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Come Down to Me

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Santana’s POV

There’s no way in hell Santana can let Rachel catch a whiff of this. She thrusts the phone back into Bailey’s hand, and presses her fingers into the bridge of her nose, trying to stave off an impending headache.

“None of you say a word about that around Berry, do you understand?” The girls chuckle and roll their eyes at Santana. They think Santana is one of them - a member of the ‘Rachel Berry is an uptight diva club’. “I swear to fucking God, one wisecrack and I will go Lima Heights on your asses.”

The girls glance at one another, unsure what to make of Santana’s minor outburst. However, she knows she pulls more weight around here with having gone to high school with the show’s star and appearing in print alongside Rachel on a pretty regular basis. They go back to sipping their coffee, squeezing Santana out of their little circle. She’s fine with it and stomps to the edge of the stage, sitting down and dangling her feet over the pit.

It was one thing to laugh at all the mean things Jew Fro wrote about their classmates in high school. His blog was meaningless gossip that most people didn’t take seriously in the first place. Through, retrospectively, that’s probably exactly how Perez Hilton got his start in the business. There’s nothing funny about what Perez wrote about Rachel, even if she did look pretty wasted and was hanging on the arm of a celebrity who was twice her age. Rachel isn’t careless, and Santana doesn’t know what could’ve possibly led to this scenario.

It’s the only thing she can think about through the day’s rehearsal. She goes through the motions, but she’s too busy watching Rachel out of the corner of her eye to really focus on getting better.

As soon as they’re out for the day, she sends frantic messages to Kurt, Dani, and Elliott to let them know about the article. If they’re going to keep this away from Rachel, they need to work as a team. She calls in sick to the diner for the first time in months. Dani covers for her and she’s forever grateful to her girlfriend, especially because she’s hardly made time for Dani in weeks.

Back at the loft, she allows herself to Google Rachel’s name. All of the most recent results stem from the Perez Hilton article; other gossip sites have picked up the story and are displaying the same unflattering pictures. As much as she’s actively despised the way that Rachel has been acting over the passing weeks, her insides twist uncomfortably at the scandal that is sure to build from this incident.

She opens a beer and plops on the couch, scrolling through the Google results without actually clicking on the links. She has no interest in helping their viewer counts of spreading these kinds of vicious rumors.

Kurt looks beat when he gets home from work. Santana moves over on the couch as he collapses next to her, popping the top couple of buttons open on his shirt.

“Rachel called. Her management team was staging an emergency meeting and she didn’t know why. I told her to stop by when she finishes with them.”

That explains the bag of groceries at his feet - they normally go grocery shopping together after her Sunday brunch shift. Upon closer inspection, she sees a pint of Rachel’s favorite vegan ice cream, among other junk food.

“And you weren’t expecting me to be home,” Santana adds.

“It is a little surprising. You’re always at work,” Kurt admits. He stands up to put the ice cream away before it melts.

“I needed a night off. Dani is covering for me. I can go crash at her place if Rachel is coming over though.” The last thing Santana really wants is to drag her ass back into Manhattan tonight, but Rachel is probably having a rough enough night without having to walk on eggshells around her.

Kurt shrugs at her before turning away to start making himself dinner. He’s over the fighting, but Santana knows that he’s not going to dig into her tonight about making up with Rachel.

Truthfully, she misses the fuck out of having Rachel around the loft. Lima always meant having Brittany and Quinn attached to her hips. Dani is great, and Santana thinks that she could really love her, but she misses having friendships with people that understand everything she’s been through. As much as everybody always believed Rachel to be high maintenance in high school, in reality she’s about a million times easier to live with than Kurt is. Sure, they squabbled, especially over what to watch on Netflix or where to order dinner in from, but at the end of the day, Rachel would let Santana rest her head on her shoulder and let her just be herself, claws tucked away.

Since Kurt doesn’t agree that she should leave, Santana takes that as an excuse to stay at the loft. She figures that she can duck behind her curtain and stay there while Rachel is here, avoiding confrontation.

There’s a timid knock on the door an hour later, and Santana shuts off the TV as she heads towards her bedroom before Kurt can even make a move to answer it. It probably would have been easier to just go stay at Dani’s instead of hiding in her own apartment, but she yanks the curtain closed and opens up her laptop to continue watching her marathon of The Vampire Diaries in private.

Rachel’s sniffles are unmistakable, even from across the room. Santana hears Kurt shuffling around, probably making tea and pulling out all of Rachel’s comfort foods as he assesses the situation. The urge to go comfort Rachel courses through her, feud be damned. She read the horrible low-blow remarks that that awful gossip king Perez wrote about Rachel, and she has no doubt that Rachel’s PR team made her live through every damn comment that the readers posted in response.

Netflix remains paused on her screen as she lounges back against her pillows, straining to hear Kurt’s soft, coddling comments over the rustle of them unwrapping the various snacks.

“Kenzie has been harping on me needing to let loose a bit at events,” Rachel tells Kurt. “I’ve been observed as uptight and cold because I rarely drink and stay away from more well-known people at these benefits. Apparently nobody seems to care that I’m underage and shouldn’t be at events where they aren’t checking ID before handing out champagne flutes.”

Santana can hear the pure exhaustion in Rachel’s words. She’s living in a world where nobody is pleased with what she’s doing. Granted, getting so drunk and leaving with a pretty obvious celebrity probably was swinging the pendulum a little too far in the opposite direction of the way she’s been living thus far.

“You should be loosening up, Rachel. You’re an up-and-coming star who is getting invites to some really coveted social engagements. But getting drunk like you’re at a high school keg party probably wasn’t your best decision.”

She has to hand it to Kurt, he’s a straight shooter. There’s no point in acting like Rachel didn’t make a huge fucking mistake leaving with that toolbag after getting shitfaced in a room of really important people.

As if on cue, Rachel’s waterworks turn on full force. Santana can’t make out what she’s saying through the sobbing, though it feels like she’s intruding on a really private moment between two best friends. It wasn’t that long ago that she was the one Rachel would come to when she was upset. They sat on that couch, Rachel in her arms as Santana tried to calm her down over the pregnancy test.

She plugs her headphones in the jack and presses play on her computer, drowning it out. It’s better than eavesdropping on a conversation that she’s not welcome to be a part of, even if she’s the one that can tell Rachel that she’s not a cold, frigid bitch and that her PR team are just a bunch of cranky hardasses. The truth is that interviewers love Rachel and her naive enthusiasm, they love the way that she never fails to remember where she came from or how all of those random people from a tiny Midwest town helped her get her start. Santana might spice up the conversation, but it’s Rachel that always manages to say the perfectly right things to make them swoon over them as a pair. Rachel sells their act every damn time.

The show plays on in front of her on the screen, but Santana isn’t actually paying attention. She stares at the laptop screen, willing herself to stay hidden behind her curtain until Rachel finally leaves for the night. There are so many things she could say, some blunt and some nurturing, to Rachel. But they’re not friends anymore; Rachel has made that abundantly clear since she moved out. So as much as it physically pains her to stay sprawled out on her bed, she does so, hiding away behind the curtain where Rachel doesn’t know that she exists.

Eventually the need to pee trumps the desire to avoid letting Rachel know that she’s home. Santana slips around the edge of her curtain and makes a beeline for the bathroom, walking through the kitchen to avoid where Kurt and Rachel are sitting on the couch.

“They talked to Rupert and they all agreed that it’s a good time for me to take a bit of a mental break, so they’re sending me to L.A. to work on recording for the revival soundtrack. I leave tomorrow morning apparently. It’s still weird to have someone else booking my plane ticket and telling me what I’m doing all of the time.”

“That might not be a bad thing,” Santana mutters under her breath, though not loud enough for Rachel and Kurt to hear her. She closes herself in the bathroom and snaps the lock into place. Kurt leaves his magazines in a little rack, so she gets absorbed in some ridiculous quiz about skin care and doesn’t realize how long she’s been in there until she hears the loft door slide closed.

She emerges sheepishly, but Kurt has already pulled out his laptop and is groaning at his work email, ignoring her presence altogether.

“How’d it go?” she asks, moving his briefcase aside so that she can fit on the couch.

“Don’t you think gossiping about gossip involving one of our close friends is at least marginally tactless?” he questions, not bothering to look away from the screen.

Santana shrugs. He’s right, but she’s still kind of hoping that he got the inside scoop on what went down. All of it just seems so far removed from the Rachel she’s known for years that she can’t help but wonder what the real story is.

It’s obvious that Kurt isn’t going to crack and give her the details she wants, so she retires to her room again, restarting her episode and settling in for a marathon alone.

Rachel’s POV

Rachel has never been to Los Angeles. Part of her feels like everybody thinks this is some American dream: to be sent to L.A. to lay down some tracks in a fancy music studio with executives standing around in designer suits. It’s one that she let herself wonder about on occasion, but it never seemed to fit into her life plan quite right.

It’s only mid-March, but L.A. is warm and sunny and every single person she passes seems to own an expensive pair of sunglasses. Of course, she forgot to pack her own when she was throwing clothes haphazardly in her bag this morning before the car picked her up. Her team put her on a flight that took off when the sun was just starting to rise - apparently it’s less likely that she’ll catch anybody’s attention if she travels when the rest of the world is asleep - so she wasn’t really thinking clearly about the differences in weather on the west coast. She’s sweaty in her long-sleeved blouse, but the driver cranks up the air conditioning and avoids small talk, so she’s not completely miserable by the time she’s being dropped off in front of the building.

She’s early - punctuality is something that her dads always took very seriously and she’s always followed in their footsteps that way - and she’s forced to lug her suitcase into the elevator with her since she didn’t even know where Kenzie had booked for her to stay. To be honest, the last thing she really wants right now is three days tucked away in a hotel in a city that is completely foreign to her.

I’m in LA for a few days. I thought maybe you would like to spend some time together.

There’s only one person she knows that lives in this land: Mercedes. Rachel could definitely use a friend right now that’s removed from the drama between her and Santana.

She knows to not expect a response right away - it’s still really early in the morning - but she can’t help but check her phone kind of obsessively until they call her into the booth to start recording.

When they break for lunch, she finally has a message back from Mercedes.

Girlllll, of course I wanna see you. Where are you staying? My couch is pretty damn cozy if you need a place to crash.

It’s an incredibly generous offer, and it only takes a moment of biting on her lip to decide that sleeping on a lumpy couch in Mercedes’s tiny apartment has got to be a million times better than drowning in her own loneliness in a nondescript hotel room. Rachel calls Kenzie to have her cancel her reservation and responds to Mercedes that she’d love to stay there. It makes eating a salad alone in a little café down the block from the studio at lunch a little more bearable knowing that she’ll get to see a familiar face later.

Somehow, it’s relaxing to sing without the need for theatrics. Being in the studio reminds her of singing in her bedroom, feeling every note and not worrying about anything else but the music. There’s no auditorium filled with people looking for a show, no choreography or the necessity of meaningful looks. All she hears is the instrumental track coming through her headphones and she belts into the big, professional microphone with zero abandon. She’s never done anything like this, yet somehow it feels like coming home.

When the execs finally release her for the day, she texts Mercedes, who sends her the address of her apartment. The company has a car waiting for her and she gives the driver Mercedes’s address, feeling light as she does so. Rachel misses her friend - Mercedes is one of the few real ones that Rachel feels like she has - and she’s excited to get to spend some time with her, even if it means driving past the nice hotel in favor of a more rundown neighborhood.

Mercedes buzzes her in and she drags her suitcase through the doors and onto the elevator. When she gets to the fifth floor, Mercedes is standing in the doorway of her apartment and waves gleefully to her. Rachel cracks a big smile and walks towards her friend, so glad that she chose to do this instead of staying at the hotel.

The apartment itself is quaint - that’s really the best way to describe it. Mercedes leads her past a cramped, but bright, kitchen and down a narrow hallway. It opens up into a living area that has shelves of cds and tons of colorful canvas paintings hanging jauntily from nails in the wall. It’s homey with its worn furniture and Rachel loves how much it reminds her of what she imagined for the loft when she and Kurt first signed the lease.

“My bedroom is tiny, but it’s a cool place,” Mercedes tells her with a little smile. “My roommate is an artist, in case you couldn’t tell.” She gestures at the dozens of paintings tacked up all over the place.

“I love it,” Rachel genuinely replies, dropping her suitcase next to the end table and sitting down on the end of the couch.

“What brings you out here?” Mercedes asks, casually scrutinizing the bags under Rachel’s eyes and her casual appearance.

“My reps figured this would be a good time to start laying down the album for the revival. I don’t know how they can possibly believe that it will sell as well as the original cast recording, but it’s part of my contract for the show.” She deliberately omits the fact that the timing happened as a means of keeping her from further screwing up her public persona. The memory of those pictures from Perez Hilton’s site are burned into her memory and her throat runs dry at recalling the feel of him pressed against her side as he coaxed her into a cab.

Mercedes doesn’t ask any more questions, but she fills Rachel in on her own budding career and tells her about life in L.A. It’s hard to not feel jealous when it seems like Mercedes is happy with the way her plans are working out. Broadway was supposed to make Rachel feel that way.

Tonight isn’t about drowning herself in self-pity. She’s out of New York, away from all of the drama with Santana and the show. She tries to absorb Mercedes’ pure happiness, which isn’t difficult considering how much it seems to be radiating from her. She lets herself laugh at anecdotes and shares how things went in the studio this morning as they get ready side by side squished together in front of Mercedes’s vanity mirror in her cramped bedroom.

Mercedes takes her a little Italian restaurant that’s out of the bustle of the city, and Rachel is immediately grateful for the calm atmosphere. It’s nice to be able to feel like a teenager again, giggling after the waiter accepts their fake IDs and brings them glasses of wine. There’s no worry of someone snapping a picture of her drinking with her friend; out here, she’s a nobody. It’s amazing to be able to blend in with the surroundings again.

Dinner is amazing, and by the time they’re paying the check, Rachel feels more relaxed than she’s felt since the casting calls for her understudy. She hasn’t so much as glanced at her phone - her team is probably having a panic attack about her ignoring them - and it’s liberating to just live in the moment for once.

She’s not really in the mood for a big night on the town and they both need to work in the morning, so she’s happy when Mercedes suggests grabbing a bottle of wine and heading back to her apartment to hang out.

Rachel is greeted by the sound of laughter emanating from the apartment when Mercedes unlocks the door. The small living room is crowded with three girls that Rachel vaguely recognizes from pictures on Mercedes’ Facebook page.

The next few minutes are a whirlwind of introductions, but she’s glad when Mercedes introduces her as a friend from home, leaving out the tidbit of her impending career. Rachel smiles and greets each person warmly, internally grateful for her old friend’s understanding that she doesn’t want to be subjected to an onslaught of questions tonight. The girl on the far end of the couch with beautiful hazelnut eyes - Rachel thinks she introduced herself as Andrea, but the names are already starting to fade from her memory - eyes her curiously, like she may recognize Rachel from somewhere. Thankfully she doesn’t pursue whatever her thoughts are, leaving Rachel to blend in with the group.

Since moving out of the loft and signing with a representative team, she’s hardly had a chance to act nineteen. Theater hours are long and antisocial by nature. On weekends, her schedule is jammed full of appearances and parties where every attendee is five years her major. There’s none of this atmosphere: a group of young adults drinking cheap wine on a thrift store couch, swapping horror stories about their customer service jobs and talking about dating. She’s not even sure the last time she even thought about going on a date, never mind having someone interested enough in her to ask her on one.

“Can I interest you in some wine? The house special is a $3 bottle of pinot grigio from the only liquor store in the area that doesn’t card.” Mercedes’s roommate, Ani, stands in front of Rachel holding the bottle of wine and gives her a playful grin. “California’s best product, I assure you,” Ani adds.

Rachel laughs, and it’s heartfelt. She likes these girls and their simplicity. Ani twists the screw top of the bottle and pours some into a plastic margarita glass with flamingos printed on it.

“It’s so nice of you to use the fine china on our special guest,” Mercedes plays along, a giggle following it as she reaches for the glass Ani is now offering her.

“I’m a true Southern hostess. My debutante obsessed mother would have it no other way.”

“Where the fuck were those manners when we were roommates?” one of the other girls - Rachel forgets her name - asks. This sends the whole room into a fit of giggles.

“Being a good hostess and being your personal maid are two very different things, Jemma. I ain’t here to wash your nasty dishes or unhang your damn boyfriend’s boxers from the lampshade in the living room.”

Never once does Rachel feel like an outsider, despite knowing nothing about these people. Mercedes is glowing with happiness and Rachel tries to absorb it as she slides down onto the floor beside her friend.

Conversation quickly turns to the awful customers that came into the cafe today where Ani and Jemma work. All of them are in college and spend their free hours waiting tables to have the money to enjoy living in a city like L.A. Rachel sees what life could have been if she hadn’t chosen one of the most competitive programs in the country. Nobody at NYADA wants to be anybody's friend; they only care about being better than everybody else. Every conversation was filled with backhanded compliments and ploys to extract information on what showcases the other was pursuing. Rachel learned quickly that not having friends at NYADA didn’t make you an outcast, it made you a normal theater snob.

Her stint in customer service was a rather short one, but she pipes up with her own stories about customers at the diner with their ridiculous need for gravy covered french fries while they simultaneously forced her to sing horrible songs from their nostalgic pasts.

“You seriously had to sing ‘Come On, Eileen’ to a seventy year-old couple?” Andrea asks, looking like she was about to explode with laughter. Rachel nods her assent. “That dude is some romantic. Damn, I don’t know how his wife has lasted being married to him for forty years.”

“God, I thought that working at Macy’s during the holiday season was bad, but at least they didn’t expect me to do a jig every time I rang up a customer,” Jemma adds. “I guess in a world of wannabe stage actors, a singing diner is exactly what the tourists want.”

Rachel doesn’t add that she’s no longer one of those wannabe actors. Her name is being installed on the marquee for everybody walking by the theater to see.

“Rachel has plenty of practice. She lit up stages everywhere when we were in Glee club together. Her solo at Nationals probably single handedly won us the championship,” Mercedes tells her friends. It’s never been often that Rachel has heard people genuinely compliment her talent. Mercedes was probably her biggest competitor besides Kurt when it came to being a performer.

It’s easy to throw the attention back on Mercedes; she’s the one that is in a recording studio on a regular basis, laying down tracks as a background singer for an up-and-coming pop star from Canada. She has a paycheck that is steadier than most people her age and it’s only a matter of time before she’s recording her own solo album.

Rachel likes hearing about Mercedes’s success. Her friends are obviously proud of her and are supportive. Her stomach twists at the thought that she doesn’t have people like that in her life, but she pushes it aside, focusing on Mercedes for once.

Eventually everybody starts yawning. It’s not that late, but they all have jobs and school early the next morning, so they say their goodbyes. The girls hug Rachel like they’ve known her more than a few hours and she wishes that she could stay in this town for more than a couple of days.

Ani retreats to her bedroom, leaving her with Mercedes. Mercedes grabs spare sheets and makes up the couch for her as Rachel rummages through her suitcase for her toiletries.

“What brought you out here so suddenly?” Mercedes inquires, playing with the corner of the sheet she draped over the couch cushions.

“My team wanted me to start recording on the revival album,” Rachel replies simply, gripping her toothbrush.

“Why aren’t they having you record in New York so that you don’t have to lose out on so many rehearsal days right before opening night?” Mercedes pushes. Rachel knows how much Mercedes loves to be privy to insider gossip.

“My producer worked in L.A. for a decade before moving to Broadway, so he has some good friends in the industry here. The man that owns the studio we’re using out here is a close friend of his.”

It’s the story that Rachel’s team fed her during their emergency meeting the other night and she has no reason to question its validity.

“So it has nothing to do with you no longer living with Kurt and Santana?”

“Why would my career obligations have anything to do with my former roommates?” Rachel retorts, fighting to keep her voice level.

“It doesn’t. Of course not,” Mercedes backtracks. “I just thought it might be messy with Santana working on the show with you as well.”

“Santana has nothing to do with my life besides dancing in the shadows of my success. We’re both professionals now. Plus, as soon as the curtain rises on opening night, I’m the only one that is going to be on stage. Santana is barely a blip on my radar these days.”

“I don’t think it bothers her that she’s not the star, Rach. It only seems to bother you.” Mercedes prods gently.

“Of course it doesn’t bother her! She hasn’t dreamed of this role for eighteen years! Broadway is what I’ve always worked for. Santana just follows the tide, doing whatever pleases her in the moment and doesn’t care who she’s sabotaging in the process.” Rachel forces a deep breath in through her nose, releasing it slowly through her mouth.

“How is she sabotaging you? You said it yourself - she’ll be sitting backstage while you are the star night after night. She just saw an opportunity to jumpstart her career, so she took it.”

“There are thousands of shows. Why did she need to go after my role?” Rachel’s voice cracks as she tries to hold it together. Mercedes stands up and disappears into the kitchen, returning with a glass of water.

Rachel accepts the glass with trembling hands and takes a sip. It’s hard to swallow at the same time as keeping her tears at bay. The lump in her throat is suffocating and the water does nothing to soothe it.

“Rach, I don’t think that this has ever been about Santana trying to take your role.” Mercedes voice is soft, nearly pitying.

A hiccup escapes her, most likely a product of the wine and her ragged breathing. Mercedes hand finds her forearm and rests there, like somehow her presence will make the awfulness that has been trapped in her chest for weeks suddenly disintegrate.

“Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, Santana wasn’t trying to be malicious? I mean everybody knows that she can be a bitch, but she’s practically the most loyal bitch I’ve ever met.”

Rachel doesn’t answer her. She thought Santana had been her best friend. They connected in a way that she never had with anybody. Kurt was special to her, but their friendship barely dipped below surface level. They were there for one another, but she never felt the urge to spill her deepest worries to him the way she did with Santana. Maybe it was a girl bond; she had never really had one of those. Mercedes was a good friend, but they were also so different that their friendship had happened more of convenience. Santana and herself, however, were more alike than she had ever imagined before Santana had moved to New York. Once Brody was out of the picture, it wasn’t long before Rachel realized that Santana didn’t actually eat babies for breakfast.

Mercedes sighs after a bout of silence - Rachel really has no idea how long they’ve been sitting here like this - and pats Rachel’s arm once before standing up.

“Thanks,” Rachel tells her. “You know, for letting me stay here and everything. Your friends are really cool.”

Mercedes gives her a weak smile.

“Sleep tight, Rachel.”

She definitely doesn’t sleep tight. In fact, she doesn’t sleep at all.

For hours, she relives the past few months in her head, day by day. NYADA, Miss July, Brody, the Winter Showcase, Finn at the wedding. None of it was the way she had planned life after high school to go. But what would she change? Of course, now it’s just retrospectively. There’s no way to go back and convince herself that she shouldn’t be trying to marry Finn before they’ve even graduated high school. She can’t rewrite how things have played out.

But she misses the loft. She misses her friends. Broadway was supposed to be glamorous and fulfill her in a way that life in Ohio never would be capable of doing.

Instead, she’s lonely. One childish mistake of following a sweet-talking celebrity out of a party and she gets shipped out of town.

This is never what she wanted.

Since she’s awake, she tries to figure out Mercedes’s coffee machine and ends up producing something that looks more like tar. She’s rinsing it out when Mercedes wanders through, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“G’morning,” Mercedes says through a yawn. She opens the refrigerator and pulls out a carton of eggs and some milk.

“Morning,” Rachel responds, though she knows it’s lacking her normal chipper edge.

“You still vegan?”

“I try, but New York can be really expensive and it’s surprisingly hard to maintain a vegan diet when you have to go to dinner parties with fixed menus. You’d think that people would ask ahead of time for dietary needs, but it seems to get overlooked quite often. I am, however, vegetarian.”

“Well, I’m making scrambled eggs. Would you like some?” Mercedes asks her.

Rachel shakes her head and turns back to scrubbing the coffee pot.

“I’m sorry,” Rachel mumbles. She’s not even quite sure what she’s apologizing for.

“Girl, I know that things aren’t as easy as we thought they were going to be. But that’s why we need to stick together.”

Rachel knows that Mercedes is talking about Santana. They were a club, a bunch of misfits and lonely people coming together to find joy in the simplicity of performing. But more than that, they were once a family, a group that always had one another’s backs.

“She’s my understudy, but it’s obvious that everybody in the production prefers her. I have a dressing room to eat lunch alone in while she had friends and girls to gossip with and someone to split a muffin with on a break. Santana might not be the star, but she’s definitely the favorite.”

“And maybe that’s true. God knows Santana has a kind of slimy way with people and convincing them to do what she wants. I think Cheerios must get an injection of that gene or something. But Rach, you’re Fanny Brice in the biggest Broadway revival in a decade. You’re in an industry where people don’t tend to make friends, they just rub elbows. But Santana was your friend way before that even started. And it’s not too late to drop your holier than thou attitude and set things straight. But if you keep it up, it’s going to become too late.”

Rachel sucks in a breath. Her jaw is tense from clenching it so hard. Mercedes is probably right, but she’s pretty sure it’s already too late.

Her cell phone rings from the living room and she moves around Mercedes to answer it.

“Hello?”

“Ms. Berry, your car will be there in about thirty minutes to take you to the studio. Bring your bag with you, as you’ll be heading directly to the airport from your recording session. Rupert is insisting that you be at rehearsal tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, thanks.”

As usual, there’s no emotion from her team, just business. Nobody is asking how the first day in the studio went or explaining why it’s so crucial that she be back in New York for rehearsal tomorrow.

She wanders back into the kitchen, where Mercedes is now sitting at the tiny table, devouring her scrambled eggs.

“They need me back in New York tomorrow. My car is going to be here soon.”

She’s sad about leaving Mercedes’s company so early, but as usual, work dictates her schedule.

“Well I’m sure you’ll be back in L.A. shortly to finish the album,” Mercedes replies, trying to keep the mood positive.

“Thanks for letting me stay here, I needed some time with old friends.”

“Just think about what I said, Rachel. We’re all a crazy, dysfunctional family.”

She gets up and holds her arms out to Rachel. Rachel moves into the embrace, feeling a tear slip down her cheek. She swipes at it as they separate before Mercedes can notice.

“Well, I better get ready to go then.”

They hug once more before Rachel gets into the black car waiting in front of the apartment building. This time, in the safety of the back seat, she lets the tears fall silently as she watches Los Angeles zip by outside the window.

It’s not home. Right now, New York doesn’t feel like home either. But she has to make it home nonetheless. She’ll be flying into JFK airport tonight, starting this journey with a fresh perspective and maybe even with some changes.

She deserves to be happy, but only she can make that happen.