Title: The Rachel Tape
Summary: The day that Rachel was born, her dads made her a mixtape.
I own nothing except the mistakes. This fits in the "Rules"/Signs 'verse... somewhere. Also, I may have cried while writing this. Just a little bit, and I cry easily, but I thought I should warn y'all.
The day that Rachel was born, her dads made her a mixtape called, appropriately enough, “The Rachel Tape.” They had been kicked out of the hospital, since the maternity ward at Lima Memorial was unprepared to deal with the complications of a gay couple and a surrogate. They had to do something to burn off the nervous energy, they explain to Rachel when she is ten, so they made her a tape. The tape included 27 tracks, each meticulously cued with ideal fades and minimal lag time, all of which celebrated parenthood in some way or represented her parents’ slightly skewed view of kids’ music. Rachel once asks, for example, why “Freckles,” by Harry Nilsson had been included. “Daddy,” she says, “this poor kid is scapegoated for everything bad that happens in the town! It’s terrible!” Her daddy shrugs and says, simply, “I like the verse about the kittens. It’s cute.”
Her parents play The Tape for her every night until she is three. It is the only thing that will make her sleep, other than putting her in the car and going for a drive. Her dad estimates that they put an extra 30,000 miles on the car in three years, and they have to rerecord the tape, which has been worn through. Lima is a small enough town that Rachel understands how many laps the two men must have driven, desperate to quiet a colicky, cranky little girl.
When Rachel is four, she insists that she is old enough to sleep without the tape. Her parents agree to try, but are unsurprised when she appears in the living room an hour after bedtime, complaining that she can’t sleep. Four-year-old Rachel is all long brown hair and big brown eyes, tiny toes and a button nose. She wears her dad’s old Tina Turner concert shirt as a nightgown and clutches her glowworm tight against her chest. Her parents have tried to convince her that glowworms aren’t good for cuddling, since they have hard heads, but her argument that “Wormie” is both a nightlight and a woobie and is “more ‘fishent” is hard to contest. Her dad sighs, picks her and Wormie up, and carries them back to the tape and bed.
There are songs missing, songs she would add if the cassette wasn’t full. Her daddy loves to sing “Sleep Late, My Lady Friend,” as a lullaby, but it isn’t on the tape. Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter” didn’t come out until Rachel was eight, so it’s not there either. That’s okay, though, because even as a little kid Rachel sees the value in the tape being incomplete. It means that her daddy will always sing “Sleep Late” as a lullaby and her dad will always play the Paul Simon song when he wants to feel especially close to her.
When mix CDs replace tapes, her daddy burns her three copies of The Rachel Tape. She keeps one in her Discman, one in the boom box next to her bed, and one in her desk, just in case. Her biggest fear is losing the CD. She is too young to worry about losing her parents, and her family is too secure to worry about divorce or homelessness. The CD is the most important thing that she can comprehend losing, and it terrifies her.
In middle school, Rachel realizes that her fathers did not sing all the songs on The Tape. She is outraged, and barrels down the stairs one night after dinner to confront them. They are flabbergasted, since the artists’ names are written right on the tape’s paper slip. Rachel maintains that one of them — she doesn’t remember which — told her as a child that they had rerecorded all of the songs for her themselves. Her dad points out that he cannot sing to save his life, but she is undeterred. She accuses them of lying to her, and won’t listen to the tape for three whole days. She doesn’t sleep the entire time. Eventually, she decides that making the tape was enough; it’s okay that they didn’t actually sing the songs. She does have one question, though: “Does this mean that the baby crying during ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ isn’t me?” Her dads laugh and kiss the top of her head while she pouts.
Quinn finds out about the tape by accident. By the time she and Rachel become friends, Rachel doesn’t need it every night. Maybe twice a week, though, she’ll have trouble sleeping and pull out her iPod, calling up the “CD- The Rachel Tape” playlist and letting it sooth her. When she makes the playlist, she realizes that she can add all those songs that had been missing from the original. She tries it for a week before realizing that the original lineup really was perfect. She takes the extra songs off and, although she continues to love them, she likes the mix better without them. Quinn sleeps over almost a dozen times before, one Saturday night after a scary movie, Rachel finds that she is restless and needs her music. She asks Quinn if she would mind and promises to wear earphones. Quinn says it’s fine, but is surprised to hear Elton John and Jimmy Buffett coming from Rachel’s headphones instead of the show tunes she expects.
The night before Nationals, Rachel cannot sleep due to nerves. She goes to pull out her iPod and, horror of horrors, cannot find it. She is inclined to blame Quinn, although her girlfriend swears that, since she wasn’t even in Rachel’s house when the brunette was packing, she could not possibly be responsible. It’s 2:30 A.M., and Nationals are in six short hours. Quinn tries everything she can think of — she rubs Rachel’s back, she runs her fingers through brunette locks, she is at a loss. Rachel asks Quinn to sing to her, but the only one she knows is Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Our House.” Quinn can’t resist the feeling of Rachel curled up against her side, so desperately in need of her help, and sings the song through four times. Rachel is able to fall asleep, finally, and Quinn resolves to put the playlist on her iPod, too, just as a backup.
When Rachel’s daddy dies, she is inconsolable. She feels like maybe it’s weird for a thirty-year-old woman to lie in bed and listen to the Grateful Dead’s “I Will Take You Home” on repeat, but she cannot bring herself to change the track. The burning in her throat is fierce and uncontrollable, and she weeps as she remembers how her daddy’s voice sounded when he sang that song. He was the more demonstrative, emotionally, of her parents, and he would always be overcome with tears somewhere around the line “You can’t get lost when you’re always found.” Rachel never felt more confident of her father’s absolute love for her than when he sings that song. She knows that he will always be there for her, until the day when, suddenly, he just isn’t anymore. Quinn comes home from work early in response to Rachel’s dad’s call. She finds her wife in bed, sobbing. She knows that there is nothing she can say, so she simply gathers Rachel into her arms and holds her tight until she falls asleep.
When Kemp, their first daughter, is born, Rachel is full of nervous energy. Quinn is the one to give birth, but from the shock of dark hair and large, brown eyes, the baby is undeniably Rachel’s. Rachel knows that she looked like an alien when she was born, all shriveled skin and red-faced, but her daughter looks like an angel. Rachel decides that, to burn off the energy, she will make the baby a playlist. She sits in the hospital with her laptop, trying to decide whether Jan Arden’s “Good Mother” should go before or after Carole King’s “Child of Mine” when she hears the baby start to fuss. Quinn is asleep, exhausted from almost 25 hours of labor. Rachel goes to the crib and coos at her daughter before picking her up. Her mind goes blank for a moment before she realizes that her fathers really did know best. “People smile and tell me I am the lucky one,” she sings softly as she rocks Kemp, “and we’ve just begun.” The baby quiets and a single tear traces down Rachel’s cheek as she holds her daughter even closer, thinking of her daddy and the simple beauty of a mixtape.
- Fic: The Rachel Tape