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Ultimately, Her

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*0*0*

Ultimately, Her

*0*0*

You wanted to erase the memories, wipe your mental hard drive clean, and start fresh. You wanted to forget; forget the two a.m. confessions, forget the special smiles, forget the trips you two took together, forget everything she was involved in, and ultimately, forget her.

You painted the walls, you rearranged the furniture, you swapped rooms, but still she lingered. She was ingrained in the woodwork, her memories soaked in the apartment walls, making it impossible for you to move on.

So you didn’t. You couldn’t.

Instead, you moved apartments.

She hadn’t been in this one. She had never stepped foot over the door. But the layout was similar, and it was close to the Thai restaurant she loved, and you thought you saw her on your way home from work. Only it was not her, it was another short brunette with a great pair of legs that went on for miles. You didn’t think there were many running around, but apparently there were at least two.

Briefly, you entertained the idea of approaching the woman, striking up conversation, seeing where it went, but that thought was fleeting. She wasn’t Rachel. She would and never could be Rachel.

Rather than approaching her, you turned and went the other way. You walked an extra four blocks just to avoid the thought of seeing a similar looking brunette. It was still too much for you. It felt like it was always going to be too much for you.

When you mentioned it to Quinn in passing, knowing that she was still friends with your ex, the blonde gave you a pitiful look and shook her head. She did that a lot, you noted. It was as if she knew how much you tortured yourself.

“Let’s go out next weekend. We can go to a bar or a club and just have a really good time,” she would usually say afterwards, as if her plan wasn’t transparent.

You respectfully declined, like you always did, and fobbed her off with something else.

She wanted you to move on, but you couldn’t. You had tried and you couldn’t. You had to move apartments, that’s how much you wanted to forget about her, but it was still futile. Didn’t that say something? Wasn’t that a big enough indication that you were not ready to find someone else?

Yes, your nights were lonely; drinking a cold beer while watching the same documentaries you had seen over and over again. But it was better than finding a warm body that wouldn’t compare to the previous one you kissed. No, you’d stick to your documentaries.

She never really liked the documentaries, which meant no memories, so you tried to make new ones. But as with every new memory you tried to make, one thought always made itself known. She should be there with you.

You would take the loneliness. Mainly because you didn’t have another option.

She left you. You had to keep reminding yourself of that. She left you.

Quinn had no problem reminding you of that fact, hoping it would spur you on to find someone else. It didn’t, and your heart would take the emotional beating those words inspired. How your heart could still wince and flinch with each reminder, you didn’t know, because you were sure it was broken beyond recognition.

Of course, on one particular night, what was left of your heart decided to remind you just how much it could hurt you, how much it would hurt you, how much she still meant to you.

“She’s with someone else, now,” Quinn whispered, the two of you sprawled out on your couch.

She had come over with Mexican food and a case of beer. Despite not liking the beverage that much, she drank it with you to keep you company, and for that small favour you were thankful. Sitting there, though, after hearing those words, you wished she’d never come over.

“I think it’s a girl from her-“

“Don’t,” you murmured, shaking your head slowly.

You knew it was coming. You knew she would move on. You knew she was done with you. Christ, you knew this was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. You weren’t enough for her. You were never going to be enough for her. That’s why she left. That’s why she packed up all her things and left you.

Six years, you had given her six years and it wasn’t enough. She had cut her loses and moved on. She had found someone else.

“San-“

“No. Please, Q, I can’t.” You sat up and slid your beer bottle onto the coffee table, dropping your head into your hands as you fought back an onslaught of memories.

She would reprimand you about using a coaster, you’d laugh it off but use one anyway. She’d nag you about recycling, claiming you were polluting the world your kids were going to live in, so you’d walk an extra block to the recycling bins. She would ask about your plans for the future, and then write herself in them, exactly where she belonged, regardless of what you thought.

Now she was writing herself into someone else’s future, and it wasn’t right.

“Did…did she ever say why she…why she left me?” You knew Quinn was her closest friend, besides Kurt, and at some point in time they must have had a conversation about your break up.

The blonde looked pained, as if unsure whether you were ready to hear her answer. You waited patiently, though, knowing you needed to hear it. Rachel had fed you lines and tried to let you down gently before rocking your world to the core when you came home to find your apartment nearly bare and a note on the counter.

You thought you had been burgled.

You hadn’t. She had left.

I can’t do this anymore, I’m sorry. – R.B.

The note was now hidden in your bedside table, next to the pictures of your holiday with her to Paris. The beginning of the end, that trip, as you liked to refer to it.

“The relationship wasn’t going in the direction she expected it to,” Quinn said as politely as she could. You knew she’d reworded it to sound nicer than what it actually was. Rachel had said something very similar in the weeks leading up to the break.

“What did she want from me?” You knew better than to ask, but you couldn’t help yourself. It had been a year and you were stuck. Over three hundred and sixty five days had passed and you were still caught up in the memory of her.

“She wanted…she wanted you to commit to her, to start that family you two had always spoke about. And I guess, she thought it was never coming, that you were only joking.”

“She wanted me to propose,” you stated, the words tasting like poison in your mouth.

“She thought about doing it herself, but she assumed you’d say no, that if you hadn’t done it then you never would,” Quinn tried to explain, as if that made things better.

It didn’t.

“She didn’t even try,” you muttered, getting up from the couch and heading towards your room.

You returned a moment later and took your seat next to Quinn. She was watching you carefully, wondering what you’d left for, but the answer slid across the table to her. A small, blue ring box, sealed shut, lay before her and you heard her intake of breath.

“San…”

“She didn’t try, Q. She didn’t fucking try.”

No more words were said. They didn’t need to be. It was a lost cause. It was too late. That ring represented nothing. It once meant everything, it was perfect, it was exactly what she wanted, but now; now it was nothing, and you were nothing for holding onto it.

Memories, all you would ever have were the memories of what once was.

*0*0*

It took another year before you could even entertain the idea of dating someone. Your friends thought you were crazy, or rather, Quinn thought you were crazy. She were the only friend you had left, given that all the others you had made jumped ship to Rachel’s defence when things broke up.

Despite it being so long since you last went out with someone, Quinn saw this as a huge step forward and her worrying seemed to lessen. Perhaps she thought Rachel had ruined you and you were going to become an old spinster with sixteen cats. Perhaps she thought you had given up on romance, love, life, and would waste away. Perhaps she was glad to see you back to your old self again.

You weren’t, though. You weren’t back to your old self, and you never would be. Rachel had truly ruined that. Your old self fell head over heels in love with a girl, giving her your heart, your soul, your dreams, your hopes, your past, and your future; and in return, she set them all on fire and watched them burn. You would never be that girl again. You would never hand yourself over like that.

The new, improved, Santana Lopez was cold and distance, aloof and standoffish. It was for the best, and while it technically made it damn-near impossible for you to find someone to go home with at the end of the night, you couldn’t find yourself caring. In fact, you were often relieved by it.

Being open to the idea of someone new never actually meant there had to be someone new. You said as much to Quinn when she asked one May afternoon, wondering why she hadn’t met any of your conquests.

Trying to appease her, knowing that she had that all too familiar pity look aimed at you, you suggested the two of you went out for lunch the next day and you’d catch her up on everything going on with you.

“I can’t, I’ve got a dress fitting,” she replied, not missing a beat. You didn’t think much of it, at first.

“Oh yeah, what for?” Her startled look was unfitting of the conversation you two were having, and you frowned. “What is it? What’s going on?”

“San…” You hated when she said your name like that. It meant one thing and one thing only.

You were going to hate the next words coming out of her mouth.

Your skin broke out in gooseflesh before she even opened her mouth, and you could feel the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Whatever it was, it had you scared. Something was off, and you knew, you just knew she was going to crush you without meaning to.

“Rachel, she’s getting married.”

“She’s what?”  Your brain couldn’t work out the words Quinn had just uttered. You had to have heard her wrong.

“I shouldn’t have told you. I didn’t mean to-“ she was quick to try and explain, but you weren’t having any of it.

“No, stop it now. Repeat what you said. She’s what? What is she doing?” Your voice was becoming shrill, and you were losing your cool, fast.

“She’s getting married, San. She’s engaged. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” There was that pity look again, and you shot Quinn a glare. Right then, you couldn’t see any problem with shooting the messenger.

“No, you…she can’t be…I mean, we only just broke up. How could she move on so fast? Did I mean that little to her? Am I that insignificant? Six years and then it’s like I don’t even exist!”

“You two broke up over two years ago, Santana. She’s moved on, that’s what we’ve been trying to tell you. She wasn’t going to wait forever. She wasn’t going to be available forever. You knew this.”

“No, this is completely fucked up.” You were up off the couch and pacing, your body needing some way to get all this emotion out. “What did she do, hop right into a relationship after she left here? Hell, had she already started it while we were still together? Is that what happened? Because the Rachel Berry I knew wouldn’t just dive into marriage like this.”

“She didn’t cheat on you, not physically.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” You stopped abruptly and turned to Quinn for an explanation. It had better been a damn good one, too.

“Emotionally. Emotionally, she might have cheated on you. You were closed off and distant. You were working all hours and she was alone,” she answered.

“Oh my God, are you justifying her leaving me?”

“No, I’m not-“

“You are. You agree with her decision,” you said, shaking your head.

“Santana, will you stop? I don’t agree with how things happened. I think the two of you needed to talk. You should have told her you had plans to marry her. You should have fought harder after she left.”

“Why? Why should I have?! She told me she couldn’t do this anymore, she couldn’t be with me. She didn’t want me. Have you any idea what that feels like? She didn’t, doesn’t, want me. It’s been two years, and if this revelation has told us anything, it’s that when she left she was done and dusted with me, whereas two years down the line I’m still as in love with her as I was then.”

Your words took the wind out of Quinn’s sails, and she sunk back onto the couch, defeated. You ran a hand through your hair and sat down next to her, trying to make it clear you weren’t angry with her, just the situation. It really wasn’t her fault, so maybe the messenger could live to see another day.

“You’re in the wedding party?” you asked, knowing that you were torturing yourself by asking.

“I’m her Maid of Honour.” Fuck, if that didn’t hurt. You both always said that Quinn would be your Maid of Honour at your wedding, and Kurt would be hers.

“Kurt?”

“He was too busy. He’s designed her dress for her, instead. Rachel deemed it a fair trade.” Of course she did.

“When is it?”

“Santana…” There was that warning tone again.

“I’m not going to do anything, I just want to know when it is so I can make myself busy that day.”

“It’s next week.” You looked at her sharply and swallowed the lump in your throat. “This time next week.”

Jesus.

Taking a shaky breath, you rose from the couch and paced the floor again. Next week, this time next week Rachel would be getting married, and it wasn’t to you. Holy fuck. You whimpered and shook your head vehemently, all under the watchful eyes of Quinn.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fucking fuck. It wasn’t meant to be this way. It was meant to be different. We were never meant to separate. We were never meant to break up. Fuck. Fucking fuck!”

“I’m sorry, San, I really am.”

You were sorry, too. Sorry you had lost the girl you loved because you were waiting for the right moment, one that never came, and never would.

*0*0*

The night before the wedding, you were watching the true story behind Jaws on the National Geographic Wild channel, when there was a knock at the door. You weren’t expecting anyone, and you didn’t want anyone bursting the bubble you were in.

If you tried hard enough, you could surely forget the significance of tomorrow.

The knocking continued, however, and it was seriously interrupting your show, so you had no choice but to get up and answer it. You still didn’t know the tolerance levels of your neighbours, and you really didn’t want them calling the cops on you, especially since it was past one a.m. you realised, glancing at the clock as you moved through the living room.

On the other side of the door stood a rather flushed looking Quinn. She shot you a thankful smile for opening the door and strode right on in like she owned the place. You were slightly bewildered by this unexpected visit, and against your better judgement, you started to feel nauseas at the mere thought of what she was going to tell you.

Quinn was standing, very much on edge, as you followed her into the living room. You assumed she would fire off whatever it was that had her over there at that time, but she didn’t. She chewed on her bottom lip and focused intensely on the mantelpiece.

“Okay, Q, not that it isn’t great to see you, but what are you doing here?”

“I needed to tell you, you deserve to know. I don’t think she’s going to talk to you, and if you were going to do anything, you would have done it already. I promised myself I wouldn’t interfere but you two need this. I can’t stand by anymore and watch you both suffer.”

“Just hold on a sec, what are you talking about?” Your head was a little fuzzy from the beer and you really couldn’t be dealing with her jumbled little speech.

“She still loves you. Rachel, she’s still in love with you,” Quinn declared, looking you straight in the eye, and freezing you on the spot. The nausea increased tenfold and you were positive you were about to vomit all over the floor.

“She’s getting married tomorrow,” you murmured, shaking your head.

“Yes, I know. She’s getting married in less than ten hours, so for fucks sake, do something to stop it.”

“You begged me not to.” Only four days ago, she had sat you down and done so. How could she then change her mind like this? What the fuck was going on?

“Well, now I’m begging you to ignore what I said and go talk to her. You need to talk to her.” Quinn’s eyes were wild, her hair dishevelled from how many times she’d ran her hand through it, and you knew she must have been sitting on this information for a while.

“Why the change of heart?” you asked, crossing your arms over your chest.

“Because today she let her mask slip and I saw the same despondent look you always have. She still loves you, and you need to fight for her, Santana. If you ever want to be with her, this is you shot; your one and only shot.” She was imploring you to take action, but you couldn’t. You’d been through this already.

“She left me, she doesn’t want to-“

“Yes, she left you, but you let her leave you. You let her walk away without questioning it, and you may be fine with that now, but in eleven hours she’ll be married and you’ll never be able to question it again.”

“Her answers aren’t going to help me any, Q.”

“Well let’s see if this answer will help you. Tomorrow afternoon, when she’s married and ready to start a family with someone else, are you going to be able to live with the regret of not even trying?”

You took a moment to think it over and sighed. She had burst your bubble, and now you had no choice but to face the reality of the situation. Goddammit, Q.

“Seeing me won’t help her any. I’ll ruin her wedding day, and I promised myself I wouldn’t ruin any more of Rachel Berry’s days, given I managed to ruin over two-thousand of them consecutively.”

Quinn looked at you aghast, her shoulders dropping in defeat. “If you truly believe that, you’re an idiot, Santana.”

Nodding, you agreed with her. You were an idiot, an idiot in love with a girl who would never love her back, and there was nothing more you could do.

*0*0*

The next morning came with the gradual rise of the sun through your open curtains. You had watched it rise, the light touching more of your room with each passing second, and you knew today had truly arrived.

You tried to hide yourself in your work, grading and examining your students papers as some form of distraction. Seeing as you couldn’t sleep, your eyes constantly watching the clock, you knew you should do something productive. Pissing your career down the drain seemed both productive and wise.

Some of your students took the brunt of your sour mood, with a much poorer grade than they perhaps deserved, while others were given the benefit of the doubt because you were feeling that they just needed another chance to improve. In the end, you knew you’d have to remark everything you’d gone through.

By the time you came to this realisation, it was nearing nine a.m.

She would be getting ready, probably trying to keep it easy. Her fathers would be with her, Quinn would be there, Tina and Mercedes had both flown in for the occasion. They would be working hard to keep her calm so she didn’t burn out all her energy before the big event.

You could just picture her, frantically trying to check that everything was in order and nothing was out of place. She’d be ordering everyone around, but they’d endure it because it was her big day. Then when it came time to actually get ready, she’d take to it like a duck to water, perfectly calm and content.

A car alarm going off outside broke you from your thoughts and you rose from your desk to look out the window. Everyone was going about their business as if nothing was wrong, as if your world wasn’t shattering all over again.

She was getting married. In two hours, she’d be at an altar, promising herself to someone else for the rest of her life. It wouldn’t be you. It wouldn’t be you she shares her first married kiss with. It wouldn’t be you she gives herself to on her wedding night. It would never be you.

God, you hated Quinn for filling your head with all the ‘what ifs’. What if she had been telling the truth and Rachel still loved you? What if you went to talk to her and you ruined her wedding day? What if she rejected you all over again? What if she broke off the wedding? What if nothing had changed? What if everything had changed?

Your mind couldn’t handle it. By this point, you knew that your body couldn’t handle anything relating to Rachel. Everything she was involved in, even remotely, was overwhelming for you. It was as if she kept short-circuiting you, causing you head, your heart, to malfunction.

“Don’t,” you growled to yourself, your hand loitering over the door handle. “You’ll ruin her day. She deserves this. She deserves to have the wedding day of her dreams. Don’t ruin it.”

Dropping your hand, you took to pacing the floor, unable to stay still. The longer you left it, the less chance you had of intervening if you finally made the decision to do so. What the hell were you to do? Did you stay and let her get married, or did you go and try your luck? How was either of these options helpful? Both screamed of a lose-lose situation.

Glancing at the clock, you saw she had an hour left until it began. She’d be at the venue, waiting patiently for the thing to start, probably enjoying the company of Quinn and the girls to ease any last minute nerves. She’d be excited and nervous at the same time, anxious to begin but scared of messing up her part.

Closing your eyes tightly, you fought the wave of emotion crashing against you. It was pure torture, thinking about her on her wedding day. It was meant to be your wedding day, too. She was meant to be marrying you, not someone else, some nobody.

Making the decision you needed to look yourself in the mirror afterwards, you strode to the door and opened it quickly, only to take a quick step back in shock. Standing roughly three feet in front of you was the bride herself, dressed to the nines, eyes slightly glazed, and looking just about as unsure as you felt.

“What are you doing here?” you blurted out, not even thinking. Rachel licked her lips and shook her head, almost as if she didn’t know why she was there either.

Was she off her head? She was getting married in less than fifty minutes. With traffic as bad as it was, she was going to be lucky to make it on time. And what the hell was she doing in her wedding dress running about the streets of New York?

“I needed to know…I just needed to check,” she babbled, stepping closer. “I couldn’t…I couldn’t go without finding out.”

“Finding out what?” you asked, bewildered and shocked.

She was an absolute vision, and it was taking all your self-control not to break down in tears. Her dress was phenomenal, accenting her body perfectly, and her makeup and hair were tastefully done. She looked so good that you weren’t convinced that she was real.

She proved you wrong quickly by placing one hand on your shoulder and closing the distance between you. Her lips were wet and soft against yours, as if she was testing the waters, but your body knew this move like the back of its hand, and you kissed her back instinctively.

She whimpered, your lips sliding over hers, your tongue gently sneaking out. Your hands found their way onto her waist, and then you felt her cupping your cheek, kissing you harder than before. She responded in kind to your kiss, her tongue caressing yours, making you groan at the familiarity of it all.

You’d missed this. You’d missed this so fucking much. Why, why had you let her walk away so easily? Why didn’t you fight for her? Why didn’t you tell her the truth? She might have understood. She definitely would have understood. You were scared. You were scared she was going to say no. You threw yourself into your work because you needed to pay off the ring, because you needed to collect your thoughts before proposing, because she meant the world to you and you were finding it hard to handle the reality of that thought.

She had been everything and you’d let her just go only knowing a smidgen of the truth. Why?

Rachel pulled away first, her lips breaking contact with yours, but she kept her head in place, your forehead resting against hers. Her chest was heaving, trying to catch the breath you had stolen, and she was looking at you like she’d never seen you before.

“I need to…I need to…” you couldn’t finish your sentence, you needed to show her instead.

Kissing her quickly, you wiped the tears you hadn’t even realised had spilled down your cheeks, and you retreated back into your apartment. You needed to show her. You had to explain. She had come back and given you another chance, a chance to make things right. She needed to clear the air and put light onto the situation, so you had to give her that.

Rustling around in your bedside drawer, under the pictures, next to her break up note, you found the box and quickly padded back through to your living room. The ring box hit the floor with a bang, and you froze.

She was gone.

The door was wide open, and there was nothing but silence in the stairwell. You took a few steps closer, looking round for any sign of her, but found none. Racing to the window, you looked out, and hunted the street.

Five cars up, she was getting into a black town car, wiping her eyes in regret, and your shoulders sunk. She’d left you, again. She’d checked, she’d found her answer, and it was the same as it was two years ago. You weren’t enough. She had made the wrong choice by coming here.

Once again, she didn’t want you.

Closing your apartment door, you left the ring box on the floor, and sunk onto the couch.

You were done.

No more.

*0*0*

It was another two months before you saw Quinn again. Neither of you mentioned Rachel, nor the wedding. You weren’t sure she knew of what had taken place in your doorway, and you didn’t want to know if Rachel had gone through with the wedding after all. Not talking about it seemed to be the best option.

“You’re thinner,” she commented offhandedly, eyeing your body with a scrutiny you weren’t familiar with.

“I’ve been working out a lot.” It was the only thing keeping you on the straight and narrow these days.

“Hmm…maybe you should cut it back a bit.” You decided not to argue and let that slide. You weren’t going to listen to her, and from the looks of things, she knew that.

The rest of your evening was spent with the hum of the TV and the occasional comment about some obscure piece of information neither of you knew about the mating habits of lions or the nightly activities of great white sharks.

“I’m not able to come next week, I’m afraid,” Quinn mentioned as you showed her to the door.

“Oh…okay.”

“But maybe we’ll try for the week after?” She left it as a question but you knew she wasn’t coming back, not the week after or the week after that.

“Maybe,” you lied, giving her a fake smile as she hugged you goodbye.

It really was goodbye, you found out two weeks later when you hadn’t heard a single thing from her. Briefly, you thought about texting or calling, but seeing as she had no qualms about walking out of your life so easily, what was the point?

You learnt a valuable lesson that night; everyone walks away. No matter who they are, they will leave you, and in the end, the only person you have is yourself.

*0*0*

There ended up being a girl.

She was short, brunette, could carry a tune, and had the body to keep your interest. You were still pretending she didn’t remind you of someone, and she was happy enough to put up with your walls. It worked well enough, no commitments, no strings attached, just a fondness for the diner three blocks away from your apartment and having someone to warm your bed on the weekends. She did that, very well, you noted.

Seeing as Quinn had abandoned you, that freed up your Friday night for more strenuous and rewarding activities. Your new brunette was happy to join you, and afterwards, you didn’t even feel the need to kick her out. She would go willingly later, once the evening was truly over.

Resting, with your bodies under your sheets, your face buried in your pillow, you felt her hands begin to explore. While work had been rough for you, and your stamina lessening with age, the girl next to you had neither of those problems, and wasn’t tired in the least.

Normally, that was a good thing, but not tonight. You could feel it coming, her curiosity getting the better of her, and you knew her questions were going to make you uncomfortable. She wanted to understand you, which you couldn’t blame her for, but you just wished she knew better than to ask.

In time, you would have probably told her, but it needed to be on your own terms. This was not them.

“Who broke you?” she whispered, kissing her way up your spine. It was a pretty good distraction technique, but not one you would fall for.

“What makes you think I’m broken?” you replied, turning your head to look at her a little better. She was beautiful, but she wasn’t Rachel.

“You don’t allow yourself to feel anything for anyone.”

“You think I feel nothing for you?”  It was a dangerous question to ask with possible volatile consequences but now you were the curious one.

“You lust me, at most, but only because I remind you of someone else. Whoever she was, she broke you bad, and for some strange reason, you seem content with not being fixed.”

“And what, you think you could fix me?” You tried to fight the scoff waiting to follow up that question, but it was tricky.

“No. The only person who can truly fix you is yourself, Santana, but you know this. I suspect you’ve always known this, but you just don’t want to acknowledge it. If you fix yourself, and whatever her name still doesn’t want anything to do with you, then in your eyes it will all have been for nothing.”

“Have you ever thought I could be happy like this?”

“Are you even capable of feeling that emotion?” You ended up laying there in silence, mulling over her words. You couldn’t remember the last time you were truly happy, it had been so long ago. Maybe you weren’t capable of being happy, not anymore.

“You’re not going to try and fix me?” you wondered, curious about her response.

“No, it would be a waste of time. You’re not in love with me, you’re in love with some other short brunette.” Leaning closer, she kissed the side of your mouth and ran her hand along your waist. “And just to clarify, I’m not in love with you either. I am interested in sleeping with you a little more often, but that’s about it. Maybe we can work on that instead.”

You couldn’t see any fault with her plan, so work on it you did.

*0*0*

The brunette didn’t last long.

You ended up crying out Rachel’s name while she was going down on you, and that put an end to that. It was a pity, but like she’d said, she couldn’t be a living memory for you. It wasn’t right.

So once again, you were alone, holed up in your apartment watching the seasons change and your life standstill. You went to work when you needed to, put in the correct amount of effort required to keep your job, and then came home to drown your sorrows in a bottle of beer or two.

The more you drank, the more you needed to work out, and that was not a fair trade in your opinion. Therefore, you gradually started swapping the beer for water, and before you knew it, you hadn’t had a drink in six months.

Just like that, you were T-total.

Although the booze was gone, it didn’t stop you from making the same decisions you would have made when drunk. For example, your couch, which once faced the television, was now directed at the front door.

There was no proof that Rachel actually had turned up that day. You could have dreamt the whole thing. So like you would a dream, you replayed as much of it as possible, over and over again in your mind, staring at the door that she walked out of.

This was meant to be your new apartment, untouched by her, but she had shown up and ruined that. She had marked and scarred this place with her memories; memories you were always trying to escape from for your own sanity’s sake.

You were clinging onto your last shred of sanity and you could feel it slipping out of from beneath your fingertips with each passing day, but you were powerless to stop it.

You couldn’t, you just couldn’t get over the loss of her.

She wasn’t dead, but it felt like she was. That hole she had left in your chest was still as fresh as it was the day she walked out, only slightly wider from the wedding incident. You were broken, unrepaired, and in pieces.

The rest of the world saw you as a closed off professor who taught at NYU. You had missed tenure, due to your lack of enthusiasm for your program, but your colleagues still thought favourably of you. As for your neighbours, they didn’t even know you existed, rarely seeing you or anyone else approach your front door.

If anyone was to take a closer look, to inspect your mask a little further, they’d see the cracks. No one bothered, however, not since your young brunette. No one cared, and you had stopped caring all together.

You were resigned to the fact you were going to live out the rest of your days alone. You didn’t need anyone. You didn’t want anyone. You could manage, if this was your life, you could cope with that. You could only rely on yourself, so really, this was the best outcome for all. No one else would get hurt, and you wouldn’t get hurt.

Simple.

*0*0*

A cold and wintery morning changed all that.

You had just finished your last lecture of the day and had stopped in to grab some coffee on your way home. Despite the poor weather, you were going to walk home. The sting of the harsh wind on your cheeks and ears was the only excitement you got these days, and you were going to soak it up as much as possible, even if it meant risking frostbite.

The café was bustling when you entered, and you slunk your way towards the back of the line, oblivious to everyone around you. You wanted to get your coffee and get home, curl up on the couch and read.

The couch was now back in its original position, and you had painted the walls again. Anything, anything, to wipe the memories of her from your living space. It didn’t work particularly well, but you only thought of her a dozen or so times a night, rather than the two dozen it was last month.

It was progress, in the smallest sense, but it was still progress.

You couldn’t argue with that.

After being served, and with your coffee in hand, you turned to leave but stopped short. Sitting at a table by the window was Quinn, and she was staring right back at you with a tentative smile. You wanted to leave, but your feet were like lead and you were stuck in place.

With a wave of her hand, you found yourself suddenly moving towards her, and somehow you ended up joining her. This was not part of the plan for today, but you couldn’t help yourself. You hadn’t seen Quinn in so long, and maybe, maybe she’d mention the one girl you needed her not to.

“Long time no see,” you said, taking a sip of coffee and burning your tongue in the process.

“I know, and I’m sorry about that.” Quinn looked down at the table and shook her head, chewing on her bottom lip as she did so. “I was mad at you, and then when I found out what really happened, I realised I was wrong, partially. But, as I’m sure you know, I find it hard to admit that.”

“Wrong about what?” Tucking her hair behind her ear, Quinn took a sip of her coffee as you waited for a reply.

“She didn’t get married,” she answered, completely off topic. You didn’t need an introduction, however, as you knew exactly who she was talking about. This was why you should have left. This was why it was wrong to come over and sit down with her.

Your heart was racing in your chest, loud like a beating drum and thumping away. You tried to keep your mask in place, your composure perfect, but that sad little smile on Quinn’s face gave the game away. This news was having an effect on you, and whether that was good or bad had yet to be worked out.

Quinn sighed before shrugging, ignoring the raise of your eyebrow for her to continue. She was going to anyway. She hadn’t just said that for kicks. There was a bigger picture here, and you needed to know exactly what it was.

“She couldn’t go through with it. She ran, and then when she came back, which was a shock for us all, she ended things.”

She’d ran. She’d ran from her wedding and straight into your arms, towards your kiss, but then she’d ran away again. Why did she call off the wedding after kissing you if you meant nothing to her? What was that about?

Deciding to ignore everything Quinn had just said, you licked your lips and cleared your throat, unsure of what to really say but knowing something had to be said.

“You stopped talking to me.” Quinn looked a little surprised by your words but nodded.

“She needed me. You…you didn’t.” What a load of piss.

“And how did you reach that conclusion?”

“You weren’t willing to move on, and I was a constant reminder of what you’d lost. We were, all of us were, such a close-knit group. You guys were the glue keeping us together. It was hard on all of us, but two years later Santana and you were still dragging the past up. I couldn’t…after the wedding, I just couldn’t keep doing that with you, not after the choice you’d made.”

“The choice I made? What choice did I make?” You were confused and lost in this conversation, but Quinn wasn’t willing to give you the answers you needed. She sat slumped forward, looking at you carefully before replying, and you knew she was treading carefully but you didn’t know why.

“Rachel told me what happened, where she went the hour before her wedding.” You’d figured Rachel would, especially if the wedding had been called off. You could only assume that’s what Quinn meant by her behind wrong. She’d wanted you to act, and you had, sort of. Rachel had done most of the work but you had tried to put yourself out there, only to be shot down.

“And?” There had to be a reason for her mentioning that incident in particular.

“You walked away from her.” Quinn’s words were like cold, hard, ice hitting you in the face, and you sat back sharply, stung from the hit.

“Are you kidding me?” you whispered, barely able to hold it together.

You hadn’t walked away from her. You had been laying yourself out, putting yourself on the line, going all in, and she was the one to walk away from you. Why would you ever walk away from her? She was the love of your life, the woman you could never get over, the one you wished would love you back with every ounce of your being. So why would you turn that girl down when she was standing in your doorway in her wedding dress?

“Santana, why would I joke about something like that? She was desperate to see you, she needed to. She wanted to know if you still cared. I had told her the night before, a couple hours before I came to see you, that you were still in love with her. She didn’t act on it, or so I thought. You seemed like you were ready to love her again, to really put yourself out there for her, so why would you shoot her down? You broke her, Santana, you broke her as bad as she broke you.”

“Quinn, I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about. I didn’t walk away from her. She left me. I went to get the ring and she was gone when I came back. She left me standing there, for a second time, looking at her back as she left. And this time, I did try and catch up to her, but she was already getting in her car. I didn’t walk away from her.”

Quinn looked at you as if you’d grown an second head before spluttering on her breath. She shook her head at your words, her frown growing deeper each time, until she stopped abruptly and opened her mouth to speak.

“You went to the ring?”

“I went to get the ring, and when I came back, she was gone. She left.”

“She thought…” Clearing her throat, Quinn took a moment before trying again. “She thought you didn’t want her, that you needed space.”

“Space?” you barked out, shocked. “Space? Rachel and I have had years of space, why would I need any more? God,” you groaned in frustration and willing the tears forming to go away. You were not going to cry. You were not going to give in to the emotions boiling and bubbling up beneath the surface. You just couldn’t lose yourself like that again.

“You two need to talk,” Quinn said, pulling you from your thoughts, and causing you to look at her sharply.

“Talk? Do you really think talking is going to fix this? We’ve…it’s been…it’s been almost three years since we ended, and almost a year since I last saw her. Do you honestly think talking will do us any good?”

“It’s the only way you two can both clear the air. I know you haven’t gotten over her yet, I can see it in your eyes, Santana. But now, knowing what I know, you have to talk to her. She didn’t walk away that day and forget about you. She didn’t run from her wedding because she was confused. She didn’t spend the six months following that wallowing on my couch for nothing. You need to talk to her.”

“Don’t do that,” you pleaded, shaking your head. You couldn’t do this. You couldn’t keep doing this.

“Don’t do what?”

“Give me hope.” Turning away, you looked out the window and watched the people outside bustle by unfazed. You wished you could be one of them, unaffected, oblivious, and free from this heartache.

“You’re trying to move on,” Quinn whispered, just loud enough for you to hear.

“Yeah. I thought it was about time.”

“Santana…”

“No, don’t, okay? I know what you want to say, but if you tell me she still loves me, I’ll go crazy. There is only so much sanity I can hold onto when it comes to Rachel Berry. So please, don’t tell me, just let me go. Let’s pretend we never spoke.”

“You don’t want me to tell her?”

“Why would you want to? What do you think that would achieve? If what you’re not allowed to say is true, then all you’ll do is hurt her.”

“Santana, please-“

“No.” Shaking your head, you pushed your chair out and got ready to leave. “I’ve hurt her enough, and if she was to ever know that I left to get the engagement ring I bought her, the one I was willing to give her then but not willing to give her now, you’ll break her heart all over again, and it’ll be my fault.”

“You’ve been hung up on her for three years, and finally when there’s a chance things could work out, you walk away?”

“You’re getting confused, Q. There isn’t a chance here. We’re different people. The woman I was then is not the one I am now, and the same can be said for Rachel. We’re in love with the memory of the other, and no more.”

Giving her a sad smile, you buttoned the front of you coat up, adjusted your scarf, and then walked away. You were a liar, a horrible liar, and a coward. Yes, if there was a chance for things to work out now, you’d jump at them. You wished things with Rachel could return to what they were, when you’d wake to her every morning, come home to her every evening, and love her every day; but none of that was possible.

Like you’d said, you were in love with the memory, and reality sucked.

*0*0*

With each passing day, a part of you began to put the past behind you.

After seeing Quinn that day, it shook you, rattled you in your cage, and you knew you had to get serious about moving on. You’d technically given Rachel Berry nine years of your life, and for what? You had nothing but memories, painful and loving memories.

Your once young brunette had been filling a gap in your life for someone new, but you had been too preoccupied with Rachel to look at her seriously. You couldn’t make that same mistake again.

You wanted to move on, to live life like you used to, back before things fell to pieces. You wanted to find excitement in the smile of a stranger. You wanted to experience the butterflies in your stomach at a simple touch. You wanted to fall hopelessly in love with their bewitching gaze.

It was not an easy process, and you actually ended up seeing a professional to help you put your life back together. Each day got better, however, and slowly things were returning back to normal. The happiness that had once evaded you was back, and you could laugh and smile and enjoy yourself without looking to your left for a short brunette.

Of course, with the passing of the seasons, life becoming easier, you started to get back out in the world. You met Quinn more often, you contacted some of your previous friends that you had lost touch with, and slowly but surely, everything was improving.

This branching out, this exploring the world you had been a part of but had slept through, somehow found you sitting on the roof of Quinn’s building while she threw a party downstairs. You had snuck away, desperate for some fresh air, and where else to go than up?

It was a cool night, and you let your eyes roam over the city lights, sipping your bottle of non-alcoholic beer, and losing yourself in the vastness of it all. It was beautiful, reminding you that there were a billion different things going on out there, and that you were a speck of dust in it all.

Hearing the sound of the roof door open, you didn’t give it a second thought. Quinn knew you were up here, but that was about it, and she had said she might join you. So, imagine your surprise when that all too familiar scent overwhelmed your senses and then she stepped into your line of sight.

You waited, unsure what to do, and watched out the corner of your eye as she sat down next to you, leaving enough distance to be considered socially acceptable. The next thing you knew, a fresh bottle of non-alcoholic beer was being slid towards you, and you accepted it with a nod.

The silence was deafening between the two of you, but you were scared. You didn’t know what to expect, what she wanted, and you didn’t want to scare her off. She was there for a reason, she was sitting next to you, on that roof, for some kind of reason. Now you just wanted to know what it was.

Rachel didn’t seem like she was going to pluck up the courage to say anything. She looked content to just sit next to you, kicking her legs back and forth, and sipping on her own beer, the alcoholic type. This made you angry, hurt and wounded. Like always, she was tearing open your wounds and exposing them to fresh poison. Why? Why was she always coming around?

Thinking about everything that had happened, all the mistakes, all the misunderstandings, all the time apart, you couldn’t help but wonder. Maybe she had regrets, like you did, but she’d never been willing to talk about it before. This was your chance. She was there, right there next to you. She could leave if she wanted to, but at least asking would get you somewhere, give you some indication of how things had progressed since the split.

“Do you ever regret walking out on me?” you asked, not looking at her, pretending she wasn’t even there. You had asked before you even realised what you were doing. But then you felt nauseous, queasy, as you waited her reply.

“Every day,” she confessed, sorrow lacing her voice. The silence lagged between the two of you again, both taking sips of liquid courage, before she spoke again. “Do you ever regret letting me walk away from you so easily?”

“Every minute of every day.” It was true. You still thought about her, and while you could be happy now, there was always going to be this sting in your heart where she had been.

You heard her move, heard her slide off the seat next to you and move closer. You were still admiring the city in front of you, looking at the lights, the dark night’s sky, and anything else to keep your eyes off hers. They were a trap, one that could pull you under at any moment. You had been there, you had done that, and now you needed to be careful not to make the same mistake again.

“You didn’t get married,” you said, frowning at your lap.

“I couldn’t do it.” She replied as if it was nothing, like she was talking about something completely inconsequential and not the fact she was going to commit her life to someone else.

“Quinn said as much.” You saw her nod out the corner of your eye, and before you knew it, you had turned to look at her.

Rachel had her head bowed, her fingers picking at the label on the beer bottle as she bit her lip. She looked to be lost in her thoughts like you were, and your chest ached with the thought of her being anxious around you.

Fucking hell, the two of you were practically acting like strangers. How was that so? She was the woman you were going to marry. She was the woman you were going to have children with. How could the two of you ended up here? Both of you were lost, confused, and hurting, yet nothing was being done about that.

“Why are you out here with me?” you asked, finally biting the bullet and turning back to look at the city. The conversation about your past with her wasn’t over, but you needed to put it on hold, to give your heart a chance to recover from the pain you were putting it through.

You were such a masochist.

“I wanted to see you.” Rachel paused for thought, and you heard her take a shaky breath.

“Well, you’ve seen me.”

There was nothing you could say. You were confused. You heart was aching at the sight of her. You had no idea where this was going, what was actually happening, and before you got sucked into the vortex that was Rachel Berry, you wanted to escape, you wanted to put some distance between the two of you and regroup. You needed a clear head when she was around, and that was something you just didn’t have at that moment.

Placing your beer onto the seat you just vacated, you walked past Rachel and began to head towards the door. You heard her move behind you, the sound of her feet hitting the ground, the crackle of her beer bottle grazing the concrete ledge you both had been sitting on, and you fought every instinct telling you to turn round, to talk some more.

With each step you took, your brain convinced yourself this was the right thing to do. All the while, your heart ached in memory of that gorgeous girl behind you.

“What do we do now?” Rachel called, her voice stopping you as you reached for the door handle. You froze and turned back, a sad, resigned smile gracing your lips as you avoided looking at her directly.

“You go that way, and I go this way,” you answered, unable to stop yourself from glancing up into her eyes. You wished you hadn’t, as she looked broken by the very thought, but it was all you had. You didn’t have the answers she was looking for or wanted. You didn’t know what to do anymore, not when it came to her.

“So that’s it? We don’t even try?” You whimpered at her words and looked away, just for a moment, quickly trying to stitch your heart back together.

How could she be so flippant with this? How could she ask so freely? Try? She wanted to try? Try what? Try and destroy you? Try and shatter your soul? Try and break you? What did she want to try? You had tried, you had tried and tried. When was it time to quit?

“You left me, twice,” you said, shaking your head.

Rachel winced and then clenched her eyes shut. When she opened them she took three steps forward, closing the distance between you, and tried to explain.

“I thought you’d left me on one of those occasions. I thought you rejected me, in the doorway. You walked away.”

“I went to get something,” you answered quickly, taking a step forward yourself.

“What could have been so important that you would leave me standing there in my wedding dress on my wedding day?” Pain was laced in her words, hurt and anger in her eyes, and you wanted to drop to your knees in defeat. Explaining, telling her what you went to get, filling her in on that piece of information was a death wish for your heart.

“The engagement ring I bought you, so that you’d be walking down the aisle to me on your wedding day.” That knocked her back, like you expected, and she swallowed anxiously, shaking her head once more.

“You didn’t…” Her eyes were filling with tears, her hand outstretched to catch something if she fell, and she waited.

“I did. I bought you a ring. I bought it when we got back from Paris. You wanted me to propose on that trip but I wasn’t ready. When we got back, I knew I couldn’t lose you and marriage was what you wanted then I’d get married. I was going to do it, I would have done it all for you. But you left me, Rachel. You left me because I wasn’t moving fast enough for you. You didn’t even try and fix us, you just walked away.”

“I’m sorry,” she pleaded, stepping forward, making you step back. You had miscalculated. Her apologise was too late, years too late.

“That means nothing to me. I gave you everything. I gave you my life, and then because I wouldn’t give you a ring, you left me? Do you honestly think sorry makes up for it?”

“No. No, I know that it won’t but I am. I am sorry, and not because you were going to propose, but because I shouldn’t have left you. I loved you, I loved you so much and I was scared. We spoke of having a family, Santana, a baby, and then nothing. You acted like that conversation had never happened.”

Her words were true, and you hated to admit it, but she was right. You had shut things down after that conversation, pretended nothing had happened. It was stupid, but you weren’t ready then. It felt like you were moving at a million miles an hour.

“I was scared,” she cried, trying to defend your cowardly actions.

“Well, so was I!” Rachel replied, stomping her foot like she did when she hit her limit.

That noise broke the tension and both of you took a calm breath, recomposing yourselves for a second. It was enough to have you pulling yourself together, and for your brain to take control again. 

“We should have had this conversation four years ago. Maybe things would have turned out differently,” you said, wiping your hands of this mess.

“You make it seem like there’s no hope in hell of us ever getting back to what we once were.” Rachel’s brow furrowed as she spoke, and your heart fought to take the wheel, but that wasn’t happening. Your brain was driving this, making you think for a second before you sold away your happiness.

“Do you honestly think we could go back to that?” you asked, feeling wounded and drained.

“I don’t know, but I would like to try.”

“It’s not that easy.” How could she think it was? Did she think you’d just jump back into her arms? This was a delicate situation you both were in.

“Because you don’t trust me?” No, you didn’t, but that didn’t need to be laid out bare for her to hear.

“Because you walked away like I meant nothing, and it’s been four years.”

“We’re different people now,” she said, filling in the blanks.

“Exactly. I don’t know you anymore. The girl I fell in love with would never have left me.” It was a cheap shot, but you took it anyway.

“The girl I fell in love with would never have doubted my feelings for her,” Rachel answered in turn, throwing your fears, your faults right back at you. It was well deserved and you accepted it with grace.

“Good thing we’re not in love with each other then, or we’d be severely disappointed.” Understatement of the century.

“Yes, good thing indeed,” Rachel said, eyes on the ground, cold and distant looking.

You were done with this conversation and it seemed to be over, so you took a step back, and then began to head for the door again. You had come so close last time, and then she’d stopped you. You were trying to walk away, and she hadn’t let you. And all of sudden, that’s what this was.

She was trying, she wanted to give it ago, she didn’t want you to walk away from her, but you were. You were doing what she had done. She had run because she was scared, like you were now, your heart beating wildly, the hair on the back of your neck on end, your palms clammy. You were scared, scared she was going to hurt you again, break you apart, destroy you completely.

But what is life without a little risk? You wanted her, you missed her, the memory at least, and no matter what had happened, she was always going to have a part of you. So why, why were you walking away? She was standing there, asking for a second chance, like you had thought about doing for years, and now you wanted to shut her down, and what for? What was waiting for you at home?

You were still going to be reliving the memories. You were still going to be thinking of her. You were still going to be in love with her.

“I miss you,” Rachel called, no doubt having seen you frozen at the door again. Her voice wrapped around you like a warm embrace, and you closed your eyes as she continued.

“I miss you in the mornings when you’d wake up and growl at the alarm clock then pull me closer, as if I could fight off the impending day. I miss the way you’d argue with the frying pan because it burnt one side of your food while you were too busy checking me out. I miss you when a storm comes in, and there’s no one to cuddle into, no one to hold me like you’re so good at, and no one to tell me funny stories to pass the time. I miss the way you’d put on Fleetwood Mac and dance around the kitchen cooking, commando, because we’d be having sex that evening. I miss the way you’d look at me as if I was the only girl in the world, and then get shy when I looked at you the same way.”

Taking a shaky breath, you turned round and swallowed anxiously. Rachel was giving you a sad smile as she spoke, her eyes awash with nostalgia and unshed tears.

“I miss you. I have for four years. My ex, she was the opposite of you. I thought I could forget people like you even existed if I fell for someone so different. It didn’t work, and I didn’t walk down that aisle after I thought you rejected me because I knew with every cell of my being that I was still in love with you.” Growing bold with her words, Rachel closed the distance, her body suddenly in front of yours, your back against the door.

“We may be two completely different people, but you’re still Santana Lopez, the girl I fell head over heels in love with, and haven’t stopped loving since. I made a horrible mistake doubting your commitment, and I cost us four years, but I want to fix that, I want to try again. I want you back in my life. God, Santana, I just…I miss you.”

Leaning her forehead against yours, you inhaled sharply, letting the scent of her wash over your senses and drown you in memories. You had missed her too, so fucking much. She had been everything, but you were trying to move on, to clean up your life. You didn’t need her coming back into it and destroying all your hard work.

“What if love isn’t enough?” you whispered, closing your eyes in defeat. “What if this doesn’t work?”

“How will you ever know if you don’t try?” she asked, the light in her eyes dwindling with your doubts.

She was right, though, and now you had to take the plunge. Sink or swim. It was time to decide. Did you give it a shot? Did you try again? Did you let her in? Or did you shut her out? Did you walk away? Did you give up? Was this going to be the biggest mistake of your life, or the biggest regret?

Closing your eyes, you thought of everything, every moment, every memory; the two a.m. confessions, the special smiles, the trips you two took together, everything she was involved in, and ultimately, her.

It was time to forget. It was time to wipe your mental hard drive clean. It was time to start fresh.

It was time to try.

*0*0*