AN: This is my first Glee fanfic...and my return to writing after a long, long, long hiatus. The amazing Puckleberry writers here on FF have been inspiring and this plot bunny's been menacing my brain for a while now so I thought, why not?
A warning though - Rachel may seem a little OOC at the start but bear with me; she's supposed to be. And really, you can't live in NY without developing a little bit of a potty mouth.
Disclaimer: Don't own, so don't sue.
Rain on my…
This is where she belongs. Like a sunflower basking in the sunlight, she tips her head back towards the spotlight and hold, holds, holds the last note as long as she can. She is in front of a crowd, an audience in Ohio. They love her. They are on their feet, their whoops and hollers echoing in her ears. She could let this be all about her and her time in the spotlight. But she can't; it isn't just about her anymore. It's about the 11 other people behind her. It's about showing them what she's made of. It's about being special by being a part of something special. She turns the emotion roiling in her gut into music and with that…Rachel Berry brings the house down.
Her eyes suddenly pop open when she hears a smattering of slow handclaps. Just as quickly, she is back on the darkened stage of the Gershwin Theatre…and Ohio is back to being just another memory.
"Good. Very good," a gruff voice interrupts, barely heard over the general chaos that is a Broadway musical in the middle of production. She squints into the darkness, barely making out the unkempt features of Richard Vartan behind the cloud of smoke he was perpetually enveloped in.
Cigarette in hand, he is gesturing expansively towards the cast milling about onstage. "I know I've been repeating this from the very start but we are doing something extraordinary here, people. No one - I mean, NO ONE - has had the cojones to stage this musical again. We are either going to reach new heights...or we're all going to be devoured alive by piranhas. Opening night is in a month so from now on, I need all of you to be fantastic every minute of every day. I need all of you to commit to your characters. I need you to BRING IT. It's not enough to douse yourself in gasoline; you need to light the fucking match too." He looks around before throwing the (currently) unlit cigarette at a brunette actress's head a few seats down. "Hey, you feelin' me down there, Mrs. Brice?"
Rachel is really trying hard not to giggle. The man was a genius with more awards than limbs – he was actually crazy enough to put on the first revival of Funny Girl on Broadway since Streisand – and she had kind of a soft spot for this weird, tiny little man. But of course, working with said genius meant having to put up with most of his many idiosyncrasies. Aside from weirdly descriptive metaphors and his ability to smell like cheese any hour of the day, he refused to learn his cast's names and preferred calling them by their character's names. This meant being called "Chorus Girl #2" (Dos, for short) for however long the show ran.
Richard blows the whistle he has hanging around his neck. "Okay, that's all for today. Rehearsals resume in seven days. Make use of the time given, people, because when you get back? I'll be riding your asses like rented burros up and down the Grand Canyon. Now begone, miscreants!"
She starts making her way towards the wings, idly chatting with her Nick Arnstein when she hears Richard call for her. She turns back to greet him. "What's up, boss?" (Another Vartan idiosyncrasy.)
As she approaches his table, she can see bright blue eyes peering at her inquisitively from beneath a mop of gray hair. "I know this isn't exactly our first rehearsal and this certainly isn't the first time you've sung this song. Hell, we've been doing this for 8 weeks now; even I'm tired of the songs. I don't have to tell you that you're been doing a great job."
She is dreading what comes next. "But…"
"But that wasn't good at all." A pause, and he gives her a knowing look. "Fanny, that was amazing. I have never heard you sing it like that."
The urge to heave a huge sigh of relief is oh so tempting. She has been hearing critiques on her singing or dancing since she was old enough to understand them (of course, there weren't that many) but hearing a Tony award winner tell you "You sucked" was bound to be something that would take weeks to recover from. "Thank you."
"That was simply…magical. Inspired." He fingers his beard and looks at her in fascination. "Where have you been hiding that performance?"
"I'm not entirely certain," she sighs. "I guess it's because I haven't had a chance to perform that song on a stage with a full orchestra in a very long time."
"And where, pray tell, have you performed this on a stage?" he asks shrewdly.
Her smile turns wistful. "In another life."
Richard quirks his eyebrow at her. "How mysterious. Well, you don't have to tell me. It's your artistic process. I don't know what brought it out but whatever it is, I need you to keep. On. Doing. It. I'll see you at rehearsals," and he dismisses her just as abruptly.
"One of these days you're going to have to tell me the story of that other life."
Somehow, she doesn't think show choir, stolen set lists and a past she just wants to forget is the story her director is expecting to hear. Before he can get it in his head to grill her some more, she beats a hasty retreat backstage.
"And then she said, 'No way' and I was like, 'Yes way, bitch', and then…" The blonde beside her yammered on, ignorant of the fact that Rachel had completely tuned out of the conversation from the moment they started walking towards 50th St. station. It is still early spring, winter barely a few days past, and she really hates that one thing she had to inherit from her mother is her poor circulation. Her hands are freezing as she shoves them inside the pockets of her Yankees sweatshirt, hastily thrown on top of the tank top and dance pants she wore for rehearsals.
"So, what do you think?" Emily finally starts talking and looks at her in expectation. If she wasn't so used to this situation, Rachel would be panicking.
"I don't know, Em," she offers nonchalantly.
Emily huffs in frustration. "Oh come on, what's your excuse this time? We don't have rehearsal tomorrow so the whole 'I have to keep my mind and body in tip-top condition so I can't have fun AT ALL' excuse doesn't fly anymore. Come on, it's just dinner and drinks, probably go on to a club after. Please?" Her tone turns wheedling and Rachel can't help laughing. "Danny, Theo, Mags and Kara are gonna be there. And Prescott is coming too!"
"And who, may I ask, is Prescott?"
"Oh, didn't I tell you yet?" Emily's blue eyes light up. "He's this new guy I'm seeing. He's smart, funny and he makes a ton of money. He's a little older—"
"How much older?" she interrupts.
"About eight—," Rachel raises an eyebrow. "—een years." Emily tries to backtrack. "Hey, age ain't nothin' but a number right? Besides, he's, like, totally young at heart, you know. Ray…I might be falling in love with him."
Rachel is glad that her long hair hides the rolling of her eyes. Emily is a sweet girl and probably one of the few friends she has within the cast but she had this tendency to fall in love every other week. It was maddening being her friend but on the upside, the stories were never boring.
Emily is practically vibrating in excitement, a goofy smile on her face. "I really want you to meet him. I think he could be the One! Like, really the One, not like how I though Robbie from Jersey was the One. You'll be seeing me in a white gown at the Plaza by the time the year is over, just you wait."
"What is with you and this overwhelming obsession with finding 'the One'?" Rachel asks, half jokingly adding air quotes. "Shouldn't you be thinking about other things, like, oh say…your career? You're only 20, you know."
"Hey, don't act like you don't think about it too, missy!" Emily has her hands on her hips. She almost reminds Rachel of herself. Or rather, of who she used to be.
"I don't." At her look of disbelief, Rachel reiterates seriously. "No, really, I don't."
"I don't believe you. Like you honestly don't think about getting hitched, having kids, getting the white picket fence, living happily ever after and the whole shebang."
"I think about this show and what I need to do to live up to the expectations attached to the role. That's what I think about," she says, her face a mask.
"Seriously?" Emily blows a raspberry. "You are, like, the most boring person ever. You've got New York's most eligible as your boyfriend and you're thinking about a stupid role."
"I know, I know – may the hand of Barbra strike me down." A frustrated Emily looks remarkably like an annoyed puppy. "But seriously, Rachel, there is, like, not one drop of romance in your body."
"Romance is highly overrated. Connor and I have a relationship based on mutual respect and compatibility. He understands that I have my own life completely separate from his and I afford him the same kind of understanding. We have no illusions or expectations. It is what it is. Our relationship is…realistic. Soulmates? Happily ever afters? They do not exist. It may shock you but I am actually happy with my life. I'm happy with what I have: no complications and – this I particularly love – zero drama."
Rachel stops talking when she notices the expression on Emily's face and the small crowd of people eagerly listening to her harangue. The fact that her friend looks like she had just told her that Santa doesn't exist helps to curb her tongue. She clears her throat in discomfort and merely carries on briskly. "So, anyway, the reason I can't joint you tonight is Connor asked me to catsit Karl while he's away on business. It's practically a full-time job so you can understand why I can't go."
The distinct grating rumble of the approaching A Train allows for a slightly graceful exit. "I'm really sorry, Em. Maybe next time."
"Right." Emily gives her a hesitant grin. "Have a good break, girl. I'll catch you in a week."
Rachel waves goodbye as the doors close on the train taking her to Connor's apartment on the Upper West Side. She leans back against the hard plastic seat and wonders why the hell she feels so guilty.
The cat hates her.
No, seriously, he does. He's watching her right now with those beady, cat eyes like he's planning something. Something diabolical, she bets.
"Look, you – I don't care if you were named for a German philosopher whose ideas played a significant role in the development of communism." She waves her ruined knitting in the air. "If you massacre another one of my things, I swear you'll be the next thing I'm making into a scarf!"
Karl just meows at her from his perch on top of the bookshelf. She turns back, grumbling, to the tangled, grizzly mass of light purple yarn. It's supposed to be a "Happy Birthday! You're my mom and I still kind of love you even if I haven't seen you in years" scarf for Shelby. At the rate she was going, she might as well give it up and just buy something from Bloomie's.
She hasn't seen her mother in years and, to be completely honest, she hasn't been playing "dutiful daughter" to her dads either. Since her abrupt exit from Lima 2 years ago, she hasn't gone home or kept in touch with anyone still living in her hometown, the excuse always being "My life is too hectic right now to take a breather and fly 2 hours to see people I supposedly care about". Or something like that.
The last two years have been spent working her butt off to make her dream come true. Time left over from work (slinging coffee at a café on E 42nd) used to mean auditions, vocal coaching, dance classes and acting classes. Finally, after a couple of off-off-off-Broadway roles, stints as an in-house singer at a jazz club and Nessarose's understudy in Wicked, it all seems to be coming together for her. Her dads might have piled the Jewish guilt on pretty heavily but she thinks the self-imposed isolation has been worth it. She may still live in the tiny walk-up in Brooklyn Heights she landed in when she first got to New York and the only people she knows are her own castmates but it's worth it.
And now she has Connor – this sweet, cute guy who, one night a few months ago, came up to her after a performance, told her that her vocals were magnificent and offered to buy her dinner. She normally wouldn't even entertain invitations like that except, as fate had it on that day, she'd been having Spaghetti-Os for dinner three nights in a row, he called her "magnificent" and...she was just so goddamned lonely.
They've been dating ever since. She thinks she might really like him and she knows that given enough time, she was sure to love him because hello? The man was practically perfect. He was like something out of a fairytale (or her 16-year-old self's fantasies) – handsome, well-dressed, well-mannered, cultured, financially stable…and the list went on. He even loved musicals, which even she couldn't believe at first. More importantly, he was completely and utterly safe. Connor O'Reilly is not a man who would be ripping out a piece of her heart any time soon.
Been there, done that, had the emotional scars to prove it.
The phone rings but she ignores it. She had already brought in his mail, watered his plants and listened to the message he left for her on his own answering machine earlier (Hi Rachel! I'm in Zurich right now. Jackson's being a pain in the you-know-what again. So I was wondering if you remember if my mom is a European size 42 or 44. Um, just text me if you remember. Oh and don't forget to get my dry cleaning and water the rubber plant on the balcony. Kiss Karl for me! Thanks! I'll see you in 4 days!) so now she is content to sit back, relax and let the machine do its job.
"Mr. O'Reilly? This is Jackie, at Tourneau. We have the diamond ring you had resized ready a day early. It's available for pick-up anytime, just look for me. Thanks and have a nice day."
One second, she is staring at the answering machine in abject horror. The next, she is on the couch with her head between her knees, trying not to throw up.
The logical part of her brain is insisting that hey, it might not even be an engagement ring. The passionate (crazy, a voice in her head insists) side of her is, however, rearing its ugly head and telling her to panic. And quickly.
This is insane. They've only been seeing each for 2 months; they haven't even slept together yet! What if he thinks she's one of those girls who didn't want to have sex until they were married and this is his way of asking her for sex? Or worse…what if it isn't? Would she say yes? Does she even want to say yes? All the questions are making her head spin and what finally surfaces is a long-buried memory.
"Then we'd be a matched pair or something. Crazy with a side of Crazier".
"I want us to be a family, Rachel."
When she finally raises her head, Karl has jumped on the coffee table and is now staring at her intently, looking for all the world like he's asking her, "Well, what do you plan to do now, genius?" She had to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Time to get yourself together, Rachel; a cat is actually judging you now. She takes a deep breath. What was she going to do?
Whether or not she is going to accept Connor's (hypothetical) proposal is something she doesn't know yet. What she does know is this: she ran away 2 years ago and she now has to face the fact that she just can't run anymore. There's only so much road to cover before one ends up right where they started. Maybe it was time to finally deal with the things left behind...and finally move forward. Because sticking the past in boxes and expecting it to stay there? Not working anymore.
It takes her all of 3 seconds to decide on a course of action. She leaves a hastily scribbled note, stuffs Karl into his carrier (earning a few scratches in the process) and hightails it to her apartment. On the subway ride over, she plans the next few days with the same fervor she used to direct towards her pageant routines. And within minutes of walking through the door, she books the next flight to Columbus.
Rachel Berry had some unfinished business to take care of.