A/N: Some of you probably thought I was never coming back, and that's understandable. The past few months have been rough, what with my father passing away and a very dear friend being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Needless to say, I've been in a dark place, and writing was pretty much the last thing on my mind. But the story deserves an ending, and I'm determined to give that to those of you still along for the ride. Hopefully, it won't be over half a year until the next update...
Disclaimer: I don't own Glee, or Sara Bareilles' I Choose You.
Someone to Love You – Chapter 85
In the early morning hours of December 25th, the town of Lima seemed to sparkle under a cloudless sky, as the sun's rays reflected off the layer of fresh snow that had fallen overnight. Having already enjoyed a delicious breakfast of pancakes, waffles and fresh fruit, the occupants of the St. James household were currently gathered around the Christmas tree, each waiting with varying degrees of patience for Cat to distribute their presents – which she was handing out one at a time, as was her custom, despite Drew's insistence that he couldn't bear to wait a minute longer to see who the largest of the parcels belonged to.
"Relax, little brother," Martin advised, his amusement evident despite the mock-seriousness of his tone.
"You're one to talk," Drew shot back. "You look like you're just itching to tear into anything that's got your name on it."
"Guilty as charged. For the last few years, Hannah used to claim that getting to vacation in Bali was all the gift I needed, and Jesse and I… well, I put money in his bank account and he sent me a card."
"We weren't really on speaking terms," Jesse reminded his father.
"I realize that, and I'm not complaining. It's just that it's been ages since there've been honest to goodness presents for me under a tree, wrapped in shiny paper and topped with pretty bows. Of course I want to rip them open."
Taking pity on her brother-in-law, Cat reached for a round tin and placed it on the coffee table in front of him. Grinning, he made a show of picking it up and examining it slowly, turning it around in his hands before raising it to his ear and shaking it lightly for good measure.
"Care to hazard a guess?" Drew queried.
"Hmm… it's heavy enough. Maybe it's that lump of coal your wife probably thinks I deserve," Martin quipped, clearly not at all concerned that his speculation would prove accurate.
With his family urging him on, the elder St. James sibling finally eased the lid off the container, his face lighting up as he spied its contents.
"My special Christmas bark? Yes, it is," Cat confirmed.
"Drew always raved about this. I was so jealous of the fact that he had a wife who could not only make food that was more than just edible, but that she actually went to the trouble of doing it," Martin revealed, breaking off a portion of the dark chocolate confection and popping it into his mouth. "Oh, my God, you did not do this justice," he accused his brother mere seconds later, as he impulsively helped himself to another piece. "This is positively decadent, and I love it! Thank you so much, Cat."
"You're welcome, Martin." Cat turned to her nephew with a smile. "Now, Jesse, here's a little something for you…"
The gift exchange had continued at a leisurely pace. Like his father, Jesse had been unable to limit himself to just one bite of his own bark, digging into his allotment with gusto. Rachel, for her part, had set hers aside after allowing herself one tiny nibble, opting to save the rest of it to share with her fathers later. She and her boyfriend had both been delighted to receive similarly patterned scarves – more of Cat's handiwork – knit in combinations of their favourite colours. Cat had beamed as Drew helped her fasten the clasp of the custom-designed sterling silver necklace he'd purchased for her, and he'd been equally thrilled with her choice of a silver-banded watch he'd been eyeing for several months. Jesse's enthusiasm for the latest model iPhone – his father's gift to him – as well as for the comprehensive Sondheim biography he received from Rachel, was genuine.
Eventually, only two parcels were left under the tree – the large one that had piqued Drew's curiosity from the beginning which, coincidentally, bore his name, and a small, slim, square one, intended for Martin. The brothers, reviving a time-worn tradition from their childhood, determined which of them would get to open their gift first via a quick round of Rock, Paper, Scissors, with the elder St. James sibling appearing none too disappointed by his defeat. He looked on eagerly as Cat set the unwieldy package on her husband's lap, the latter gasping in surprise at its weight. Scanning the card, he cast a mildly reproachful glance at Martin.
"You're already giving us a trip to LA, Marty. This is too much."
"How can you say that? You don't even know what it is yet," Martin countered. "Besides, I've had this for a while. I'm not about to take it back."
Aware that his brother was seldom one to back down, Drew swallowed his admittedly half-hearted objections and tore a strip of paper off the end. The moment he caught a glimpse of what lay inside, he began to chuckle.
"I wondered what happened to these. One day they were in the garage, the next day they'd vanished."
"I, uh, borrowed them."
"Older brother prerogative."
"So you've had these since college?"
"But you didn't play back then," Drew stated, his confusion evident as he peeled away the rest of the wrapping paper, revealing a well-worn set of golf clubs. "What possible use could you have had for them?"
"This corporate bigwig I was trying to impress invited me to shoot a few rounds with him. On short notice. Your clubs were handy."
"Okay, I can buy that. But why'd you keep them?"
"This is going to sound weird, but they were like a lucky charm for me. You were the one who excelled at those lessons Dad insisted on signing us up for. In my mind, golf was an old man's sport that wasn't worth my time, so I blew it off. When this guy asked me if I could play, I… uh… might've exaggerated ever so slightly," Martin confessed, sparking a chorus of knowing laughter from those around him. "I assumed he'd wipe the floor with me, but somehow, I managed to hold my own. Since I didn't have any natural ability, I decided there had to be something special about those clubs."
"Superstition? How unlike you," Drew teased.
"I know, right? I've always been so logical. The ultimate realist. But I just couldn't shake the feeling that those clubs made me a better player, and with golf practically being a religion for the men in my social circle, I couldn't very well give them up."
"What's changed, then?"
"I have. I honestly can't stand the game, and I've finally reached the point where I'm confident that my reputation will survive even if I do stop hitting small balls into far-off holes."
"Unbelievable! My ultra-ambitious brother, thumbing his nose at the wealthy and powerful. Never thought I'd see the day."
"Well, it's here. I plan on living my life the way I want to from now on, and that includes not doing things just for the sake of impressing other people."
"Hear, hear!" Cat cheered approvingly.
Rising from his seat, Drew picked up the golf bag and leaned it against the nearest wall, then extracted the putter and gave it an experimental swing.
"Dad spared no expense with these," he murmured, inspecting the rest of the clubs with a practiced eye. "They're decades old, yet they still look better than mine. Any chance there's some luck left in them, or did you drain them dry?" he asked his brother with a grin.
"Guess you'll have to use them to find out," Martin replied with a laugh. "But I definitely wouldn't bet against you."
"Neither would I," Jesse declared. "With or without special clubs. I've seen him play."
As Jesse regaled his father with tales of Drew's triumphs on the golf course, Cat reached under the tree for the last remaining gift, sliding it across the coffee table towards her brother-in-law. Martin immediately turned his attention to the parcel, smiling as he noted that his son's jagged script covered the tag. Making no attempt to guess at the contents, he impatiently ripped away the paper to reveal what lay beneath. A look of amazement spread across his face as he studied the clear plastic case he now held in his hands.
"This is you," he exhaled softly, his eyes suspiciously bright as he stared at the picture of Jesse that adorned what was clearly a homemade DVD.
"When we were talking the other day, you seemed interested in my past performances, so I put a little something together," Jesse offered by way of explanation.
"Where did it all come from? I might have missed a lot of your shows, but I've been to the theatre enough to know they expressly forbid recordings of any kind."
Jesse directed an apologetic glance in Rachel's direction before answering.
"I got the stuff from Shelby. I'm not exactly sure how she managed it, but she always had video of anything VA ever did. I texted her, and she sent me a copy of what she dubbed my 'highlight reel'. I figure she had to be joking about the name, since I swear she included all the footage she had of me, including my original audition."
"Oh, I'd love to see that," Rachel blurted out, her momentary tension at the mention of Shelby's name having evaporated at the prospect of witnessing her boyfriend's no doubt spectacular beginnings.
"We all would," Cat chimed in, her pride in her nephew evident in her voice.
"No time like the present," Drew suggested, easing the DVD from his brother's grasp and inserting it smoothly into the player.
As the first images of a much younger Jesse flickered across the screen, Martin leaned forward, instantly mesmerized. And, with his family gathered around him, he devoted the next several hours to reacquainting himself with his son's phenomenal talent.
Once dinner and its attendant cleanup had been completed, Jesse and Rachel had retreated to the privacy of the tree house, where they'd wasted no time shedding their clothes, crawling under the covers, and making long, slow, passionate love. Their desire for each other temporarily sated, they lay together, Rachel nestled in the crook of Jesse's arm, her head resting comfortably against his broad chest. Feeling an unexpected rumble of laughter flow through him, she raised her gaze to his in an unspoken question.
"I called it."
"Christmas. This really was my best one ever, no contest. Being with Cat and Drew. Having you here. And my father! He has a sense of humour. Who knew? I don't remember him ever being funny before."
"You enjoyed having him around."
Jesse nodded in agreement.
"I did. It surprised the hell out of me, but we felt like a family today. All of us together. I'm pretty sure I could get used to this."
"There's no reason you can't."
"Uh, yeah, there is," he countered, his tone suddenly grave. "There's still a part of me that doubts him. That doesn't trust that his newfound good guy persona will stick. That wonders if this is all just some kind of sick, twisted game aimed at hurting me all over again."
"It's not," she asserted with utter conviction. "Now, if this was your mother, I'd be right there with you questioning her motives. But your dad… I don't get the sense that he's trying to play you. Based on how he's been behaving, he strikes me as being totally sincere. He wants back into your life, Jesse."
"And you think I should let him in."
"I do. I like him. I trust him. Watching the way he's treated you the last few days and how hard he's been working to make amends… well, let's just say he's won me over."
"That's high praise, coming from you."
"It is, and I mean every word. You're my first priority, and if I thought for even a second that he'd hurt you, I'd be begging you to run in the opposite direction."
"So you don't think he's got ulterior motives?"
"He's probably got all kinds. I just don't happen to think they're evil." She held his gaze, a half-smile playing at the corner of her mouth. "Not the ones that relate to you, anyway."
He grasped her meaning instantly.
"Yeah. I'd say my mother'd better watch her back."
"Speaking of which, you never got around to telling me how your dad reacted to your offer of help. He must've been thrilled."
"Not so much, actually. I mean, he was glad to hear that I was on his side, but he categorically refused my help. Insisted he didn't want me caught in the middle of a nasty fight. Said I'd had to deal with enough of my mother's poison growing up, and he'd be damned if he'd make me endure any more of it."
"He's expecting the worst, then."
"With good reason. Even though he's got leverage, she's not just going to roll over and play dead. His leaving her will destroy the image of perfection she's spent so many years building up. She doesn't love him, but her reputation depends on him, so she'll try to stop him – by any means necessary."
"And yet, knowing that, he still wants to go it alone?"
"Seems that way."
Jesse's tone was mild, but Rachel spotted the determined gleam in his eye.
"You're planning on helping him anyway, aren't you?"
"Yeah. I don't know how, but I will. She's vicious when she's cornered. She'll be out to destroy him, and I won't let her win."
"If I can do anything…"
"I was hoping to keep you out of the line of fire," he admitted sheepishly, struck by the sudden recognition of just how closely his desire to protect his girlfriend mirrored his father's earlier refusal.
"You're stronger than he thinks you are. As am I," she reminded him softly. "Whatever you need, just say the word and it's yours."
He pulled her closer, dropping a light kiss on the crown of her head before burying his face in her hair and drawing comfort from the familiar scent of her favourite shampoo. His fingers traced the length of her spine, his touch conveying his wordless gratitude for her unfailing support. For a time they were quiet, each lost in their own thoughts. Rachel was the first to break the silence.
"Since we've been talking about parents with less than honourable motives," she began, a slight hesitation to her voice, "I wanted to ask about…"
"Shelby," he guessed, somewhat surprised that it had taken so long for the subject of his former coach to come up. At Rachel's nod, he continued. "I realize that things are still tentative between the two of you and I normally wouldn't have asked her for a favour, but the idea for my dad's present was completely last minute, and she's the only person who could make it happen."
"I'm not mad," she quickly assured him. "I'm just worried that she might expect something from you – or from me – in return."
"She will expect to have scored some major brownie points with me, but I made it crystal clear that, if there were going to be strings attached, I'd get my dad something else. She swore that she was happy to be able to put all that stuff to good use."
Rachel exhaled sharply, her relief palpable. The concern that had been etched on her face disappeared, and her entire body relaxed. Propping herself on one elbow, she caught Jesse's gaze and held it, offering him a brilliant smile.
"You know how you said this was your best Christmas ever?"
"Well, it's about to get even better."
At this pronouncement, he eyed her with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation. She cocked an eyebrow at him, the corner of her mouth curling into a mischievous grin.
"I've got a few more presents for you."
"You really didn't have to. The book was more than enough," he demurred.
"Maybe you think so, but after you went all out for my birthday, I wanted to do something extra special."
"You could've waited for my birthday."
"Which is months away," she countered. "But if you're not interested…"
"Oh, I'm definitely interested. But I have to admit that I'm also somewhat puzzled. Why didn't you just put whatever it is under the tree?"
"Some things are better opened privately."
She rose from the bed, causing him to sit up immediately. Grabbing his pillow, he positioned it behind his back and leaned against it, his expression eager as he tracked her movements across the room. Within seconds she was back at his side bearing two small packages, both of which she promptly deposited into his outstretched hands. He examined each in turn, gauging their relative texture and weight, before opting for the squarer, more solid of the two. Peeling back the wrapping paper, he found himself staring at a uniquely recognizable box.
"I wonder if it matches yours," he mused aloud, having already correctly guessed the nature of his girlfriend's first gift.
"It doesn't. But I did stick with the Irish theme," she disclosed, just as he extracted a burnished silver Celtic knot ring from box's velvet interior.
"It's gorgeous, Rach."
"My ring is so beautiful and it means so much to me. Every time I look at it, I'm reminded of just how strong our bond is, and I wanted you to have a tangible symbol of my commitment, too. As well as a reminder that I'll be right here, waiting."
"As if I could ever forget. You're in my heart. You're with me wherever I go. But this'll help to keep me focused on the end game – us, in New York together, in less than a year."
"Still seems like such a long way off," she lamented. "We'll make it through, though. I have faith in us."
"Me, too," he agreed, tilting her chin up so that he could cover her mouth with his, and kissing her deeply.
When they drew apart, he extended his hand, and she slipped the band onto his waiting finger. It fit perfectly, as they'd both been certain it would. After taking a moment to admire it and giving Rachel another kiss in thanks, Jesse reached for the lighter, rectangular package that was lying on top of the covers beside him. Picking it up, he studied it briefly, shaking his head as he did so.
"You're spoiling me."
"You deserve it," she insisted, her dazzling smile offering ample proof of her sincerity.
Without further debate, he tore off the wrapping that enclosed his final present. The slight frown that marred his features soon morphed into a huge grin as he came to understand exactly what he was holding – a handmade booklet of coupons he could redeem for an array of favours, some innocent, and others decidedly less so. Leafing through the pages, he came across one that caused his brows to shoot up nearly into his hairline.
"Are you sure about this?" he couldn't keep himself from asking.
"Yes," she responded firmly, her certitude somewhat at odds with the blush rapidly staining her cheeks a vivid shade of red. She swallowed. "Did you want to use that one first?"
He hesitated before answering, appearing to give the possibility serious consideration. She held her breath, visibly relaxing only once he'd flipped to another coupon, ripped it from the booklet and presented it to her.
"Actually, no. I choose this one."
Taking it from him, her eyes widened in astonishment as she read its message.
I've found a perfect song. Let me sing it for you.
It wasn't at all what she thought his initial pick would be, but she definitely had no objection. After downing a few sips of water, Rachel gave voice to the words that had struck her as incredibly apt from the moment she'd heard them.
…There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me you could not come true
Just love's illusion
But then you found me and everything changed
And I believe in something again
My whole heart
Will be yours forever
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter
Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you…
By the time she had finished, Jesse's eyes were moist. It really was the perfect song for them. They'd learned from their mistakes. They'd gotten past the mutual hurt they'd caused each other, and they were stronger for having survived it. They truly were getting it right. He opened his arms to her, and she clambered back onto the bed and into his welcoming embrace.
"I'll never get tired of hearing you sing. But I'm thinking that has karaoke duet written all over it."
Rachel's eyes lit up.
"You have the best ideas!"
"I do, don't I?" he proclaimed teasingly, before adopting a serious tone once more. "You choosing me makes me the luckiest guy in the world. I love you, Rach."
"I love you, too, Jesse. Now and forever."
After brushing her lips with his, he turned his attention back to his handmade gift.
"About these coupons… Are there any restrictions on them? Can I use more than one a day?"
With a quirk of his eyebrow, Jesse handed her another of the thin slips of paper.
"Well, if that's the case, I vote for this one…"