New York is somehow more consuming than even she could have imagined. As is typical of Manhattan-based colleges, she discovers, NYADA doesn’t have a campus so much as a collection of buildings. The freshman dorms are right beside the main teaching building, the one with the big theaters and the large stages. But there are other places to go, and she quickly realizes that she is going to need to learn to tell north from south.
”We’ll buy you a compass,” her daddy laughs.
“Nonsense, those phones the kids have all have GPS,” her dad says.
She frowns at the map in her hand, and take a wild guess.
“This way,” she says, and leaves her fathers to follow after her.
The view of the park from their hotel room is what pulls her in. They’re on the seventh floor of The Plaza, which she walked right by in a daze when she first arrived. It’s late, but the sun hadn’t set, and the view through the windows is too much to ignore.
It isn’t like last year. There isn’t anything specific to do other than just be here. There are people moving around on the street, and she slips on her shoes and takes the elevator down. Across the street, she buys a pretzel, and then sits on the edge of the Pulitzer Fountain.
Her daddy finds her some time later.
“I suppose you’re pleased,” she says. Her daddy takes her hand, the one with the ring, and sighs.
“Yes,” he says, then raises his finger to stop her from speaking. “Not for the reasons you think, though. I like Finn.” At this, Rachel snorts. “And one day he will make a wonderful husband. And,” he curls his hand around hers, “one day you will make a wonderful wife.”
“So then why-“
“Because it’s not one day, yet. And Finn knew that.”
“Why don’t I get a say in any of this,” she asks.
“You do. You can do whatever you like. You can stay in Lima, you can accept your NYADA offer, you can go backpacking around Europe for a year for all your dad and I care. As long as it’s what you want to do.” She blinks up at him, not expecting the words. “But Finn can do whatever he likes, too.”
When her dad comes down a little while later, they go exploring.
Two weeks later, she’s back in Lima and Finn is gone.
Before they left, she made space in her wardrobe, cleaned out the bedside table on the left and a drawer in the bathroom. There are plain, sky blue sheets on the bed, because it was always weird to see Finn’s messy hair and plaid boxers in amongst her brightly colored comforter.
They were only going to call it home for a couple of months, but she wanted him to feel like it was their home. In the last few months, Carole has taught her how to cook meatloaf, and the way Finn likes mac and cheese, and even how to soak his shirts because boy sweat is just not a smell you want to leave festering. That last one was for when Finn forgot, because he would.
Now, the room feels foreign and empty, and her head overly full.
Puck throws a party at Mike’s parents’ place, and she doesn’t ask how that came about but she goes because Kurt will not leave her alone about it. Mercedes is gone, and he refuses to talk about anything to do with the future, but he won’t shut up about every little thing he’s done with Blaine and Sam and Tina and even Brittany in the last three weeks.
He’s as lost as she is, maybe even more so, and so she goes upstairs and puts on a shirt her daddy bought her in New York.
There’s a lot of alcohol, and a lot of Cheerios, which is still strange even though she spent so much time with them in the lead up to Nationals. The last few months of high school feel like something that happened to someone else, a story she read about some other girl named Rachel Berry. Everyone feels like a long lost friend, and she feels distant.
She’s in the kitchen with Artie, who is mixing her a drink. She’s not sure why, but her first was a very long time ago and this is just what’s happening.
“So how was New York,” he asks. Before she gets a chance to answer, Santana is pulling herself up onto the last clean space on the kitchen counter.
“It was okay,” she shrugs.
“Hold up, come here,” Santana waves her over, and because this isn’t Rachel’s first drink she goes without question. Santana’s hand covers her forehead, and she squints in Rachel’s face. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Yes,” she says, but it comes out like a question.
“The Rachel Berry I know would never call New York ‘okay’,” she says, and wraps her hand around Rachel’s wrist in an attempt to take her pulse.
“Stop that,” she says, pulling her arm away. “It was okay, okay.” She pauses. “That makes sense in my head.”
She’s at the grocery store buying pineapple and tampons when she runs into Carole.
“Sweetie,” Carole says, and pulls Rachel in as her face contorts and there’s this sob that was never quite swallowed sitting on that train, but now it’s tearing loose. This woman was going to be her mother-in-law and now she’s going to be a stranger, and somehow that hurts a lot more, right now, than anything else.
They sit on the bench outside in the sunshine, and Carole tells her that Finn will be back from basic training in nine weeks.
“I’ll be in New York by then,” she says, her eyes hidden behind her sunglasses.
“I know, hon,” Carole nods, and there’s no question that she’s actually going.
They make promises to have dinner sometime soon, but they never set a time or place and it doesn’t really matter. She drives her car home and as she puts the car into park she wonders if she’ll forget how to drive without practice.
She has a hard time thinking.
That’s the only way to describe what her brain is doing. She’ll start to think about something incredibly mundane, like what movie to watch that night or whether she should start buying Christmas presents now because there won’t be any place to keep them in New York, and then halfway through she realizes that the things she is taking into consideration are longer, well, have to be considered.
It doesn’t matter if Finn will fall asleep during Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and she doesn’t need to buy Burt a new set of coveralls with custom embroidery.
The only real thing she learned in New York is that she knows nothing about New York. They got lost in Chelsea, and they got lost in the Theater District, and her daddy had left what they all thought was an appropriate tip but had merely earned them abuse as they were chased out onto the sidewalk.
She loads up her Google Reader with every New York-related blog and website she can find, and every morning she reads through everything like it’s the New York Times. She reads that, too.
There is so much to do in Manhattan, and Brooklyn, too, which leads to more blogs and after a few days she’s starting to grow concerned. She tells herself, theater people are not whatever these people are. She hopes. Some of the girls do have lovely dresses, but their hair is so untidy.
But there’s also the fact that New York is scary. She watches Law & Order, so she knows. There’s a lot to do, but going and doing it is going to be a problem without a six foot something husband to chase away muggers. Actually, that may have been a problem, anyway.
She googles where to buy pepper spray.
Four weeks before she leaves again, she’s picking out a four-pack of underwear at Macy’s when a familiar voice whispers in her ear, “you’re in the wrong place, the kids department is upstairs.”
“Santana,” she says before turning around, affectionate annoyance in her voice. It still feels strange to know that feeling is returned.
“Did you know a 30 day Metrocard is over $100,” Santana asks, eyes scanning over the rows of underwear behind Rachel’s head. “And give me those,” she snatches the package from Rachel’s hand and tosses it between the racks. “These are so much hotter.”
She stammers and splutters and hurries after Santana, clutching what turn out to be incredibly inappropriate underwear that she hides in her dresser drawer but doesn’t return.
“Of course I know how much Metrocards cost,” she huffs. “Why do you?”
“Because,” Santana pulls a shirt from the back of the rack she’s perusing, “come September, I’ll be buying one every month to take me from my super swanky apartment to whatever awesome job I get two seconds after a talent agent lays eyes on me.” She tosses a smirk over her shoulder.
“W-what,” she forces out. It feels like a feast after having her lunch money stolen.
“That’s right. Santana Lopez is going to New York.”
They’re at the Lima Bean when she finally gets the courage to ask Kurt what he’s going to do next year. They’ve spent plenty of time together in the last few weeks, but as her departure gets closer she can feel him pull away. The things that bound them, it would seem, were merely circumstantial.
He shuffles in his seat for a minute before sighing, “I don’t know.”
“You should come to New York. Santana is, and I know you could—”
“Unlike Santana, I don’t have a quarter of a million dollars in my bank account to see me through my Rent years.”
She didn’t know that’s what was happening, and now she feels like an insensitive brat. There’s nothing she can say, but she renews her offer to help him prepare to audition again next year.
“We’ll see,” is all she gets in reply, and when they part company she doesn’t think that will be happening. Not at all.
There’s a part of her that hasn’t accepted this is happening, refusing to believe any of this is real.
She may be sitting in her wardrobe wrapping up her video equipment, but in her mind she’s singing Celine Dion’s underappreciated cover of ‘When I Need You’. She’s at the Lima bus station as Finn returns, having escaped from boot camp upon realizing the magnitude of his mistake, and he stumbles down the steps of the bus, throwing himself at her feet and begging her to let him come to New York with her.
It’s just getting to the part where she slaps him in a dramatic point of tension before she runs her hand over the mark on Finn’s face, then throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him in front of all their friends when her bedroom door flies open, slamming into the wall.
“Did you know Tribeca real estate is— where are you,” Santana calls out.
“Um, in here?”
“Well, well. Hiding in a closet. Something you want to share with the class,” Santana leans against the door jam.
Rachel pulls herself up from the floor, pushing by Santana. “What are you doing here?”
“Came to see if you were still crying into your pillow about how awful it is that you’re going to the greatest city on earth,” Santana shrugs. “Instead I find you… what were you doing in there?”
“I was packing up—”
“I don’t actually care. Is Tribeca actually where all the lesbians live?”
“Why do you think I would know that?” She sits on the edge of her bed, propping her heels on the edge of the frame.
“You know about New York. And now I’m thinking you might know something about lady gay secrets,” Santana smirks, her eyebrows doing this weird bouncing thing.
“Very funny, Santana.”
“I know,” she sighs. She sinks down beside Rachel, throwing herself back, covering her face with an arm. “This is crazy.”
She doesn’t ask what, exactly, is crazy, because yeah. Everything is crazy.
They spend some time lying on Rachel’s bed, looking at Tribeca on Google Maps street view and searching for lesbian bars.
“How far is,” Santana pauses to count, “I don’t know, twenty blocks?”
“264 feet, multiplied by 20.”
Some time later they work out that it’s exactly 1 mile.
“I’m sure there’s a subway between Tribeca and NYADA,” Santana mutters.
Her dads are starting to act a little crazy. Okay, they’re starting to act a lot crazy.
They haven’t been quite this excited to listen to her sing karaoke in the Oscar room in years, and apparently there is something her dad is desperately interested in happening at The Met every week from now until 2014.
“You know I’ll be home for Spring Break, and Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah and New Year, and every other holiday and vacation, right?”
They don’t believe her, and it’s mildly upsetting to find herself agreeing that whatever her intentions are, she can’t predict the truth of her statement.
It’s a week before those heading off to college leave, and they’re together in, of all places, the Fabray backyard. It’s raining, so they’re all sitting on the porch.
Sam’s moping in a corner with Brittany and Santana, and Rachel keeps catching the girl looking at the rest of the group, even as her fingers tangle in Brittany’s hair.
In fact, no one seems overly excited to be there, to the point that Mrs Fabray comments when she brings them more pitchers of lemonade.
“Mom,” Quinn hisses.
“No, she’s right,” Rachel finds herself saying. “Almost none of us are leaving the way we would prefer. We should be be enjoying these last moments together.”
At that point, Brittany starts crying, and that’s the beginning of the end of their gathering, even if it is drawn out with long goodbyes.
As she’s about to open her umbrella and head out to her car, Santana comes up behind her and tugs on her hair. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she says back. They’ve already said goodbye to each other.
“When are you leaving,” Santana asks, her hands tapping against her legs.
“Tuesday, you know that,” Rachel says. “Oh, when do you leave,” she asks as she digs her keys out of her purse. “You could be there already.”
“Not until September,” and she’s looking back through the entryway to where Quinn and Brittany are sitting on the couch. “School goes back on the 4th.”
“Oh. Right.” Rachel chews on her lip for a second. “That’s very sweet of you.”
Santana just shrugs, before looking back at her. “When you get there, go check out Church Street and email me about it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I got an apartment. It’s just off Canal,” she ducks her head for a second, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Just below Canal.”
“You’re going to live in Tribeca,” Rachel grins, because it’s so ridiculous, but Santana looks so pleased. “I’ll go and check it out for you.” She takes a chance and pulls Santana into a hug without warning her first, and she’s relieved when she feels it returned.
“I promise, I’ll go and look,” she says when she pulls away.
“And email me,” Santana insists.
“And email you.”
Her flight from Columbus is incredibly early, even by her standards, and they have to leave three hours before then, so she doesn’t sleep the night before.
Sitting in the airport diner, her dads opposite with coffee and pancakes, she feels on the verge of either tears or throwing up. She decides that, as dramatic as either of those would be, she’s not in the mood.
“I wonder what the Freshman musical will be,” she says, and the tension drains out of her fathers, unnoticed until it was gone.
“For your sake, I hope it’s Funny Girl,” her daddy says.
“Me, too,” she says, “although perhaps it would be better to start out with something I wasn’t born to do.”
“You don’t want to peak too early,” he dad says with a wink.
“That would be dreadful,” she laughs.
Orientation week is indescribable.
She’s out with a group of girls from her floor on the Friday night, and they’re going to try to get into a bar some seniors said wouldn’t try to card them so long as they didn’t sing.
They’re walking down the street after coming up from the subway, and they pause on the corner so someone can check their phone to see if they’re going in the right direction. She’s looking around in what has already been pointed out to her as a very tourist way to behave when she spots the street sign.
They’re on Canal, and she pulls out her own phone, opens up her mail app.
I’m on the corner of Canal and Church. I’ll let you know more later. x Rachel Berry.