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How I Got to Where I Am

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She’s not surprised, per se, to see Quinn Fabray early on a Wednesday morning in the Village.

 

The slight chill of autumn cuts through Rachel’s too thin jacket so she decides to take a pit stop at a small cafe slash second hand bookstore she’s heard about. She deserves it, she thinks; preschool drop offs can be brutal and her eldest had been extra hard to handle today. She maneuvers the pram into the small store front and orders herself an extra large coffee, praying that her little one stays quiet long enough for her to enjoy her beverage in relative peace.

 

“Rachel Berry?” She sighs when she hears her name, digging through her purse for just a moment longer than necessary.

 

Had she been paying more attention, she’d have recognised the voice in an instant, a low, reassuring melody she’d fallen in love with long ago.

 

Instead, she takes a deep breath and plasters on a fan pleasing smile as she looks up. She freezes, for just a moment, when she sees Quinn standing behind the counter. She looks almost exactly the same as she did, with a few tweaks of aged improvement; Rachel always knew she’d be one of those annoying people who get better looking the older they get. Her hair is shorter than Rachel’s ever seen it, a mess of waves on the top of her head, the sides shaved. She wears wire-rimmed glasses, pushing them up ever so slightly with her middle finger. She exudes the assured confidence of somebody who’s been through way too much, and come out the other end without a care in the world.

 

No, Rachel’s not surprised to see her. What does surprise her, however, is the warmth that spreads through her, a fiery desire she hasn’t felt in years . For a moment, she feels like she’s sixteen again and Quinn’s about to ask her if she’s singing for Finn and only Finn. For a moment, Rachel hasn’t been through the crises that seem to have defined her life thus far; she’s just a girl in a bookshop with her high school crush.

 

“Quinn Fabray,” she says with a smile, a smile she reserves for very few people nowadays. “It’s been a hot minute.”

 

“The last time I saw you was-”

 

“Almost six years ago,” Rachel cuts in. “In the McKinley High School Auditorium, for approximately forty five minutes. You didn’t really hang around to chat.”

 

Quinn smiles softly, a wisdom in her eyes Rachel doesn’t remember being there before. She takes off her glasses and cleans them on her apron.

 

“Let me make it up to you. Coffee on the house, and a pastry of your choosing.”

 

“On one condition,” Rachel says. Quinn raises an eyebrow, in that way that drives Rachel absolutely mad. “You have to sit with me. It’s about time we had a good catch up.”

 

Quinn turns to the server beside her. “You okay without me, David?”

 

“Yes, Ms. Fabray.”

 

This time it’s Rachel who raises an eyebrow. “Ms. Fabray?”

 

Quinn shrugs, a small smirk on her face. “My staff are polite.”

 

She leads Rachel to a table at the back of the cafe, tucked into a small corner.

 

“You gonna introduce me to this little one?” Quinn asks, gesturing to the pram. Rachel pulls back the visor, and Quinn grins at the site of the baby sucking on his fist. Rachel carefully lifts him out of the pram, and sits him facing Quinn.

 

“I remember reading you had kids in the back of some gossip magazine.”

 

“We tried to keep it quiet,” Rachel says, bouncing her knee slightly to placate the baby. “I might’ve been built for the spotlight, but my kids can make their own choices.”

 

“What’s this little guy’s name?” Quinn asks, smiling broadly at him, and earning a toothless grin in return.

 

“Quinn, this is Hudson,” Rachel says softly. She doesn’t expect to hear such emotion in her voice, the sadness she still feels for her first love. She doesn’t miss the surprise in Quinn’s eyes as they find her own as it sinks in. And for just a moment, they mourn the boy that once kept them apart. They boy that, in a way, also unwittingly brought them together, as well.

 

“He looks just like you,” Quinn says, her voice catching. “It’s weird seeing your eyes on someone else’s face.”

 

Rachel laughs. “Sometimes Lucy will look at me and all I can see is Jesse and it’s absolutely terrifying.”

 

Quinn frowns. “Lucy?” Her voice is shaky and unsure and Rachel goes red.

 

“My daughter.”

 

“You named her…”

 

“After Jesse’s grandmother.”

 

“Oh,” Quinn says, and Rachel’s not sure if she imagines the disappointment in her voice.

 

“So you own this place,” Rachel says, changing the subject. “It’s very impressive, Quinn.”

 

“Actually,” Quinn says, “I own four of these places, soon to be five.”

 

“Quinn, that’s incredible.”

 

“You keep saying my name,” Quinn says.

 

Rachel blushes. “I guess… I haven’t used it in so long, I’m making up for lost time.”

 

Rachel shakes her head, trying to break free of the spell Quinn always holds Rachel under.

 

“But tell me more about you, your life,” she says. “Last I heard you were still at Yale.”

 

Quinn nods. “I was. Finished my PhD in English Lit there about five years ago. Then decided academia wasn’t for me.”

 

“Just like that?”

 

“I was... chasing something in college, even in postgrad, something I knew I could never really get. Anyway. I had worked in this tiny cafe bookstore all throughout college, and when my boss told me she was retiring, I used some of my inheritance to buy it.”

 

“Your inheritance?”

 

“My father died during junior year.”

 

“Oh, Quinn. I’m so sorry.”

 

She shrugs. “I guess he never wrote me out of his will. Kicked me out when I got pregnant, refused my phone calls for years afterwards, but at least I got a hefty paycheck at the end of it. It gave me my start, so I can’t complain.”

 

“I’m sure he’d be proud of you now, Quinn. You’re a successful business woman and you have a PhD.”

 

Quinn laughs heartily. “Yeah, but I’m also a raging lesbian, so maybe not too proud.”

 

Rachel almost does a spit take of hot coffee onto her son’s head.

 

“You’re- you’re gay,” Rachel says, annoyed at the mirth in Quinn’s expression.

 

“C’mon, Rachel. You had to have known I was gay.”

 

“I had… suspicions.”

 

“I was always so scared that you had me figured out. I thought it was super obvious.”

 

“Was it, though?” Rachel asks. “You had a boyfriend for all of high school.”

 

Quinn rolls her eyes. “I also once tried to ask you if you were singing a love song to me as well as your boyfriend.”

 

Rachel gasps. “And the pornographic sketches?”

 

Quinn scrunches her nose. “It feels weird to talk about this in front of your kid.”

 

“It feels weird to know you were in love with me in high school,” Rachel half-jokes.

 

“Hey, I never said I was in love with you. I just had a small, tiny crush on you.”

 

Again, Rachel is surprised at the warmth that radiates through her at Quinn’s admission. She remembers a time when she was desperate for the girl’s approval, for her affection. It feels good knowing that she had it all along.

 

“I know you rigged my prom queen win.”

 

“You have no proof.”

 

“Oh, so if I called Santana right now she wouldn’t tell me the truth?”

 

“Please, I have so much on Santana. She’d never spill.”

 

Rachel cocks an eyebrow, pulling her phone from her bag.

 

“... Don’t test that though,” Quinn adds hastily.

 

They settle into a comfortable silence, both taking a sip of their drinks. Rachel’s grateful for the grounding weight of Hudson in her lap, a reminder that this isn’t just a weird, surreal dream. Quinn Fabray sitting in front of her, talking to her like absolutely no time had passed. She imagines an alternate world where things had been different, where she had admitted her feelings for Quinn back in high school, instead of ignoring them point blank. A world where maybe getting coffee with Quinn was normal, where they had remained in touch and in each other’s lives. A world where she didn’t look at her and feel so many regrets, but instead when she peered into Quinn’s eyes she thought of nothing other than their fond memories together.

 

“Has it been hard, working so hard with such young kids?”

 

“It’s had its challenges, but I am taking a bit of a break now, with Hudson so small.”

 

“Letting Jesse pick up some of the slack?”

 

Rachel hesitates. “Jesse and I are getting a divorce. Amicably, I might add. I think, when we first reconnected, it was comforting having a piece of the old me amongst the chaos. And I do love him, but now I wonder if I was ever in love with him. And I think the feeling’s mutual.”

 

“Oh, Rachel.”

 

“I don’t need your pity.”

 

“And you don’t have it. Not all marriages are meant to last forever, and not all of divorces are sad and heartbreaking. Look what you got out of it: two beautiful kids, someone to raise them with, even if you’re not married to the guy.”

 

Rachel wipes away a few tears, unsure of where they even came from, giving a watery laugh.

 

“God, I hope your love life’s in better shape than mine.”

 

“I’m painfully single at the moment, actually.”

 

“Yeah, right.”

 

They sit for as long as the ticking time bomb in Rachel’s lap will let them. Despite the time spent apart, Rachel feels more comfortable with Quinn than she does with most people. And catching up with her somehow makes it feel as though they’re both old acquaintances and brand new friends. There’s a bit of hesitance, but there’s also trust and the unbreakable foundation of a shared past.

 

But before long, Hudson is restless and although Rachel loves her infant son and knows he needs a stable sleep schedule, she wishes he could somehow hold out just a little longer.

 

And then she feels like a terrible mother, and she tells Quinn.

 

“Rachel,” she laughs. “I’m sure you’re an amazing mother.”

 

Rachel beams at the compliment. “Do you wanna come over for dinner some time this week? We can continue this catch up, and you can meet Lucy.”

 

“I’d love to,” Quinn tells her, and Rachel’s heart flutters, just for a moment, hearing Quinn say ‘love’ so softly and genuinely.

 

///

 

“Okay, both kids are down,” Rachel says as she walks into the kitchen. She pours them both more wine as Quinn dries the last few dishes. This was the fifth time in two weeks Quinn had come over for dinner. Tonight, Quinn had insisted on cooking.

 

“Does Hudson sleep through the night yet?”

 

“Yeah, we sleep trained both of them.”

 

“Frannie did that with her kids,” Quinn says. “She told me it was the hardest thing she’s ever done.”

 

She puts the last dish back into the cupboard, and takes her wine from Rachel. They move to the couch, sinking into the leather at the same time. It doesn’t escape Rachel, the fluidity of their movements, how they seem to circle each other in a constant tandem, pulled together by something she didn’t know how to define.

 

“Your sister speaks to you again?”

 

Quinn nods. “It took a lot of forgiving from both sides, but yeah. We phone each other every other month, she sends photos of the kids. We do Christmas back in Ohio.”

 

“Is it hard for you?” Rachel whispers. “I can hardly face going back.”

 

“I try to focus on the good memories,” Quinn replies, also in a whisper. “I think about you a lot. Sometimes I drive past your house. You’re always a good memory.”

 

“I lied to you before,” Rachel says.

 

“They’re not your children, are they? They’re much too well behaved.”

 

Rachel laughs softly. “I don’t know where they get that from, but they’re definitely mine.” She pauses, not sure exactly why she’s planning on telling Quinn this. “Lucy.”

 

“It’s not after Jesse’s grandmother, is it?”

 

“Her name was Ursula. I refused to let my child be named Ursula.”

 

Quinn smiles, but it’s strained, and a little confused. Rachel leans over and rests her hand on Quinn’s.

 

“I want my daughter to be strong and smart and fiercely her own, Quinn. So I named her after the strongest, smartest, fiercest woman I know.”

 

“Santana must be so pissed,” Quinn whispers, and Rachel laughs, the feelings she has for Quinn growing exponentially with every passing moment.

 

“You always saw me for more than I was.”

 

Rachel doesn’t know where the courage that builds inside of her is coming from. Maybe it’s the wine she’s drunk, maybe it’s the surrealness of it all. Or maybe it’s the promise of something more that hangs in the air between her and Quinn. The promise of everything they could’ve been back then, and everything they still have the chance to become.

 

“You may have had a small crush on me,” Rachel says, “But I was full throttle in love with you. For so long, I held back. And I focused on being a good friend to you. I thought if I focused on the friendship, on trying to make you happy, then maybe the romantic feelings would go away. But they didn’t. I almost told you. So many times I almost told you I was in love with you. But I could never bring myself to get on that train to New Haven.”

 

Her confession suffocates them, smothering them in a silence neither is willing to break. With their entire past laid out in front of them, Rachel can see the cogs turning in Quinn’s head as she processes everything she’s just heard. Rachel starts to think that maybe telling Quinn all of this was a mistake.

 

And then--

 

“It wasn’t just a small crush,” Quinn murmurs. It’s so soft, Rachel wonders whether she imagined it. “When I finally realised that I had feelings for you, I was a mess. For a long time at Yale, I chased after people I hoped would help me forget about you. And then, for an even longer time, I chased after people who reminded me of you. It was just. It was always about you.”

 

“You never used those train tickets either, Quinn.”

 

“I didn’t think I deserved you. I thought I could never be enough.”

 

“Don’t be stupid,” Rachel says. “You were everything to me. You had to have known that.”

 

“It took a long time to work through all my shit. A lot of self hate, a lot of finding the right path. And then i was scared. There were always so many what-if’s between us, i started to think maybe i’d imagined it.”

 

“You didn’t imagine anything, Quinn,” Rachel says slowly, purposefully. “I hope… I hope that your memory of me didn’t hold you back from finding happiness.”

 

“It didn’t. I love my bookstores and I’m proud of everything I’ve got. I’m happy Rachel. And I’ve been in love. But.” she leans forward, smiling. “You’ll always be the first person I fell in love with. And it might’ve been really confusing at the time, and it may have hurt for a long time after that. But you are how I got to where I am. You’re what made me want to do better and be more. I have so much to thank you for, I don’t even know where to begin.”

 

“You never have to thank me, Quinn.” Rachel says. She’s crying now, and she doesn’t care. The thought of Quinn - beautiful, compassionate Quinn - thinking she wasn’t enough, not knowing how much she meant to Rachel, it breaks her heart.

 

Suddenly, Rachel’s too aware that she and Quinn are almost touching; she hadn’t noticed them inching closer to one another. But now she can see the golden flecks in Quinn’s hazel eyes, the smattering of freckles across her nose. She can feel her heart pounding wildly in her chest, and she thinks maybe she can feel Quinn’s, too.

 

“In another life,” Quinn says, “things would’ve been so different. We could’ve had it all.”

 

And then, ever so slowly, Rachel closes the gap between them. Her lips are softer than anything Rachel’s ever felt before. They kiss and something clicks within Rachel. Kissing Quinn Fabray isn’t just like a breath of fresh air, it’s like learning how to breathe for the very first time. It isn’t fireworks, it’s a bright flame bursting back to life after years of remaining dormant. It’s everything, absolutely everything. Because Quinn is her destiny, her kismet. She thinks that maybe she and Quinn are built of the same celestial beings, that their atoms are made of the same stardust and their souls of the same forces.

 

“Quinn,” she says. “We can still have it all There’s still time.”

 

And they will have everything. They’ll have sex on the couch and then again in Rachel’s bed. They’ll date and they’ll buy a house in the suburbs and they’ll get married. They’ll fall back into a rhythm and then they’ll fall more in love than ever before, and they’ll make up for lost time by spending the rest of their lives together.  They’ll carve out a small corner of the world just for themselves, and fill it with their growing family. They’ll find a happiness neither ever thought they’d find.

 

Because, despite the distance and despite the years, they were made for one another.

 

Rachel and Quinn were always meant to be.