Think of Me
Think of me, think of me fondly,
when we've said goodbye.
Remember me once in a while -
please promise me you'll try.
Noah hadn't seen her in almost eight years, not face to face anyway. Not since he'd graduated and walked away, making it clear that anything that had been between them was over. He was moving on, he' gotten a football scholarship to play at Arizona State and he had made it 100% clear that he wasn't into the long distance thing. He was Noah Puckerman and he had a lot of college ass to tap, he didn't need a borderline psychotic sort of girlfriend to keep him tied down. He had even had the nerve to watch her for thirty seconds, watch as her expression crumpled before he walked away.
That wasn't to say he hadn't seen her face in the eight years since his graduation. Finn and Quinn kept in the loop of all of the ex-glee members, he pretended he didn't care but neither of them actually believed him. That was how he had come to know that straight out of Juliard she'd taken on the role of Christine Daae at the Venetian in Las Vegas. (It wasn't Broadway, Quinn said, but Rachel was thrilled.) It was a five hour drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas and he could safely say that he'd seen that performance half a dozen times and she'd never known that he was there. He would sit in the audience and follow her every movement. She would sing Think of Me and the guilt that he had carried with him for years would wash over him, he'd never forgiven himself for walking away from her. She was the only good thing that had ever happened to him.
He could still remember the time that he had searched the stage for her first appearance that had never come, he could remember storming out of his seat and demanding answers from the manager on duty. Rachel Berry does the part of Christine, who the hell is that? The manager in a calm tone, that made Puck wish he hadn't given up his habit of dumping grape slushy onto unsuspecting victims, explained that Miss Berry would now be playing the lead in a new musical opening on Broadway next month. He'd be happy to give Puck the information on the new role, Miss Berry had left forwarding information.
Puck had declined.
So Puck had convinced himself that that was that. He was an idiot for spending a year moping over a girl that he had put behind him four years before. So he'd stayed in Arizona, ironically teaching music at a local high school and coaching football on the side, if only Mr. Schue could see him now. He had tried to leave it at that, had hooked up with other women and tried to pretend that he wasn't seeing the only girl he'd ever actually given a rats ass about.
Right now, standing face to face with her? He could kill Finn and Quinn, they had convinced him that to come visit for Christmas. They had failed to mention that Rachel was going to be home visiting her dads and he didn't doubt that they knew she would be here. Quinn and Rachel had forged a friendship when Rachel had picked him so many years ago. When it had come out that he was the father of Quinn's baby, it had been Rachel that had stood by him in the moments after Finn decked him, when he had become the center of the student bodies ridicule. She'd been the one to stand by him for the months that followed, she'd even been at the hospital when he had seen his daughter for the first and last time. Quinn had given the baby up for adoption because it was the only right decision for any of them; then she had married Finn and they'd already squeezed out three kids of their own.
He'd never thanked her for that moment. He'd never forgot the way it felt when her hand slipped into his. He doubted she would ever know what that moment meant to him.
She hadn't spotted him yet and she may not actually notice him at all which he would be more then fine with. Damn Finn and Quinn for being happily married and believing that everyone around them should be as well, it was a set up and he wasn't going top play their games. Damn she looked so hot though. When he thought about her, even when she was dressed and on the stage, he still saw her as the girl he had known in high school. The one with the mini skirt and sweater. He'd pretty much decided that nothing was hotter but at this moment the old fantasy was giving way to a new one. She was walking one of those fluffy white dogs that barked constantly that really he could easily see her owning. While she was considerably more covered up then she ever was in high school (she was roaming the streets the night before Christmas in Ohio) she was no less sexy.
She obviously had not planned on running into anyone because the Rachel Berry he knew would never look anything less then flawless. Her hair was pulled back in a mess pony tail and she didn't have a bit of make-up. The jeans and sweater she wore, while it covered up most of her skin, hugged every single curve and Puck can't help but picture her without them.
"Noah." He'd been too lost in his fantasy to realize that she had turned around and was heading right toward him with her little dog and a smile that was as much of a turn on as the jeans that were more like a second skin. "I had no idea that you were in town for Christmas, Quinn didn't mention anything."
At least she hadn't known he would be here, she was no more prepared prepared to see him then he was to see her. But why should she be prepared anyway? She probably had forgotten he even existed. That's what he liked to tell himself anyway when the guilt started to creep in, when he remembered how broken she had been he had walked away. None of that was important right now, the past was in the past and right now she was walking toward him looking every bit as hot as she had when she was a teenager.
"Hey Berry, yeah I just got in." Great response Puckerman, you dumbass.
"It's really good to see you," and when she says the words he knows she means them. When she closes the distance between them she wraps her arms around him in; it's meant to be a friendly gesture but his feelings are less then friendly. He tries to force himself to think about something, anything but the way she still smelled like vanilla and oranges. When she finally pulls away Puck puts an extra space in between them, he needed to get his shit together and stop acting like such a damn girl mooning over an ex.
"....Quinn says you're doing really well for yourself, that you're really enjoying teaching. I really wish I had more time to give back, I always think about Mr. Schue and all the lessons he was always trying to teach us. I just don't have thne time..."
"Well, you're a big Broadway star now, who could blame you?" He hadn't meant for the words to come out of his mouth, he was going to play it cool pretend that he hadn't though of her in the years since they had seen each other.
"You know about that?" It's only, now when she actually looks him in the eyes that Noah realizes that she hadn't made eye contact before now and suddenly he's lost in the warmth of her brown eyes. Suddenly there's no more denying it, not to himself anyway there would only be one girl who had ever meant anything to him, who would ever mean anything to him. And he had been an idiot, well for his entire life, but specifically from the moment he walked away and stayed away. She was the only good thing in his life and he'd walked away.
He wonders how long she had been waving her hand in front of his face but when she's called his attention back he doesn't bother to stop himself from saying the first words that come out of his mouth. "I saw you in Vegas."
She looks puzzled by this, "no, you didn't. When everyone came out to see me you were too busy, it was the middle of football season and you couldn't leave your students. Everyone else was there, but you didn't come."
"Not then," he shook his head, "I'd seen you before then. Three times, more after." The distance he had put between them moments before is gone and he's not really sure if he had moved or it had been a mutual movement. They're close enough that they're just barely touching and he can feel the electric current running between them, it was now or never.
"Why? I don't...I don't understand. I mean if you were there, why didn't you try and see me? They would have let you back stage, I left all of the old Gleeks names." Her eyes are locked on his, she's demanding answers and as always he can't not give her what she's asking for.
"I thought you wouldn't want to see me." It was partially true anyway, he assumed that she didn't want to see him again. Had assumed that the invitation to go with the rest of their high school glee club to see Rachel had come from Finn or Quinn and that it would only make things awkward for everyone involved if he attended to. Of course that wasn't the whole truth either, he hadn't been able to bring himself to face her, so every time he had gone he'd chicken out and couldn't bring himself to see her backstage.
"Noah," she placed a hand on his chest, it was something that Puck had forgotten: Rachel's constant need for physical contact, especially when a conversation turned serious. "I waited for you to come. Every night I'd get on stage and I'd sing Think of Me and it was impossible not to think of you. So I waited, I thought one day you would man up and come and then you didn't. So when I got the offer to do Broadway I couldn't pass it up, I couldn't wait for you to show up."
"I'm sorry." He's not positive, but Puck's pretty sure that he's never apologized to anyone and actually meant it. Maybe to Quinn for the baby drama but beyond that he said it when it was socially necessary, this time he meant it. "Here's the thing Berry." The thing was Noah's horrible at expressing emotion but it was long passed time to lay everything out on the line. "It took me exactly two minutes to walk out that door and realize I'd made a mistake. At 18 who finds the person they want to be with forever?"
"Well, Finn and Quinn seem quite.."
"Finn and Quinn are freaks." Rachel frowned and bit her lip at his outburst, this was not going what he would call well and based off of the way Rachel's eyes are narrowed she would agree.
"Some people never changed," she crossed her arms across her chest and took a step backwards.
This was it. Puck either told her how he felt or stopped acting like a pussy and mooning over a girl he had loved since high school. "Sometimes they do change. Look I shouldn't have said that about Finn and Quinn, it's just..."
"You're jealous that they share a loving mature relationship that you've been lacking in your adult life." She said it so matter of factly and it was just so Rachel that he couldn't help but kiss her.
So he did. She doesn't resist when he kisses her (damn had her lips always been that soft?) she even wrapped her arms around his neck and her dog that had been sitting quietly had her feet is now barking and jumping on them (he takes this as a sign of approval from the dog and forgives it for being fluffy and white).
When Rachel pulls away (it had to be her because if he had the choice he wouldn't have let her go – hell – lets face it if he ahd a choice they would be wearing less and in the privacy of his hotel room). Her cheeks are flushed, her lower lip caught between her teeth, her brown eyes were searching his face for answers that he owed her for once and for all.
"I love you." There, he'd said it, come what may he had finally said the words that he should have said in high school.
She took a long slow breath, he's obviously taken her by surprise and that fact alone makes him smirk. He can't help it he'd never known Rachel not to have some sort of a response. "I don't..."
"Know what to say?" Puck's tone is light and teasing, even if his heart fell like it was about to beat out of his damn chest. "That's a first – someone alert the media, famous broadway star has no words for the first time in her entire life." He shouted these words and her dog made yapping sounds that he took for laughter (this dog was one he could get used to having around, they saw the world the same way, he could appreciate that).
"Noah stop," she pulled the front of his jacket so that he would turn to face him instead of making a spectacle calling up and down the quiet Lima street.
When he's facing her the full realization of what he's done hits him. He had told her he loved her. He, Noah Puckerman, had told Rachel Berry that he was in love with her. He'd always been afraid she would laugh at him – he was the type of guy good girls had flings with not fell in love with (hello, did anyone remember the baby Quinn baby drama because he sure as hell did). He'd expected her to laugh in his face but instead the shocked look she'd worn early was now replaced with a tentative smile.
"I always thought you did in high school. Like it was always right there and you just couldn't say it but then when you broke up with me I thought that I'd been an idiot and fabricated emotions that I wanted to see and you were still in love with Quinn and so..."
Puck still knew the signs of a long winded Rachel Berry speech and she'd from from temporarily speechless to full on monologue mode. "Shh," he placed a finger lightly against her lips, "do you want to grab some coffee?"
"Coffee?" She kinks an eyebrow, "maybe people do change."
"Well, you know I do have a coffee maker in my hotel room, I could show you." It's a joking offer (not that he would deny Rachel Berry access now, or ever, to his bed) but slow is the only way this can work. He's not the idiot he was in high school and he's determined to do this right.
For her part she ignored his comment, slipping her hand into his and leading the way down the street chatting lightly about a new coffee shop that had opened where the old used bookstore used to be. This felt right, walking with Rachel on the tree line streets of Lima. She was the only one who had ever made this place feel like home. This time around he wasn't going to fuck this up.