I can't believe all that's left of this story is one more chapter and an epilogue! I've really enjoyed writing this one and hope you enjoyed reading it. This is definitely my favorite chapter of it, so I hope you like it. Don't forget to review!

Chapter 11: Nationals at the Beach

There were only three weeks left of high school. Three weeks left of senior year, three weeks left of childhood. One of those weeks would be spent in North Carolina for Nationals. Rachel was excited for Nationals, but at the same time, she was really sad. It would be the last competition with the New Directions. They'd perform at graduation, but never compete together again. If her schedule allowed her, she'd go to competitions next year to see Blaine, Sam, Artie, Tina, Rory, Sugar and Kelly compete, but it wouldn't be the same as singing with them.

The night before the competition Rachel was packing her bag. She looked around her room. It was full of pictures from Glee or with her Glee friends in them. She'd have pictures to add after this week, but other than that, they'd probably only see them at breaks. Maybe they'd never all live in the same place again.

Packing with simpler than packing for New York. Since they'd be spending most of their time practicing or hanging out at the beach, she didn't need to bring a bunch of clothes. She and Finn did want to go out to dinner one night, but other than that and the competition, there were no definite plans for the week. A week to relax would be a treat though. It had been a VERY stressful semester.

The next morning, Rachel got up at 7 a.m. to catch a bus to Columbus. The bus was driving to the Columbus airport, where they'd catch a plane to Norfolk, Virginia. In Norfolk, they'd catch a connecting flight to the Dare County Regional Airport in the Outer Banks, which was about 45 minutes from their beach house, which was called "Tranquility."

Shelby and Beth drove Rachel to the school, where Rachel got on the bus. She and Finn rode quietly side by side to the airport, his arm around her the whole time. They were next to each other on the plane as well and sat quietly on the plane. Rachel loved how she and Finn could sit together quietly without it seeming uncomfortable at all.

"You know," Finn suddenly said, "if it hadn't been for Glee, I don't think we'd really know each other."

"I know," Rachel said somberly. "I don't want to think about what my high school experience would have been like."

Finn squeezed Rachel's hand. "Mine wouldn't have been the same without you."

The plane landed in Norfolk and it was about a two hour wait for the plane to the Outer Banks. This plane was much smaller, and Rachel began feeling dizzy about half an hour into the air. Finn quickly turned to her. "You okay baby?"

"I think I feel a little motion sickness," Rachel moaned.

Finn rubbed Rachel's back and handed her a motion sickness bag. As the plane landed, Rachel threw up.

"Baby, are you okay?" Finn asked.

"Now that we're getting off the plane," Rachel admitted.

Finn smiled and held Rachel's hand. They helped to load their luggage into the van that would take their luggage to the beach house, then got into the van that would be taking them. When they arrived at the house, Rachel was surprised by how nice it was. The entry level just had a den with a couch and a foosball table and a TV, with two bedrooms, each with a set of bunk beds. There was also an entrance to the pool deck and the stairs that led to the beach. Finn and Rachel went upstairs to look around after bringing in their luggage. The second level had four bedrooms - one with two sets of bunk beds, one with a double bed and two with queen sized beds - and a balcony with a hot tub and a hammock. When they got to the top level, which had the kitchen, the dining area, the living room and the master bedroom, they went on the patio to get a good view of the beach and ocean. It was amazing.

"I can't wait to go to the beach with you!" Rachel said.

"Me either," said Finn.

Miss Pillsbury came onto the deck. "We're all meeting in the dining room."

Finn and Rachel followed her into the dining room.

"Okay, let's get some things straight," Mr. Schue said. "Last year I don't think we had an adequate amount of practice time, so every day between now and competition day, we're going to be practicing from 9-12 and 1-4. NO EXCEPTIONS. We got our songs two weeks ago, so you should all have a good idea of how it goes. After 4 you're free to do your own thing, but don't go anywhere alone, and always have your phone with you. The pool is included for somewhere you shouldn't go alone. And certainly DON'T go to the beach alone. Everyone must be back at the house by 10 and in their assigned rooms by 11."

"What about meals? And room assignments?" Kurt asked.

"We'll be ordering food for breakfast and lunch, you're in charge of your own dinners," Miss Pillsbury said.

"Miss Pillsbury and I are going to be in the master bedroom on the top floor," Mr. Schue said. "The rest of the room assignments are as follows, and there will be no changes: on the bottom floor are two rooms with bunk beds. Santana and Quinn will be in one and Brittany and Sugar will be in the other. The room on the second floor with two sets of bunk beds will go to Finn, Blaine, Sam and Rory. The other rooms on the second floor are two with a queen bed and one with a double bed. In the rooms with queen beds are Puck, Artie and Mike in one and Rachel, Tina and Kelly in another. Kurt and Mercedes are getting the room with the double bed."

Rachel was glad her room was on the same floor as Finn's. She went to the room with Tina and Kelly to unload their stuff and then joined the group for practice for Nationals. After practice was over for the day, Finn asked Rachel if she wanted to go to dinner on the pier and then for an evening walk on the beach. Rachel thought that would be perfect way to spend their first night in the Outer Banks.

Since it was much hotter down here than it was in New York, Rachel just wore a sundress for their dinner. Finn wore shorts and a polo t-shirt. Hand in hand, they walked down the beach to the pier that was close to the beach house. They were both barefoot, and the feeling of walking on the sand was so good, especially when the waves came up around them.

"I love it here," Rachel thought out loud.

"So do I!" Finn said. They got to the pier and walked up to the restaurant. Several other couples came to the pier restaurant for dinner that night as well: Puck and Quinn, Kurt and Blaine, Santana and Brittany, Sam and Mercedes, Mike and Tina, Artie and Sugar, Rory and Kelly and even Mr. Schue and Miss Pillsbury. "I guess we started a trend!" Finn told Rachel as they left.

They took a walk along the beach after dinner, deciding to come back and get in the water tomorrow. When they got back to the house, Finn stopped in his room and told Rachel she could come any time to hang out. She got to her room and showered before Tina and Kelly got back.

The rest of the week went by quickly until competition day. The group would practice from 9-12 and 1-4 every day, and then go to the beach and swim in the beach house's pool until dinner. It was a great way for everyone to spend time together. Rachel had even gone boogie boarding with the girls a few times. She was scared at first, but it had been fun. One day the group had gone to the aquarium. Another evening Finn and Rachel went to mini golf with Puck and Quinn. The night before the competition, Finn took Rachel out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. The food there was the best Rachel had ever tasted. And now - she was heading back to her room, the night before her final competition with New Directions, her last chance to make her mark on the high school show choir world.

Rachel kissed Finn and said good night, then went into her room. Kelly was sitting on the bed, flipping through a magazine.

"Where's Tina?" Rachel asked.

"She's in the shower," Kelly said. "Gosh, Nationals are tomorrow, I can't believe it!"

"I know!" Rachel said. "It's sad, my last competition with New Directions. This has been the best experience of my life so far."

"I'm going to miss you, and all the seniors," Kelly said.

"Oh, I'll miss all of you, too," Rachel said.

"Do you think we have a chance at winning?" Kelly asked.

Rachel thought for a moment. "I think after all our practice, our songs sound really good. It might happen. I sure hope so!"

x

There was no turning back now. Competition day was here. The New Directions were in their costumes, waiting their turn to perform. The girls were in purple spaghetti strap dresses and the guys were in black shirts with purple vests and ties. The competition looked even more intense than last year, if possible, and Rachel's nerves were higher. Every performance had been fantastic. The New Directions were called to go backstage just before last years' champions' performance. As they went backstage, Jesse shot Rachel a glare. Rachel groaned.

"What's wrong?" Kurt asked.

"Jesse," Rachel replied.

"Don't listen to him, we are gonna win this!" Kurt said.

Rachel felt so lucky to have Kurt as her friend. She was so glad they were going to New York together. After the group's show circle and pep talk, they lined up to go on stage.

Finn and Rachel would be opening with a duet, "With Or Without You" by U2. Rachel smiled wide at Finn before they entered the stage. The announcement was made, the music began and they stepped on to the stage.

Finn: See the stone set in your eyes

See the thorn twist in your side

I wait for you

Sleight of hand and twist of fate

On a bed of nails she makes me wait

And I wait without you

With or without you

With or without you

Rachel: Through the storm, we reach the shore

You gave it all but I want more

And I'm waiting for you

With or without you

With or without you

I can't live with or without you

Finn: And you give yourself away

Rachel: And you give yourself away

Both: And you give and you give

And you give yourself away

Rachel: My hands are tied, my body bruised

They got me with nothing to win

And nothing else to lose

Finn: And you give yourself away

Rachel: And you give yourself away

Both: And you give and you give

And you give yourself away

With or without you

With or without you

I can't live

With or without you

Finn: With or without you

Rachel: With or without you

Both: I can't live

With or without you

With or without you

Rachel wanted to kiss Finn at the end of the duet, but she knew they'd get hate if she did. Instead, she hugged him and joined the rest of the group for their first group number, "No Day But Today" from Rent.

Blaine: There is no future

There is no past

Finn: Thank God this moment's no the last

Finn and Rachel: There's only us

There's only this

Forget regret or

Life is yours to miss

New Directions: No other road no other way

No day but today

Girls: I can't control

My destiny

I trust my soul

My only goal

Boys: Will I lose my dignity

Will someone care

Will I wake tomorrow

From this nightmare

Girls: Is just to be

Without you

The hand gropes

The ear hears

The pulse beats

Life goes on

But I'm gone

Boys: There's only now

There's only here

Give in to love

Or live in fear

No other path

No other way

Girls: 'Cause I die

Without you

I die without you

I die without you

I die without you

I die without you

I die without you

Boys: No day but today

No day but today

No day but today

No day but today

No day but today

No day but today

New Directions: NO DAY BUT TODAY!

There was only one song left. One last competition song. It was the first song the whole group had done. They'd done it at their first Regionals as well. It was basically the New Directions theme song.

Finn: Just a small town girl

Livin' in a lonely world

She took the midnight train goin' anywhere

Rachel: Just a city boy

Born and raised in south Detroit

He took the midnight train goin' anywhere

Blaine: A singer in a smoky room

Kurt: A smell of wine and cheap perfume

Blaine and Kurt: For a smile they can share the night

It goes on and on and on and on

New Directions: Strangers waiting

Up and down the boulevard

Their shadows searching in the night

Streetlight people

Livin' just to find emotion,

Hiding somewhere in the night

Mercedes: Workin' hard to get my fill

Everybody wants a thrill

Sam: Payin' anything to roll the dice just one more time

Puck and Quinn: Some will win

Some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

Artie and Sugar: And now the movie never ends

It goes on and on and on and on

Rory and Kelly: Strangers waiting

Up and down the boulevard

Their shadows searching in the night

Mike and Tina: Streetlight people

Livin' just to find emotion

Brittany and Santana: Hiding somewhere in the night

New Directions: Don't stop!

Don't stop believin'

Finn and Rachel: Hold on to that feelin'

New Directions: Street lights people Yeah!

Don't stop beleivin'

Finn and Rachel: Hold on to that feelin'

New Directions: Street lights people

Don't stop!

Rachel was crying at the end of the song. This was it. She couldn't focus on the rest of the competition. All she could think about as the other groups performed was that this was the last time she'd ever perform with the New Directions.

About two hours later, the top five groups were announced, and one of them was the New Directions. This was already a step above last year. The team that won last year was all the way down in fifth. The teams fourth and third were announced. Eventually, the center stage was taken by the head of the competition to announce the winner.

"And the winners of the 2012 National Show Choir Championships - from Lima, Ohio - the New Directions!"

The group began cheering and screaming. If they had to go out, this was the way to do it. They celebrated with pizza and ice cream at the beach house's pool and spent the next day at the beach. If this experience had to end, Rachel was glad this was how it ended.

Chapter 12 preview: Graduation for the seniors and a graduation party. Rachel reflects on her high school experience and thinks about the future.