A/N: Unbetaed. For LadyFest 2010.


The first rebellious thing she does as a senior is buy a pack of Virginia Slims, menthol, and a Bic lighter.

She doesn't smoke them. She's cheerleading captain and everyone knows the smoke just goes right on your lungs and then your hair needs more conditioner to deal with all the smoke. But she likes the feeling of her thumb against the rough cogged wheel to flick the spark that lights the flame. She sits behind the bleachers for half an hour, just flicking the lighter. And then she lights a cigarette. And she listens to the paper burn all the way down to the filter, until the tips of her fingers feel so hot, it feels like she'll fade into her fingertips, a reverse-explosion that eats her all the way down to her sensible tennis shoes.

Okay.

The second one, she smokes.

But it's not great and she coughs like an idiot the minute she inhales, but the menthol leaves a sharp tingle along her throat and she thinks, okay, maybe understanding daddy's addiction won't be so hard now.

She goes through and destroys each stick - unrolls the paper, blows the tobacco leaves until they're on her skirt and on the sidewalk and they smell sweet sweet sweet, better than the daffodils that grow in the front yard.

She stubs them harshly against the pavement, watching as the paper crumples.

But the most fun is burning them, holding the cigarette between her fingers like she's Audrey Hepburn out of an old movie and waiting for the ember to ease its way down to where her fingers meet, until she feels the prickle of sensation.

She doesn't tell anybody, but that's where she first meets Will, behind the bleachers; he waves at her and she forgets about the burning cigarette until it singes her fingers.

-

The second rebellious thing Terri does as a senior is marry Will.

Or, well, say yes to his proposal anyway.

She sits at the dinner table, watching as her father looks like he's going to explode or the blood vessel in his head is going to burst, but she had to say yes, she had to , because Will makes her feel like a princess at school when they walk in their matching uniforms and he tells her things like you're the only girl for me, terri, how can she say no? He is the first boy she has ever loved and that is just how things go. Disney princesses meet their true loves at seventeen, why can't she?

Kendra holds her hand at the dinner table, squeezes it when the room gets too tense.

Kendra understands.

Disney loves come once a lifetime and she is not going to miss out on Will Schuester; not when he smiles at her in a way that makes her knees feel weak and kisses her head to let her know how much he cares, not when he carries her books and buys her lunch, not when he says terri, if you marry me, i'll make you happy for the rest of your life and terri, we won't need anything but each other. Will even looks like a Disney prince.

"Our life together is just going to be songs and happiness, Daddy," she says. "You'll see."

Result: an ultimatum over meatloaf and split peas.

"Terri, either you don't marry this boy, or you don't speak to your mama and I again."

Kendra squeezes her hand so hard it hurts, but Terri knows the answer to this question because she knows it like she knows that she will love Will for the rest of her life; true love never falters, never wavers, never dies. All it needs is a leap of faith, the flick of her thumb against the cog to spark everything.

She holds her chin high and looks her Daddy right in the eye and says, "At least let me stay until graduation."

Daddy slams his fists on the table; silverware clatters. But Terri is fighting for love, and isn't that what matters? They'll understand.

-

Her parents don't come to the wedding.

To be honest, it's not the grand wedding she's been planning since she was a little girl, but it is a wedding and she is getting married and white dress, rose bouquet, bridesmaids, family or not, she is going to do what she wants in life; getting married doesn't mean staying in Ohio, doesn't mean getting tied down. She was Student Council President, okay, and Will was glee club vice-president, and they are leadership material and she just knows that they're going to save up money until they can move to a studio in New York where he'll audition for Broadway and start out small but work up to Tony-Award-winning Will Schuester and award ceremonies and until then, she can go to school part-time and find a degree to tide her over until she can sculpt and paint without thinking about the money she's throwing away.

Besides, New York has their dreams in tow, and they are destined to end up there.

New York has Broadway, MoMA, the Met, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Art Gallery, the Chelsea Art Gallery. New York discovers artists. She's not going to end up stuck in Lima with the rest of the Cheerio losers because she is Terri delMonico - Schuester and she does not bow down to anybody.

At City Hall, Will holds her hands and looks her in the eye and repeats everything the Justice of the Peace is saying, and he means it, forever, right now, and they sign the papers in blue and black ink and that's that.

They're married. (The rings will come later.)

It's love. That's all that matters.

-

They don't, as it turns out, move to New York.

Saving money ends up being really hard because Will says oh, honey, the University of Ohio didn't give as much aid as I thought and she's got a high school degree and hands built for waitressing so she says it's okay, will. we saved it for rain and it's pouring. More money goes out than comes in, but she's determined.

One of these days, she will eat Salisbury steak at one of those places in New York that's rated by stars where the waiters don't drawl and the spoons aren't greasy.

She believes in Will.

Belle had to go deep into the forest and risk death by wild wolf pack before the Beast transformed into the Prince and all the furniture back into servants. Terri can sacrifice, she knows how to do it, knows that if she puts the time in now, it'll be worth it, the payout will be a lottery ticket to working with clay and marble and feeling the wetness of mud beneath her hands, ready to mold, ready to shape, ready to be born. It takes Belle, like, 75 minutes before the gold dress even comes into play.

And right now, her credits have only just started.

They'll make it. They have to.

At night, they lie in the small bed in their apartment, and she sleeps spooning him, a leg thrown over his, nose pressed against his back, just breathing it in, the smell of her dreams coming true, and she knows, she knows that things will be different.

"Baby?" Will murmurs.

"Yeah?"

"I love you."

And she clings to him in the dark, repeating her dreams in her head like a mantra, like a prayer.

-

The first job Will finds out of college is substitute teaching, and he says, "We'll get out of here, Terri, but we just have to deal with the loans first."

And the bills come. Faster than ever, until she feels like she's drowning in a current full of envelopes with rectangular-outlined red stamps on the front that say BILL DUE like she doesn't already know. And she becomes expert at dodging bill collectors while Will comes home, world-weary and exhausted with a tie that's wrinkled in too many places and striped the strangest colors (and she's beyond pretending that it's not from the Salvation Army, she is so close to losing it, threads away from becoming another wrinkled tie, destroyed and delivered to another family). The phone company turns their service off one week until she pays the balance, then the next week, it's the power company, then the water.

She marks all the dates on the calendar and they go through the strangest of dance rituals, maneuvering around bill collectors and switchoffs, all the while her fingertips get paper cuts from the hundreds of checks she writes out for small amounts, opening envelopes, sealing envelopes, until her tongue feels thick with envelope seal adhesive, the taste that never leaves her mouth, as she opens and closes and calls and balances until she feels like she is too exhausted to move, her tongue too thick to begin to sing i want much more than this provincial life - she is beginning to forget, beginning to accept, and it all seems so faraway now, those dreams of dirt (no, clay, clay, she cannot forget, cannot, because this used to mean so much more to her than the Cheerios, than the student union, than everything) between her fingers and little tools and a bright gallery with little wine glasses and hors d'oeuvres and people in elegant dress nodding.

She says, "Will, you don't even like Spanish."

That's what she says.

That's when they have their first fight.

And he says, "Terri, I like teaching, okay? I like that I can make a difference to someone's life." And he rubs at his eyes with the back of his hand.

"You make a difference to mine," she breathes, before she presses a light kiss to his cheek.

He sighs.

(in her dreams, she never saw bills falling through the door like snow that used to pile on her doorstep in January, higher and higher until she felt like it was going to swallow her whole)

"What's for dinner?" he asks.

She says, "Let me clear the bills off the table first."

-

Will takes a higher-paying job in the next district so they can't even split the car anymore.

He takes the car in the mornings, driving fifteen miles to teach rich kids about how to conjugate verbs or something (she guesses) and it's important work, it is, because he's making a difference to the lives of thirty kids (give or take) every day, for at least a hundred and eighty days a year.

All she does is serve the daily special.

She walks to the Lima Diner in her worn Keds from high school that maybe pinch a little bit (but it's never too much for her to handle, Terri Schuester made it through Cheerios auditions and she can make it now, she's tough and she's from a family of tough women and you always hear about people who suffer for their art and make it in the end, so it'll be worth it.

-

So it takes them a few years (three-and-a-quarter). But at least it was a state school and Will got scholarships, and they manage.

They manage.

She's washing lettuce for a salad when Will says, "Terri, Lima's offered me a job."

And she hates the way her voice shakes when she says, "Lima High?" Because she loves him, she knows that more than she knows anything else and she just wants him to be happy but damn it, she wants to be happy too, and she doesn't know when they became mutually exclusive, but she knows love demands and love takes and love is, so she just steels herself even as her heart sinks.

"Yeah." He moves to stand behind her, aligning his hips with hers, wrapping his arms around her, hands beneath her breasts like in the way he used to touch her, back before time stole from them, back before the power company knew her by name, back before.

She doesn't say anything, and his hands wander down to aimlessly rub at her stomach before moving to her hips.

"We could buy a house," he whispers, his breath hot against her ear.

She blinks, sniffing back her skepticism. "A house?" He takes the quiver in her voice for excitement.

"A real house. And maybe one day, kids."

"Kids," she repeats, and her voice sounds dead to her own ears, but she will be fucking dragged to hell by the evil hyenas from The Lion King before she ever admits that her daddy was right about anything, because she knows that faith goes a long way.

"What do you think?"

"Sure," she says.

-

i need you like i need breath, he used to whisper to her.

When the realtor shows them around the house, her voice sounds small in the empty rooms, and Will is bouncing on the balls of his feet, excited like a kid on Christmas morning, and he takes her by the hand, and it feels so much like nine years ago - and holy fuck when did it become nine years ago? - that she laughs and feels the breath rush out of her for the first time in what seems like ages, and she feels like laughing just as much as she feels like crying.

"This could be a nursery," the realtor says, tapping her nails on the clipboard, and Will shoots her a look.

"A nursery," he repeats, a twinkle in his eye. "You hear that, Terr?"

She looks up at him so quickly, it almost feels like a nervous tic. "Yeah." She exhales. "I heard."

How can she not hear when they go to dinner with his parents every other weekend and the word grandchild slips out of Mrs. Schuester's slightly-tipsy lips in almost every sentence? The hint, she's got it, okay, world, she should have a kid. But for some reason, the thought makes her lightheaded in a way that makes her dig her nails into her palm and makes her feel dizzy.

"It's in our price range," Will says. "What do you think?"

Before she can answer, he races through the house one last time, rushing through the rooms like a cyclone.

She flicks an unwired light switch and licks her lips. What does she think? Well, she thinks, they certainly don't have enough furniture.

They wouldn't have needed furniture in... (well, less)

Her mouth feels dry.

"It's great, honey!"

-

The diner closes, so Terri finds a job at Sheets N' Things. It's not...ideal. It's two miles out of the way and she still doesn't have a car but they can afford to buy her shoes at least, and she gets a discount, so she buys sheets and pillows and furnishes their house

The day she paints the walls in their house, her hand shakes. She's barely done with a wall when she reaches for the phone and dials her parents' house (just to get the number for kendra, mom, just for kendra) and she clumsily pushes numbers and the minute she hears her sister's voice, she bursts out sobbing until she can't talk for ten minutes and Kendra just goes, "Terri, what's wrong?" on the other end of a line like a squawking chicken.

"Nothing," Terri squeaks. "We bought a house."

And Kendra's got a house now too, with kids, and it's strange to think they've fallen so out of touch, but Kendra just says, "Honey, I've got an Amex, so why don't we go out shopping?"

They go out to Pottery Barn and Terri just stares.

She comes home with more shit than she needs, but that's such a nice feeling to have.

-

Kendra takes her out a few times, and she ends up getting a Pottery Barn credit card.

She doesn't tell Will. It's not a secret, it just - she doesn't want him to think that she's talking to her family again because they don't really like him.

She'll tell him about Kendra. She will.

-

Will comes home and she grins at him, covering his eyes, leading him to the back.

"Ta da!"

"Oh my god, Terri!" he says, and she laughs, giddily, because this is kind of like the life she dreamed for, isn't it? And so it's not New York, but people who live in New York want to leave New York anyway, she's heard. So Lima's just as good.

"It's a craft room," she says, with a bright smile.

And then he looks at her, smirking, and says, "Now what do you say we, uh, christen it?"

"Start trying for a baby?" she whispers, and he nods (but she's been off birth control for months and it hasn't been taking, but she knows that if she could only try harder, maybe this time).

She laughs when he pins her to the ground, lips against her neck.

This is what she wanted.

-

It's when she starts hiding things in the closet she saves for Christmas gifts that she knows maybe things are getting a little out of hand, thinks maybe this is what daddy liked about addiction, the way that her blood rushes through her veins and to her head, better that everything feels more intense than dead dead dead like that one time she burned her fingertips when she was pulling biscuits out of the oven and even when she submerged it in ice water, it still felt numb for days.

But then, things start cracking at the edges like thin ice.

She finds herself yelling at him for the first time in years - it is not a bad thing to want things, Will - but that is not what she means, even though it's what comes out of her mouth, and she knows that it is all circling the drain - Belle never had to face the facts that maybe the Prince could have been a drunk and maybe she can't get pregnant and all the Prince wants is an heir (this is not a metaphor) - and she is losing him to something.

At Sheets 'N Things, she hears from Sandy Ryerson that there's a pretty, perky new guidance counselor with red hair and a giant crush on her husband.

It's the first time she really, truly starts to feel lost. And the ringing in her ears just gets louder and louder. She feels nauseous.

-

He comes home one day;

she blurts, "I'm pregnant!"

This is how things go.

-

On her walk home from Sheets 'N Things one day, she stops at a 7-11 and buys a pack of Marlboro Menthols and a Bic lighter.

She can't be bothered with pleasantries; she places the cigarette in her mouth, lights it, but doesn't breathe deep, just lets the smoke linger on her tongue and in her throat until she feels itchy inside-and-out and has something to blame it on, and everything tingles, and the room is smoky - fuck, smoking isn't good for the baby that she's not pregnant with - and she airs out the house and shoves the cigarettes under the mattress like she's in fucking prison or something (what next? is she going to fucking stuff the lighter into her bra?), but the smoke lingers in her throat, and as the menthol flavor fades, she almost wishes she had inhaled, let the smoke jerk her back into being with a harsh cough that shakes her back to sanity, back to remembering, back to anything but lying to Will because this is lie number, what, surely she's hit double digits by now?, god, she doesn't even know and she once promised she would never lie to him.

But he hasn't told her about Emma Pillsbury either, so maybe they're even.

-

The night he leaves, she takes out the pack of cigarettes, lights one, and lets it burn down to the filter, until it scorches her fingers.

The night he leaves, she watches Beauty and the Beast in silence, lighting her cigarettes and watching as the ashes fall to the floor like dirty sleet.

-

tale as old as time
true as it can be

-

She never did buy that gold dress.