Broken into Pieces

There's this small troll that sits up on her top shelf, a remnant of her childhood. Its neon pink hair shoots in a hundred different directions and when you press the small (star shaped) gem imbedded in its belly, the troll answers your question. It's kitschy in so many ways (basically a glorified magic eight ball) and it holds no sentimental value, but she's never been able to part with it.

Rachel presses the button on the troll's belly, tears dripping down her eyes and can't help the small sob that escapes her lips as the words 'my reply is no' shine through the tiny plastic skin. Setting the doll down on her vanity, she takes just a moment to look at herself in the mirror. Her makeup is streaked and smudged, her eyes rimmed in red. The hairdo her Daddy had spent an hour helping her with is tangled and matted. And her pretty pink dress, the one she knew the moment she saw that she had to have, looks lackluster and plain.

She brings her hand up and brushes it against the swollen skin of her cheek, her eyes tearing at the tingling pain that shoots through her face. There seems to be this misconception about her, that she's naïve and perfect and that she can't make mistakes. It's almost absurd in a way that people would think that about her, and only a few people know the whole truth. She's stubborn and bossy, manipulative and loud, and there's a small part of her that always has to be the best no matter what. But she's still human and as much as it pains her to admit it, she feels just as much as everyone else.

And right now she feels broken.

Tugging a few of the loose bobby-pins out of her hair, she listens to the silence of the house. It's stifling, oppressive, and before she can really even think about it she flips her radio on letting the sound drown out her thoughts, her regrets. The zipper is on the back of her dress and as hard as she tries she can't reach it, in frustration she tugs the garment over her head and drops it in a heap on the floor. There's no way she's ever putting it back on, so there's no point in being gentle with it.

A small buzz from her phone notifies her of an incoming text message and she looks at her phone for just a minute before flipping it off and dropping it on her nightstand. It's a little after midnight and all of the after-prom parties are just beginning and as much as she loves that her friends are worried about her she doesn't want to ruin their night. It may not make sense to anyone but her, but she just needs a minute to breathe on her own and process everything that's happened.

Stepping into her shower, she lets the hot water roll over her skin, and rests her head against the cool tile the tears slipping down her cheeks. She lets the stream beat on her back until her knees give out and she slips to the bottom of the tub, the water raining over her face. She hadn't needed her troll to give her an answer this time, because the moment the hand came flying through the air she knew.

She waits until the water is cold to get out, her fingers beyond pruned. Faintly, Rachel can hear the radio echoing through the wall of her room and into her bathroom and she sets down on the toilet letting the song echo around her. Music has always brought her a kind of peace, an outlet for all the emotions and feelings that she never can seem to find the words to explain. Clenching the frayed ends of her towel she closes her eyes and listens to the lyrics, sadness filling her soul.

'Was forgiveness really worth all of this?' she wondered wretchedly. 'All this pain and sorrow hurts too much.'

There had been a time when forgiveness was the furthest thing on her mind, when she had bottled her anger and hurt inside making promises to herself that someday those emotions would come to good use. She had pictured herself standing on stage, the tears dripping down her face as she let the pain in her soul echo through her music. But she could only bottle so much.

Grabbing a brush off of the sink, Rachel ran it gently through her hair, the repetitive motion soothing her frayed nerves. There was only so much that she could take; a definitive breaking point that had been reached and then bypassed. Prom had been a mistake of epic proportions from the very moment she stepped in the door. Possibly even before then. There were no pretty in pink moments, nothing that would make this night memoir worthy other than the two fights that had taken place.

She refused to think about them.

Wrapping her fluffy blue robe around her body, she let out a small sigh, her eyes meeting her mirrored image one last time. There was nothing she could do about the bruise tonight so it didn't do to fret about it. Pulling open the door, she was less than thrilled to find the boy lying in her bed, his shoes dirtying her new comforter.

"What are you doing here?" she muttered, her hand nervously pushing her wet hair behind her ear. She wondered, momentarily, if he was drunk or high but nixed the thought immediately upon seeing his face.

"I wanted to make sure you were alright," he replied softly. He turned to look at her, his eyes filled with sadness and something else she couldn't quite place. For a moment the image took her breath away and she clenched her eyes shut to fight off the impending tears.

"I'm fine," she whispered, "maybe a little battered and bruised but what can you do?" Rachel can't keep the sarcasm or the hurt out of her voice no matter how much she tries and her shoulders seem to sag in resignation. She wonders if it has more to do with the boy in front of her or with how vulnerable the whole moment feels. She's still standing in her robe, water droplets dripping down her body when he sits up and reaches towards her, pulling her into his embrace.

His arms wrap around her and she can feel the warmth of his chest against her swollen cheek. "Stop with the bullshit, Rach." He mumbles, "It's me." The words are soft, tender in a way, and he brings one of his hands from her back to lift up her chin so he can look at her face. "Fuck," he replies, "it's going to be a bad bruise." She nods wordlessly, her face wincing as he runs the edge of his thumb over it delicately. "I can't believe Quinn would go off on you like that," he continues.

Talking about Quinn only seems to make her think about her night and that's something she really isn't ready to deal with, not even a little. "Shouldn't you be at the after-party with Lauren?" she ponders, smiling slightly at her ability to change topics so smoothly. It hurts, a lot, and she can't help the wincing in pain. Noah lets out a small scoff, his head shaking as a small frown spreads across his features.

"It's kind of hard to be celebrating right now," he grunts. He looks down for the first time, a smile playing on his features as he takes in her lack of apparel. "We could have our own party here," he lifts his eyebrows suggestively a teasing laugh escaping his lips.

"NOAH!" She can't help the blush that flushes her cheeks or the way her fingers cling to her robe until they are almost white. Walking past him and digging through her dresser drawers she pulls out a pair of pajamas and undergarments and hustles her way back into her bathroom to get dressed. It doesn't take her long, five minutes tops, but when she opens back up her bedroom door he's changed the room.

The lighting is dimmer, the radio station changed, and her dress is lying smoothly across the chair by her vanity. She looks at the pink frills, the sequins and sparkles, and feels the tears start to fall carelessly down her cheeks. "Was it so silly of me," she whispers, "to have wanted one magical night?"

He's taken off his white jacket and hung it over the back of her reading chaise, but it's more what's in his hand that makes her pause for just a moment. He's holding her troll in his hands, a small smile on his face. She thinks she should be embarrassed but she's not and that confuses her all the more. "Don't ever fucking change, Rachel." The words seem harsh and she's really not sure what to say but he looks up at her and she can tell he's not teasing her. "The reason people pick on you, the reason Quinn tears you down, is because you know who you are and what you want." He's quiet, his next words so soft she almost doesn't hear them. "That's scary at any age but especially ours."

Noah sets the troll back on her vanity, his hand reaching out for hers. She looks at him in confusion but he just smiles and shrugs his shoulders. "We never really got to dance at Prom." He pulls her close, his hands lacing hers around his neck and she can't help but hum softly to the song on the radio. The two of them rock gently back and forth with the rhythm of the music, neither of them really saying anything.

"Thank you," she murmurs the moment the song ends, "for the dance and for coming over to check up on me." Her resolve is fading and she can feel the effects of the night wearing on her heavily, each beat of her heart a splinter of something more. It's been years since she's broken down in front of anyone and she's not sure she's ready for him to see just how hurt she actually is by everything that's happened. He reaches his hand up to brush a few stray hairs behind her ear and nods once.

It hits her like a lightning bolt; he doesn't have to see her break down to know how broken she is because as much as they fight and bicker, they also know each other.

His arms squeeze around her one last time, giving her a dose of his strength and courage, and then he pulls away. "What are friends for?" he replies sadly. She watches as he tugs his jacket off the chair and shrugs it on, watches as he tiptoes down the stairs and disappears out the front door and lets her head rest for just a moment against the wooden door before clicking it closed.

The tears are already falling when she picks the troll up, her lips mouthing the words she can't seem to say. She pushes the small star button and holds her breath as the chest lights up the words 'It's decidedly so' flashing through the plastic. A small laugh escapes past her lips and something inside her stomach flutters. Her eyes linger on her dress for just a moment her heart beating and then beating again; each time less painful then the last.

When I saw the preview I knew I had to write something... I'm kind of glad I did. Hopefully you love this little slice of Puckleberry goodness as much as I do.