Title: The Boy On The Stairs
Rating: Teen | PG-13
For: Puckleberry Week on Tumblr – Day 2 | Puck and Rachel as kids
Word Count: 2,709
Summary: From the moment Rachel Berry saw Noah Puckerman, she knew he would be a special boy…
The Boy On The Stairs
From the moment Rachel Berry saw Noah Puckerman, she knew he would be a special boy. And not in that awful way that children her age would call out spitefully, at first letting the other think they were being nice, only to add to the end, quite rudely, "Needs!" It didn't matter how many times Rachel tried to correct them or say that it wasn't very kind to people who had special needs, the way they were using those terms falsely. In the end, all she got was, "What a loser," or "That girl's weird," for her good intentions. In any case, what she meant when she said special, was that he, like her, would surpass small town expectations.
Perhaps it was the overlarge guitar in his lap that he held carefully, his small fingers plucking the strings with reverence and concentration. Or perhaps it was the way he stood out at just six years of age. Already his hair was styled in an abhorrent mohawk as he sat on the stairs of his porch, ignoring the play of other kids filling the street, entirely involved in the sounds he evoked with each unfamiliar movement he made, sorting out each tune, each note, finding a rhythm all his own. In the end, all she knew for sure was that this boy was unlike the others.
Rachel swung her small, bright pink trolley bag up onto the curb with her; her fathers always told her posture was important and if she planned to become a star, which she very much did, then she had to take precautions to keep herself in an always-ready state of pre-fame perfection. Her sunshine yellow dress bounced at her knees as she walked toward him, so involved with his music that he didn't even notice her. The front yard of his house, where the overgrown grass reached up to tickle her legs, was littered with random toys, a bike, a toppled skateboard, two basketballs with one running a little flat, a baseball and a bat. The flower garden was sorely lacking care, overgrown with weeds; she imagined her daddy would tisk, shake his head, and offer to stop by with his gloves and gear, happy to help her out. He did so dislike disorder and took great care in keeping their yard and flowerbeds pristine.
Rachel came to a sudden stop just feet from him, her heels, covered in frilly white socks and classic pink Mary Janes, snapped together. She lifted her chin slightly and cleared her throat for attention. He either didn't hear her or ignored her, so of course, she repeated the action.
"Scram," he muttered, never raising his eyes from the guitar in front of him.
Brows furrowed, she jutted out her lower lip disapprovingly. "That's not very nice."
He paused before slowly his eyes raised to meets her.
Rachel was momentarily surprised.
He had very pretty eyes. Green with flecks of brown.
She imagined they'd be prettier if they weren't glaring at her.
"Who're you?" he wondered.
She smiled, sticking a hand out for him to shake. "Rachel Barbra Berry, pleased to make your acquaintance." That was a new word she'd learned recently and she was quite excited to show it off to whoever would listen, in fact.
He head cocked slightly and he wore a familiar look on his face now, one that many children before him had made at her. Befuddlement.
"I… It's nice to meet you," she tried, drawing her hand back.
He shrugged. "You lost?"
"No! I re-memorized my address and the way to my home from my school," she boasted.
He rolled his eyes. "Good for you."
She sighed. Well, this wasn't going well at all…
"I was on my way home - looking both ways for cars, of course…"
"Of course," he snorted.
She chose to ignore the derision in his voice. "And I saw you sitting here and that you are playing a guitar." She grinned, taking a step closer then, leaving her trolley sitting upright where it sat. "I like music too. I'm going to be a singer and an actress on Broadway!" She lifted her chin proudly. "That's in New York!"
He raised a brow, uncaring. "Yeah?"
"Yes!" She beamed, rocking back on her heels. "Would you like to hear me sing? I'm very good. I know every Disney song!" Excitedly, she wondered, without waiting for him to answer, "Do you like Aladdin? My favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast. 'Tale As Old As Time' is probably one of my best! But I'm very good at 'A Whole New World' too! And, of course, there's 'Be Our Guest' and I—"
"Noah!" a loud, male voice shouted from inside the house. "Where's my guitar?"
Blowing out a sigh, the boy on the steps stood up. "I got it!"
"Your name is Noah?" Rachel asked, smiling brightly. "That's a very nice name."
He shrugged at her. "It's okay."
"What'd I tell you about playing with it?" A man shoved through the screen door then, his shirt wrinkled and stained here or there. He scraped a hand down the stubble across his cheeks. "What happened to asking, kid?"
"Sorry dad," Noah muttered, casting his eyes down and scuffing his shoe against the stair.
He held a hand out and Noah trudged up the stairs to return the instrument to his father.
"He's very good," Rachel piped up. She smiled from the unfamiliar man to the boy looking back at her, brows furrowed. "I'm sure he'll be even more talented after he practices. I practice a lot." Her eyes widened as she said happily, "He could even become a star, if he wanted!"
It was slow, surprised, but a smile quirked the side of Noah's mouth. Like maybe he had never thought it, maybe nobody had ever said it, but he liked the sound of it.
His father wasn't so kind, however. The man she would later come to know as Eli Puckerman snorted. "Ain't nobody in Lima, Ohio's gonna be a star, kid." He pushed Noah inside the house with a hand at his head, not hard, but enough to let him know he should forget all about what Rachel had said. "Remember that."
The screen door snapped closed behind him. And with that, Rachel was left standing outside the house of a boy she hardly knew, thinking that even if his father never saw it, she did. That boy was going to be special.
Maybe he wouldn't be a rockstar, but he'd be some kind of star. Of his own making, full of music and talent and drive.
Just like her, in his very own way.
Later, Rachel would sometimes question what she'd thought that day. When the boy she now knew as Noah never gave her the light of day at school. He was in her class the following year, but other than tugging on her ponytail or occasionally shoving Jacob Ben Israel away when he was being weird to her, Noah Puckerman pretended like that day in his yard never happened.
As she grew up, she started to wonder if perhaps she'd made it up in her head. Or maybe she made more out of it than there ever was.
But then Glee happened and she was reunited with a boy who was even more talented that she'd expected, his fingers moving fluidly against a familiar guitar, no longer too large for him. And a voice, deep and thick, smooth and seductive, came from somewhere inside him that she imagined had been locked away since he was just a young boy, trying hard to remember the words of a man who had no idea what dreams he might've squashed that day.
The road wasn't easy, and sometimes she questioned whether he sabotaged himself, trying hard to fit a mold his father put out for him even as he defied against it. There were times she wondered if perhaps that boy would never reach his full potential, forever fighting the dragging pull of expectation. Until one day, walking home from vocal lessons, pink trolley rolling next to her, Rachel saw a boy sitting on the stairs of his house, guitar in his lap, brow furrowed with intense concentration.
He was taller, older, far more handsome, and his hands were well-versed with every sound his faithful companion could make.
She turned off the street and walked across the lawn, still overgrown and littered with toys and sports equipment and a young girl's bike, now more his little sister's stuff than his. Rachel's heels clicked on the worn cement path that wound to the stairs, past the weedy flowerbeds. She came to a stop a few feet short of him and left her bag where it sat. She didn't clear her throat for his attention or even really wait for him to acknowledge her. Instead, she took a seat next to him on the stairs and watched his long fingers move deftly, plucking strings, playing with the tune. She was quiet, probably more than she'd ever been with him, just listening.
The cool breeze was nice, fitting against the hot sun raised high in the sky, signaling the beginning of summer, the end of spring. She drew her hair around and let it lay against one shoulder, hoping the air might flow over her warm, sweat-dampened neck. What she wouldn't give for a slushee, she thought; grape was only fitting.
"Thirteen days," he said, never lifting his eyes from the guitar.
She turned her gaze up to his face, where his jaw ticked, lips pursed. "Graduation," she said, knowingly.
"Yeah, that…" He turned his head and looked at her, brow furrowed. "And until I get my ass outta here."
She half-smiled. "And where is the talented Noah Puckerman going?" she wondered.
He shrugged. "Wherever."
She rested her chin in her hand and watched the play of unvoiced thoughts run across his face. His eyes wandered away from her, gaze far-off now.
"You don't have an idea where?" she pushed.
She tapped her fingers against her closed lips, simply watching him awhile. Taking in the shape of his cheek, the strong line of his jaw, the shaved curves of his hair, the length of his nose, the tilt of his dark eyebrow. It had never escaped her attention that he was very good looking. She wasn't sure it could go overlooked by anyone. But there were times when she looked at him and actually felt just a little breathless.
He broke the silence suddenly, his voice thick, forced, like he wasn't sure he even wanted to say what he was thinking out loud. "You still think…" He paused, took a deep breath, flattened his hand against the strings. "That I'm, y'know… Talented enough to be a, uh…"
She smiled then, soft and slow. "A star?"
He looked at her, his face pensive, even wary, like he thought she might tease him. Remind him that it was a long time ago and she was young. They'd changed a lot, the both of them. Sometimes, in some respects, not for the better. But in other ways, perhaps the most important, most intrinsic ways, they were still the same young girl and boy, full of hope and dreams far bigger than the small town around them.
"I do," she whispered. "I believe that even more than I did when I was a silly little girl who thought she'd found a kindred spirit in the rebellious six year old with his mohawk and guitar." She turned her eyes up to face him. "You are talented, Noah. Far more talented than I think even you know or believe… And you will do incredible, wonderful, exciting things with your life and your music."
There was relief in his face, a subtle shifting in his shoulders, his tense body loosening up. As if his fears and uncertainties had simply floated away, leaving him free to dream big once more.
She stood then, squeezed his shoulder simply, and walked down the stairs to take the handle of her trolley, expecting to leave it at that.
She was halfway down the path when he called her name. Not Berry, not babe, not 'his hot Jewish-American princess,' but simply Rachel.
She looked back at him, head tipped slightly, one eye closed against the bright sun.
"I never forgot… what you said…" He shrugged. "You were the first person who ever said it, maybe ever believed it…" He swallowed. "And I know we were just a couple of kids, didn't even know each other, but… It mattered." He nodded, eyes falling slightly. "Still does."
She grinned at him, the boy on the stairs, the man with the guitar. "It was and will always be true, Noah."
He half-smiled then, ducking his head, scrubbing a hand over his no longer abhorrent, but oddly fitting mohawk. And though she was far away, when he raised his eyes up to meet hers, she found herself thinking that they really were far prettier when he wasn't glaring at her. There was something soft, gentle even, something sincere and affectionate in his gaze. Something she rarely thought to connect with Noah, even if he'd been looking at her with that same look, or something similar to it, for some time now.
"Those places you have in mind, after you leave here and embrace the open road…?" She raised a brow wonderingly. "Is New York on the list?"
His smile faded into a smirk. "Count on it."
She bit her lip to keep from grinning. "I look forward to it."
With that, she pivoted on her heel and continued on down the path.
As she made her way down the street, headed for home, she heard faintly, though it seemed a loud and clear message in her mind, the familiar tune of Sweet Caroline carrying on the wind back to her.
She ducked her head, lips curved widely.
She greeted him with that same smile a little more than a year later, when she opened the door of her small New York apartment to find him standing there, duffel bag in hand, guitar case slung over his shoulder. "Got a place for a friend to crash?" he wondered.
Though it went unvoiced, she was sure that they both knew 'friend' hardly encompassed exactly what he was to her, or what he would mean to her in the future. Still, she held the door open a little wider and stepped out of the way to invite him in. He crossed the threshold and brought with him the beginning of a new stage in both their lives.
Later, as she sat curled in an overstuffed armchair, a mug of steaming tea cupped in both her hands, she watched him as he sat on the floor, back against her couch, guitar in his lap. He wasn't the young boy she'd first met or the man ready to explore what life had for him that she'd last seen the day school truly ended for them. There were parts of those two people in him, perhaps the best of them both, but the man who sat across from her, though still handsome and beyond talented, was a new stage of Noah. One who'd traveled all over, sharing his music, proving to himself that he belonged outside of Lima; that he could make it.
And here he was at last, ready to settle down and make a life with, not a strange girl seeking friendship or a boastful ingénue struggling against high school norms but, a young woman on the brink of having everything she'd ever wanted, ever worked for and dreamed of. And she thought, as she smiled at him and his skilled hands smoothing over the strings with gentle reverence, as they would her body later that same night, that the little girl she once was had picked the right person long ago. It had taken a little time, a lot of mistakes and missteps and a lot of growing up, but eventually, they'd both found their kindred spirit in one another.
What an insightful girl she'd been then to see what was so obvious now.
Noah was special. Very, very special indeed.