You guys are amazing! Thank you so much for your kind words last chapter. I hope that everyone is staying safe during this time!

If you've been watching/have watched One Tree Hill, you'll notice that we've taken a deviation from Nathan and Haley's relationship on the show. That's been done on purpose, of course. :)

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. This chapter title comes from the song "The Lonesome Road" by Frank Sinatra.

Rachel shared an enthusiastic high five with Mercedes after she stepped off the stage. They had just finished their final dress rehearsal, and they were reading for their opening night the following evening. The show would run for a month, and then… Rachel would head back to Ohio to begin her senior year of high school.

After Rachel had gotten over the shock of being sent to New York, she had been very clear with Shelby: she would do the show, but she was returning to finish high school. She would take this opportunity, and she damn well knew that she was going to college in New York City. She had all the time in the world to make it Broadway, but experiencing high school… well, that would only happen once for her. Being with her friends, getting to be a kid for just a little bit longer… it was what Rachel wanted. Besides, why should she have to miss out on things when she knew that she would make it on stage on day anyway?

"Amazing," Mercedes complimented—and she meant it, since she usually didn't give out compliments often. "Absolutely amazing. Everyone is going to be after you for parts once opening night is over. You just watch, girl."

"Please, Mercedes," Rachel said with dismissive wave of her hand. "This is just an off-Broadway production. I have high school to finish, after all."

Mercedes and Sebastian went to NYU with Jesse, while Sam was at Columbia. Marley was a senior at a performing arts high school in the city. Rachel was the youngest out of all of them, but they hadn't seemed to mind that she had the lead with Jesse. Rachel knew that she was incredibly lucky to be working with such supporting performers on her first show.

"Girl, you could have any part you wanted!" Mercedes exclaimed. "Why limit yourself by going back to your hick town to finish high school?"

"Come on, Mercedes." Rachel shot her friend a pointed look. "My husband will be back there. And I want to finish high school." When Mercedes raised her eyebrows at her, Rachel smiled and shook her head. "Really, it's not that hard to believe. I'll be eighteen in a couple of months. It's not like I don't have time to take Broadway by storm again."

"Fine, I guess you're right," Mercedes said with a dramatic sigh. "But you better stay in touch. And you have to let us know if you're in a show at your school. We'll all come down to see it."

Grinning, Rachel held her hand out. "Deal."

With a smile of her own, Mercedes shook Rachel's hand before pulling her into a hug. Marley came around backstage and saw her co-workers hugging. Without waiting for an explanation, she threw herself into the embrace with Mercedes and Rachel. Sam, Sebastian, and Jesse watched from the sidelines, wearing matching looks of amusement.

"Join us!" Marley encouraged. "Group hugs are the best!"

Sebastian shook his head vigorously. "No fucking way," he stated.

Sam knew that the girls wouldn't relent until they joined in on the group hug, so he grabbed Jesse and Sebastian by the collar of their shirts and dragged them into the hug. In the middle of it all, Rachel smiled. Her heart might have been broken, and her closest friends might have still been in Ohio (or in Pennsylvania, at a football camp), but at least she had made some pretty amazing friends in New York City.

Pulling his arm back, Finn launched the football and watched it sail through the air. It went for yards and yards, and Puck broke free of the defense trying to block him and successfully caught the ball. It was a short run to the end zone after that, and with that touchdown, they had won the scrimmage.

Finn honestly hadn't been that surprised when Puck had shown up at First Down four weeks ago. He had been even less surprised that Puck had been late—he knew that Puck had gone to New York to check in on Rachel.

They hadn't talked about it, of course. When Puck had arrived, he had simply nodded at Finn, and Finn had taken that for what it was: Rachel was okay, and even though she was in pain, she was handling it. The phone call he had received from Rachel on that random Sunday morning proved it.

Finn hadn't spoken to Rachel since then, but held on almost desperately to that phone call. There had been countless texts he had started, letters he had written and thrown away, calls he had almost made. Nothing ever seemed good enough, so he hadn't followed through.

He wasn't stupid; Finn knew that Puck kept in contact with Rachel. They spoke on the phone at least twice a week, and texted frequently besides that. After every conversation they had on the phone, Puck would always assure Finn that Rachel was okay. That was all Finn could ask for, really.

He knew just how much Rachel was hurting, and Finn was even more aware of the fact that he was the cause of Rachel's pain… just as she was the cause of his. Having had weeks to think about it, Finn knew that if they had just trusted each other in the end, they would have been able to avoid all of this. They would have been able to figure out her being in New York, while he was in Pennsylvania. They would have been able to discuss it as a couple… a team.

Finn thought back to the conversation he had with Puck when his brother had first shown up at First Down. It both comforted him and made him anxious, all at the same time.

Since they were brothers, the camp had assigned Puck and Finn to the same cabin. Puck was busy setting his things up and putting his clothes away when Finn returned from his daily run. He crossed his arms and leaned against the doorway to the bedrooms. "You were with Rachel, weren't you?"

Even though Finn phrased it as a question, he already knew the answer. Puck knew it as well, but he responded anyway.

"I was," he confirmed. "She's… damn it, Finn. She's hurting."

"I know," Finn murmured.

"Her heart is broken."

Finn had a sense of déjà vu—it was basically the same conversation he had on the phone with Rachel a few days ago. "I know."

Puck's brow furrowed in ugly anger. It was the first time that he had let his fury show since he had punched Finn over a week ago. "Then why haven't you fucking done anything—"

Puck was cut off abruptly when Finn grasped his shirt and shoved his brother against the wall. "What makes you think that I'm not hurting, too?" Finn demanded fiercely. He pulled Puck away from the wall just far enough to slam him back against it once again. Puck grunted in pain, but otherwise did nothing to fight back. "I love her, man. I can't live without her."

Finn paused, and Puck somehow managed to refrain from asking what the hell Finn had been thinking by sending Rachel away, then, since he claimed that he couldn't live without her. Finn somehow seemed to get a hold of his emotions, and he let his brother go with a jerk.

"I couldn't live with myself if I didn't let her go after her dreams," he added. Finally, Finn said what he had been thinking since this had all started. "If she hadn't married me, she wouldn't have had to choose. She wouldn't have felt the need to hide the offer in the first place. Rachel always knew what choice she had to make, and she wouldn't have hesitated if it hadn't been for me. It's why I put her on the train, Puck."

In the end, Puck knew that. Which was why he said, "Finn. Rachel wouldn't have married you if she didn't want to. She's not stupid, dude. She knew what she was doing when she agreed to marry you, and when she convinced her fathers to let her do it. You have to give her a chance, man."

Finn knew that Rachel loved him. She had told him as much during their phone call the week before, after all. Those feelings wouldn't just disappear overnight. In the end, though, Finn had a made a choice that had betrayed Rachel. They would have to come back from that, and it wouldn't be easy.

"She's coming back for our senior year," Puck continued. "Before I left, she was very clear about that. She told Shelby that she wanted to finish high school the way she was meant to. She'd have this show on her resume, and she'd finish high school and go to college to get what she needed." Puck clasped his brother's arm. "Rachel is going to come back, man. You'll have some work to do then, but… you'll figure it out."

Finn really hoped that his brother was right.

Puck jogged towards his brother and pulled off his helmet. "We get a couple of days off for the Fourth of July, you know," Puck stated casually. "A whole week. Starting this Friday."

"I know," Finn confirmed in an even voice. Puck was obviously getting at something, but Finn wasn't in the mood to ask him to elaborate. Of course, that didn't stop Puck.

"Berry's show is going to have its opening night while we're off," Puck continued. "This Saturday."

"Yeah. So?"

"We should go."

Finn narrowed his eyes at his brother. "Puck. Come on."

"Hudson, you come on," Puck retorted. He got easily annoyed in that way that brothers had—he wanted to punch some sense into Finn, but he loved him all the same. "You're the one who put her on that train. You mean to tell me that you really don't want to see just what she's accomplished? Get real, you dumbass."

Finn grunted, but he knew that he wouldn't have been able to put up much a fight in the end, anyway. Watching Rachel perform had always been amazing, and there was no way that he was going to miss out on this amazing opportunity for her. This was her first legitimate show, after all, and it was quite the accomplishment. Wild horses couldn't keep Finn away.

"She can't know," Finn finally said. "We can go, and you can even go see her, or whatever. But she can't know that I'm going to be there, too."

Finn was honestly afraid that he wouldn't be able to control himself if he saw his wife, and she knew that he was there. He knew that he'd want her no matter what, but if Rachel was aware of his upcoming visit, there was no way that Finn would be able to stop himself from arranging a meeting with her.

It was like Puck had been expecting Finn's response. He shrugged his shoulders. "Whatever, Hudson," he said in a blasé sort of voice.

Somewhere deep down, though, Puck knew that this was all going to go to shit. He just hoped that his mother and Burt would let him stay in their hotel room if it came down to it, though.

"You really should stay, you know."

Rachel rolled her eyes before she took a long sip of her wine. She had dinner with Shelby every so often, and given that the woman was paying for Rachel's loft, she had obliged her. Rachel certainly didn't enjoy the dinners, nor did she look forward to them, but she didn't hate them either. The chance to get to know her birth mother a little bit more was too great to resist.

Plus, it was because of Shelby that Rachel had even gotten this opportunity to be in this show in the first place. Rachel needed to find a way to pay that back.

"Shelby," Rachel said with a sigh. "We've talked about this before."

"We have," Shelby confirmed. "But I have connections, as you know. Everyone is already talking about you. You could have an amazing career right now, if you wanted. Don't let it slip away."

"I'm not letting it slip away," Rachel retorted firmly. "My talent isn't going to disappear once I go back to Lima. It won't go away during college, either."

Shelby shook her head slowly. "I don't why you care so much about experiencing those things, Rachel. You could take Broadway by storm right now, if you really wanted to. You are the only thing holding yourself back." Shelby's eyes narrowed, and she added, "And that husband of yours, apparently."

Rachel rolled her eyes, and then it was her turn to shake her head. "Finn isn't the one holding me back, is he?" she demanded. "He's the one who put me on the train, Shelby. He made it so I could go after my dreams, even when I hadn't told him the truth. And…" Rachel sighed and shook her head. "You didn't have the typical college experience, did you? You paid two men to carry their child so you could make some money."

Rachel knew the score. She knew that Shelby hadn't made it on Broadway until after Rachel had been born. Shelby had always had incredible raw talent, but the lessons she had taken to finesse that talent, along with her headshots and other various things she needed for auditions, had been paid for by the money that Rachel's fathers had provided.

"I don't need that," Rachel continued. "I can make it on my own, if I need to."

Shelby studied her daughter for a long moment. "You can, can't you?" she asked, even though she already knew the answer. Rachel possessed a strength that Shelby herself did not have all those years ago. In that moment, Shelby knew that Rachel would make it on Broadway if that's what she really wanted. And if she waited until after college to achieve that… then so be it.

Rachel shrugged her shoulders, but they both knew the answer. Rachel Berry-Hudson was born to be a star. It was only a matter of time before she became one.

The summer of Q and S had been going well, of course. Santana and Quinn had learned how to become friends again, and they had also learned how to accept the love that Quinn had for Puck. They didn't know what would happen once everyone returned for their senior year, but at least they had this.

Quinn and Santana both figured that they would see Puck when they agreed to go with Rachel's fathers, Anne, Burt, and Carole to the opening night of Funny Girl in New York City. Given how much Finn and Rachel loved one another, there was no way that Finn wouldn't figure out a way to get there. And if Finn was going, Puck certainly wouldn't be far behind—he was Rachel's best friend and Finn's brother, after all.

So there they were in Anne's minivan, tucked in the back row as they drove up to the city. It was amusing to hear Anne, Leroy, and Hiram bicker over the best way to get to New York, while Carole and Burt exchanged lovey-dovey glances every ten minutes. It was somewhat comforting to know that the adults experienced just as much drama as the teenagers.

"We have to dress up for this thing, don't we?" Santana asked.

"It is the opening night for Funny Girl," Hiram began. "And our Rachela is the star. It'll be like the red carpet. You should most definitely dress up."

Anne laughed outright. "Hiram, you know I love you and Rachel, but this is an off-Broadway production. I kind of doubt that there will be a red carpet."

Hiram huffed and waved his hand dismissively. "Even if there isn't a red carpet, there will at least be some photographers. We all need to look our best, no matter what."

Quinn shared an amused look with her best friend, then. "Hey, who wants to take bets that Finn will show up on opening night?" Quinn asked because she couldn't resist. This would be the first time in weeks that they would all be together, she was sure of it.

"I'll put fifty down." Leroy, surprisingly, was the first one to speak up. Despite his reservations about Finn and Rachel's marriage, he had ended up supporting them whole-heartedly.

"I'll go double or nothing that he'll be hiding from Rachel," Burt added before anyone could say anything else.

Since Leroy and Burt got the best bets, everyone else half-heartedly put in their bets, while Quinn gleefully made notes of them all in her phone. Santana tried to get her to make it so she would win the pool no matter what, but Quinn ignored her. Honestly, Quinn was siding with Burt on this one. She'd been the one who had dated Finn since their freshman year of high school, after all. While it was true that Finn was now a different—and honestly much better—person, she still knew him pretty well.

Despite what Finn had done, Quinn knew there was no way he would be able to resist seeing Rachel succeed. They were obviously in a difficult place, but Finn loved Rachel very much and was proud of her. He'd probably do just about anything to see his wife on her opening night, even if she didn't want him there.

Besides that, Quinn had a bit of insider information. She talked to Rachel about once a week, mostly through text messages. Rachel had let spill the fact that she had called Finn. Quinn had been thrilled for her two friends, because even with all the hurt and anger and sadness they were both feeling, they still couldn't help but reach out to one another. That had to mean something, right?

It had been one of the times that Rachel had a free moment to actually call Quinn. While Rachel loved Santana dearly, she knew that most of the conversation would be about how Rachel and Finn just needed to lock themselves in a room and screw each other's brains out until they got over their problems. Eventually, Santana would get around for imparting some real, actual advice, but Rachel just didn't have the patience to listen to the rest of Santana's suggestions until then. Quinn was definitely easier to talk to at the moment.

"I can't believe you called him," Quinn said again. It had been weeks since either of them had talked to one another, after all. The fact that Rachel was the first one to reach out after everything that happened was big. "I mean… Rachel, that's awesome!"

"It wasn't exactly a great conversation, Quinn," Rachel reminded her.

"But you told him that you loved him."

"…Yes," Rachel said after a long pause. She sighed heavily. She was still so mad at Finn, so hurt that it was painful to breathe when she thought about it. That phone call had been a moment of weakness, but in her heart, she knew that they had both needed it.

Because she did love Finn. And she would go back to him, because in the end, she wanted to e with him. Putting her on the train had hurt her deeply, but she knew that he had done it for her, so she could make her dreams come true. That fact wasn't lost on her.

"And he told you that he loves you." Of course, the fact that Finn and Rachel loved each other went without saying. You didn't make sacrifices like that unless you loved someone. She just thought that Rachel might need the reminder, because it would have been easy for Rachel to bury herself beneath her pain.


"And you agreed that you want to find your back to one another," Quinn finished. "So doesn't that make it a great conversation?"

"Well, if you look at that way, I guess," Rachel grumbled. "But let's not forget the fact that I was pretty drunk when I called him. And we were both crying."

Quinn rolled her eyes, even though Rachel couldn't see her. "It's like you're looking for an excuse to keep the two of you apart."

Rachel was silent for several long moments, and Quinn was more than happy to wait her out. She was kind of glad that for once, the relationship problems going on didn't have anything to do with her or Puck or the love triangle they had been a part of with Santana. It was a nice change of pace.

"I hurt him too," Rachel finally admitted quietly. "I knew about this part for weeks, Quinn. Weeks! And I was too afraid to tell Finn because in the end… I knew what I wanted to do. I always knew. I wanted this part. Nothing was going to stop me from accepting it. Finn just made me… hesitate."

"Because it was a decision that you should have made together," Quinn pointed out. "Look, Rachel, you know I love you, but the second Jesse offered you the part, you should have told Finn. You guys could have figured it out together. You agreed to get married, and you're only seventeen years old, after all. One summer a part shouldn't have been that hard to figure out."

"Why do I even bother to talk to you again?" Rachel demanded as she sniffled. She was crying now, even though she didn't want to. In the end, she knew that Quinn was right. That didn't mean it wasn't still hard to hear, though.

"Because you know I'm going to tell you the truth," Quinn answered easily. Rachel sniffled again, and her heart went out to her. "Rachel, you know I didn't mean to make you cry. I'm telling you this because I love you and Finn, and I want you guys to be happy."

Rachel managed to get a hold of herself then, and she took a deep breath as she got her emotions under control. "Can we talk about you and Noah, then?" she asked. "Remember when it was the two of you that were having all of the problems?"

Quinn laughed at that. "I know. But I'm happy to report that we're drama-free, for the moment."

"Bitch," Rachel retorted, but there was no anger in her words. In fact, she was giggling.

"Slut," Quinn said back, laughing as well.

They both dissolved into giggles after that. Even though the conversation had been heavy, it was nice to end it on a good note. Rachel was comforted by the fact that while she had made some great friends in New York, she still had people she could count on back in Lima.

Santana poked Quinn in the side with her pointy index finger. "It's not fair that Tutor Berry-Hudson talks to you and gives you all the inside info, you know," she said with a pout.

"That's why I didn't make a bet," Quinn pointed out. "It would have given me an unfair advantage. You shouldn't even be trying to place a bet, anyway, since you know all about Rachel and Finn's phone call."

"Whatever," Santana said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Like we all don't believe that Finn wouldn't figure out a way to get up to New York to see Rachel's opening night anyway? Besides, I'd totally convince Tutor Dads one and two to drive down to Pennsylvania just so I could kick Finn's ass if he didn't come up here.

Quinn laughed loudly at that, because she knew that Santana was being one-hundred percent truthful. She'd be right besides Santana, kicking Finn's ass as well if he didn't come. And even though she loved Puck, she'd have a few choice words for him if he didn't convince Finn to go up to New York City.

They all knew that wouldn't be the case, though. In all likelihood, Finn and Puck would probably get up to New York before they did.

Zipping up his bag, Finn tried his best to get control of his excitement. Yes, he had told Puck that he wanted to keep his own visit a secret, but that didn't stop the feeling of anticipation that had taken a hold of him. The fact that he'd be able to see his wife on stage, achieving her dreams… well, it was pretty amazing. In a way, all of this pain was worth it if she got to be on that stage, doing what she was born to do.

"Where do you think you're going? Don't you have a training camp to attend?"

Finn froze at the sound of his father's voice. Gripping the straps of his bag, he breathed in and out deeply through his nose a few times, trying to calm his suddenly racing heart. Of course, Chris had known the second that Finn had stepped onto First Down's campus. He probably had some assistant coach keeping an eye on Finn, reporting on his progress. Finn wished he could have been surprised at Chris's appearance, but he honestly wasn't.

Finn did wish it was at any other time, though. Did Chris have to appear right when he was going to visit Rachel? It was like the man had some sort of sixth-sense about the weakest moments in Finn's life, or something.

Once Finn felt that he could speak, he said, "The camp is closed for the holiday." He was proud that his voice was even. He had managed to hide his rage and apprehension. "A whole week. We've got some time off."

"You could still be using this time to train," Chris retorted immediately. Of course, Chris refused to acknowledge any time off. He was one of those people who believed that athletes didn't need any down time in order to recover. He thought that the harder someone worked, the more likely they would be to succeed. Chris Hudson thought that recovery time was for the weak—which was probably one of the reasons he blew his knee out while in college. Even though he could have recovered, there was a reason why it had happened in the first place. He had pushed himself too hard, and the pressure had gotten to him. Even though he had gone through all of that, it was like he was hell-bent on treating his son the same way.

"I have some things to do," Finn said evenly. "And I'm leaving in about twenty minutes." He doesn't mention that Puck is the one he'd be leaving with. There was no need to add that extra element to the already tense conversation. "So if you don't mind…"

"I do mind," Chris stated. "Because I'm sure the things you have to do have something to do with your little wife."

Finn's eyes narrowed at his father, and he gripped the straps of his duffle bag tightly as he finally turned to face Chris. "So what if it does?" Finn asked lowly. His voice was dangerous, even as he tried his best to keep it even. Finn was losing his cool quickly, and he knew it. He had always been defensive of Rachel, though, and he wasn't about to let his father bad-mouth her. "I'm eighteen. You no longer have any control over anything that I do. And that includes my marriage."

"You're staying in the house I paid for."

"The house you helped pay for," Finn corrected. "And Rachel and I were staying at the guest house. We were paying Mom for it. Not that you would know anything about it, since she divorced you."

Not long after Finn had gone to First Down, Carole's divorce to Chris Hudson was finalized. She was financially free of Chris, and so was Finn—not that Chris was acting like that now. In Chris's mind, Finn was at First Down because of him—because of the natural born skill he had imparted to Finn, because of the way he had pushed Finn for years. Where would Finn be, if it wasn't for everything Chris had put into his training over the years?

Chris didn't know that Finn Hudson had been born a gifted football player. Finn would have made it no matter what, and in the end, Chris's pushing was hurting more than it was helping. It wasn't like the older Hudson man realized that, however. He was hell-bent on proving that Finn needed him. He was more than aware that he hadn't made it all the way to the NFL, and there was no way in hell he was going to allow his own son to suffer the same fate.

"Yo, Hudson!" Puck's voice rang throughout the cabin as he slammed the door open. "You ready to go? We need to get a move on if we want to beat the traffic up to the city—" Puck stopped speaking abruptly as soon as he caught sight of his estranged father. He took in the whole scene—the tenseness in Finn's shoulders, his stony look, the way he was strangling the straps of his duffle—and shook his head slowly.

"I should have known you would have something to do with this trip," Chris said with a snort. "It's because of you that Finn even met that bitch in the first place."

Puck ran a hand over the top of his head. His expression was deceptively easy-going, but his voice was low and foreboding when he finally spoke. "I'm only going to tell you this once. If you ever speak about Rachel like that again, I'll end you. I don't care that you're my brother's father. You'll be done."

"Did you forget that I'm your father, too?" Chris asked with a sneer.

"Honestly, I try not to remember that," Puck retorted immediately. "And I'm pretty good at it, too." He turned his attention to his brother then, smirking in a sneaky kind of way. "Burt says hi, by the way. He's headed up to the city with Carole and my mom so they can see Rachel's opening night. He gave me the address of the hotel they're staying at."

Puck didn't mention that Rachel's fathers—and Quinn and Santana—were going to be in the same place. All he really wanted to do was push Chris buttons, and from the outrage on the older man's face, he had succeeded.

"You little shit," Chris seethed as he began to advance on the son he abandoned. "How dare you—"

"Enough!" Finn exclaimed. He shot his brother a look, but Puck just crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow. He wasn't going to apologize for his honest comments. Finn inserted himself between his brother and his father, hoping to avoid a fight. "Puck is right, Dad," Finn told Chris. "You don't get to talk about Rachel like that. Do it again, and I'll be right beside Puck and we'll both kick your ass."

If Chris was at all phased by the threats that both of his sons were directing at him, he didn't show it. He simply smirked and shoved his way past Puck on the way out of the cabin. Finn took a deep breath as he tried to get a hold of his raging emotions. The thought of punching something sounded pretty good at the moment, but the only thing immediately available to him was the all. Finn knew that in the end, it would do more harm than good, so he managed to hold it in. Of course, Puck somehow made it better for him.

"He's such a dick," Puck grumbled.

For some reason, that got Finn to laugh. "Yeah, he is," he agreed.

They shared a look—one that spoke of the pain that they had both endured and understood over the years. Finally, Puck grabbed his own duffle off of his bunk. "You ready to go?" he asked again. "I want to stop at Wawa for some snacks."

Wawa was a convenience store in Pennsylvania, and it had quickly become a favorite place for them to visit for their great coffee and something quick to eat. "Sounds good, man," Finn agreed easily as he gathered his own things up.

Quinn and Santana had butted their way to the front of the group when they knocked on the door to Rachel's loft. Only a second had passed before the door swung open, and Rachel squealed loudly at the sight of her two friends. She immediately threw herself into their arms, hugging both of them tightly at the same time.

"You're here!" Rachel exclaimed. "Oh my god, I can't believe you're here!"

"You better believe it, Tutor Berry-Hudson," Santana said as she returned the embrace. "Like we would miss this?"

Rachel had sucked in a deep, quick breath at the mention of her old nickname from Santana. Because of Shelby and the influence she had, Rachel was known as Rachel Berry to the general theater population. With everything going on, Rachel hadn't been one hundred percent comfortable introducing herself as Rachel Berry-Hudson… but she did so, anyway. It was the name she had been using for months now, after all. Besides, it didn't feel right not to use it. Rachel had simply ignored the pointed looks Shelby shot her every time she used her married name.

Santana shot her a quick, sympathetic smile, but otherwise didn't say anything in regards to Rachel's nickname. Instead, Santana said, "Oh my god, you look hot. The city has obviously done you a world of good."

Rachel shrugged her shoulders as she stepped back. She was wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a black tank top. Though her outfit was plain, it was also sleek. Apparently, Kurt had been the one to pack her suitcase before she left for New York. Rachel wasn't sure how Burt's son had gotten a hold of her suitcase, or how Finn had planned that particular aspect, but she had to admit that she liked the slightly more mature wardrobe Kurt had chosen for her.

"Are you going to let us in, girl?" Anne demanded from behind Santana and Quinn. "We're excited to see you!"

While the adults had all gotten rooms at a hotel, Quinn and Santana would be staying with Rachel in the loft. It was the night before the show was set to open, and Rachel's fathers insisted on taking them all out for a celebratory dinner. The following day would prove to be busy, so they were excited to be getting this time together.

Rachel knew that they were all going to visit, but that still didn't stop her from being amazed at how happy they all were to see her, or how proud they were. While she was enjoying her time in New York and loved everything she got to learn and experience, there had still been an ever-constant ache within her. It had eased slightly at the sight of her family and friends.

"Puck should be here soon," Anne informed Rachel as she hugged her tightly. "They had one more practice to get out of the way before they were let go for the holidays."

"I can't believe we get to be in the city for the Fourth of July," Quinn exclaimed as she clapped her hands. "I'm so excited!"

Burt tucked his hands into his pockets as he looked out the large windows in Rachel's loft. "There are too many people here," he grumbled. When Carole nudged him in the side with her elbow, he quickly added, "But it should be lots of fun. Kurt's pissed that he'll only be up here for three days because of his internship."

Kurt, unfortunately, was missing Rachel's opening night due to an internship he had with a fashion blogger in Cincinnati. He would be up later that week, though, so that they could celebrate the holiday together.

Rachel hugged her fathers and Carole. She tried not to react too much to the proud, if a little sad, smile that Carole directed her way, but she did squeeze her mother-in-law's hand briefly. Her fathers produced several bottles of champagne seemingly from thin air and declared that they needed to have a celebratory drink before they got changed to go out to dinner.

Santana slung an arm around Rachel's shoulders after she pressed a flute of champagne into her hand. "So, show us around this place, Tutor Berry! You're definitely living the high life out here."

Rachel showed Quinn and Santana around the loft, and all three girls agreed that this would be an amazing place to live if they ended up in the city for college. Rachel got that pinched look on her face then, since her only focus was really going back to Lima for senior year. She'd been thinking about college since she was a little girl, of course, but she knew she'd have to focus on her studies and her marriage before applying to college. Her marriage, after all, would be a deciding factor in where she applied.

Quinn squeezed Rachel tightly around the shoulders and started asking about the shopping in the area. Rachel smiled, glad for the change of subject, and said that it might be something they could do the day after her opening night.

They were summoned back to the living room then. The adults were all going to head to the hotel so they could check in and get changed for dinner, and they would meet the girls at the restaurant. That left the three girls about an hour to get ready together—and Santana made sure she snagged the two bottles of champagne that Leroy and Hiram brought, as well.

Santana changed into a slinky—but still appropriate—black dress and left her hair down and in waves around her face. Quinn wore a gauzy blush cocktail dress that she of course looked perfect in, while Rachel selected a navy blue dress with straps that crossed over her back. She knotted her hair in a low bun and drained the rest of her champagne before she touched up her makeup.

Letting out a low whistle when the three girls met in the living room once again, Santana produced her phone. "God, we look so hot. Let's get a pic!"

Quinn, Rachel, and Santana all crowded close together, and Santana snapped a selfie. She declared it to be perfect and posted it to social media immediately, tagging both Quinn and Rachel in it. Of course, she had a bit of an ulterior motive for doing it—she hoped that Finn would see it, and thought that it might encourage him to get some actual face time with his wife that weekend.

Their night out was fun, and they had a wonderful time at the fancy but welcoming restaurant Rachel's fathers had selected. Puck's absence was missed, but he had texted Rachel and assured her he'd see her before she went on stage the following night.

Not for the first time, Rachel wondered if Finn was nearby. Deep in her heart, she believed that he'd find a way to see her in the show…she was just a little too afraid to really believe it.

Finn was grateful that he had convinced Quinn to swipe Jesse St. James' number from Rachel's phone.

And god bless Quinn Fabray, because she hadn't even questioned Finn when he asked her to do it. All she texted back was, "Sure, hang on." Two minutes later, Finn had Jesse's number. Finn promised Quinn whatever she wanted in return and then quickly dialed Jesse's number.

"Go for Jesse."

Finn rolled his eyes so hard, he was actually a little afraid they would go right out of his head. "I can't believe you actually answer the phone like that, you jackass."

There was a long pause, and then Jesse asked in a bewildered voice, "Hudson? Finn Hudson? Is that you?"

"Yeah, although I'm kind of regretting calling you know." There was no real malice in Finn's voice—just a kind of tired, somewhat amused exasperation.

There was another pause, although this one was much shorter. "Rachel isn't here right now," Jesse finally said in a careful voice. "I'm getting things ready for opening night, but she's with her dads right now. I can tell her that you called…?"

"No!" Finn exclaimed quickly. "No, I didn't call to talk to Rachel." Although now that Finn thought about it, it probably wasn't the worst idea in the world to use Jesse to get a hold of Rachel. He'd file that away for later. "I actually wanted to ask you something."

"Uh, sure, man." Jesse sounded a little apprehensive, but at least there was no hesitation in his response. "What's up?"

"It's more of a favor, really," Finn began. Puck was sniggering over on the other side of the hotel room, but Finn was resolutely ignored his brother. "Look, I, uh… I'm having flowers delivered."

"What, for the cast?" Jesse interrupted. "Wow, Finn, that was… well, surprisingly nice of you."

Finn rolled his eyes again. "Not for the cast, you dumbass. Sorry, maybe next time." Now Puck was laughing outright. "For Rachel."

"Okay, so…" Now Jesse just sounded confused. "Just have them delivered to her room, then."

"Yeah, see, here's the thing. I need you to make sure that they actually end up there. Like, on her dressing room table. Right where she can see them."


"They should be getting there in about half an hour," Finn added as he glanced at his watch. "That should give you plenty of time to do whatever it is that you need to get done before Rachel gets there."

Jesse sighed heavily. "Finn…" he began again.

Finn wouldn't take no for an answer. "Dude," he said quietly. "You owe me."

It seemed that as soon as Finn laid it all out, Jesse agreed. "Yeah, alright," Jesse finally relented. "I'll make sure they get there. What should I be looking for?"

"Pink tulips," Finn told Jesse. "Twenty of them, in a white vase. There'll be a white ribbon wrapped around the vase, too."

Pink tulips were Rachel's favorite flowers, after all. And Finn would never forget how radiant Rachel look the day he married her, carrying her little bouquet of tulips with the ribbon. It was a flower that held quite a bit of significance for them.

"Will there be a card?" Jesse asked. "So… you know, so she knows who they're from?'

"Uh…" It was something that Finn had battled with. Should he leave a note, explicitly saying that flowers were from him? Or should he let it go and hope that the flowers and the white ribbon were enough to remind Rachel of what they had? "The ribbon will have a gold star attached to it," Finn finally said. "But not a card. She should… Rachel should still know they're from me. Hopefully."

"She will," Jesse said immediately. It was the first time he had sounded confident the whole conversation, and Finn appreciated it, as much as he didn't like Jesse. He would never be friend with the guy, but he could appreciate drive and talent when he saw it. Plus, Jesse helped Rachel go after her dream. Finn could never hate Jesse for that.

"Thanks, St. James," Finn said gruffly.

Finn was about to hang up when Jesse said, "Are you going to be there, Finn?"

Now it was Finn's turn to give a long pause. "I don't know if I should tell you," he finally admitted.

"Look." Jesse released another heavy, slightly dramatic sigh before continuing. "If you were coming to the opening night, I'm sure you already have a ticket. If you did, I'm just saying that you could go to the ticket booth and exchange it for the one I put under your name last week. If you were interested… it has a perfect view of the stage, but you'd be out of the direct line of sight of any main characters that might look for you. You know, if you were interested."

After everything he'd been through over the past year, Finn didn't think there was much that could surprise him. Jesse's offer, however, threw him for a loop. "Jesse, I… I don't know what to say." Finn's voice was frank, honest, and even Puck had stopped laughing. It seemed as though he had sensed that Finn's conversation had taken a serious turn. "Why… why would you do something like that for me?"

"Because." Jesse let out a frustrated huff on the other end of the line. "It was never my intention to cause all of these problems between you and Rachel. I want to make it on Broadway, okay? And I know that this showing of Funny Girl is off-Broadway, but it's still a big deal. It's backed by Shelby Corcorhan, for Christ's sake. And I wasn't going to get this part without Rachel. So I did what I needed to do, but I'm sorry that it caused so many issues."

Finn was quiet for so long that Jesse actually had to say his name to make sure he was still there. Finally, Finn cleared his throat and said, "It's not really your fault, man. Rachel and I… we could have handled all of this better. We didn't. And that's on us. Not you."


"Just make sure the flowers get there," Finn interrupted. "Okay?"

"Okay," Jesse agreed. His voice was warm, then. "And Finn?"


"I look forward to seeing you there. And I know she'll be happy to see you."

Finn grunted in response before he hung up. Now Puck was giving him a considering, thoughtful look, and Finn held his hands up. Damn Puck for knowing too much. "Dude. Don't start."

This was it. This was her opening night.

Rachel released a slow, even breath as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her makeup and her hair were perfect, and her costume was pressed and expertly tailored, ready to go for her big debut on stage. Even with her glamorous appearance, Rachel's eyes were drawn towards the gorgeous bouquet of pink tulips on her dressing room table.

She knew who they were from immediately, of course. The pink tulips and the white ribbon alone were enough to give it away—it was the gold star, however, that really cinched it for her.

"You're going to go to New York, and you're going to be a star. Without me. That's how much I love you."

The words slammed into her viscerally, making her heart tighten painfully in her chest. How could the worst day of her life open a door to something so amazing? Rachel still didn't understand it, even though she'd been trying for the past month and a half. She missed Finn dearly, almost desperately, and yet she couldn't bring herself to feel guilty for the excitement she had every time she stepped on stage. Feeling both extremes was exhausting, but it was something that Rachel had gotten used to over the past few weeks.

Closing her eyes, Rachel imagined what it would have been like if Finn had been waiting out there in the audience for her. He would have been sitting with their family and friends, he would have been holding another bouquet of pink tulips for her, and he would have kissed her as soon as he snuck backstage, congratulating her on what an amazing job she had done.

If they had just been honest with one another from the beginning, maybe they would have been at her opening night together, celebrating. Rachel now realized that everything wasn't as black and white as she and Finn had made it seem earlier: they had decided to get married young, and they knew and accepted the responsibility that came with it. If they could handle marriage, than they certainly could have handled a summer apart while she was in New York and Finn was in Pennsylvania.

Instead, both Finn and Rachel had decided to hide behind their old insecurities, and they had let it get the best of them. So here Rachel was, wondering if Finn was going to be at her opening night... and despite her apprehension, she was desperately hoping that he had managed to find a way there.

Shaking those thoughts from her mind, Rachel focused her gaze once again on those pink tulips. In the end, they represented love. And that was what she was going to think about when she was up on that stage. She had so many people to thank for getting her to the place that she was at: her fathers, Anne, Burt, Puck, her friends, Jesse, her mother… and Finn. In the end, Finn had pushed her. No matter how hurt and angry Rachel had been, a part of her would always be thankful for what Finn had done.

There was a knock on Rachel's dressing room door. She took one last deep breath and smiled at her reflection. She was Rachel Barbara Berry-Hudson. She could do this.

Finn didn't think he'd been so thrilled in his entire life.

Watching Rachel on stage had been nothing short of amazing and despite his reservations, Finn was glad that he had ended up going to New York with Puck. Rachel had been absolutely incredible on stage, and he would have kicked himself for missing it.

Putting her on that train had been the right decision. He could sit there and wish they had done things differently, but they had made their choices. Finn would stand by the one he made in the end: by putting Rachel on that train, Finn had basically told her that no matter what, he wanted her to follow her dreams. He'd catch up eventually, and they'd be together again.

It turned out that Jesse had done one more thing for them: Finn's new ticket (which had given him the most perfect view of the stage, and everything that Rachel had done) came with very explicit instructions. He was to head backstage as soon as the curtain dropped, in a spot that would be easy for him to intercept Rachel as she made her way back to her dressing room.

His new vantage point backstage allowed him to see her multiple curtain calls. Rachel was in her element, and Finn was thrilled that he managed to make it into the city to see it. Finally, she and the rest of the cast headed off the stage, towards their dressing rooms so they could change out of their costumes and go out to celebrate. Finn saw Jesse skillfully and easily distract the rest of the cast so that Rachel ended up lagging behind… and then he pounced.

There was a small alcove that Jesse had told Finn to wait in, and it was perfect and secluded. Rachel hadn't even glanced his way as she passed by... although she certainly noticed when Finn's hand snaked out, latching on to her wrist and pulling her against him.

"What?" Rachel sputtered as her hands flattened against his chest. Before her fight-or-flight response could kick in, she recognized Finn's touch. "Finn…"

Finn didn't give her a chance to ask a question. One second, he was hauling Rachel towards him; the next, his lips were on hers.

It had been weeks since they had felt one another, touched each other—hell, it had been weeks since they so much as kissed. In that one hot, fierce moment, everything that they had held back poured into that one kiss: tenderness, passion, frustration, anger, need… love.

Finn had one long arm wrapped around her waist while his other hand tangled in her hair, knocking several pins loose. Rachel was straining up onto her tiptoes, pressing herself as close to Finn as she could get as her arms locked around his neck. The kiss was amazing, fantastic, exactly what they needed after weeks apart… and it was over too soon.

Right before the kiss got too out of hand, Finn ripped himself from Rachel's embrace. He managed a crooked half-smile that Rachel caught, even in the shadows. And then he slipped away.

Rachel stood there in that alcove for a long moment, and she pressed her fingers to her lips. They were swollen to the touch, so she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she hadn't just imagined that kiss. Yet Finn was gone, and it was almost like he had never been there in the first place.

Still. He came. He saw her show. He had been there.

Rachel smiled as she spun towards her dressing room. She could be angry that Finn had cornered her backstage with a mind-blowing kiss after weeks of no communication later. Now, though… now, Rachel would just be happy with the fact that he had shown up.

Fun fact: Rachel's and Finn's final scene in this chapter had been a last-minute chapter. I hadn't planned a face-to-face confrontation until next chapter. Of course, you'll get that… along with a Fourth of July celebration. Thanks for reading!