He's not sure where it came from, or why it's there at all.
He's walking home from a late Vocal Adrenaline practice, wondering whether it is too late to fit in those 50 calories of his allotted amount he hadn't ingested today, or if this close to midnight means he has to reset and start over with a new day. Jesse knows where to turn, but somewhere along the way he's obviously relied too much on nonexistent muscle memory instead of actually watching where he's going, because he's suddenly standing in front of a storefront he's never seen before in his life.
It's definitely not the convenience store he'd been heading towards mere seconds ago.
There's no sign, and curtains cover the windows from the inside. But there is a candle burning, hanging from a lantern over the door. Jesse assumes this is some sort of psychic place, because aren't they supposed to look all mysterious and like they don't actually use electricity? Because that makes it more authentic or some shit. He wouldn't pretend to know.
And he's totally leaving, really, because skulking around a deserted psychic storefront really isn't a good idea at this time of night, but that's when he spots the picture tucked neatly into the corner of the window. The light is too dim to make it out all the way, but something about it seems familiar. Jesse digs in his pocket, pulling out his phone, and uses it as a flashlight.
He's looking down at a picture of himself, the bluish light from his phone making it appear eerie and grayscale. In the picture, he's holding up a trophy, and Jesse realizes it's the trophy from Sectionals last year.
He squints, leaning in closer. The trophy looks similar, but it's definitely not from Sectionals, or any one of their past performances. He still can't see the colors properly, but as his eyes begin to adjust to the light, he can tell that in the picture he's wearing a shirt that's red or orange or maybe even pink. He's never worn any one of those colors at any of their competitions.
When he reaches out to take the picture, he realizes that it's on the other side of the glass. Glancing over at the door, Jesse searches for some sort of indication as to whether this place is open or closed, maybe a small sign with their hours written on it, but there's nothing.
Jesse frowns at the picture, reaching out again even though he knows it's inside. He wants to know what it is, who that is, if he maybe has an identical twin halfway across the world competing in his own competitions – because, honestly, he wouldn't put it past his parents to have kept one twin and given the other up for adoption – but…. No. He doesn't care enough to venture inside to get a better look. Everything about this screams bad idea, so after giving the picture one more glance, he turns and walks away, trying to figure out where the hell he is and where the wrong turn happened.
When he gets home, it's to find that his parents are actually not only in the state, but sitting in their kitchen. Both of them. At the same time. That never happens.
He's instantly suspicious, but the pair of them tell him all about the big company dinner they have the following weekend, and how they really want him to come.
Jesse spends the rest of the evening (or, rather, early morning) insisting that he's exhausted from rehearsal and that he needs to be up early, and escapes to his bedroom after only ten minutes of his parents' drivel. He figures they must have come back from China or Australia or Greece, somewhere with a completely different time zone that would explain them being up this late, because they're typically the kind of people who keep a strict and unnecessarily early bedtime.
Most people think Jesse's lucky, having parents who are always away. But it doesn't feel lucky. It feels… well, it makes him feel ignored and insignificant, never mind that he's their professed "favorite."
At their next rehearsal, Shelby shows them their costumes for Regionals. Jesse stares at the bright, salmon-y hot pink shirts and the black suspenders and remembers.
He goes searching for the store this time, because he knows what that picture is, now. It's him, in the outfits they just got today, holding a trophy, which can only mean one thing.
This is nothing but an elaborate ploy to psych him out.
Jesse thinks it's probably someone from New Directions, someone who's figured out that he's still attending weekend Vocal Adrenaline rehearsals while posing as a student at McKinley. He doesn't want that to be true, of course, because he hasn't even been able to breach the topic of Rachel's mother with her, and that was the whole reason he'd been sent there in the first place. There is no way he's going to let some Lima kid who'd stolen their costume designs and photoshopped the hell out of something mess this up.
He might be planning to come straight back to Carmel when this is all over, but he still… well, he cared, okay? He wanted to help Rachel, help Shelby, explain to Rachel what was really going on (and that he was not and never had been a spy, thanks) and then…. Okay, he didn't know what came after that, but he's hoping for something along the lines of, "Oh, it's fine, Jesse, I forgive you for lying to me and switching schools under false pretenses because you were actually trying to help me reconnect with my mom and I know our relationship isn't fake," and then they'd live famously ever after somewhere not in Ohio.
Ew. Dating Rachel Berry had turned him into a total sap.
So sue him for having accidental feelings for her. Shit happens, right?
But his search for the store is completely in vain. He attempts to retrace his steps from the previous night, wandering onto a side street and even taking a few steps down a darkened alley before deciding that no, he'd rather stay alive, thanks.
And he can't find that stupid store. That goddamn store where he'd probably find nothing but the same picture, and, when he ventured inside, realized that the place was deserted and that if he looked close enough at the picture he'd be able to see where they'd cropped and cut and pasted.
He tells his parents to fuck off when they ask about the dinner party again and lies about having plans. When he suggests that maybe they should find someone else to tote around like a prize-winning dog, they just blink at him.
"Kari's a featured dancer in her studio's recital," he tells them, "and Aaron's made MVP for his baseball team for the fifth game in a row."
"How nice," his mother says. "But you know how much our colleagues love your stories about show choir."
He's back in Lima in time for school on Monday, where nothing of interest happens. Because it's Lima fucking Ohio, where nothing happens and nobody knows the difference between stage directions and driving directions, and even then people still can't tell their left from their right.
Maybe that's why the people here are so mediocre in the first place. Maybe the small-town atmosphere made them all go crazy.
They don't even have glee club rehearsals every day, here, and Jesse's started to feel so artistically stunted that he wonders if maybe he could make the four-hour drive out to Akron in time for Vocal Adrenaline's rehearsal instead. He's walking back to his uncle's apartment, trying to figure out if there's any way he can shave a full hour off that commute, when he spots it.
But… no. No way. That's impossible.
For whatever reason, the impossible has become the possible today, because Jesse's staring across the street at a shop with curtains pulled over its windows, a lone lantern hanging above the door, and a small picture tucked in the corner of the window.
He crosses towards it, pulling on the doorknob and not even hearing the alarm bells that are going off in his head that are telling him, "Trap! Trap! Trap!" The door is unlocked, and the inside looks like an echo of the outside, a lone lantern hanging in the doorway that leads towards the room with the window. Jesse heads for it, arm already outstretched to push back the curtain so he can grab the picture, but he halts.
He's vaguely aware that his jaw has hit the floor and that the floor is probably filthy, but still his mouth hangs open.
Because… what the fuck?
The entire room is plastered with pictures, covering the walls from floor to ceiling. And then there are even more pictures on a table, piled up on chairs, even a couple piles on the floor. He takes a few steps further into the room, reaching for one of the small piles of pictures on the chair closest.
The photo on top shows his own boyish face grinning up at him, both arms thrown around two girls in period costumes. He's wearing a hat pulled low on his brow, and off in the background Jesse spots a wooden crutch and knows exactly what this is. This is a picture from his stage debut when he was five, when he played Tiny Tim in A Musical Christmas Carol.
Except the next picture in the pile shows something different. Jesse's in the picture with those same two girls, but instead of his own costume his five-year-old self is wearing a tiny suit, his hair combed down, both girls bending low and smiling on either side of him.
That never happened.
Jesse flips between this picture and the first, trying to figure out if he's simply forgotten some sort of opening night party they had, but as he looks he starts to pick out clues. There's someone else in the background of the second picture, another little boy wearing the costume Jesse's wearing in the first one. The girls are smiling dutifully in the second, instead of out of genuine joy like the first.
It's a picture of him and two of his cast mates, and yet they have no idea who he is.
He flips through the rest of the pictures in this pile, all of which show his five-year-old self in different situations, none of which (other than the picture on top) had actually happened. He sees himself grinning with his parents, the unmistakable New York skyline behind them. In another one he's wearing a completely different costume altogether, strangers smiling around him, and Jesse has no idea what show that was supposed to have been. There's even a picture of him lying in a hospital bed, IV needles stuck into thin arms, his head… shaved or bald, he can't tell which.
And the picture on top is still the only one that actually happened.
Jesse makes his way through other piles, realizing that these pictures chronicle his entire life, and yet for whatever reason, only the top picture has actually happened.
And then he looks at the walls and sees his entire life, his entire real, actual life, in front of him.
That's when he starts finding the piles that are completely fake.
There's a picture of him wearing a hockey jersey, holding a hockey stick and making a growling face at the nonexistent camera.
He's standing with Mr. Schuester, and he's just a freshman but there's a whole group of kids standing around them, a group of strangers, but the sign Jesse's holding says "New Directions."
He's standing on the Great Wall of China, his parents on either side of him.
He's surrounded by a group of kids he later recognizes as the cast of the musical 13. It takes him a minute to realize that, oh, he was the lead.
He's not even in these pictures, but they show gravestones, each one of them bearing his name and a different date of death.
Then he gets to the pictures where he doesn't recognize himself. The Jesse in these pictures is older, and despite himself, his breath hitches. Part of him doesn't want to look, but the other part of him is impossibly curious, because what does all of this even mean, anyway?
He finds himself holding a Tony Award, and he doesn't look too much older than he is now. That picture gets swiped from its pile, and he holds onto it, staring at his own face, trying to find an explanation hidden there. It gets tucked into his jacket pocket when he keeps going, looking at picture after picture after picture, some of them wonderful and showing his name up in lights on Broadway, and others terrible and showing him looking worn and strained and sitting somewhere that looks too familiarly like Akron to be anywhere else.
He finds his and Rachel's wedding picture when he reaches the table. The table is covered with wedding pictures, in fact, showing Jesse smiling with a wide array of spouses, each one different. He looks different in all of them, too, he realizes as he starts looking closer. In some of them, he still looks young. His and Rachel's looks like it could have been taken already, but there's another one on the far end of the table, also of him and Rachel, where both of their faces are lined and their hair is streaked with gray.
He recognizes some of the other faces in these, some of the other spouses that seem to have been chosen for him. But there are also strangers, men and women he has yet to meet (or maybe met when they were just kids), and this is getting way too weird way too fast, and not just because Jesse's never even kissed a guy and suddenly there are pictures of him marrying about fifteen different ones.
Actually, on the scale of weirdness, the fact that he's never bothered to find out if he likes kissing boys as much as girls ranks far below everything else that's going on in here.
That's when he remembers why he came in here in the first place. Heading over to the window, Jesse pushes back the curtains, snatching up the picture tucked there. It's just like all the others; it shows something that hasn't happened yet, and, judging from just how many pictures there are, might not happen at all. But that's him holding the Regionals trophy and wearing the costumes they got a few days ago, and Jesse decides he likes this one, too, so he tucks it in his pocket with the Tony Award one.
Everything falls to shit a few weeks later.
Rachel figures out who her mother is, but Shelby clams up any time he asks her what happened.
He transfers back to Carmel, but Shelby still won't tell him anything.
The entire team gives him an ultimatum: egg your girlfriend and break up with her, or we'll stage a mutiny to get a new lead singer.
Jesse had been planning on calling Rachel, asking her to meet him somewhere so he could explain himself, but after practice his teammates had stolen his phone.
So he's sitting on a park bench somewhere, not even really knowing where he is, staring down at the ground and wondering how the hell things got this messed up. Things weren't supposed to happen like this. He was supposed to be able to explain himself, to help Rachel find her mom and watch their reunion and think about how he helped that happen, but now…
Jesse hops off the bench and starts walking.
Part of him is hoping he finds that storefront again, so he can go in and tear the place apart until he finds answers, but there's another part of him that keeps reminding him what a shitty idea that would be. He's already examined the two pictures he took from the place so many times that he sees them every time he closes his eyes. Any more and he would probably start to develop some sort of obsessive personality disorder.
He just wants answers, that's all. Because no matter how many times he tells himself it's just someone from McKinley messing with him, he remembers just how detailed everything was, how much work would go into making two matching storefronts, how many hours they would have to spend photoshopping that many pictures. It just isn't plausible.
But hey, maybe they really had gotten bored enough and decided to make a school-wide project out of it. Let's see how long it'll take to drive Jesse St. James insane.
Well, he wasn't about to give them that kind of satisfaction any time soon.
He wonders idly if Rachel might be trying to call him, to ask where he's been for the past few days. He hopes not; he doesn't want anyone from Vocal Adrenaline to answer that phone call.
Jesse doesn't want to throw the egg.
It feels heavy in his hand and it makes him wonder if they would bruise if a person got hit hard enough with them. Do they feel like rocks when you get hit with them? They break easily enough, but the weight of it in his hand still makes him wonder.
He wants to drop the thing, drop it and watch it splatter on the pavement instead, go over to Rachel and… well, he doesn't really know how that part will work out yet.
It isn't until she's run from the parking lot and the others are thumping him on the back that Jesse realizes he's done it.
They win Regionals.
The picture Jesse keeps in his unread copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare has been taken for real now. It makes the headline of Akron's newspaper, and Jesse stares down at it, not even realizing that the picture isn't from the future anymore.
It had felt like a win while he'd been there. For a time, he had forgotten all about Rachel, but then he'd made the mistake of looking over at New Directions, of catching her eye even as he lifted the trophy over his head.
Jesse doesn't really know how he's supposed to feel after all this, but he feels like the entire ordeal was a complete waste of his time. What was the point? Rachel hates him now, and he can't even find the joy in winning without seeing her crestfallen face.
Maybe that is the price for winning. His team had made that clear enough, after all. He could have Rachel or them. Rachel or another win.
He wishes it had been said in as many words at the time, because now he brushes his teeth four times a day to get rid of whatever aftertaste seems to be permanently in his mouth, his hands feel slimy even after he's washed them obsessively, and he can't even look at an egg without getting an equally-sized lump in his throat.