a/n: thanks so much to Kelsey and Ally for the prompt, and thanks to Rachel for editing! title and lyrics come from Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa."
Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you,
You're so like the lady with the mystic smile.
Is it only 'cause you're lonely,
They have blamed you,
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?
The roof shingles are warm as they press into her back.
This is her favourite place to hide away from the world she knows, because up on her roof she can look out at the rest of the world, the world she wants to explore, the world she wants to make hers.
It wouldn't be the end of the world, would it, to take Blaine up on his offer?
She thinks of her heroine, the greatest inspiration of her life, the heroic, talented, beautiful Ella Fitzgerald, and all the obstacles Ella had to overcome. She knows how her mother would look at her if she claimed that she wanted to pursue her dreams like Ella, how her father would sigh, how the disappointment would radiate off them. It's not fair, really, what they expect of her.
The tree closest rustles, the noise so familiar, and she doesn't bother to glance over, not even when she hears his feet touch the roof. He comes to sit beside her. He doesn't say anything.
She finally turns her head towards him. "It isn't fair. They can't expect me to live out my life here."
"It was always supposed to be like this," he replies. "This was always what they expected."
"But I belong in New York City!" she exclaims. "I belong under bright lights! On stage!"
"I wouldn't mind it, either, but we're not kids anymore, Rachel. Those old dreams of ours don't have legs, not now that we have responsibilities." He looks so resigned, and it breaks her heart. she starts to shake her head, but he shakes his head right back, and that almost makes her smile.
"I want to see the world, Blaine," she whispers.
"I know," he says, and he lies back beside her, and his hand finds hers. "But it's 1952. The world isn't like it used to be. It's a harder place, and we have to be realistic, you know?" He sighs. "I'd like it, too. New York. Broadway. All of it." He pauses, and she watches him light a cigarette and takes a long drag, blowing out a circle of smoke. "I can't disappoint my parents, though. I can't."
"Me neither," she admits. It's quiet for a long time, and the sun disappears behind the horizon. She looks at him, his face so close to hers that their noses brush. The question is in his gaze, and she knows she needs to make a decision, needs to make a choice, and how can she really say no?
She nods, and he squeezes her hand.
It's a way for them to see a small piece of the world at least, to start out on their own, and they won't have to disappoint their parents to do it. Blaine Anderson is her best friend in the world, and he looks at her so earnestly as he suggests it, and she loves him more than anybody.
Her parents hold a graduation party at their house, and she wears her prettiest white dress, does her hair in curls, and her daddy tells her she looks like a princess. She hugs him tightly, and she waits.
A little after four in the afternoon, her house crowded, a glass of lemonade in her hand, Blaine catches her eye, and she nods. She sets down her lemonade, and she smoothes out the skirt of her dress. She feels more nervous than she should, but this isn't something to treat lightly.
"I would like to say something," Blaine announces, voice loud and firm, and people slowly start to grow quiet. He beckons Rachel to the center of the room. She smiles. She knows that half the people in the room suspect what Blaine is about to do, because this is how it works.
Blaine smiles at her, and he looks nervous, too. That makes her feel a little better.
"I wanted everyone, all our friends and family, to be here for this. A lot of you know that Rachel is more than a next door neighbour to me. She is my best friend. And I've realised in the last few years that she is even more than a best friend to me, and I know she feels the same."
She nods, and her hands tremble, and he moves down to one knee, pulling out a ring box.
"Rachel Berry, would you marry me?"
He already talked to her father. She helped him pick out the ring. She already said yes.
But she laughs a little and nods and her tears are real as she repeats her answer. "Yes," she tells him. "Yes, Blaine Anderson, I'll marry you." He chuckles, rises to his feet, and slips the ring on her finger, and everyone around them claps. She spots her mother, and she doesn't think her mother has ever looked this happy, and her father looks so happy, too. She looks back at Blaine.
He hugs her, and he whispers the words, a kind of reassurance. "I love you."
She echoes the words.
It only takes two months to plan the wedding, and it happens in November.
She wears the dress her mother wore, a winter dress, with the bottom hemmed up, and she picks the most beautiful magenta gowns for her bridesmaids. They marry on a Sunday morning in the synagogue, and her daddy cries even as he walks her down the aisle. Blaine kisses her for the first time in front of the rabbi, his hands holding hers so tightly, a kind of lifeline.
It's a beautiful wedding, and she can't stop smiling as they move downstairs for to the synagogue basement for a reception. Her mother ordered the cake from the best bakery in town, and Rachel has her first glass of pink champagne that night as everyone she loves toasts her happiness.
And then her parents announce that as their wedding present, a townhouse in the heart of Columbus waits for Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. Rachel can barely do more than stare in surprise, but Blaine laughs and squeezes her shoulder, and she knows they must have already consulted him.
She hugs her parents, and she thanks them, and she can't believe they bought such a big gift.
It's like her parents wanted to make sure that she ended up in Columbus. And she knows Blaine can read her mind. He says something in the car afterward. "The job with my uncle's company is in Columbus," he tells her. She nods. He already told her that. "I don't like it any better than you do," he says softly, "but after we have more money, when I'm a made man, then we'll see the world."
She looks at him, at his earnest face. "The way we always planned," she murmurs, smiling a little.
He nods, and his smile makes her own widen. "The way we always planned." He nudges her playfully. "You're my best friend, pretty lady," he says. It's their old exchange.
"And you are my best friend, fine gentleman." It's silly, and it's pointless, and it's theirs.
She slides across the seat to hug him, and she kisses his cheek, and she stays pressed to his side, his arm slung over her shoulders, as they pull back out onto the road, ready to start it all.
She stares at herself in the mirror of the hotel bathroom. She looks so much prettier than she ever has before. She almost doesn't want to take the pins out of her hair, or to wash off all her make-up.
This is her wedding night.
She took her wedding dress off at the synagogue with help from her mother, and her mother explained to her how it worked, after you married. Rachel has known a little for years, of course. She isn't a complete turkey. But her mother explained what Rachel actually had to do.
It terrifies her, honestly, but as a wife, her mother says, this is something she does for her husband.
A part of her thinks it should be like the girls at school said, like when Brittany Pierce admitted that she and Artie Abrams always parked up at the abandoned lot behind the lake, and that's why she has a hickey on her neck, this shining little mark that a boy loves her, and Brittany talked about the way Artie made her feel, so alive and so loved and so much. It should be like that.
Rachel hasn't ever had a steady boyfriend.
She loves Blaine as a friend, but she isn't in love with him. She doesn't really understand the difference, except that when you're in love with a person, it means parking and necking and marrying, and it means making love. She nod at her reflection. She tugs the pins out of her hair, and she brushes it out. She cleans her face, but she puts a little blush back on, just in case.
She pulls off her dress, and the corset underneath, too, and she slips on the pale pink night gown her mother gave her. It isn't like her old cotton night gowns; it feels silky under her hands, and she really loves the colour. Her mother has such pretty taste. She looks at herself in the mirror, and she takes a deep breath. Her mother promised that Blaine would do most of the work.
And she flips off the light and walks into the hotel room.
Blaine is in his lovely blue pyjamas that his mother bought him two years ago, already in bed.
"You all ready for bed?" he asks. "I'm exhausted. It's a good thing a man only have one wedding, because I am pooped out." He smiles. She manages to smile back at him.
He pulls back the sheets for her, and she climbs into bed beside him. She thinks her heart might have jumped up into her throat, or maybe her ears. She can hear it pounding so loudly. Blaine turns the light off, and he pulls up the covers. "Goodnight, Rachel."
She waits. He turns over, his back to her. "Goodnight, Blaine," she murmurs. She lets out a breath.
Her heart slows, and she falls asleep.
The townhouse in Columbus is actually beautiful.
She doesn't much care for her neighbours, a surly older couple who had tried and failed to come up with the money to buy the other half of the house for their own son and daughter-in-law, and they only glower at Rachel when she brings them cookies. She tries not to mind.
Blaine lets her put up pretty wallpaper with a lilac border in the kitchen, and he buys her the material to make curtains that match perfectly. The kitchen is her favourite room in the house. It's bigger than any other, and it features her brand new electric mixer, a wedding present from Blaine's grandmother. She knows for a fact that none of her friends from high school have electric mixers.
The fridge is brand new, too, much better than the old one her parents have.
The whole house is a wonder, Rachel thinks.
She would know, after all, as she spends most her time inside it. Blaine starts to travel all across the state to sell the fancy typewriters that his uncle produces, and he always brings her back some kind of treat, and he calls her every night, too, but it still leaves her by herself more often than not.
She takes up the same routine her mother had; the wash on Monday, cleaning on Tuesday, shopping on Wednesday, sewing and mending on Thursday, and more cleaning on Friday. She can do it all in her sleep, honestly, yet somehow it manages to fill up all her time.
She makes friends with Mrs. Pace at the market where she buys food every morning, and she thinks Mrs. Pace might be lonely, too, because her husband died two years ago, and both her sons died in the war, and Rachel can't imagine what it would be like to be so old and so alone.
She tells Blaine, and he says they should invite Mrs. Pace over for dinner on Christmas. They already decided they would spend this Christmas in Columbus rather than visit their parents. It's their first Christmas, after all. It should be special. Rachel buys Blaine the pocket watch he talked and talked and talked about for ages, and Blaine buys her a new record for her collection.
She has the largest record collection of anyone she knows. She hugs him tightly, and they eat all the oranges from their stockings as they listen to her new record and watch the kids across the street build a snow fort. And then Mrs. Pace does come over for Christmas, bringing with her divine bread pudding, and she stays to listen to the Christmas special on the radio afterward.
They finish the night with hot chocolate that warms Rachel from the inside out as she curls up against Blaine on the sofa and they both sing along softly with the Christmas songs on the radio. Mrs. Pace smiles sweetly and tells them they can sing as well as Nat King Cole.
It's a good Christmas.
Mrs. Pace loves Blaine, and she promises to help teach Rachel how to make a roast, and she tells her the best way to clean stains from her sofa, like the tea that Blaine spilled the week before. The more time passes, the more Rachel thinks Mrs. Pace might be her best friend.
It still isn't like she thought it would be, Columbus. She still finds herself a little lonely.
And she misses the stage.
She starred alongside Blaine in every theatre production their high school put on. She isn't in school anymore, however, and she no longer takes piano or voice lessons, which means no more recitals, and she loves to sing, she loves it so much, and she can sing anywhere, anytime, even in her empty house to the chicken she cooks or to the lamp she dusts or to her own face in the mirror.
But as much as she loves simply to sing, she also loves the stage, and she simply misses it.
Blaine tells her they can build a stage in the basement. "As soon as we have enough money," he says, "and we can even start to save in a jar like your parents did for that sewing matching your mother wanted. As soon as we have enough money, we'll clear that damp place out, paint it, add some light fixtures, and build a stage."
"And we can put on shows for all our friends!" she exclaims. "It'll make our dinner parties the most popular in town, Blaine! Oh!" She can already hear the applause in her ears.
She'll just have to wait a little while.
As soon as the last of the snow melts away, Blaine teaches Rachel how to drive.
Her mother had always said she didn't need to know how, but Rachel thinks that if men can drive, women can, too, and Blaine always promised he would teach her. He laughs at her slow crawl, but she obviously needs to learn the proper technique before she speeds down the road like he does.
They're outside of Columbus, on the empty back roads, and she loves how tall and old the trees are around here, so much history in their gnarled trunks and sweeping arms, in their thick, hard bark. She tells Blaine that if trees could talk, they would know more than any person in the world.
They spread a blanket out to eat the picnic she packed. She made sandwiches and lemon squares for dessert, and she packed cokes, too. He opens the bottles for them, and they toast the drive.
A few minutes later, happy, she starts to sing, the sun warm on her face. "See the pyramids along the Nile, / Watch the sun rise on a tropic isle, / But just remember, darling, all the while, / You belong to me." It's an old favourite of theirs, and Blaine sits up to join in, just like he always does.
"See the marketplace in old Algiers," he sings, "Send me photographs and souvenirs, /Just remember when a dream appears, /You belong to me." He pulls her to her feet to dance, and they sing to each other as the warm grass prickles her bare feet, her shoes abandoned by the car. "I'll be so alone without you, / Maybe you'll be lonesome too and blue."
As they finish, he dips her so low she's breathless. "Fly the ocean in a silver plane, / See the jungle when it's wet with rain, / Just remember till you're home again, / You belong to me." They finish with bows to their audience of trees before falling back onto the blanket breathlessly.
And then suddenly he kisses her, softly, sweetly, simply.
It takes her by surprise, but he doesn't try to explain himself. She wants to ask what it means now, a kiss from him, because they're not simply best friends anymore; they're married, and what about romance? What about children? And why didn't they talk about any of this beforehand?
"We better pack up and head to the car," he tells her. "Are you up for driving back into town? We can drive to town and I'll take over when we reach it. I think you can handle the busy streets of Columbus, though." He smiles. She replies that she certainly can drive them home, and she does.
She doesn't even understand how the disaster starts.
It's a Sunday afternoon, and Blaine hands her an envelop of money and his car keys so that she can buy that new ironing board she's had her eye on for weeks. She loves to drive now that she can, but she doesn't often have the chance, not with Blaine always travelling around the state.
He plans to spend the entire day in front of the radio listening to the baseball game, though, and the car is hers. She sings to herself as she drives, and she finally buys the ironing board, but as she drives back, still several blocks from her house, the car sputters and slows and stops, and oh, dear.
She sits in the seat for a moment, hands gripping the wheel tightly, and she tries not to panic. This car is key to their livelihood, and she cannot have just broken it. This cannot have happened.
She turns the key in the ignition, and the car growls furiously at her, and her heart pounds in terror.
What has she done? And what is she supposed to do now?
A truck pulls up behind her, and she starts to cry. She stumbles out of the car, and she looks at the shiny black hood, unsure what she should do. And she didn't even think to pull the car off to the side of the road before it died, and can she simply leave it here and walk back to the house?
"What's the matter, sweetheart?"
She spins around to see the driver of the other car, a giant man with a cane, and her lip trembles with more tears. "I don't know!" she exclaims. "It just stopped, and — and I don't know!"
He walks closer to her, and she realises he can't be much older than her, his face boyish, his hair thick, and she knows what it means when a young man leans on a cane. This is a veteran of their country, a hero of the Korean War, surely. He can help her.
"I run the Hummel garage on sixth," he tells her. "I can help you."
She lets out a breath, swiping at her tears. "Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. I don't live far from here, but I was in an absolute panic. I know dreadfully little about cars, I'm afraid."
He knows how to open the hood of the car, and smoke pours out an instant later. She looks at him with wide eyes, because that can't be good, but he only smiles at her. It makes her soften a little, because this hero of hers isn't unattractive; he has freckles splattered over the bridge of his nose, and she finally understands what it means for a person to have kind eyes. "It'll be fine," he says.
She tucks a little hair behind her ear, suddenly shy. "I'm Rachel," she says, "Rachel Anderson."
"Finn Hudson," he tells her. He pulls a peppermint candy from his pocket, slowly unwraps it with one hand, and pops it into his mouth, his eyes searching the engine all the while. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Anderson," he finally says, turning to face her again. "And I wouldn't be too worried about your wheels. A boat like this can be a little temperamental, is all. It's just overheated."
"Really?" she asks, and the relief almost overwhelms her.
He smiles at her. "That's the word from the bird," he assures, and he bites down on his candy like a little boy, dimples in his cheeks. "It'll be fine, Mrs. Anderson, I promise."
She finds his address in the phonebook. He only lives four blocks down from her, but she writes the address down and tucks it into her pocket, just to be sure. The cookies are just cool enough to put on a plate, and she checks her hair in the hall mirror before she leaves, cookies in hand.
The houses are narrower on his street, and it isn't as nice a part of town, she realises, but it doesn't matter. His house is the third in a row of five, his lawn is barren, and the paint is chipped on his door, but she bangs the knocker, and she shifts from foot to foot. She hopes he likes raison nut.
She can hear someone on the other side of the door a moment before it swings open, but she finds herself taken a back by the sight of him, leaning heavily on his cane, his hair ruffled, his face unshaven. He looks confused to see her, and she quickly clears her throat. "Hello Mr. Hudson! I brought you some cookies! As a thank you, of course. I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't helped me. Here." She holds the plate out to him, smiling widely when he starts to smile.
"Thanks, Mrs. Anderson."
"It's no trouble at all," she tells him. "I really do appreciate all your help."
He tugs the saran wrap off to grab a cookie, and she bites her lip. "It's good," he mumbles, half the cookie in his mouth, and she laughs a little at him. He nods. "It's really good." He smiles at her.
"I am something of an excellent baker," she replies, pleased. She waits.
"You, um, you want to come in? I can make you some tea, or coffee, and, um, I think I have orange juice, too." He scratches the back of his neck, cookie crumbs in the corner of his lip.
And she beams. "A cup of tea would be lovely."
He opens the door wider to let her in, and the entrance hall is small, but she likes the faded rose rug. He leads her down a narrow hall to a square kitchen that still has an ancient ice box rather than a fridge, and Rachel didn't know anyone other than her great aunt Ruth had an ice box anymore.
She likes his house. It's full of trinkets, and she can hear a baseball game on the radio in another room; it reminds of her granddaddy, who always kept the radio on, no matter the broadcast.
Mr. Hudson sets the cookies on the counter as Rachel takes a seat at the table, and she watches him move around the kitchen. He leans his cane against the ice box and limps over to the pantry, and she knows it isn't proper to ask about that sort of subject, but she can't really help herself.
"Are you a veteran of the Korean War?" she asks. He can't possibly be old enough to have fought in the Great War, and an injured leg would explain why he isn't still in Korea now.
He nods. "They shipped me home just about two months ago." He pulls out a kettle.
"It must be hard for you to readjust," she says. "I mean, I understand that it's very difficult — and when I say understand I don't mean that I literally understand, because of course I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like; I use the word more in the sense that I've heard it can be difficult. But, oh, we don't have to talk about it. Unless you want to talk about it. If you want to talk about it, we can, but we don't have to. I'll stop. We won't talk about it." She looks at her lap.
She tends to run off at the mouth.
"It's fine, sweetheart," he murmurs. She looks back at him. "There just isn't that much to say." He leans against the counter, and it's quiet. "Your husband didn't want to fight?" he asks.
She shakes her head. "He was too young when the war first started," she says, "and I don't think his poor mother could have taken it if he had enlisted after high school. And I'd have lost my heart to worry if he had, to be honest with you." She hopes he isn't offended by that.
He only smiles a little and turns back to the tea pot. It's quiet. "And how long have you worked in the automobile business?" she asks. "You said you run the Hummel garage, didn't you?"
"It belonged to my stepfather, but he, um, he's actually in Congress now." He looks a little sheepish at the admission. "You ever heard of Burt Hummel?"
She gasps. "I have! Oh, that's delightful, Mr. Hudson! And, you know, now that you mention it, I do think I've heard that Mr. Hummel used to run his own garage." She smiles brightly at him.
He nods. "Anyway, he shut it down when he moved out to D.C. with my mother, but I opened it back up a month ago. It's mine now, and the old house is, too." He looks around the kitchen for a moment. "It's a life." The way he says it makes her think of her own resignation, of the way she tells herself that her life is what it is, and she might as well appreciate it for the happiness it does hold, despite what else it doesn't hold. She thinks she and Finn Hudson might be kindred spirits.
The tea kettle whistles, and a few minutes later he sets a cup in front of her and sinks into a seat.
It seems he doesn't talk much. She doesn't mind. "I'm a singer, you know," she tells him. "It's what I was born to do." She smiles, but he asks her where she sings, and her smile falters. "As a married woman," she explains hastily, "I don't have a job, exactly, but someday my husband and I will move to New York, and I intend to be on the Broadway stage. I really can sing beautifully."
He nods, and he pulls a peppermint candy out of his pocket.
"Would you like me to sing something for you?" she offers. "I know almost every popular song. If you just name a song, I'm sure I can sing it for you. Are you a fan of the great Ella Fitzgerald? Or you probably like Nat King Cole, don't you? My husband loves Nat King Cole. I'll sing you an old favourite of mine." She clears her throat.
"You really — you really don't have to sing anything," he starts.
"No, I want to!" she assures. It's been so long since anyone other than Blaine heard her sing. She moves to her feet, smoothing out the skirt of her dress, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath.
"Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa," she sings, "Men have named you. You're so like the lady with the mystic smile. / Is it only cause you're lonely / They have blamed you, / For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?" She opens her eyes to look at him, and she finds a small smile starting on his face.
"Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa, / Or is this your way to hide a broken heart? / Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep, / They just lie there, and they die there/ / Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa, / Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?" She touches a hand to her chest as she belts out the last few lines, the final "Mona Lisa," and she finishes.
He shakes his head, and she adores the amazement in his gaze. "You really can sing," he says.
She beams. "I'm very talented, I know. I'll be famous someday."
"I believe it," he says, and the honest declaration means more to her than even she really understands. She ducks her head, and he stands to fetch the plate of cookies. She thinks she might have just made a new friend. "I wish I could sing like that," he says.
"I can give you lessons," she offers, and her own idea surprises her, but the more she thinks about it, the more excited she becomes. "Oh, I'd love to give you lessons, actually! Oh! Oh! I have an idea. I'll give you singing lessons, and you'll teach me about cars, so that I don't have to be a damsel in distress again. It'll be perfect. What do you say?"
He stares at her for a moment, and he finally nods, half a smile on his face. "Okay. Sure."
She hasn't ever had a friend with such a sweet smile before.
It turns out that Mr. Hudson is a world traveler.
She invites him to over to her house for his first lesson so that they can use the piano, and he can sing surprisingly well. He isn't trained, she knows, but he has raw talent, and she tells him as much when they sit out on the porch with lemonade afterward. He smiles at her, and she is infinitely curious about him, about his life.
All she knows is that he lives alone, fixes car, and loves peppermint candies.
He was born in Columbus, he tells her, and he moved to Cincinnati after high school, where he worked for an electricity company for over a year. He didn't have a degree, though, and he didn't want one, so he moved out to Wisconsin, where he worked on a farm until he had enough money to buy his truck, and he drove back east to Virginia, and he worked in the shipyards in Norfolk.
And then the war broke out, and he was shipped abroad.
"I haven't actually been anywhere real, though," he says. "I always wanted to see Europe, like my old man, or maybe drive out to California and see the coast. Or New York, the Big Apple." He smiles a little, almost sadly, as he sips his lemonade and stares off into space.
"I'm sure you will someday," she says. She sighs a little. "I've lived in Ohio my whole life. I'm a few years younger than you, but I won't say I'm not envious of all the places you've visited. I was born in Lima, and I moved to Columbus this past winter, and that's all I know of the world. I'd do anything to travel all the places you've been. But we'll both see the world someday, won't we?"
He looks at her, and he manages half a smile. "Yeah, someday."
She tells Blaine about him that night on the phone.
Her husband met him briefly when the car was overheated, of course, but she explains how she took Mr. Hudson a plate of cookies as a thank you, and she learned that he wanted to learn to sing a little better, and he really is quite talented. "And tomorrow I'll stop by his garage," she says, "and he'll give me my first lesson on cars. I'll know even more than you soon, just you wait."
He chuckles. "I can't wait to be outdone," he replies. "I'll be home on Thursday, okay?"
It doesn't take long to find a routine with Mr. Hudson.
She calls him in the morning to ask if he might be free that afternoon, and he almost always is; a part of her thinks he might live off inherited wealth, and he does have a house and a business all his own. He'll stop by her house, and she'll play the piano as she instructs him, and most of their lessons end up on the back porch with lemonade and some sort of snack. She likes it.
He doesn't smoke as much as Blaine, but he always has peppermints in his pockets.
She asks him why he likes them so much, and he simply shrugs. "I like candy." He smiles, the sucker trapped between his front teeth, and she giggles. He can be so reserved sometimes, so distant, but she loves when he acts happy; it's infectious, really.
And they continue to meet about once a week at his garage, usually on Sunday afternoons. He takes apart an old '48 Ford truck to show her all the parts. A handful of lessons later, though, the lessons aren't so much lessons anymore; she only sits in his garage as he works, and she tells him about her day, and what she heard on the radio yesterday, and, yes, I'll have a mint, thank you.
A few weeks into June, Rachel watches him talk on the shop phone, and her curiosity is too much for her. "Mr. Hudson," she starts as he hangs up the phone, and he turns back to her, "may I ask you something of a personal question?" She knows he doesn't like to talk about himself.
"If you really want to ask personal questions, Mrs. Anderson, you might want to call me Finn."
His smile is playful, and she simply shakes her head at him. "Alright, then," she says. "May I ask you a personal question, Finn? And you're more than welcome to call me Rachel, of course."
"Yes, Rachel," he replies, laughter in his voice, "you may ask me a personal question."
He looks expectant, a smile still on his face, but she hesitates for a moment. "Why did you decide to move back to Columbus," she finally asks, "when you were shipped home, I mean? You don't seem to like it here very much, and your family isn't here anymore. And I never hear you talk about friends or a girl or anyone, really, and I just. . . ." She trails off. She can be so rude, can't she?
He doesn't look offended, though.
He simply seems to think about it for a moment. "I don't know," he finally admits. "I didn't keep in touch with any old school friends, but my parents never sold the house or the business when they moved, so I had those here, and it didn't seem any better or worse than anywhere else." He shrugs.
She nods. "Well," she says, "I'm glad you came back here regardless." She smiles at him, and he raises his eyebrows at her. "If you hadn't," she explains, "I never you would have met you!"
She can feel his smile all the way down to the tips of her toes.
She and Blaine drive back to Lima for July 4th.
All her old schoolmates are still there, and they shower Rachel in hugs, asking her about Columbus and her house and and her marriage, and they all seem exactly as they did when she left them. She wonders if she seems the same, too, and she smiles and nods and tells them she loves Columbus and she loves her house and she loves being married. It seems like the right thing to say.
Rachel wasn't truly close with these girls in school; she spent most of her time with Blaine. But they act like they were close with her as they all sip ice tea on the hill that overlooks the park where they'll set off fireworks in a few hours, and she likes that they want to be her friends now.
"I'm completely envious of you," Mary exclaims. "It must be wonderful to be married."
"And never have to work again," Sarah says, nodding. Mary nods, too. They ask her about it, about what she does, if she ever goes to parties with Blaine, if she really has an electric mixer, and did Mary really hear Blaine tell her father that he wanted to buy a television? She smiles, and she nods, and she wants to be excited about a television, too, but all this talk only makes her feel a little sick, and she isn't sure why. She thinks the ice tea might be bad.
The fireworks are gorgeous, of course.
They really aren't too terribly special, though; it's the same show every year.
She takes leftover July 4th pie to Finn. He shouts for her to come right in when she knocks, and she finds him at the kitchen table, glasses on, a pair of trousers in front of him. "Are you mending those?" she asks, smiling at the sight of him, this giant man, a solider, sewing his trousers.
"A found a tear in the seat of the pants," he replies, a peppermint caught between his teeth.
"Yes, I'd imagine that would be something of a snafu." She chuckles to herself as she puts the pie in his ice box, cherry, she tells him, and she makes herself a pot of tea before she takes a seat across from him. "Those are beautiful stitches." She watches him sew, watches his hands, large and calloused, and she traces his fingers with her eyes, and she wants to trace them with her own fingers, but these thoughts about his hands and her hands and what the skin of his hands feels like, they're silly thoughts, and she shakes them from her head. "How did you learn to mend like that?"
"They taught us in the army," he replies.
"That's terrific," she tells him. "I think you're the first man I've ever met who can do that himself."
He smiles faintly and focuses on the trousers, and she tells him to practice his scales as he sews, and he does. He can reach higher notes now. A few minutes later, she switches the radio from a baseball game to a song, and they sing along, his voice sweet. He sings with such love, and it isn't a love shared with the stage; it's all for the song itself, for the music, and it carries away her breath.
She thinks he sings the way songs are supposed to be sung.
She can't remember if summer in Lima ever felt this miserable, but it doesn't really matter.
Blaine helps her pick out screens with slits to let the cool air in when it rains, but it never really seems to rain. She spends most of her time in front of the kitchen fan, and she feels like she might die when she visits Finn at his shop and the whole place is humid, flies buzzing up in the ceiling.
She won't be deterred as she hands him tools, though, even as she sweats through the plaid dress she made for herself almost two years ago. It's a favourite of hers, a light material with thin straps that her mother calls childish, and her mother says she shouldn't wear it anymore, but Rachel doesn't understand why not. As she looks up from the toolbox to hand Finn a wrench, she catches his eyes on her shoulder, on the loose strap that always falls down, and she becomes aware of the sweat in the hollow of her throat and the swatch of skin beneath her collar bone that is exposed.
His eyes are dark, and she wants to call it her imagination. Nobody looks at her that way.
It makes her heart race off beat.
She isn't that kind of girl, isn't that kind of pretty; her own husband isn't interested.
Her eyes on the floor, she pulls the strap of her dress up as casually as she can, pretending not to notice his gaze, and Finn thanks her for the wrench, his eyes back on the car, the world set right.
"A feminist?" Finn asks, raising his eyebrows at her.
"Yes, that's reason number eighteen," Rachel says, nodding. "I love Ella Fitzgerald because she is a feminist. A lot of people look down on strong female musicians like Ella, but I am not among them. And reason number nineteen is a quote. I sing like I feel. I think this really epitomises what makes her music so spectacular. I'll explain. I think —"
"Wait, wait," he interrupts, "you haven't finished with reason number eighteen. What's a feminist?"
She stops. "What do you mean?" She thinks the heat might make her hear things.
He laughs a little. "I mean what I said. What's a feminist?"
"Finn Hudson!" she exclaims. "What kind of kook doesn't know what a feminist is?"
He shrugs. "This kind, I suppose."
"I'll enlighten you, then," she says, and she chooses to ignore the laughter on his face. "A feminist is anyone who believes that women are entirely, utterly, completely equal to men. We are as intelligent, as strong, and as talented, and this is as much our world as it is yours." She nods.
"That's it?" he says. "I think that makes me a feminist."
She stares at him, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, sweat beaded at the line of his hair, his grin boyish, his eyes bright, and he laughs like a child. "What? What's that look? No joke!"
She leans forward, grasps his face in her hands, and kisses his cheek. It's impulsive, and her heart is hot in her chest, and he's simply too much for her. "You have me absolutely snowed, Finn Hudson. I adore you." He looks down, and she feels a little flushed. She takes a sip of lemonade.
"I adore you, too, sweetheart," he replies, and if the August heat doesn't melt her, his smile will.
She isn't sure how it happens, but she sees less and less of Blaine as summer fades into fall.
Finn asks her why he never sees Blaine, and she hasn't ever really thought about it. Most days of the week Blaine is on the road; that's his job, after all, and she supposes when he is home she wants to spend her time with him, or maybe when he isn't home she needs Finn for company. It seems strange, really, to imagine the two of them together.
It certainly doesn't occur to her that Finn doesn't see Blaine because she never really sees Blaine.
She doesn't even notice that truth, not until a rainy Friday phone call from his mother.
Blaine is at the kitchen table, sales papers spread all him, half a box of cigarettes stubbed out in the kitchen ashtray. She asks him what the matter is, but he only shakes his head and mutters something about quarterly sales. She doesn't push it, not when the phone rings.
His mother is on the other end, exhaustion in her voice as she tells Rachel that she would really love if Blaine could come for a visit to help out, and Rachel, too. "He comes home from the hospital tomorrow, dear," Mrs. Anderson tells her, "and I'm already so exhausted."
"I'm not sure I understand," Rachel murmurs. "Who comes home from the hospital?"
"Jonathan, of course," Mrs. Anderson says. "Oh, dear, did Blaine hide the severity from you? Jonathan did the same to me when his brother Mark had his accident in '42. It wasn't too serious, but my poor John has been in the hospital all week."
Rachel looks over at Blaine. "Oh, um, no, I just wasn't thinking, Anne. I'm sorry. And I'm sure we can come down to visit. You shouldn't have to handle it all yourself." She lets Mrs. Anderson talk for a few more minutes, and she finally manages to hang up. She turns to Blaine.
"Who was it?" he asks.
"It was your mother," she says.
He glances up from all his papers.
"What happened to you father, Blaine?"
His shoulders sink, and he sighs, dropping his pen. "He had a heart attack last week. I told you that. My mother swore he'd be fine, but I'm sure she's decided to start panicking now, right?" He runs a hand over his face. "And she wants us to visit, right? I suppose we should."
She can only stare at him, and finally he actually looks at her. "Your father had a heart attack and you didn't tell me?" she asks. "How could you not have told me? How could I have not known?"
"It was while I was in Carmel," he says. "I drove down to the hospital to make sure he was fine, and he was, and I'm sure I called you. I'm sure. He is fine, though. You don't need to worry."
"It's not. . . ." She shakes her head at him.
He lights another cigarette. "What did my mother say?"
"She does want us to visit. I told her we would."
He nods. "We can drive up tomorrow morning and stay for the weekend." He looks back at his papers. She stands, and she stares at him, and she tries to remember when he became a stranger, when this became their relationship. He glances up after a few minutes. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she murmurs, and she turns away.
They do drive up the next morning, and his father really is well, or as well as he can be. Rachel visits her parents, and she helps Mrs. Anderson around the house, and the weekend passes quickly. They drive back to Columbus on Sunday night, and she sleeps for most of the drive.
Blaine leaves for Cincinnati the very next morning.
"It just feels so strange," she tells Finn, "and I'm not even sure how we became like this. I mean, he used to be my best friend in the whole world, and now what are we? I don't even know." She knows she shouldn't complain to Finn, but she can't keep the thoughts to herself.
"How long have you been with him?" Finn asks. "I mean, if you don't mind my asking."
They're at his house, a radio show on in the background, and the soft glow of all the lamps on makes this house seem particularly warm as sleet falls in sheets outside.
"It's fine," she says. "We married last November. It hasn't even been a year."
Finn frowns a little. "You weren't his steady before you married?" he asks, and she realises as she looks over at him that she hasn't ever actually told Finn about her relationship with Blaine.
"We actually weren't together at all when we married," she says. "We were never a couple. We were simply friends — the best of friends. We were always different, he and I, than the rest of Lima. We had bigger dreams. We wanted New York and Broadway and the bright lights of stardom. And, well, I wasn't among the prettiest of girls at school, and he never seemed to fit in among the boys, and we just leaned on each other." She smiles a little. "He was my Blaine."
She shakes her head of the memories. "But when we graduated, all these expectations fell on us, he to move to Columbus, to work with his uncle, to settle down with a good girl, and me to find a husband, to settle down, to be a wife and a mother, and — and the bright lights of stardom started to grow distant." She stops. It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was really only a year.
"What happened?" Finn asks.
"And Blaine said maybe we should marry," she continues. "It would be a way to stay together. My mother would let me leave home if I went with Blaine, and once he made enough money we could go to New York together, and it might be later than we planned, but better late than never, right?"
"I hate them," Finn finally murmurs, "expectations."
She nods. "It's not fair. I — I didn't want this life. It sounds so terrible to say, but I didn't." She feels like it's a confession of guilt, and she looks at the princess cut ring on her finger. "All this marriage has done is cost me my best friend, and he was the one shining beacon in it to start."
She looks back at him, and he quickly looks away from her before she can read his expression.
"I wanted to marry a girl once," he says, pulling a peppermint from his pocket.
He nods. "She was my sweetheart in school." He smiles. "I adored her. I played ball, and she was a cheerleader, and she was the prettiest girl in school. Quinn Fabray." The peppermint clangs against his teeth. "And when we graduated, I asked her father for her hand." He finally looks at Rachel, and he doesn't look sad, not really; he simply looks a little rueful. "He said no."
Rachel almost can't believe that. "How could he say no?"
"He said I didn't have true Christian faith," he replies, "and that I was irresponsible, and immature, and a dreamer, and I wouldn't really amount to anything, wasn't worth anything. That's why I went to Cincinnati. I wanted to prove him wrong. I wanted to prove I could deserve to marry her."
He shakes his head, self-deprecation on his face. "I was a fool."
"No," she murmurs. "No."
"I drove back to Columbus the same night the electric company offered to help pay for my degree. This was my chance. I had a whole future now. I could be that man for her. And I drove down here, and she had already married somebody else, a business man ten years older than us. It really took it out of me, all those ideas I had about how love and dreams and — and how it all worked."
She gapes at him. "What woman wouldn't wait for you?" she exclaims. That isn't how these stories are supposed to end, certainly not when the dashing male lead is Finn Hudson.
He laughs. "You really are a sweetheart, you know that?"
"You don't call me that as often anymore," she says. She bites her lip. "I like it," she admits. She smiles a little, and he only smiles back at her, and it makes the pit of her stomach feel strangely light. "It was her loss, you know. This girl of yours. It was she who didn't deserve you."
"And you deserved to marry somebody you loved," he says, his voice thick.
"Oh, I love Blaine," she says, shaking her head, "I do. I just. . . ."
"It wasn't like you thought it would be," he supplies.
She nods. "It wasn't like I thought it would be." It's quiet. "What kind of dreamer were you?" she finally asks. "If her father didn't approve of you, what was your dream?" She starts to smile. "You didn't want to be a famous singer like me, did you?" She doesn't know why she adores the idea.
He chuckles. "No, not quite. I, um, I actually used to have a soft spot for jazz, and I wanted to be a famous saxophonist."
"No!" she exclaims, sitting up straight.
"Yeah, I didn't just play baseball in high school," he says, grinning. "I played the sax, too. I used to make my mother go ape the way I'd practice at all hours. But it lights your soul on fire, the sax."
"You don't still have it, do you?" she says. "Oh, Finn, you have to play for me! I'm sure you'd be divine at it, you have such fantabulous musical talents. Oh, please, Finn, please?" She claps her hands together to beg, and he ducks his head and scratches the back of his neck.
"I haven't played in years, not since before the war."
"I'm sure you'll still be wonderful!" she assures.
He stands. "It's upstairs," he says. She jumps to her feet to hand him his cane. Around his house or his shop he tends simply to limp, but he still needs his cane for the stairs. He only shakes his head at her when she eagerly hands it to him. "Thanks, sweetheart," he says. She beams at him.
It takes him longer to return downstairs than it should, and she hollers at him to hurry up. He finally comes back downstairs, a saxophone in his hand, the strap thrown of his shoulder. It needs to be cleaned, she can see, and she offers to do that for him, "but after you play me something!"
"What do you want to hear?"
He leans down, takes the reed between his teeth, but he pauses.
"Finn!" she exclaims, laughing, "play!" And he grins at her as he does finally starts to play. Her heart soars at the sound, and she just knew he would be wonderful. She recognises the song immediately, and he manages to grin even as he plays when she starts to sing along.
"Ask me how do I feel, / Ask me now that we're cosy and clinging, / Well sir, all I can say, is if I were a bell I'd be ringing!" She spins around, running her hands over his shoulders. "From the moment we kissed tonight, / That's the way I've just gotta behave, / Boy, if I were a lamp I'd light, / And If I were a banner I'd wave!" She taps her foot and wags her finger playfully.
He really can play, and he tries his best to dance with her, making her laugh.
"Ask me how do I feel, little me with my quiet upbringing, / Well sir, all I can say is if gate I'd be swinging! / And if I were a watch I'd start popping my springs! /Or if I were a bell I'd go ding dong, ding dong ding! / Ask me how do I feel from this chemistry lesson I'm learning."
She circles him. "Well, sir, all I can say is if I were a bridge I'd be burning! / Yes, I knew my moral would crack, / From the wonderful way that you looked! /Boy, if I were a duck I'd quack! / Or if I were a goose I'd be cooked!" She laughs a little, and she spins fast enough for her skirt to twirl up around her. She just adores jazz.
"Ask me how do I feel, ask me now that we're fondly caressing! / Well, if I were a salad I know I'd be splashing my dressing. / Ask me how to describe this whole beautiful thing, / Well, if I were a bell I'd go ding dong, ding dong ding!"
He finishes with a flare, and she laughs breathlessly. "Oh, Finn, that was spectacular!"
"I haven't played with anyone in years," he admits, sitting down heavily.
She kneels in front of his seat, amazed by him, and her hand touches his knee. "You're just the most, Finn," she tells him, and he ducks his head. She bites her lip. "And I really mean that, I hope you know. You are worth something, Finn. You're worth the world." She squeezes his knee.
His hand covers her own, his warm fingers slipping around the curve of her wrist to touch her palm, to hold her hand, and she thinks her heart might be in her hand. He offers her a small smile.
He doesn't say anything, but his hand, his smile, they're enough.
At the end of October, Finn takes a trip up to Boston to see his brother.
She hardly knows what to do with herself. She does the wash, the line drawn through the kitchen, and she wakes up early enough to talk to the milkman, something she always wanted to do, and she does her nails a pretty pink shade that Blaine bought for her ages ago. He's away, too.
Finn sends her a postcard. It doesn't say much, but it says he wishes she were there with him, and she likes that line, can hear him say it, a smile in his voice, the sound of a mint clanging against his teeth between the words, and she really wishes she were there with him, too.
The day he drives back home is marked on her calendar, and he calls her to say he's home.
She leaves dishes in the sink, mismatches her hat and her scarf, and hugs him as soon as he opens the door to her. "I missed you!" she exclaims, taking a deep breath of cigarettes and peppermint.
"I missed you, too," he replies, laughing, and he steps back to let her pass him by into the house. The radio is on, and she can see his dinner dishes still on the table. She offers to help him clean up, and she wants to hear all about Boston. "It isn't that much fun," he tells her. "It's too cold."
She likes the cold, she declares. "I can't wait to enjoy winter in New York, in fact!"
She tells him all about her last two weeks, and how she cooked her first turkey in preparation for a Thanksgiving turkey in a few weeks. "I want my first Thanksgiving turkey to be perfect." He only nods, smiling, and they end up in the living room, where he turns up the radio. She leans against his shoulder on the couch. "I'm so happy you're home, Finn," she says. "I really did miss you."
He kisses the top of her head.
And she doesn't mean to, but she falls asleep like that, pressed against him, the radio buzzing. She doesn't know how long she sleeps, but he touches her face softly to wake her up. "I'll walk you home," he offers, and he helps her to her feet and helps her put on her coat, and she feels like a little girl as he takes her hand and walks her out of the house. It's cold out, snow falling lightly, and he wraps an arm around her shoulders so that she can snuggle against him and his giant wool coat.
She falls asleep minutes after she arrives home, happy.
A week later, he asks her to help teach him how to bake.
His mother plans to visit for Thanksgiving, and he wants to have something ready for her, a treat, a cake or a pie or a loaf of that banana bread that Rachel makes. She loves the eager look on his face as he explains this to hear, and she immediately agrees. "I am an excellent teacher," she assures.
It turns out teaching Finn Hudson how to bake is a little messier than she expected, however.
"And just a pinch of the cinnamon," she says.
"How much is a pinch?" he asks, lighting a cigarette. She takes it from him and stubs it out. He'll ruin the taste of the cake with his cigarettes. He pulls out a mint instead.
"It's a little less than a dab," she tells him.
"How much is a dab?"
And suddenly cinnamon is splattered across the kitchen counters, and he looks at her with wide eyes, because how did that happen? She laughs, a little exasperated, and she takes the cinnamon away from him to demonstrate a dab. He also manages to crush far too many eggs, and she doesn't even want to know how all that flour winds up in his hair, and he continually tries to sneak batter.
"It was only a little pinch!" he exclaims, batter on his upper lip.
"No, Finn, that was a dab."
He grins at her. "I'm learning so much."
She takes the bowl of batter away from him. "I would like to think so, but I find it far more likely that rather than present your mother with a beautiful cinnamon cake, you'll instead be forced to explain that you ate all the batter." She pulls out a pan. "A man can bake, you know. It is possible."
"You really should try some," he tells her. "Here." He leans over her, ignores her attempt to elbow him away, and swipes his finger through the batter. He holds his finger out to her. "Try it."
"I don't eat cake batter, Finn. The eggs will kill you."
"I'm still alive."
"Yes, now wait thirty minutes."
He laughs, but he squeezes her hip with one hand and holds the other toward her lips, batter dripping off his finger onto the floor, and she sighs and licks the batter off his finger. The intimacy of the act takes her by surprise, so fed up with him as she was, but she finds her heart thumping off beat as he smiles at her. She presses her lips together shyly. "It does taste good."
Her voice is shakier than she wants it to be.
His hand slides up from her waist to touch her hair, and his thumb brushes against her cheek. Her breath catches, and she tries not to look him in the eye but his gaze is too much for her, draws her own gaze up, and his thumb moves to run along her lip. She can't explain the way her stomach tightens. He leans down, and his breath fans against her face. She can see the flecks of green in his eyes before suddenly his lips are against hers, a kiss, and she closes her eyes.
She grips his arm tightly, and she doesn't know what to do, but he does. He kisses her.
And she's never been kissed like this before, never in her whole life, because Blaine never —
She turns her head, his lips skim across her cheek, and she pulls back, draws away from him. Her hand is in his, and he won't let go, but she looks at him, and she shakes her head. "Finn, no," she says. "No. I am married. I have a husband. No." She can't really breathe.
"You have a husband you don't even love," he tells her, "a husband you married for your parents."
"I do love him!" she exclaims, and she tears her hand from his. "He is my best friend. I married him because he is my best friend, and I do love him. I do, and I am not this woman. I am not." She turns away from him, and her fingers fumble with the ties of her apron. "I should leave."
"If you just pour the batter in that pan, put it in the oven like we talked about, it should make a lovely cake. And — and the recipe for the cinnamon glaze is right over on the table." She manages to tug off her apron, and folds it up with shaking hands. His hand reaches for hers.
She stalks out of the kitchen, and he follows her, and she spins suddenly on her heel.
"I am not about to commit adultery, Mr. Hudson. I am married, and I cannot cheat on my husband. I will not cheat on my husband. You cannot ask it of me. I am married!" she exclaims, and she can't handle this, can't handle the way he simply stares at her. "I am a wife."
"And is that it, sweetheart?" he asks abruptly. "I thought you wanted more. You always said you wanted more. I thought you wanted to be famous, wanted to see the world, wanted to make something of your life, but all you really want is to be a wife?" His words are a kind of challenge.
She shakes her head. "They are not mutually exclusive!" she cries.
"They are when you're married to man you don't love because you were too scared to defy your parents," he replies. "You call yourself a feminist, Rachel, but it doesn't mean a damn thing to you, does it?" He shakes his head at her. "If you really believed that women were equal to men, you wouldn't let your husband dictate your life. You'd fight for what you wanted."
"A feminist is not an adulterer!" she shouts, unshed tears burning her eyes. "I am happy with who I am, and you have no right to tell me I am less of woman because I won't cheat on Blaine!"
"I didn't say that," he replies, his voice low. "You talk about all your beliefs, about feminism and about equality, and you talk about all your dreams, for New York and for Broadway and for stardom, but all you do is — "
"I'm allowed to have dreams and a husband!" she tells him.
"— but all you do is sit around your house and bake pies for a husband you don't even love! And I listen to you yack and yack and yack, and if you don't mean what you say, then just shut up!"
She doesn't want to cry in front of him.
She can't even look at him. She hurries out of the room, hugging herself tightly, and the front door is right in front of her, and he says her name, voice softer, but she ignores him. She pulls back the chain. He touches her waist. "I didn't mean that," he breathes. "I didn't, sweetheart."
The nickname makes her heart hurt.
"You asked me if I have feelings for you," she whispers, staring at the door. "I don't. You are my friend. It is all you are, it is all you have ever been, and it is all you ever will be. You are my friend, Finn. I don't love you, I don't want to be with you, and I don't want to hear your empty apologies."
His hand slips from her waist.
And she leaves.
The house is dark and empty.
She walks down the familiar hall to her own kitchen, and she sets her purse and her apron on the table. She switches on the light. She starts to tug off her heels, but she catches sight of her wedding picture to Blaine on the fireplace mantle in the living room, and she stumbles.
She sinks down to the ground, her back to the oven, and she tries not to sob but she can't help it, and no one is even here to hear her cry, because Blaine is never here. She covers her face with her hands. It isn't supposed to be like this. This isn't supposed to be her life.
Finn shouldn't have kissed her. He shouldn't have said what he said. He shouldn't have.
It isn't his fault, though, is it? She spends all her time with, sees him everyday, adores the way he calls her sweetheart. She flirts with him. She must. She doesn't know how to flirt, but she must flirt with him. She brought this on herself. She should have never become as close with him as she did. Blaine is her husband. She chose to marry him. And she did choose this as her life. This is her choice. Blaine is her husband. And she can't see Finn after this. She can't. Blaine is her husband.
How did all this happen? How did her life fall apart in a year? How did her feelings, her relationships, her whole world all become so unfamiliar, even to her own heart?
She cries until she can't cry anymore, until her eyes burn and her head hurts and her throat is raw, but afterward she finds that her house is still dark and empty, and she is still alone.
The rest of the week passes quietly.
She invites Mrs. Pace over for lunch. She washes all the sheets. She practices her cross-stitch as she listens to the radio. She sees a box of mints at the store, and she thinks maybe she should say something to Finn. She should explain why this clean break is necessary. She stares at the phone.
She picks it up. "Amherst-7032, please."
The operator starts to connect her. And she hangs up the phone. She can't talk to Finn. She can't.
He'll understand. He must. She busies herself with lemon squares, because Blaine loves lemon squares, and he finally comes home tonight from his big trip to Chicago. He doesn't call as often as he used to, back when they were first married, but he has called a handful of times.
He says she'd love Chicago. She thinks she would. She wonders if she'll ever have the chance to go, and that makes her think of Finn again, of the way he accused her of all talk and no walk. She shakes her head. It isn't like that. She needs to be realistic right now. She'll see the world someday.
A little after nine, headlights wash over the window.
She hugs him the moment he walks through the dark, his cheeks pink from the cold, and he laughs and kisses her cheek. He has flowers for her, because he always brings her flowers, and he surely has all sorts of goodies from Chicago, too, and she hugs him a little tighter. He smells like travel.
She hates how much she wishes he smelled like peppermint.
"I love you," she tells him, and she feels like an adulterer, and she did kiss Finn, didn't she?
Blaine kisses the top of her head. "I love you, too."
He only stays home for two days before he leaves for Richmond. He promises to call as soon as he arrives. He doesn't. He never calls the entire trip. She cries herself to sleep when she realises she wouldn't have cared two weeks ago; she only cares now because she doesn't have Finn either. She is a terrible woman, a terrible, terrible woman, and she doesn't deserve either of them.
She calls her mother, who talks endlessly about how much she hates the snow. "Are you excited for your anniversary?" her mother finally asks. "You'll be married a year next Sunday!"
Actually, Rachel hadn't remembered. She stares out at the Ohio snow that falls in fluffy sheets, and she plasters a fake smile on her face to help add cheer to her voice as she says she can't wait.
It's past ten at night, and she doesn't expect Blaine home when she hears the front door open.
She panics for an instant, but he takes the stairs two at a time, just like always, and moments later he smiles widely at her when he appears in their bedroom doorway. "Surprise!" He holds his arms out to display himself. She laughs a little and climbs out of bed to hug him.
"I thought you wouldn't be home until Wednesday," she says.
"The conference ended early," he replies simply. He tucks her hair behind her ear.
"You want me to heat up some roast for you?" she asks. "I'm sorry I didn't know you were on your way. I made the most delicious roast on Sunday, though, and I still have plenty left in the fridge. Mrs. Pace helped me with the seasoning. I really think you'll like it."
He stares at her for a moment.
"What?" she asks, cheeks pinking. "You like roast, don't you?"
"Yes," he says. "I like roast. I'm just happy to see you, that's all." He kisses her cheek. She bites her lip as she pulls on her bathrobe, and she leads him downstairs. He sits at the kitchen table with a beer and tells her about Richmond, but he isn't as talkative as usual. He doesn't want to tell her all sorts of fun stories about what he saw and who he met.
"You didn't much care for Richmond, did you?" she finally asks, handing him a plate of roast.
He shrugs. "It wasn't home." He smiles at her.
Her heart softens, and she sits across from her. She finds a mint in her pocket. She can't imagine how a mint ended up in her pocket. Finn always offers them to her, and she must have taken this home, and she must have put it here so she didn't lose it. The wrapper crinkles in her fist.
A little less than an hour later, they return upstairs, and she climbs into bed, picking up her book, a murder mystery that Mrs. Pace said she would love, as he washes up in the bathroom. He walks out and sits on the edge of the bed, and she finishes her last paragraph as quickly as she can.
"This really is a wonderful book," she says, slipping her book mark in. She reaches for the lamp.
"Rachel, wait," he murmurs. He catches her wrist in his hand.
"What is it? Are you still hungry?"
He climbs all the way onto the bed, and he kisses her.
She pulls back in surprise. "Blaine, what are you . . .?" She searches his face.
"I can't kiss you?" he asks, and his eyes shine. "You're my wife, aren't you?"
"I am," she says, laughing a little, "but you've never —"
He cuts her off with another kiss, his lips insistent against hers, his hand at the back of her neck. She doesn't know what to do, and she can't think straight under his kisses, but she finds herself on her back. The smell of peppermint makes her sick, and she doesn't know why she can smell it, and Blaine starts to unfasten the front of her night gown, and she shoves at his chest in a panic.
"What?" he asks, his lips swollen. "What is it?"
"I can't do this," she whispers. "I can't."
"Rachel, we don't have to," he says gently, "but I thought, I mean, eventually —"
"I'm in love with someone else," she gasps.
They stare at each other. "What?" he finally asks, his voice sharp, and she scrambles to sit up, brushing a hand over her hair. "You're in love with someone else?" He looks incredulous.
"I am," she says, "and I'm so sorry, Blaine, I didn't want to be, I tried not to be, I — I told him that I wasn't, but I am, and I can't lie to myself, or to you — I'm in love with him. It just happened."
"It just happened?" he repeats. "How does that just happen, Rachel?" He stands, and she hates the way he looks at her right now, and she hates the way she feels right now, but it's true.
"You're never even home, Blaine," she exclaims, "and he is so sweet, and we just were friends, but all of the sudden — I didn't mean for this to happen, you have to know that." She needs him to understand. "But it's not like we were ever in love!"
"I do love you!" he shouts.
"Yes, but are you in love with me?" she cries, moving across the bed towards him. He only steps back further, shaking his head furiously.
"You're my wife," he snaps.
"That isn't an answer," she replies. "We were best friends our entire lives, Blaine, and we married because our parents expected us to marry, and it was the only chance we had to leave Lima. But we weren't in love with each other. We still aren't. And we aren't much of friends anymore, either."
"You're my wife, Rachel!"
"You're not even attracted to me! You never have been! And I want more than this, Blaine! I want more than Columbus and souvenirs from the places you visit! I want New York, and I don't want to wait ten or twenty years. I want it now! I want to live my dreams!" Her tears fall freely, and he has to understand. She doesn't know why she is suddenly so certain of all of this, but she is.
"And you want to be with some — some man that you met while I made a living for us," he says.
She shakes her head. "You don't have to say it like that," she whispers.
He stares at her, his face so hard, and finally he turns away and starts towards the door.
"Blaine," she murmurs. "Blaine, wait, stop." He doesn't listen. She stumbles off the bed, and he pounds down the stairs, and she sees a flash of his back before he slams the front door shut. She stands at the top of the stairs and listens to his car roar to life and tears out of the driveway.
Her hands shake as she dresses, but she manages to pull on a dress. She tears her stockings, and she fumbles terribly with the buttons of her coat, but finally she steps outside, turns the collar of her coat up to protect against the snowfall, and hurries down the street. She needs to see Finn.
She doesn't know what happened to Blaine, where he went, when he plans to come home.
The stairs up to his townhouse door are icy, and the metal railing is so cold it burns her palm, but she makes it to the door, and she pounds the knocker as hard as she can. What if he refuses to talk to her? But she can hear his heavy footsteps and the thud of his cane on the other side, and then he fiddles with the lock, and she flies towards him the moment he finally opens the door.
He lets out a little grunt, but he wraps an arm around her. "Rachel? What's happened?"
She shakes her head, burying her face against his shirt, the material soft and warm against her cold cheek, and he smells like peppermint candies and cigarettes, and it makes her heart ache.
She never wants to let go of him.
He ushers her into the house, and he makes her sit at the kitchen table as he starts a pot of tea, and she wipes her errant tears, trying to pull herself together. She can hear the radio on across the hall, a constant in his house; the soft yellow lamps cast shadows on the walls. Finn has on his old, patched letter sweater from high school, and she loves it more than ever before.
She slowly unbuttons her coat and holds her freezing hands up to the heater beside the table.
It takes a while for the water to boil, and they wait in silence. He smokes two cigarettes. He finally sets a steaming mug in front of her, though, and he pulls a chair up to hers, sitting so close his knees nearly brush hers. "What's happened, sweetheart?"
She stares at him for a moment. He isn't about to turn her away, despite how they last left things between them. He let her into his house, and he made a pot of tea for her, and his eyes are soft now as he sits across from her and calls her sweetheart, and she adores this man, she truly does.
"Blaine came home from a business trip tonight," she whispers, "and I had made a whole fancy meal with him, and that apple pie he loves so much, but he acted so differently than ever before. He kissed me right on the mouth, Finn, and he —" She stops, and she drops her gaze. This isn't something a girl usually talks about with a man who isn't her husband, or with anybody at all.
"Rachel, did he hurt you?" Finn asks, voice hard.
Her eyes snap back to his. "No, no, of course not! He would never!"
Finn nods, and he doesn't look at her as he pulls a mint out from his pocket, unwraps it with only two fingers, and pops the sucker into his mouth. "He wanted to — to make love," she whispers.
She can hear Finn catch the candy between his teeth. "Isn't that what a fellow usually does with his wife?" he asks her, and she can't read his expression.
"It isn't what we do," she confesses. She hasn't ever told a soul this, but Finn isn't simply anyone. She looks down at her hands. "Blaine isn't like other men, Finn. I don't think he is, anyway. And I've known him my whole life, but we — we aren't like most married couples. I mean, we've never actually —" She hesitates. "We've never actually m-made love."
He stares at her for a second. "You've never had sex?"
She shakes her head. "He hasn't ever wanted to," she admits, and the words aren't more than a breath, but she can't make herself say them any louder. "And I love Blaine, I do, but I've never really felt attracted to him in that — in that special way, and we just never really talked about it."
Finn chews his candy, the crunch of the sucker the only sound in the kitchen. He unwraps another, slips it into his mouth, and finally ask her. "Rachel, is Blaine a fruit?"
"A — a fruit?" she repeats, searching his face.
He nods. "Is he a gay?"
"I'm not — I'm not actually sure what that is," she confesses.
He smiles a little, the lines around his eyes crinkling, and she relaxes, because when he smiles like that the world seems a little warmer. "It means he doesn't fancy girls," he explains. "He likes men."
"I don't. . . ." She thinks about it, about the boy she's known her whole life, about the way he talks and walks and treats her and their friends, and she looks at Finn, the shock settling inside her. "I suppose he must be," she whispers. "It makes sense. I've always know he wasn't like other men. It never bothered me, but I did wonder — but it doesn't make a difference. He's still Blaine."
"I know. It's just how some men are," Finn replies, leaning back in his seat. "It's how God made them, I guess. My brother is like that, too. They're a funny bunch, but it can't be helped."
"But why did he want to have — to make — to have intercourse tonight?"
Finn frowns a little, and his candy crunches abruptly between his teeth. "My stepbrother never wants to marry a girl," he says. "And nobody says aloud the real reason why, 'cause it's hard to accept. Your husband must not want to accept it anymore than anybody else." He looks at her sadly. "If he has a wife, if he can make a baby, maybe he won't feel so wrong about himself."
"I just don't understand why he would. . . ."
"If enough people tell you that you're not natural," he says, "that what you feel is sinful, you start to believe them." He leans forward. "A lot of people don't like gays. Makes life hard for them."
She understands, she does. "But I don't want to be with a man who doesn't want to be with me."
He doesn't really seem to have an answer for her. He clears his throat a little. "If he decided he wanted to sleep with you tonight," he starts, "did you, um, did you?" He won't look her in the eyes as he pulls out still another candy. She watches him, and finally he meets her gaze again.
"No," she says, "we didn't. He actually stormed off when I told him that I couldn't, because I — I told him that I had fallen in love with someone else." She doesn't breathe at the admission, and he stills across from her. What does he think? He knows what she means, right?
And he reaches out, touches his hand against her neck, his fingers warm.
She shudders a little. "You've the prettiest voice in the whole world, sweetheart." He draws his hand up, his knuckles brushing over her cheek, and finally his hand smoothes over her hair. "I've never met a girl like you, Rachel Anderson. I didn't know a girl like you even existed."
Her eyelashes are heavy with tears. "I do love you," she says. "I told you that I felt nothing for you in some attempt to be a better Christian woman than I am, but it isn't true, Finn. I am madly in love with you, madly, and I've never felt this way before. It terrifies me how very much I feel for you. I didn't want to admit it even to myself, but I did tonight, because I simply can't deny it, and I'm terrible woman, I know, a terrible wife and a terrible, terrible woman —"
He shakes his head, his hand stroking her hair. "You are all that is good in this world," he whispers, and her hands tremble as she reaches out to cup his face in hers. He turns to kiss her palm, and it makes her heart hammer against her chest, that sweet, light butterfly kiss.
He leans towards her, and his breath fans across her face, the smell of peppermint so strong, and she won't take his gaze off her lips, and she wants to tell him he can kiss her if he wants, but she can already see how much he wants a kiss in his eyes, and his lips touch hers. Her heart bursts.
Finn Hudson kisses her, and it's like nothing in the world.
Her own hands still hold his face, but his hands find her waist, and he pulls her from her seat, the material of her dress sliding up her legs as he tugs her into his lap, and his palm burns against her thigh, and she can't think. He kisses her endlessly, kisses her the way a girl ought to be kissed, kisses her so that she can feel how much she loves him coil in her stomach and spiral through her.
An eternity later, his lips move against her skin, and she gasps for breath. He starts to litter kisses across her face, following the line of her jaw, and her whole body strums with his kisses. He kisses across her chin, and along the column of her throat, and she moves her hands to the back of his neck, to cradle his head, his hair so soft against her fingers, and his lips skim her collar bone.
And her breath stops when he kisses his way down to the swell of her breast, and he she can feel his eyelashes flicker against her skin, and she knows he must feel her heartbeat race against his forehead, and it belongs to him, she realises, her heart, it beats for him, races for him, is for him.
He finally draws back, and his hands, on her thigh and her waist, tighten. "You're still married."
"I'm still married."
He stares at her, and she curls her fingers in his hair. "I'll marry you," he says suddenly, almost breathless, and it steals her own breath from her. "I'll be your husband. I'm nothing more than a Joe Blow, but I'll do my best to show you to the world. I will. And I'll hurt when you hurt, and I'll laugh when you laugh, and I'll love you like no one has ever loved a girl." She's never seen that expression in his face before, that boyish shine in his eyes.
"I would have to divorce Blaine," she whispers. "I would have to leave him."
He nods. "I know." She can see him swallow. "I'm a wretch to ask it of you. But I'm yours if you want me. You only have to say the word, and I'm yours."
She kisses his forehead. "You're are not a wretch, Finn Hudson. You are the man I love, a brave man who fought for his country, a good man who loves his mother, a smart, sweet man." She pauses, and she runs her thumb against the stubble on his cheek. "A feminist."
It isn't an answer to his offer, and now isn't the time to tease.
He only smiles sadly, and she smiles sadly back at him.
She needs to talk to Blaine.
She comes home to find Blaine in the kitchen, his eyes bloodshot, a drink in his hand.
"Where have you been?" he asks.
"I could ask you the same," she says. He doesn't reply. "I went to see Finn."
He looks at her, his mouth a thin line. "The man you love," he says. It isn't a question. She nods anyway, and she takes a hesitant step towards him, because she hates to see him like this. "And what about me, Rachel? What is supposed to happen to me?"
She shakes her head. "I don't know. All I know is that this hurts too much. It hurts to be away from Finn, to know I can't be intimate with him because I'm married to someone else. It hurts to find myself hoping your business trips are extended, to find myself resenting you and us and the friendship that brought this marriage. It hurts to see you hurt. It all just hurts so much, Blaine."
He stares down at the table. "I thought if I had to marry someone, you were the one." He stares at the counter, and he tosses back the last of his drink. "I'd never felt about a girl the way I felt about you. I loved you. My best friend. I thought if we were married, if it were you, I could make myself feel what I was supposed to —" He cuts himself off.
She knows what he means to say. "You shouldn't have to lie to yourself, Blaine. I can't lie to myself anymore. And this whole marriage is a lie, because we were both so afraid, afraid of what we really felt, afraid to defy our parents, afraid to chase what we really wanted."
"And this marriage is over, isn't it?" he whispers.
"I think it is," she replies. She takes another hesitant step towards him. "If it helps, even Ella divorced a man she truly did love, just a few months ago. But she and Ray Brown, Blaine, they're still friends. I heard her say it with my own ears on the radio. They're still friends."
"This man. It's Finn Hudson, right? You sleep with him?"
She shakes her head. "No. I didn't. We did kiss. I'm sorry. I'm terribly sorry."
He smiles, and it's awful, the self-deprecation in it, how unhappy it is, how unlike a smile it is, how unlike Blaine it is. "You shouldn't be," he tells her. "I slept with someone in Richmond, Rachel."
The words choke her in a sudden way. "You slept with someone?" she whispers.
And his face contorts, his tears finally slipping free. "You were supposed to fix me, Rachel."
She surges forward, and she holds his face to look at him. "I hardly understand all of this, Blaine, and someone else had to explain it to me, but I know you, Blaine, I know you better than anyone else in this world does, and there is nothing wrong with you. You do not need to be fixed. You are perfect, and you are free to love whomever you choose. There is nothing to fix, do you hear me?"
He hugs her. "I love you," he breathes, and he she can feel his sobs as he clings to her.
"I love you, too," she whispers. "And I always will. You're my best friend, good sir."
He laughs through his tears, and he draws back from her. "And you are my best friend, pretty lady," he replies. She wipes away a few of his tears. "I'll divorce you," he tells her. She nods.
She doesn't really sleep that night.
As soon as she sees light peak out behind the curtains of their bedroom, she climbs out of bed, and she dresses. And she takes off her wedding band. She slips it into an envelope in the bedroom desk. Blaine will call a lawyer, she knows, a friend of his, he said. It might take a while, but it starts now.
She walks the four familiar blocks, and the whole world is quiet and gray, a clean, bright new please, covered in clean, bright new snow, untouched yet by a new day. She likes the sound of the snow under her feet, the way it crunches, and she remembered her mittens this time.
Finn answers the door with bleary eyes, leaning more heavily on his cane than he usually does.
"I can't stay," she says. "And the next few months will be hard. I can't imagine how our parents will react, and Blaine needs me to help him through a lot, I think. But if you can wait, just a little while, the divorce will be finalised before long."
He nods. "I'll wait," he says, his voice hoarse. "I'll wait as long as you need."
She reaches out, wanting to touch him, and his hand finds hers. He intertwines their fingers.
It happens on a Monday evening, her second wedding, a small ceremony in her backyard.
The house is already sold to the surely couple next door, and Blaine says this is the perfect the last hurrah before he moves to Boston for a new job and she moves to New York with Finn.
She doubts Blaine and Finn will ever be friends, but they shake hands, and they smile, and these will always be her two favourite men in the world for as long as she lives. Her mother refuses to attend, and her father doesn't try to defy her, but Rachel can easily walk herself down the aisle.
If her parents can't accept the divorce, can't accept her life, she doesn't want them at the wedding.
It hurts more than she wants to admit it does, but she meets Mrs. Hummel for the first time, and Mr. Hummel, too, along with Kurt, and they're all so sweet to her as they shower her in hugs and kisses, and Mrs. Hummel presents her with a small gold comb lined in pearls, and she tells Rachel that her mother gave this to her on her wedding day, "and now I can give it to my daughter."
And Rachel doesn't think she'll ever forget the way Finn looks at her as she walks down the aisle.
After the ceremony, they eat the dinner his mother made with help from Mrs. Pace, and they all dance around the backyard until dark. The last dance of the night is Mona Lisa, and Finn sings the words as they dance, too softy for anyone but Rachel to hear. He can't dance well, not with his leg, especially because he refuses to use his cane all night, but she can't possibly care less.
She catches sight of Blaine as the song finishes, sitting beside Kurt, and he smiles at her before laughing at something Kurt tells him.
She looks up at Finn, her chin on his chest. "I love you so very much, Finn Hudson."
"And I love you, Rachel Hudson, so very, very much."
He shuts the front door and turns to face her, and they simply stand in the entrance hall, his hands on her waist, her hands on his chest. She starts to smile as she stares up at him, and she reaches out to cup his face in her hands, brushing her thumbs against his cheeks. She can feel his dimples under her fingers as he smiles softly back at her, and finally she slips her hand down to take his.
She leads him upstairs.
She sits on the bed, and he kneels down in front of her, pulls of her shoes, and lets his hand slide up her legs to her garters. He meets her gaze. She nods, and he pulls her stockings down, and he presses a kiss to her calf as he tugs them off entirely. She unbuttons his shirt and pushes it off his shoulders. She runs a hand along the planes of his chest, and it makes her heart pound.
He takes her hand in his and raises it up to kiss her fingers. She smiles.
He stands to shuck his pants. She stands, too, and she turns her back to him.
His hands tremble as he tries to unbutton the back of the dress, but finally she feels cool air against her skin, and he presses kiss along her spin as he peels the dress off, slowly and surely, and her eyes flicker closed as he finally lets the dress pool down around her feet.
He steps closer to her, her bare back to his bare chest, and his hands snake around to hold her waist as he kisses her shoulder, and her neck, and right beneath her ear. Her whole body is warm, and she can barely keep her eyes open, a battle she finally loses when his hands ghost up her stomach to cup her breasts. She lets out a shaky breath and leans her head against his chest.
She can feel his heart race against her cheek.
And he turns her around to face him again, and he kisses her as she surges up on her tiptoes.
"Are you scared?" he whispers.
She shakes her head. "It's you," she replies.
He kisses her harder, and his hands tangle in her hair, and she feels lost in his kisses. She isn't sure how she ends up sprawled across the bed, but his mouth skims all over her skin as he moves over her, and he whispers the words against her collarbone. "Open your legs for me, sweetheart."
It's all so new to her, to see him, to touch him, and it hurts, it steals the breath from her chest as he fills her up, but he kisses her and he holds her and he breathes her name like it means the world, and she clings to the sheets and to his neck and to his back as he pulls out and pushes back in.
Afterward, a bittersweet tingle inside her, she lies on top of him, and she skims her hand over his chest and his neck and the smooth skin of his shoulder, tracing the freckles. She kisses a swatch of them, and she hums the words. "You're mine now, you know." She smiles at him.
His eyes have never been so soft before. He runs a hand over hair. "As long as you're mine, too."
She finds his heartbeat with her fingers, and she kisses the spot. "Always."
The apartment in New York is cramped, but she loves the old, large gold fixtures that adorn the bathroom, and she sets out a dish of mints in every room, and this is where it all starts, her life. The best part of the whole place is the small window that unlatches loudly and leads up to the roof.
Finn found an apartment on the top floor with access to a roof especially for her.
He drags a kitchen chair up onto it, and she sits in his lap as they stare out across the New York City skyline. It makes her heart race, the very sight of the skyscrapers, the way they light the city even at midnight, and Finn squeezes her thigh. "Welcome home, Rachel," he murmurs.
She tilts her head up towards him. She can see the whole world in his smile.
Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa,
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep,
They just lie there, and they die there,
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa,
Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?