Quinn sat forward on the couch, elbows on her knees and hands clasped together as she prayed for strength. The big brown eyes in front of her were suspicious, and with good reason, she thought. She shook her head with a rueful half-smile. The girl was curious to a fault and hated not being able to figure things out. Though never lacking for whimsy, she was sometimes too serious for her age and was developing a logical, problem solving mind Quinn couldn't help but admire. Unfortunately, this was not a problem anyone could suss out.
The crisp rasp of a throat clearing drew Quinn's attention to the two boys sitting at the small brunette's right. They were all brunettes, actually, with heads of thick, glossy hair and frowns on their faces. This was already more difficult than she expected. Not that she ever thought it'd be easy.
"Okay," she began, dropping her hands to her thighs and drying her sweaty palms on her slacks. It was a flawed effort, but it gave her something to do. "First, I want you all to know that I love you. Very much."
She looked into each set of eyes filled with confusion: two pairs of brown, and one almost a golden green. Their owner, a six-foot-tall sixteen-year-old boy, pressed his lips together in a thin line, holding back whatever retort scraped against his tongue. Quinn was impressed. Normally, his cocky-jock attitude and impatient snark would've burst through without hesitation. There was no joy in knowing that this was the first time he took something seriously enough to keep his mouth shut.
"And I know you won't understand this." How could they when even she didn't understand? "But," she continued, hopefully hiding her heartbreak. They didn't need to see how badly she was hurting. "But I have to go away."
Being stared down never sat well with Quinn. Not even when she was a child. No one was ever allowed to intimidate her or make her feel like she was in the wrong or a disappointment, no matter how true it may be. Nevertheless, right now she actually deserved it, so she let it happen and absorbed the disgrace she felt.
The puzzled voice of the younger boy seated in the middle interrupted her pity-party. "Again? Where to now?"
The blonde sighed. "Away," came the gentle answer. It wasn't what they wanted to hear, but it was all she had.
"When you come home?"
Her gaze darted to the big-eyed beauty tucked into the corner of the couch. She looked even littler than before and Quinn's heart broke all over again. She swallowed the lump filling her throat.
She chose her words very carefully. "Not for a long time."
It was barely more than a whisper, but it shook the room like a thunderclap. Her eyes darted to the boys before she looked away in shame. The older one understood what she meant. And now he'd hate her.
Her shoulders deflated at the question, and tears welled in her eyes upon seeing the young girl's face twist in incomprehension. Quinn couldn't handle it.
Turning to the boys, she clued them in on what she could see one of them already knew. She still needed to say it, though. They deserved that much. "Your mama and I are separating. I'm moving out."
Silence coiled around them like a hungry python and left little air in the living room. She was dizzy and couldn't breathe under their judgment as she waited for the explosion. It didn't take long.
Ava started crying. More accurately, she was bawling and Quinn saw Rachel's pained eyes staring back at her just as sure as she did last night. She looked so much like her mother. Opening her arms, her chest ached as her daughter dove into them. Ava had only just turned four. She'd be starting pre-kindergarten in the fall and was already ahead of her peers in some ways. Music had taught her how to count a little bit, and Quinn taught her colors and letters. Every now and again she used to hear the little girl humming as she bounced around the house. Ava would huff and say it was "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" like Mama sang, but Quinn was positive the little imp was singing her own version of the alphabet song in her head. In spite of these skills, she knew her baby girl just couldn't understand this.
"Hush, Vee-Vee," she cooed, offering what small comfort she could and knowing it would never be enough.
Joshua had shot up out of his seat but thankfully hadn't stormed out as she thought he would. He got that from his mother. Looking at him with new eyes, it seemed her oldest child was too stubborn and valiant to run away from his problems or whatever happened to upset him. She wondered when he'd become so brave, then chastised herself for missing it.
He paced off to her right, avoiding the furniture. His arms hugged his torso and his shoulders shook with quiet rage. Now that trait, that one he got from her. Quinn was horrible at expressing her emotions. In fact, that was the reason this was all happening. She just didn't know how to tell anyone what she was feeling. And showing it… Well that was pretty hit or miss. Her walls were just too high. Sure, in the beginning of living life outside of Lima she'd been free to be whoever she wanted, love whomever she loved, and do whatever she damn well chose to do. But things change. People change. She'd changed. Now she just felt trapped.
She squished the tiny girl against her and looked past her shoulder at her other son. Daniel was always the hardest to read and Quinn never managed to figure him out. He was guarded—played everything close to his chest and usually without realizing it. Unless provoked, he didn't act out like Josh and he didn't crave the spotlight like their sister. Danny was quiet. Methodical. Observant. As a toddler, if he wasn't following his hero big brother around, he was quietly building with wooden blocks, eventually graduating to Legos as he grew, creating his own worlds.
Quinn had stepped on many a plastic landmine whenever she'd gotten out of bed, fighting off insomnia. How many times had she mentally shouted at him to pick up his toys when she should have been happy that he chose to stay at her bedside? It took her wife pointing out during a hissed late night fight that as a little boy he had kept only his best and favorite pieces in their room, that he built his masterpieces for her, that he did it to be close to his Mommy. It used to drive her insane, but guilt churned in her gut when she thought about all the times he'd asked her play, desperate for her attention, and all the times she'd patted his head and told him she had patient files to catch up on or speeches to prepare as she wandered into her office.
Failure and shame battered her like waves beating against unyielding bluffs. She held out one hand toward him in what she knew was a "too little, too late" attempt of connecting with her son. Go knew if he'd even let her.
"C'mere, D." She hadn't called him that in a long while, and he couldn't hide his surprise at hearing it.
Danny broke and surprised her in return. He launched over the coffee table and into her arms, nearly knocking into Ava.
"I'm so sorry, D." She hoped that at thirteen he was old enough to read more into her words, but Daniel wasn't too good with that kind of thing.
Because she was sorry. Sorry for everything. For not being there when they needed her, for missing their sports games and recitals, parent-teacher conferences, Saturday morning cartoons, and Sunday breakfasts. Work used to be so important and she let herself be consumed, justifying the time away from her family as what was best. Her work paid for school and pediatrician visits, music lessons, Josh's hockey equipment, Ava's little tykes dance and tumbling classes, and Danny's books and puzzles, his Legos. And after the breakthrough, her absence increased. When her "groundbreaking" articles were published in the medical journals, she'd been offered a huge sum of money to tour the lecture circuit and present at academic conferences all over the world. She closed her eyes, hating herself for taking the money and prestige over her family. This was her own fault.
Quinn stroked his brown curls, desperately trying to memorize how soft they were, and she rocked until Ava's sobs faded into harsh hiccups. Looking to her eldest she was surprised, and not, to find him glaring at her. She'd never seen him so angry. Not even on the ice. "Joshy—"
"Don't." He cut her off fiercely. "Don't talk to me like I'm a child."
Nodding, she wanted to shoot back with the reminder that no matter how old or tall he got, he'd always be her child and couldn't talk to her that way, just as her father had told her the one—and only—time she spoke out of turn. God help her, she was terrified of being anything like that man; she was close enough to him as it was. "I'm sorry."
Ava and Daniel settled against her, one child in her lap and the other wrapped under her arm, both cleaved to her. Josh's shoulders dropped with her apology and he flopped back onto the opposite couch, reclaiming his seat.
She bit her lip. "Your mama and I," she hesitated. How did she tell her kids that they just stopped working? Stopped trying. "We don't see eye to eye anymore. On a lot of things."
Too many things.
The teenager stiffened and his green-gold eyes darted to her face. "Did you…?"
"No." She was firm and resolute in answering a question he was too frightened of asking. "No. I understand that you need to ask, but no, never." That was one similarity she and her father did not share. Her loyalty to her wife was unshakable. "I love her and you all too much to do that."
"But not enough to stay."
"Jesus, Josh." Her hazel eyes turned toward the ceiling, commanding the tears to stay back. Rachel was a floor above in their room, likely sitting on their bed and undoubtedly still crying. "Things haven't been right for a long time, and I know you all know that in your own way."
"So fix it!" Joshua's patience ran out. He slammed his fists on his knees and his voice cracked. "Stay," he croaked. Angry tears spilled down his cheeks and he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes to quell them. "Stay and make it right."
"It's not that easy. You're old enough to know some things can't be fixed."
"Why?" Ava whispered into her neck. "What broked?"
Quinn's chest seized. She couldn't do this anymore. She didn't have answers and nothing she said would make them feel better. The doctor in her couldn't prescribe anything to ease their pain, and the mother in her couldn't bear to prolong it. She kissed the girl's forehead and tugged the clinging child away.
"You gotta let go, Vee-Vee." Another round of sobs burst forth as Quinn extracted herself from her daughter's tiny, desperate grip and stood.
She tentatively crossed to Josh, standing before him awkwardly and so unsure of herself. The young man lurched upward and wrapped his arms about her shoulders, openly crying now and pleading with her. Quinn may have carried him, but he was all Rachel: melodramatic and intense. She hugged him tightly, fondly remembering when he had needed to be on his tip-toes to do this, grubby hands stretched toward her and demanding "uppy"—her little boy who just wanted to be held. She'd never said no to him then. That started later, when she was too busy to see how tall he'd grown. And it had to happen again now.
Quinn leaned up to kiss to his forehead then turned around where Danny stood holding his baby sister. Ava was much too big to be coddled like that, but she let it go. He stared at her, unwavering and tearless, as though daring her to tell him to put Ava down. Quinn recognized that stubborn look: it was hers. She supposed they were more alike than she thought. Walking forward, she placed one hand on Ava's back and the other on Daniel's cheek. His chocolate colored eyes now watered, but didn't overflow. He wasn't a crier. One more thing they had in common. Silently she prayed he'd grow up to be a stronger, better person than she was.
"I'm still here for you guys, okay?" Her assurance fell on disbelieving ears.
She knew exactly what they were thinking: she hadn't been there in the last few years, so why start now?
"Right," she swallowed. Kissing their cheeks, she briefly buried her nose in Ava's long hair, doing her best to imprint the smell of the little girl's watermelon shampoo before pulling away. "Well, call if you need me."
The pathetic attempt at placating them sounded terrible even to her own ears. She wished she were better at expressing herself. Better at telling them she loved them more than anything in this world. That she never forgot about them when she was on the road, and that she didn't mean to ignore their family. As a child, she'd gone through the same kind of treatment. Russell Fabray disregarded his daughter once she reached a certain age, only toting her out for social events and parading her around like a porcelain doll, beautiful and untouchable. And so very fragile. At the time she assumed that that's just what parents did, so it was only natural of her to behave the same way with her own children. More than once in the last few months of fighting and fruitless marriage therapy did she wish she had known that she'd emotionally abandoned her babies, doing the exact same thing her father did to her. None of this would be happening if she were half as good a parent or wife as she was a doctor. Regret roiled in the pit of her stomach. If she could go back in time and fix things, have spotted the problems earlier, scheduled longer breaks at home between flights out, or not even leave sometimes, she'd do it in a heartbeat. But time didn't work like that.
Quinn glanced toward the empty staircase, knowing Rachel was just upstairs, so close and so very far away. Sighing, she slung her purse over her shoulder and picked up her duffel bag and well used travel suitcase. She'd get the rest of her things when Rachel took the kids away for the weekend. Time out of the city would be good for them.
Exhausted, she gave her three beautiful children a wan smile. She had no words for saying goodbye except a faint, sniffled, "I love you."
Turning around, she reached for the door knob.
"Don't cry, Mommy."
She froze, took a deep breath, forced a cheery façade, and faced them. The boys wouldn't believe it, but it was meant for their sister's benefit.
"No, baby. My eyes are just red," she shook her head, thankful her cheeks remained dry as she opened the door. "Mommy's too big to cry."
Without another word, Quinn walked out of the home she was destroying.
She closed the door behind her, taking a moment to blink back tears before making her way down the stone steps. The Yellowcab idled in front of the townhouse and she tossed her bag in, anxious to get to the hotel and sleep for the next year. For someone so emotionally stunted, this was too much to cope with.
Out of nowhere, a strong hand on her bicep spun her around and a familiar body slammed her against the car. Her wife's wet mouth crashed into hers and she instinctively wove her fingers in thick, brown tresses as lips and tongues met for one last time. It was a harsh, desperate kiss that tasted like regret and broken promises and the salty tears she couldn't hold back any longer. She knew what this was, too. It was Rachel's over the top, last-ditch effort to change her mind. Her dramatics were never more appreciated than right now, but as ineffective as always.
The kiss died out naturally, just like their marriage. Yet still they clung together, too afraid to let go of each other or the last twenty-five years.
"I love you." Rachel's sob-scratched voice held no hope, no persuasion. Just the simple truth that couldn't save them in the end. They didn't know each other anymore. And it was making them miserable.
"I love you, too, Rach."
With a final kiss, Quinn settled into the taxi and Rachel shut the door behind her, her delicate fingertips sliding down the smudged window. The blonde raised her hand, surprising herself by mirroring her soon to be ex-wife's palm against the thick glass. Somehow that was the only goodbye either of them could manage. A listless smile pulled at the corner of Rachel's mouth as more tears dripped from her black eyelashes before she turned around and slowly went inside.
Giving in, Quinn Fabray-Berry cried as the cab merged into the light traffic outside of 244 East 49th Street and took her away from the best thing that ever happened to her. But she didn't look back.