Holding On and Letting Go – A Short Story
She sometimes wishes things had turned out differently. Then she thinks about her two beautiful children and she regrets even considering that. But it's difficult for her sometimes, especially on night's like tonight when she comes face to face with her past and the expectations that haunt it. It always just makes her wonder.
She didn't want to come, arguing with Finn for two hours about how it was a waste of time and she had many other things that she should be doing. He wouldn't hear it. Mike and Tina are their friends he had said and she quickly pointed out that they hadn't spoken to them in five years. He just shrugged and said that didn't mean they aren't their friends. She knew he was right.
So she reluctantly put on her perfect pink dress and wrapped a strand of pearls around her neck. He beamed at her when she came down the stairs and told her she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. It made her heart flutter, just like it did back on the night of their junior prom when he said those same words to her. She wishes she could feel that more often. Sometimes she would settle for feeling anything. After all, this is what she wanted all along wasn't it?
She sits primly in the car as Finn drives and she lets her mind drift back to high school. She had decided during her senior year that the best way to get Finn back was to make him see what he was missing. She went to Puck then, certain he would be all game for her to be back on his arm since Lauren had all but destroyed his reputation. She was surprised when he waivered. He had said then that he didn't want to do that to Finn again but she could tell there was more to it. She didn't question it because she really didn't care. It took her two more weeks to convince him.
If she was surprised at Puck's resistance, she was more surprised at what happened after. As planned, Finn was certainly rattled seeing her hanging onto Puck's arm again. Not so planned, Rachel getting rattled as well. Rachel came to her one night, asking her what her intentions were toward Puck. She couldn't help but feel a little guilty when Rachel started talking about what a good guy he was and how she really hoped that Quinn wasn't toying with his heart. Not once during their conversation did she mention Finn's name, even though it was evident that Rachel realized she was using Puck to make Finn jealous. Her concern was only for Noah Puckerman. It was that night that she realized Rachel was right. And perhaps that was the biggest surprise of all.
She stopped using Puck after that and started to like being back on his arm. But with her attention focused solely on him, she could never get his attention focused on her. He just continued to play the game. She didn't understand it then, she was Quinn Fabray and every guy at McKinley would have jumped at the chance to be in Puck's place. They did get drunk once at one of Santana's parties and she somehow got him into bed. She was elated after, trying desperately to wrap herself back into his arms and convinced she was getting back into his heart. But then a drunk Rachel stumbled into the room and Puck instantly pushed her away. Rachel quietly apologized and then left but Puck left soon after, leaving her alone in the bed.
She was angry then but refused to admit she was also hurt, even when he ended their arrangement the next day. She was still angry (and hurt) when word got around about her sleeping with Puck and Finn showed up at her doorstep. Before she really even said anything, he told her he wanted her back. She made him call and break up with Rachel at that very moment. Somehow, that made her feel a little better.
She publicly relished being back as one half of McKinley's perfect couple. She held his hand tightly every day as they walked down the hallway. She rested her head on his shoulder during Glee and kissed his cheek lovingly every time she would see Puck or Rachel anywhere near. They were named prom king and queen soon after but she didn't even get a chance to enjoy it because at the exact moment Principle Figgins was placing the crown on her head she saw Puck placing his arm around Rachel's shoulder. She hid her pain by wrapping herself around Finn later that night.
She was pregnant with their first child by graduation but she didn't tell anyone until after he had slid a ring on her finger. She wasn't ready to be the victim of the small town rumors again, not after working so hard to get her perfect image back. So she did what she was expected to do, the perfect high school sweethearts became the perfect married couple complete with the house with a white picket fence. On the outside, it all looked (and still looks) wonderful but on the inside, at least for her, it just feels wrong. Sometimes it hurts her to feel that way, not just because she thinks she deserves to be happier but also because she knows Finn deserves better.
When they arrive at the hotel, Finn offers his arm and she readily accepts it. She stiffens her back and raises her chin as they enter the ballroom. It takes less than ten seconds for her to find herself wrapped in Kurt's embrace as he rattles on about how fabulous she looks. It makes her feel somewhat better. Blaine and Mercedes soon join in with hugs and laughs and she finds herself being pulled away from her husband. He just smiles at her as he turns to chat with Artie.
She listens half-heartedly as they update her on their lives, Kurt and Blaine enthusiastically detailing their exciting life in New York City, Kurt making it a point to apologize for not keeping in touch with his stepbrother very much since leaving Lima. She tells him she understands and she does. It's not like she's done a good job at keeping in touch with anyone either. Mercedes dishes on her life Los Angeles. She's designing, she reveals, and she can't help but feel a little jealous. When they ask her how she's doing, she plasters on her famously fake smile and tells them she is perfect. She tells them about how wonderful a husband and father Finn is and how he's worked very hard to build up the cleaning service he started after they got married. She rambles about everything they have, the big house, the nice cars, the expensive vacations and then about how she volunteers at the Lima women's shelter and takes her girls to mommy and me dance classes. She's brilliantly happy she proclaims and she can see in their faces that they believe her.
When Mike and Tina arrive, they all hurry in to offer congratulatory hugs and drinks are served all around. They tell her about their Las Vegas wedding and how they felt though that they needed to come home for a celebration too. She tells them she's glad they did and it's actually true. She does miss her friends from high school, though some more than others.
She's on her third glass of red wine, and actually enjoying herself, when she hears Santana laugh and say that Puckerman sure has cleaned up nicely. Her eyes follow Santana's to Puck walking in the door, his fingers intertwined tightly with a beaming Rachel Berry. She feels a twinge in her heart as she sees them and she wishes she could say she is surprised. Because even though she's heard nothing from or about either of them since graduation, she knew after that fateful night at Santana's party that Rachel was the one he wanted. It's no surprise that he actually got her because she's fairly certain it was Puck that Rachel really wanted all along as well.
She hears Kurt rave when he sees them, telling the story about how Puck showed up in New York after he and Rachel had been there for a couple of months. Guitar in one hand, his heart in the other, he says and sighs. He sang I'm In Love with a Girl to her one night in a bar and they've been inseparable ever since. As they watch Puck gently rub his hand on the small of her back, Kurt says he's never seen a couple as in love as they are and she remorsefully knows that it's true.
It takes a couple more glasses of wine for her to get the nerve to approach him. She had seen Rachel rise to her tiptoes and kiss him before she headed off with Blaine a few minutes previously, leaving him drinking a beer with Mike. He's smiling and laughing as she nears and she feels her heart beat a little bit faster than normal. When he sees her though, the smile fades ever so slightly. It takes a few seconds for him to recover and a gentler smile to take over his face. He says her name and then leans in to hug her tentatively.
He makes small talk, asking about Finn and about their life. She answers him but keeps her eyes rested on his. She knows what she's doing and she knows that she shouldn't be. She's looking for any miniscule indication that he feels anything like how she feels right now. It hurts her slightly when she doesn't. He tells her she looks nice but the way he says it, like he's talking to an old friend not even an old love, isn't how she wants him to. He doesn't mention high school. He's moved far past that. And when he starts speaking with terms like "we" and "us" she realizes just how intertwined Rachel Berry is in his life and how much he wants her there.
Finn finds them a few minutes later and she's surprisingly relieved. He slides his arm around her shoulders and Puck doesn't even flinch a bit. He starts laughing and joking with his old pal like none of the drama that happened between them before ever took place. It takes that for her to realize that she's the only person in the room who's still stuck in high school. She excuses herself from the guys, grabs another glass of wine and sidles up to Tina, talking to her for a while before moving on to Brittany and then back to Mercedes. She tries to use their presence to keep her from looking back to her old love.
An hour or so later, her head is hazy and her face feels like it's on fire so she slips out the door and onto the large balcony, wine glass still in hand. The cool air feels good against her warm skin and she closes her eyes and breathes it in for a few seconds. As she opens her eyes again, she hears the door open and turns to find Rachel Berry stepping outside. She's wearing Puck's suit jacket over her red dress and she smiles at Quinn when she sees her.
"Hey," Rachel says softly as she nears her, "It's too stuffy in there but a bit frigid out here." She wraps Puck's jacket tightly around her body and then takes a seat at a picnic table nearby.
Quinn nods slightly and then holds up her glass of wine. "This can typically help with that."
"True," Rachel laughs and then holds her arm out. "You can sit if you want."
She takes a seat beside her and they sit in silence for a few minutes, her mind racing with what words to say, before she finally speaks again. "You and Puck. It's . . . . good," she says and she sees Rachel smile from the corner of her eyes, "You know, I had forgotten how beautiful his smile was until tonight. The worst part is, it went away when he saw me. But it's there every second that he's looking at you." She glances at Rachel. "Then I realized that he always looked at you that way back then too. I just didn't notice it at the time."
Rachel smiles softly, nodding her head at Quinn's words. "Yes, Noah and I always had . . . . something . . . . it just took us a while to figure it out. I actually probably have you to thank for some of that. It took seeing you with him for me to realize what I felt for him was real."
Her heart twinges a little but she raises her glass and tips it toward Rachel. "Here's to handing you a good man." They share a laugh and Quinn takes a drink of her wine. She lowers her head slightly, contemplating the words that settle on the tip of her tongue. Words she knows she shouldn't say, not to the woman sitting beside her, but she does so anyway. "I loved Puck. You probably didn't know that. Sometimes I think I still love him. And I probably shouldn't be telling you that." She laughs uncomfortably and her eyes move to Rachel but she simply nods, her gaze still soft upon Quinn. "But there's no question that he loves you completely. And that makes me jealous but not so much for the reason I thought. It just makes me want what you two share. I thought maybe seeing him would make me want him again, because part of me has held onto him for so long, but really it just makes me want that love. That passionate and unyielding love that is so evident that no one can question it."
She half expects Rachel to leave or at least provide a lecture on staying away from Puck, she probably would, but instead she smiles comfortably. "Can I tell you something?" Quinn simply nods. "You already have that love. I see it in the way Finn looks at you. I saw it back then, even when I refused to admit it, and I see it now. But you see, you seem to be exactly where I was five years ago. I had this amazing guy looking at me that way and who was ready to give me every ounce of love that I could possibly want but I chose to keep my heart hinged on an unrealistic love of someone else." Rachel takes a deep breath, waiting a few moments before continuing. "It took me letting go of the idea of Finn being the one for me for me to see what was right there all along. So maybe you just need to let Noah go and see what you already have. And besides, you know I'm not going to let you lay a hand on Noah."
As Rachel laughs, Quinn can feel the mood lighten. It's what Rachel had intended. She replays her words over and over in her head along with snapshots of Finn and the love he has provided her over the years. She begins to think that maybe Rachel is right and maybe the only reason she isn't happy is because she hasn't let herself be, she hasn't allowed herself to see the obvious that has been directly in front of her. She's too stuck in the past to accept the wonderful reality that she has right now.
Rachel sits quietly, allowing Quinn to mull over her thoughts. It takes a few minutes for Quinn to look back to her. "I have to admit that I'm surprised . . . . I sat here and told you I might be in love with your boyfriend and you didn't freak out. You actually gave me advice. Good advice."
"This isn't high school Quinn. I was never sure of my relationship with Finn back then so of course I reacted horribly whenever you were moving back in on him. But with Noah . . . I have absolutely no doubts. Our relationship is so strong and solid and I know it will last and nothing is going to change it. But don't get me wrong, I will get incredibly possessive and show my Berry crazy if I have to. But I'm pretty certain that your one, your love . . . . he's the one you already have. You just need to see it."
Quinn nods softly. "Thank you, Rachel. I probably didn't deserve this talk. But thank you."
"Oh, I think we can both say we did things we regret back then. And maybe we treated each other far worse than we should have. But that's in the past and it can stay there."
She knows Rachel's words are genuine and she smiles at her, her subtle way of letting her know she agrees. Perhaps she has been stuck for far too long in the past, hung up on a love that isn't real and still spiteful toward a girl who no longer deserves it (and probably never did before). She knows she has a good life and a good husband that she maybe never fully gave a chance to.
A few minutes pass with her still deep in thought when the door opens once again and Puck and Finn step out. Puck's face immediately lights up when his eyes land on Rachel and he takes a couple quick strides until he's to her and pulling her up into his arms. When he releases her, she slides her arm around his waist and tugs him tightly to her.
She feels Finn's hand slip into hers as he takes a seat beside her. She instantly relishes in his warmth. And when she turns to him and smiles, she finally sees a glimpse of what Rachel was talking about. That unyielding love. It takes Puck's words to break her from Finn's gaze.
"We were getting a bit worried about you two out here. Not that we didn't enjoy your catfights from before," he laughs, "but I see your both in good condition."
Rachel smiles at him and then turns her gaze to Quinn. She nods, "Yeah, I think we're good."
Quinn nods as she turns to look up at her husband. "Perfect."
She spends the rest of the evening in Finn's arms, realizing that she's glad he convinced her to come tonight. She finds herself occasionally glancing at Rachel and Puck, watching as he kisses the top of her head and as she rests against him as the night draws longer and she grows tired. And it still makes her heart hurt ever so slightly but she knows that is just her former self trying to hang onto something that doesn't exist. What does exist is the love she knows she has with the man at her side. And Rachel and Puck? Even she can admit that they are insanely wonderful together.
She never expected to thank Rachel Berry for anything. But perhaps it took Rachel to make her see what has been right in front of her all along, ready for her to accept and nurture.
As she rests her head on Finn's chest, she glances one last time at Rachel and Puck across the room. When Rachel sees her she smiles and winks before being engulfed in Puck's protective arms.
She knows they are both exactly where they need to be and what she thought she never wanted is what she wanted all along.