You really don't know what you're hoping to gain. After all, you did tell Rachel Berry you had no interest in co-directing New Directions with Will Schuester.
But you're striding through the parking lot of McKinley High nonetheless, your sleek black heals clicking rhythmically against the pavement.
Your drive, you suppose, stems from the seed Rachel planted, because you certainly wouldn't have even conceived the idea on your own. You remember your lip twitching, attempting to hold back a smirk as Rachel even suggested the possibility of you leaving Vocal Adrenaline to help coach her amateur glee club.
But to say Rachel's plea meant nothing to you would be a lie. You've been chewing on Rachel's words, considering the truth in her request. Have you truly lost your shot with Rachel? Just because Rachel is a beautiful, talented girl without your aid doesn't mean there isn't more for you to offer. Rachel comes to you with the neediness and longing of a child, a disposition that gives you false hope. Rachel is not really your child, and when you come close to pretending, you become frightened of losing her all over again.
But what if you could have a balance? What if you could be there for her—to teach her, to love her, without being her mother? That is why you're here, you remind yourself as you step over the curb near the front entrance.
Your second chance isn't lost yet.
Your hand grips the door handle as you begin to consider what your decision would ultimately mean. There would be no more Vocal Adrenaline. You've worked hard to mold this club for the past five years, and it'd be a lie to say that you'd have no qualms from this hasty decision.
But, you remind yourself, four of the five years you've taught you've had Jesse St. James. After Nationals this summer, he's gone. Jesse may not have much of a heart, as Rachel so bluntly pointed out to you, but he has talent and a certain passion that cannot be replaced. Jesse is the reason you've been able to face these kids, practice after practice, year after year, and without Jesse's unfailing talent and unwavering desire to please you, you're unsure if coaching Vocal Adrenaline would really mean the same thing to you.
You check your watch—11:23. It's an obscure time, and you're hoping that class is in session because it'd be easier to navigate the school without the in-between-class hassle.
You're a bit turned around as you walk through the halls. Though you've been to McKinley a couple of times now, you still feel less than comfortable in the unfamiliar corridors. You reason it would be best to talk to Principal Figgins, though if you can't speak with him, you'd settle for Will Schuester. After all, it would probably be best to run your (well, Rachel's) crazy idea by him first.
You're completely turned around, you realize, frustrated as you turn on your heel. You're grateful when you notice a figure standing in the hall—a small woman with shoulder length red hair wearing a cardigan your grandmother would've sported.
"Excuse me, can you tell me where I'd be able to find Principal Figgins? Or Will Schuester?" you add hastily.
She turns sharply, revealing her face. Her large doe-like eyes are puffy and swollen—an obvious sign she's been crying.
Your stomach drops uncomfortably; you feel as though you've intruded on a very personal moment.
"W-will S-schuester?" her bottom lip trembles over the name.
You nod hesitantly, not wanting to send her over the edge, but your courtesy is in vain. She's bawling her eyes out within seconds, and you don't have the heart to back away.
You're horrible when it comes to comforting people. When your students shed an occasional tear, you callously dismiss them from your presence so you don't have to deal with it. You're okay with the idea of crying—in fact, ever since your reunion with Rachel, you've cried more than you like to admit. But to you, crying is something to be done in private lest it lead to an uncomfortable situation like this.
Her loud, choking sobs make you feel uneasy; you're sure that the bell's going to ring any second, and you really don't want her (or yourself) to be caught in a mob of inconsiderate students.
"Come with me," you tell her quickly, grabbing her hand and ignoring her startled reaction as you lead her down the hall. You're pleased to see a sign that reads 'Faculty Restroom' and you shove open the door without a second thought.
She sniffles, glancing at you like you're crazy.
You are crazy, you decide, but at least you won't have this on your conscience now.
You really don't know what to say, because you certainly don't want to pry, but since you've taken the time to stay with her this long, it would probably be rude to say nothing at all.
You settle with, "Would you like to talk?"
She looks up, her makeup smudged and her eyes still swollen. You can tell she's not the kind of woman who typically loses it in front of others, and your heart softens just a little. Whatever happened only moments before you arrived must've been pretty significant.
"It's nothing, really," she assures you. "I've just made a mess of things."
"I've been there," you tell her, locking your gaze with hers. "Too many times..."
She smiles faintly. "It's always tough—to know when you should keep pushing. To know how far to go before giving up..." she trails off, sighing heavily.
Your eyes flash, because she's put your situation perfectly into words. It gives you a strange comfort to know someone is struggling through roughly the same feelings you are, and for a minute, it feels good not to be so alone.
Her eyes rest on yours, waiting for the advice you so foolishly offered as soon as you lent her an ear. You consider your words carefully, realizing all along the advice you've wanted to hear yourself. "Well, some things are worth fighting for," she jerks he head up as you say the words. "We just have to pick our battles wisely, because if we fight them all, we don't have enough energy for the things that matter most."
She chews on your words, and for the first time, you're genuinely curious to know what's plaguing her. But you hold your tongue, because as a rule, you've never been one to pry.
"Thank you," she finally mutters, her lips turning into a small smile. Her large brown eyes light up, looking a little less red and swollen.
"Anytime," you smile back, a burst of pride swelling in your chest. It feels good to finally do something right. "Oh, sweetie, don't take this the wrong way, but before you go, would you like to borrow some makeup? I have some right here in my purse."
She turns to look at herself in the mirror for the first time, grimacing as she takes in her appearance. "Thanks," she murmurs as you begin to dig through your purse. "I need to invest in waterproof makeup or something.."
You laugh, and she joins you, a genuine look of appreciation in her eyes. "I think my foundation is a little too dark for you, but I have some mascara, eyeshadow, and blush if you'd like."
You hand her the items, and she hesitantly takes them. She unscrews the cap to the mascara, her breath hitching slightly as she stares at the black brush.
"Is everything okay?" you ask, confused by her sudden leeriness.
"Yes, um, well," she takes it deep breath, "I just don't know how I feel about, you know, sharing someone's makeup..." she trails off, gazing from her tired face to the mascara wand in her hand, debating whether appearance or cleanliness is more important.
You figure she's one of those people who would react this way to anyone, so you don't take it personally.
"I'm the only one who's used it," you encourage her, letting her know you don't typically make a habit of sharing your makeup. "But I can understand if you don't want to use it—and trust me, I won't be offended."
She gazes at her sallow face, a frustrated expression crossing her face, and you're afraid she might begin to cry again.
"Wait one minute," you tell her, digging through your purse once again. "Here it is." You hand her a unopened tube of mascara, still in the package. "I thought I still had that in here. I bought the wrong color the other day and haven't had the chance to return it. But looking at your fair complexion, dark brown would suit you perfectly."
"A-are you sure?" she fumbles over her words, unable to hide her surprise as she takes the package from your hand.
"Positive," you assure her. "And to be honest, even when I have the intention of returning something, I usually never get around to it. So you're actually doing me a favor—because knowing me, I'd find this in my purse about six months later if I didn't give it to you now."
She carefully opens the package, pulling out the pristine tube of mascara. Before reapplying, she gently wipes the smudges from beneath her eyes with a wet paper towel. She runs the brush through her thick lashes, and you find yourself ogling at just how long they are.
She turns to you when she's finished, smiling brightly. "Better?"
Between the smile and the fresh coat of mascara, she's looking considerably better. You give a thumbs up.
"Do you, um, want this, uh, back?" She holds the tube of mascara out in your direction.
"Nope, it's all yours," you tell her. "You'll get more use out of it than me."
"Thank you," she tells you, and you know she's grateful for more than just the makeup.
"Like I said, I was glad to help—I'm Shelby Corcoran, by the way," you tell her, realizing after all this, you still don't know each other's names.
Her eyes widen slightly, as if she's finally putting a name with a face, and you're vaguely curious as to where she knows you from.
"I'm Emma Pillsbury," she replies, composing herself quickly.
You exit the bathroom, unsure exactly where you're headed next. Emma begins walking down the hall, and you opt to go in the opposite direction.
"Wait," she tells you, turning before the distance between you becomes too far. "Will's in the auditorium."
You smile appreciatively, watching as she disappears around the corner.
The auditorium is not hard to find, and as you slip into the darkened room, you realize you've arrived at just the right time. Will Schuester has just dismissed the kids, and they're heading out through the exit behind the stage. Rachel Berry straggles behind, and your heart skips a beat as it does every time you see her.
She says something to Will, but you're too far away to hear her words. Before he has time to react, she has her arms thrown around his neck. He hugs her back for a moment, and you can tell she's crying as she quickly hurries from the stage.
Your heart breaks a little, suddenly wanting to be the one to comfort her.
But you're here for a different reason, you remind yourself, making your way down the aisle to the row where Will is sitting.
"Is Rachel okay?" the words fly out of your mouth before you can stop them.
He jerks around in surprise, his expression softening as his eyes rest on yours. "She's fine—or at least, she will be. She's taking this the hardest out of anyone."
You take the seat next to him, curiosity burning within you. "Excuse me for prying, but what's wrong, exactly?"
"Figgins is discontinuing the glee club," he tells you, and you can hear the heaviness in his throat as he whispers the words.
"What?" you sputter, done with being polite. Your shock has gotten the better of you. "Why?"
"We had a deal," he explains. "For the glee club to continue into next year, we had to win at Regionals. The school can't afford to funnel money into a club that's not going to be able to give back."
"That's—that's," you can't even finish your sentence as your anger rises. "Isn't there another club they could cut instead?" You realize how terrible that sounds, but honestly, you would wipe out all extracurricular activities over seeing your little girl hurt this way.
"The only chance we have would be if Sue Sylvester—the cheerleading coach, would forgo some money from her budget, or if she talks to Figgins herself. She has some weird blackmail thing going on with him that has him twisted right around her finger..."
"Sue Sylvester? Wasn't she one of the judges at Regionals?" You quickly recognize the name.
He nods, sighing heavily. "I know we didn't really stand a chance against you at Regionals, regardless, but I have a feeling she had to do a little too much with us not placing at all."
"That's really not fair," you huff, folding your arms defiantly across your chest.
Will chuckles slightly, and you turn to glare at him. "What?"
"I just didn't expect you to be so vehement about this. And you're...amusing...when you're mad."
"Well, I must say I'm surprised how calm you are about this whole situation. I'd expect you to be fighting to the last thread for this..." you tell him, unfolding your arms from your chest. No reason to further "amuse" him. "Has anyone even tried to reason with Figgins?"
"I talked to him," he assures you. "And Emma had quite a heated argument with him today—"
"Emma?" you interrupt, an image of the redhead popping into your mind.
"Yeah, Emma Pillsbury—she's the guidance counselor here," he says fondly, a look of regret flashing through his eyes.
You wonder if that's what had Emma so upset before. Though it was probably a part of it, judging by the look on Will's face, it certainly wasn't the whole reason.
"Why are you here, anyway, Shelby?" Will finally asks, turning to face you.
You're reminded of your original intentions, which suddenly aren't relevant anymore. "It doesn't matter. But thanks, Will. You helped a lot more than you realize."
You're headed up the dark aisle before he has time to question you. You only look back once, catching a glimpse of his curly hair. You hurry out of the auditorium before you can ponder the slight fluttering in your heart. As you step into the brightness of the hallway, you walk through the corridor, having one more stop in mind before you leave.
You find the cheerleading office fairly quickly. You knock hesitantly on the door.
"If it's Will Schuester, I'm going to ask you leave immediately, because the answer's already no, buddy," you hear her voice boom through the door as she speaks through her megaphone.
You crack open the door, keeping yourself calm and composed as you enter the office.
"Who the hell are you?" Sue spits in your direction, not bothering to lower her megaphone.
"I'm Shelby Corcoran—director of Vocal Adrenaline," you tell her, sounding more confident than you feel.
She raises her eyebrows. "Well, if I were one to congratulate others on their accomplishments, I would tell you 'job well done' for your win on Saturday."
"Thank you?" you mumble, unsure exactly how to respond. You clear your throat, remembering your intentions. "I have a proposition for you," you tell her, approaching her desk. She narrows her eyes. "You like to win, Coach Sylvester. And I can tell from your full trophy cases that you're quite good at it. I know because I'm the same way. I like being the best, and when others get in my way, I'm quick to annihilate them. When I started coaching at Carmel High, the glee club had a low budget and an unbreakable losing streak. Now, I have a budget high enough to buy my each of my kids Range Rovers for a win as insignificant as Sectionals, and there is not longer an art club, math league, or marching band at my school."
You can tell you're caught her interest. She's leaning forward on her elbow, her eyebrows raised.
"I wish I could tell you it feel great—that being so completely above everyone else is all I ever wanted, but that's not the case. Sue, you like to compete, but what's the fun in competing if you have no one to fight against?"
Sue leans back in her chair, pulling her glasses from her face. She says nothing.
"I promised my kids patent leather seat covers for their Range Rovers if they won at Regionals, but vinyl ones will suffice. If you donate enough money to keep New Directions around for one more year, the money I would've spent on the seat covers will be funneled right into your budget. And Sue, you and I both know the amount of money you'd sacrifice wouldn't even leave a dent in your budget, especially with the profit you'd make off of my generous donation."
Her eyes look like tiny little slits now. You hold your breath, hoping you played the right cards.
"Well, I have had my eyes on a fog machine for quite sometime now," she mutters, standing so she's level with you.
"So we have a deal?" You reach out a little too eagerly to shake her hand.
"You have deal," she says carefully. "Though I refuse to shake on it, and this must never be mentioned. I have a reputation to hold up, and I can't have my fellow staff members, namely one William Schuester, believe that I'd be one to give into bribery."
"Thank you so much, Coach Sylvester," you tell her, grinning in spite of yourself. "I'll make sure you receive that check shortly."
As you exit the office, you take one last look at the callous cheerleading coach. Her expression has softened as she looks out the window of her office, a far away look in her eyes.
Something tells you she would've come around eventually.
But you're more than happy to speed up the process.
You collapse on your favorite recliner as soon as you arrive back to your apartment. You pull your heels off your aching feet, rubbing at the angry red welts. You never expected to do so much walking today.
You're in the same exact place you were as you walked into McKinley High today, but you're surprisingly okay that through your trip gained you nothing for yourself.
Instead, you think of your daughter, and you only wish you could be there when Will announces that they're going to have another year.
You think of Will, and you know a part of you did this for him. He loves those kids, and with every other part of his life falling apart, you're glad you've at least saved this much for him.
And you think of the red haired guidance counselor, Emma Pillsbury, hoping that she hasn't messed up things with Will too much to mend them. You can only guess she wants what you want—somebody to love and a second chance.
You pad into the kitchen on your sore feet, dinner plans floating in the back of your mind. Your eyes fall on your refrigerator; it's bare except for two items. One, a picture that depicts a small pink bundle, dated July 18, 1994. The other is a packet of papers you hastily attached to the door so you wouldn't lose them amongst the clutter of your small house.
You look regretfully at the photo, your finger bushing the tiny pink nose as it has so many times in the past. But you push past that regret, reaching for papers instead.
You find a pen, sitting down at your unused kitchen table, beginning to fill out the adoption papers.
Because some things are worth fighting for.
And it's okay to settle for others.