I. You're All I Want for Christmas
At the (newly minted) age of eighteen, Rachel Barbara Berry is absolutely certain of three things:
That she will one day see her name spelled out in the bright lights of a Broadway marquee,
That she shares a psychic connection with Barbara Streisand (it's just that Barbara hasn't quite realized it yet),
And that Finn Christopher Hudson is about to break up with her.
The last one seems like quite the leap, considering how stable their relationship has been lately – but she doesn't see any other way to understand his recent behavior. For the past several days Finn has been remarkably taciturn – avoiding her in the halls, making up flimsy excuses to avoid giving her a ride to school, going out of his way to engage anyone but her in conversation at the lunch table.
Rachel's scoured her mind in an attempt to come up with anything, anything she might have done to offend or anger him – a Herculean effort, as she's not exactly known for her stunning powers of self-awareness. And, at the necessary risk of sounding big-headed, she can't come up with a single thing she might have done wrong recently, at least not in her relationship with Finn. In fact, she's been an admirable girlfriend lately; she even baked him an extra loaf of banana bread the morning of his big biology exam.
If the problem isn't her, then, it must be their relationship. She thinks he must be panicking. With college application deadlines right around the corner, and his future – their future, together – hanging in the balance, perhaps he's just decided that ending it now would be easier. A clean break.
The thought makes her nauseous, but Rachel resolves to put him out of his misery. She is a strong, talented, beautiful girl and she doesn't want or deserve to be strung along while he gathers up the courage to break her heart.
So when Finn informs her after seventh period that he won't be able to give her a ride home that afternoon – I gotta babysit my neighbor's hermit crab, Rach. I'm sorry – she double wraps her scarf, stuffs hand warmers into her pink mittens, and walks the three miles to his house. She doesn't even realize she's crying until she feels the sting of the tears freezing to her cheeks.
Rachel rings his doorbell with a mounting feeling of dread. She can't even imagine how terrible she must look, snotty and red-eyed and windswept.
Finn opens the door, looking so surprised she thinks he might faint.
"Rach?" he sputters, sounding panicked. "What's wrong? Come inside."
Through the haze of her hysteria, Rachel's vaguely aware of Finn's hands warm on her shoulders, steering her towards the living room.
She drops dejectedly onto the couch with a quiet thud.
"I know what you're planning," she manages eventually, between wet-sounding hiccups.
Finn looks crestfallen. "You do?"
"Yes!" she tells him, unable to smother the note of bitterness in her voice. "So you might as well just do it now."
"Really? I mean, I was sort of trying to wait until Christmas…"
In an instant, Rachel feels the small amount of resolve she's been able to recover crumble to pieces.
"You were going to break up with me on Christmas?"
It's more of a wail than a question.
Finn jumps to his feet. "What? No! Not in a million years," he half-shouts, kneeling before her on the rug. "I'm not breaking up with you! I'm, like, the opposite of breaking up with you!"
She looks up at him wide-eyed and suddenly alert. "You mean you're proposing?"
He laughs, swiping at a stray tear with his knuckle. "Not quite yet," Finn says. "But I was trying to surprise you!"
"Really?" Rachel asks, sniffling. "You've just been so distant and skittish for the last week or so, and with college admissions looming…I sort of assumed the worst."
"I'll say," he says, and leans in to press a gentle kiss to her nose. "But I am sorry I've been so weird lately, Rach. I just…really wanted to make this Christmas special for you, you know? Since last year was like, so disastrous and all. So I was planning to surprise you with the most awesome present ever, only, you know how bad I am at keeping secrets. Especially from you."
"And you thought giving me the cold shoulder would be a better alternative?" she asks, quirking a dubious eyebrow.
"Uh, I guess sort of forgot how craz – I mean, um, intense you can be?"
"I guess I did overreact a little bit," Rachel concedes, worrying absentmindedly with the hem of her skirt. "Forgive me?"
"Aw, c'mon, baby girl," Finn tells her, pulling himself up off the floor. "You've got nothing to apologize for. Now how about we get you that surprise."
Rachel reaches out to run her fingertips along the length of this forearm. "But what about waiting until Christmas? I don't want to ruin all your big plans!"
"You already know about them, so there's no real point in delaying. Plus," Finn adds, his cheeks dimpling with a smile, "I'm like, super excited to give you your present."
He bounds out of the room and up the stairs with such exuberance that Rachel can't help but giggle, her earlier misery completely forgotten.
Finn returns moments later with a small newspaper-wrapped box balanced in his outstretched palms.
"Merry Christmas, Rachel," he says, offering it to her. "I love you so much."
She accepts the package and unwraps it with meticulous care – an impressive feat, considering how badly her hands shake with anxious excitement. Checking the infantile desire to shake the box, Rachel feels her heart positively race with the possibilities of what it could contain. A promise ring, perhaps? Keys to that "nice hotel room" he's always alluding to? Lingerie? A locket engraved with their initials?
Her expectations are so impossibly high that she can't help but feel a surge of disappointment when she opens it to find –
"Oh," Rachel says, with forced brightness. "It's a snow globe. This is the one you bought while we were in New York, isn't it? The one you were holding in the library?"
"Yes and no," Finn tells her cryptically, grinning so wide that she can't help but assume he's unaware of her comically obvious disappointment. "Why don't you take a closer look?"
Smothering the desire to pout, Rachel nonetheless complies, holding the glass up to her face in order to inspect it more scrupulously.
She's about to scold Finn for fruitlessly stoking her hopes when she sees them: two tiny, plastic figures standing in the middle of miniature Times Square; a tall boy in plaid and a petite girl in a brightly patterned coat, their microscopic hands entwined.
Rachel feels her breath catch in her throat. "Finn," she says tremulously, "is that – us?"
"It is indeed," he says, chest practically swelling with pride as he settles down beside her on the couch and rests his cheek against her hair.
"Kurt showed me how custom order the little plastic people on this weird Japanese website," Finn explains, "and my mom helped me unscrew the snow globe and put it back together, since she's so good at like, craft stuff. But it was all my idea, I swear."
"I believe you," Rachel murmurs, burying her face in the juncture of his neck and shoulder, the gift still clutched against her chest.
He wraps an arm around her waist, tugging her closer. "And you know, the best part is that this is only the first half of your present."
Her had snaps up so quickly that she almost cracks him in the jaw. "It is?"
Finn nods, his left leg bouncing with nervous energy. "It is," he confirms. "Look, Rach – I was gonna say all this in a card, but every time I tried to write it down I couldn't get the words to come out right. You know how I kinda suck with that. Words, I mean. But I'm gonna try to tell you now. Because, it's important."
"You're making me so anxious!" she says, "should I be worried?"
He manages a smile. "No! I mean, it's good, what I want to tell you. At least, I hope you think it's good."
"Go on, then," Rachel prods gently. "I'm all ears."
Finn exhales slowly. "Okay. So, I know that a lot of people think that I'm never gonna make it out of here. And I know that maybe you think that I want to stay here, and that that might even be…better, in a way, 'cause I'll never be able to hold you back from your dreams and stuff. And truthfully, I have thought about staying here. Taking over Burt's shop. Because it would be easy, you know? I wouldn't be risking anything. And I'm pretty good at all that car stuff, too. But deep down, it's not really what I want. I've got dreams, Rachel, and they're bigger than Lima. You're the one who taught me that, who taught me that I shouldn't be afraid to dream so big. So I guess, what I'm trying to get at is that I want to come with you. To New York. Because I might not know exactly what I want to do yet, but I know who I want to do it with. And I figure, what better place to figure that out than New York City? I mean, you can do practically anything there, except, like, farm or something, but who wants do that anyway?"
"You've really thought about this a lot, haven't you?" she asks, swallowing around the hard lump of tears in the back of her throat.
"I really have," he replies, "and I know that I'm not good enough to get into NYADA –as much as I appreciate you believing in me, that's just the truth. So I did some research, and I applied to a bunch of other schools with pretty good music education programs, like Fordham and City College and this place called Wagner. And if I don't get in any of those places, I can always just go to the Borough of Manhattan Community College for the first two years and then transfer somewhere else 'cause I'm pretty sure they, like, have let you in unless you're a murderer or something."
He pauses for a moment, studying Rachel's face nervously as he waits for her reaction.
"So, is it okay, then? If I come to New York with you?"
"It's more than okay, Finn," she says, her voice high and tight. "It's everything I've ever dreamed of."
He laughs, letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "You really mean that?"
She nods a little, crying in earnest now, and he presses his thumbs flat against both of her cheeks, trying in vain to stem the flow of her tears.
"Just so we're clear," Finn says, "this is like, the good kind of crying, right?"
Rachel throws her arms around his neck, and it's her time to laugh this time around.
"The best kind," she promises.
II. All I Want My Whole Life Through
Rachel's stringing Christmas lights along the mantelpiece when she hears the front door creak open.
"Finn, babe?" she calls, taking a step back to admire her handiwork. "Is that you?"
"Of course it is," he replies, and Rachel can practically hear his smile. "Why, were you expecting some other dashing gentleman?"
She giggles, padding over to the entranceway. "Of course not," Rachel assures him, peeling off his sodden coat and pressing a kiss to his windblown cheek.
Finn sniffs the air experimentally. "It smells like cinnamon in here," he observes.
"I made gingerbread men!" she says. "Well, gingerbread cats, to be precise."
"And is that God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman I hear?"
Rachel nods, standing on tip toe to unwind his scarf – she knit it herself a few months ago with the needles he'd bought her for their anniversary.
"You've been Chrismukkah decorating,haven't you?" he asks, tone accusatory, though the grin on his face betrays any semblance of anger he might feign.
"I know, I know, I promised that I'd wait for you, but rehearsal was cancelled this afternoon and I was just too excited," she explains, shooing him into the tiny living room of their one-bedroom apartment. "Baking and cleaning and practicing scales can only distract a girl for so long, you know!"
Finn musses her hair. "I'm only joking, Rach. Promise. We both know how lousy I am at decorating, anyway."
"We do, don't we?" she replies, scrunching up her face for comic effect.
"Hey now, don't make me change my mind!" he threatens, tickling her side.
She catches his hand and brings it to her lips, kissing each one of his knuckles.
"You haven't even told me how much you like it, yet!" Rachel pouts, gesturing at her decorations.
"It looks perfect, babe" he supplies at her pointed remark. "Just like you?"
She wraps her arms around his waist, pressing her face into the warm wool of his sweater. "You even like the sparkly pink tinsel?"
"I even like the sparkly pink tinsel."
"There's just one thing," Rachel says, pulling away from him reluctantly. "I can't seem to find our snow globe anywhere. It wasn't in the ornament box, or the knickknack box, or even my special Finn Mementos box. Do you think we might have lost it in the move? Oh, I'll never forgive myself if we did!"
Her lower lip trembles and he reaches out to gather her against him. "Don't panic, baby – I, I've got it. I noticed when we were packing up your place last month that our little figurines were starting to dull so I brought it to that hobby shop a few blocks away to get them touched up. I should have told you, but it completely slipped my mind. I picked it up this afternoon, though! It's right in my briefcase."
"Well, go on and get it then!" she orders, extricating herself. "I saved a special place for it on the mantle."
"Ay ay, Captain," Finn replies dutifully.
He returns a moment later, the snow globe cradled carefully in his outstretched palms.
"Good as new," Rachel breathes, and it almost sounds like reverence.
She moves to accept it when Finn recoils slightly, tugging the glass towards his chest.
"Someone's being possessive," she pouts good-naturedly, hands-on-hips.
He laughs shakily. "It's not that, it's just – I, um. I also decided to have it engraved. On the bottom. As an early Christmas present."
Rachel peers up at him, her brown eyes wide and glassy. "Finn, that's so sweet of you. Now hand the darn thing over so I can read it!"
After another moment's hesitation, Finn thrusts the snow globe into her waiting hands.
She feels something cool and metallic on its underside brush against her fingertips.
Quirking a suspicious eyebrow, Rachel turns the globe over slowly in her hands and watches as tiny flakes of snow fall back into the clouds above Time Square.
There is no inscription on the bottom.
There is, however, a ring. A diamond ring.
She looks up, bleary-eyed, and for a moment she can't make out anything in detail, the whole room rendered an impressionistic canvas.
Rachel blinks, though, and her vision clears enough to see Finn kneeling before her on their chevron-printed rug. She notices with a pang that his eyes are welling, too.
"Rachel Barbara Berry, will you – "
"Yes!" she shouts before he can finish, bouncing up and down so exuberantly that she almost drops the snow globe. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes."
"You didn't even let me finish," he complains, wiping his face on the sleeve of his sweater as she lunges forward to kiss his forehead, his eyelids, his chin – any square of inch of skin she can reach.
"You're right, I didn't," Rachel admits, laughing wetly. "But I think I figured out what you were going to say well enough on my own. You weren't just asking me out on a lunch date, were you?"
"No," Finn says, sliding the ring gently onto her delicate finger, his palms slick with sweat and tears. "I certainly wasn't."
This time, he doesn't need to ask her if it's the good kind of crying.