From Here – A Short Story
It's become a routine over the past few weeks. A phone call from the bartender at Chet's asking her to come to the aid of an inebriated Noah Puckerman. When she gave him her phone number a couple months ago, after Noah had passed out and the bartender had used the important contacts on his cell phone to get to her, she didn't believe he would actually have to use it every week. But he has and each time she stumbles out of bed and takes a cab to the place where Noah always goes to try to escape his life.
The bartender knows her too well now and he just throws up his hand when she slips inside like he is welcoming an old friend. She doesn't have to look to know where Noah is. He's become a creature of habit and she always finds him in the far corner slumped against the bar with a shot of whiskey in front of him. He mumbles her name every time he sees her but then immediately looks away. She knows he's embarrassed and he hates the fact that he's here and that she's again been brought in to rescue him. He just hasn't found the strength to stop it yet and that's part of the reason she always comes. There are, of course, other reasons as well. Like the fact that she's in love with him and has been for far longer than even she will admit.
She hasn't really openly revealed that to him yet. That she's in love with him. Though he likely already knows. It's not time to say it right now. She knows that what he needs at this moment is her support and she'll give that to him every single time. He'll need to come to his own resolutions in his own time. Because the last thing she wants to be is a homewrecker and right now, Noah Puckerman has a ring on his finger.
"I hate her," he says almost like he can sense what she's thinking, "I really fucking hate her."
It's the same opening he always delivers and she knows that, again, she is entering into her own personal Groundhog Day movie.
"Don't say that, Noah. You don't hate her." She knows he doesn't. Hate is a strong word, even for him. And while she knows that he doesn't love his wife, and maybe never has, she also knows that he doesn't hate her. She made him a father and that alone will make him never hate her. He just shakes his head and downs the whiskey from his glass.
She hates the way this always makes her feel. Each week having to replay Noah's hasty marriage in her mind. She remembers it all in excruciatingly painful detail. How it hurt her to her core and she couldn't even say anything because she was just his friend and he was doing what he (and she, at the time) believed was the right thing. When Lora had ended up pregnant after just a couple months of dating, he had stepped to the plate and married her. He wasn't fucking up again, he had said, he wasn't walking away from his child. And while she knew she could put up a valiant argument for what he did right with Beth, she knew where he was coming from. He told her then that he didn't love Lora but that she was a good person and he thought he could grow to love her. With a heavy heart, she agreed. So the next day, he made her Lora Puckerman and moved her into his small apartment. He played the role of perfect husband well and after Adam was born, he settled into being a father as if it was second nature. She knows he was, and still is, bound and determined not to repeat his own father's mistakes. And that is another reason why they are sitting in this dark bar right now.
He figured it out a little over two months ago. About the time that he received a bank statement that showed they were in the red. Honestly, she believes if that were the only issue though, he wouldn't have cared so much. But he certainly cared when he came home to find his one year old son alone in a pack and play with his mother nowhere to be found. She had tried to explain it away then, coming in a few minutes later and saying that she had just been downstairs getting the mail and Mrs. Perkins on the second floor had stopped her and asked her to come by her apartment to see the new quilt she had sewn. She swore she had only been gone for a few minutes and that it wouldn't happen again. But she also started to change then, and if he would be honest with himself he would admit that she started changing some as soon as they married. Her skirts started getting shorter (which she knew she couldn't say anything about) and she started leaving the house and staying gone for hours as soon as Noah came home from work. She spent money like he was Donald Trump and became increasingly less involved with their son. Two days ago, he came home to find Adam alone again. This time though, Lora didn't show up until four hours later and refused to give any explanation for her actions.
He raises his glass to the bartender, the guy's eyes finding Rachel's and she nods a silent ok to him. As soon as the bartender pours the drink, Noah gulps it down. "She knows she has me, Rach. She knows that I can't leave her." This is where Papa Puckerman rears his evil head. Because the man sitting beside her refuses to be anything like him and, therefore, he won't leave Lora.
"Noah, you need to realize that you are nothing like him. Your father walked away from your mother and from his children. I know you are an amazing father and Adam is your life and that alone makes you so very different from your father. Leaving Lora does not mean you are leaving him, it simply means you are doing what is right for you and your son. Staying in an unhealthy marriage is not what he needs and it certainly isn't what you need." This is her normal speech. She has delivered it so many times now that she's fairly certain she could do it in her sleep. She honestly believes that he knows this as well, that he understands every word she's saying (inebriated or not) but that he still cannot bring himself to break free of the ridiculous stigma that his father forced upon him.
"My ma is here now. Came from Lima," he says, again ignoring her words, "I don't trust Lora anymore to be alone with Adam at any time. It totally sucks cause I know she can't afford to be missing work and losing money but I don't know what else to do. And Lora is so fucking mad about her being here because she thinks I'm making my mom babysit her." He pauses for a minute before raising his glass and slamming it down near the edge of the bar. He laughs loudly, shaking his head. "The thing is, I don't care who she is out fucking. Not a bit. I think maybe that pisses her off too because she wants me to be jealous about it. I'm not. Then I think she believes its hilarious that she is screwing me over so much because she knows I can't leave. Can't do that to Adam."
"Won't," she challenges, "You won't leave. There is a big difference."
She knows he will ignore this statement too. He always does. And she understands it because she knows that he is only looking out for his son and fighting like hell to make sure that he never becomes his father and that Adam never sees him the way he sees his father. As the enemy. As the exact opposite of what a dad should be.
She can't blame him for wanting to be a great dad. And he has been every single moment since his son was born. Gone are the video games and the skateboard, replaced by teething rings and Baby Einstein DVD's. She's been around through it all to witness the transformation from playboy to devoted dad. She's loved seeing it but what she hasn't loved is seeing this, seeing this man struggle in a marriage he shouldn't be in with a woman he shouldn't be with. This is the only time he allows himself to escape it, when Adam is safely in bed and he can let his stress release over a few shots of whiskey.
"I wish she would just leave me," he says, downing a drink she didn't even see placed in front of him, "She sure as fuck doesn't want to be with me so why doesn't she just go?"
This time, she will ignore the statement. She knows the answer isn't simple. She won't leave because she has it made with Noah paying the bills, cleaning the house and taking care of Adam. She won't leave because she can cheat on him and she can live in his nice, if not small, Manhattan apartment and then play the dad card whenever she thinks he might possibly bolt. And if she's being honest, she would have to say that Lora won't leave because she refuses to let her have him. Because Lora knows how Rachel feels about him. The selfish smirk she wears whenever Rachel is around tells her that.
She feels him place his hand on her leg and it immediately sending a shiver through her body. He feels her react and he quickly pulls his hand and his bloodshot eyes away from her. She raises her arm out, getting the bartenders attention. "Tequila."
"You don't like tequila."
His eyes are back on her in an instant. She's veering slightly from their normal routine. Typically she will drink wine, if anything, when she comes here. She takes a small sip of the liquid, letting it burn a trail down her throat before she throws the glass back and drinks the rest. She likes the way it feels, likes the warmth it gives her and how it takes away a bit of the sting she feels when she thinks about Noah and his situation, even if it's only slightly.
The sit in silence for a few minutes with her watching him through the mirror on the back of the bar. He keeps his head slightly bent, occasionally rubbing at his reddened eyes. Sometimes though, he will glance at her. It takes him a while to say anything else.
"Should've done what I planned to do when I came to New York but I guess I wouldn't have Adam then," he says, his voice graveled by the alcohol he's consumed.
In all of her weekly visits to this bar, this is the first time he has said anything like this. Most of the time she spends simply listening to him rant about Lora and not being his father or speak about the love he has for Adam. And she never really knew his plan when he showed up here four years ago. So his statement intrigues her.
She glances at him and cocks an eyebrow, "And what's that Noah, what was your plan?"
Before he responds, he raises his hand, waving the bartender over and pointing to Rachel's glass. Once it's filled, Noah hands it to her and she lets the liquid burn once again through her body. His eyes rest completely on hers as she sits the glass back down. "I only had one plan when I came here . . . . that was to be with you."
His words hurt her, literally tearing at her heart. Because this entire time, from the day he stepped foot in New York City until now, he hasn't uttered a word about his feelings for her. She's always believed she felt them but he never let her know. She shakes her head and pulls her gaze away from him, "What are you talking about Noah?"
"I'm talking about how I totally fucking love you. Always have. But when I got here, you were with that actor, Mark, or whatever his name was and you were living your dream and you seemed totally fucking happy and I couldn't fuck that up." As he speaks, she feels her body tighten, her breathing becoming much more labored. "Then your single and I'm pretty sure you're at my apartment to tell me you love me too, I can see it in your fucking eyes . . . and I had just found out about Lora and the baby and I knew I had to man up and take care of him. So I told you about the baby and it killed me to see that look in your eyes when I did. Like I had stolen your Tony award or something. Then you forced that fake ass Rachel Berry smile and you told me that I was doing the right thing. And I let you go. I never even fucking had you and I had to let you go."
She feels tears start to burn in her eyes and she clenches them shut. "You could have told me, Noah."
She hears him scoff beside of her. "Told you what? That I loved you? And then what? Walk away and marry someone else and expect you to still be my friend. I couldn't do it to you. And I knew I couldn't lose you either."
When she finally opens her eyes, she turns to him. She's grown so used to his sad eyes, so used to seeing them bloodshot here every week. But tonight, there is more. The redness and sadness are both still there but this time she can see just how broken he really is. Because now he's not just lamenting to loss of his marriage but also the loss of her and all the while, she never even knew he wanted her. It brings forth more burning sensations in her own eyes.
She turns quickly, nodding at the bartender and watching as he pours them both a new drink. She downs hers before he even finishes pouring Noah's.
He picks up his glass, moving it slightly to make the amber liquid swirl around. "I figured that you would find someone else to love you anyway, Rachel. That you would find someone again to love. You'd be happy. And I thought I could eventually love Lora. I was wrong." When he's done, he drinks his whiskey and slams the glass down.
She can feel the shots of tequila and his words having an effect on her, her entire body tingling with different sensations. "I loved Finn. I loved Mark. You can love a lot of people in this world, Noah, but there's only one person that you love the most."
He places his hand on her knee and spins her barstool around so she is facing him. Placing his hand on her cheek, he rubs it there for a few seconds. She allows herself to take in his warmth, embracing the feeling he is giving her. "What if you let that person get away?" His words immediately tear at her heart because she knows they are about her.
She shakes her head, feeling a lone tear slip from her eye and trail down her cheek. "That person is not going anywhere."
His tears come for the first time when he hears her declaration and he rests his forehead against hers. "I still love you, Rachel. Completely."
She nods against his head, taking in the moment before she allows a bit of reality to sink in. She knows that tomorrow he won't remember this night. He never does. And he'll go back to his wife and his son and he will continue to try to be the opposite of his father. And she won't say anything about this night either. His drunkenly honest confession will be tucked away in her heart. But one day he will figure it out on his own and when he does, she will be there. No matter how long it takes.
She moves her chin forward and kisses his nose and then up to his forehead. "I'll be here, Noah. Waiting. Because I love you too."
He clings to her for a half hour more, taking a few more drinks as he does, and she holds him up against her tiny frame as she takes him to a cab. His mother answers the door at his apartment and smiles at her sympathetically when he stumbles inside.
When she gets home that night, she slides into bed and pulls the blankets up tightly to her chin. Her heart aches for him, something she's not unfamiliar with, but tonight it's a little different. Because she's now certain that he will find his way to her. And when he does, she'll show him and his son what it is like to be loved completely and she will do everything in her power to make them both happy.
Two long months later, he shows up at her door with Adam in his arms, proclaiming he knows now that he will never be like his father. When he tells her again, this time sober, how much he loves her, she returns his words without a moment of hesitation. She stands by him through the divorce and custody case and soon they build their home, and life, together.
And when Adam hugs her tight one night after she reads him a bedtime story and tells her he loves her, she feels more happiness than any Broadway stage or Tony award has ever brought her. Feeling both Noah and Adam's love is amazing to her.
This time, she knows, it's the right woman with the Puckerman name. And this woman, she's never going anywhere. They have each other (and however big their little family becomes) for life.