Here We Are At Last
Rachel, who'd been lying on her bed listening to a mix of her favorite Barbara songs and planning her audition for a solo at Sectionals, stopped humming.
Almost as if on cue, the vinyl skipped, then skipped again just for good measure.
I see myself becoming his
She sat up, and stared intensely at the record player as if she were waiting for it to finish telling her a secret.
It frightens me to learn
That love is…
"Finally here at last." The words were so quiet that she barely heard herself say them.
She had sat on her bed and sung those words a thousand times before. And they'd never really meant anything.
Her small hand landed on her pink, quilted comforter, then on the pillow next to her, and it felt…odd. A subtle, but not unwelcome, sting of warmth rose through her body, almost as if touching that spot reminded her of what it felt like to have someone lying there.
The last person to have been there, though, was…
"Don't be ridiculous," Rachel scolded herself. Because she knew there was absolutely no way that she could feel that way, about him.
She rose to her feet with great purpose – because everything Rachel Berry did had purpose, even if it was just walking – and promptly removed the needle from the record. She suddenly found the song, one of her absolute favorites, quite vexing and had no desire to hear it anymore.
Yet when she sat down at her vanity, the words creeped slowly into her ear even though the music had been silenced.
Secrets from the heart.
Promises we make.
She shook her head a bit too violently, her hair catching on the star of David she wore around her neck. The one he had given her last Hanukah as a gift. The one that, when she was honest with herself, she admitted to loving more than any other gift she'd gotten. She only ever worn it to Temple, though, since she had known that seeing it hanging there, instead of the star he had given her, would have made Finn jealous and, for a long time, she had wanted nothing more than to make him smile at her, and love her like he once had.
Rachel looked up then, and locked her eyes on a picture stuck beneath the frame of her mirror. In it, her face was tilted to the right – exposing her best angle, naturally – and her smile was vibrant without being cheesy or overwhelming. Finn, who was next to her in the photo, looked straight into the camera, and one of his usual, goofy smiles spread wide across his face.
The momentary reconciliation with Finn had been just that…fleeting. Three weeks into the summer, she had realized that it was not the fear of the inevitable choice between two worlds that had made her wary of reuniting with Finn in the first place. It was the idea of she and Finn always seemed to fall short of the reality of them. Yet another aspect of her life that had taken her longer – maybe a little too long, if you asked most of her friends – to figure out.
She hadn't been as heartbroken as the first time. The time he had broken up with her – after promising he never would – for kissing Noah.
A picture of him was hanging on her mirror too. Without him knowing, Rachel had gotten a shot of him on her phone at Nationals. She couldn't help herself, really. Who could? Not even Rachel could deny that Noah was gorgeous. The way he smiled, and the way he looked in his vest he was wearing that day only enhanced his good looks. She hadn't asked to take the picture, because he probably would have said something smart – like he always did – then laughed at her.
But maybe he wouldn't have.
There were so many times Rachel had pretended like she regretted that afternoon in her room, her legs wrapped around him, her teeth grazing his lower lip. So many times when she tried to convince herself that she wanted to take it back. She had even told Finn that it didn't mean anything to her. That Noah didn't; she'd even called him Puck to drive the point home, since somehow everyone knew how much she hated calling him that. Secretly, though, she thought about the way that kiss had felt – the contrast between the softness of his full lips and the hard press of them fiercely against her own – and how it had made her feel. Kissing him was like nothing she had ever experienced with anyone else, and she had done her fair share of kissing in the last two years so she could succinctly identify the difference.
When she kissed Noah, she felt at ease. Serene almost. Like those stolen moments locked away in her bedroom were a perfect dream that only the two of them could ever have. Like when he stroked her hair, she felt like a princess. And when he touched her, which he liked to do no matter how much she protested – and she liked, too, no matter how much she protested – she always felt beautiful.
That was something he'd never had to put to words – how much he loved the way she looked, without any alterations or changes – as his actions spoke for him. Rachel had even noticed a special look he got when she asked for his help, and he obliged her. There were times when she secretly called it "the Rachel look," since she'd never seen him look at any other girl that way before.
"He doesn't feel that way about you," she said firmly, as she tore her eyes away from the picture.
And yet, he had come to her rescue once. Then again, and again. In fact, It had become such a commonplace event that Rachel had almost grown to expect it.
Moving the GList off of her locker. Being the ringleader of the short lived "stomp all over Jesse's face" campaign after the Vocal Adrenaline egging. Standing side by side with Kurt as they staged her "Barbaravention." Singing a duet with her, no questions asked, even though he knew that it would do further damage to his relationship with Finn.
Being the only one to stand up for her against Santana, the only one willing to admit that he liked her when no one was suppose to.
Back then, her insecurities had run rampant and Rachel had felt completely outside of herself. She had needed someone who liked her that much. After spending the last few months of school focused on glee club, and preparing herself to move on from Lima at the end of the year, though, she was relearning what it felt like to be Rachel Berry, star. And what it was like to love herself again. Yes, she loved having her friends and their support but, as the past had proven, she would not always have them by her side, so she had to be able to depend on herself.
Still, it was hard to forget that when she had needed a hero, he had been that person. Independent or not, the romantic side of her practically beamed at the idea that he had been that for her.
Of course, he could still be quite vulgar. And arrogant. And insufferable at times. But he could also be sweet, and kind, and outright good sometimes, despite any contention he made over these points. More importantly, he had been the one person who tried to understand her, even when her motives were self-serving and her behavior was reprehensible, and tried to accept that she would never be the perfect girl.
He wasn't a Prince Charming, and he wasn't just a bad boy. The appeal of those persona, she knew, was completely so trivial. No, he was just Noah.
Rachel glanced over her shoulder, staring at the record player again. Almost as if she was drawn to it, she stood up and replaced the needle, waiting for the words to come.
I can't remember feeling this familiar
I feel myself becoming his
How had she never realized it before? What were her six sense and all, how had she missed something so glaringly obvious?
Rachel swallowed hard.
Or, better, how could she not allow herself to feel it when it had been staring her right in the face all along. How had she let herself be so tied up in a fantasy that she missed out on something, and someone, who made her feel things that were…very real.
Everything to move at a rapid pace then, almost as if she were panicked. She was grabbing for her jacket, looking for her keys, forcing herself to move down the stairs before rational changed her mind about this.
"I'm going out for a few minutes," Rachel shouted to her fathers, who were sitting in the den as she charged towards the front door. "I have something very important that I forgot to do."
His front door seemed intimidating. A roomful of strangers, or fellow performers competing against her, waiting to cut her off at the knee if she was anything less than perfect? No problem – mostly because the idea that any of her performances had ever been less than perfect was absolutely ludicrous. This was different, though. She was actually capable of making a huge mess of this, the proof being every romantic choice since the day she had broken up with him on the bleachers during sophomore year.
Doing nothing, however, would be the worst mistake of all. And running away from what she wanted most? Absolutely out of the question.
Rachel curled her fingers bravely, and was about to knock on the door when it opened suddenly, and there was Noah in nothing but plaid pajama pants and a white undershirt. Her stomach felt like it shot straight down into the depth of her abdomen. Why did he have to look so good when she was about to futz her way through something very serious?
"How did you…" she asked, skipping any form of greeting.
"Heard the car pull up, then looked out the kitchen window and saw you standing there."
"You could have come and let me in, you know," she said, her voice lacking the authoritative edge she would've liked.
"Why would I do that when it's more fun to watch you stand out here and argue with yourself?" he teased.
Her face scrunched up in a scowl that Noah seemed to find entirely too satisfying. "Such a gentleman."
He folded his arms across his chest, looking as smug as ever. "So what has you at my front door at," he looked over his shoulder at the clock on his mother's mantle, "10:30 on a school night?"
"I was working on my tryout for Sectionals…"
The way he was teasing her – which definitely struck her as more sweet than mean-spirited – was strangely encouraging and she let a small smile slip, instead of the glare she'd have liked to give him. "And I was thinking about…everything."
His eyebrow crooked in a curious way, almost as if to ask what the hell "everything" meant.
"See, I'd planned on singing Barbara for my audition and there's this song of hers that I've always loved and it's about confronting feelings you've had all along and giving into them. And it made me think of you, and us, and how you're always kind of there for me, even and especially when I am emotionally unavailable and, how you're not perfect, and I'm not perfect, and well…"
She stopped, looking up at him, her eyes feeling huge, and a little heavy. Could she really say this? She hadn't said aloud to herself before, and now she was going to say it for the first time in front of him?
Almost like he could read her thoughts, he put his hand on her shoulder, just like he had that day in the hallway before he'd asked her if she was okay. "Take a deep breath, and spit it out," he said. Too anyone else, the words what have seemed harsh. To Rachel, though, it they were exactly what she needed to here.
"Simply put, Noah, I am quite certain that I love you."
The corners of his mouth perked up, his bottom lip curving to produce that cocky smirk that she had grown incredibly fond of. One of the many things, actually. "Finally, Berry. Any longer, and you were going to have to start riding the short bus."
Her mouth hung open, in a way that she was sure was absurdly unattractive. "Wait, what? You knew?"
"Yeah, I knew."
"Isn't it obvious?" When all she offered was a blank stare, he rolled his eyes. "I get you better than you do most of the time."
"Then why didn't you say something before?" she insisted, the tiniest bit annoyed that he was right – he did know her better than anyone, even herself – and that he had been hiding this fact from her for…how long had it been, she wondered.
He brought his hand to her cheek, stroking it gently with his thumb. Any other girl would probably feel that his action was very unlike him. Not Rachel though. Sweetness that crept just below the surface was characteristic of the boy she knew. Of her Noah.
"C'mon. When has anyone ever told you how to feel about anything? How was I going to be any different. I'm a badass, Rach. Not a fucking miracle worker."
"Language." A lost cause, she knew, but there was something comfortable in her saying it.
He chuckled. "You're bossy even when you're suppose to be confessing your undying love, or whatever." When he felt the flare of embarrassment against his palm, he added, "I dig it, though."
She reached across the space between them, and started to play with the bottom of his shirt, pulling it gently so he would come closer. "So I'm not completely crazy? I wasn't just making it all up in my head?" she asked, her voice hopeful.
He stopped her fidgeting and twisted their fingers together as he stooped so his face was close to hers. "Nah. But the sooner you stop talking, the sooner I can prove it to you."
As soon as she felt his lips on hers, and she pulled their connected hands behind her, pulling herself flush against his body. "Tell me you love me," she whispered against his lip.
"Tell me that you'll at least let me get to second base this time."
"Noah," she screeched, slapping his chest, leaving a stinging feeling her hand.
He slid his arms around her again, his hand at the small of her back. "You know I do, Berry," he said, kissing at the corner of her pout. "Wouldn't have waited for you to get your shit together if I didn't."
"You do what?" She knew perfect well what, but this time the words did make a difference. And she wanted to hear them.
"Love you," he said, sharp and clear, like the perfect chime.
She kissed him then, feeling everything all over again.