Even Now – A Short Story
"You ever wonder what we would have been like?" She runs her finger around the edge of her glass of whiskey as she thinks about his words. She's pretty sure he already knows the answer to that so she doesn't give him one. The fact that she's sitting with him in the corner of a dimly lit bar on the wrong side of town should tell him all he needs to know.
She briefly contemplated not coming when he called and said he was in town and wanted to see her. It's been seven years since she has seen him. Seven years since he took her virginity the night before their high school graduation. She had shown up at his house in a panic again, crying in his arms as she revealed how terrified she was that she was going to fail in New York City and how she wasn't so sure about her enormous talent anymore. He just listened to her, as he had done so many times before, and then told her (again) that she was the most talented person he had ever met and that there was no doubt in his mind that she was going to grab New York by the balls (his words).
He was right.
She kissed him that night for the first time since she used him to make Finn jealous the year before. She claimed then that Finn was her perfect match though it was never Finn's shoulder she cried on. It was never Finn she told her fears too. And while they had dated throughout their senior year, she never felt like he was the one she should lose her virginity to. But that night, wrapped in Noah's arms in his bed, she knew what she was doing was right. Even if she knew the next day she would walk away as she went off chasing her dreams.
So she went to New York, moved into a small studio apartment in Queens until she could afford a better one in Manhattan. She worked her way through the ranks until finally some hotshot director brought in from London had seen her and declared her Broadway's hottest new thing and instantly made her into the hottest commodity on the stage. She never gave a second thought to Lima, Ohio again. She did give a second thought to him though.
She brings the glass to her lips and lets the amber liquid burn a trail down her throat. She doesn't typically drink much and never whiskey but being this close to him, alone, after seven years makes her more nervous and on edge than being in front of a crowd of thousands ever has. She feels her body tingle slightly and she leans back in her chair to look at him.
Gone is the garish mohawk that she hated (and loved) so much. But he's still as handsome as she remembers and his green eyes still make her feel a way she has never felt with anyone else. She would never admit it back then because she thought she was supposed to be with the good guy, Finn. But Finn never made her heart flutter the way Noah did but she refused to let him know that until that one fateful night in his bedroom. Looking in his eyes now, she's pretty sure he is remembering that night too.
It takes her a second to snap back to reality and she pulls her gaze away, running a hand through her hair and laughing uncomfortably. "We were amazing," she says softly, keeping her eyes away from his, "we were amazing and spectacular and magnificent for one night. And then I belonged to New York City and you belonged to Quinn. It's what we wanted."
She reluctantly brings her eyes back to his but she just bites at her bottom lip and shakes her head again. She knows what he's asking. If by wanted she's referring to what she wanted back then or what she has decided she wants since. It's not a question she easily knows the answer to.
He cocks and eyebrow and bores his eyes into her. "I have to admit, Rach, I expected you to be married to some douche like St. James or someone by now."
"I've dated," she interjects, feeling the need to defend against his statement, "but I'm busy and I've chosen to devote myself fully to my career instead of love at this time."
"How's that working out for you," he chuckles.
She ignores his question and instead takes another swig of whiskey. She's beginning to like the burn it gives her. And the courage that it does. "How about you, Noah? How is life with Lima's most beautiful arm candy?"
He smiles softly, his smirk and confidence gone, and she begins to feel like she is missing something. "Ask Finn. Me and Quinn," he shrugs, "we just didn't work. I gave up trying to make her happy about a year ago and Hudson stepped in to make it all better. It's cool though, I knew a long time ago that Quinn Fabray wasn't what I wanted. Just took me a while to admit it."
She wants to believe that it is the alcohol that is making her feel so strange as he speaks but she knows better than that. She stopped asking her dads about Noah a couple of years ago; after they started asking her why he was the only person she ever spoke about. Besides, he was married to Quinn and completely happy as far as she (and they) knew. She had thought about calling him once, on one of those days when she gave him a second (or hundredth) thought but quickly decided that the idea was foolish and likely not be welcomed by Quinn.
When she doesn't say anything, he leans forward and places his hand on her knee. "I'm going to ask you again, you ever wonder what we would be like? Because I sure as hell have." His eyes bore into her like he is on a mission and she cannot find any strength at all to pull them away. "You can't tell me, Rach, that you haven't thought about that night and how fucking perfect it was and not wondered if we belonged together. Cause I have thought about you every single day since you left Lima."
She feels like she's going to cry and she hates that feeling. She is an actress. A damn good one at that. And yet she cannot even pretend that what he is saying isn't affecting her, like it's not touching every nerve in her entire body. She feels her lip tremble slightly before she finally finds her voice. "You married Quinn. You never said a word to me after that night. You didn't even speak to me at graduation, Noah, you just waved from across the parking lot like you were saying goodbye to some random classmate that you never spoke to. And yes, I know that was probably my fault because you knew I was leaving and nothing was going to stop that but it hurt me to my core when you acted like I was nobody at graduation." She takes a deep breath and straightens up in her chair. She presses her gaze upon him and stiffens her resolve. "Noah, I have wondered many many times what we would be like and I have thought about that night so much that I don't think I'll ever forget any miniscule detail from it. But it didn't matter how much I thought about you, about us, I didn't expect you to be thinking about it too."
His eyes rest softly on her as she speaks and he nods along as if he agrees to everything she is saying. "I wanted you to conquer the world. I wanted you to become this gigantic star like I knew you could be. You couldn't have done that with me, not in the beginning. I'm an ass sometimes," he laughs, "and I'm pretty jealous and territorial too so me being with you back then wasn't an option since there is no way I would have been a priority to you and there was also no way I would have let me and my needs hold you back. Somewhere along the way, I decided that I would try to make myself feel with Quinn what I felt with you. And I did try, really hard. But I still couldn't stop thinking about you. And it didn't take Quinn long to figure it out."
He leans closer into her and cups her cheek. His hand feels hot against her skin and she closes her eyes as she takes in his closeness. "So now my question, Rachel Berry, is if you are ready to love me like I think I've always loved you. You've got your dream career. Let me give you everything else."
She feels tears start to pool under her eyelids so she fights harder to keep them closed. She can feel him gently rubbing his thumb across her cheek, burning a trail along her skin as he does so. This is what she has wanted to hear for so long. It's the reason she hasn't found love in a city where love comes easy. She realized somewhere in between rehearsals and shows and many lonely nights that she had left out one very important part of her dream. Him. But by then, she expected that it didn't matter. He was in Lima with his wife while she was in New York with her career.
"Say something," he finally whispers and she opens her eyes to him. As soon as she does, a tear escapes down her cheek and he quickly wipes it away with his thumb.
"I'm not sure what to say . . ."
"I'll have to write that down," he jokes. She knows this is his way of breaking the tension. He's never been one for an emotional heart to heart though he's the one delivering most of it tonight.
She takes his hand from her cheek and holds it tightly in her lap. "I love you, Noah Puckerman. I'm fairly certain that I loved you most of our way through high school and I know that I've loved you every day since. But this is where I'm supposed to be and while I would like nothing more than to accept your offer . . . I know that I can't go back to Lima."
She expects him to back away then but he doesn't. Instead, he smiles. "That's good. Cause I don't have any plans on going back to Lima either." He laughs when she cocks her head to the side and looks at him strangely. "You see, when Quinn and I split up last year, I knew that what I wanted, what I needed, was in New York. You. But I'm just some guy from Lima that you knew once upon a time and even though I knew in my heart that you felt the same way about me, I knew there was no way I could show up on your doorstep with nothing. So I moved here ten months ago. I've worked my ass off and it ain't been easy but I've proved to myself that I can make it here. And maybe I just might be deserving of you."
"You did that for me?" Her pristine voice nearly breaks as she whispers, her mind still coming to terms with what he has said.
He shakes his head but pulls her closer to him. "No, I did that for us."
She rests her head against his and moves her hands to cover his thighs, slowing moving them up and down. "That was a pretty big risk. What if I was married to Jesse or someone else? What if I didn't love you too?"
He just laughs. "You were the one who told me to never back down and always fight for what you want. So I figured that if I had to fight for you, I would. But I knew, Rachel, that there was no way you weren't feeling what I was feeling. Not that night, not any night after that. And I wasn't going to let us be a what if. I've fucked up a lot of things in my life, but I was not going to fuck this up again."
The tears fall freely now but he just pulls her to him and lets them soak into his shirt. She stays there for a few minutes before she pulls back ever so slightly and brings her lips to his. She has waited seven long years for this kiss. Seven years of kisses that she compared to his. Not one came close.
She gave up on love when she walked away from Noah Puckerman and into New York City. Now he is here to give it back to her and complete the missing part of her dream. As she slips her arms around his neck and pulls him deeper into her kiss, she knows once again, his arms are the only ones that feel right. This time though, she won't walk away. She never will.