In hindsight, maybe dedicating "I Want You" to a cheerleader in front of the entire school wasn't such a good idea.
You'd been fighting over whether her reputation would be damaged if people knew, and if so by how much, almost since it all started. It was one of many reasons that her social status sucked -- you liked her, and didn't care who knew it, but she always worried about what would happen if people found out.
People other than him, of course -- she told him about you right away, but all she would tell you about him, about them was that he was fine with it, as long as he never had to see you two together. If you were perfectly honest, you were worried that she was only with you to impress him, to make him jealous. She filibustered any questions you tried to ask, and so you weren't sure what any of it meant. What you meant.
What you were sure of was that you needed to know that she actually gave a damn about you. You didn't even care if she still slept with him -- you just wanted to know that you were important enough to her that she wouldn't deny you when directly challenged.
So you signed up for the talent show. You let her keep grabbing you in the locker room and dragging you into closets -- the irony not at all lost on you -- but whenever she asked you what you were doing after school the week before the show, you told her, "oh, sorry, I have to practice."
You rehearsed it a million ways: a cryptic dedication, flat-out professing your love for her, just getting up there and singing the damn song and shutting up about everything else. When your five minutes come, you're still not sure how you're going to do it.
But when you walk on stage and look down, the first thing you see is him sitting next to her, arm around her, whispering into her ear, and you just...you can't. It doesn't feel like you have any other choice.
"This is for Maggie," you start. "Mags, I don't care what else you do, I just need you to know that...that you can look in my eyes and you can count the ways."
The collective gasp covers up your cue, and your eyes settle back on her as you start to sing not quite in sync with the opening notes. She's started to cry, gaping at you as he gesticulates wildly next to her, and you stumble flatly through the song's quiet intro. It's not until the dissonance comes in that you manage to look away from her and, you're sure not coincidentally, find the feeling and the beat, but once you do, the ringing in your ears almost manages to block out the constant murmurs.
The room goes silent as you finish the song, and you look back into the audience to find her no longer in her seat. He's gone too, and it's all you can do not to throw the microphone across the stage. As it is, the sound it makes as it slips from your hand doesn't hide the shouts and whistles, and you're pretty sure that, no matter what you may have hoped for, you won't find Maggie grinning at you when you get back to the dressing rooms.
But your heart still fills when you get backstage and there she is, pacing and looking down at the ground. You're only a few steps away before she looks up, her eyes bright with tears. "Ana..."
There've been a lot of these moments in the short time you've been doing this; you know what the shining in her eyes means, and shake your head before she can continue. "Don't, Mags." Your heart falls as you realize there's nothing she could say that you want to hear. "I hope you're both very happy."
It takes her a minute, but she finally nods her head slowly and walks away.
You're not really naive enough to think the rumor mill will quiet down anytime soon, but it doesn't stop you from faking the flu for the rest of the week. Sure enough, the hallway's decidedly noisier as you walk to your locker on Monday, and it's sad but hardly a surprise when you find "DYKE" scrawled across your locker in big black letters. You don't bother to correct them, but consider the lesson learned. Maggie's the last girl you let yourself fall for for a long time.
"You do realize we're only still married because Rachel won't leave Susan, right?"
You whip around from the table, dumbfounded. Chris is at the sink finishing up the breakfast dishes, and you wish you could see his face. "What the --"
"I think she might do it if you told her how you feel."
No matter how you move your mouth, no words'll come out.
* * *
You were honest with Chris about your past, if reluctantly. On your third date, you slipped up with your pronouns, and even though you hoped he wouldn't, Chris called you on it. Over the next few dates, you let him drag out of you the story of Maggie, and the few girls in college you wouldn't let yourself bring home. You were quick to reassure him that it was in the past, a youthful transgression, and as the weeks passed, it seemed to be forgotten.
But you couldn't help but notice the way he'd smile as he watched your eyes follow a beautiful woman, amused, maybe a little pained. You saw it more often after you started appearing with Rachel, and after your first trip to New York, he didn't bother hiding it anymore.
After your first chance to guest host was cancelled, you called to update him on your plans. To this day, you insist it was admiration of Rachel's work plus the bourbon still coursing through your system that made you go on like that, but you're willing to concede that it may have sounded like gushing. "That's some crush you're nursing, huh?" he said when you finally let him get a word in. The line went silent for a minute, then he quietly continued. "It's okay, you know. I understand."
You couldn't respond, but ever since, you've tried to be more open with him. When you see hot girls now, you just point them out to Chris so you can leer together; you pretend not to notice the sadness in his eyes.
He's right, you think: you're harboring a pretty serious crush on Rachel. You have been for a while, though you still can't bring yourself to say it out loud. But yeah, you've caught yourself coming up with excuses to go up to New York for your appearances, calling her about stories even Gawker probably wouldn't pick up out of journalistic integrity, DMing and emailing over the weekend just to say hi. And she seems to respond in kind, taking your phone calls no matter what the hour or how much work is left, responding to everything you send her no matter how silly.
But sitting there, trying to piece together where this is coming from, you realize it's been a while since she's taken you out, after the show or otherwise, and you're suddenly worried you've become too obvious to everyone. You worry about a lot of things when it comes to Rachel, and you're not really sure what to do about any of it.
When your brain finally slows down enough, you can hear singing coming from the living room. You slowly get up from the table and follow him, not entirely sure what you're going to say when you get there.
He turns off the TV as you settle into the chair across from him, and you're struck by how much you suddenly wish he was facing away from you again. His eyes and cheeks are red, and you lean over and take his hand in yours.
"Chris, I..." You can't help but trail off, unable to say the words you know need to be said. You settle on, "I love you."
"I know you do," he sighs. "And I love you. But it doesn't much matter, does it?"
You wince. "It should. I want it to."
He slips his hand out of yours and gets up. "You need to tell her, Ana. It'll just eat at you until you do." He leans down and kisses your forehead on his way out. A door closes in the back of the house, and you take comfort in the fact that it's not the front door, that he's still there.
You sit quietly for a bit, thinking, arguing in your head over shoulds and unlesses and what ifs. It's exhausting, trying to figure out the right thing and the smart thing and the true thing all at once, and so after a while you go to lie down.
When you wake up, Chris is there, his laptop open in front of him. You nudge his leg and he smiles down at you, spreading his arms open, and you know it'll finally work out. You've found the words.
The honeymoon period's amazing, even without the honeymoon. Chris lets you keep the house, Rachel keeps the apartment, and nothing really changes. You start to make your appearances from New York, and she comes to you on Fridays instead of Massachusetts; there's a little more travel on both sides, but it's a lot more fun. A few of the more controversial pundits make noise over how close together your separations were, internet rumors run rampant, but you just can't bring yourself to care too much as you spend days at a time in bed with her curled around you.
A few months pass, and you start to talk around the future. MSNBC offers you a correspondent position that you take gladly, even knowing they want you to stay in DC for the foreseeable future. But when scandal seems to take the summer off, who Rachel's dating becomes the new favorite pastime of the geek paparazzi, and she starts to shut down. Where once she'd hold your hand in public, even steal a kiss where no one could see, suddenly, she's too afraid to even walk out with you when you leave 30 Rock at night.
"I'll meet you at home," she says one night, handing you her keys, and you wonder if she understands how hurtful that tiny little sentence is for you. It's too much, and you confront her about it, about everything.
When you finally manage to stop the flood of words, she sighs. "If we're really going to do this, can you at least close the door?"
You push the door a little harder than you mean to, and she flinches as it slams behind you. "Ana..." She picks up the ball on her desk and rolls it back and forth between her hands for a while. "It's too soon."
The weight that settles on your chest makes it hurt to breathe; it feels like hours before she speaks again. When she does, her eyes meet yours for only a second before she goes back to watching the ball intently. "Susan's having a hard time with everything, and I...I don't want her to have to go through all that just yet."
"All what?" You're afraid that she might actually be the one who doesn't want to 'go through all that,' that she might not think you're worth it. You were in love with Rachel before even you knew, but her...you suddenly realize that you're not entirely sure how she feels about you. "Rachel, you're hiding, hiding me, and I don't know why. I want to be with you."
She starts, the ball forgotten as she jumps out of her chair. When her eyes finally meet yours, they're wider than you've ever seen them. "You are -- we are." She walks over and wraps her arms around you. "Ana..."
You try to hold out, to not let her get off that easily, but when she buries her face in your neck...well, she knows all of your secrets now, and it's all you can do to stay on your feet as she shows you one part of what she feels for you.
But as weeks pass, you can't shake the nagging feeling that you're about to get your heart broken again. You've kept this part of you a secret for so long, hurt yourself and others, and you can't help but feel like in order to be true to yourself, you have to stop hiding. You hint and poke at Rachel for weeks, but she just keeps stalling.
The weekend before your six month anniversary, she comes down to DC on Friday morning to tape an interview the new Senate minority leader. Pre-tape means a lighter show for her, so even though you're not appearing, you head to the studio to keep her company. You love to watch her work, the prep, the intensity, but the best part is watching her watch the interview as it airs, taking notes as the senator speaks, oblivious to everything else around her.
Rachel greets Kent as the end of the hour approaches. He's doing some story on Japanese robot pets, and when the light goes back on, Rachel laughs. "I always thought of robots as being fairly low maintenance, but I think my girlfriend's dog might actually be easier to take care of than these things."
Your jaw drops as Kent doesn't miss a beat. "And more cuddly, too, I'm sure. Thanks, Rachel."
"Thanks, Kent!" Rachel waves, chuckling her way through the sign-off. The post-show bustle begins as she gathers up her papers and talks to the staff on her way over to you. You stand up, trying to think of what to say, like there's something you're supposed to say, but by the time she gets over to you, all you can really manage is to open your arms and move in for a hug.
She slows a few feet shy of you, a smirk on her face. "So?"
You arch an eyebrow, taking a step back as you drop your arms. "So...?"
Rachel takes a step closer. "How did I do? Did that 'slip' meet your high standards?"
Of course she did it on purpose. You roll your eyes with an exaggerated sigh. "That depends," you finally relent. "When the phone rings, what do you intend to tell the people on the other end?"
She grins and wraps her arms around your neck, eyes twinkling. "Well, I intend to tell them it's true, my girlfriend is lovely and amazing and all the things you look for in a girlfriend but don't dare hope to find, and that as long as I'm not busy ravishing her at the time, we'll be happy to make ourselves available for joint interviews." You giggle into Rachel's mouth as she kisses you softly on the lips. "Unless that's not the kind of thing you were looking for?"
"No, I think that'll do nicely." You grin, settling against her shoulder as her arms move down around your waist. "Let's go home and get to it."