A/N: YOU GUYS! This is the only multi-chapter fic I have ever finished! It's a weird feeling...it feels like I could never actually be done with it! I really hope you guys have enjoyed the story and are satisfied with the ending...Thanks so much for reading and for all of the reviews! I already have plans for something else...hmmm... :)
Quinn looked up. She recognized the kid behind the photo counter from William McKinley. Great.
She felt his judgmental eyes upon her as she paid for her prints, snatching the cardboard envelope out of his hands and turning to leave. Not only did the town know about her pregnancy, the adoption, her drunk mother, her dad coming back to throw her out, and her move-in with Rachel, but the two of them were now "Facebook official," giving everyone plenty to talk about on the weekend before school started.
The last time Quinn had come home filled with rage about a dirty look or a snide comment, Rachel had pushed her to the bed, straddled her, pulled her shirt off and commenced sucking at the pulse point on Quinn's neck. "Don't get upset, baby," Quinn loved the way Rachel dropped out of her fancy vocabulary voice in the bedroom, "Just remember all the things you get to do that no one else does."
As she pulled into her driveway, Quinn considered feigning outrage to try for a similar outcome. She chuckled to herself as she opened the front door, knowing Rachel was at a voice lesson, anyway. In fact, everyone was out, which was exactly the way Quinn had planned.
She ran upstairs to her room, crossed to the desk, and pulled out the stationary she had bought the other day. Her pen hovered for a minute above the creamy paper, then she put it down and grabbed the envelope of photos, tearing it open.
Inside were four photographs. She pulled the first out, of her in her old Cheerios uniform, smiling at the camera, a blue sky and the bleachers of the football field behind her. It was strange to look at her old self. Quinn searched for some sign of the person she had become behind the eyes of the girl in the picture, but she seemed like a separate person all together. She turned the envelope upside down and let the rest of the pictures fall out: Quinn and Puck, Quinn and Judy, and finally Quinn, at the hospital, with Beth in her arms. She looked at herself, grinning like a fool into the face of her daughter.
She picked up her pen again and wrote on the stationary:
The day you were born was one of the happiest and the saddest days of my life. I couldn't believe that I had made something as beautiful and as perfect as you are. But I was sad, too, because I knew I couldn't keep you.
I wanted to so badly, I wanted to hold you and sing you to sleep and drive you to your first day of kindergarten. I wanted to be at your college graduation. I love you so much, but I knew that for you to have a mom who could do all of those things for you, then that mom couldn't be me.
I was sixteen years old when you were born, and mommies should be adults who are able to make good decisions for their babies and for themselves.
I hope one day you can understand that I gave you to a better mommy because I loved you so much, not because I didn't want you. I miss you every day, and you will always be in my heart.
Quinn stared at the paper. She doubted there would ever be enough words to explain her decision to Beth. Wrote at the bottom Love, and then paused. Quinn? Mom? She finally scrawled, Your mother, Quinn.
She frowned at her signature, still not sure about it. She took out another paper and wrote down her name, address, and phone number. On the back of the picture of her and Puck, she wrote:
This is me and your father. His name is Noah, and he named you Beth.
She labeled the photo of herself and her mother as "Me and my mom, your grandmother."
Then she took out the final piece of stationary and scrawled a quick note to Shelby:
Thank you for everything. I hope one day you'll be okay with giving this letter and the pictures to Beth. I've also included my contact information. Anytime it changes, I will send it to you. I only ask that if she asks for it when she's older, that you consider giving it to her.
She put all of the letters and the photos in a manila envelope, sealed it, and wrote "Shelby Corcoran" on it. Then she stared at it like it might combust. She imagined going to Carmel High School and finding Shelby and asking to see her daughter; the drama that would ensue. After the past year, the last thing Quinn needed was more drama.
"Quinn?" Rachel's voice sounded from the doorway. Quinn jumped.
"I didn't hear you come in," she said, swiveling in her chair to look at the brunette. Rachel dropped her water bottle and sheet music folder on the bed before crossing to Quinn.
"How was work?" she asked, gently turning Quinn back around in her chair to rub her shoulders. Quinn's eyes fell to the envelope with Shelby's name written in huge letters across it. She heard the small intake of breath, felt Rachel's hands grow still on her shoulders and knew she was looking at it, too.
Quinn took a breath, then got up, holding the envelope, "It's a letter, for Beth. And some pictures," she felt awkward standing up so she sat down on the end of the bed, "I'm going to bring them to Carmel and just leave it in the front office for her."
Quinn was staring hard at the envelope, but she felt Rachel sit down beside her on the bed and sweep some of her hair back behind her ear.
"I just…" Quinn hesitated, looking at Rachel's hands clasped neatly in her lap, "I just wanted to tell her that it wasn't because I didn't want her, and I just thought…of what I would have wanted to know about me, if I was her," she paused again, "You know, what my biological parents looked like. I wanted her to be able to contact me if…" Quinn knew this part was stupid. She had given Beth over to an entirely new family who was perfectly capable of providing her with a safety net. But, still, "In case she ever needed anything."
Rachel was silent for a minute, then laced her fingers between Quinn's, "You're a good mom, Quinn. I wish," she faltered, then, "I wish Shelby had done that for me."
Doubts filled Quinn again as she took a shaky breath, "I'm so sorry for what she did to you, I'm so scared that she's going to be less than a good mom for Beth. I just wish there was a way to know..."
She stole a glance at Rachel, who had a peculiar look on her face. She glanced at her watch, and then seemed to make a decision.
"Come on," she said, standing up and straightening her skirt, then tugging Quinn by the arm, "We need to hurry! Grab your keys."
Once in the car, Rachel directed Quinn to a completely different neighborhood, with a ton of kids running around and big, climbable trees. They turned a corner onto a huge central green, on which there stood a playground. Quinn looked at Rachel, perplexed. She was staring through the windshield at the playground.
"I've never taken anyone here before," she said quietly, "I know it's technically stalking, but…"
Quinn followed her eyes to the swing set, where she recognized the back of Shelby's head. She was pushing – Quinn gasped audibly, felt her stomach drop. Shelby was pushing a brunette baby in the baby swing. Quinn's view was obstructed every time the baby swung forward toward Shelby, but every time Shelby pushed her back felt like a new pulse of Quinn's heart. Beth was shrieking with delight, her little fists up in the air. Shelby occasionally stopped the swing to plant a kiss on Beth's head, or threw her head back to laugh. They were both undeniably happy.
Quinn couldn't take her eyes off of the sight; she felt like everything around her had fallen away, thinking that could have been me, that could have been me, until she remembered Rachel was beside her, probably thinking the exact same thing.
Quinn looked over at her, and was struck suddenly by how incredibly beautiful she looked, even though she had tears in her eyes.
"Rach, how long have you been coming here? How did you even know…"
"Jesse told me where she lived, and then when she told me she wanted a baby," Quinn heard the instead of me that Rachel didn't voice, "and then she adopted Beth and I just wanted to see…I don't know if I was hoping to see her struggling, out of spite, or if I'm just a glutton for punishment but I wanted to see them together. And I was going to her house, passing this park, and I saw her here with Beth. They come here every day if the weather is nice, right around this time, but I'm assuming that will stop once Shelby goes back to school."
They watched in silence while Shelby collected their things, put Beth in her stroller, and started to walk down the opposite street. It took a lot of self control for Quinn to remain in the car, rather than run after them. She imagined Rachel was doing the same, and was struck by how connected they were to these two people; these two invisible members of their families.
Suddenly Quinn started laughing. Rachel looked completely offended.
"What? I didn't bring you here so you could ridicule me-"
"Rach, it's not that I swear," Quinn giggled, "I just realized that if you and I were married, then you would be Beth's mom, too, and her mom would be her grandmother AND her mom, and you would be her mom AND her sister."
Rachel looked at her for a second, and then started laughing, too, "How very Appalachian of us," she giggled.
Their laughter died down and after a second of silence Rachel grinned, "Did you just say 'if you and I were married?'"
Quinn blushed, then nudged her playfully, "I said if! Don't take that as a cue to start dress shopping and planning the theme with Leroy."
Rachel's eyes grew wide, "How did you know I've always wanted a themed wedding? All my life I've been waiting for the girl who'd agree to a Phantom of the-"
"No!" Quinn shrieked, and to shut her up, leaned over the space between their seats and covered Rachel's mouth with hers. Rachel's voice caught in the back of her throat and turned into an appreciative groan. Quinn felt her fingers entwine in her hair, felt another hand on her neck. She pulled back to look at her girlfriend's flushed face.
"I love you, Rachel," she said, unable to keep a smile off of her face, "Thank you for bringing me here, for…" she laughed, "seeing everything you saw in me that I was trying to keep hidden. For…saving me."
She kissed her gently again, then, "One day, I hope to give you the wedding of your dreams," Rachel's eyes lit up, "But I'm NOT dressing up as the Phantom."
Rachel laughed, brought Quinn's hand to her lips, "I'm the one who saved you remember? I could always be the knight in shining," she looked down, "argyle."
Quinn laughed and unbuckled her seatbelt, wriggling closer to the brunette and gently kissing her.