Caught In Your Bad Romance
Rachel frowned as she felt herself slowly waking up to the world. Recollection pushed against the sleep induced fog of her mind and she recoiled against it with a soft moan of protest. She didn't want to wake up and face what was out there. There was nothing waiting for her there but bad memories, cold stares and pain. She couldn't remember exactly why she felt such writhing apprehension but the instinct was strong, warning her not to return to it.
She burrowed further into the heat of his body, breathing it in and sinking into the sweet warmth that embraced her. She nestled her face against the heartbeat pillowed under her cheek, pressing further away from the dawning world that intruded on her senses and retreating into the harbour of his presence. She felt an arm tighten gently around her waist, a brush against the top of her head, and a sleepy sigh rose in her throat. Here she was safe, protected, and she just wanted to stay there in the dark with him forever.
But the pendulum could only be held back for so long. The ticking never stopped.
Her grasp on passing time was tenuous but when she did finally stir, she was slightly surprised to find him already awake. It seemed to take an age for him to acknowledge her presence, a deep quietness surrounding his introspection, his gaze lingering on the grey light behind the gauze of her curtains. Silence always made Rachel uneasy, not being a natural part of her comfort zone, but those few moments of perfect stillness provoked an irrational unease in her that bordered on panic. As she looked up into his face, she felt herself subconsciously drawing back, protecting herself before her mind could even begin to accept the familiar warning.
Finally he turned his head, a mild smile on his lips as he met her face, but there was a difference in his eyes from the previous night that Rachel saw immediately. A tension and a tired shadow haunted his slightly bloodshot eyes, one that suggested he had been awake for some time. It was as if the daylight had stolen the starlight from his midnight gaze, leaving it dull and conflicted and almost foreign to her. She frowned and reached up, drawing her thumb gently along his skin, grazing those long black lashes as delicately as an artist would restore a painting, as if she could ease away the bruises that persisted there. She didn't want to see that. She wanted to see that same warmth and conviction she had the night before. There was still burning affection there in his gaze, but it was tempered with something she couldn't define, as much as he was trying to hide it.
"Hey," he murmured at last.
Rachel heard her voice crack with sleep and shuffled slightly to lean up in the bed, managing to create some breathing space between them. Her eyes flickered around the room, unsure quite where to look anymore. The morning light felt cold somehow, her skin itching with tiny shivers.
"Are you hungry?" she asked, not sure what else to say. The situation felt surreal, the attempt at normalcy a veneer as thin and transparent as candy glass.
He shook his head slowly. "No, I'm fine."
Rachel glanced towards the door with a furrowed brow, her mind grasping for the easy familiarity that was somehow escaping her. After all they had been through, it was honestly a frustrating paradox how he could still make her feel as awkwardly timid as when he had first caught her unawares in that music library, once upon a time at the start of their grim fairy-tale. "I don't know if daddy is up yet."
"Think I heard them going out about an hour ago."
"Oh." She cleared her throat. It felt dry. "I'm gonna get some OJ."
He nodded, offering nothing but his gaze to accompany her footsteps as she slipped off the bed and made her way downstairs.
Safely in the kitchen, Rachel quickly downed the glass she poured, the sweet juice quenching her parched throat as she drank it down greedily. Raiding the cupboards and helping herself to thick slice of fruit load, she finally noticed a Post-it stuck up on the fridge, pinned under the clumsily moulded magnet she had made at summer camp when she was nine. She crinkled her nose slightly. She'd always hated that lump of yellow clay, a poor effort that fell far short of her usual high standards, but for some reason her dads had formed an inordinate fondness for the small misshaped banana and refused to let her throw it out.
Gone to meet Erika and Jack
We'll talk tonight
Rachel smiled. Boy was she not looking forward to that conversation. Her eyes drifted upwards, glancing over the ceiling almost unconsciously. Shaking herself out of the threat of yet more angst filled reflections, she stuffed the last of the bread into her mouth and put her glass in the sink, grateful for the distraction of habit. She put a hand to her hair and winced slightly at the bird's nest she found there. The prospect of a long shower had never been so appealing. With a sigh, she finally turned back towards the stairs, plucking an apple from the sideboard as she left the kitchen.
Stepping back into the room, she tossed the fruit to the bed wordlessly. Jesse caught it without a flinch, showing off those sharp reflexes once more before glancing up in her direction, quizzical eyebrow raised.
She shrugged. "I'm not gonna listen to your stomach grumbling all morning."
He half smiled at her. Returning to his slouched position against the pillows, he rolled the apple around his palm, following the rhythmic motion with an almost studious expression but never taking a bite. Rachel sat down with her back to him and picked up her phone. No new messages. Not sure whether to feel relieved or not, she scrolled automatically to check her emails. There was one new item.
She let out a deep breath that deflated her shoulders.
She knew he didn't mean it to sound unkind. His tone was calm and level, no hint of impatience or sharpness to mar the question. Cool and neutral. Rachel frowned as she realised that she found it hard to read any emotion in his voice this morning.
"Just an update from the Regionals committee, confirming details."
She knew Finn and Mr Schue would also have received the mail, and just the thought was enough to make her stomach turn, her head hurt from the crushing weight of everything that had still to be dealt with. The sheer volume of worries made her mind spin, let alone the question of how to begin. Falling back with a huff, she let herself drop flat against the bed, her head coming to rest by his chest again. She thought she felt him stiffen and somewhere in the depths of her mind, familiar warning bells sang their muffled chime.
"Things are just…" she clenched her eyes shut until bright dots danced across her vision, as if she could force the clamour in her head into submission. If she could just get things to be quiet, then she might be able to see a way to start picking her way through the forest of thorns. "I don't know how…how are going to make it through Regionals now?"
She felt Jesse's hand touch her forehead, his long fingers stroking through her hair slowly, almost hesitantly. Her eyes closed in comfort even as her heart panged with the warmth it invoked.
"How am I supposed to do my duties as captain when they won't even talk to me? The team is in disarray. I can't see how we can work together in time. But we can't pull out, that's just giving up –"
"I have to go back."
And just like that, deafening silence crashed down around them like shattered crystal. Rachel was used to being interrupted, her valuable insight and words so often ignored or dismissed among her peers, but never had she stopped quite so suddenly in mid-spiel. She might have been half expecting something like this but it did nothing to lessen the sickening punch to her gut.
She sat up slowly on the edge of the bed, turning her face away from him, her body stiff and shoulders hard as stone. In the void of her wordlessness, he pressed on.
"I can't stay, Rachel. You always knew that."
That really pissed her off, almost unreasonably so. How dare he try and turn this all back on her! Just what was he trying to say? That he was somehow exonerated from blame by some implicit disclaimer? Rachel felt her knuckles clench and unclench. Bullshit.
She couldn't tell if it was a demand or implore, but neither moved her to compliance.
"What do you want me to say," she returned flatly, still not turning to look at him. "You seem to have it all figured out already."
She heard him sigh impatiently, defensive temper getting the better of him. "Don't play dumb, it doesn't become you."
He regretted it immediately but that didn't stop her shooting him a glower over her shoulder that could scorch stone. Snapping her head back, she stood swiftly and stalked away towards the window.
"Stop," she cut him off curtly. Her hands worked in tense movements as she yanked and tied the curtains back, working so violently that plumes of dust were whisked into the air. With the street view now cleared before her, she forced herself to take a deep breath and pull herself back under control. Down below and across the road, one of her neighbours was out washing their Jeep in the driveway. Just like normal. She almost smiled but it died before it reached her lips. Her voice was soft when she spoke again. "Just…stop lying."
"I'm not," he replied calmly, though she could hear the effort it took this time. "They'll kick my ass out of school if I stay away much longer." Jesse let out a sigh and swung his legs off the bed, bowing his head to run his hands through his hair. "If I could –"
Rachel spun around with narrowed eyes, finally facing him with the full force of her anger. "If you could, what?"
Jesse would never stay. He was right and they both knew it. His whole life he had been trying to escape this place, to break onto a bigger stage, and he couldn't afford to let anything hold him back. And that truth was only confirmed in his eyes as she watched him reluctantly back off from the confrontation. The bitter victory egged her on and she shook her head sadly.
"Who are you kidding, Jesse. You've been lying to yourself every moment since you came back." Her lips twisted in a grim smile. "It's funny; you'd think I'd stop being surprised by now."
Jesse stood up, incapable of keeping still any longer. "Did you really think I was moving back to Ohio?" he demanded, chagrin breaking through his tone as well as his body. "To do what exactly? Work at Breadstix? Coach glee teams for the rest of my career? My life is out there, Rachel." There was almost an entreating note in his voice, a desire for her understanding or her mercy, but she quickly quashed any such impulse. "My future. Everything I've worked for."
Rachel flinched, closing her eyes for the barest moment, unable to look at him anymore. Stupid, she reprimanded herself sharply, to ever think she could be a part of that future. Jesse's dreams were too selfish to include anyone else. The rest of the world was just a passing fancy. He could get swept up in the moment, even come to care, but everything and everyone else was ultimately expendable.
"My future is there, I didn't work so hard just to give it all up. That's not my dream, and I know it's not yours either. I don't belong here." It came out all wrong. Jesse rubbed at his neck in frustration, cursing his sudden lack of eloquence that only ever reared around Rachel. He shrugged almost helplessly. "I can't walk away from that."
"But you can walk away from me. Again."
The words left her almost involuntarily, low but not inaudible. Anger gripped her for a split second for being so weak, but then a strange calmness took over. Meeting his eyes steadily, she abruptly decided to own the admission instead, not run from it. A weakness could also be a weapon.
"Why is that, Jesse?"
A medley of emotion flared in his eyes, too quick to be deciphered, before an air of resignation clouded them over. "I have to go back," he repeated wearily. His whole demeanour was defeated and defensive at the same time, already bracing for the inevitable.
And with that simple statement it was as if the whole thing had never happened for him. The unpleasant aftermath wiped from his charmed life like grime from a windscreen. And suddenly that night, that ultimate defining moment she had shared with him, felt like a violation of such pain it made bile rise in her stomach. Pressure point breached, Rachel was dismayed to find the anger bursting out of her like a geyser eruption.
"Screw that shit! What gives you the right to do this? Any of this!"
How could I let you?
Jesse frowned but held relatively calm in the face of her explosive resentment. "You were never an innocent bystander, Rachel. Like it or not, you made your own choices."
She shook away his words; eyes burning as she finally confronted the boy who had turned her world upside down for the last time. "What do you want, Jesse? From me, from this? Do you even know?"
He held her glare in silence for what felt like an eternity, locked in a battle of defiance that neither knew how to surrender. She watched as his throat convulsed as if swallowing down his own words. Finally he looked away, only an inch but it was enough, unable to hold her gaze. "I can't stay here," he said again, almost through gritted teeth, as if each word pained him. Rachel could only imagine it was his ego that was hurting, as she was no longer convinced he had a heart to break.
She almost smiled, the corners of her mouth twitching with unshed tears. "Is it really so hard?" she asked softly, the words barely above a breath. Whether she was asking the question of him or herself, neither could be sure.
When he gave no response, she turned her face away, returning to the world outside the window. The sky was painted deep gunmetal grey, the sun struggling to illuminate the day under the brewing clouds. It would rain soon. Heavily.
It would rain and he would leave. And there was nothing she could do about either.
"When?" she asked at last, the single word misting lightly against the glass.
There was long pause before he answered her.
Rachel turned her head to meet his face one last time. In silence they stood, separated by only a few feet but still worlds apart, each watching the other. Waiting for something, for anything to seize this crossroads and spin them towards a future, to swing the outcome of this moment for better or for worse. Waiting to see if only they could admit, let go and fall, if they could find the courage to fight, to trust someone else to catch them, to take the biggest risk and finally be straight with each other.
But Jesse was leaving and he was right, she'd always known this was how the story would end for them - her with her life in tatters all over again, him disappearing for pastures new and his own bright future. It could never last; it was never destined to last. No matter how the selfish desire ate through her heart – she wouldn't ask him to stay, she couldn't. It wasn't fair. His ambition was too big for this town, his future waiting ahead in the bright city lights, just as hers would be. Deep down, Rachel knew she wouldn't make him stay even if she could, not at the expense of everything they both dreamed of. He wouldn't make a hypocrite out of her.
But this wasn't fair either. Why was her heart always the one to be thrown to the wolves? Not that her emotional welfare had ever been a big concern of his. It was always his own interests first, his own narcissistic pleasure, his own dreams. Yet he couldn't make her give up her life for him, any more than she could demand the same. No, she'd done that all on her own. The acid sting of bitterness soured her tongue, a taste that made her sick to her stomach. This was what he did. Rachel suddenly realised that no matter how hard she became, how skilled at manipulation and masks, she would never outmatch him. How could he have even started this when he knew how it had to end? How could she?
She nearly rolled her eyes in sardonic humour. A right pair, they were. Yet the truth remained that Jesse held the strings to her heart, the ultimate puppet master, and she could twist and pull them as much as she wanted to but they just wouldn't break. And now she had given him a part of herself that meant everything, and he was still leaving. Yes she knew his life was out there, that this was only ever a twisted fantasy, and it only made her angrier that she knew he was right. That she'd known it all along and had still let him into her heart, too deep to be undone. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right. That night had meant everything to her, it had changed things between them, but it had changed nothing for him. It meant nothing. It wasn't enough. She would never be enough. Rachel felt cold to the depths of her very bones.
The darkening sky outside cast shadows across her face as she turned her back on him for the final time. "Then shouldn't you be packing?"
There was tense silence for a moment, hanging as heavy as the clouds outside, before his curt voice cut through the air like a crack of thunder.
Without another word, he snatched up his jacket and turned and left. Rachel flinched at the sound of the front door slamming downstairs a few moments later, even though she knew it was coming. After all, it was exactly what she would do and when it came to dramatic exits, neither of them could help themselves.
Almost involuntarily, her eyes were drawn back across the room, coming to rest once again upon her now abandoned bed. Memories of the night they made love washed through her mind like a flood, echoes of last night when he had sung her to sleep wrapped up tight in his arms, when she thought that maybe they would get through this together. But some things could just never be.
Turning on her heel, Rachel escaped into her bathroom and threw the door shut behind her. Her hand flew to her mouth as she tried to swallow down the tears that were choking her throat, fighting back the overwhelming assault of emotion that gripped her. Finally taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, she leant her head back against the door and tried to clear her mind. She dimly registered the sound of the weather breaking outside, the barrage of rain that steadily beat against the window, bearing down with increasing volume and ferocity. Breathing in and out slowly, she listened only to the angry rhythm of nature, letting the sound fill her head and drown out the clamour of her heart.
Yet it was still not enough to cover the familiar rumble of an engine catching on the road below. With a muffled roar and careless speed, she heard the sound of his car ripping away from her street.
The tears slipped freely down her cheeks for a full minute, one last indulgence, before she buried the heels of her hands in her eyes and forced them to cease. She was so sick of crying. No boy was worth this. She had fallen to pieces since Jesse had swept back into her life and it was time to stop. She only ever cried this much at the end of Streisand movies. He was just a boy. Wiping away the tears she forced her puffy eyes open with determination. Enough.
Walking to the mirror, she wiped her face clear and straightened her back, locking eyes with her reflection sternly. She was still Rachel Berry. She was going to be a huge star and stardom was always going to be lonely. She would bear this out like she had done every heartache before. She was strong and she had to get it together, she might be battered and bruised but she wasn't broken.
It was time to pick up the pieces of her life again.