We Saw the World Tied Down
Jesse St. James dies on a Friday, at three-forty-seven in the afternoon. And they say when people die, they linger, if only for a while, to see what emotions are triggered by their passing. Jesse-centric.
They say when people die, they do not ascend to a higher plane of existence right away. They linger, if only for a while, at least until their remains are over and done with – buried, cremated, disposed of, if only to see what emotions are triggered by their passing. Then their spirit has no more ties to the living world, and is free to depart. Until then, they remain in limbo, watching and waiting for someone to care.
You die on a Friday, at three-forty-seven in the afternoon.
You are buried the next Thursday's afternoon, at precisely four-twenty-three. You always did like Thursdays.
(But then again, so did she.)
Claire meets you at the gate of your pre-Heaven, as you like to call it. She's quite the exposition bomb, and explains that this – your ideal place – will only last until your funeral or whatnot, at which point you will ascend (or descend, of course, but Claire doesn't mention that). She's quite the helpful Guide, and shows you the ropes of pre-Heaven: it's shaped by your brain, she says, and that it will change, morph, to fit what you want. In fairness, she's nearly right. There's a grand library full of showtunes from every single musical from the past eighty years, instruments that you're more than capable of playing are everywhere, and photos of Broadway legends you'll never meet line the walls.
There's only one thing missing, and pre-Heaven can't grant you that.
(You try not to think of inviting dark waves and soft brown eyes, of endearing naïveté and brash confidence, of a powerhouse-worthy voice one wouldn't expect from a sixteen-year-old girl.)
Claire lets you peek over down to Earth, and lets you see how people are doing. You look down to New York first, knowing that you might as well take the minor stab of pain before bracing yourself to face the really big fish. You doubt that Shelby Corcoran has heard of the accident, and you don't think you want to disturb her anyway. Shelby's happy in her new career as who-knows-what, and her daughter – Quinn's daughter – is keeping her happy.
(In a way, of course, that she never could. She was better than that.)
You don't think your brother and sister over in Akron have ever fully grasped the concept of what happened. Your sister hasn't thrown up in days, which would be an improvement only you aren't there anymore to be happy for her. Your brother walks around as if in a trance, helping to sort out your things and everything, because things aren't the same anymore and you aren't children now, are you?
Your parents have gotten the first flight they could from Bali or Prague or Rio de Janeiro or wherever they were at the moment. You suspect your uncle is grieving more than they are, but who are you to think twice about your parents, who have repeatedly showered you with their too-obvious favoritism, giving you whatever you wanted and repeatedly telling you that you were the best?
The "friends" in California have heard, but few of them have the time to actually fly out back to Ohio (It's Ohio, you hear one of those one-time-fling girls say. How droll, honestly!)
And you don't want to turn your gaze to William McKinley High School, because you know that will shatter whatever confidence you have left.
Brittany Susan Pierce is the first student you recognize in the throngs of people, and sweet and oblivious as she always has been, you doubt she fully grasps the concept of death. You doubt she's even heard. But you see her Latina cohort walking towards her hurriedly with a newspaper in her hand, and you watch as Brittany's face changes from cheerful to horrified.
It's nice to know somebody cares.
(You sometimes wonder if she does).
Your question is answered at the next glee club rehearsal, an agonizing eight hours later. Claire encourages you to spend some times away from the peephole, warning about people who've gotten obsessed with the concept of vengeance and regret, and you do so, telling yourself that it would give you less of a chance to see her.
Claire asks why she's different.
You tell her that you've never really wanted something you couldn't have before. Everything's always been in your reach - your parents' approval, the part of Vocal Adrenaline's male lead, a scholarship to a good, well-respected school. She was the first thing you actually had to work for.
She asks you if that's the only reason.
You don't answer.
(You avoid egg-made dishes and Lionel Richie songbooks. Keeping away from the Adele ones doesn't hurt, either.)
Will Schuester breaks the news to the glee club later on, and you watch with a strangely sickening feeling in your stomach as her face changes from apathetic to near horrific. You didn't do what you did to see her look this way. You wanted her to be happy.
We have to help with the funeral, says Puckerman, his mouth a serious line. You feel the urge to laugh at the irony of the situation.
And that's all well and good, Noah, interrupts Quinn Fabray, her eyes hard. Only it's kind of not our responsibility. St. James has his own family and friends. It's not as if we ever treated him right. She meets her eyes, however, and Quinn's face softens, and she looks more likely to agree with Puck.
It's settled with two words.
Jesse cared, is all she says, and you feel the urge to vomit.
(You never thought that, out of all your love for her, she would react like that.)
Claire rubs your back soothingly, making sure you don't throw up again all over her nice shoes.
Jesse, she asks you later on over scones and tea (you were never one for coffee), if you could take back what you did, would you do it?
You frown and furrow your brow, running your hand through your hair - it's such a strangely human gesture. You're confident as ever when you answer, I wouldn't. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
She purses her lips. But you had so much to live for.
A bitter laugh escapes your mouth. You're confusing "things to live for" for "things I have and don't even care about."
Claire looks confused. I understand that you loved her, Jesse –
Love, you interrupt.
Of course, says Claire, playing with the ends of her dark waves (it's a gesture that's painful in its familiarity). But wouldn't you want to have a better way to go? Getting hit by a van trying to save someone isn't really the prettiest way to die, is it?
You shrug. Think about it this way, Claire, you say. If I hadn't done it, she would get hurt even more. Everyone would. You know I wouldn't want that.
Her mouth quirks up at the sides. Wouldn't you think she's hurt now?
Your gaze turns hard. She would've been more hurt if I hadn't done what I did, wouldn't you say so?
(The days pass eventually, and you amuse yourself with watching those old Broadway classics you used to watch with her.)
Thursday comes fast enough. You've managed to avoid looking down to Earth for days, afraid of what you might find out. Your ego is still as big as it ever was, of course, it just manifests itself in different ways.
The family seems to be coping well enough – your sister no longer has hysteric fits anymore and your father has stopped breaking all the picture frames that have you in them. It's a wonder they even let New Directions sing at the funeral over Vocal Adrenaline, but like him or not, Will Schuester can be very convincing.
You see Mike and Tina come out of New Directions' shared van first, he helping her with her pretty black and white dress, half-smiles on their faces despite the occasion. He plants a kiss on her forehead and they nuzzle noses and giggle softly. Their love and mutual adoration for each other is nearly painful to watch, reminding you of everything you could have had. Everything you missed out on.
Claire looks at you sympathetically and fixes your sloppily-made tie – you've both dressed up, it's your last day in pre-Heaven after all – and offers to let you stay in your nice pre-Heaven-provided bedroom instead. You shake your head. This is worth it.
Your mother gives a long speech you suspect your uncle wrote for her, despite her convincing tears and facial expressions. She speaks of you as the ideal son, that you were such a good kid, and random blather you know are total lies. Your father and brother talk next, and speak about childhood memories and the boy you used to be, and once again they sound far too half-hearted.
People from Vocal Adrenaline say a few words. Giselle speaks of how you were an excellent dance partner and Andrea compliments your vocal range. Do not speak ill of the dead, they say.
They let her speak.
Rachel looks positively lovely in the Kurt-approved black dress, and you think it's a shame you aren't around to actually see her in it. But then again, she wouldn't be wearing that dress if you were still around, would she?
She speaks, reading from a sheet of paper, and her voice starts cracking and shaking around two sentences in, and shebreaks. She throws aside the piece of paper and scans the rows of people with bright wide eyes. She speaks of musical equals and perfect foils, of music stores and Don't Cry for Me Argentinas. Words concerning eggs and epic romance leave her mouth in a near-incoherent river of sentences, and she tells the mesmerized audience of dreams and mothers. Phrases about libraries and inevitabilities and onstage kisses she never got to apologize for leave her mouth, and it's clear she's speaking from her heart. And when she's done she breaks into tears, and the audience, the guests, give her a standing ovation, because she seems like the beautiful frightened ingénue girlfriend you'd left behind, and every one of her words feels like a stab in the heart.
She is all but one of those things, and it kills you to know that she was never really truly yours.
When they stand up to sing, it's her solo. She sings your favorite song and her voice is high and sweet and clear and powerful and perfect. You're proud of her. She's come a long way, and all of a sudden you catch a glimpse of her wowing audiences on a Broadway stage.
When it's all over, it's Finn who picks her up in the parking lot. She runs into his arms and cries into his dress shirt, and you feel horrible about it because wasn't the point of it to not get her hurt?
Are you okay? Finn Hudson asks, which you think is kind of a stupid question (but it was dumb to expect anything more from him).
Don't hate him, Finn, is all she says, wrapping her arms around herself.
Finn Hudson puts his arms around her in a way that you truly miss. How could I, Rachel? He's smiling, but his eyes are sad – more emotion than you thought possible. He saved my life. Imagine if he hadn't pushed me out of the way back there.
I cared about him, says Rachel brokenly, and you turn away. But, she continues, I'm happy you're still around.
Do you see now? You breathe deeply and turn to Claire, feeling your body prepare to depart from this world altogether. I loved her. More than I loved myself. That's why I'm happy with the way things turned out.
Claire's face is sad. You saved the life of the man she loved. And her eyes look just a little bit sadder. You're a good kid, Jesse.