Your mother calls on a Monday. The call is static filled, you can barely hear her over the rustling of papers but you can make out Florida, moving, and the request to come home that weekend. Your childhood home (childhood hell) is being laid to rest and the last Fabray, well, the last one that matters, is finally getting out of Lima.
You let out a breath of relief and then remember that she wants you home. You have to pay one last visit to Lima, Ohio. It’s something you’ve dreaded but it’s either visiting now or visiting when your dear old mother passes. You’re happy she’s finally getting out of that town. Santana and Brittany meet you there. Correction, they were already in Lima visiting their parents when you send the text to your former, and if everything with this budding reunion of friends continues to go well, current best friends.
You never could apologize enough for missing their wedding. You had your reasons but in reflection, there was no excuse. You always could’ve but on your big girl panties and just showed face. But, there's no point in dwelling on the past.
Brittany’s waiting at the gate, holding a sign with your last name. The ‘R’ is the only letter capitalized. You laugh at the irony.
She hugs you so tightly you almost forget to breathe.
By the time you make it to the pick up and drop off parking entrance, Santana is waiting impatiently outside of the car, middle finger nail digging into the side of her thumb. It’s your turn to hug her fiercely, backing her against the car door. She laughs and tells you to stop letting your newfound ‘Lezzy,’ show. It’s pansexual, you correct, but she ignores you.
She is a married woman after all.
What you love most about Santana and Brittany is that time has no effect on how easily you slip back into your Holy Trinity ways.
The car ride from the airport to Lima is filled with Gossip and you’re surprised with how well your two best friends have kept in touch with your friends from high school. Very surprised. So surprised that your left brow hasn’t lowered since the third time Santana mentioned Rachel Berry affectionately as, ‘Rach.’
Part of you wants to ask since when did she and Rachel get so close. The other part wants to take the seat belt that ties Santana down and gag her with it. You don’t have the right to do either. Not since buying a metro-pass that only collected dust, despite all the unanswered texts and voicemails.
You hate yourself for it.
Kurt and Blaine, you’re not surprised. Tina and Artie, from a mile away. Something about Mercedes and Sam, you stop Brittany there and smile softly. You’ve kept in touch with Mercedes fairly well in comparison to the rest of the Gleeks. She’s mentioned a certain romance rekindling. Mike’s doing well for himself and Puck sends letters and random pokes on Facebook.
Attempting to be in a relationship with Noah Puckerman was a train wreck. You knew it, Puck knew it. But, he sends letters every month or so.
And then that’s it.
You almost ask what Rachel is up to, but then you laugh softly. You don’t have to ask. Rachel is taking broadway by storm and doing exactly what you all expected her to do. What you hoped, deep down she’d always accomplish.
Santana and Brittany drop you off and spend only a few minutes saying hello to your mother before leaving. It’s fine, they’re coming back tomorrow to help you pack up the last bits of your life left behind in Lima.
Your mother rants and raves about the condo she’s purchased in Florida and how happy she is to get out of Ohio.
“There’s nothing in Ohio, Quinnie.”
“The only reason you grew up here was because of your fa...”
“Nothing worth remembering ever came from Ohio.”
Oddly, you find yourself biting your tongue. Despite how much you hate Lima for your own reasons, she’s wrong and your mind drifts to a Tiny, former argyle wearing, diva that’s a shoe-in for a Tony award. Instead of disagreeing and starting an unneeded fight, you reach over the coffee table and squeeze your mother’s hand. “Yeah, mom, I’m sure you’ll be a lot happier in Florida. Can I see the pamphlet again?”
She’s been mother of the year ever since having Beth. You understand her decisions before, hell, you probably would’ve made them too. It’s why you humor her for another hour while she tells you that she’s even thinking about buying a jet-ski.
That night, hours after your mother has bid you goodnight, which was downright early even for your standards, you lie awake in your old bedroom. Your mother didn’t change it since you left. Old trophies line the top of your dresser, the book case filled with books that look like have been dusted recently. There’s pictures, all from high school, because you made sure that Lucy disappeared as soon as the doctor swiped his scalpel over your face. The photo Finn kept in his wallet, an echo like Dorian Grey on your soul was the only thing to remain and then you remember.
It brings a tightness to your chest you thought you had gotten over years ago. Everyone came together to mourn and you hid. You ignored texts and phone calls, deactivated your Facebook, and conveniently lost the password to your email account. The only person to almost get a response out of you... Everyone has their own way of grieving. Turning into a Hermit was yours.
Suddenly, laying in bed feels suffocating and you push the duvet off your body violently and stumble to stand. The house is closing in on you and you rush to change into street clothes and take a walk. One thing that was tolerable about Lima, Ohio - it didn’t matter how late it was at night, the streets were always safe to walk. You think about calling Santana, but when you check the time on your phone, you deduce she’s more than likely busy with Brittany. It’s fine. You’re so used to being alone that even thinking about someone keeping you company sends a shiver down your spine. It’s the middle of the summer.
A shimmer catches your gaze and you find yourself walking down a familiar street. As hazy as your memory of Lima is, you made sure to try to make most of it as forgettable as possible, you remember this street. The glow hits your eyes like a glare and then it comes to better focus. A small gold star on the side of the mailbox. The way the moon hits the metallic color draws you in until you’re staring at the Berry mailbox like it contains the secrets to the world. It probably does.
It’s probably magic, you conclude, and opening it would probably suck you in like a vortex. That’s what you get for sleep deprivation and three semesters of creative writing.
A light turning on from the living room shifts your attention and you find yourself diving into the closest bushes as the front door open.
It’s quiet. So quiet. And then you hear a breath.
What the hell is she doing back in Lima? Why didn’t Santana mention anything? You hate this. Yourself. You curse your acute insomnia that brought you to staring at a gold star sticker on a mailbox for five fucking minutes like a god damn psychopath. “Hello?” You’d figure after years of not speaking you wouldn’t remember what her voice sounded like.
You were wrong. It brings you back with the force of the universe and suddenly you’re seventeen and Rachel Berry is quickly becoming one of your best friends. Her voice is silken smooth and then-
“I have mace and I’m certified in Krav Maga.”
You hold your breath and by the time she gives up and closes the door, your lungs burn, tears of pain are welling up. You tell yourself the tears are because you held your breath for so long. You know that’s a lie. You gasp for air and stumble back out onto the sidewalk and run all the way back to your childhood home. When you step into the foyer and shut the door, you grasp onto your knees and heave for as much air you can get.
Sleep comes easy after that. You’re so exhausted, you can barely fight it off and find yourself drifting to the sound of her voice, and her adorable empty threat.
Sometime in the morning your mother knocks on the door to tell you she’s heading out for a few hours. Your cellphone is downstairs. You have no concept of time and if not for Santana and Brittany coming over, you’d probably just go right back to sleep. It’s nearing ten by the time you trudge downstairs and grab your phone.
Ten-thirty when you step out of the shower and see a message from Santana that says she and Brittany are on her way over.
Eleven rolls by and you’re dressed, the front door opens and you hear your name being called. Santana hates knocking. Despite you rolling you eyes at her, you hug them both and quickly get to sorting and packing.
There’s three piles.
Keep. Store. Trash.
Some things you don’t mind bringing back with you to New Haven. Your apartment is fairly bare, akin to a stereotypical bachelor pad. You’ve told yourself for months that you need to decorate but... Some things you know you’ll want to share with your future children - if you have them. The store pile is more for your mother, you tell Santana and Brittany because you have no intentions of giving birth and raising a child in the foreseeable future. And the trash pile... well. Three bibles are immediately slammed down on the trash pile and you look up to see Santana smirking down at you.
“I’d say you don’t need these, right Q?” You can count on one hand how many times you and Santana have ever agreed. Today you have to start on another hand.
Brittany finds an old costume of yours from Glee. It’s Pink, it’s big - Lady Gaga. You tell her she can keep it. Santana seethes, Brittany squeals, and you smirk.
Hours later, the three of you have made decent work, you’d like a break but honestly, you know you won’t return to it if you do. “What’s this?” You lean back and turn your head to look at what Brittany’s holding. It’s a small black box, locked with a fabric knot. “Oh,” you put down what you’re holding, a trophy from your tenure as a cheerleader and walk over, taking the box from loose hands. A soft smile forms on your lips and it’s enough to get Santana’s attention too. “This is from prom when Finn took me. My mom dried out the corsage he got me-"
You remember it like a vivid flashback. The Gardenia wrapped in a soft green ribbon. Finn mumbled clumsily on the way to the Prom that the ribbon was supposed to match your eyes. But you weren’t paying attention, even if your eyes never looked greener than that night. You remained fixated on the flower that encased your wrist. There’s an awkward silence and you almost curse under your breath. Finn must be a sore topic still. For your friends. Instead when you look up, Santana looks like she’s biting her tongue and Brittany is looking anywhere but you.
“Sorry. Finn - it was just... one of the best nights I had... All because of that corsage, you know. I remember going home and looking up the meaning behind Gardenias...”
And that’s when Santana laughs. You scowl. How dare she? “What the hell?” Santana still laughs. Brittany presses her hand to her mouth, looking like she’ll start laughing too. You start to see red because you don’t understand why the hell they’d be laughing at such a thing. “Sorry-sorry... it’s just - wait. Britt, shit, I can’t stop... okay, okay.” You can only stare as Santana’s slowly composed herself. Brittany, at least has managed to keep herself from all-together laughing.
“Mind telling me why you continue to strive for most offensive person of the year, San?”
“God, will you get off your high horse, Quinn?” She uses your full name and you look at her like she spit on you. “Finn didn’t pick out the corsage.” You freeze. It feels like a minute goes by but it’s only ten seconds. You know this because your mother is so old fashioned she kept a clock on the wall behind Santana.
“Berry, Rachel, Rach.” How many fucking names does she have for her, you want to spit out.
Manhands, troll doll, dwarf... Nicknames you and Santana came up with when she was nothing but your antagonizing fixation.
“What about her?”
“Oh come on, Q.” Okay, they’re back to the nickname. Rage level is down to a nine from a fifteen. “You’ve been MIA for years. I _lived_ with Rachel in New York. She’s like-“
“One of Santana’s best friends. But not like the kind of best friends that San and I were in high school because Santana and Rachel don’t share sweet lady kisses.” Yes. Yes. You understand that because you think you might break your night stand lamp over Santana’s head if that were the case.
“What Britt said. Look, one day Rach came home after a bad audition and we downed a bottle of ever clear. Ever clear is like an alcoholic confession booth, come to realize. She was blubbering about shit and then we hit high school. She said if she could do Junior Prom all over, she... anyway, Rachel told Finn to get you that corsage. It was her idea.” This is a joke, you think. But when Santana can’t stop a laugh from her mouth and tells you it’s real life, you realize you said that out loud. She laughs and tells you it’s the truth. There’s really no reason to lie about this. Except... it can’t be true.
Because if it’s true... You remember getting home that night and google searching the meaning of a gardenia, blushing when the search results came back. And what you once believed was a beautiful gesture from your ex-boyfriend, is now quickly ripped and tarnished. You aren’t mad that it wasn’t Finn that thought of it all on his own. No. Finn, in his life, had so many stand-up moments you remember that this doesn’t ruin his image.
You’re mad that - that.
You’re just mad.
“Do you know what a Gardenia means?” You know the answer as soon as your question hits Santana’s ears and she sobers up immediately.
The next moment is a flurry. You launch for your phone. Santana tackles you to the ground. There’s fighting and name calling. Brittany screams on the top of her lungs and the two of you finally stop.
“Get off of me!” You scream as loud as you can, struggling against the tight hold she has you in. How the hell did she get so strong.
“No. Nope! You are not going to call her.” After all these years, Santana still knows you best. But you honestly don’t care.
You've dwelled on the meaning of a Gardenia for years. Years. They became your favorite flower. Your obsession.
You aren’t mad that Finn Hudson wasn’t the mastermind behind the Gardenia.
You’re mad that Rachel Berry was and no one ever fucking told you.
How much hurt it might’ve saved if someone did. You’re mad. You’re so mad you cry and fight against Santana weakly until she lets up and cradles you awkwardly as you gently hit her with loose fists. It doesn’t take her long to figure out what the hell is happening and Brittany’s comment of, “I told you it was never one sided,” is the icing on the cake that leaves Santana sighing out.
“Fucking shit, Q.” You know she’s beating herself up for not realizing it sooner, or apparently not believing Brittany. You can’t blame her. You perfected the art of self-preservation so well at such an early age. She holds you for what seems like hours, Brittany eventually joins the two of you on the ground and holds your hand as you confess to them everything you’ve kept inside.
You loved Rachel Berry. You’ve loved her for years. You searched for a sign and came up blank. And after all this time you still do. You love Rachel Berry. Eventually you all calm until you’re sitting in a circle on your bedroom floor. Brittany’s hugging a trophy and Santana is still mulling over something.
“... She’s home. Well. She’s at her Dad’s. Rachel.”
You already know. You hid in the bushes while she threatened the air in the middle of the night. You don’t tell her this because you don’t know if you have the energy to go for a round two. You’re nearing your late twenties. Bouncing back like a teen just isn’t realistic. “I don’t know what good going to her house would do. But... She’s home.”
Most of your room is packed up by the time your mother comes back. She looks surprised you managed to get through it all but then sees the puffiness of your eyes and it all goes downhill from there. You end up telling her everything and everything means ‘everything.’ You never thought you’d be coming out to your mother while simultaneously telling her how much you’re in love with Lima’s very little celebrity of its own, Rachel Berry.
But your mother just smiles and holds you. She tells you that she knows... Not about Rachel but just about you. You want to scream but she only hugs you tightly and tells you she’s sorry you ever felt like you had to hide who you were.
And then she tells you that she’s been going antiquing every Saturday with Hiram and Leroy Berry... Except this Saturday, their daughter Rachel was visiting. Your mother and the Berry’s stroke up an unlikely friendship after one too many run ins at the grocery store.
It turns out Rachel visits home once a month for the past three years. You’re sure you’re in a twilight zone version of your life.
Your mother laughs and tells you that you aren’t and suddenly you curse again because you need to get control of your thought to mouth filter. You ask your mother what to do and while she doesn’t give you a straight answer, she does say tell you that you’d be surprised what a small walk to the Berry residence could do.
She doesn’t have to repeat herself because you’re already out the door.
As you should’ve learned the night before, running in Oxfords is highly uncomfortable but you do it anyway because of who is waiting at your destination. By the time you raise your hand to knock on the door, it opens and instead of a face, you’re met with a large glass of water.
“Get inside Quinn Fabray, it’s over ninety degrees out.”
This was a mistake, you quickly deduce, as you sit gulping down the glass that was offered to you in a strange kitchen you don’t recognize while a pair of eyes you do recognize glare daggers into you. When you finish you slide the glass over and it’s refilled with such a huff and flare of attitude you almost laugh with how unreal she is.
Rachel Berry is pissed.
Rachel Berry is absolutely adorable when pissed.
“I think this is one of the most idiotic things you could do. You’re not properly dressed for a sprint. The run time from your home to mine is at least a mile and a half, it’s the middle of an Ohio summer, and you’re not even appropriately dressed.” You open your mouth to speak but she turns back to you so quickly with a finger raised that you’re sure she just cut the air. “And don’t even get me started on how you have absolutely no right to show up on my father’s doorstep after years, years - Quinn Fabray, stop laughing, this is not funny.”
You’re clutching your side and biting your lip. It’s been years since you’ve experienced a panic attack but you’re almost positive you may be currently having one and if you aren’t, if you keep laughing the way you are, you will. Her hands find her hips and she stalks forward so fast that the air is pulled from your lungs and suddenly you stop laughing. She stares at you and you stare back. And then she starts laughing softly, dissolving into a fit of giggles that sets you off again.
“I’m still mad at you.”
“You are so out of line.”
“You kept your hair short.” It’s at an awkward length. Shaggy with a side of runner’s sweat, but it’s worked for you for years so you’ve kept it.
“I like it.”
That’s how it starts. You apologize for ignoring her. You tell her how college ripped you apart, exposed you to your true self, and put you back together so wrong that it took you years to un jumble the pieces. You’re honest. Brutally, for the first time in years and Rachel accepts it with grace and tears in her eyes. She’s still mad at you, she says. You tell her, you know.
“No. You don’t.”
“I think I actually do.”
And then you see the fire in her eyes and you catch onto something you must’ve repressed and denied yourself to see years ago. Before she can go off on another tangent, you’re out of the stool she set you on and you’ve backed her against the fridge. She looks scared. Cornered. You understand that look in so many ways. “I spent hours google searching the meaning of a Gardenia.” She pales. You press on. “The Gardenia, is what you’d give to someone when you want them to know they’re lovely.” Your voice rasps our and you can hear your words crack. “At least, on the surface, that’s what it means. I’m never satisfied with the easy answer... I found out it meant secret love. And you’d only give it to someone you thought you were forbidden to be with. Forbidden to love.”
She looks ready to pass out under your scope. She wants to run, you can tell. You’ve spent years running away. You lick your lips, they’re still dry from the run. Her eyes follow for just a moment before snapping back up to meet your gaze.
“I looked for a sign. For years, Rachel.” You croak out like it pains you. In reality, it does. You remember the hurt. You remember going over everything in your head. Realizing why you were so cruel, wanting to apologize in so many ways. You remember the day you made the decision to forget Rachel Berry. You never did. You just self-preserved until the lie you told yourself in the mirror every morning almost felt like the truth.
“And then Santana.”
She utters it under her breath and while you’d love to pause and ask just how she and Santana became such good friends, if you don’t get out what you need to get out now, you’ll never be able to. “Santana told me you told Finn to give me the corsage.” She nods and opens her mouth to speak but you shake your head. “-I’m sorry. Rachel, I’m so, so sorry.”
You’ve thought about this moment. Well, not this exact moment, smelling like sweat, in Rachel Berry’s kitchen, pinning the poor woman to the refrigerator. You keep saying sorry and when you retreat, Rachel only pulls you in. It’s the second time you’re being held that day but when Rachel does it, it feels like being held for the first time your entire life. She soothes you as you cry and blubber how you’ve wasted so many years trying to forget your feelings for her. But you never quite say what those feelings are. You don’t have to because Rachel is smart, but you know you should because you both deserve to hear it.
When your sobs have subsided for the second time that day, (your therapist is going to have a field day) Rachel’s dragged you to the living room. She’s holding your hand. Your eyes are puffy. She tells you that you look good. Beautiful. And even though you’re almost certain there’s dried snot above your lip, you believe her.
Because Rachel Berry doesn’t take lying lightly.
You try it again. Taking it from the very beginning. From the first day you saw her walking through the doors of McKinley High School. Time froze. You swear it and you see her skin flushes slightly. There’s no excuse for the way you treated her, but she starts rambling about gay panic and you let her until she realizes that you’re not done. There’s so much to say but then you just sigh out loudly. You’ve decided that you can’t go another minute without telling Rachel Berry what you’ve wanted to for you.
“I love you. I’ve been in love with you for so long, Rachel.” You understand what those words mean. You understand how heavy they are.
When her eyes flutter shut and her lips part, you wonder if she’s waited just as long to hear those words and you did in wanting to say them. She doesn’t say it back. Not immediately. You fully expect that. But she leans forward and cups your cheeks, smushes your face slightly and looks at you. Really looks at you. It makes your skin crawl, your knees weak, even though you’re sitting down, and suddenly you feel absolutely naked. But then she purses her lips and sighs out and you do the same. “Quinn, I-”
There’s a million things to say. You want to tell her that if she doesn’t feel the same way, it’s okay. You understand. If she wants you to leave, you’ll find the first flight home and she’ll never have to see you again.
“I love you, too.” You blink. Once, twice. You almost ask her to repeat herself because she couldn’t have possibly said the words you heard.
“-Not finished. Quinn. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought about you. Missed you. I’ve loved you since high school and continued on well into my twenties.” You honestly don’t need to hear anything else because this, this is the peak. This is as good as it an get and if She dropped dead in that moment, it would’ve been all worth it. “You broke my heart when you ignored my texts and phone calls.” You know. You want to tell her you know because it broke your heart too. But you sit in silence and respect her request while she pours her heart out.
The first thing that you think is that the two of you are idiots. You more than her but Rachel agrees that nothing ever stopped her from using her metro pass either. You don't care about the pass anymore. Hell, you'll walk to New York City from New Haven if it meant getting to see her again.
The second is that the fates are the fucking worst and you should’ve taken destiny into your own hands years ago.
The third, is that Rachel’s lips feel so much better, by far, than in your dreams.
She doesn’t kiss for long. Her lips are shaky against your equally shaky ones. But in the end you’re both crying and clutching onto each other like you’ll both disappear if you part.
She’s still mad, she says.
You tell her that you know.
She says that a kiss and romantic gesture doesn’t erase years of hurt.
You tell her that you know.
She says she misses when you weren’t so agreeable.
You almost tell you that you know, but you can only kiss her again. When you breathe in her scent after hugging her, it’s then you realize what she really smells like. Gardenias. The sign was there all along. You just never allowed yourself to get close enough to notice.