Bookends @mickeydubs
Chapter 23


Chapter 23: It's Not Just Me, I Tell You It's the Both of Us

Rachel tucked her feet under her, sitting cross-legged against her pillows, and eyed Kurt and Mercedes, who both lounged at the foot of her bed. She had called them over in a mild panic. After what had happened, or almost happened, in the auditorium, she really needed to talk about what was going on with her and Quinn.

She had thought about asking Puck to come as well, but with his recent confession and her rejection of his advances, she was definitely not ready to have this conversation with him.

"So what is this big emergent craziness you needed us so urgently for?" Kurt leaned back on an elbow and toyed with the collar of his shirt as he scrutinized Rachel's anxious expression with a wry grin.

Rachel hugged a pillow to her chest to stop herself from fidgeting. She glanced back and forth between Kurt and Mercedes, hit with a sudden wave of nerves over the admission she was about to make.

She took a deep, drawn out breath in an attempt to calm her racing heartbeat and met the expectant gazes of her patiently awaiting friends. And then she spilled her guts.

"I have feelings for Quinn! More than friendly, romantic kind of feelings. I want to be around her all the time and sing all of my favorite sappy love songs to her and I can't stop thinking about kissing her. And… I think Quinn likes me too. I swear we almost kissed, we've had at least one near miss."

Kurt and Mercedes shared an amused but slightly baffled glance.

Mercedes shook her head with a poorly disguised chuckle. "First of all, thank you for confiding in us, girl. We're here for you. Second of all, what do you mean 'at least one?'"

The tips of Rachel's ears grew hot, but she did her best to roll through it.

"Well, I'm almost positive we were going to kiss in the auditorium yesterday. We were both obviously upset with all of the drama, so I brought her there and we sang together, and after the song we were this close before Mr. Schue walked in on us." She held up her thumb and pointer finger a millimeter apart to show just how close she meant. "And then there was also another moment after Noah's party that I'm not one hundred percent sure about, but that's beside the point."

Mercedes lifted an eyebrow. "And you're really sure she was going to kiss you back?"

Rachel got a little huffy at that. "Well, I mean, no one can ever really be sure about anything, can they? But I'm confident in my instinct on this." She was getting defensive, she knew that. She took another deep breath, knowing that Mercedes only had the best intentions.

It was then that Kurt gave his opinion, easing the flustered energy that had entered the room. "Okay, Rachel. As bitter as I am that you might get your gay high school love story before me, I see the way you two look at each other. I think you're right to trust your gut."

Rachel sighed happily in relief at having her friends' support. "I really hope so."

There was still a large part of her that worried that her feelings for Quinn might ruin their friendship. She did feel sure that she and Quinn were about to kiss when they were alone in the auditorium, but a nagging question still lingered in the back of her mind.

She puffed out her cheeks, distressed. "I just… Maybe you're right to be skeptical, Mercedes."

"Hold up," Mercedes held up a hand. "I wouldn't say I'm skeptical. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I see it. You two would be hella cute together. I just want to make sure you don't get hurt, that's all."

Rachel bowed her head gratefully. "I know. Thank you." She cast her eyes down and picked at her fingernails. "Just… she's one of my best friends. What if all the signals I think I'm picking up on aren't what I think? What if she doesn't feel the same way? What if she does feel the same way and I still manage to screw it up?"

Her insecurities, though largely overcome, did still come back to haunt her every now and then. Rachel was confident in identifying her feelings, but the idea of confronting them and potentially acting on them was becoming more overwhelming as she realized just how deep they ran.

Kurt and Mercedes both rolled their eyes. Kurt waved to Mercedes, indicating that she should take this one.

Mercedes crawled up the bed and put a comforting hand on Rachel's knee.

"Rachel, you are the biggest perfectionist I've ever met. If you start something with Quinn we all know you're gonna make that as perfect as you do everything else." Rachel started to rebuff but Mercedes kept going before she could get the words out. "And even if every detail isn't perfect, somehow, you two would be perfect for each other. You know better than most people, some risks are worth taking."

The smile that spread over Rachel's face as Mercedes was talking turned into a raucous bout of laughter when her two friends tackled her in a group hug.

The New Directions gathered in a circle under the bleachers by the football field. They had managed to convince Mr. Schuester to congregate for one last, unauthorized, meeting of the glee club. Technically, they were still allowed to have glee with those who remained permitted in extracurricular activities, but they had all quickly agreed that it wasn't the same without their fellow club members.

They made themselves as comfortable as they could on and around the old sofas and folding chairs that had been collected out there by the students who liked to sneak out and smoke during lunch periods and boring classes.

Finn was not in attendance.

Mr. Schuester was comically paranoid about getting caught holding a meeting of students when it was against the rules for a large number of them to be there. He kept looking over his shoulder as if Principal Figgins would come jumping out of the shadows and catch them.

He looked around at everyone, a little more concern in his expression than was probably called for. "So remember, half of you are banned from after school activities, so this is not an official meeting of the glee club. We're just a group of people casually socializing in a non-sanctioned setting."

Even Rachel, who generally considered herself a rule follower, had to shake her head in amusement at his unnecessary worry. Quinn, who was seated across from her between Matt and Santana, met her eye and they both covered their mouths to hide their giggles.

Artie cleared his throat. "Yeah, you uh, might not want it getting out that you're casually socializing with a group of teenagers outside of school either, Mr. Schue."

Mr. Schuester looked confused, then understanding dawned on his face. "Oh! Geez. Right… No one saw any of you coming out here, right?"

Puck clapped him reassuringly on the shoulder. "Mr. Schue, it's a Friday afternoon. Nobody is paying attention to anything except their weekend plans. No one gives a crap how a bunch of singing nerds are killing time after school." Tina smacked him on the arm, so he jumped to his own defense. "What? I'm including myself in the group of nerds."

Mr. Schuester redirected the group's attention back to himself. "Anyway, I just wanted to say, as disappointed as I am that our run this year is being cut short, I am so, so incredibly proud of all of you and the work you've put in here. Over the last couple of years, this group has come together against all odds. I know that high school comes with all kinds of challenges, stereotypes… hormones," he paused and everyone offered some light chuckles, "but you all let music bring you together despite all of that."

All of a sudden, he started to tear up. Pressing his lips together to keep himself from crying outright, he asked if anyone had any last songs they wanted to get out before they disbanded until next school year.

Most of them shrugged uncomfortably, not having prepared themselves as they should have for Mr. Schuester's display of affection. Rachel darted her eyes to Kurt, Mercedes, and Tina, who she figured were the most likely to take one last stab at a solo for the club, but each of them appeared to be too emotional to take the floor.

Rachel stood and smoothed out her skirt. Her eyes landed on Quinn and stayed there.

She said self-deprecatingly, "I'm sure no one here will be surprised to hear that I've prepared something for today." Her friends laughed along with her.

Mr. Schuester smiled, his eyes still misty. "Not at all. Take it away, Rachel."

She grinned at him graciously then nodded at Sam, who pulled out his guitar. Kurt had called on him to back Rachel up when she had come to the inevitable conclusion that she should admit her feelings to Quinn by way of song.

She held Quinn's inquisitive gaze and took a steadying breath. "So, because I'm me, I've been trying to figure out a way to say all of the things I need to say in an eloquent preamble to this performance. However, this time, I don't think a speech will do it justice." She swallowed, ignoring a few sighs of relief that sounded from around the circle. "I think this song says it all."

Quinn's head tilted in curiosity. Rachel cleared her throat.

She gave Sam a signal, and he brought his fingers to the strings of his guitar, thumbing the opening chords of If She Wants Me by Belle & Sebastian.

Rachel opened her mouth and sang.

Quinn's lips twitched into a grin with recognition at the sound of the song, and Rachel returned it. The lyrics drifted out from her lips into the air, light and breezy and carrying a piece of her heart.

"Someone above has seen me do alright.

Someone above is looking, with a tender eye,

Upon your face. You may think you're alone, but you may think again."

She came to the chorus, feeling that it described the way she was feeling more accurately than was probably reasonable.

"If I could do just one near perfect thing, I'd be happy.

They'd write it on my grave or when they scattered my ashes.

On second thought, I'd rather hang around and be there with my best friend,

If she wants me."

She sang directly to Quinn.

She didn't care that there was an entire group of people listening in and looking on. Quinn's eyes hadn't left hers. Hers hadn't left Quinn's either.

Rachel always sang with feeling in the hopes that her audience would feel whatever the song conveyed. She delved deep into songs, tried to suss out their essence, and deliver their message to the best of her exceptional ability. It was rare that she found a song to authentically connote her state of mind, as opposed to the other way around.

Her whole life, she had tried to use music as an outlet to express herself, but in this moment, it felt more like the truth than ever before. This time, the song was just a beautiful vessel for what was already begging to be released from the confines of secrecy.

"If you think to yourself 'what should I do now?'

Then take the baton, girl, you'd better run with it.

'Cause there is no point in standing in the past 'cause it's over and done."

When the next line mentioned a book, Rachel had to put an embarrassing amount of effort into not winking at Quinn. She saw Quinn's smile widen just so, and she beamed in response.

As the song neared its end, Rachel pushed her entire soul out into the last chorus.

"If I could do just one near perfect thing, I'd be happy.

They'd write it on my grave or when they scattered my ashes.

On second thought, I'd rather hang around and be there with my best friend,

If she wants me.

If she wants me, yeah.

If she wants me, yeah.

If she wants me, yeah."

The light that sparkled in Quinn's eyes was dazzling. Rachel felt like she was floating. She'd done it. She sang her feelings to Quinn, and now Quinn was looking back at her with fondness shining tenderly out from her whole body.

Rachel was only shaken from her stupor by the light round of applause from the rest of the club. She glanced around the circle at all of the other faces she'd all but forgotten were there and gave a tiny, half-joking curtsy.

Mr. Schuester, who had obviously been blind to the direct eye contact Rachel had kept with Quinn throughout her performance and the real nature of the lyrics, praised the sentiment of friendship.

"What a wonderful tribute to the friendships this club has cultivated. Thank you for sharing that with us. And an unexpected genre choice to boot. Great job, Rachel."

She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "I've been telling you all from the beginning, my taste in music does go beyond just show tunes."

Just as the group was preparing to wrap their meeting, a figure approached from the end of the bleachers. Mr. Schuester jumped up, clearly afraid that he had been busted by another member of the faculty. Then the person got closer, and they realized who it was.


"Oh, hell no."

"This can't be good."

"What the fuck do you think you're doing here, Teen Giant?"

The New Directions dissolved into concerned chatter as Finn stepped up to the circle with his shoulders stooped sheepishly. Rachel curled her hands into fists bitterly at his appearance. She did her best to remain inconspicuous when she looked across the circle to study Quinn's reaction. She was characteristically subdued, though Rachel could sense her frustration bubbling under the surface.

Their teammates' complaints continued in the background.

"Dude, get out of here."

"Finn, seriously, how did you even know we were here? We didn't invite you for a reason."

After a few moments, Mr. Schuester recovered from his own surprise, and called order to the students. "Okay, that's enough, guys. Let's all settle down." He turned to the latecomer. "Finn, I don't think it's the best idea for you to be here."

Finn hung his head. "I know, I just…" He shuffled his feet in the gravel. "I just wanted to say, you know, sorry." He addressed Sam with palpable effort. "Sam, what I did was super uncool. Even though I still have a problem with what you were saying, obviously I like, didn't handle it the right way." Rachel heard Quinn scoff. Finn continued, talking mostly to the ground. "Anyway, I'm starting anger management. I know I really messed things up for us this year, but I hope you'll all give me a chance to make it up to you and be a part of the team again next year."

Rache didn't know how to react. She was still indescribably angry at Finn for the violence he had inflicted on their new friend as well as the repercussions that had come of it. No one else seemed to know what to say either.

Eventually, with the silence growing more awkward, Mr. Schuester said, "Well, I, um, I'm sure we're all proud to hear that you're taking steps to better yourself, Finn. I'm sure with time, we'll all come back together as a family just like before."

Rachel wasn't entirely sure she agreed, but didn't think it was prudent to argue the matter at this juncture.

When it became clear that no one else was inclined to speak, everyone started to collect their things to leave and start their weekends. Before anyone could stand to go, Matt got to his feet and held out his hands. Rachel let her brow furrow, worried that he might jump to Finn's defense out of some football loyalty, but she was even more shocked by what actually came out of his mouth.

"Hey guys, before we all scatter, I have to let y'all know my family's moving over the summer. I was gonna wait to tell you until after Nationals, but, well…" He glanced swiftly in Finn's direction. "I hope you all know I've had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you." He shot everyone a charming grin, and the rest of the club cracked up at the cheesy reference to Dirty Dancing, which they all knew was his and Mike's favorite guilty pleasure movie.

It took them all a minute to register the first part of what he said. He was leaving. Rachel joined in as everyone rushed forward to engulf him in a melancholy embrace.

After they all released him, some choking back tears, the implications of his announcement hit them all simultaneously. Without Matt, their numbers dropped below the required minimum for show choir competition.

Rachel took silent stock of her teammates, all of them coming to a reluctant agreement.

She faced Finn grudgingly. "Alright. I think it should be obvious that all of us are still very upset with you. Your actions were inexcusable. I can't speak for everyone else, but I do feel confident in my assumption that I'm not the only one here who isn't ready to forgive you." Despite his above average size, Finn looked increasingly smaller as her words dug into him. "However, with the devastating loss of Matt in our ranks going forward, we will likely need you back from a numbers standpoint unless new people join next year. So," she took another look around to double check the offer she was about to make, "with that said, I believe we would be willing to have you back on the team on a probationary basis." Hope glimmered in his eyes, so she doubled down to make sure he got the message. "You're officially under a zero-tolerance policy. If you do anything to hurt, demean, or offend anyone in this group again, you're out."

Finn looked like he wanted to respond, but the stern looks from the rest of the team silenced him. When he gave a simple nod of understanding, Rachel returned it curtly.

With that, the meeting ended. Mr. Schuester patted Finn on the shoulder and was, per usual, the first to leave. The teenagers filed out slowly behind him.

Rachel took her time, hoping to catch Quinn and talk without the rest of the club around. Kurt and Mercedes shot her encouraging grins before they walked away arm in arm.

Her heart sank when Finn beat her to the punch and cornered Quinn next to the couch she had been sitting on. Rachel hung back, knowing that Quinn could handle herself and not wanting to overstep, but also not ready to give up on her own chance at a moment with her.

Quinn looked up at Finn and crossed her arms. With an exasperated tone, she started, "Finn, I don't-"

He cut her off, desperation tinting his voice. "I want another chance, Quinn. I know I messed up, like, a lot, but I really think we can fix this-"

She interrupted him back, impatient. "No! We can't. I got over you a long time ago. You need to do the same. Maybe someday we can work back up to being friends, but honestly, right now I don't want to be around you. I know you don't understand it, but please, respect it."

Finn's face crumpled in disappointment and confusion. "Is it… is there someone else?"

Quinn sighed. Rachel could see that she was tiring of having this conversation with him.

"Let me be clear. Me not wanting to be with you is not about anyone but you and me. We're not right for each other. We never were."

Then she looked at Rachel where she was still hovering in the background, and Rachel nearly lost her breath when Quinn smiled softly, holding her gaze intensely for the second time that day. "But that said, yeah. There is someone else."

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