At eighteen years old, Rachel Berry had the world at her feet. She had every reason to be happy, all those seemingly important things teenaged girls dream of in order to feel like their life is complete. It hadn't always been like for her though, not by a long shot. She had waited a long time to get there and had fought actively to overcome strife and adversity. She could have so easily given up a million times, but all of her hard work perseverance had paid off. Rachel was finally living the life she had always wanted to lead.
Looking back, it had all started with the Glee Club. They were just a band of misfits when they came together during her sophomore year, the social outcasts that the rest of the school had either forgotten or overlooked. However, they had known that they were special, and it was that knowledge alone that had driven them to fight. Artie, Mercedes, Tina and Kurt had all been there in the beginning, and even if they weren't really her friends back then, they had belonged to each other in a way. A couple years removed from that lonely time in her life, Rachel could appreciate what they had meant to each other when they hadn't really mattered to anyone else.
It wasn't until Finn came along that their club really got its feet. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing Finn had changed everything when Mr. Schuester had overheard him singing soft rock in the boys' locker room. A little coercion had led to their first duet and the beginning of her really falling in love with him. Luckily for her, he would eventually fall in love back and convince a few of his friends to follow him into the sparkly world of high school show choirs. Thing hadn't really been as seamless as they seemed now, but she didn't like to think about those darker days before Finchel. She wanted to pretend they were inconsequential, even if she wasn't entirely sure that they were behind them altogether.
Two years later, she had been with Finn for a solid six months after he had kissed her beneath the warm spotlight on a New York stage in front of all their families and friends. He had sung to her the most perfect song and professed his love, and Rachel had lost that last little ounce of nagging doubt in her heart that wondered if he really meant it. Their summer had been wonderful and early fall had been kind to their relationship. Quinn really seemed to be moving on this time and she had gotten early acceptance to NYADA after her first audition had been flawless.
So it was safe to say that Rachel was really happy when she woke up for her traditional workout routine early on Thursday morning. She went through the motions of her elliptical workout, a cleansing shower, healthy breakfast and warm conversation with her fathers while she waited for Finn to pick her up. He was wearing the blue polo she liked when she kissed him hello in his car and they arrived at McKinley just in time to walk inside with Blaine and Kurt. She aced a history test that morning and was excited when the cafeteria had her favorite tropical fruit salad at lunch. Glee was amazing that afternoon, with their early setlist for sectionals really starting to come together.
It was all ordinary really, but then she got a text message from her ballet instructor telling her that class had been cancelled due to illness. It was the first chink in the chain of throwing off Rachel's entire world. She didn't see it at the time though. Instead, she opted to see if Finn wanted to come over to do homework and maybe watch a movie in the den before dinner with her fathers. Of course, it took exactly ten minutes before their chemistry textbooks were abandoned in favor of some heavy making out. When she heard Finn starting that familiar mailman chant under his breath, she carefully pushed him away and pulled her homework back into her lap. Expecting Finn to follow suit, she was slightly surprised when he dropped to his knee instead.
"Did you drop something?" she asked with wide eyes, wondering if he was looking for a pencil or something. "If you lost your pen, you can just borrow one of mine."
Finn laughed softly as he shook his head. Rachel watched as he reached into his pocket and produced a little navy velvet box. She recognized it immediately, having seen it once at his mother's house. It was the same box that held the engagement ring his father had given his mother just before his deployment, the one with the generous center diamond and platinum band.
"What..." she started to ask as he opened the box. Rachel squeezed her eyes shut in disbelief. It didn't feel real. He couldn't be doing this - not here, not now. "Finn, what are you doing?"
"After Jean's funeral last spring, I knew that I was supposed to be with you. I was more sure of it than I had been anything else ever in my life. I saw you getting into Puck's car while I was comforting Quinn, and I just knew that it was all wrong."
"What does this have to do with Noah?"
He looked at her in confusion. "Nothing, just listen," he pleaded as she shook his head. "And then we kissed in New York and it was perfect and I knew, Rach, I just knew. I knew that I never wanted to be without you again. I'm more sure of that every single day, and our future is right here now and I just don't want to start figuring out what all that means without knowing what we mean. I want to be with you always, and I hope that you want to be with me too."
"You know that I love you, Finn."
"I do, and that's why I want to ask you a question," he said before slipping the ring out of the box. He reached for her tiny little hand, wrapping his fingers around hers lovingly so that he could cradle it in his huge palm. He gazed up at her with all the love he had spoken of so apparent in his eyes. "Rachel, will you marry me?"
She had known that those were likely the words that were coming ever since the ring had been revealed, but they still shocked her when Finn said them. "Oh, Finn," she exhaled as she looked down at the ring. It was beautiful and she loved what it symbolized. She loved him. She just didn't love how she felt when all three things were combined at once.
It changed everything and Rachel knew that she wasn't feeling the good things she should have been feeling if she really wanted to say yes. Their whole relationship had just turned on a dime, and it was too much to take in. The longer she was silent, the more fear crept into his eyes. It was like he knew her answer before she even dared to say the words. They couldn't do this. She couldn't do this.
"Finn, I can't marry you. Not now, we're still so young," she said softly. She dropped her left hand back to her lap before patting the couch next to her. Finn sat back on his haunches instead. The loud echo of the box snapping shut caused her to jump a little in surprise. "I love you, Finn, so much. I never thought I could love anyone was much as I love you. I want a future with you, I do, you're the one I want to share everything with. When I think about myself at 25 with my first Tony, you're the one I dedicate the award to, the first one I thank in my speech."
"I see all of that too, Rach."
"I see all of that, Finn, but I see it at 25. I see it after I've graduated from NYADA and put in some time on the stage. I see if after a few carefree years of living in the city and going to Europe to guest in London. There are all of these things I want to do, dreams I haven't gotten to live. I still want those things, and I don't think I can have them if we get married."
"You know that I support you. I want you to have everything you've ever wanted. Why can't you just have them with me?"
She shook her head sadly. "If I am going to get married, I need to know that the man I am marrying is the most important person in the world, even more important than me. I love you, Finn, but I'm not ready for that. I'm still too selfish to be the wife that you deserve, the wife that you need."
"I just need you, Rach," he said through the tears that had just started to fall. She was crying at that point too. "We can figure out the rest. You just have believe me."
"Finn, I'm just not ready. What's wrong with just waiting?"
Finn bit his bottom lip and shrugged a little. "I'm not willing to wait Rachel. You either want to marry me now or you don't want to be with me. We can't go back."
"Back to the way things were ten minutes ago?"
"No, I can't," he murmured softly. "I think we should break up."
Rachel choked on a sob, suddenly completely incapable of breathing on her own. She looked at him in disbelief. "Finn, you can't mean that!" she cried, reaching out to grip his wrist. If she could just touch him, if he could just feel her, he would have to change his mind. "That's not what I am trying to do here at all. I still want to be with you. I still see a future with you someday."
"Do you want to be with me more than anything?"
She looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Because I do," he went on. "I want to be with you more than I want anything else, probably more than I've ever wanted anything actually. I don't know what is going to happen, but you're, like, the one thing I am sure about. I can build my whole future around you as long as I know that's what you want. The thing is, Rach, I don't think it is what you want."
"That's not fair."
"You're always going to want Broadway and New York more than you're going to want me. I thought I would be okay coming in second, but I'm not. I'm just not."
Neither of them spoke for a moment. The only sounds in the too-quiet room were her stifled sobs beneath the tight fist she'd pressed to her lips and the occasional nervous cracking of his knuckles.
"You make me so happy, Finn. I don't understand why this all has to be right now. Can't we just enjoy the rest of this year together and then figure everything out? We can make this work long distance if you don't want to come with me to New York. I'll come back on weekends and you can come visit me. I'll be in Lima for all the holidays. We don't have to get married to stay together. There are so many alternatives. This doesn't have to be your only choice."
"I love you, Rachel Berry," he said softly before leaning forward to frame her face in his hands. "I love you so much more than I ever thought I would, but this is the only choice. You made yours and now I have to make mine. Maybe it's not fair of me to expect everything of you, but it's not anything you haven't been doing to me these past three years. I'm sorry, but we're over."
Rachel closed her eyes as Finn pressed the saddest she'd ever had to her lips before getting off the couch. She felt the weight of him as he lifted off the cushion next to her but she couldn't open her eyes. In fact, she didn't open them until she heard the front door slam and she knew that she was alone. All those tears and sobs she had tried unsuccessfully to hold back before were set free as she collapsed into herself. Rachel wasn't sure how long she cried like that in the den, but it was well into the night by the time her fathers came home and found her still sobbing alone in the dark.
They basically had to force the story out of her when her daddy threatened to call the ambulance if she didn't stop crying and start breathing. Rachel was a mess the entire way through it, but they eventually coaxed enough stunted words out of her mouth to get the gist of what had happened. Her dad finally allowed her to stop talking and helped her upstairs to bed. Her daddy came up awhile later with a cup of tea, and the two men sat with her until she literally cried herself to sleep. Her daddy just sat there stroking her hair in her dark bedroom, only the moon casting any light in the usually bright room. Her dad sat on the floor beside the bed holding her hand. They were helpless to help her even after she had slipped into a restless sleep. Their little girl's world had just fallen apart.
Rachel woke up somewhere during the night after they had finally succumbed to their own exhaustion and headed toward their bedroom. She wanted to cry, felt the same emotions inside her aching heart, but the tears just couldn't seem to come. It was if she had cried them all out and her body was rejecting every natural instinct coursing through her veins. Maybe it was self-preservation or maybe it was dehydration; either way, she felt like it was killing her from the inside out.
She thought about calling Kurt as she laid there in the dark but knew that he might take Finn's side. Reaching for her phone, she scanned through her contacts. She could also call Blaine, but that might put him in a bad position with his boyfriend. There was really only one other person who she could call who might give a damn about her in the middle of the night. He was probably the only other person who'd actually come.
"What do you want, Berry?" came a sleepy voice over the line after only two rings.
"Noah, I need you."