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these strange steps

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The real world doesn't have much patience for her heart.

Tuesday morning starts with a double dose of coffee that makes it wince, and a glass of orange juice that makes it wince, and a shower that makes it wince because of the other towel in her bathroom-and she dumps that spare towel in her hamper, but all she sees there is borrowed clothing that also makes her heart cringe in on itself.

There is a used toothbrush next to hers that makes it wince, and she's out of floss, which is the last in a set of endless pricks that remind her that, no, this is not just any other day.

This is the first day, in a long time, where she will actually be alone.

Even if Puck and Kurt probably won't let her out of their sight.

Her heart feels like a pin-cushion, by the time it's eleven am, but—and this is the part that surprises her—it's not the worst she's felt, lately or otherwise.

Maybe that can be explained by something simple; like that she knows she did the right thing, even if it will hurt for a very long time. Or maybe it's even simpler than that; like the fact that there have been many, many days, on which she's been alone, and what she has now is a Facebook status notification that says Lucy Q. Fabray has accepted your friend request.

It's alone, but less lonely than she's been the last few years, somehow.

...

By the time she's having lunch, her Facebook notifications roll over again.

Quinn's acceptance is joined by a friend request from a Nicole Fowler, and some part of Rachel's heart quietens down at that, because other people being involved, in a project she's now started thinking of as Quinn and Rachel, Volume Three-well, it just makes her feel less like the last two months of her life have been a fever dream.

Not that she really, ever, could feel that way; not with the way her heart pulses softly, like it's figuring out how to work on its own again.

She pops a Xanax before the stage show because her mind is letting go of the lyrics unexpectedly, but all in all, she goes into the performance feeling something, and that's more than she can say for a lot of the performances she's given in the last year.

When she's letting out a stripped-down, acoustic version of I Learned From The Best, she means every third word, almost, and on her next five minute water break, one of the dancers puts a hand on her shoulder and says, "I believed you, just now."

There are tears in the girl's eyes, and she smiles at those, a little.

It figures that she'd finally win-and maybe it's deserve, really-the respect of the people she's working with, in Vegas, exactly at the point where she has nothing left to give.

Wednesday morning brings with it a message from Nicole, and a friend request from Fiona Nguyen, which she also accepts.

The message is straight-forward, as Nicole has been to date:

I know you probably don't want to hear this right now, especially not from an almost-stranger, but someone has to tell you anyway: what you did gave the two of you a future. I hope your time in Hawaii goes well and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or just want to hear how Q is doing. (The day you'll get a straight answer from her, you'll know she's ready for you.)

Rachel smiles despite herself, a little, and then indulges for a long moment, by clicking on Quinn's profile.

The profile picture Quinn has up is recent; she's at some conference or another, with her square-rimmed glasses perched almost crookedly on her nose, and she's laser-pointering at something in a crisp blue button-down and navy slacks. And—she looks so... smart, and together, and beautiful. She looks like...

She looks like the future.

And no, Rachel is not—naive enough, or misguided enough, to be actually linking the notion of her needing help to doing something for Quinn. But it helps, to think that at the end of a month of humiliatingly splaying herself open, and analyzing every single one of her faults, she has a possibility of actually being in a good enough place to build…. well, something, with the woman in that picture.

Not the teenage girl from Lima; not the stripper—but that woman.

If she still stuck motivational statements on her elliptical, she'd print a copy of that picture out and superglue it in place, because that is what Quinn can be.

It makes her want to strive for her own greatness.

Or, well. It makes her want to figure out what her own greatness would even look like, at this point.

And just like that, she's actually looking forward to Hawaii.

By the time the Thursday show is ready to start, Kurt wraps an arm around her waist and says, "Just two more. How are you feeling?"

She hesitates between the truth and a platitude for a long moment, and then finally looks at him and says, "Like I'm burying a part of myself. And like... something else will be born, from the ashes. If that makes sense."

It might be a little too religious, or philosophical, for Kurt, who has never had much patience for her more esoteric moments, but after a moment he smiles at her faintly. "The idea of marketing you as a phoenix for the next year is not entirely unappealing, you know."

"I'll let you know if I'm willing to be marketed as anything," she tells him, nudging him gently in the side.

He takes a deep breath, and then nods. "Okay."

"I'm... not going to talk to you while I'm in treatment," she adds, a moment later. "I don't want you to take that personally, because what I need a break from is my career, but unfortunately-"

"You don't have to explain," he says, a little shortly.

"No, Kurt, I do—because it's not about your friendship..." she starts saying, but then it's time, and she shoots him a apologetic glance before heading out onto the stage.

She remembers the days when she'd wobble, on those first steps, but these days, it's hard to imagine getting that worked up over-

Well. Her job.

If that's not a starting point for inquiry, next week, she doesn't know what would be.

On Friday, she packs.

There is distressingly little to put away, and to remind her of her time in Vegas; what lingers is the bruise on her inner thigh, but even that is yellowing at the edges.

It's almost like she's never really been here at all-

But then she remembers a bag of toys under the bed, and pulls that out and looks at it for a long moment, a wave of tears slowly climbing up her throat. And, of course, as soon as her eyes start to sting, she realizes she's starting to cry about nipple clamps and strap-ons and handcuffs, and her laughter blocks out the tears just a little bit.

She imagines shipping all of this over to her house, but the problem is that her housekeeper tends to unpack for her, and she really doesn't care to give Irina a heart attack at the stuff that Miss Rachel has brought home from this particular trip. Not to mention, there's a chance that she'll have to declare it all if it gets shipped and-

She has no idea how she's feeling. She can't stop laughing, and can't stop crying, and can't stop thinking that Quinn would probably know what to do. But-

The clean break she forced on them is the only think that's cracked her heart in half neatly enough for it to be able to be glued back together, at some point.

She knows what will happen if they see each other again right now. Her resolve is nothing, compared to what it once was, and that's at the root of her problems. She's become weak; malleable, and open to bad suggestions in a way she hates. And Quinn, dropping by for this bag-oh, Rachel knows she'd cling to her, and throw herself to her knees and beg Quinn to find a way to make things work for them now.

Part of her thinks that Quinn would, regardless, be strong enough to tell her no; but then there is the rest of her, which remembers the wounded look on Quinn's face, in the hallway, and the trembling of Quinn's lip, in the bedroom, and...

After a long moment of collecting herself, the best she can, and wiping off her face with the sleeve of her sweater, she finally goes to Facebook, looks up Nicole's details, and calls her.

"I have a bag of things that belong to Quinn. Do you think you could maybe give it to her?" she says, because there isn't any other way to explain.

"Of course," Nicole says, immediately, and the relief Rachel feels is telling. It's a clear tell, that she's doing the right thing for once. "When do you need me to-"

"Sometime today, if possible. I leave tomorrow," Rachel says, rubbing at her forehead with the tips of her fingers.

It's the truth, obviously, on a technical level. But it's also not really true at all, because as far as her heart is concerned, she left Vegas-a city of waking dreams—several days ago.

...

Nicole promises to get the bag after Rachel finishes her final show, and she sighs when she disconnects the call, before opening the bag slowly and looking at everything in it one last time.

It might not be entirely normal, that she takes out the first pair of restraints Quinn ever deliberately used on her, and packs those in with her socks and her pyjamas.

But, on a scale of one to extremely unhealthy, it's probably only a five, and definitely the best she can do, right now.

She's already in sweats and a sweater, and a headband, by the time Nicole shows up.

They exchange a few muted pleasantries, and then Nicole gives her a slightly more serious look and says, "She's concerned. About contacting you too soon."

"Did she say that?" Rachel asks, after a beat.

Nicole hesitates, and then nods. "Yeah, actually. She was very quiet all day yesterday, and then finally asked if, in my professional opinion, she would be harming you by getting in touch."

"What is your professional opinion?"

"That no two situations are the same," Nicole says, carefully. "And that-you are old and wise enough to tell her to back off if talking to her is too hard at any point. But I could be wrong about that."

Rachel smiles faintly. "Old and wise, maybe. Strong enough? … probably. As long as we're not in the same city."

Nicole smiles back after a moment, and then pulls Rachel into a quick, loose hug. "I'm not saying goodbye, because we'll see each other again."

"Another professional opinion?" Rachel asks, when they break apart; for now, the burn in her lungs is easy enough to ignore.

Nicole shakes her head at that. "No-but I know Quinn, and when she wants to make something happen... well. She'll find a way, to cope with her baggage, and when she does, I'd say you're at the top of the list, Rachel."

Her heart skips a beat at that information, for once without the concurrent pin-prick of pain, and Rachel feels a sudden spurt of energy come over her; it gives her some actual determination to go about this in the right order, so that their timelines can overlap, and by the time Quinn comes knocking, she's actually a whole person again, and not just some …

There are probably clinical terms for what is wrong with her, but the only thing she can think of is that she's a pathetic, needy mess. And that she's sick of being one.

"Can I ask for a second favor?" Rachel says, after a moment.

Nicole raises her eyebrows.

"Quinn thinks she hates being hugged, but she really doesn't. So-"

Nicole laughs after a second. "Oh, I don't know if I'm willing to take the risk of being slugged because you think she might be a secret cuddler, Rachel."

Rachel smiles, faintly, but remembers the thudding of Quinn's heart against her own, out in the desert, and then gives Nicole a slightly more serious look. "It's not just me she needs to work on letting in more, is it?"

Nicole sobers at that, and after a small pause she nods. "I'll take care of her. Do you have people who will take care of you?"

"More than I thought I did," Rachel says, and then picks up the bag and hands it over. "Thank you, for … well. Everything. It's been really nice to meet you."

"You too, Rachel," Nicole says, and then heads back to the Range Rover in the drive way.

When the door clicks shut behind Rachel, the last physical piece of Quinn is officially out of her house, and-

She takes a bath. Debussey and The Unbearable Lightness of Being join her, as does a bottle of Merlot and a single Xanax.

That's all the Rachels that have ever been, blending and mixing, until at the end of the bath, there is just her, and she looks at herself in the mirror and feels-

Ready.

Ready for something new.

She forgets what a fucking nightmare flying to LAX is for someone with her condition, but two Xanax, all the other pills, and a scotch on the rocks later, and she feels just about ready to head out of the terminal.

The paparazzi at the airport normally behave relatively well-they're in the market for candids, not so much forcing confrontations and staged pictures-and she sticks up a hand at them in passing before wandering out of the arrivals hall.

Brittany is easily recognizable, towering over most other people waiting by their cars, and lifts her up into a hug before putting her back down and saying, "San's out shopping for you; we weren't sure what to feed you other than vegetables but she looked some stuff up and is getting it."

Unexpectedly, Rachel feels a little raw all over again; and then just squeezes into Brittany's side a little harder. "Thank you."

"Anytime," Britt says, and then brightly adds, "Oh hey, it's your photographer friends. Can we maybe do a Ninja Turtles pose for them? I've always wanted to."

LA is not Vegas.

For now, that is a good thing.

Brittany's dance classes pay well enough for Santana and her to have moved into a small house on the outskirts of the city, with a pool and enough space to keep a dog.

Cody, the German Shepherd pup they rescued a year ago, basically hates Rachel on sight—like he can smell the cats on her, which is ludicrous of course-but leaves her well enough alone after a stern talking-to from Santana, who mixes all three of them mojitos and then drags them all poolside.

The sun in LA is more muted, and not as thickly hot as it is in Vegas, and Rachel actually finds herself pleasantly drifting after a drink and a half-but of course, Santana then shifts beside her and says, "So. What do you want to talk about first-Quinn, or rehab?"

"Neither," Rachel says, dryly, and adjusts her sunglasses so Santana can definitely not see her eyes.

Brittany is splashing the dog from the pool, and his enthusiastic, playful puppy bark is the first thing all day that's actually made her smile.

"All right," Santana says, and then is silent for a few moments, but Rachel can feel her lying in wait; like a cobra, ready to strike. "Can I have Q's number?"

"To do what with, exactly?"

Santana almost audibly rolls her eyes. "What do you think?"

"Santana, I'm not just giving you her number. I'll see if she wants to get back in touch with you, okay."

"Good fucking Christ, it's like the both of you are in the mafia or something," Santana grumbles, after a moment. "Are you seriously saying that she might not want to get back in touch?"

Rachel hesitates, because-no.

She's not saying that.

She's just saying-

"Quinn isn't..." she starts, and then pauses, before adding, "She's not who you used to know."

"Well, no shit, I mean, no offense to you, but the likelihood of her boning you back in high school is up there with Finn Hudson being able to give anyone an orgasm-"

Rachel chuckles almost despite herself and then swats at Santana's arm. "Stop it."

Santana smirks a little, but then gives Rachel a slightly more serious look anyway. "Are you saying she's like-"

"I'm saying that, a lot of time has passed since Lima, and it hasn't been easy for her."

"What hasn't?"

"Anything," Rachel says, after a moment, and then sighs deeply and rubs at her face, under her sunglasses. "I'd also really rather not talk about this, so-"

"Okay, that's cool," Santana says, softly, and then sits up a little and whistles for the puppy.

Brittany sort of doggy-paddles over a moment later, before flopping onto her back and drifting over to the side of the pool that way, and she watches quietly as Santana first pets the dog, and then kneels at the edge of the pool and kisses her wife.

"Hey," Brittany says, and then tips her head back a little further, and looks at Rachel. "You want to come in? It's super refreshing."

Tempting as it is, to stick her head under water and pretend the world is gone, the scene she's just witnessed has made her realize she's been avoiding something that she really can't afford to for much longer, and she shakes her head.

"No. I'm going to call my dads. It's time to tell them about-well. Everything."

"Oh, are you planning on telling them that you're having mind-blowingly kinky sex with Quinn Fabray as well? Because that's great. They can join my support group for people in dire need of a mind wipe thanks to your drunken bullshit," Santana says, shooting her wry look.

Rachel flushes, even as Brittany pushes up to the side of the pool and loudly whispers, "I think she'll probably skip that part with her dads, baby."

Santana laughs and kisses Brittany wetly on her cheek, and Rachel almost manages a smile at just how uncomplicated happy two of her oldest friends are, together. It's almost another unexpected source of inspiration; something for her to strive for.

But she can't have everything at once, obviously, and seeing what love looks like when it works hurts just a little too much to help, right now.

She doesn't know how to do this.

Her fathers think she's happy, with Puck. They think her career is satisfying to her, because she does her very best acting at home, in bed, when on the phone with them. The exclamation marks just tickle out of her throat, whenever her fathers-proud, happy, so trusting-call her for an update on everything.

She knows they'll have seen pictures of the ring, if not the pictures of Quinn, because JustJared and Perez jumped all over it with requisite Microsoft Paint emphasis and all the speculation in the world.

The thing is hideous. She's been taken it off as soon as she's inside, and would worry about losing it if it wasn't also large enough to take someone's eye out.

So here they are: she's on a bed, single, devastated, with a bottle of Xanax in reach because her life is drowning her, and her parents think she's engaged to the guy of her dreams, if her voice mail messages have been anything to go by.

She doesn't know how to shatter their dreams for her like this.

But then again:

On Monday, she basically shattered her own dreams. That should, in theory at least, make this possible.

Her heart sinks in her chest, and before she can chicken out completely, she dials her fifth speed dial. It's been disappearing further down the list with the years, because she just hasn't needed to call them as often as she needs to call her team. Or maybe because she's been pushing them away, because the idea of them seeing what is really going on with her …

She closes her eyes, and holds the phone up to her ear and waits.

"Hey, superstar!" her dad calls out, after just two rings. "What's the haps? I wasn't expecting to hear from you until Wednesday-last few shows coming up right now, right?"

"Actually… we canceled those," she says, and cringes at the immediate pause on the line.

"Canceled? Are you-H, come over here, I'mma put you on speaker, Rach, okay? … It's our kid, Hiram, the pot pies can wait until-no, our other child-are you serious right now?"

It's hard not to wince, at just how familiar this all is; and the bickering continues while her other dad-who she still thinks of as daddy, even though she's twenty five years old-also makes his way over to the phone, and then finally her dad says, "Okay, so-what's this about your shows being canceled?"

"Canceled?" her daddy asks, urgently. "Rachel, sweetheart-are you sick? Is it-oh, God, is it your voice? Is there something-"

"No, no," she says, as soothingly as she can, but with how much she's starting to shake-it's not good enough, and she has to say more. "My-my voice is fine. Tired, but that's not why the last few shows have been written off."

Her fathers are silent, and then her daddy carefully asks, "Well, then, what is it? Because-we've heard a few rumors about you lately, but I know how you tell us to ignore those so-"

And here it is. The crux of the last few years of her life, being placed in front of her now for comment.

"I'm not engaged to Noah," she says, stiltedly. "I'm-I'm not dating Noah."

There is another awkward pause on the line. Her dad recovers first and says, "I beg your pardon?"

"I'm not dating Noah. I've-never dated Noah. Well, not since that one week in sophomore year of high school, anyway. We've-we have an agreement."

"An agreement," her daddy echoes, and then there's a silence that means her parents are probably looking at each other for an explanation right now.

"He's..." she starts, before taking a deep breath and digging her nails into her thigh. "He's my beard, okay? Noah is-he's been helping for the last three years to keep my sexual orientation out of the press because Kurt and I agreed that it would be damaging for my career if Hollywood knew I was a lesbian."

The longest of silences follows this reveal, and she's ready to start rambling, but she doesn't know where to start. With an apology, or the rest of the story, or-

"Holy shit," her dad says, weakly. "I need to sit down."

"Rachel-"

"I'm gay, daddy," she says, and this time it feels like she's actually coming out to her parents, and the words come out broken and thickly and like they mean the entire world to her. "I'm-I like girls. I've never not liked girls, but I thought there was something wrong with me because-I never liked the right girls, and I hoped I'd grow out of it, and-"

"Oh, baby," her daddy says, and she hears a sniffle on the other side of the line that makes her stomach almost cramp with regret because-her dad does not cry. But he's crying now. "Why wouldn't you have told us?"

"Because it's awful," she admits, for the first time, out loud. "It's awful having to-lie about this. Having to pretend that I'm something I'm not, for work. Always being on the look-out for … for a camera, or someone who overhears me. I'm..."

She hesitates, because can she really deliver this blow on top of all the other ones she's just dealt out?

"Why are you telling us now?" her dad asks, after a few seconds. "And-what's with that ring? Are you-is there someone now?"

She takes a deep breath, feeling her heart flinch all over again, and then sighs. "There is, but... I'm not in the kind of shape where I'm ready to be in a relationship with someone. I'm... the real reason I'm calling, today, is to let you know that I'm checking into a facility for a month."

"A facility?" her daddy says, voice laced with panic, and then she hears a muffled oh my God that makes her feel like the worst daughter on earth all over again.

"I'm... I have a lot of problems. You know about-my fear of crowds, and my fans. It's made my life very … very lonely, in the last few years, and I've … I've been struggling. I'm going to try to get better now, but-"

"Struggling how, Rachel?" her dad asks, a little more calmly, but-she's breaking them, and she knows it. "And why didn't you-"

"Because there isn't anything you could've done. And-struggling with prescription medications. I'm mostly just very depressed and don't know how to… how to get out of this rut. So I'm seeking treatment. The … the ring is a deflection, to stop people from digging." She falls silent, and then squeezes a few last words out past the lump in her throat. "I didn't... want either of you to worry about me. Or to know what... what a disappointment I am."

"Oh, Rachel," her daddy says, and her grip on her emotions slips with that. "How could you ever think that you're letting us down? What you're-"

"We're shocked, baby girl, but-what-why-" her dad starts to say, before finally just adding, a "Fuck", and she sniffs hard, brushing tears off her face.

"I'm-with all the money, and support you've given me, I just …. I didn't know how to say that it wasn't making me happy. To get everything I ever wanted, and I'm so unhappy," she says, swallowing hard. "And it's not your fault. I'm not-"

She takes a shaky breath, and the line stays silent for a very, very long time.

Until finally, her dad sniffles one last time, and then says, "Is it the girl you were playing golf with? The old acquaintance?"

Rachel feels herself flinch at that summary, but her fathers know what Quinn used to do to her, and that's a dimension she really just doesn't need added to everything else that she's confessing to right now. If they haven't figured out who that girl is yet, it's an unexpected blessing. "Yeah."

"Is she waiting for you to-go get cleaned up?" he continues.

"I'm... we're trying to work on ourselves, for now, but... I like to think she'll be there, at the end," Rachel says, and just like that, she's suddenly exhausted. At the end sounds so far away, and this is not the last of these conversations in her future. God, it's only the first. "If I'm lucky, anyway. It's not really about her, though. I mean, she made me see just how … incredibly messed up I am right now, but-I need to do this for me. Because I used to love singing, and... I want to again. I just want to love it again."

Her dads are both quiet, until her daddy finally says, "Do you have plans for when you're done, with your treatment?"

"Not really. I have to go back to New York sooner rather than later, because I can't keep letting Tina and Mike look after my cats-"

"Can we-talk you into spending some time here?" her daddy cuts her off. "I can ship the cats over, if I need to, or-"

The overwhelming longing that hits her, just at the idea of her family home, out of nowhere, nearly sets her off crying all over again-but she doesn't. The nostalgia just squirms heavy in her chest, because the person she'd been back when that had been her only home-

"Yes. Yes, that sounds-that sounds great," she says, after a second.

Another silence, but this is one somehow less grave than the preceding ones, and then her daddy says, "Jesus, Rachel, I don't really know what to do with all of this. I mean, five minutes ago you were happy and probably engaged to that schlemiel that's been coming around here for years now and still can't remember to put up the toilet seat, and now you're a depressed lesbian going into treatment."

She laughs a little, despite herself, and after a moment they chuckle as well.

"Thanks for going about all of this in the least dramatic way possible, by the way," her dad adds, dryly.

She sighs. "I'm sorry; honestly, I'll be okay, I think. I just-wanted you to hear from me, before all the crazy rumors start flying."

"What's her name, Rach?" her daddy asks, when there doesn't seem to be much else to say.

She hesitates for just a moment, and then says, "Lucy. Her name is Lucy."

It feels a lot more honest, not to mention simple, than admitting to Quinn, right now.

...

After dinner, they play a round of Monopoly that Santana-unsurprisingly-kicks ass at, and then the dog needs a walk.

She volunteers for it, because the outside air will make her feel better; and if not, then at least she's getting her daily exercise in, and Brittany will stop looking at her expectantly.

Cody is rambunctious off lead, but somehow behaves perfectly well on, and they stroll around the neighborhood for almost twenty minutes, with Rachel staring at the modest houses and their well-kept yards and the setting sun in alternating moments.

There is an unexpected peace found in being in a place without a single reminder of who she is. She's never lived in LA, because guest roles don't normally come with stand-alone housing, and so this is a tourist location to her. It's also not in the city, and so she doesn't feel any of the lurking tension she normally does any other place she has lived, since Lima.

She's virtually no one here, and Cody has stopped thinking of her as the enemy, and in this one moment, she experiences the kind of clarity that has been missing from her life for so long.

No, she really doesn't have any regrets.

It's just that, for the first time in years, she maybe has something to look forward to, and that's exactly as heavy as having nothing at all to look forward to.

But ultimately, it has to be better.

When she wakes up, on the squeaky mattress in the guest bedroom that she might replace before she leaves just because she has money and wants an incentive to come and visit more often, it's with a flashing light on her phone that signifies some messages.

There is the usual status update from Kurt, which just says 'green' today-their traffic light code for everything being fine-and a message from Puck that just says, heading to NYC to rescue your cats, can keep them however long okay love you, and a message from Kirsten-her publicist-that informs her that Alessandro at Playbill wants to interview her, but the interview can be pushed back until after her 'trip'.

Her trip is apparently what they're calling it. She tries not to roll her eyes at that, but anyway, none of these things require a response, so she looks at the rest of her messages.

After ignoring all the spam from Apple, Amazon and a variety of online fashion stores, she finally thumbs across Facebook, fully expecting that at least three of her socialite friends have invited her to occasion-less parties that she won't RSVP on the pure principle that RSVPing anything on Facebook is just plebian-

And then her heart bounds, out of nowhere, when she sees that the alert didn't go up over invitations, but instead, an honest to God message.

From Lucy Q. Fabray.

A shaky thumb clicks on it, and her eyes scan over it just once or twice, until she bites her lip to hide a smile, and then a weak chuckle, and finally feels her heart beat steady again, for the first time in days.

It won't last, this feeling of being okay, but Quinn has unwittingly given her the best gift she could have: a reminder that there is more to her, and to them, than the hurt she's currently feeling.

Hey, Rach;

It's three am, and I'm awake, because I can't stop thinking about something that we really should have talked about while you were still here…

What is your third cat's name?

Q.

After about a minute of just imagining the careful, deliberate way in which Quinn must have set about writing the message-behind a laptop, clacking away, like she had been that day in the living room, in the chair-she decides that, yes, talking is definitely something she can handle, when she can hide behind the distance between them.

And so she responds, before heading downstairs and working up a batch of pancakes for her hosts, deliberately leaving her phone upstairs.

That first message felt like a reward for good behavior; perhaps she'll get more later, if she just focuses on being a friend, and being herself, for now.

...

Quinn,

I'm sorry, but the third cat's name only unlocks when advanced friendship has been attained. Before we go there, we should probably work on the basics a little. Such as:

Pineapple on pizza: yes or no? [Nb: yes, this is a test!]

Rachel