Five Times Jesse St James Thought He Loved Rachel Berry
He didn't start off planning to deceive her, but when Shelby suggests it he doesn't argue too hard. He's aware, morality wise, he's a kind of grey area; especially when it comes to his club, his coach and his future. So when Shelby tells him that Rachel is biologically her daughter, that 'Kid, give her a reason to ditch that McKinnely embarrassment', that 'Jesse you're leaving this year, and after that how's Carmel ever going to place. Rachel has star power, pizzazz, we're gonna need her to keep up our winning streak. Do this last thing for us Jesse.' He does.
He looses control quickly which suggests he never had very much of it to begin with. Rachel knows he could be lying to her, but she chooses to believe him because she's lonely at the top, and she wants someone to want her properly. Sometimes, when he says something too intense, comes on too strong, reveals too much, he sees the tiny spark of suspicion in her eyes, but it disappears quickly and, as their relationship progresses he sees it less often.
He begins to realise that what he implied under those hot spotlights 'we're the same' wasn't a lie. He begins to realise that they do fit, like two incredible forces cancelling each other out.
'You're an even bigger drama queen then me.'
As he begins to realise this, he begins to realise that Shelby's plan isn't going to work. Even he sees that McKinley aren't an embarrassment. They don't have the glitz of Carmel, the polish and the professionalism, but they have far more heart. She won't want to leave and, worse, Jesse realises that's not what he wants for her either. McKinley is where she belongs.
So now Shelby wants her, and Jesse wants her, and those two wants are no longer aligned.
Its just before it all starts falling apart.
She's lying on her bed telling him about her day aware he's not really listening (soon he'll tell her about his day and she won't really listen- it's working for them), and Jesse is searching through her iPod looking for a piece to add to their repertoire.
"Wise men say…" He sings softly, trying the notes out. "Only fools rush in…"
Rachel stops speaks and Jesse looks at her with a smile.
"Sorry babe, keep going, I was listening." He lies.
She mirrors his smile, but hers is soft, affectionate, maybe a little sad.
"I'll miss this when you go to California."
Then she's kissing him, hard and passionately, and they fall onto her bed and he stops thinking about Shelby and Vocal Adrenaline and being a massive douche, and his hand it's wandering up her thigh and she's not stopping him.
Afterwards he watches her sleep, a little paralysed with the impact of what he's done and what this means. She looks beautiful with her hair splayed over her face and when he puts out a hand to push it back he thinks: 'I love this girl.'
But he has to remember that she doesn't really belong to him, any more then he belongs to her. They both belong to the bright lights, the red carpets and the newspaper headlines. He's playing her and falling in love with her now is the worst, most dangerous thing he can do because when she finds out she's going to hate him. So he pushes it back under the show face, and lets himself deny, deny, deny.
'I can't help falling in love with you…'
Its Finn who finds out (of course it is), and then its over. Just like that. Over.
He goes back to Vocal Adrenaline, which was the plan all along, his ears echoing with accusations.
'This entire time you were using me to spy on us…'. He had laughed.
'Nobody cares about your little glee club Rachel. What we wanted was you.'
Shelby, of course, is disappointed but not devastated. Rachel refuses to acknowledge her but Shelby keeps on movin' on as usual.
Jesse's almost annoyed how little she seems to care after everything he's done, everything he's give up.
'I'll never sing with you again, Jesse St James.'
Life goes on and he's doing what he's always done. He's heading towards the Stars on Hollywood Boulevard, or the article in People, or the Tony, Grammy, Oscar, Golden Globe. Rachel is small but she isn't small enough to fit into that dream.
That's what he tells himself.
He sees her one last time, chin lifted in cold triumph as she accepts the second place trophy. No one in the audience could doubt where Rachel Berry's going in that moment, her hair and face lit up in a halo of theatre lights and glittering confetti. He can practically hear the whispers in the audience, 'That girl's going to be big, that girl's going to be a star.'
That's the image he carries of her, shoved into a corner of his rib cage, only remembered in the twilight of coming and going, sleeping and waking. The image of her passing him as he comes on to accept first place, their eyes locking and hers saying 'hope it was worth it' and him not being sure.
He knows he loves her in that moment, with her being so effervescent, so beautiful, so glorious it hurts him.
Life goes on and soon Rachel Berry is just a painful memory, someone who pops into his head sometimes when he hears Lionel Richie or Elvis Presley. He's still Jesse St James though, so he's not going to let pain and regret get in his way. He tells himself, when the hot knot of 'could have beens' gets too bad, that she was just proof that the untouchable Jesse St James wasn't invulnerable and that, lesson learnt, he's not going to forget that.
His career path continues on more or less like he imagined. He becomes the leading star in the UCLA Theatre program, etching his names in big letters on all the programs, and attracting people to his promise. He's popular, he's talented and he's making waves. There are other girls (there are always other girls) but he knows now not to get too close, and they never tempt him to do so.
And he's fine. Totally fine.
The year before he graduates she begins talking to Shelby and so begins popping up in her emails to him.
'So Rachel's at Tisch… doing well… Still dating that jock man, but who really knows how long that's gonna last… always told ya' didn't I kid, that she was going to be a star, it's in the DNA…'
Fragments wedged in between Lola's liposuction surgery ('I told her to stay off those Hershey Bars') and Patrick appearing in some nothing Ohio performance of Cats, like Rachel isn't the worst thing that Jesse's ever done.
It's clear that she's doing well and he wonders if she's forgotten about him, let him go. Probably. That's the irony in the situation isn't it? She can let him go, but he can't ever, ever forget her. Because you just don't forget the worst, the cruellest, the most inhumane thing you've ever done
Typically Shelby doesn't seem to assume any sensitivity in the subject matter. They're just two people who used to know each other.
Except you crazy bitch, Jesse thinks, I think I was in love with her
He spends a couple of years in Hollywood, getting a few minor roles, before he realises it's not what he wants. Film is too artificial, contrived, tacky; it's a big show but not the right kind. So he goes to find the real big shows in the Big Apple, NYC, home of Barbara, Audrey, Eliza. Away from the East Coast with its bleached blondes, into the city with its beautiful brunettes.
He's vaguely aware they're probably living parallel lives now, in a city full of so many people with so much talent that it swamps them both. He's working hard, keeping that show face on, making every note he sings and every pirouette he performs perfect. He gets a starring role in an off Broadway production PLASTIC!, it's not a smash hit but it's received well by critics.
Even among all that talent he's making a name for himself as having fire, passion, that quality that's going to make him a star. Occasionally he hears her name talked about by the same kind of people in the same kind of way. It's inevitable, he supposes, that they'll bump into each other eventually.
So when they do, auditioning for Melchior and Wendla at a casting for a new production of Spring Awakening, its just a cruel coincidence and he isn't too surprised.
What does surprise him is that there's no hatred in her eyes when she looks at him for the first time. They cross the room to meet each other half way, then he just stands there awkwardly waiting for her to speak and not knowing what to say himself,
"Jesse?" Her voice is weary, hesitant but not resentful or sad.
"Rachel Berry, as I live and breathe."
Her smile is small.
As soon as they open their mouths on stage together they have the part. Of course they get the part, he never sang better then he sings with her. He can explain away the painful feelings but he finds out it's less easy to rationalise his jubilation and his exultation performing with her again. They're as natural as breathing on the stage, betrayals momentarily forgotten, every dance step in balance and every musical note in harmony.
'And now our bodies are the guilty ones… Who touch, and colour the hours…'
This is always going to be what they're good at, and for a moment he wants them to stay like this forever. Singing out someone else's love story.
"I remember you saying once that you'd never sing with me again.' He murmurs into her ear afterwards.
Her body stiffens and her fingers stop fiddling with her ponytail.
"That was a long time ago."
They're too old to hold high school grudges, but too young to forgive pain and heartache. He can see it all battle itself out on her features. She's still easy to read; pleasure, pain, jealously, love, its all right there across her face for anyone to see.
"I don't forgive you." She says forcefully. "But it was a long time ago, so maybe…"
She shakes her head and walks off and he's left feeling desolate because, if he's being totally honest, she was never just a girl that happened along time ago for him. Seeing her again makes him sure, in his gut, that he wants to be in her present.
Its easy for them to fall back into old patterns. Stories about their day, anecdotes about celebrities, gossip about their co-workers and talk about music. There are dangerous territories which they avoid, namely mothers, boyfriends and high school Glee clubs, but Jesse's happy with his progress in mission 'Get Rachel to Like You Again'. The first time he thoughtlessly places his arm around her shoulders she flinches, but she lets him leave it there. He walks around smiling for the rest of the day.
"So what's the deal with you and Madame Berry." Cass, one of the make up artists asks.
"Huh?" He says, trying not to move his facial muscles while she works on him.
"Oh forget it, you're done." She waves him off the seat. "I said what's up with you and Rachel?"
"Nothing. We're friends."
"But you knew each other in high school right? Did you date?"
"Why do you think that?"
"You're kidding. Being around you two is like being around circling tigers in heat. I have to take, like, five cold showers a day working next to you two."
"We're playing on stage lovers…"
He's pretty sure that Rachel doesn't want what happened between them 'out there'.
"We dated each other for a bit, but it wasn't a big deal."
Somebody coughs behind them. Cassie turns and smiles.
"Hey, look whose ears are burning."
"Talking about me?"
He look at her and she's smiling so hard it looks like she might crack, her eyes look past his shoulder.
"Jesse was just telling me about your clandestine high school love affair." Cassie says smirking good-naturedly at their discomfort.
She walks out calmly and Jesse follows her, waiting until they're alone to take her arm.
"Rachel… Wait… Look, I didn't…"
"I heard." She says coolly. "You were right. It wasn't a big deal."
Its when she doesn't throw things, when she isn't yelling or making dramatic declarations, when she just looks small and hard and cold that she makes his heart hurt. So when she turns to go, this time he lets her.
Its like she's forgotten but she hasn't. The way she acts around him its almost like they're real friends, she keeps letting him talk to her, touch her, even make her laugh, but there's something in her eyes that's guarded, that tells him 'don't try to get in, I'm not letting you this time'. They watch old movies together, John Hughes and Fame, and they sing their favourite parts , and she lets him steal her popcorn, and it would be so easy wouldn't it? For him to just lean over and kiss her.
But he feels that she wouldn't let him. That every touch and every shared word reminds her that she can't really trust him.
Its almost opening night when he hears her on the phone.
"Yeah… Yeah… Look, I understand that, but why… She's wrong… But its… No, but its opening night and I want you to be there…"
When she hangs up he's still standing there.
She nods. Jealousy is like a beast in his stomach and in his throat. Its something he never wanted to feel, because why should he, he's always had what he wants. He doesn't understand it either, he has no reason to envy Rachel's thick headed and thick necked ex-boyfriend. So what he says next, isn't exactly coming from a good place.
"Isn't it a bit pathetic that you're still pining over the same guy as in high school. What's next? Are you going to stick one of those creepy photos of him on your locker door."
She sneers at him.
"Shut up Jesse."
He sits next to her, so close he can feel her hair on his cheek when she turns her head.
"So Finn's not coming to opening night."
"No… His new girlfriend doesn't really like me. She thinks I'm constantly in a state of seduction around him."
He looked at his fingers.
"What do you see in that guy anyway? He's about as deep as Tyra Bank's talk show."
"Oh, he's not that bad." She says absently. "Its kind of a girl thing too. He was my first real boyfriend."
That hurts, really hurts, and he's breathless for a moment. She sees the expression on his face and goes pink but she doesn't take it back. They sit in silence for a moment until she stands up to leave.
"Well I have rehearsal…"
"I was real." He says fiercely, his words suddenly coming back at once. She turns around, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright.
"I meant the first boyfriend I had who didn't date me because my mother told him too."
"Do you think that was the only reason I dated you, that I…" He swallowed. "That I took your virginity, and walked you to class every day, and kissed you, and listened to your problems? I didn't do all of that because Shelby forced me into it."
"How would I know Jesse?" Rachel explodes. "You never say anything. We don't talk about it do we? You never gave me any explanation, no apology!"
"What can I say Rachel? What could I possibly say to make what I did alright?"
They stand, staring at each other, and what he sees in her eyes is what he could have said to make it all right between them. That, when it mattered most, the talented, perfect Jesse St James was lost for words, or, worse, he knew exactly what to say then too, but was too afraid to say it.
"I love you. I love you. I love you Rachel. All this time I kept lying to you because I couldn't leave, I couldn't stop loving you."
She reaches up and presses her lips against his cheek, so he could move just a centimetre across and press his own against her lips.
"I forgive you Jesse."
He watches her practice her solo from the back of the theatre, and once again she's lit up like something divine by the song and the theatre lights. When she reaches the songs climax, he feels his own love and lust surge in his chest and he thinks: 'I love this woman.'
They're so far away from her bedroom now, they're both so far away from being those people, but in that moment he loves her just as much as he did then. He also knows that he isn't going to tell her yet, and not just because everything seems to broken and messy now, but because he knows it has to be her this time who makes the choice. He can't make the decision for her to trust him again, and he can't take it away from her by forcing it. This time she won't fall for Jesse the Lothario or Jesse the liar, but just Jesse and, actually, that's kind of terrifying.
"You don't get nervous. You play music in public libraries."
"I know. Its very disconcerting." They can hear the audience chatter behind the heavy, purple curtains. "Remember the first time we met and I told you…"
She laughs. "Oh yeah. I thought you were an idiot."
He takes her hand and squeezes it. "No you didn't. You though I was the coolest guy you had ever seen."
She leans against his shoulder.
"Yeah I did."
Jesse doesn't perform for himself, he performs for the audience. He's never stepped on stage and forgotten about them like he knows some his co-stars do, he's always careful to interact, to flirt, to be memorable.
Except from the moment he steps on stage with her, that night, everything else disappears and they're JesseRachelWendlaMelchior, singing at each other in their own world. For the first time Jesse is unaware of the spell he casts over his audience, he's all sensation and he's feeling, dancing, singing only for her, and her lips and her body and her voice.
And when they kiss it feels real enough to make his heart tear a little bit.
Later they will be described as 'sublimely connected to the lovers of the story' and 'perhaps the two most promising Broadway stars New York has seen for a long time', but Jesse doesn't know that yet, he doesn't know that of the hundreds of people in the audience not one ever forgets the night they saw Jesse St James and Rachel Berry sing.
They're both strung out like methamphetamine addicts at the after-party. The world has never seemed so full of light, even to him who lives life brightly.
Shelby drops in on them back stage and congratulates them both smugly as if she were specifically responsible for their talent. Her smirk widens when she bumps into Will Schuester on the way out.
"Jesse St James." Schuester acknowledges icily. "That was quite a performance tonight."
He makes himself scarce with a mumbled 'thankyousir' leaving the ecstatic Rachel to fill the hapless teacher in with every single, miniscule detail of the performance.
"Hey kid, I'm heading off." Shelby leans against a door frame looking at him knowingly. "Give your girl a kiss for me."
Jesse's almost tempted to think Shelby isn't as emotionally oblivious as she seems. He gives her a hug and, almost unaware he's doing so, forgives her too.
He goes and dances with the crew for a while. Everybody's in a great mood, congratulating him and congratulating themselves, dancing, drinking and blowing off the stress of opening night. He's both with them and separate from them, because he's waiting for someone.
And then suddenly she's by his side, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him madly.
"Hey leading man."
Her face is flushed and her eyes are shining brightly with excitement. He presses his palm against her cheek and she grins at him.
"Do you want to go outside and cool down?" She asks.
In the moonlight her shoulders shine with a thin layer of perspiration, and damp strands of hair stick to her neck. He can see her buzz cooling and her post show exhaustion setting in. On the balcony of the hotel they can see the entire city stretched out in front of them and hear the din of their co-stars partying behind them, and he has the satisfying feeling of being exactly where he wants to be.
She moves closer to him and wraps her arms around her middle, looking up at him silently and thoughtfully. He can't stop his eyes moving to her lips and remembering how they tasted pressed against his.
"Jesse, I…" She doesn't finish whatever she beings, because suddenly she's kissing him hard, her little body pressed against his with a kind of curious determination. His shock doesn't stop his body responding, his arms wrapping themselves around her waste, his tongue finding hers in the warmth of her mouth. They stay wrapped around each other until a need for oxygen forces them apart, and then he's breathing heavily into her hair, trying to get his head back on straight.
"That was… um…" He gets out. "Wow."
She stands back from him, looking similarly confused and dishevelled.
"I didn't mean to do that. I'm going to go back into the party."
Before she moves he's got her by the arms, pulling her back against him.
"I love you." He says, and its out there like he's shouted it. "I need you to know Rachel, because if I don't say it, if I keep feeling it with out letting it out… I might explode, and that would just be a tragedy for the entire Broadway community. I'm in love with you."
Her skin is cold now, the night wind has chilled the sweat and made her shiver, but her eyes blaze as if inside she's burning up.
"If you hurt me again." She says finally. "I'm gone. No second chances Jesse."
He's already brought her face up to his, catching her mouth and clutching at her arms like she'll disappear. He does end up hurting her again, more then once, because of misunderstanding and jealousy and the fact both of them will be drama queens until they die; and she hurts him back too, because she's not a character in a play, she's real and fantastic. He breaks her heart more then once because that's what lovers have always done to each other, but she does give him a second chance and a third and a forth.
And on Jesse's part, he never stops telling her he loves her.