

Her bike skids to a halt outside of the garage and she quickly snaps her lock in place.

Her dad's been taking her to the shop since she was seven and she loves it there; the smell of the engines, guys just horsing around, and so many technical bits and pieces that fit together. It's what made her think about engineering as a possible college major in the first place, and every time she steps into the garage she's still a little surprised at just how happy it makes her to see cars being stripped apart and put together again.

"Hey, girl," Jose, one of the mechanics calls out. "Long time. Thought you'd forgotten about us, found your way into a skirt and some matching girl hobbies or something."

She flips him off with a glare, which just makes him laugh.

"What can I do you for?"

"Cylinder head gasket expansion kit," she says, walking over to him and peering around his shoulder at the exhaust he's rebuilding.

"For?"

"The Fairlane, duh," she says, and Jose grins, because everyone in the garage knows about the project; Burt's the one who sold them the car in the first place, when she turned sixteen.

"All right, I'll check out back. I'd say don't touch anything but that's never worked on you, so just don't break anything, okay?" Jose says, wiping his hands on his coveralls, and Quinn grins before ducking down and having a look underneath the 70s Mustang he's working on.

Somewhere behind her a car pulls up, and a door slams shut, and then she hears a very familiar voice call out, "Dad? Are you here?"

She freezes, which is ridiculous, because now she's cowering underneath a car like some idiot. Some part of her considers getting on the dolly and just rolling all the way under, but Jose will be back any second now, and she has no idea how she'd explain that.

Instead, she straightens, and turns around. Outside, Mercedes Jones is leaning against a black SUV—and that Kurt kid is striding into the garage, looking around and calling out for—

—of fucking course. Hummel Auto and Tire. Hummel.

She considers hiding behind the Mustang, but for God's sake. This is real life, not some ridiculous teen movie where she could actually get away with that. Instead, she just leans against the car and shoves her hands in her pockets, and waits.

It doesn't take long; Mercedes is still just singing along to whatever is playing in the car—Quinn's pretty sure it's some Billboard R&B song she wouldn't be caught dead listening to—but Kurt rounds the next row of cars and looks directly at her.

"What," he says, smoothing out an expression of surprise incredibly quickly, "are you doing here?"

"Replacing a blown gasket," she says, after a moment. Then, she smiles at him. "Your dad and I go way back."

His face tightens. "I'm sure I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

"No, you probably don't. If I had to guess, your hobbies are more along the … manicure, pedicure, read a copy of Vogue lines than the fixing up old cars lines, right?" Quinn says, lightly. Her fingers are drumming away on her own thighs, but Kurt doesn't know that. She hopes.

It's the wrong thing to say. Kurt is over in front of her in seconds, and he's surprisingly tall for someone so—small, she thinks, dumbly.

"Are you actually this stupid?"

She doesn't say anything, just waits for him to continue. His face is slowly getting some color back, but it's only making him look more incensed.

"There is already a target on your head. Why are you trying to enlarge it by stupidly mouthing off?"

Quinn feels herself deflate, and then says, "What have I ever done to you?"

Kurt rolls his eyes dramatically. "Dear God, do you actually want me to make some sort of I Know What You Did Last Summer joke?"

"Oh, right. Okay. So I got pregnant. And everyone knows about it. So what? How the hell does that affect any of you?" Quinn says, forcing a bit of steel into her voice.

Kurt's arms fold neatly in front of his chest—and she abstractly notes that he's wearing a kind of stupidly awesome military-style jacket with some jeggings and boots—when he says, "Newsflash, you horrible small town cliche. Our sponsors are the wealthiest, most conservative Christian charities and politicians in the state; we have a certain image to uphold at Carmel, and you are not doing anything to help us maintain it. In fact, your mere presence in our school required significant bargaining on Shelby's part. They've cut our make-up budget in half."

It's possibly the most ridiculous thing she's ever been told. She can't help but laugh.

Kurt's eyes narrow at her. "God, I see why you made Rachel's hit list in the first ten minutes of meeting her."

"I can't deal with this. So—what, so you aren't even real Christians? You're just—"

"What we are is winners, Quinn. Look it up sometime. Or maybe ask Finn about it; that conference championship seems to be in the cards for the Titans this year."

That knocks the wind right out of her, and she knows that she's lost this—cock fight, or whatever it was, when a small smile plays around Kurt's mouth.

"You know—"

"Yes. We know," he says, pointedly, before turning on his heels and calling out his dad's name again.

Somehow, she thinks she preferred the Big Gulp to the face to this.

"Hey, you know Kurt? That's cool," Jose says, appearing next to her with a cylinder kit. "On the house, Q, you know you're one of like five people in this town keeping us in business anyway. Consider it a late birthday present."

"Thanks," she mumbles, and watches as Mercedes stares at her for a long moment before getting back into the car.

...

She knows retribution will be waiting for her when she gets to school on Monday. She prodded at Kurt with a lame ass comment about his fashion sensibilities, and he completely decimated her in response.

It doesn't even really matter if that original confrontation in the locker room was just for show; they know Finn. They know. And that makes it personal in a way that it isn't with the rest of the school, who they just belittle and keep in check because it's part of their day to day lives.

She knows, because that's how she used to run McKinley. But boy, does it ever sting from the other side.

Even though she's ready for whatever they're planning, she somehow makes it through five periods without anything hitting her in the face. Of course, just when she's starting to relax in the library, the tell-tale black swish of a Vocal Adrenaline skirt makes its way past her, and someone sits down on the table next to her book.

"You're Quinn," Brittany Pierce says.

"Yeah," Quinn responds, shortly.

"Coach wants to see you," Brittany says, before leaning over and looking at Quinn's homework. 'Wow, calculus, right? You're smart."

"I'm—what?" Quinn says, because not a single part of this conversation is making sense.

"Everyone else on Vocal Adrenaline is smart. It's cool, though, I'm the best dancer."

"Have they not passed on the memo that I'm persona non grata or something?" Quinn asks.

Brittany squints at her. "Why would you be grated?"

"I—nevermind," Quinn says, and then starts packing up her books as quickly as she can. "If 'Coach' wants to see me, she can write me a summons, okay?"

Brittany digs around in her breast pocket for a second. "Yep, she can. Here it is."

Quinn unfolds the piece of paper and sighs at the fact that it's real.

"Where's her office?"

"Next to the auditorium," Brittany says, hopping off the table again and smiling sweetly. "You're really pretty, you know. You should consider a little more make-up."

It's the weirdest thing that's happened to her in her week and a half at Carmel yet, and it unsettles her completely on the walk over to Shelby Corcoran's office.

...

Ms. Corcoran's bent over her desk with a pair of narrow reading glasses perched on her nose. Her office is literally lined front to back with trophies, newspaper clippings, and playbills. Quinn looks around carefully while sitting down, and notes that her student file is on the desk.

Fuck, she thinks.

"Quinn," Ms. Corcoran says, sliding off her glasses after a moment and leaning back in her chair. "Thank you for coming."

"I didn't realize I had a choice," Quinn says, sinking back into the chair a little bit more.

Ms. Corcoran smiles after a beat. "We believe in social conventions at this school, as I'm sure you have realized by now. Politeness is valued highly."

Quinn straightens unwillingly. "Right, sorry. I'm—well, I'm here now. Why am I here?"

Ms. Corcoran leans back and folds her hands on the desk, before giving Quinn a discerning look. "How has your first week been?"

"Fine," Quinn says, because 'your daughter is a real bitch' is probably not part of the Carmel etiquette package. "I'm still getting used to things."

"That's understandable," Ms. Corcoran says, and then asks, "Has my daughter been giving you any trouble?"

Quinn blinks a few times, and then says, "No. Not really."

"Rachel is very driven," Ms. Corcoran says, carefully. "So if she has said anything to you, I can only apologize and ask that you don't take it personally. This is a stressful year for her."

"Yeah," Quinn says, looking back at her file again. "Why is that there? Am I in some kind of trouble?"

Ms. Corcoran smiles sharply, like a shark. "No, not at all. I just make it my business to know everything there is to know about all the students. We appreciate talent here, Quinn, and we make serious attempts to nurture it."

"Right."

"The Carmel newspaper staff has been—depleted, slightly, this year," Ms. Corcoran says, tapping her nail against a different file, which Quinn now realizes contains all the school clubs. "Our resident photographer graduated, and unfortunately the other person with photographic talent at the school is too involved with Vocal Adrenaline and other clubs to devote time to any additional extra-curriculars."

"You want me to join the school paper," Quinn says, because Ms. Corcoran is being about as subtle as a hammer to the skull at this point, and she knows what her transfer file says: cheerleading, yearbook, got pregnant at 16 and left.

"We run a series of exposes on Vocal Adrenaline throughout the year, which are then picked up by regional and national media outlets as the competition season progresses," Ms. Corcoran explains. "However, a good expose captures what words can't through pictures."

"I'm—what if I don't want to?"

"Let's dwell on the reality of your situation for a moment, Quinn," Ms. Corcoran says, most of the kindness dropping from her voice. "An inexplicable transfer to a different school in the same district at the start of junior year; a significant and equally inexplicable drop in your grades during sophomore year; and, an abruptly aborted cheerleading career. Were you hoping to go to an Ivy before all of this happened?"

Quinn feels her temple start to pulse with anger. "Who says I stopped hoping?"

Shelby gives her a pitying look that lacks any real sympathy. "You're right. It's probably not too late for you remedy how hopeless your resume must look right now."

Quinn tries to formulate a response to that, but however brutal the words are, they're also basically true. She has nothing.

"Think about it," Ms. Corcoran says, another show smile appearing on her face, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "We could really use you."

Quinn picks up her bag and almost runs out of the office without saying another word, before disappearing into the auditorium wings and biting her lip to not burst into tears.

...

Santana kicks hard at the bench they're sitting on.

"I can't believe she fucking said that to—"

"She's right, though," Quinn says, even as Sam awkwardly wraps an arm around her back. "I mean—we all need extracurriculars. At least this way I don't have to worry about how the hell I'm ever going to join any clubs that VA members co-captain, y'know?"

"Uh, yeah, you're not that fucking lucky, blondie," Santana says, shaking her head. "Check out the newspaper staff again."

Quinn feels all the air leave her lungs. "Oh, no…"

"Yeah," Santana says, kicking at the bench again and then stalking off back towards the building.

Puck says, "Ah, fuck" and then heads off after her.

Quinn looks at Sam. "Why is she so upset about this?"

"It's—" Sam sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "Look, she really should be telling you this herself, but—Santana and Rachel used to be best friends, until some stuff happened, and now they're like, enemies. In a serious way."

"And me joining the school paper—" Quinn says, exhaling shakily. "Shit."

"Yeah. It probably just feels like another slap in the face, y'know?" Sam says.

They both stare into the distance for a moment, and then Quinn says, "I'm going to do it. It's fucked up, but—"

"No, Santana will understand. Just—you know, be careful. Sometimes, Rachel is really nice. But when it comes down to it, she doesn't care about anyone but herself."

The bell rings, and Sam hops off the bench before shoving his hands into his hoodie. "Hey, you want to blow off physics and like, I don't know—get some Taco Bell or something?"

Quinn feels her heart sink. "Sam—you're not asking me out, are you?"

He gets a sort of priceless surprised look on his face and rocks back on his heels. "Um, no, I mean, it's really bad for the band chemistry if everyone in it is a couple, I mean, it works when there's one couple, like Metric, but just look at Fleetwood Mac, you know."

"Because I would love to go out with you, but you're—sort of equipped with the wrong parts for me," Quinn says, forcing a small smile.

"Oh," Sam says, blinking at her, and then grinning. "Oh. That's awesome. That'll be so great for our indie cred."

"So does that offer for Taco Bell still stand?" she asks, getting up as well.

"Totally, but um, I was going to just talk to you about comics; maybe we can now talk about hot girls or something instead."

"Yeah, no," Quinn says, laughing at the look of disappointment on his face. "Maybe if you get me drunk."

"Awesome," Sam says, before offering her a hand.

...

She calls her parents after school and explains that she's been 'invited' to join the school paper and should probably show up to a meeting as soon as possible, to make a good impression. Her mom, out loud, considers whether or not that undermines the whole being grounded thing, but then decides that anything that helps with college applications in principle is not 'fun,' and so she gets to stay late.

Her feet feel like lead as she heads down the hallway to where the AV department is set up, and she hesitates outside the door for a very, very long moment before finally knocking and opening it up.

A heavy-set girl in glasses, an Asian girl and a guy in a wheel chair look at her in surprise, before looking back at Rachel, who is sitting in front of the room with a little laser pointer going down a list of objectives.

"Quinn," she says, tightly, but then her entire demeanor visibly relaxes. "I'm so glad you decided to take my mother up on her suggestion."

"Yeah, well," Quinn says, before stepping into the room and closing the door again. She sits as far to the back as possible, and then watches as Rachel gives her another long look before turning back to her list.

"I therefore propose that we start with Jesse, as Kurt will be more appropriate for sweeps. Any suggestions?"

Nobody says anything, so Quinn tentatively raises a hand. "Can you—what is this about?"

"Monthly exposes on certain members of Vocal Adrenaline," Rachel says, not without pride. "They are a regular feature, and possibly our most popular one."

Quinn bites on her cheek to not point out that this is supposed to be aschool newspaper and not a local alternative to Teen Beat, and instead just says, "Okay."

"We will devote early December to Brittany, and late January to myself," Rachel says.

"Sure, R-r-rachel," the Asian girl says, taking frantic notes as Rachel keeps going down the list to explain what the action plan is.

Quinn aimlessly sits around until Rachel clicks off the laser pointer, and then says, "So—what do you need me to do?"

Rachel looks at her sharply. "Is the job title of staff photographer lacking in clarity somehow?"

"Jesus Christ, it was just—"

"Artie will show you some samples," Rachel says, cutting her off, and then looking at her watch. "I'm two minutes late to practice, so if you have any other deficiencies in your mental faculties, they'll have to wait until later to get dealt with."

Quinn considers punching her in the fucking nose for just two seconds, but Rachel's out of the room in a flash, and the other members of staff visibly relax as soon as she's gone.

"Hey," the guy in the wheel chair says. "I'm Artie; that's Tina, and this is Lauren."

"Hi. I'm Quinn." She almost adds, I used to be pregnant, because that's how everyone thinks of her anyway, but what a deeply stupid thing to give into.

"Cool," Tina says, after a moment. "So, photography, huh?"

"Yeah," Quinn mumbles, before moving forward until she's looking at the rectangular table that has the layout of the paper on it. "This is—Jesus, this is really professional."

"Yeah, Rachel is pretty exacting," Lauren says, appearing next to her. "It pays off, in the end, though."

Quinn scans the blurbs quickly and then lands on the two-page sized empty space that just says "Jesse St. James."

"So we're interviewing her boyfriend? That's uh, good for journalistic independence."

Artie laughs, wheeling up to the table, and says, "We—normally decide who gets the privilege of interacting with the Vocal Adrenaline stars through a carefully planned game of, um, drawing straws."

"Yeah, I really don't want to talk to Jesse—he's so skeezy," Tina says, shaking her head. "And besides, the artwork for this week is going to take me long enough."

"He tried to grab my boobs last year. I really don't think so," Lauren says, making a face.

Quinn watches as all three of them turn to her. "Oh, no. That's a terrible idea. Rachel already hates me, the last thing I need is—"

"The straws will decide," Tina says, easily, and produces them from under the table. "Here. It's not rigged, I promise."

Quinn takes a deep breath, and hopes for some good karma after last year.

...

She's chewing on her straw when she's heading out of the building, because it's the only right way to cope with her crappy luck. As if there wasn't enough for her to worry about in terms of avoidance; now she was basically being thrown into the lion's den for what, a fun chat about the kinds of things that made Jesse St. James tick?

She didn't have to talk to the guy to know; he probably got off on tormenting other kids at the school just the same way his girlfriend did.

"Hey, Quinn—wait up," Sam calls out from behind her. "How was it? I mean—your first real day of the paper. Did Rachel give you shit or what?"

She turns around and he jogs over to her, guitar slung over his back, and—it's weird, to realize so suddenly that maybe she's already made real friends at this place.

"No more than… I don't know, she was kind of a bitch, but…" Quinn starts to say, and then just frowns. "She was all right, actually. Nothing compared to the kind of stuff I had to deal with at my old school."

"Because you had a baby and stuff?" Sam asks, and he says it so casually that the stab of shame she expects to feel just doesn't come.

"Yeah, because of that," she just says, and he nods before nodding over to his car.

"Need a ride?"

"Nah, I'm okay," she says, and offers him a small smile. "See you tomorrow, huh? For band practice?"

"If Santana's stopped being all bitchy, anyway. I mean, you don't want to be near her when she's in a bad mood either. When she and Rachel used to get into fights about solos…" Sam starts to say, and then just shakes his head. "It was pretty ugly."

"Wait, Santana was in Vocal Adrenaline?" Quinn asks, and raises her eyebrows. "Seriously?"

Sam fidgest and then runs a hand through his hair. "Ah, Quinn, I've said too much, I mean. Just ask her yourself, yeah? You're one of us now. She'll probably give you the entire story."

"Okay," Quinn says, and then watches as Sam sticks up a hand a little awkwardly and starts walking over to his Honda.

Honestly, she's not sure she wants the entire story. She has enough drama in her own life without worrying about other people's.

...

Still, there's not getting the entire story, and then there's figuring out just what the hell she's accidentally walked into the middle of.

She doesn't know what she expects when she Googles Vocal Adrenaline after dinner, but it's definitely not what she gets: approximately 6000 hits without spelling changes. They're probably the only high school show choir with its own website.

The articles are all about how good a coach Shelby Corcoran is, and she's not interested in that side of the story, so it's not until she crashlands on Youtube that she actually gets what she wants: a video of Santana singing At Last at some competitive event. She's joined on stage by Rachel right after she's done, and the way they're hugging, it's definitely not just part of the show. Then, Rachel and Jesse perform Hello together and…

That's totally not what she's looking for, either, but it's hard to look away either way; and it's not until Rachel's voice slowly drifts out over the last line of the song that she can actually bring herself to click on something else.

Back to Google, and—whatever. She's supposed to write an article about the guy anyway, so she types in Jesse St. James—it's unlikely there are two people with that ridiculous name—and finds an article in The Post about show choirs in which he's featured.

The article calls him talented, charming, and deeply in love with his girlfriend Rachel; together, they're described as a modern-day Sandy and Danny, and the show choir power couple to beat.

It's enough to make any sane person gag, but she keeps on reading anyway, about how their futures are all lined up for them—they both plan on going to NYU Tisch to major in musical theater and then break onto Broadway-and how they support each other's ambitions. It reads like the party line, or an ad campaign, and she's not really sure what to make of it—but there is just about enough there for her to turn this interview into something other than a total ass-kissing joke, which was apparently what last year's run had been.

She can't imagine anyone caring what cologne Jesse St. James wore, but somehow it was one of the very, very important things he was asked anyway.

A few more minutes of Googling Tisch and she has a few questions down that might actually make for an interesting, non-biased piece of writing—and she can't help a small smile when she imagines the look on Rachel's face at the idea that she actually can count to five and will be taking her time on the newspaper staff seriously.

Not that that's the point. It's just a bonus, really.