Author's Note: Heart breaking, I know, but it can't all be rainbows and butterflies (Maroon 5 taught us that. Haha). Hopefully this chapter helps clear up most of the confusion that was left after the last chapter, though. And, if not, then the next chapter definitely should. Please keep reading and keep reviewing ... speaking of which, I want to take time to thank the anonymous reviewers. I usually PM everyone individually to thank them for their feedback and talk about things, but I can't do that for you guys (obviously). However, a couple of you are leaving some killer reviews and I really want to thank y'all for that! So, thanks - and keep it coming!
Gabby came barreling into her office, a large stack of magazines and newspapers in her arms. She threw them down on the coffee table in front of where Rachel was sitting before walking to her computer to immediately check the Twitter feeds and other relevant online chatter. Rachel watched stoically, appreciating her manager's diligence but still too shattered to state her gratitude. Besides, given the conversation they'd had in the car before last night happened, Rachel figured an apology was probably in order before anything else.
"There are just so many pictures," Gabby sighed, clicking and clicking on her computer all while shaking her head and, quite obviously, panicking. "Sales are still up, so that's good, but …"
"I know," Rachel said, forcing her eyes up away from the headlines and articles that seemed to be staring at her. Mocking her in how she could see the image and her body reacted as if his hands were still on her or she could still see the color of his eyes change. "Tell me what I need to do."
Gabby groaned at a particularly sensationalized story, pushing at her computer screen in disgust just so she couldn't even see it in her periphery as she spoke to Rachel. "No one was able to hear whatever it is you two spoke about, so we're going to spin all the pictures as Sam's manager trying to smooth things over between you and Sam. It moves the spotlight onto him, and we'll just let the press decide what he did wrong."
"No." The word was out of Rachel's mouth before she could even censor it. "I'm sorry," she breathed, shaking her head in a hopefully more subtle denial. "I know I'm not exactly in the position to be picky or even unreasonable, but there has to be another way."
"Rachel …" Gabby trailed off, a mix between frustration and outright befuddlement echoing in her tone. "They might not know what you two said, but these pictures speak a thousand words."
"I know," Rachel repeated, ashamed of herself for not having a better handle on the situation last night.
Everything had happened so fast, though. One minute she was in this blissful (albeit secret) bubble with Noah, and then the next Quinn was there and so abrasive and then Finn and Sam joined the group and then Santana and Kurt, and with each new person came this new wave of information that just kept pulling her further and further out to sea. And she'd left the restaurant in an effort to swim out of the tide, knowing she'd needed to escape the crowd, but she wasn't strong enough. The truth had knocked the air from her lungs, and the only thing she could do was drown.
"Sam didn't do anything wrong," she said, trying to give her voice from strength. "I refuse to get ahead in life by stepping on people, especially friends."
"I respect that," Gabby stated very robotically, adding, "but it's not going to be that easy. There's going to be questions and …"
"I know." Rachel nodded her head once, her mind made up. "I'll take full responsibility for my decisions."
An hour later - after talking with Gabby about the best way to elude particular questions and the schedule for the next week - Rachel rode the elevator up to Santana's apartment thinking about what she'd said to Gabby and how it related to what Santana had said last night. In all the fury surrounding the party and her career and everything, Rachel never got the chance to talk to her roommate and friend. And, despite all her own troubles, she really wanted to; after all, she wasn't the only one whose night hadn't gone according to plan.
"So?" Santana asked, sitting on the plush chair that more faced the door than anything else, putting down the magazine she'd been flipping through. "Gabs flip her lid?"
"Pretty much." Rachel sighed heavily, exhausted despite the fact that it wasn't even noon; granted, she hadn't slept at all, so that might have something to do with it. "But I don't want to talk about it." She placed her purse on the end table closest to Santana. "I want to talk to you."
"Well it's going to have to wait." Santana nodded her head toward Rachel's bedroom. "You have a visitor."
Rachel immediately tensed, her eyes slowly moving to the closed white door as if she could see through it. Noah had done as she'd asked by not following her last night, but she should have known he wouldn't go down without a fight. He wasn't the type of guy to just give up, especially when his pride was in question. Then again, she thought bitterly, she wasn't sure she had the authority on what kind of guy he actually was.
"Hi," Rachel rushed out, her hand clutching the door handle so tightly that she was worried it might break. She'd been instantly relieved not to see Noah on the other side of her bedroom door - she refused to even acknowledge the twinge of disappointment she felt, though - but a different emotion quickly took over when she saw Quinn instead sitting primly at the corner of her bed. Anger. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to check on you." Quinn frowned a little, her head tilting to one side sympathetically. "You look tired."
Rachel shook her head sardonically, biting back the comment about how she looked nothing but completely put together. Flawless makeup; golden, shiny hair without a strand out of place; terrific outfit. She didn't look anything like a woman whose marriage was tearing at the seams and then ripped to shreds last night.
"I know you're hurting, but I promise you are so much better off."
Rachel's eyes narrowed, her arms crossing in front of her chest. "Is that right?"
"Rachel," Quinn began, her tone a bit exasperated. She stood up, her stance defensive in retaliation to the righteous indignation that she could practically feel rolling off the brunette. "You can't possibly be this upset about Puck." She scoffed when Rachel didn't even flinch. "He's a loser. A loser and a creep and …"
"Maybe with you." Rachel didn't want her voice to quiver, but she couldn't help it. She'd spent the last 16 hours forcing herself to stop thinking about him, let alone speak about him. "Maybe you didn't give him a chance."
"A chance to what? Give me herpes? Sleep with my friend?"
"This coming from the woman who cheated on her fiance?"
"God, this is just like high school." Quinn shook her head, acid in her tone now. "You put yourself on this damn pedestal, but even worse is that you put people like Puck up on one, too." The blonde pointed accusingly at Rachel. "Look at you. He lied to you for months and humiliated you on the biggest night of your singing career. How, how, could you still love him?"
Rachel gasped, shutting her eyes tight to try to block the blinding pain Quinn's words had caused. Even now, in the depths of her sorrow and the wounds fresh and raw, Rachel refused to summarize her and Noah's relationship so menially. They might not have been together for long, but it had felt more real and more serious than any other relationship of hers. And while they damage that had been done was enough to end it, she already knew she wouldn't trade the time they'd spent together beforehand for anything.
"I've often wondered the same about Finn with you."
Quinn stepped forward deliberately. "This has nothing to do with Finn."
"It has everything to do with him!" Rachel practically shouted, throwing her hands up in the air.
"Are you still in love with him?"
Rachel covered her face with her hands, shaking her head in utter exhaustion. She was tired - tired of being in the same love parallelogram that she'd participated in for the last ten years - that she couldn't stand to be in the same room as the blonde for one second more. The fact that she didn't have to was all that more apparent when she turned on her heel and left, locking eyes with Santana. The Latina was standing in the kitchen (pretending to do dishes but more than likely eavesdropping), and even though Rachel wasn't looking at Quinn, she knew the blonde was following her. And, if Santana's expression was any indication, Rachel could imagine the glare the two former teammates shared was not friendly.
Rachel stopped in front of the front door to the apartment, looking again at the blonde. "You're right, Quinn. This is exactly like high school." She poised her hand on the door knob, not yet turning the metal hardware. "You're here pretending to care about me and trying to give me advice as if you have a damn clue what you're talking about. But, you know what? You don't. You don't know a thing about friendship or love, and I'd prefer it if you just left."
Quinn wasted no time stomping out of the apartment, nor did Rachel even think about the blonde's feelings when she let the door slam immediately behind her. The two hadn't been friends since college, and even then it was the same thing as it always had been. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Once Quinn and Finn got back together, the blonde always made sure to keep one eye on Rachel (and probably the other on Santana).
"Not gonna lie, B." Santana grinned, appearing in the doorway between the kitchen and the foyer. "That was hot."
"Santana," Rachel groaned, dragging herself through the apartment and sitting at the bar in front of the kitchen. "What are you doing?"
The Latina lifted the spoons she'd retrieved, shrugging one shoulder emptily. "I was thinking we could call Q a bitch over a pint of ice cream, but ya kinda ruined that plan by basically calling her one to her face."
Rachel rolled her eyes. "I'm sure it was tame compared to whatever you two spoke about before I arrived."
"We didn't talk." Santana shook her head. "If I didn't all but lock her in your room, shit would have gone down."
Rachel frowned, remembering that she'd wanted to talk to Santana about everything but not sure she had the energy now. And yet, she needed to know. She needed to make sense out of at least something when there were still so many other questions that might never get an answer.
"I still can't believe she didn't tell him," Santana snarled. "Back then, when I saw the back of the head," Santana didn't dare say Puck's name to her still fragile friend, "I was so pissed at her. I did call her a bitch to her face, but she'd promised to tell Finn when she moved back." She sighed, thinking she should have known better. Santana was basically the one who'd taught Quinn how to lie. "Up until last night, I thought she had and he'd just taken it well. You know Finn. No spine."
Rachel nodded, though it made her feel bad. "Why did you take the blame for it, then?"
"It made sense … after all the shit I put Finn through in college and whatever … to just take that punch for him."
Rachel nodded sympathetically, thinking back to her meeting with Gabby. She hadn't wanted to feed Sam to the press, but there was definitely part of her that was considering Noah's feelings, too. His career, just like Sam's, would be over if she'd let Gabby spin the rumors against the blond and she couldn't do that. In spite of everything, she still cared about Noah too much to hurt him, especially deliberately. It would almost be sweet if it weren't so depressing; he clearly hadn't cared enough about her to avoid hurting her, so why was she bothering even in the aftermath of everything?
"Kurt already hated me, so it was no skin off my back to add to the pile." Santana tried to appear casual even though they both knew this conversation was anything but.
"Do you still love him?"
"No." She shook her head at Rachel's skeptical gaze, knowing it was because of how quickly she'd answered. "Back then, I was. And I still kinda regret how much I took it all for granted, but … no." She shrugged lightly. "Sam's sorta cute."
"Really?" Rachel blinked in surprise, a genuine smile crossing her face for the first time in the last day. "Do you like him?"
Santana scoffed, rolling her eyes. "You sound like a reporter. Or worse … Quinn."
Rachel laughed pathetically. "She's not wrong." She sighed. "I do still love him."
"You're still in love with Finn?" Santana asked, nearly choking on the words.
Santana grimaced, looking away from her friend's sad expression and walking over to the fridge. She yanked open the freezer door and pulled out the aforementioned pint, grabbing the two spoons and walking out of the kitchen and around toward Rachel. She extended the silver utensil toward the brunette, smiling sadly at her before popping the lid to the frozen treat. "Ice cream it is."
Rachel laughed in spite of herself, appreciating having a friend during this tough time. Things were only going to get worse between the scrutiny of the press and the issue with Quinn and Finn that she knew wouldn't just go away after today. And there would have been a time when she would've questioned whether Santana was just being nice or if they were really friends, but after everything that had happened (both recently and just since Rachel had moved to LA) she knew better than to doubt the validity of their friendship.
In fact, in light of everything, their friendship might be the only truth left in Rachel's life.