That Was Us
His hand on hers sent shivers down her spine.
Shivers like the first time he had taken her hand when they were sixteen. Like when he had kissed her on their wedding day. She wasn't completely unsurprised to find that the chemistry that had always been there bubbling between them is still there, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't catch her off guard. It doesn't stop her from pulling her hand away like she had been burned. When her eyes locked on his she could see the fear written in his eyes because he was worried that that one step forward would cost him two steps back.
She still hasn't made up her mind if it will.
She was saved from deciding right away by Alex, "Mommy!" He was immediately latched around her legs, grinning up at her in the manic sort of way she'd come to attribute to her children every other Friday night. She knew that they lived for the nights they got to spend with both of their parents, always out in public, never at home but always just the four of them.
"Hi baby boy, are you having fun with your sister?" Rachel scooped Alex into her arms, cuddling him to her chest and smoothing out his dark curls. She caught Noah's eyes over Alex's head and she recognized the look on his face, she'd seen it a million times before and she would never forget the first moment she had seen it on his face. Cici had only been hours old, wrapped in a pink blanket and when Rachel had called him on the look all he'd said was, I love that you're the mother of my children. The memory caught her off guard and she stood before she could think it all through, "Let's see how that ball pit is treating your sister."
It was a cop out she couldn't deny. She had a choice to make. She had spent months fighting to become the woman who stood strong and didn't take back the man who had broken their marriage vows. But that side of her was losing it's footing every minute she spent with him. She had loved him since she was a teenager and she'd only grown to love him more. Loved him for being the man who fathered her two beautiful children. The man who pulled out his guitar on warm summer nights and serenaded her on the back porch.
She didn't want to be the woman who let her husband cheat on her and looked the other way. But she couldn't be the woman who let the man she loved, the father of her children, walk out of her life either. She had been dodging calls from her divorce lawyers for days now because she knew that Lauretta would be demanding answers, the primary one being were they proceeding with the divorce? Rachel wasn't going to be able to call her back until she knew for sure and at this point she didn't know how to begin to find that answer because obviously running the thoughts around and around in her head wasn't working.
"Daddy look at me!" Cici's demand caused Rachel to realize that Noah had followed her across the arcade, although he was careful not to make contact again. She hadn't missed how careful he had been about touching her in the past couple weeks that they had been having family dinners. Tonight had been the first intentional contact and she knew he was looking for the same answers she was asking herself.
Rachel set Alex on the ground and urged him to join his sister and waited a couple of beats as she struggled to crawl into the ball pit. "Noah, what are we doing? What are we going to do?" She found it ironic that she was asking him that question when they had always been waiting for her to make that decision.
"Let's let my mom take the kids one night, we can go to dinner. We need to talk and," he waved encouragingly to Alex who had called out for his attention before he turned to face Rachel completely, "and we're never going to do it when it's you, me and the kids. One dinner, it's all I'm asking. We lay all the cards on the table and make a decision."
She nodded, because they couldn't draw this out any longer they had to make a decision for the both of them and for Cici and Alex who needed to have their father back in the house or to fully adapt to the fact that they had two homes. "One dinner."
Rachel stood in front of the full length mirror in her bedroom surveying her appearance, she had spent an entire day picking out the perfect outfit that had cost more then she should have and hours getting ready for her dinner with Noah. She can't help but wonder if she was putting too much effort into a dinner that could ultimately be the last she had with a man she had loved for over a decade. It means something that you're going through all of this trouble picking out what to wear to this dinner. It means something even if you are refusing to see it. Nicole, a woman she taught with, had gone shopping with her and Rachel couldn't get her words out of her head, "there's nothing wrong with wanting to be with your husband."
More than anything Rachel wanted her husband back, in just the couple days of anticipating their first time spent alone in months she had come to realize that. She wanted to be with her husband, that part was easy but the not so easy part was the fact that no matter how much Rachel wanted him she didn't know if she could forgive him. How were they supposed to make a marriage work if she wasn't able to get over that?
The doorbell ringing caused butterflies in her stomach and Rachel really felt like a teenager again, going on her first date. Except her fathers aren't there to stall for her while she had a mild panic attack so she forced a couple deep breaths into her lungs and pulled the door open. Noah was waiting with a grin that Rachel can't help but read into and the discomfort that he obviously felt made her slightly calmer.
"I thought maybe you had changed her mind and were going to make me sit out here all night." There was a truth in his joking words and she knew that they both knew it. Hell, she had spent the entire day going back and forth about if she should even go to the dinner.
"Did you get the kids settled at your moms?" She opted not to even respond to his statement and move the conversation to safer territory as she headed in the direction of his truck that she hadn't sat in for more than nine months. Even as she got settled in the passenger seat she was flooded with memories, of when they bought the truck with the cab right after Cici was born, of the time her car had broken down right before they had driven to Disney World – 16 hours in the car with two children much to young to really have bothered going.
"Earth to Rachel," Noah waved his hand in front of her face and Rachel can't help but blush wondering how much of the conversation she had missed lost in her own thoughts. "Where's your head at?"
"I was just thinking about that time we drove to Disney World with the kids." The confession was out of her mouth before Rachel really intended to own up to it. Throwing out those words made this whole evening seem so much simpler than it actually was.
"You mean when we thought it would be a good idea to take a one and three year old on a trip that neither of them remember? Putting ourselves through hell for a trip that we're just going to have to make again when they are older?" His joking words immediately came to a stop because they both see the potential error in his words, the insinuation of plans that may never happen. They may never take a family trip together, their kids may get double the amount of trips to Disney World and everywhere else because they would never be able to do it with both of their parents.
The rest of the drive was an uncomfortable kind of quiet that Rachel couldn't figure out how to break and she was half relieved and half appalled when Noah pulled into the restaurant he intended for them to eat at. Mark's was their restaurant. When it had first opened they had been drawn to the Chinese's restaurant with the American diner-like name and everything that meant anything to them had happened in that restaurant. Noah had proposed there. She had told him that they were expecting both of their children there. Cici had even taken her first steps there. It was a trick, she knew that Noah would think that this would work in his favor but she wasn't sure if she could walk in those doors and remember all the good times without tainting them with the awfulness of the last nine months.
"Mr. and Mrs. Puckerman it has been so long since you've been in here." Mark Yang, the incredibly friendly owner of the restaurant rushed forward to greet them warmly and Rachel forced a smile. It had been ages since she'd run into someone who didn't know about the separation and even longer since she'd been greeted as a couple.
"So I'm just going to say everything and get it out there." Silence had descended on the table as soon as they'd given their regular orders. "I know you have a lot to say but I just want to say what I have to say and maybe it'll make a difference, I don't know. I love you. I know that's probably pretty hard to believe after everything...after the mistake I made but I do more then anything in this world. Ultimately this decision is up to you because I'm not going to try to talk you into make a decision that you won't be able to live with, that will make us and our badass family miserable for months or even years. I want to come home. I want to be woken up too early in the morning to make breakfast for those kids, to make coffee for you. I want to go to work and then come home to you. I want us to put our children to bed together and then crawl into bed together for the rest of our lives. I love you, please let me come home."
His words hung in the air between them and for a second Rachel forgot to breath, because she had been over this dinner a million times in her head. Even before they had decided that they needed to sit down and have dinner she had known that it would come, that they would have to sit down and make a final decision. Every time she had ran it through her head it was her that had done most of the speaking, throwing accusations, crying, giving the long winded speeches, because that was who she was. She had expected to have to demand answers out of him, demand that he say something in his defense because words weren't exactly Noah's strong suite. Instead she sat across from him, at the exact table that he had proposed at and had taken her breath away just as easily as he had when he had slipped the diamond ring on her finger.
She had thought she wanted excuses. A reason for why he had slept with another woman. She had thought she had wanted to know what had led up to that moment, to tell him what a terrible father and husband it had made him. She knows now that the words aren't necessary, not because she doesn't think she'll ever wonder about them (sometimes she wondered if she'll ever not wonder) but after his words and the genuine look of hope on his face she realized she doesn't need it. After all this time she had just needed to hear that he still loved her, that he still wanted to be a part of the family they had created.
It wasn't going to be easy. Eventually she would need answers to the questions that had plagued her for months and they would need to work through the issues that had led them to where they were today. There would be a definite need for counselor and therapy together and apart because they needed to learn how to come back together and she needed to learn to forgive even if she couldn't forget. But for now she had what she needed.