She moves to New York City exactly three weeks after graduation.

She can't wait to get there. She wants to take the city by storm. She plans to take the city by storm. They're not going to know what hit them once she arrives. She has big plans and big dreams and no doubt whatsoever that she'll make every one of them happen.

Her dads want her to go to college first, but that's never been in the cards for her. Her grades are outstanding, and her extracurriculars are ridiculously stacked, but her goal has never been a BFA in performing arts. She doesn't want to waste all those years, and she's done with English and chemistry and calculus. None of those subjects are going to help her become a star.

And she's going to be a star.

They might want to send her to a university, but they don't fight her for too long. Her dads have known her her entire life, and they know how stubborn she is. Once she makes up her mind, that's it. And they know that if they fight her too long, she'll resent them. Plus, they love her more than anything in the world, and they will always support her. No matter what.

They rent her an apartment in an area that's just on the edge of Midtown because, as they say, they don't want her too "far out." She doesn't know what that means, but she doesn't really care. The apartment is tiny but cute, and she loves that it's 450 square feet all of her own.

She isn't scared of the city. She's been to New York a hundred times- though admittedly, she's never been by herself, and some of the hotel rooms she's stayed in have been larger and, undoubtedly, nicer than the little apartment she now calls home. But she's okay. She isn't afraid, and she feels totally at home.

She makes a deal with her parents. Since they're giving in on the whole college thing, they make her hold up one end of a bargain. They'll pay her rent for a year, but she has to work during that year. Not necessarily in a job (though she definitely plans on finding something), but she has to work on her goals. No goofing off and partying away a free year in New York.

As if she ever would.

She's done her research, of course, and she knows exactly where to begin. In between turning in applications at various restaurants, bookstores, and coffee shops, she enrolls herself in two different ballet classes, a jazz class, an acting class, and private voice lessons. She has some sort of lesson literally every day of the week, but she's used to it. She's been doing it her entire life, though obviously on a much different level. The music school she attended in Lima is much different than the basement office of her new vocal coach.

She gets a job at the Red Lobster in Times Square. She knows it's awfully cliché, but the Times Square district is what she knows about New York. She's never spent much time in other areas of the city, nor does she particularly care to. Working there makes her feel a little safer and a little more secure. It's not some fancy French restaurant in the Upper East Side or anything, but she's a little bit grateful for that. She feels at home in New York, but she's not a New Yorker. She likes working in an area where none of the customers are New Yorkers, either. Tourists from Iowa don't care that she isn't yet jaded and doesn't use her middle finger as her main source of communication.

She works part-time, and while she doesn't make a huge amount of money or anything, she makes enough to keep her fridge stocked with Vitamin Water and her pantry stocked with protein bars. She spends most of her time at her various lessons and classes, and she loves every minute of it.

For awhile.

A few weeks into her acting class, the teacher tells her that she's "too Broadway." She doesn't know what that means or why it's a bad thing considering the fact that Broadway is the main goal here. She knows she should just accept the criticism and move on, but she isn't very good at that- taking criticism. She wants to know exactly why the teacher hates her.

"I don't see how that's possibly a bad thing," she says confidently, interrupting him as he starts to move onto her acting partner. Apparently the acting teacher, Alex, isn't used to backtalk.

He looks at her like she's crazy, which she doesn't appreciate in the least. He clearly isn't used to having people question his teaching methods, but Rachel refuses to be intimidated by anyone, especially those failed thespians who have no choice but to turn to teaching once they've been unable to make their own dreams happen.

"Quite frankly," he says in a ridiculously proper voice, "you might as well put yourself between two slices of wheat bread and lie down on a grill because I've never seen anything so cheesy."

The he has the nerve to ask her what Disneyworld Princess she's aiming for.

She leaves class furious that evening but spends the entire next day searching for the perfect monologue to change his opinion. She spends all week working on a piece from "The Unwanted," and when she finally performs it the following week, she leaves the class speechless. She's never cussed so much in her entire life, and it's the very first time she's ever used the word "tits." It all sounds very odd coming from her, but at the end when she's biting out the words "stupid fucking whore," she almost starts to believe herself.

Alex never calls her cheesy again.

She finds out quickly that Broadway, while not too far from her apartment, is miles away. Months. Maybe years. It's impossible to get auditions because she has no connections. She realizes this quickly enough and sets out to remedy that situation. She finds out about a volunteer opportunity from one of the boys in her ballet class and starts spending her Saturday afternoons helping with the restoration of a tiny old theatre. She mostly does things like wash windows and polish armrests, but she doesn't mind. Her dads approve of her volunteering and praise her for her initiative, but she leaves out the fact that the theatre is in Harlem, knowing they think anyone who steps foot into Harlem immediately gets shot.

It works, though. She gets her very first New York role in that theatre. She has exactly three lines in a one act fifty minute show that runs two weeks.

It's the most amazing experience she's ever had in her life.

She realizes, though, that acting in New York and being non-union is next to impossible. She goes to every open casting call she hears of, but she never even gets past the dancing. It doesn't matter that she spends hours outside waiting in the blistering heat or the pouring rain just waiting for her chance… It never happens.

She continues to work at Red Lobster and continues to take all of her lessons. She performs in a few more short runs in the Harlem theatre, but ticket sales are never spectacular, and the thrill wears off rather quickly.

By October, she's fed up.

She cries herself to sleep at night sometimes because she feels like she's going nowhere fast. She's always heard that making it isn't easy, but she never really believed it in relation to herself. Apparently she's not good enough. People stop telling her that she's too happy or chipper or that she smiles too much.

She thinks she might finally be jaded.

She goes home at Hanukkah and tells her dads that she wants to move back to Lima. She tells them she's a failure and that the only work she can get is serving cheddar biscuits to tourists. She confesses that the theatre she's partially associated with is in Harlem and can barely even be considered a theatre since it's so tiny and still can't manage to sell out its seats. She tells them that she's homesick and that she's lonely and that she has no friends in New York.

They tell her she made a promise and that she better hold up her end of the deal. She knows they just don't want her to give up. She loves them for it.

Finn visits her in February, and she takes the weekend off to show him the city. He's never been to New York, and he wants to see all the things first timers want to see- the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, the Empire State Building.

She's so happy to have a familiar face around that she almost forgets how miserable and discouraged she is.

He's her best friend, she thinks. He's the only one that comes to mind when she thinks of the term anyway. She's glad for that because there was a point when she thought they'd never be friends again. After they broke up, things were really, really weird. It wasn't that they had a huge fight and hated each other- they just grew apart. Or maybe that's not right. It was more like they just realized they didn't really fit. She loved him, so it broke her heart when they broke up and he would barely even look at her anymore and started making up excuses as to why he couldn't sing lead in glee anymore. But after a few months, they started hanging out again, and things got better. They worked better as friends anyway. It was nice.

It is nice.

She doesn't really mean to sleep with him during his visit, but it just sort of happens.

They're at her apartment after a long day of sight-seeing, and they're just joking around and talking. It turns serious somewhere along the way, and she confesses to him that she doesn't have the chops to make it in New York and that she's just not good enough. She tells him that she might as well be completely talentless because no one notices her and there's always someone better. He confesses that he's secretly bitter that he chose his mom's feelings over his own when it came to college. He's still in Lima, doing the community college thing. He couldn't get a football scholarship, and he couldn't get a music scholarship. Even the state schools were ridiculously expensive, and he didn't want to guilt his mom into thinking that she had to pay for him. So he chose to stay and work and go to school part time. He says he's thinking about dropping out at the end of the semester because it's pointless.

She doesn't really know all that happens next. There's a lot of slow making out and then undressing, and then she's underneath him on her cute little IKEA sofa. It feels sort of perfect and makes her feel connected. For the first time in months, she isn't lonely, and the thought of asking him to move there actually crosses her mind. But she doesn't ask him.

And he leaves the next morning after a relatively silent breakfast and an emotionless kiss on the cheek.

Things are awkward again.

He doesn't even email her for three months, and when she finally hears from him, it's in the form of a mass forward. She tries not to let it bother her, but it does. She doesn't really want Finn anymore, but he's the closest thing she has to a real friend, and she misses him.

That summer, she dates a guy from work. His name is Jeff, and he's from Nebraska. He's the only person she knows in the entire city who isn't trying to "make it." He just loves New York, and he's perfectly content waiting tables at a chain seafood restaurant in Times Square. In a way, she sort of loves that. She'd appreciate it if he had a little bit more direction, but it's sort of nice that he's happy with his life and loves where he is.

He has way more free time than she does, but he never bugs her about it. He makes a real effort to see her outside of work, and they go on dates and spend a few afternoons in the park doing nothing but people watching. He's twenty-three, which is certainly the oldest she's ever dated, but he's cute and nice in a way that most people in this city are not.

One night, they're having Chinese takeout at her apartment, and she asks him to help her with an upcoming audition. He doesn't complain that he'd rather be spending their time fooling around or anything like that. He just tells her that he doesn't really know much about it but that he'd love to help. She tells him that by "help," she really just means listen.

She stands in the middle of her tiny living room and sings the first few bars of her audition piece a cappella. She isn't using her full voice because her neighbors aren't her biggest fans. She's singing just loud enough to properly form the words and the sounds- anything less than that, and she might do damage to her voice. Jeff listens to her, and when she finishes, he stares at her in amazement and then says the right thing.

"You've got the prettiest voice I've ever heard."

He's a waiter from Nebraska, so it's not exactly like he knows what he's talking about, but it is the perfect thing to say to her. Compliments on her singing are her favorite things, and she doesn't even feel bad about skipping her rehearsal time to pull him back to her bedroom.

She goes home for a long weekend in June because her year is up, and she needs to discuss things with her parents. She hasn't had much success, and they know it. They ask her if she wants to keep trying or if she wants to come back home. She almost chooses to come back, but then Jeff texts her right as she's contemplating things, and she says she wants to keep trying.

They give her another year.

She and Jeff start getting sort of serious, and by mid-summer, he's practically moved into her apartment. His is way out in Brooklyn, so it's a lot easier for him to get to work if he stays with her. She doesn't mind. She's not so lonely anymore, and she likes having someone else around to keep her company. Jeff is so different from everyone else in her New York life. Everyone else is so competitive and so serious. They'd stab you in the back in a second. Jeff is the opposite.

She thinks she might be falling in love with him.

On her break at ballet that night, she checks her phone and sees twelve missed calls. Nine of those are from the restaurant, and the other three are directly from her manager's cell. She's annoyed that they're trying to call her into work when they know she has prior commitments, and when the phone buzzes in her hand while she's checking the missed calls, she answers it ready to tell someone off.

It's Rick, her manager. He asks her where she is, and she very huffily tells him she's at seventy dollar an hour ballet class.

"Something's happened." He sounds strange and upset. "I think the police want to talk to you."

Jeff was killed over a cell phone and forty bucks.

That's all they took. His wallet and everything besides the cash is still on him when they find the body. He's not far from his own place, just down the street actually. There's just one stab wound. Right in the throat. He bled to death. It's insane to think it took three hours for someone to notice him lying in the alley between two buildings.

Rachel doesn't see the body. Someone from the restaurant had to ID it because he's got no one else here. She's glad no one asked her. She couldn't have done it. She never wants to see it.

The detectives ask her a million questions after they fill her in on what's happened. She sits there in a daze and tries to answer them. She thinks she might be in shock. She doesn't know what they want from her. She hasn't seen Jeff since that morning, and the last time she talked to him was on her break at work. She has no answers for them, and she's glad when they finally let her go home after what seems like an eternity.

She can't sleep that night. She's scared and sick. And heartbroken.

She doesn't cry, though, and she isn't sure why. She pulls one of his shirts out of the hamper and curls up in bed with it. She still doesn't sleep.

She doesn't go to work or to any classes for a week. People come to visit her- mostly people from the restaurant. They bring her food that she doesn't eat and tell her to call if she needs anything. She doesn't call any of them.

They send the body back to Nebraska, but she doesn't fly out for the funeral. She's never met his family, and she doesn't want to see them for the first and only time beside his casket. Instead, she writes his mother a letter and tells her all the things she loves (loved) about Jeff and how he's been such an important and positive part of her life in the short time since they've met.

It takes her three weeks to get up the nerve to send it, and she never hears back.

Her big break comes in early September.

A producer sees her performing a one act in the Harlem theatre and approaches her after the show. He's casting a musical version of The Crucible to debut around Halloween. It's off-Broadway, but it's still way closer than she's ever been. He tells her that she has an amazing singing voice and "look" and asks her to come to an audition. A real audition- with an appointment time and everything.

It takes three weeks of auditioning before they finalize the cast. She's been through several rounds of call backs and has read for four different roles. She's mildly optimistic, but she still can't believe it when she lands the show.

Abigail Williams.

It's the female lead and the biggest opportunity of her life. For the first time in months, she feels good, and she's literally in tears when she calls home to tell her dads. She tries not to think about how amazing it would feel to share this with Jeff. Instead, she takes a chance and texts Finn. He's the only other person she can think of.

"That's awesome! Maybe I'll get to see it."

She feels much better, and by the time rehearsals start, she feels like she's on top of the world. She has no choice but to quit the restaurant because her days are packed entirely with rehearsals and prep. There is less than a month until the show opens, and everyone involved is expected to be committed and focused one-hundred percent.

It's during rehearsals that she first learns that Jesse St. James is in New York.

She finds this out because he's dating one of her costars. One of her male costars. She's so flabbergasted when she sees them kissing goodbye outside of the theatre one morning that she literally cannot even open her mouth and make words come out. That's a first for her. She stares at them in shock until Tyler notices her and says, "Something wrong, Rachel?"

Jesse turns around at the exact same moment she snaps herself out of her daze. His eyes widen when he sees her, almost as if he can't believe it.

"Rachel?" He says it as if he isn't quite sure that it's really her, as if she's changed so much in the three years since he broke her heart.

"I didn't know you were gay."

She doesn't know why this is the first thing out of her mouth, but it's the first thing she thinks of. He looks at her, obviously a little shocked by her forwardness. He doesn't answer, but she thinks he must at least understand her confusion given all the things they did and almost did together.

Instead of commenting on his sexuality, he says, "I didn't know you were in New York."

"What are you doing here?" she asks. "I thought you were at UCLA. In Los Angeles."

"I got a job in the new LA company of Wicked, so I put school on hold." He says this smugly and confidently.

"What part?"

He looks less confident. "Swing."

She tries not to smirk. "And why are you in New York?"

He straightens up a little, and she can hear the confidence coming back. "When that run ended, I came over to join the New York company."

She cannot believe her ears, and she sort of wants to throw up on the sidewalk. "You're in Wicked? On Broadway?" He smiles smugly and nods. She hates him. "Still just swing?" He nods. That makes it a little better.

"I started last month. It's going great."

"I'm the lead," she announces needlessly, as though it matters at all. Being the lead of an off-Broadway show doesn't trump being in the swing of an on Broadway show. Especially the biggest hit of the last decade.

"Congratulations." She isn't sure if he means it or not.

"Yes," Tyler speaks up suddenly, and she's forgotten that he's even there. "And?" He raises his hands in question and looks between them.

She waits for Jesse to answer him, but he says nothing, just continues to stare at her in a way that makes her slightly uncomfortable. She takes it upon herself to answer.

"We knew each other in high school," she says simply, looking up and meeting Jesse's eye directly. She speaks to Tyler but doesn't look at him. "We dated for a little while. He wasn't gay then." She hears Tyler actually snort, but she finds nothing funny about it. "And then he smashed an egg on my head."

Jesse says nothing, and she can tell Tyler doesn't know whether she's serious or not. She doesn't even know why she said it, she sort of just hopes it'll give him something to explain later. She can barely believe what a small world it is, and she isn't sure if she likes it. It doesn't matter. She just crosses her arms over her chest and says, "Good luck with Wicked," before heading into the theatre, her head spinning the whole way.

He's there on opening night. She knows because she asks Tyler. She isn't sure if that makes her more or less excited. She's excited to show off her talent, but she's nervous because she's afraid to mess up. Especially in front of him. She wants to make him drool and jealous. Since he's gay now, it's not as if she can just find a man to flaunt herself with. So she has to resort to showing him up talent-wise. She doesn't know what she's trying to prove, she just knows she has to do something.

She just doesn't know if she can.

Opening night goes okay. It isn't spectacular, and the theatre seems less full after intermission. She tries not to let this bother her and focuses on her own performance and nothing else. She sings her heart out, and she knows she sounds amazing. She hits every note perfectly, and she wishes the lights weren't so bright and she could see his face.

The next morning, though, her world feels like it's crumbling.

The reviews of the show are dismal. They're really, really terrible, and not one single paper praises her. The worst says, "Rachel Berry's Abigail is over-acted, over-produced, over-sung, and generally over-done." She cries for three hours.

Despite the poor reviews, though, the show continues to sell tickets. It becomes something of a sneak-away hit. No one's really sure why, but it's a well-known story so maybe that helps. Rachel stops trying so hard, and she gets better reception. Some nights, she receives standing ovations, and that's definitely the best feeling in the world. Her parents see the show three times in one week when they come to visit, and they both tell her she's amazing. She sort of believes them.

Jesse and Tyler break up a month into the run, and she feels a bit smug when she hears that it was Jesse who was dumped. She knows that it's ancient history and doesn't even know why she even still cares, but she's still bitter. He was her first real boyfriend, and he screwed her over pretty badly. She can't help that a tiny piece of her is still hung up on it.

The Crucible gets its run extended from three months to open-ended. Everyone is happy about this, and she can't help but be excited because she's kind of starting to fall in love with Abigail Williams and the story. The cast and crew become like a family, and she knows that's cliché and that's what everyone says, but it's true. She finally feels like she has friends in New York, and the pain of losing Jeff and everything else that's gone wrong since she moved here starts to lessen.

Six months into it, though, she goes on a whim to an open audition in a downtown empty warehouse. It's March, so it's still cold, but she's thankful that at least it's warming up a little bit because she has to stand outside for four hours. Finally, she gets in and sings her piece and waits around for the dancing portion. She just barely makes it to the theatre with enough time to get ready for the 8PM curtain.

She doesn't tell anyone about the audition, nor does she say anything three weeks later when she gets a callback. She especially says nothing one night when the lights lower to a point on the stage where she can just make out the first few rows of the audience and she spots one of the producers in the third row.

She goes on four more callbacks, and she starts to get mildly optimistic.

Her Broadway dreams have always been for the old-school classics- Funny Girl, Evita, West Side Story… They've never really included the "new classics," not even the ones that she loves. She's never imagined herself performing in RENT, not even when she was thirteen and played the soundtrack nonstop and sang along to "Out Tonight" while using her bed as a stage. There's something about the revival, though, that's got her interested. The revival comes relatively early after the closing, but it's been several years, and there's enough buzz to guarantee that it'll be a hit.

She makes it.

Well, sort of. She gets offered an understudy position, and she has to think long and hard about whether to take it. She doesn't love the thought of leaving The Crucible because it's still going strong, and she really does enjoy it and all of the people involved. But this might be her chance. And she knows deep down that even the chance of performing on Broadway wins out over the lead role she's been playing for months off-Broadway.

No one is too happy with her when she announces her plans to leave. It hurts her, but she knows that given the opportunity, any one of her costars would do the same thing. Her last night with the show is bittersweet. They get over their bitterness long enough to get her a cake, and she tells them how much they all mean to her. It's the truth, though. She'll miss them.

RENT takes over her life.

Previews are set to begin in August, and opening night is in September. She spends the entire summer in rehearsals and fittings and vocal lessons and dance lessons and more rehearsals. She can't say that she hates it because she loves it. Even though she won't even be performing, the thrill of working on a real Broadway show takes over, and she dives into it one-hundred percent.

The previews receive relatively good reviews, and the theatre sells out each night. She never performs, but she gets to share in the excitement with the rest of the cast, and she doesn't regret her decision to leave the other show at all.

But two weeks before opening night, Olivia falls during the performance and ends up at the hospital after the show with a broken ankle.

She knows it's awful, that she should be so excited when someone is injured, but the thought of actually getting to perform outweighs her guilt. Maureen has never been her dream, but she will take anything she can get. And when she hears the screams and cheers of the audience during her first performance, she's immediately hooked.

Olivia has to have ankle surgery, and she's going to be out for months. The producers of the show tell her that Olivia's injury has opened the door for her own career. They want to move her from understudy to regular. They want her to be the Maureen. That means they want her to open the show, do all the press, be on the revival cast recording. Everything.

She's going to be a Broadway star.

Opening night is a huge success. The reviews for the opening are stellar, and the show is sold out for the next month. Everyone comes to opening night- the original cast members, current stars, legends. It's like a dream come true. Her dads come and tell her that she's amazing. The audience screams and cheers for her, and she finally feels like she's made it.

She knows she has.

The press junket makes her feel like a star. She appears with the rest of the cast on seemingly every daytime and nighttime talk show. Their performances of "Seasons of Love" are always met with cheers, and the hosts are always nice to them. When their recording is released, they do CD signings in spots across the city, and people line up for hours to meet them. The stage door is packed each night, and she loves the thrill of signing autographs. She loves opening the Playbill up and seeing her name and her picture.

She loves all of it.

In December, Mr. Schuester and Ms. Pillsbury come to see the show. She knows they're coming on vacation and invites them to one of the performances. She loves when she has an excuse to leave tickets at the Will Call, and she leaves a note paper-clipped to the tickets that she'll meet up with them afterwards.

When the show is over, she sneaks out before the crowd gathers at the stage door and grabs a cab to the little bar they've agreed to meet at. She gets in using her own ID, having just turned twenty-one two weeks before. It's the first time she's actually legally been in a bar, and it makes her feel oddly grown up.

Mr. Schue is there alone, and he is all smiles when she finds his booth and joins him. He wraps her up in a giant hug that she can't help but return. She's on her normal post-show high, but this is even better. It's the first time she's had anyone from home see the show besides her parents. She's been asking Finn to come, but he keeps telling her he can't get off work and doesn't have money for the plane ticket.

"That was awesome, Rachel!" Mr. Schue says enthusiastically, and she can tell he's genuinely impressed. "I'm so proud of you!"

She thanks him and asks where Ms. Pillsbury is. He explains that the city freaks her out a bit and that she can't really handle public transportation or unfamiliar bars. Or any bars really. So she's back in the hotel room sleeping.

He orders a beer, and she orders wine. He tells her he's paying, and it feels a little weird to be accepting drinks from her teacher. Still, she's of age now, and they're both adults. It shouldn't be weird. They talk for a long time as they go through several rounds of drinks. She tells him all about New York and tries to fill in all the spots she's unsure if he knows. They haven't really kept in touch, but he obviously keeps up with her through other people. He tells her he wanted to get up to see The Crucible but could never manage with the school schedule. He's thrilled that he made it to see RENT, though, and keeps telling her over and over again how proud he is of her.

He tells her about school and about how his current club just won Sectionals. He tells her that he misses all of her group and that things just aren't the same without them. He fills her in on some of her ex-teammates that she hasn't exactly kept up with. Brittany's back home and working as a massage therapist. He jokingly says she probably refers to herself as a misogynist. Kurt's on his fourth school in three years. Tina's pregnant.

It all seems like a million miles away to her.

By midnight, she's drunk. She doesn't drink often, and when she does, she can't really handle much alcohol. She feels herself getting light-headed as Mr. Schue ("Call me Will") tells her for the thousandth time how proud he is of her.

And then she makes a quiet confession. "I finally feel special."

The way he looks at her after that is so intense that she can't separate how much of it is real and how much of it is alcohol-induced. "I always knew you were special, Rachel."

She knows right away that if she doesn't leave soon, she's going to end up doing something ridiculously stupid. So she forces a smile on her face and gets up to pull her coat on. She thanks him for the drinks, and he offers to see her home. She politely declines and tells him to tell Ms. Pillsbury hello.

She takes a cold shower when she gets home and pours herself into bed still half-drunk.

The next time she receives a hometown visitor is in April, and she isn't even aware that anyone has come to see her until she spots a familiar face outside the stage door that night. She has no idea how Noah Puckerman even knows about stage door, but she doesn't care. She also can't explain what comes over and causes her to run over to him and literally jump into his arms.

She hugs him so tightly that she's sort of afraid she might choke him. Surprisingly, he doesn't throw her off or, like, cringe in disgust. He hugs her back and even supports her as her feet dangle a foot from the ground.

"What are you doing here?" she squeals when she finally lets go of his neck and stands on her own two feet again. A ton of people are staring at them, but she barely even notices.

He looks exactly the same as he did three years ago, though she thinks his arms might have gotten even more toned. If that's possible. They certainly look a bit bigger underneath the sleeves of his shirt. He smiles at her- that smile that is totally and completely his- and she isn't sure why she feels so happy to see him.

"I came to see you."

"You came to New York? To see me?" She raises her eyebrows disbelievingly, and he laughs.

"Well, I was already in New York. I came to this play to see you."

That makes much more sense. She can't help the way she's beaming as she stares at him. It feels so good to see a familiar face, especially so unexpectedly.

"So you wanna, like, party or something?" he asks with a half-shrug after a brief moment of nothing but smiles.

"Sure!" She knows she sounds desperate, but really she's not. She's just happy to have an old friend around. She and Noah are, were, friends. She thinks.

Someone calls her name then, and she looks around to see that there is still a crowd waiting for her, and she knows she owes it to them not to ignore this fact. Turning quickly back to Noah, she holds up one finger. "Just give me a second."

She signs a ton of autographs and smiles for a hundred camera phone pictures. She laughs with her fans and thanks them. She smiles sweetly at the ones who tell her she's their favorite and even hugs one girl who looks about fifteen and is literally almost in tears she's so excited.

"Look at you, big star." He's teasing as she joins him and about six other guys. She tries to roll her eyes, but she can't.

"It's still surreal," she confesses. "It's like that every night."

They head down the sidewalk together, away from the theatre and away from the now distracted crowd. He introduces her to his friends who are really his frat brothers, and she can't decide whether or not she's surprised that he's in a fraternity or not. In some ways he's the fraternity poster boy, and in other ways, he's like the guy who trashes frat houses and calls all the residents queers.

"You know, that was pretty awesome. That play or whatever," he tells her as they push their way through the sidewalk crowds. This is what she loves most about New York- the ability to get absolutely lost. Sixty seconds ago, people were calling her name and asking for her autograph, and now no one even notices her. Noah and his friends, though, are obviously not used to this sort of crowd. St. Louis is a much different sort of city than New York, and she can tell that they're a little overwhelmed, though, of course none of them say it.

She chooses not to call them on it and instead comments on the fact that he just called RENT "that play or whatever." He laughs, and so do his friends. She rolls her eyes and tells them she has to change clothes before she goes anywhere. She's surprised that she feels instantly at ease with this entire group, as she doesn't really know any of them. She doesn't even really know Noah now. The last time they had any contact was two years ago when he "liked" her Facebook status, and the last time they had a conversation was at glee's end of the year party two days before she left home. He was completely wasted when he lifted her up off the ground, spun her around, and told her to "go be fucking amazing." He smacked her on the butt when he sat her back down, and she only pretended to be annoyed.

It was the closest thing to a compliment she ever got from him.

She wonders then why it's so easy and normal to spot him randomly on the street (or maybe not so randomly) and feel like they've not gone nearly three years with no contact. Maybe she is a little bit desperate for friends who aren't constantly in competition with her in one form or another. New York City is a little bit like a crazy, psychotic alternative universe, and being around normal people reminds her that she doesn't have to take it so seriously.

She laughs when the guys say they'll get cabs to her place, knowing they've probably never attempted to hail a cab in Times Square on Saturday night- much less three or four. She tells them to take the subway and that she's only two stops away. As she leads them to the 42nd Street station, she points out Red Lobster and tells them she used to work there. For some reason, they all find this highly amusing.

"This place is tiny!" are the first words out of Noah's mouth when he and his friends enter her apartment for the first time. She ignores him and needlessly points them to the living room as she drops her keys onto the coffee table and heads into her bedroom to change. "Jesus, Rachel," she hears him call, "don't you fucking make enough money to not live in a closet?"

The laughter stops when she shouts back and tells them exactly how much the rent is on this "closet."

She doesn't know why she's nervous or why she suddenly realizes that she has absolutely nothing of worth whatsoever in her closet. She hates all of her clothes, and she makes a mental note to go shopping. It's all crap, and she wants to look good. Because she's actually going out, of course. Not for any other particular reason. She settles on a dress that she doesn't completely despise and drops it onto her bed, wishing she had time for a shower. She doesn't, though. There are seven men in her living room, and she doesn't trust them enough to leave them waiting too long.

She tries not to notice when they all check her out as she heads back into the living room, pulling on a pair of heels as she walks. Apparently they've decided to make themselves right at home because three of them have raided her Red Bull stash and a couple more have her water. She's sure that if she had anything else to drink, or eat for that matter, that they would have helped themselves to it as well.

They ask her where they should go and look at her expectantly. She admits that she doesn't really go out all that much because she works six days a week and before she was working, she was even busier. Noah rolls his eyes like he thinks that's completely lame, and she expects him to come right out and say it. He does. Sort of.

"I can't believe you spend three years in the busiest city in America and don't even know where to find a party. Or, yeah, I can totally believe that."

She takes them to the same bar she took Mr. Schue to. She doesn't know why she does that, but she honestly doesn't know a ton of other clubs or anything, and the ones she does know are definitely going to let seven guys and one girl in. Even if several of those guys are rather attractive. She tries to ignore this fact as she once again takes them on a short subway ride. A couple of girls stare at her the entire ride, and she doesn't know whether they recognize her or whether they're just jealous that she's with this many good-looking young men. They never approach her, so she never asks.

Instead, she spends her time trying to memorize all of Noah's friends' names. There are two Brads and a Chris, but other than that, she sort of feels like it's a lost cause. Turns out they're actually in the city for spring break, and about half of them have never been before. She asks them why they aren't scouring the beaches of Mexico for hot chicks in bikinis, and one of the Brads smiles at her and says, "Apparently there are plenty of hot girls here."

Noah sort of glares at him and then wraps an arm around her shoulder in a not-so-nonchalantly way.

He keeps it around her shoulder as they make their way off the train and up the stairs to fresh air. She doesn't say anything, and neither does anyone else. Apparently he doesn't want it to come across as serious or anything because he yanks on the end of her hair just as they leave the station and join the city streets again. Whatever. It's not like she thinks it's serious. Noah Puckerman did not come to New York City to woo her, and she's glad for it because the thought of him wooing anyone is so weird she almost can't even form an image.

"This place sucks," he says, dropping his arm from around her the moment the enter the bar. Admittedly, it is sort of dead, and most of the patrons who are there are in their forties, but so what? He loves the cougars. He always has. He should be thanking her. "Way to go, Rach, you've officially found the lamest place in New York and made it your spot."

She frowns at him and crosses her arms over her chest defensively. There's something about it that feels strikingly familiar, and she's almost nostalgic for his jerky ways. Apparently some things never change. He's still a jerk to her, and she still wants to kick him in the balls and kiss him at the same time.

Not that she will kiss him. He just happens to be very attractive. That's nothing new.

"Noah," she starts, trying to be sensible, but she's interrupted when several of his buddies snicker, and he shoots them death glares. "What?" she asks, completely confused.

"Noah?" JustinAlexMattRyanWhatever repeats in disbelief.

She rolls her eyes and purses her lips.

"Fine. Noah, Puck, Puckerman… Jackass- whatever you go by these days!" She's all in a huff, but he just stares at her in disbelief for a second.

"Did you just call me a jackass?" She raises her eyebrows at him, and he is trying really hard not to smirk, but he fails. "Damn, Rachel, this city's corrupted you and made you even crazier than before!"

She walks straight out of the bar, and they all follow her. They struggle to keep up, and one of the nameless frat boys asks her how she can walk so fast in those heels. She ignores them and keeps marching until she turns up the next street and ends up in front of one of the few nightclubs she's ever visited. She wants it to be packed with a huge line, so that she can take pleasure in getting in while most (or maybe all) of the guys get denied. Unfortunately, though, fate hates her, and the line is relatively short, which means everyone is seemingly getting in.

She pretends to be annoyed as the wait, but she's really not. She stands with her arms crossed over her chest, but it's mostly just because the night is sort of chilly. Noah(PuckPuckermanJackass) has his arm around her again, and he's apparently attempting to explain her "craziness" to his friends. He makes it sound worse than it is, but she doesn't even bother pointing this out. Instead, she just waits patiently until they finally make it to the end of the rope and get in. She's pleasantly surprised when Noah(PPJ) pays for her and doesn't even mention it. The last time he bought her anything, it was a bottle of water from the school's machine one day when she didn't have any cash. He brought it up a million times after that, way after she'd paid him back. Obviously lending someone a dollar for a water makes you some sort of saint in his mind.

And yet, she's the crazy one…

"What're you drinking?" he asks once they're inside. He sort of yells it into her ear over the music, but he doesn't complain of any lameness or anything.

"Probably just water," she says back (or shouts back). "I have a matinee tomorrow."

He ignores her completely and orders her a vodka tonic, which she doesn't hate, nor does she hate him for forcing her to do something a bit out of the ordinary. He has beer, of course. She's never seen him drink anything else except for one night in a San Francisco hotel room when he helped her polish off an entire bottle of Jager. It was their senior year. They'd finally made it to nationals, and they lost. They didn't even make the top fifteen. It was over, and she was depressed.

He showed up to her room with a bottle of Jagermeister that he claimed to have stolen from the hotel bar (she still doesn't know if he really stole it), and he got her good and drunk and made her forget all about being depressed and losing their last chance. He told her that in a few years, none of this was going to matter and that when she was a star on Broadway, she wouldn't care if they never took nationals. They made out all night long until Brittany and Santana came tumbling back into the room at three in the morning. Then he suggested a foursome, and the girls kicked him out.

She realizes now that he was right about it not mattering anymore.

She finds it incredibly easy to hang out with him. There's a comfortableness to it that she really doesn't expect, and it seems like maybe she knows him even better now than she did when they saw each other every day. Being around him sort of feels like being at home, and she isn't even aware of her homesickness until just then.

She expects him to hit on anything with breasts, but he doesn't. He takes her hand and drags her over to a slightly less noisy corner, and they just hang out. His friends disappear nearly instantly, and she wonders how many new prescriptions of penicillin they'll have to fill when they get back to Missouri.

"I can't believe you came to see my show," she says, still a little in shock as she perches herself onto a stool. There's only one, so he stands in front of her, nursing his beer relatively slowly.

"I had to, you know." He just shrugs. "And I told the guys I used to date the lead, so obviously they wanted to see it, too." He says the last part with a little smirk.

"First of all," she corrects him, "I'm not the lead. Second of all, I don't think what we did could really be called dating."

"I got your bra unhooked. Close enough."

He isn't even joking, which is the most insane part. She just rolls her eyes and tries not to remember those events. They were nice, of course, but maybe a little too nice. He's standing right in front of her, and she hasn't had sex in a year and a half. And she really doesn't want to be a whore.

If he senses she's uncomfortable, he doesn't mention it. Instead, he goes right back into talking about the show. "It was awesome, though! You really kind of kick ass at that shit."

It's his version of a compliment, and she knows it.

They talk about it a little bit more, and he tells her the "whole lesbian thing" is "smoking." Then he admits that he didn't really get "Over the Moon," and she laughs and tells him that's the point. Then she empties her glass and daringly asks if he wants to moo with her.

They flirt like that all night long, and she definitely gets good and drunk and forgets all about the fact that she needs to be slowing down or she's going to hate herself come 3 PM tomorrow. All she notices instead is the way his hands feel on her body when they dance and when he grips her waist laughs with her pretty much nose to nose. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice tells her to stop drinking and make smart choices, but it's drowned out by the techno/rap mix that's blaring over the speakers.

They leave without his friends. She's a little worried, but he tells her that they can make it back to the hotel and it's cool. She isn't thinking clearly enough to be too concerned. He tells her that he'll take her home, and even though she's perfectly capable of getting there herself, she lets him hail a cab and walk her back up the stairs to her apartment. He follows her inside without waiting for an invitation and goes immediately to the kitchen to get her a bottle of water.

"Tell me about college," she commands, following him into her living room as he takes it upon himself to sit down on the sofa. She joins him, sitting down on both knees, well aware of the fact that her already short dress is riding to completely inappropriate lengths.

"It's awesome," he says simply, and she can tell he's not looking down at her lap for a reason.

"Is it a lot of fun?"

"Yeah. Well, I mean, the class part sucks, but whatever. It's not that bad. The rest is cool." He takes the bottle of water from her and has a drink. "Not as fun as this, I'm sure." He lifts the bottle to motion to the room, but he's talking about New York in general.

"It's not so great," she tells him. "Well, I mean, it's better now. Obviously. But getting here… It wasn't a lot of fun."

"I'm graduating in December," he says out of nowhere. She's surprised, but she smiles.

"That's awesome!"

He shrugs and tries not to look too pleased with himself. "Yeah, it's cool, I guess. I mean, that I'll be finished and shit. But it sucks because I'm gonna miss my senior spring and everything."

"What will Mexico do without you?"

She laughs at herself and doesn't care that it's lame. He rolls his eyes and tells her she's an idiot. But he smiles, too.

"Maybe," he says teasingly, "I'll come back here next year to see you in Wicked. Isn't that the be all, end all of Broadway?"

She has no interest in being in Wicked, but it makes her think of something, and she gasps in a way that even she knows is dramatic.

"Oh, my god, Jesse's gay!"

He looks at her, clearly confused. "Jesse? That Vocal Adrenaline prick?"

She nods and throws her hands up in the air. "He's in Wicked!"

"He probably sucks."

She ignores him, overcome by all sorts of thoughts that seem way heavier than they probably really are. She knows she's drunk, but she keeps talking anyway. "Can you believe he's gay?"

Noah just shrugs. "Anybody with a mouth that big probably sucks cock."

Her eyes go wide, and she stares at him as she tries to decide whether to be offended by his statement. Part of her wants to go into defending gay rights and a whole bunch of other stuff that really has nothing to do with anything at the moment. A bigger part of her is still wrestling with a ton of realizations that have recently popped into her head for no good reason.

"I almost lost my virginity to someone who doesn't even like girls," she says slowly. She shakes her head in disbelief, but Noah's caught up on that.

"You almost gave it up to that asswipe?"

She just nods, not caring that she's making a complete fool of herself. The alcohol makes it impossible to care. "Oh, yeah. Like a lot of times."

He stares at her.

"Thank god I didn't, though," she says seriously. "Can you imagine?"

He looks pissed off for some reason that she won't acknowledge. She thinks he looks incredibly sexy, though. He looks more grown up now, but he's still pretty much the hottest thing she's ever seen. He's a jerk with a bad attitude, but he's always been the hottest. That's a fact she won't deny.

"Do you want to kiss me right now?"

She doesn't even notice the words until they're leaving her lips. Surprisingly, she isn't immediately mortified. She knows it's because she's drunk, but she doesn't care. That's why they call it liquid courage, isn't it?

He shocks her when he doesn't even flinch. "Yeah."

She can't help but giggle, and she feels like a fourteen year old. "I think maybe you should then."

"I think maybe you're drunk," he tells her flatly, and she wonders why he's not as far gone as she is.

Still, she just shrugs one shoulder. "That's never stopped you before."

Truthfully, the only time he ever kissed her while she was drunk was that one time in San Francisco. The other times they'd kissed had been sober and fueled by hormones instead of alcohol.

She kind of thinks this is a mixture of both.

She's the one who does- the one who crawls into his lap, straddling him, and kisses him. She doesn't even care. She feels like all her inhibitions have disappeared, and she sort of loves that. Another thing she loves is the fact that he gives in after approximately half a second grips her waist so tightly that she kind of thinks he might bruise her. He's a great kisser, but she already knew that. Even though his attitude sometimes leaves quite a bit to be desired, he's always been extremely attractive with a rather talented mouth. She won't deny that, and at the moment, she definitely doesn't want to.

"Take my dress off," she whispers, and she surprises even herself with just how daring she's being. She knows it's mostly the alcohol's fault, but there's also a part of her who actually feels like she deserves this. She doesn't feel like the loser freak girl who's making out in secret with the school's hottest. She feels accomplished and attractive and important.

And if she wants Noah Puckerman, she should have him.

Of course, if he doesn't want her, then there's potentially a problem.

"Rachel…" He sort of smiles at her. "You're nuts, honey. You're fucking wasted."

"So?" she asks challengingly. She doesn't know what his issue is, but she doesn't like it.

"So no," he says pointedly.

She wants to knee him in a really painful spot.

"Why?" she demands. "Do you have a girlfriend?"

"No." He says it so nonchalantly that it shocks her a little bit. "Why? You got a boyfriend?"

She rolls her eyes. "Oh, yeah, don't you see him?"

"Why not?"

"Because everyone I know is in competition with me! And there are no normal people in this city! And everyone I know would stab in the back in a heartbeat if they thought it would get them ahead!"

"You need some new friends, babe."

"I need," she starts pointedly, "… I want this."

She doesn't give him a chance to say anything else. She kisses him again so tightly that he has no choice but to kiss her back. She makes some noise in the back of her throat that she's nearly positive should embarrass her but it doesn't. But when she moves her hands to waistband of his jeans, he pushes her away.

"Jesus, Rachel!" He looks at her like she's crazy, and maybe she is.

"Why did you come here?" She's seriously pissed off now, and she crosses her arms and sits back, though she doesn't move from his lap.

"I didn't come here to sleep with you if that's what you think."

"Why? What's wrong with me?"

He laughs. Actually laughs. She has to dig her nails into her palms to keep from smacking him.

"You're crazy," he says for what has to be the billionth time. "There's nothing wrong with you. I mean, besides the obvious that you're totally fucking insane, but whatever," he shrugs, "I'm used to that." She clenches her fists even more tightly. "But yeah, I mean, you've got a pretty sweet deal here, and you're like super successful and shit. And obviously you're hot. But I'm not gonna like show up out of nowhere and just randomly have sex with you."

"Why not?"

"Because you're not random. I mean, I know you and shit. It's weird."

She wonders if he hears how often he uses the term 'and shit' to say absolutely nothing.

"You don't know me," she tells him seriously. "Not anymore."

"I know you," he replies confidently, and the way he says it sends a slight shiver up her back. "I could not see you for twenty years, and I would still know you." She wants to argue, but the way his eyes are piercing into hers makes it kind of difficult. "I'm not gonna like hit it and quit it and then head back to Missouri. I'm not an asshole."

"Yes, you are."

He smirks at her. "If you want to get laid so badly, you should just like put yourself out there. Guys would line up to hit that, trust me."

There's a part of her that knows that if she'd had just maybe one more drink, she'd make a complete fool out of herself and start talking about how that's all this is about. She hasn't had sex in way too long, and she just wants it. Luckily, she's drunk, but not that drunk.

"The train you need is only on the express run now. And the bus stops running at midnight." She stands up from his lap and straightens out her dress. She tries to keep her voice careless and bored. "You can just stay here if you want."

They both know he could just get a cab, and they both know that's most likely what he'd do anyway if it wasn't the middle of the night. Neither of them says that.

"Yeah, okay." He shrugs like he doesn't give a damn. "You wanna like watch a movie or something? You get HBO?"

"I have a show in eleven hours," she says, cringing when she sees that it's nearly 4 AM. "I need to go to bed."

He nods and then stands up. She wishes he didn't look so hot in clothes so casual and wrinkled. "Right. Yeah."

She gets him a blanket and throws him one of the pillows from her bed. He's too big for the couch, but he's not getting in bed with her unless they're naked. She thinks it'll serve him right to scrunch up and try to be comfortable on that little sofa.

She doesn't even feel bad.

She wakes up with the hangover from hell, and she immediately remembers the previous night's disaster. She wants more than anything to call in sick, but she knows that's unprofessional. Anyway, she isn't going to do anything to screw up what's turning out to be the best thing that's ever happened to her.

She's embarrassed, remembering that Noah is still in her apartment. She can't believe she threw herself at him like that, and she's mortified to remember that he rejected her. The most sex-starved person she's ever known in her life rejected her when she was trying to get him undressed. It's horrifying.

Her bedside clock reminds her that no matter how badly she may want to lay in bed and hide, she has a job and she has to get up. She goes straight to the bathroom, not even wanting to see what's lying in her living room. Her shower wakes her up a little bit, but her head is still pounding, and she still feels like crap as she pulls on a pair of sweats and towels her hair.

She finds Noah awake when she finally makes it to the kitchen. He smiles at her in a way that she somehow knows is half-sincere and half-teasing.

"Morning, sunshine. I made coffee. You don't have any food."

And that's his morning greeting. She doesn't answer back, but she does take a mug down from her cabinet and pour herself a cup of coffee. He's got one, too, and he watches as she sips in silence and looks down at the floor.

"You gonna ignore me all morning?"

"I don't feel well," she mumbles, refusing to admit that she's utterly humiliated. "I'm going to be awful today."

"Nah, you'll kick ass, I'm sure. Like it matters anyway. I mean, you're making out with a chick the whole time, that's what everyone'll be focused on."

She wants to throw something at him, but there's nothing around her that she's willing to sacrifice.

"I'm glad you took so much away from my performance," she says grumpily. "The only part you remember is when I kissed a girl."

"Joking," he says, raising his eyebrows. "God, you're not a fun hangover."

"I wasn't aware those existed."

"They do in college."

She doesn't reply. Instead, she just sips her coffee and feels inexplicably horrible about herself. She has no idea why, either, but it both infuriates her and terrifies her. All of her dreams aren't all she thought they would be. As much as she's thankful for where she is and as much as she loves performing, there's a small part of her that feels like she's missing out on a normal life. And she would sort of like to know what it's like.

She isn't exaggerating when she says that every person she knows is her competition and that someone is always one step away from stabbing you in the back. The only 'normal' person she's known in New York was Jeff, and as much as she tries not to think about him, she really misses the easiness of it.

Noah reminds her of that.

She doesn't know if he's just trying to sweet talk her and prove that he's not a complete jerk when he tells her he'd really like to see the show again. But she almost doesn't care because he sounds sincere, and she wants to believe that he is. She tells him that she can get him a ticket if he wants to go with her this afternoon. He says sure and texts his friends to let them know what's going on. Then they dance awkwardly around each other all morning. He doesn't mention the way she made a fool of herself the night before, and she's grateful for it. Maybe he's turning into an actual human being or something.

She thinks that might be a stretch.

She dries her hair, grabs her things, and then they head out. It's weird, and it's all small talk, but she doesn't mind too much. They stop by his hotel so that he can shower and change, and she waits for him, sitting on one of the unmade beds and talking with his friends. She feels strange and out of place and slightly embarrassed. She doesn't know how much they saw at the club or what they assume happened afterwards, but she wishes she'd met them under different, more sober, circumstances.

She doesn't look when he gets out of the shower and comes out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist as he starts digging through a suitcase for clothes. She knows what he looks like, and she knows how attractive she finds it. For the sake of her sanity, she flips through her Blackberry and feigns disinterest.

They make it to the theatre right on schedule, and she stops by the box office to secure him a ticket. She gets him a leftover orchestra seat, which she knows is pretty good since he paid a hefty price to sit balcony last price. He kisses her cheek before she has to go and tells her to "be awesome."

It makes her feel a little better.

She kills that show. Literally kills it. For a Sunday afternoon, the audience is surprisingly enthusiastic, and they love her. Well, they love everyone. They love the show. But she gets the laughs and gets the cheers, and they go moo crazy.

And even though she can't see past the first couple of rows, she gives a little wink in the right direction and hopes he sees it.

Afterwards, she feels like she's flying because she's so hyped up. She finds him, and he tells her she "fucking kicked ass." She laughs and then announces that she's going to show him the city. She skips all the tourist traps because it's not his first time here, and she knows he doesn't care about the Met anyway. Instead, she shows him her favorite coffee shop and the studio where she spent so many evenings in ballet. She takes him to a retro record shop, and he drools over the massive amount of vinyl. She even takes him to Grand Central Station, and they just wander around and watch the musicians who are in various spots playing their hearts out for quarters. Feeling especially generous, she drops a hundred dollar bill into an old man's saxophone case as he plays "Round Midnight" with as much emotion as she's ever seen anyone play.

Noah is perfect all day long.

He's not a creep or a jerk or anything. He's sweet and nice and quietly flirts with her. It's exactly the way he's always treated her whenever they're alone. He is charming, she won't deny it. But there's something even more to it now that she knows that he isn't just trying to get her in bed. It's strange, but she likes it.

They have dinner in a tiny pizza shop, and then they walk mindlessly. They aren't too far from her apartment, and to be honest, she doesn't even know how they got here. There's a street vendor set up on one corner, and he buys them both frozen lemonade. She knows he's probably tired from walking, and he devours his whole drink in a matter of minutes. She's much slower with her own, thinking vaguely that the slower she drinks, the slower they'll walk, and the more time they'll have. It doesn't make sense, of course, but she doesn't care. It's been dark for awhile now, and she can't believe how fast the evening's gone.

When they're about two blocks from her building, he makes a random comment about how it's too hot for April. She's hit with a revelation and takes all of three seconds to consider it. He turns around to see why she's stopped walking, and before he can even get the question out, she unsnaps the lid from her cup and throws its entire remains directly in his face.

She drops the cup and puts both hands to her mouth, not believing she actually just did it. He obviously can't believe it, either, because he stares at her in shock with his mouth open just a little bit as frozen yellow liquid drips down his face and neck.

She can't help the laugh that squeaks out before she turns away and starts running.

It only takes him about five seconds to catch on and chase after her, and he catches up to her quickly. He tries to grab for her, but she shrieks and ducks out of his reach, running as fast as she can. She reaches her building and he chases her right past the doorman (who she yells a quick hello to, of course) and up the stairs. She's laughing so hard by the time she reaches her door that she can barely get the key in the lock. She manages finally, and they both stumble through the door out of breath.

"I can't believe you just slushied me in the middle of the street!" he says incredulously, though she can tell he's not really angry. If anything, he's amused.

"It's lemonade," she argues, giggling as she fails miserably at keeping a straight face. "And it was the sidewalk. And you said you were hot."

He's still partially covered in it, and he uses the bottom of his shirt to clean off his face. She doesn't look away fast enough then and catches a full shot of the abs.

"You're crazy."

She giggles again, completely unable to be serious. "Oh, come on, I owe you, like… fifty frozen beverages. Admit it." She isn't exaggerating.

He just shakes his head in disbelief and then pulls his shirt straight over his head, wadding it up and wiping away at the last of the ice. It's impossible that he looks even better than he did before. She hates herself so much right now.

"What happened to your nipple ring?' She asks it before she actually considers it, and she immediately wishes she hadn't.

Noah, though, just looks amused, and he kind of smirks at her. "Nixed ages ago. Freshman year. Nipple rings aren't really safe during rush." He has that look in his eye that lets her know he's fully aware of the fact that she's staring at his chest and enjoying herself. "I can't believe you remember."

If he's going to play hardball, so is she.

"Nipple rings are kind of hard to forget."

He looks impressed with her, and she takes advantage of the moment by grabbing his shirt from him and pushing him toward the bathroom. She hands him a towel instead, kicks the toilet lid down, and pushes him into a sitting position. She goes about cleaning him off, and it's so horribly familiar that she actually literally has flashbacks to fifteen.

He shocks the hell out of her when he grabs her hand and pulls her down onto his lap.

"I still want to kiss you," he says, and his eyes are bearing into hers so deeply that she might as well just start taking her clothes off right there in the bathroom.

She lets him kiss her, and she kisses him back. His lips taste just like lemonade now, and when she runs her fingers down his neck, she can still feel the stickiness. He's much more aggressive than he was last night, and his hands drag along the skin of her back, sliding under her shirt in a way that makes her want to just die right there.

She doesn't care if he turned her down last night. She doesn't care if she doesn't even know what she's doing or what's got into her. She just knows that she wants him so badly right now that she can't even focus on anything else.

"I'm not drunk now," she tells him when she pulls back just about half an inch to take a quick breath.

He just shakes his head. "Thank fucking god."

She's a little bit surprised that they actually make it to her bedroom, but she is not surprised at all by the fact that he's amazing in bed. She always knew he would be, but it's so out of the world that she can barely even comprehend it. He's so into it, and when she breathes his name into his ear, he makes her feel better than anyone else ever has.

She's guessing not too many girls call him Noah.

The next morning, it's not as weird as she expects. The fact that they've just had sex for the first (and second and third) time doesn't seem to freak him out as much as she thought it might. It's her day off and he's leaving early the next morning, but he tells her that he wants to spend the day with her. She thinks it's awfully sweet, but she tries not to make it a big deal.

It's a good day, and they get another round in that afternoon. Afterwards, when he's sucking down a Red Bull, he tells her that he's shocked she turned out "so badass." She raises an eyebrow, and he assures her it's a compliment.

Then he asks her why she wants this so badly. And by this, he means him naked in her bed.

"It's not like you're desperate or anything."

She is a bit, but she doesn't tell him that. She just sips her water and shrugs one shoulder. "You feel like home," she admits quietly. "I miss that."

She fully expects him to make fun of her, but he doesn't. He nods a little bit and says, "Yeah, I get that."

"You miss it, too?"

"What, Lima?" He rolls his eyes and scoffs. "Not fucking likely." He shrugs. "But I mean, I miss my mom and Bekah."

She smiles at that, knowing that he's never cared about much but has always cared about his family. "How old is she now?" she asks, referring to his little sister.

He sort of cringes. "Fourteen. She'll be in high school next year, can you believe that?"

"That doesn't seem possible."

"Yeah. And she's got a boyfriend." He uses air quotes to surround the word. She laughs, and he kind of glares at her.

"Bekah's probably crazy about him."

"Are you serious?" he asks like he's in real disbelief. "I'll kick that kid's ass."

He's not joking, and she knows it. She thinks it's terribly adorable, and she doesn't waste a second in teasing him. "Aww, you miss your mommy and baby sister. That's cute."

He scowls at her but doesn't actually deny it. Instead, he says, "I miss my friends and shit sometimes, too."

"But you've got lots of friends at school," she says, a tiny bit confused. "They seem nice."

"Hell yeah, my friends are fucking awesome. But, you know, sometimes shit is funny, and like Finn or someone would think it's fucking hilarious, but nobody there gets it. So sometimes it sucks. When nobody's around to get the inside jokes."

She doesn't let herself comment on the fact that Finn's name as just brought into the conversation. She wonders what he would say if he saw this, and part of her feels guilty.

His plane leaves early the next morning, and she puts him a cab back to his hotel at 4 AM. She feels incredibly sad when he hugs her and tells her he'll call her. He gives a full out goodbye kiss that makes her want way more than he's offering, but she knows well enough not to say that out loud. She knows he didn't come here to get a girlfriend, and he's not leaving with one. She won't let her mind go there.

So he leaves her with an overwhelming sense of loneliness and a hickey on the inside of her right thigh. She respects him for his creativity when she pushed him away from her neck and told him to stop because it would be visible from stage.

She's shocked when she gets a text a few hours later letting her know that they've landed and are safe. She's even more shocked when he calls that same night and leaves her a voicemail while she's on stage saying he hopes she's "kicking ass and getting standing ovations and shit."

They start talking a lot after that.

He texts her all the time, and they talk at least every couple of days. She isn't sure what's going on or why they're suddenly friends, but she likes it. In fact, she loves it. The only other people who talk to her that much are her parents, and it's not quite the same. Usually they just talk about random things- he tells her how finals are killing him, and she tells him that she left her keys in the back of a taxi and had to pay the building manager a hundred and fifty bucks to cut her a new one. Sometimes there's a flirting overtone to it, and sometimes it's just plain flirting. He likes to try and trick her into phone sex, though she still isn't quite sure if he's being serious. It doesn't matter anyway because she certainly isn't going for that.

That summer, he visits her twice. Once for a three day weekend, and once for a whole week.

She feels oddly comfortable with him, though she isn't at all sure where she stands. She isn't his girlfriend, and she isn't even sure she wants to be. They're a little bit more than friends, though. Maybe friends with benefits? She wonders if that makes her a whore.

Somehow, though, over the course of a few months, he turns into her most trusted confidante, and she thinks all the time that they never should have lost touch. She starts talking to him every night before she goes to bed. He's got her schedule down to a science, and he seems to know exactly the moment to call when she crawls under the covers. She tells him a lot. She doesn't tell him everything.

He doesn't ask for everything.

Her phone rings one morning, and it's an Ohio number that she doesn't recognize. She answers it, not really sure who she's expecting on the other end.

"Rachel?" The voice sounds almost surprised that she picked up. There's silence for a second and then, "It's Shelby. Shelby Corcoran…"

She's in New York for a week, and she wants to meet up for lunch. It's strange and weird and completely uncomfortable, but she agrees. She wants to know how Shelby got her number in the first place, and she learns that Quinn gave it to her. They have an open adoption and keep in contact, and apparently Quinn thinks it's alright to run around giving her number out. Although, she isn't even sure how Quinn has her new number in the first place. They certainly haven't kept in touch.

She isn't sure why Shelby wants to see her or, in fact, if she wants to see her. Still, she meets her for lunch the next day at a small Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. She sees her immediately, seated at a table with a small child seated next to her.

She almost leaves.

She doesn't, though, and she forces herself to go over. Shelby stands up when she sees her and hugs her in a completely awkward sort of fashion. It's already tense, and she doesn't even know why she came. They both sit back down, and she finally looks at the child. The little girl must be five now, and she looks back at her curiously. She's got dark hair and green eyes and is positively gorgeous. She looks like something out of a Gap Kids catalogue she's so beautiful.

"Mommy, who's that?" she asks in a very good speaking voice.

Shelby introduces her as, "This is Rachel, honey. She's friends with Quinn."

This is a lie. She and Quinn haven't spoken since graduation. And even if they were friends, a more appropriate introduction would have been, "This is Rachel, honey. She's my real daughter."

But of course, she doesn't make the correction.

"I saw you perform last night," Shelby says after they've ordered. "You were amazing."

She doesn't know why this makes her heart flutter a little bit. She can't even help the smile that plays at her lips. "Did you like it?"

"I thought it was incredible," Shelby says honestly. "You were incredible." She's smiling ear to ear. "I'm so proud of you, I always knew you'd be a star!"

That hurts her. She isn't sure why, but the sting is immediate. When her fathers say they always knew she'd be a star, they mean it. They've been there with her since day one and have been with her through every lesson, every performance, every step that got her where she is.

Shelby Corcoran has not.

"How could you always know that?" she asks, not even sure where her boldness has come from. "You didn't even know me until I was sixteen, and then you only knew me for a couple of months. You don't know anything about me."

It isn't the reaction that Shelby is expecting, and that is obvious. She looks hurt. Her eyes water a little bit, and she says nothing. Maybe she is offended, or maybe she is ashamed.

It doesn't matter.

"I'm sorry," she finds herself apologizing, "I can't do this." She opens her purse and pulls out some cash, dropping it onto the table to pay for the meal that hasn't even arrived.

And then she leaves. She walks out of the restaurant and away from the woman who has never wanted her.

It feels good to be the one rejecting for once.

She crawls into bed when she gets back to her apartment and hits a speed dial on her phone. It rings three times, and she's afraid he won't pick up. Halfway through the fourth ring she hears, "Sup, mama?"

"Did you give Quinn my number?" she asks immediately, closing her eyes against the inevitable light in her room.

"No," he says, breaking the joking vibe of his greeting. "Why?"

"Somebody did, and she gave it to Shelby Corcoran. She just invited me to lunch."

There's silence from the other end for a few seconds. Then, "Are you gonna go?"

"I just got back." She doesn't know whether to add the next part. "She had Beth with her."

There's more silence, and she regrets saying it. Finally, she hears a quiet, "Oh."

"She looks just like you."

"I know." He's still too quiet. "I saw her school picture."

She doesn't know what to say next. She feels bad for bringing it up, but seeing the little girl hit her very oddly, and she isn't sure why. She decides to drop the Beth topic. "Shelby said she was proud of me. What right does she have to be proud of me?"

"You're her daughter."

"No, your daughter is her daughter." Okay, so maybe dropping the Beth thing isn't that easy. She thinks she might be going hysterical because she knows that was a really crappy thing to say, and the silence from the other end lets her know that she's right. She can't make herself stop, though. "Why would you let Quinn do that?" she demands. "She's not a good mother! She's not a nice person!" Her voice gets higher and louder on the last words, and he finally breaks in.

"Calm down, Rachel," he tells her. "No, seriously. Like breathe." She takes a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "She is a good mother," he says firmly. "To Beth, yes, she's a good mom," he adds quickly before she can cut him off.

"Don't you miss her?" she asks pointedly. "Don't you wonder about her?"

"Why are you asking me this shit?" He's getting defensive, she can tell. She feels a little bit guilty. "Of course, I fucking wonder about her, but there's not a whole hell of a lot I can do, now is there?"

"Quinn sees her." She says this as more of a statement of fact rather than as a move to make him angrier and more defensive. It's been an open adoption since the very beginning, and even when they were in high school, Quinn would see the baby every few months and get regular updates.

"Quinn lives in Ohio," he shoots back. "I don't fucking go to that place unless someone dies."

She doesn't immediately answer that. A long moment of silence passes between them, and she wonders if he's going to hang up on her. Finally, she says, "Me, either," in a voice that wavers dangerously for no particular reason.

"Well, congratulations," he says, and she can hear the hint of sarcasm. "We're officially not Lima losers."

She knows he's just trying to cover up the fact that he might actually have some sort of real emotion for the daughter he never got to know, but she can't help answering his statement. "I don't think staying in Lima necessarily makes you a loser."

She hears him snort in the phone, and she can see him rolling his eyes in her head. "You're only saying that because you're still in love with Finn."

She tries to mirror his snort. "I am not in love with Finn," she says firmly, though she feels awful just saying it. She doesn't even know why. She's not in love with him. At least she doesn't think she is. "Finn is my friend," she goes on, well prepared to go into detailed argument if need be. "He's my best friend."

"Cool," Noah says, and he sounds either bored or pissed off. She isn't sure which. After a second, he adds, "Must be awesome to have a best friend who won't even come see you on Broadway."

She knows he's right, but part of her is angry enough to deny it. "He doesn't have the money to come up here," she says and it comes out a little snappily. "He's trying to help his mom will bills, and it's hard for him to save up doing all that." She leaves out the part where she's offered to buy him a plane ticket numerous times. It doesn't even matter because Noah doesn't seem too interested.

"Yeah, whatever." She wants to scream at him, but he surprises her with his next sentence. And by surprises, she means really, really pisses her off. "You better not still be fucking him."

"Excuse me?"

"Whenever you see him again," he goes on, obviously not scared by her tone. "I don't know when that'll be, but you better not fuck him or anything."

"You cannot tell me what-"

"Yeah, yeah," he cuts her off. "I know that. Jesus… God, Rachel, just fucking don't!"

He snaps the last part in a way that actually shocks her into shutting up.

There's a whole thirty seconds of complete silence before he lowers his voice and says, "And don't fuck anybody else, either."

She wants to yell at him and tell him that he can't order her around and a whole bunch of other stuff that she doesn't even really mean. Instead, she just rolls onto her side and stares blankly at the wall. She doesn't know if that's his way of telling her wants to be with her or if he's just being ridiculously possessive and doesn't want anyone else to have her. She wonders if she tells him to give up other girls if he would laugh at her or just shut up. She doesn't even know what's going on anymore, but her head hurts so badly that she thinks it might explode.

And then she feels the tears.

She tries to blink them back, but they spill out anyway, and her breath hitches involuntarily. She hears Noah let out the longest groan ever in St. Louis.

"Shit, are you crying?"

"No," she sniffs out, but it's obvious that she is.

"Fuck. Rachel, stop. I'm sorry, okay?" He lets out an annoyed sigh, since she's sure apologizing to girls is against his religion. It makes her breath hitch again. "Just… Don't cry, damn."

She wants answers out of him. She wants to tell him that he needs to quit the other girls if he's going to make demands out of her. She wants to know what all of that means and why he gives a crap if they're just friends. She wants to know what in the world Finn has to do with it because she knows that's what brought this all on. And the truth is, she doesn't even think about Finn all that often anymore. She certainly doesn't spend every single night talking to him.

But she doesn't say any of that. Instead, she just bites down on her thumbnail and goes back to the whole reason she called. Her mother.

"I don't know why she called me," she says quietly, and he knows her well enough to follow along so she doesn't have to tell him who she's referring to. "She's never cared about me before, why now?"

"Probably because she's kicking herself in the ass for hurting you and wants to try and make amends." He sounds strange saying words like 'amends,' but she sort of likes it. She thinks he's probably relieved that she dropped the whole other guys thing.

"She shouldn't be able to just come and go in my life whenever she feels like it!" She realizes she's angry as well as hurt.

"Fuck her, Rachel," he says seriously. "You don't need her. You never needed her."

"I did, though."

"You've done everything on your own without her." His voice is softer and nicer now. "And you didn't need her to become a star."

She tries not to smile, but it's difficult. "Do you really think I'll be a star?" she asks quietly, and he actually laughs.

"Rach, you're already a star."

She knows that's not entirely true. Landing one role is leaps and bounds away from Bernadette Peters and Barbara Streisand, but she thinks it's adorable that he cares enough to tell her that. "You make me feel better," she says, not trying to hide the smile in her voice.

"Well, don't like tell anyone or shit. I do have a reputation."

"And we certainly can't have anyone thinking you're nice or actually have a soul."

"Damn straight." She laughs, and then he perks up. "Hey, I finished the song. Wanna hear?"

She tells him that of course she does, and she hears him set the phone down as he goes for his guitar. She thinks it's awesome that he's started writing some of his own stuff, and she loves hearing it. Sometimes she'll ask him to play her something just so she can calm down or fall asleep. There's something extremely soothing about it, and she thinks he is extremely talented. Of course, he always brushes her off when she tells him that, but she knows he secretly likes it.

This song is one of his better ones, and she knows he's been working on it for awhile. She smiles to herself the whole time he plays, and when he's finished and picks the phone back up, he asks for her opinion.


"It's lovely, Noah." She smirks because she can see him cringing at her use of adjectives. "You should write me a song."

He laughs. "You can't just tell someone to write you a song, Rachel. That's not how it works."

She surprises even herself when she says, "Fuck you, I'm a star. I can do whatever I want." She bites down hard on her lip to keep from cracking up.

"Did you just say the F word?" he asks in disbelief. "What the hell has got into you?"

"I'm a New Yorker now," she says, sitting up and putting on her best prim voice. "If I don't swear once in awhile, they'll kick me out."

"Say it again."

"Fuck," she says slowly, enunciating every letter. Then she giggles at how utterly ridiculous she sounds.

"Impressive!" he teases her. "Now say, 'Noah, I want you to fuck me please.'"

"Why do I have to say please?"

"Because you're polite and shit."

She lets out her own snort. "I'm hanging up now."

"Say it."

"Goodbye, Noah."


"Maybe I'll say it later," she says quickly before she hangs up and laughs to herself.

He really does make her feel better. She doesn't know exactly what they are or where she stands, but she knows she likes him. And she knows she likes talking to him and spending time with him. And she knows he's really her best friend, not anyone else.

And the next time he comes to visit, he plays her a brand new song called "Little Gold Star" and gives her a smile that sort of makes her forget anything else even exists.

She thinks maybe he's even more.


A/N: If you made it this far, thank you for reading! Reviews are very appreciated!