They tie at Sectionals.
Rachel wonders if this has ever happened before, and she decides it probably hasn't.
In her mind she's replaying last year's competition. She sees herself walking to the stage, alone, singing a song she's been rehearsing in her bedroom for years. It was the best performance she's given in her life, and they won.
Now they tie.
She can't help but wonder what would have happened if she had had the chance to put on a great performance like last year's. And she can't help but know they would have won. They totally would have won (the Hipsters stand no chance, and she doesn't think Blaine and the Warbles are that great, though she cheers for Kurt), and this tie is bullshit. Total bullshit (and she was at the back for the whole set).
Gone are the hopes of better social stance after good results in choir competitions (they learned that the previous year). She goes back to school knowing nothing will change. She also knows she has moved down the hierarchy to where she was last year now that she's no longer with Finn.
She puts a change of clothes in her bag, and she's certain she'll take it out by third period. She's right. Her first outfit is purple stained and she spends 15 minutes in the bathroom and is late to Spanish. Mr. Schue gives her a disapproving look.
She walks down the hall and sees people watching. She knows they're talking about her, and she knows what the rumors must say. When she opens her locker, a note that says 'SLUT' falls out and confirms it.
The Cheerios don't leave her alone. Quinn gives a pitying look on top of "are you gonna get pregnant now, too?" and Santana just smiles with triumph before walking over to Finn. Rachel ignores them the best she can, but she feels her blood boiling when Finn talks to Santana; smiles at her, laughs with her. She's never felt this unwanted before.
The glee kids don't make it easier, but she knows better than to expect the Quinn treatment. She gets dirty looks all day, and makes up the accusations in her mind- you just had to hurt Finn, didn't you?- you selfish bitch, you never think of anyone but yourself- you probably never even loved him and only got with him to get the good solos- if she didn't know for sure the whole virgin lie happened, she would think she had just imagined it, because no one else seems to remember.
They're at the choir room and Mr. Schue hands Santana a music sheet. She looks at him and nods, and gets up to stand in front of the room. The piano starts playing. Rachel would recognize this song anywhere. People. She shakes her head. "I can't believe this," she murmurs, and everyone hears.
Santana starts to sing, and Rachel can feel the smoke coming out of her is unbelievable. It gets even worse when she actually looks up and sees Santana looking at her. Santana smiles, it seems like a nice smile but Rachel knows the girl doesn't know nice, and turns over to Finn. She sings to him.
And that is it for Rachel. She stands up immediately and declares, her voice carrying over the sounds of the piano, "this is unacceptable. There is no way that girl can sing Barbra and make it sound good!"
Mr. Schue gives her a hard look. "Rachel. Out. Now," he seethes, and leads the way out of the room. She follows him to the hallway, mirroring his stomps. When he feels they're far away enough, he turns to her. "I have had it enough with you and your comments, Rachel. You will learn to be a team player or you will no longer be part of the team."
Rachel has felt unappreciated before, but never like this. She has also never spoken back to a teacher, but she thinks it's time Will Schuester hears her out once and for all.
"I made this team," she breathes out. "I maintain this team. I do your work for you because you don't know how to do it. I make sure everyone works hard, I fix the mistakes, I pick out the good songs, I spy on the other clubs. You don't get to threaten to take glee club away from me, Mr. Schuester. I am glee club."
"No. You're so sick of my comments but you never care when everyone comments about me. You hear everything, you know how they treat me and you see how I sit here and take it all the time. You don't get to tell me I'm not a team player because I'm the only team player in this club. You need to learn to appreciate it or I will walk away. And when you give my songs to the one girl who's the most horrible of them all, you lose the right to scream."
She goes back to the choir room. Everyone's cleared out already, and she saw Mr. Schue hightailing it to Ms. Pillsbury's office (Mrs.?). She sits down on one of the chairs and takes a deep breath. She's pretty sure she just yelled at Mr. Schue. Not without reason, of course, but she's never been like this.
"I can't believe that girl!" Will calls out, and Emma looks at him strangely. "Would you like to sit down, Will, and explain to me what is going on?"
"Rachel," he says and sits down. "Just gave me a lecture about how good she is and how horrible I am."
"And this has never happened before?" Emma raises an eyebrow.
"Of course is has! But this was something completely different, she just went on and on about how she's the club and she does everything, all that's good has come from her and I let everyone insult her and do nothing and give away all her solos to horrible people-"
"Is any of this actually incorrect?"
He stares at her. "What?"
"Think about it, Will. Really. Rachel is the one who cares most about glee club, she's the heart. I've seen her in practice. And she's the best singer you have, Will."
"And you've had 3 competitions with the club up until now, right? How many times did she have a solo taken away? How many times have you actually used her?"
He just stares at her, so she keeps talking. "Sectionals last year," she counts on her fingers, "she only got to sing because the other choirs stole the songs. Before that, Mercedes was supposed to do the big ballad. At Regionals you made changes to a song you were already good with and took away some of her lines to give to others. Now this year, you have Quinn, Sam and Santana at the front with Rachel doing nothing. Quinn and Santana are probably those who torment her the most, so imagine how that felt."
"How do you know all this?"
"I watch. I do care about them. I was with the club for a while and I heard things. They all hate Rachel, Will. She doesn't have one friend in the club."
"It's not about making friends. It's about singing."
"It's also not about putting her down all the time, yet that keeps happening."
"I don't see what you see. I know she's not friends with some of them, but I don't think everyone hates her. They know she's the best singer and they appreciate her, she's been with Finn for a while now-"
"They broke up, you know that."
"Yes, but they're kids. They'll probably get back together next week."
"You're not seeing the whole picture, Will. She's having a rough time, and she's pretty much always has. You could have helped her but you're choosing not to."
"I'm just trying to get her to be less selfish and more accepting to everyone else."
"I think they're all selfish, Will. And Rachel is the least accepted," Emma says and their eyes lock. He slightly shakes his head. "I hope one day you'll see in her what I see," she concludes and he walks out.
They're rehearsing for Regionals. Santana keeps the song.
When Mr. Schue does the choreography, he puts Rachel in the back again. She knows everything she said to him just went over his head, but glee is pretty much all she has right now and the only thing that keeps her occupied. She can't lose it and have all that free time to sit home and think about how lonely she is and how much her life sucks.
So she sways in the back. She considers bringing ear plugs to put in while Santana butchers Barbra but she knows that will probably get her kicked off (or just kicked). Instead, she tries to focus on other things instead of listening. She tries to plan out her Shakespeare essay and think up her main points. She plans the menu for Friday night dinner with her dads. She thinks about her ballet class, and goes over her routines in her head, trying to find her mistakes and fix them without actually doing the steps.
It helps her to not go crazy. Mr. Schue brainstorms with them for the other 2 songs for Regionals. He looks at her, but she's not listening to him and is actually thinking about the route for the run she'll take that evening, so she doesn't share any ideas. He doesn't know if he should be happy that she's not speaking, or upset to lose out on her (usually good) suggestions.
When she goes back home, she realizes how little effort she's put into the practice. She basically had nothing to do so she's not as tired and hungry as she usually is. She skips dinner and goes out to run. She then realizes she's used all of her distracting thoughts during practice and now her mind is back on Mr. Schue and her place in the back.
When she trips over a rock and hurts her knee, she calls her dads to come pick her up. She knows the pain will keep her out of ballet the next day. In the car, she thinks the world is keeping her out of everything she likes and is good at. Sure, she's in plenty of other clubs but those meet once at the beginning of the school year, once after the holidays, and then at the end of the year. She has nothing to do.
She sings in her room, but it's not the same. She updates her myspace but all she gets are mean comments from the Cheerios led by Santana who writes essays about how much she sucks. Back in glee, she's still in the back. She's still not making effort, and she actually stops singing as loud because it's not important and nobody listens anyway.
She skips dinner after every practice. She's just not hungry. She goes up to her room and tries to pick some songs, but suddenly realizes it's for nothing. She doesn't need to record herself and upload because no one cares, and she doesn't feel like singing to her hairbrush because she hates the person that looks back at her from the mirror.
Without the lead in glee, she pretty much has nothing. She has no friends, schoolwork doesn't keep her interested, she's lost Finn. Every time she's in that choir room and doesn't get to sing, she feels her confidence slipping away.
Who is she if her voice isn't enough anymore?
Finn tries to ignore Rachel, but can't. He loves her, even after everything happened.
He looks at her like he always had. Like he did last year while he was with Quinn. He used to look at her in class, how concentrated she was. He looked at her in the hallways, how she walked with confidence mixed with worry. And of course, he looked at her in glee club. He kept on doing that after he broke up with Quinn, after he broke up with Rachel, while she was with Jesse, after that.
He loves hearing her sing. He loves watching her perform. She's amazing. He loves the way her eyes light up and how she takes over the room with such enthusiasm and energy, and how her voice is so strong it's all around him.
He keeps watching her after their relationship falls apart, and he sees the things no one else sees. He sees her losing her lead role and get stuck in the back. He sees how hurt she is by that. Because he listens to it so carefully, he hears how her voice is weakening, and how much less effort she puts into the choreography. He sees her not keeping her eyes on Mr. Schue while he speaks, and how her mind is somewhere else completely.
Her eyes don't light up anymore.
He notices she stopped showing up at the cafeteria. He knows she used to do that before they started dating, so at first he's not worried, but then he notices how much weaker, overall, she looks. He worries.
Finn comes up to her at her locker, and waits for her to close it and look at him before he starts talking.
"Have you lost weight?" he's blunt.
"No," she answers quickly and gets a better hold of her books.
"You seem like you've lost weight." He looks her over carefully, takes note of her eyes. "Are you eating enough?"
"Of course I am. I'm very good at following my healthy, vegan diet."
"I think you're lying to me."
"What are you trying to say, Finn?" she loses her patience. "I don't want to be late for class."
"I'm trying to say that something's wrong with you, Rachel. You look real skinny, and kinda sick."
"Santana is real skinny. Do you tell her she looks sick?" she accuses.
"Then why don't you leave me alone? I don't need you to follow me around and insult my appearance, Finn. I have enough on my mind."
She does a semi storm out, and it's not effective. Finn knows he was right.
She feels horrible. Out of the conversation with her ex-boyfriend, she only sees insults. He may have never defended her against anyone while they were dating, but he's never called her ugly before.
Instead of going to class, she walks to the parking lot and into her car. There, she starts crying. The heartbreak manifests into the feeling of her stomach twisting and turning. She feels as if someone's reached inside of her and is squeezing hard.
It's hard to breathe. The tears are clouding her vision as she pulls out and drives away from McKinley. When she gets home, she slams the car door and runs inside. Once in her room, she pulls the photos she has taped to her mirror. Her and Finn smiling. She tears it up. Her in the choir room. She tears it up. Her in the first Sectionals, with a black dress and a red bow. She tears it up into pieces so small she can't see the colors anymore.
The teddy bear on her bad gets the abuse next; it's one Finn has gotten for her. She throws it at the wall, and drops to the bed, pushes her face into a pillow and considers sticking her nose in there until she stops breathing. Never in her life has she felt a pain this strong. She wonders if every break up and what follows feels like this, and swears she'll never fall in love again. She doesn't need that. What if someone breaks up with her right before a big show and she can't go on? Then her understudy will go on and become a star instead of her. She can't let that happen.
She picks her head up from the pillow when her air runs out, and walks to her bathroom. She turns on the water and checks herself out in the mirror. She understands why Finn would call her ugly. That nose. The fake hair. No boobs. She's so short. She used to like herself a lot, but first it was telling her she can't dress, now telling her she looks skinny and sick. She understands why he would fall in love with Quinn, a gorgeous blonde with blue eyes and a cheerleader body. She understands why he would sleep with Santana, a beautiful, confident, Latina girl. She understands. And she hates herself.
She takes her clothes off and gets in. The hot water feels cold on her body. She reaches for her razor to shave her legs, but keeps it in her hand instead and stares at it.
You look kinda sick.
I have had it enough with you and your comments.
Lovers are very special people they're the luckiest people in the world…
And she brings it to her arm.
She's at the girls' bathroom one day, fixing her hair after a slushie. She's wearing only a tank top because she's just changed out of her wet clothes.
As she brushes her hair, Coach Sylvester walks in. "Have you seen Becky?" she asks, and Rachel shakes her head. She puts the brush down and gets out her make-up kit. When she stands back up to look in the mirror, she sees Sue staring at her.
She tries to ignore her, but the coach walks to her and grabs her arm. She turns it over.
"What are you doing?" Rachel tries to squirm away, but the hold on her is strong. Sue points at her arm. "Are those cuts?"
Rachel is horrified. "I fell in the street the other day when I was running."
Sue's eyes burn into her. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"
"I don't know what you want from me!"
"Come with me," Sue says and pulls on her arm. She drags her out the bathroom. "Wait, my things!" Rachel calls but is ignored. Sue walks her down the hallway until she pulls a door open and looks inside. "Schuester, I need to see you outside."
Rachel stands there shaking until Mr. Schue walks out. "What is it, Sue? I'm in the middle of class."
Sue points at Rachel, and Mr. Schue raises an eyebrow. "What?"
Sue pulls Rachel forward and puts her arm in Mr. Schue's face. "Your glee club geek is cutting herself."
"I fell!" Rachel tries to get a word in, but Sue isn't having it. "Look at the cuts on her. She does it herself."
Mr. Schue looks at her with a serious face on. "Rachel, are you cutting yourself?"
So he looks at Sue. "What are you trying to do? Is this a new way to sabotage the club before Regionals?"
Sue is enraged. "Are you kidding me? Look at her arms!"
"Leave us alone, Sue."
"You're pathetic, Schuester," Sue shakes her head. She looks at Rachel. "You'll be hearing from me."
She hears from Ms. Pillsbury instead, who asks her to her room to have a talk.
"Coach Sylvester spoke to me," Emma says, and Rachel looks at her frightened. "She's lying."
Emma knows when not to push. "Okay. Let's talk about something else then, okay?"
"I've been looking at you, Rachel, and you seem different."
"I'm not," Rachel says back.
"I passed by the choir room while the club was rehearsing. You weren't moving your lips."
"I don't need to sing in glee anymore."
"Why is that?"
"I don't get any lines. I'm the chorus. Nobody cares about the chorus."
"That's not true, Rachel, and you know it."
"It is true. Nobody pays attention to the chorus so I don't have to sing."
"You love singing, Rachel. You have to do it for yourself."
"I don't really love it right now," she says, and Emma notes the sadness in her eyes. "Singing feels good when people listen, and nobody listens to me."
"Maybe you can talk to Will," Emma says, and corrects herself. "Mr. Schuester. You can talk to him and tell him how you feel."
"He doesn't care what I feel. He rolls his eyes when I talk."
"I don't think that's true, Rachel. He cares a lot. I just don't think he knows what you're going through."
Rachel just nods.
"Will you think about it?"
She does think about it, for a second, and not hard. She's not going to talk to Mr. Schue or anyone else. She's just going to make it through high school and move on with her life. She only has to hold on for two more years, and then she'll be off to college with people who are just like her. All she has to do is keep going until that time comes.
She goes home (she's never skipped so many classes in her life like she has lately), goes in the kitchen, drinks some water, and walks up the stairs to her room. She pulls out her books, intending to do her homework, but leaves them untouched on her bed and instead opens her laptop and types Tisch into the search. She looks at the website until her eyes burn and she drops into bed.
It's Regionals. They sit in the green room, waiting for their turn. Rachel just looks at her hands and hopes it's over soon. When she looks up, Finn is staring at her. She looks away quickly.
Mr. Schue walks into the room. "Almost time, guys. I want you to know that I'm proud of you no matter what, and I know you're great. Let's win this!"
Everyone cheers, and a bell rings inside their room. They quiet instantly, and hear claps through the speakers on the wall. It's time.
Everyone stands and start to make their way outside. Mr. Schue wishes luck to every one of them. When Mike, who stands in front of Rachel, gets to him, Rachel feels the room spinning. She feels herself shaking. She reaches out to the sides, but there's nothing to hold onto. Suddenly she sees all black, and she's about to scream that she's gone blind when she falls to the floor.
Puck is the first to get to her, and he shakes her a little. "Rachel? Rachel," he says over and over, before looking up at Will. "She's out. We need to splash some water on her."
Tina hands over a bottle, and Puck quickly uses it.
"What the hell is wrong with her?" Mercedes asks from the back. "Is she nervous about performing?"
"Don't be a moron, Mercedes," Finn says and steps forward. "She was performing before you could even talk." He walks over to Puck and Rachel and kneels down to the floor. "Is she waking up?"
"I think so," Puck answers, and Rachel's eyes flutter. "Rachel," Finn says and takes her hand. "Are you okay? What are you feeling?"
She opens her mouth to speak but nothing comes out. Slowly she raises and arm and points at her throat.
"She can't speak. Okay, this is bad," Finn looks over at Mr. Schue. "What are we going to do?"
Will steps closer to them. "Rachel, do you think you can stand up?" he asks, and she shakes her head. Her eyes are wide, and he understands. "Do you feel like you're going to faint again?"
Rachel nods, and closes her eyes. It's too much of a struggle to keep them open. She's never felt this weak before in her life.
"Okay," Will says. "I'm going to take you to the hospital."
"Is this our tradition now?" Santana asks bitterly, and Finn casts her a furious look. "I'm coming with you, Mr. Schue."
"Excuse me," Quinn says. "What about, you know, Regionals?"
"We're 11 without Rachel, we can't perform anyway," Puck says, and Finn nods. He looks at Rachel and waits for her to protest, but she doesn't. He picks her up in his arms, and looks at Will. "Let's go."
The kids move from the door to let them pass.
Rachel is admitted and gets hooked to an IV. Will calls her fathers and they show up 20 minutes later. The glee kids have all followed in the few cars they have; they're all sitting in the waiting room but Rachel's dads just walk past them into her room.
Finn paces. "What is wrong with her?"
Will puts a hand on his shoulder. "She'll be okay, Finn."
Puck just follows her dads and stands outside her room, listening to them talk to the doctor. He hears about the psych evaluation and the weekly follow-ups that Rachel wouldn't want anyone to know about, and walks back to the waiting room.
Mercedes has noticed his disappearance. "What did you hear?"
He's a little overwhelmed. "She wasn't eating enough, I guess? And she…" he hesitates, and looks around between them all. "She hurt herself."
Finn stops his pacing. "What do you mean 'she hurt herself'?"
But Will understands. "Oh my God," he mumbles and sits down. "And Sue told me, she showed me and I thought she was just trying to ruin us, and Rachel said it wasn't true and-"
"What are you talking about?" Santana stops his ramblings and stares until he answers. "She cuts."
Now they all guess about the psych evaluation.
Will sits in Emma's office with his face in his hands. "I don't know how this happened," he mumbles. "I don't understand how it could have gotten to that." He looks up at her with tears in his eyes. "How?"
"She's been having a hard time, Will. We've talked about it."
"But… this, it's just… she was always so strong and confident and for her to hurt herself like that-"
"She's been going through a lot," Emma says and sits down behind her desk. "She is strong, that's why it took her so long to break down, but it happened eventually. I tried to talk to her and I tried to help her, but it just wasn't enough. I should have done more."
"I never saw anything different about her," his heart breaks. How could he not?
"You didn't see she stopped talking? No, you didn't see she stopped singing?"
"No," he brings his eyes to her, but Emma doesn't find the puppy eyes endearing.
"Maybe you should have paid better attention," she suggests with half a smile, and he hears the accusation in it. He wants to talk back but he doesn't find it in him to do so. She stands up and walks out of the office, walks away from him. Between them, Will knows, it's way over.
Rachel comes back to school after two weeks. Her teachers have been updated about her absence, and she goes back to her regular seat in her regular classes, where nobody asks where she's been, and she's not offering any information.
She goes to glee practice after school; gets there first, takes a place in the back and takes out a book to read while waiting. Mr. Schue is the second one to enter, and he walks over to her. "Rachel."
She looks up from her book and stares at him. "How are you?" he asks.
She keeps a straight face. "I'm fine," she says, even if she's totally not. She's gone three times already to the hospital to have them check her vitals, weight and arms. She's talking to a psychiatrist about her feelings, and to Ms. Pillsbury about her singing. That morning she sang in her office, and she knows she completely sucked, but Ms. Pillsbury looked satisfied enough.
"Are you really?" his eyes are pleading for honesty, and she grants it. "I will be."
The glee kids stop harassing her. She gets a few eye rolls and pitying looks, but the kids mostly focus on their own songs and she keeps to herself.
They have nothing to work towards, so it's pretty much back to the weekly assignment and the performances in the choir room are voluntary, so she hasn't had to sing yet. The first few assignments, she hasn't even worked on. She listens to them all sing, and she knows they're expecting some kind of comment from her (even Santana looks at her, waiting) but none come.
It's only when Mr. Schue walks in and informs them that they will be performing in front of the whole school on the last day of classes that Rachel takes an interest. It's nothing sudden. She has been talking to Ms. Pillsbury about solos and dreams for a while now. They've discussed her plans to go to New York. Ms. Pillsbury said that's a good plan, but she has time for that and she needs to live in the 'now'.
So she does just that. When Mr. Schue is done talking, Rachel stands up and declares, "I will be taking lead on this performance, Mr. Schuester."
Santana lets out a little 'pfff' and she knows some eyes are rolling, but Mr. Schue looks satisfied and when she turns around, Finn is smiling at her. She smiles back.
She shows up for the performance with a star necklace and sings lead on two out of three songs.
Tina comes up to her when as she's taking off her stage makeup in the girls' bathroom. "We're going for milkshakes," she says, and gestures at the other girls, "if you want to come with."
"I-" Rachel has never stuttered before. "Are you sure?" she finally asks with a look of disbelief mixed with 'is this a dream?'
Tina laughs and nods. "Come on, it'll be fun!" she promises, and Rachel follows her out the door and to the parking lot. She gets into Mercedes' car, and there's music on and singing and lots of giggling that's Rachel doesn't feel comfortable taking part in. Mercedes looks at her. "You okay?"
She just nods.
"You're gonna give me a chance to sing next time?"
Rachel turns to her ready to launch into a speech, but Mercedes just laughs at her. "I'm kidding. Well, not really," and they both laugh. "But we're better when you sing, you know?"