They always say be careful what you wish for. Rachel Berry is starting to learn how true that really is. Stuck in a monotonous life and unhappily married Rachel can't help but think "if only." Suddenly she is thrust back into the past and into her relationship with the one that got away. With knowledge of the mistakes that were made and a better understanding of the world, she dives into the relationship head first. But is it really easier the second time around and can they truly make it work?
"If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world." – Mercedes Lackey
I still wonder sometimes how it happened; the monotony that has become my everyday life. Every day used to be a new adventure just waiting to be explored. I would wake up and roam the streets of New York, taking in the scenes of the tourists and locals rushing through the city. At night I would head downtown and go out for a few drinks or head to work where I was the star of an off-Broadway musical. My singing used to mean the world to me, but that was before.
A series of events unfold each day like clockwork. I wake up, feed Aden, care for Aden, play with Aden, cook, clean, and eventually fall asleep. This is my new life, or at least the life I have been living for the last three years. It's hard not to sit and think and wonder about what could have been. It's almost impossible not to.
The thought is there in the back of my mind, constantly digging at my subconscious.
It's a dangerous thought and before I can even truly think it, I roll over and look at the stucco on the ceiling above me. It's taken me a month to learn but it's easier not to think about if I have something to focus on. The pattern of bumps melds and blends until all I can see through the darkness is him.
There is a flutter in the pit of my stomach and I roll to my side trying to push the feeling out. My husband lay next to me; one hand curled around his pillow the other thrown haphazardly in my general direction. I used to find it peaceful watching him sleep, now all I can seem to see in his open mouth and the small puddle of drool on his chin. His snore echo's through the room and I clench my eyes shut pushing this sudden hatred out.
As much as I want to believe it, I know it isn't his fault.
There are few things I find peace with anymore, one of which is just down the hall. I make the short journey and find myself in the rocking chair as I watch my son sleep. His body is twisted and contorted, the blankets are strewn around his ankles, and his Toy Story pajamas are bunched. Each steady breath that he takes makes his chest rise and fall and I watch each movement hypnotized by the beauty of it. I resist the urge to get up and push the small patch of hair off of his forehead and simply just breathe him in. The urge is so strong that my fingers and nostrils tingle from the thought of it.
Instead I pick up the small stuffed lion that lie on top of his toy chest and bring the item to my chest. As I squeeze the item to me, there are flashes of the man who gave this to him.
A café in New York and the taste of a fresh strawberry scone.
A walk along a sandy shore, shoes in hand, footprints marring the sand.
The smell of leather, cinnamon, musk, and spearmint toothpaste.
Before I can stop it, I feel the gentle tear slide down my cheek. I push it away, discarding everything it represents. There are steady streaks of light slowly entering through the window and I force myself out of the chair and down the stairs. It's a new day, and the routine of my life is calling to me.
I try to ignore the suitcase at the bottom of the stairs as I pass it, choosing to pretend that my husband doesn't travel so often that I barely see him. Without even trying to, I wonder exactly how long he will be gone for this time. I'm afraid of the answer, afraid to know that he will be gone for weeks leaving me alone to deal with everything; leaving me alone with my thoughts.
I start the coffee maker and pull out the supplies for breakfast. It's become like autopilot for me; crack the eggs, flip the bacon, butter the toast, pretend. I listen as the pad of small feet make their way down the stairs, they are followed by a heavier set and I find my smile becoming forced. Aden runs right to me, his arms wrapping around my legs as he looks up at me through his dark brown eyes.
"Morning baby," I ruffle his hair and look down to find a huge grin on his face.
"Morn' mommy," his voice is soft and still laced with sleep. He tugs on the sleeves of his pajamas as he moves to the table, crawling up into his booster seat before resting his head against his hand. It's a gesture that is so resonant of his father that I can't help but stare.
I pour two cups of coffee and set one of them on the table, nursing the other as I plate the food. I can hear the front door open, and then close and the heavy footsteps make their way into the kitchen.
"The paper isn't here yet," he mutters dejectedly, before flopping into his chair. He has on his travel suit which means that he won't be around for very long this morning. I'm surprised at the feeling of relief that this brings. Once he is gone it will just be Aden and I, something that is always so much more stressful than I ever realized it would be.
No one ever said that mothering would be easy, but in a lot of ways it was just implied. Then again, growing up I never had a mother, just two fathers who took care of me the best that they could. They worked and cooked and cleaned and provided. It wasn't until I got older that I realized there was something strange about my family unit, but by then it was all that I had known.
A lot of times, especially lately, I feel like a fish out of water. I don't have a reference for what a mother is supposed to be like, something that nags my perfectionist brain. I've read books on the subject, looked through countless parenting magazines, and even talked to my friends who seem to embody the perfect mom. No matter how much I study, how much I read, the fact remains, that I'm basically making this up as I go. And that, the fact that I really don't know anything at all, scares the shit out of me more than you can ever imagine.
I place the small plate in front of Aden and set down the larger one in front of Finn. He grunts his thanks as he flips through his cell phone, his mind always on the work that needs to be done. I let out a small sigh of frustration, and he looks up at me in confusion for a moment, before flipping his phone closed.
"I thought, Rach," he speaks through bites of food, "that when I get back we could take a small trip to New York; show Aden the sights and sounds of the city that you seem to miss so much."
I'm not really sure what to say. I don't want to tell him that the one thing about New York that still appeals to me is the one thing I left to be with him. I don't want him to know that just the thought of that city brings about a torrent of emotions that could threaten to pull me under at any moment. I'm not even sure taking Aden to New York at this young of an age (where he can't appreciate any of it anyways) is such a smart idea. I know better than to get my hopes up. I know that this is some placation on a long list of promises that never get met.
But that's not even the worst of it.
Would I be able to be that close to him, that close to the café and our old apartment and the memories without doing something? I'm not sure, and that uncertainty is what keeps me from opening my mouth and telling him how amazing that would be.
"Maybe we should go to Disneyworld instead?" The words leave my lips before I can stop them and I put down my fork, watching his fork stop in mid air.
"We most likely wouldn't have enough time," he replies, setting his fork down as well, "I was talking a day or two, Rach, not a week or anything like that."
I try not to let the disappointment show on my face. It's then that I realize I'm not even sure what I am disappointed about. Is it because we can't actually have a normal family vacation? Or is it more because my last ditch attempt to avoid New York, to avoid him, is crumbling underneath me?
"Its fine," I reply, forcing a smile as I look at the clock on the wall behind him. If he doesn't leave soon, then he will be getting a late start on the airport. I can feel the tension in the air and I know that even though he knows that it isn't fine, we are going to pretend that it is.
I spend a lot of time pretending.
He squeezes Aden tight, his huge arms wrapping around him and bringing the small boy up to him, legs swinging in the air. He reaches over and kisses my forehead, his lips hovering for a moment before a horn honks outside. He picks up his suitcase and small carry-on, his eyes lingering on his son's sad face.
"Daddy will be home soon," he replies. I wince at the lie, knowing that soon (to Aden) means a few hours, a day most. Finn, in fact, won't be home for at least a week if not longer depending upon how the negotiations go. I am going to have to be the one to console and soothe the screaming, crying child. We've had this discussion before; he knows my feelings on his little "lies" which is probably why he avoids my eyes as he turns to leave.
The sound of the door closing echoes through the house and I watch as Aden crumples to the floor in tears. Being a mother isn't easy and Finn is definitely not making it any easier.
I placate Aden the best way I know how, sitting him in front of the TV and turning on Spongebob Squarepants. His eyes follow me as I move through the living room picking up toys and pillows that have somehow spread about as if a bomb has gone off. Once the living room is deemed clean, or at least clean enough that if someone stopped by I wouldn't be embarrassed by it, I pick up Aden and take him to his playroom. I put Spongebob on his small TV and put up the baby gate blocking the doorway.
I can't accomplish anything until I've showered and dressed and while locking my son in his playroom isn't the ideal solution, it's the only one I've currently got. I know his playroom is child-safe which eases my worry slightly as I hop under the spray. As much as I want to, I don't linger under the hot water.
The park is crowded with children and I find myself clutching Aden's hand, leading him through the running and screaming kids towards the bench near the back corner. There is a smaller (and much older) playset back there nestled between the bike path and the trees, that is fit for children his age. This is where we will find Tina and her daughter Kiah.
I watch Aden jerk around to watch the older kids jump off the slide and swings and can't help but shake my head in worry. The things he learns just by mimicry are a bit scary. I hope this isn't one of them because as much as I love him, I don't know if I could handle another trip to the emergency room. Kiah is playing in the sand, a small shovel in one hand as she builds a mound, her fingers shaping the tiny grains into a rudimentary castle form.
Aden tugs on my hand, trying to free my grasp, and I look around one more time before letting his little fingers go. He runs next to Kiah and hops into the sand, smashing her castle in the process. There are tears on her eyelids as she looks at the ruins and then up at him. He smiles and shrugs sheepishly and I am reminded of a younger version of his father. Together they begin to form the sand again, the shovel digging deeper and deeper as their pile gets higher.
I find myself flopping down on the bench next to Tina, smiling softly in acknowledgement. Tina and I have known each other for years, far longer than most friendships last anyways. It was our sophomore year of high school when we joined glee and soon after she and I had come to an understanding and a friendship. Somehow through all the years, through all the cities, through all the relationships, we had remained in contact.
A few years after high school graduation, Tina had married Mike. It was a relationship that had bloomed somewhat suddenly after a devastating break up with Artie. They were, what I would call, the ideal couple; madly in love, constantly together, and sickeningly happy. It was what I had dreamed of a relationship being, only to be let down continuously by different men in my life.
Well, one specific man in my life.
Kiah had been born a few years later, and two months to the day after Aden. It only seemed natural that we would gravitate together, two first time mothers with children so close in age. It didn't hurt that our husbands were best friends, either, so we moved to the same town and set up play dates and dinner nights and game nights.
Tina was looking at me now, though, like she was about to deal me a devastating blow. I could feel how tired my whole body felt and I really wasn't sure that I was ready for what she was going to tell me but I let out a sigh and steeled my gaze.
"So I was talking to Puck the other day."
And there it was. I felt the air leave my lungs and forced my face to stay still. I had taken enough acting classes that I knew that it was just passable, just barely. I forced my eyes onto Aden, as I let the thought of Noah devour me.
The way he would passionately push me into the door and devour my mouth the moment it closed behind us.
How he would lean over and gently lick the shell of my ear as his breath fanned out over the tip. "I love you, B, you know that."
The way that we would scream at each other, so loud that the neighbors would call the police. The tears that would fall as he walked away instead of dealing with our problems.
"How is Noah?" I question, my eyes lingering on Aden and Kiah for longer than I needed to before turning to look at her once again.
"He's getting married," Tina replied softly. She watched me carefully, looking for a crack in the façade that I had somehow protected for all of these years. I felt the small break, felt the tiny cracks puncture through my chest but pushed past the pain.
"Wow," I fake smile, not sure if Tina has learned to tell the difference yet or not. "That's great news."
I'm either the world's best actor, or Tina has learned that pushing me will get you nowhere because she nods her head and changes the subject. "Finn take off this morning?"
I can feel my shoulders sagging under the weight of everything, feel the heaviness of the life I am living and I just simply nod my head. I'm so unbelievably tired of everything, of this life, of feeling completely alone. I can't help but wonder what it would have been like all those years ago if I hadn't pushed Noah; hadn't tried to force him into to what I thought he should be.
"You look exhausted," Tina continues as if she can read my mind, "why don't I watch Aden for the afternoon and you can go home and relax."
The idea immediately brightens my mood, and instantaneously makes me feel like a bad mother. I'm so excited for an afternoon to myself, so excited at the prospect of sleep and me time that I push the guilt aside and let out a soft sigh. "Honestly, Tina," I whisper, "that sounds amazing."
We make the short jaunt to her house and I give Aden a hug and a kiss and tell him to be good. He is so distracted by the new toys that Kiah has and by the small plate of cookies that sits on the counter that I leave without telling him I love him.
It isn't until I get home and tug off my clothes, curling up in the silk pajamas that Finn bought me last year for Christmas that I remember. My eyes are so heavy and slightly itchy as if I feel that I could cry at any minute, so instead of worrying about it I slam my thoughts shut. Pushing button number 4 on the console next to the bed I listen to the sounds of Beethoven echoing through the room. I fill the bathtub with the hottest water that I possibly can and pour in the last of my favorite bath bubbles from this organic store in New York. As the scent of vanilla and Jasmine overwhelm me I pile my hair on top of my head and slip into the blistering hot water.
I'm so relaxed that it doesn't take long for my eyes to droop.
This story idea has been bugging me for awhile and I finally started to sit down and write it out. There is going to be some jumping around so that you can get the background of the relationships (e.g. there will be some Finnchel but the story is mainly Puckleberry). Speaking of Puck... he will make his appearance starting in the next chapter!
I would love to hear what you think so far!