"I just...sometimes I feel like this whole year has been a waste," Quinn says to Santana as they're out shopping for graduation dresses one afternoon at the start of May. In truth, it's more than just this year she feels has been wasted, but she's not sure how far back exactly she'd go if she could, which parts of herself she'd keep and which she'd erase.
"Why? Because Berry's not—?" Santana asks vaguely.
Quinn just nods, with more than a touch of embarrassment. Sometimes she feels like she's never quite left that awful moment in Rachel's living room, that moment after the kiss in which she'd seen Rachel's face clouded over in...what was it? Clearly not arousal. Accomplishment?
"Tell me something," Santana says, setting herself squarely in front of Quinn, closing off any chance of escape. "What did it feel like when you kissed her?"
What Quinn can't say, the speckled flush spreading from her cheeks to her chest says for her.
A knowing smile creeps its way across Santana's lips. "Now imagine that same thing, except...the person you're kissing feels the same way about you."
A minor explosion occurs somewhere in the recesses of Quinn's imagination, blowing the doors off whatever she's previously dreamed possible. This is marked by an audible gasp and the clatter of plastic hangers hitting the floor.
"It's worth it, Q. I promise. Even if it doesn't seem like it now," Santana says, in a tone that quickly shifts from amused to bittersweet. They both crouch down to collect the heap of dropped dresses, and somewhere under the pile of fabric, their hands find and squeeze each other in understanding.
I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
The words won't stop rattling around in Quinn's head, and she's just so tired. She imagines they might sound hopeful, exhilarating even, to someone who hasn't had to burn themselves down and start over from scratch as many times as she already has. But to her, it all just sounds exhausting.
And yet, there's no denying that time is running out on her chance to walk away from it all, from Lima, from McKinley, from Rachel, feeling something other than regret.
And so, it's with that in mind, and a heavy heart, that she makes her way to the dance studio on the last Thursday afternoon of the school year. Rachel had once said that she thought they could have been friends if they'd never left the choir room, but Quinn suspects that maybe this is the one place where it could have happened, if they'd ever really given it a shot.
When Rachel appears, all of Quinn's nerve endings start to crackle and pop, and she wonders if there will ever come a time when they can cross paths without her feeling so on edge. Taking a page from Rachel's conversational playbook, Quinn decides to cut right to the chase.
"I lied to you," she says. Rachel jumps, then softens, but, to Quinn's surprise, says nothing.
"When I said that kissing you was just 'fine'? That was a lie," she continues. "Because honestly, it was the nicest, sweetest, most precious thing that's ever happened to me. And I should have just said that. I should have said a lot of things. Because...I've told so many lies, Rachel. All this time. Both to you and about you. And I just prayed you were strong enough not to believe any of them. But that doesn't make it ok. And if I had just been brave enough to tell the truth, right from the start, even though I know you don't-. I mean, I guess we could have avoided a lot of this."
She falters there, her eyes focused intently on a piece of masking tape stuck to the studio floor as she tries to run over what she's just said in her mind. It's not even anywhere close to the speech she had planned. It's clumsy and awkward and so unworthy of the moment.
She can feel Rachel's eyes on her, hear her breath, and then the words come.
"Don't," Quinn says, quickly looking up into Rachel's confused expression. She's heard Rachel say those words, or some approximation of them, at least a million times over the years. And that isn't what she came for. "I don't want you to just forgive me because you feel sorry for me or you feel badly about what happened or whatever it is you're thinking right now. I don't deserve it. Not yet, anyway."
Rachel takes a moment to digest that, and Quinn wonders if this is the first time someone has actually offered to earn her forgiveness rather than just accept it out of hand.
"If I had thought, even for a second, that you felt that way about me, I never would have put you in that position, Quinn. You have to know that," Rachel says sincerely, causing Quinn to swallow hard and look away. "I just never imagined...I mean, I'm very flattered..."
Quinn winces at the word. She knows Rachel isn't just being kind, she's being honest, and that's what makes the sting of it so acute.
"We don't have to talk about it," she says, hopeful that Rachel will understand that she's just not ready for whatever it is that happened between them to be just one of those things that people can just talk about. "I just...I wanted you to know...that I am sorry. And I'm working on trying to become the kind of person who you should forgive. It's just...slower going than I thought."
"Maybe you could come visit me in New York next year?" Rachel says at last. There's a touch of hopeful desperation in her voice that makes Quinn stop and think. Maybe they're not so different, she and Rachel. Maybe they never have been.
Today, Quinn knows what she needs most is closure, finality. But she tries to imagine them, a year from now, sitting across from each other at a table having dinner, as friends. It's not something she'd ever have considered possible before this very moment, but then again—
"Maybe," she says.