Face in the Crowd
It was unbelievable how much work I'd allowed to pile up in the matter of a few short weeks. I'd never been much of a procrastinator, preferring to keep things on time, organized, and functioning smoothly at all costs. But the call of summer- of two months' worth of vacation- had made me wind down and relax, work at a leisurely pace where I barely got anything done, but still felt tired by the end of the day.
Was that normal? For an adult, I mean. I knew that a lot of the kids I talked to said that they were feeling unmotivated and lethargic, but they were teenagers. They had young blood and pent-up sexual frustration. I was in my late twenties with pent-up sexual frustration. Huh. Maybe not getting any action was the reason for my lack of energy.
My musings were interrupted by the door to my office popping open, and a familiar, handsome head poking through.
"Will!" I was suddenly flustered, my heart was thumping too loudly in my chest.
"Hey Emma, you got a minute?" He flashed me that winning smile; the one he'd used to captivate countless girls in high school, the one now applied to the grumpy lunch lady (who was probably even more desperate for male attention than I was) to get some extra crackers with his soup. I guess cracker stinginess among cafeteria ladies will forever be an unchanging hallmark, they were like that when I was in high school too. I distinctly remembered sitting with Suzie Clementine and Lily Wilson, the three of us trying to make our crackers last by breaking them into pieces just larger than microscopic crumbs. Thinking back on it now, remembering all of the germs I'd probably unintentionally consumed by allowing someone else to crush crackers that dropped into my soup… ugh. I almost shuddered, then remembered that Will was there and I didn't want to humiliate myself in front of him.
Oh yeah. That's right. Will was still in my office doorway, waiting patiently for my response. What was his question again?
"Uh, what did you need?" I inquired. My voice sounded too shrill, almost like that of a hyperactive thirteen-year-old.
"I'm glad you asked." Will advanced further into the office and I grasped the bottom of my padded desk chair, feeling my spine straighten like a needle. "You know how Mr. Dekker's leaving at the end of this year to go teach in El san Salvatore?"
"Yes." I nodded. Paul Dekker was one of the genuinely good men in the world (as was Will, but at least Dekker wasn't married. Maybe I should have focused more attention on him) he taught locally developed freshman English to the mentally slow kids, ran marathons for cancer and other such causes on the weekends, and now he was heading off to a foreign country to try and better the lives of impoverished children. He never used to be that kind of guy, but I guess when you're eighteen and your best friend dies in a drunk driving accident, it can change your life.
"Well, you might not know this but Dekker's actually an alumni of McKinley."
"I know." I was hurt; how could he not remember? Oh wait, it's Will Schuester. Before his transformation into a decent human being, he was a meat-headed football player. Of course he wouldn't remember.
"Right, well, Principal Figgins wanted me to set up a slideshow for Paul… to help him remember his years at McKinley. All of them."
"You're one of the most organized people I know. And well…" he scratched the back of his neck, adorably pleading. "I need some help sorting through all of the old photos."
"Sure, yeah… whatever you need." And I was talking about more than just help finding the pictures. Wait a second… had I just used subtlety to hit on a married man whose wife was expecting (although, knowing Terri Schuester, I wasn't sure if she was really pregnant, or if she'd misread the results)?
Luckily, Will remained oblivious to my innuendo. "Great. The stuff is in the auditorium."
I allowed myself a faint smile, dropping the stack of tardy college applications sent in by senior students who'd put off their post-secondary forms until the last minute. I really should've been checking those over and sealing them off in crisp envelopes, but it was Friday, past six o'clock, and Will and I had the run of the school.
I followed Will down the hall, keeping my fists clenched tightly against my sides. I didn't like the silence that stretched between us, I felt compelled to say something. Maybe it was because I just had never said anything in high school, and I'd missed my shot with the guy that was probably my soul mate.
The auditorium lighting was dim, the boxes of old school mementos were scattered across the stage.
"Why's it so dark in here?" Not that I minded- the ambiance was sort of romantic that way.
"Figgins said that if I turned up the lights I'd have to foot the hydro bill."
I wrinkled my nose. "He's always trying to make you pay for sh- stuff."
"Yeah, but what can you do? I am the loser who took over glee club." He said the last part jokingly. I swallowed a rueful chuckle; Will Schuester was anything but a loser. He'd never been one.
We reached the stage and he clambered onto it easily. I was having difficulty because of my clunky heels.
"Here," Will held out his hand to help me up. I blinked stupidly at it, wondering if this was really happening, then grasped onto it. Tingles shot up my arm, coursing through my entire being. Holy crap. If just one touch could make me feel like I was being electrocuted, how would I feel if we actually…
I ground my teeth together in an effort to block the thought, my face turning a nice shade of red as he pulled me up.
"Thanks." I said softly. And even though it was Will, I still pulled a miniature bottle of hand sanitizer out of my pocket to get rid of the germs.
"No problem." He sat down on the stage, opening up the closest box. I sat down near him- not near enough to be considered flirtatious, however- and uncapped an unlabelled, musty carton. Yuck, this was going to be gross.
"So what are we looking for, exactly?"
"Any pictures with Dekker in them… he was a pretty popular guy so he's probably in most."
Yes, I knew that, too.
Three boxes later and I had found about twenty pictures of Paul Dekker. As a ninth grader, accepting an award for "midget" basketball as the team captain, several as a sophomore and junior, goofing off with his buddies. At least five of the pictures were from senior year, with Paul dressed in either a basketball or football Jersey. His deceased best friend, Steve Moscovitz, is with him in four of those five pictures. I remembered Steve as a nice, quiet guy, which was unusual because all of the footballers were jerks back then, with the exception of Will after he joined the glee club. But Steve was the type of guy who'd been raised with the traits of compassion, strength and bravery. I was at least ninety five percent sure that Steve had once accompanied an "unpopular" girl in a wheelchair to the prom because she'd asked him to, and he'd been a perfect gentleman the entire night, even telling off his friends when they teased him about it. The only reason I'm not a hundred percent sure on that is that I was never a prom type of girl. Nobody ever asked me, and even if they had there was only one person I would have consented to taking me.
Will let out a chuckle and I looked over, absentmindedly opening another box to dig through it.
"Ah, nothing. I just found a picture of Terri and I." Will's voice was soft with affection. I bit the tip of my tongue, hoping to bite down my resentment.
"Oh, really? Can I see?" Why did I just ask that? I didn't want to see a picture of the love-birds being all… love-birdie together. My heart was wrecked enough with the simple knowledge that they were married and expanding their family.
Will wordlessly handed me the picture. I took it as if it were toxic material, trying to glance briefly at it to give the illusion that I was interested, while not actually seeing anything at all.
The picture had been taken somewhere in the middle of senior year, and it had been taken at a location that was not William McKinley high school. Oh, wait, they were on a bus. They were on a bus, sitting together on a seat. This was just after Will had joined the glee club, I'm guessing, because he's in a show costume with a bright pink bowtie. Terri had her arms wrapped around Will's neck and while his adoring brown eyes were fixed on her, she was beaming into the camera (she, by the way, looked gorgeous in a tight pink dress. I'd always envied girls who could wear shiny dresses like that and pull it off without looking like a two-bit hooker). I was about to hand the picture back to Will when something made me do a double-take.
A flash of red hair in the background. And if I squinted a little harder, looking past Terri's grinning face and oversized blonde head, I could just see the person sitting in the seat behind them. She had her hands in her lap, an utterly miserable expression on her pale face, sitting beside Lily Wilson, who had her nose buried in a novel of some sort.
That miserable girl…
Suddenly, like a strike of lightening, I remembered that day. Will had joined the glee club in the middle of his junior year, and their first competition was against Roewood High, a school that was now privatized and without a glee club. Will had quit the football team to join the glee club (not unlike the current leading male. Although Finn was trying to balance both sports and singing, an unusual combination) and Terri had given up her spot on the cheer squad to show her support of Will's decision. They weren't actually going out then- looking back on it, I should've joined glee club. Maybe I would have had the chance to shine and show Will my true self- but after they both abandoned the athletic route to sing, their bond was cemented forever.
I remember, he asked her out officially right before they got on the bus to go to Roewood. How did I know? I was a few feet away, trying to think of ways to ask him to sit beside me on the bus (I was going on the trip to Roewood to act as both a spectator and a support for the glee club).
I recalled my heart shattering, my throat tightening, and tears springing to my eyes as Terri squealed in acceptance and jumped on Will. Lily, who was also coming on the trip, grabbed my elbow and towed me away.
"Here," I whispered, tapping him on the shoulder.
"Huh? Oh, thanks." He took the picture and put it in his pocket- he'd probably show Terri so they could coo over it later on, and then bust out with some '80's show tunes- I went back to searching desperately for material with Paul Dekker in it.
I reached into the box, rummaging around for any random photo that would take my mind off of the picture I'd just seen. My high school experience had been anything but enjoyable, the last thing I wanted was a flashback.
My hand brushed against something solid and I retracted it in surprise, pulling out a bright turquoise photo album. It was without a name, so I cracked open the front cover and gasped.
What was it, torture Emma Pillsbury day?
I was almost going to slam the photo album shut again but instead my fingers flicked through the heavy pages. Shot after shot after shot of the glee club. Will and Terri, Will and Terri, Will and Terri.
I stopped at the end of the album, discovering one picture of just Will, onstage, belting a song into a microphone, a big silly grin on his face. The picture was dated as being from December fifteenth of 1996, Will's senior year. It was mine, too.
I'd gone to that glee club concert with Lily and Suzie (they practically dragged me out of the house to go watch it) and Will had been singing "All I Want for Christmas" directly to me. I'd been red in the face and sweaty all over (ew) but it had been the best night of my life.
I could recall it so clearly, like it was yesterday.
"I don't think this is a very good idea," I mumbled, stalling by the auditorium doors. We were the last ones still in the hallway, the Christmas concert had begun five minutes beforehand.
"Emma, it's going to be fine." Lily rubbed my back. "What's so bad about this? You're just going to be supporting your man! You don't actually have to touch him or anything." She had frizzy dark hair with bright purple glasses- she was fearless.
"He's not my man." I told her, biting my inferior lip. "He's Terri's."
"Whatever." Suzie replied. "Everybody knows that she's cheating on him with Billy Morrison."
No, everybody didn't know that (or at least, Will refused to believe his precious reformed cheerio was capable of such a thing) but Suzie had actually seen them making out in Billy's car.
"Even if they do break up, there's no way he could go from someone like Terri to someone like me."
"Emma, stop being negative." Lily was calm and composed, having gotten her first boyfriend three months before, she now considered herself an expert on matters of the heart. "Will's perfect for you. You're perfect for him. There's no question about that… your love will happen one day." Suzie nodded vigorously.
"Are you ladies going in?" We looked to find Mrs. Boylin, the food sciences teacher, standing behind us with a big smile on her face. We nodded simultaneously and Mrs. Boylin pushed open the auditorium doors. We followed her in and scanned the pitch dark room for adequate seating.
"There!" Suzie hissed, jabbing her finger at an empty row of seats.
"Score! Nice job, Suz, we're going to be near the front." I was sandwiched between my two BFFs and there was nothing I could do to escape them. We sat in the front row (no one wanted to be that close to the stage. Glee was still new territory, and if later it was decreed as un-cool, no one wanted to be close enough to catch the glee bug).
I sat down between Suzie and Lily, the mc was still riling the crowd up, getting them ready for the main attraction. While we waited, I fantasised. About being a completely different woman; one who could bolt out of her seat, leap onstage and capture Will Schuester's heart with a sweep of her daring eyelashes. Sadly, I knew that no matter how much I aspired to be, I would never be that bold. I couldn't be. I was Emma Pillsbury, Invisible Girl, not Terri Simons, former cheerio and current female lead of glee.
The glee club overtook the stage then, to strong applause. I was so focused on Will that I didn't realize Terri's absence until Lily pointed it out to me.
"Ems, The Barbie isn't here!" She whispered excitedly. That was our private nickname for Terri because she was so flawless, skinny, popular and blonde. She was like a life-sized Barbie.
"Where is she?" I whispered, though I didn't expect her to know. It wasn't as if we were keeping tabs on the girl or anything.
"Hmm, maybe we'll find out later."
And we did. Suzie got up during intermission to go to the washroom, and when she came back a positively gleeful grin was stretching her face.
"You'll never guess who's crying her heart out in the bathroom." She said cheerfully.
"Who?" Lily and I demanded in unison.
"The Barbie… with her loyal cronies Teresa and Skipper mopping up her tears." Suzie cackled.
"Suz!" Lily laughed. "Did you find out why?"
"I stayed in a stall listening for a good ten minutes." Suzie bobbed her head, "apparently Will dumped her."
"What? No!" Lily exclaimed.
"Yes!" Suzie beamed. "Isn't this great, Emma?"
Will and Terri had broken up? It was an unreal thought, one that buoyed me and gave me a fresh surge of hope. At the time, I was eighteen-years-old and idealistic, getting into and out of relationships wasn't such a serious matter.
"I guess." The lights dimmed again, signalling the end of intermission, and the glee club members returned to the stage. Through glee club's renditions of Silent Night and This Christmas, I was lost in a fantasy world that contained only myself, Will Schuester, and Italian sheets. I could picture us together so easily, feel it, taste it, envision it. By the time that All I Want for Christmas is You had started up, there was no doubt in my mind that Will and I were meant for each other. We were made as soul mates.
"Oh my gosh, Em!" Lily squealed, her shoulder knocking against my own. I wondered what had revved up her hysteria but when I snapped out of my trance, I could clearly see the reason for it. Will Schuester. Singing All I Want for Christmas. Singing to me.
My face grew hot in the dark, my heart thudded, I was sure I would pass out right in the auditorium. God, how humiliating would that be?
"I just want you for my own," he sang.
"More than you could ever know." I sang the confession, my voice wasn't the best, but it wasn't so unbearable as to be compared to rusty nails on a chalkboard. Will grinned, not realizing that I'd just spilled out the contents of my diary, and jumped down from the stage with his hand extended to mine. Lily and Suzie both gaped at me in shock while I took his hand, determined to live out this fairytale for as long as I could. We danced into the aisle (well, he danced. I clumsily followed his footsteps). The crowd cheered its mass approval, I could feel my usually pasty face heat up. The rest of the glee club had taken over while Will entertained the crowd, but when we were square in the middle of the aisle, dancing together with our hands loosely touching, Will took up the song once more.
"All I want for Christmas is you. You, baby." He pulled me closer to him. I let out an inaudible gasp, then realized I should probably play along with his improvisation.
"I won't ask for much this Christmas, I won't even ask for snow." Please Santa, please can I have Will Schuester as a stocking stuffer?
"I'm just gonna keep on waiting underneath the mistletoe."
"I won't make a list and send it to the North Pole for Saint Nick." He doesn't need a list by now. He knows that Will's the only thing I'd ever want.
Will grinned as if he could read my thoughts. I attempted to shy away from him, but he kept a firm grip on my hand and I was reminded that true love was persevering- I couldn't just shy away when confronted with opportunities like this.
"I won't even stay awake to hear those magic reindeers click."
"I just want you here tonight." My eyes were wide and emotional, I probably looked like Bambi.
"Holding onto me so tight." Will raised my arms, wrapping them around his neck. I was forced to step even closer to avoid stumbling. I had the feeling that Suzie and Lily were slack-jawed in their chairs.
"What more can I do?" The glee club picked up where I forgot to join in.
"All I want for Christmas is you!" The crowd finished. I was flushed and nervous and happy and I thought that I might pee from elation at any given moment. Then Will spun me around, loosening my awestruck hold on his neck, and danced me back to my seat. The glee clubbers and the audience were still belting out lyrics. Just before he jumped back up onto the stage, Will smiled and bent low to whisper in my flushed ear: "Thanks for helping me out tonight. You should join glee."
That comment was enough to send me to the moon for the rest of the show.
After the concert had finished, Lily and Suzie couldn't shut up about what happened. I could barely believe it myself.
"So Emma," Suzie giggled mischievously. "What did Will whisper into your ear? His phone number? A pick-up line?"
"No." I wish. "He thanked me for participating in his impromptu stunt and then said that I should join glee club."
"Oh my gosh! You so should!" Lily agreed, nodding her head vigorously.
"Maybe I will." I didn't mind singing- though I would never pursue it seriously- and if it would help me get closer to Will, now that he and Terri were over, I would definitely consider it.
"Hey, why don't you go ask Will to get you an application for glee?" Lily suggested.
"Do you even need an application to join?" Suzie frowned. "I thought you just talked to the teacher."
"Who cares? This way she has an excuse to talk to Will some more!" Lily nudged me. "Go on, the glee kids probably went out the back way… we'll wait for you by the front doors."
"Good luck, Cinderella!" Suzie shoved me in the back. I stumbled into the crowd, face hot, at the idea of actually holding a coherent conversation with Will. But I'd been brave enough to sing with him, hadn't I? Talking to him couldn't be that much more difficult.
I weaved through the crowds hurtling for the front door and burst out into the cold winter's night. The stinging air on my cheeks was a wake-up call and for a second I realized how ridiculous I was being. Me, the Invisible Girl, trying to schmooze with Will Schuester? It was so ludicrous! Then again… what if we could have something? What if I was the only thing standing in the way of our happiness as a couple? The thought gave me courage and I headed to the parking lot for Will's battered mustang. Maybe our love would be unconventional, but like a fairytale at the same time. And if it survived through the summer, and then college… was marriage even something to consider? But even as I pushed it from my mind, a pleasant shiver rolled down my back. Emma Schuester. Hmm… I liked that. It had an almost musical ring to it.
But as I was about to relearn, the Invisible Girl never gets the dream guy in the end. That was something that only happened in movies.
When I approached Will's car to ask him about glee (I was going to go with Lily's approach. She was the most knowledgeable when it came to boys, after all), I was greeted by the horrific sight of Will Schuester and Terri Simons locked in a reunion embrace. Terri was eating Will's face- or at least, that's what it looked like- and he was letting her.
It was then that I knew, beyond any reasonable doubt, that I would never have Will Schuester. Any fantasies I might have conjured up during class were just that- fantasies. Works of the imagination. Will didn't even know my name… to him, I was just the girl that he'd randomly selected to help him pull off a daring risk at a Christmas concert. And Terri- the conniving, sneaky bitch who wasn't afraid to lie or solicit herself if she profited from the bargain- she was one of the people who would forever get what she wanted.
I turned around and ran straight to the front of the school without Will or Terri noticing. When my friends asked me how the conversation went, I just gave them a strained smile and said that Will had already left.
That night I lied and told Lily that I couldn't have a sleepover at her house because I was busy the next day. When I finally crawled into bed, I cried myself to sleep.
Back in the present, I let out a tiny whimper. Remembering the past and its painful moments had only helped to stir up the residual feelings that I had for Will Schuester. But if I really wanted to stop them, I realized, I'd have to get away from him. Stop finding excuses to spend time with him, even if I was helping him out.
I stood quickly, knocking over the box and dropping the turquoise book. Will glanced over in surprise.
"Emma?" He sounded worried, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I glanced down at my shoes. Heels. Not practical ones, either. But when had I ever been practical, other than when dealing with germ eradication? "I…" I sucked in a deep breath. "I just remembered I have to check over some college applications that were sent in late by students."
"Are you sure you're okay?"
No. "I'm just peachy!" I told him, and somehow managed to scrabble down from the stage without assistance (looking back on it, I probably should've used the ramp that comes out of the side of the stage, but I was in such a rush to escape that the thought didn't occur to me then). When I was halfway to the auditorium door, Will asked, "Hey Emma, where'd you go to school?"
"Roewood." A traitor tear fell from my eye, rolling down my cheek, splashing the carpet with a little dot of moisture. He still didn't remember. I'd never be someone important to him- just a face in the crowd.
If you've read this far, I hope you enjoyed my EmmaxWill tribute. From watching the pilot once (I live in Canada so I can't get it on itunes, and I don't know of another way to watch it) I have to say that I've taken more of a liking to Emma than Terri. Terri seems to me like an older version of Quinn, and Emma kind of strikes me as the girl that was never really known in high school.
I know it isn't very happy, but the idea struck me while I was procrastinating on homework. I also know that it isn't very good... I apologize. Please tell me what you think, feedback is appreciated!