The feedback for this story is keeping me going, seriously. Thank you to each and every one of you for being so fabulous! A slightly shorter chapter now, but I'm trying to keep my cards close to my chest ;)
lix. "Have you ever met Finn before?"
Santana looked up from the magazine she was reading, though she didn't exactly wear a smile to reassure Rachel that everything would be okay.
"Yeah; what's it to you?"
"You know what it is to me so please don't act so pretentious."
Snorting, Santana laughed under her breath as she turned a page, only to clap her hands in excitement. "Finally, an article I can use to my advantage!" Leaning forward in her seat, she pretended to whisper with a glint in her eye. "Between you and me, Puck's a genius when it comes to the classic fuck, but he could really use a hand when it comes to this, pun intended."
Sliding the magazine across the sticky counter of the bar, Rachel rolled her eyes at the less than inspiring title; 'Teach him how to really press your button with just a finger'.
"Lovely," said Rachel, voice flat and uninterested. "Let me ask you again; have you met him before?"
"...and that's all you're going to say."
"Let me think... Yeah."
Slamming a fist down on the table, both glasses of orange juice quivered under Rachel's wrath. "What is your problem?"
"My 'problem'," Santana began, signing the obnoxious air quotes and everything, "is that you won't leave him alone. I know you text him a shitload, and you call him an unhealthy amount of times each day, but it's obvious that he needs space. He's a good guy." She pursed her lips and let out an 'eh' sound that made Rachel grind her teeth together. "He's an alright guy. A little boring and innocent for my tastes, but whatever, he's cute. His ego's bruised so give him time and all that jazz."
"And this is the only reason why you won't talk about him with me?"
Santana's face softened at the vulnerability in Rachel's voice, and she briefly patted her on the hand. "No. You realise Sue's gonna find out eventually, right? If she knows you've got it bad for a client, she's gonna have to fire you."
Rachel didn't really have a rebuttal for that; was it the same thing if the subject of her affection was avoiding her like the plague?
The rules were a little unclear on the subject of romance with clients, anyway.
Oh no, that's right, they weren't. In fact, in Sue's office was a large notice that was plastered on the wall that spelt it out in black and white; 'RELATIONSHIPS WITH CLIENTS MEANS AN OUT OF JOB ESCORT'. Next to that was a crudely drawn stick woman who had tears on her cheeks that were rather disproportionate to her body (Rachel was a crier, but she'd yet to produce a tear that was as big as her head).
If she'd been impartial and unbiased, she would have tutted at the notion that there was even a chance escorts could fall for their clients. Frankly, it was sad, and she thought herself better than that.
However, to keep a sliver of dignity, she simply told herself that it wasn't the same, not really. Puck had tried to set her up with Finn before he'd paid for her services, and therefore it obviously didn't count! The fact that he paid for her rent and food and clothes had little to do with it, and if they started dating as a real couple, she'd expect him to treat her to those kinds of things anyway.
Besides, as long as Sue didn't find out, everything was going to be fine.
lx. Staring at her cell like she'd discovered the holy grail, she prayed under her breath for salvation to come.
It began to vibrate with a new call, and Rachel thanked an omniscient being for coming to her aid.
"Oh good, it really is you this time."
Well, maybe not so much aid as torture.
"Excuse me? Who is this?"
The voice huffed on the other end of the phone, and she breathed out Kurt's name at the same time that he barked it down the phone.
"Sorry, it's been a long day."
There was a pause. "But it's barely 9am."
"Long week, then."
"But it's Monday."
"You know, technically a new week begins on a Sunday, so if you could excuse me, I have things to be doing."
"We have to meet up."
"We don't have to do anything," she huffed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "If you're asking for an appointment, you need to contact the agency, not me. Besides, I'd have to consult my diary, and I don't know if I'd be able to fit you in."
Now that was a lie. Her diary was painfully bare (she may or may not have considered booking an appointment with her gynaecologist just to fill at least one blank space), but Kurt didn't need to know that.
"I'm not going to pay for your company."
Gasping, Rachel clutched the phone tightly in her hand. "Are you saying that I'm not worth the fees?"
"I'm saying that I should be able to meet up with my friend, free of charge. I have juicy gossip to tantalise you with!"
There was a brief silence, and Rachel could practically hear Kurt's scheming smile. "I can indulge a little information on my brother..."
Damn him. "A little won't cut it, Kurt."
"Fine. If you meet up with me and I don't have to exchange anything of monetary value with you, I'll tell you anything you need to know about the one and only Finn Hudson."
She should have said no. She'd learnt her lesson about snooping behind Finn's back, but this was his brother. It wasn't her fault they were best friends (or should that have been barely friends?), and it wasn't her fault if the topic of Finn happened to arise.
"About the monetary value aspect..."
"I am not going to pay you!"
"Buy me a muffin and we have a deal."
"Only if you buy me a coffee."
"Where and when?
lxi. As Rachel blow dried her hair and sang along to Blondie's Heart of Glass, her cell began to ring, and after almost strangling herself with her hair drier in an attempt to answer it, she was severely disappointed to find it was a wrong number.
"But Mohinder, this is his number yes?"
"No, as I told you the last time."
"But I know it is his number, he told me so."
"Well clearly it isn't. Either Mohinder is dyslexic and has a problem with numbers, or he's purposefully given you a different one to avoid this very conversation."
Feeling her stomach dip as the caller hung up, she wondered if that was the truth.
lxii. Though she was forced to protest about it until she was blue in the face, Rachel had managed to convince Kurt to go somewhere other than a Starbucks, despite the fuss he'd made. It was silly, yes, but it was their place, and she was determined to bring Finn there on their next date.
Oh yes, there would be a next one, she was going to make sure of it.
Walking hesitantly into a coffee place that looked too expensive for her liking, she glanced around the room until she saw Kurt sitting in a plush arm chair, talking animatedly to someone opposite him.
There had been a small moment, if she could be honest, where she'd let herself believe that Kurt's insistence to meet up was all part of an elaborate plan to set her up with Finn, but the boy he was talking to was smaller, and had blonde hair that was very similar to-
"Kurt Elizabeth Hummel!" Storming over in disbelief, she gawped at the sight of Sam Evans casually having a hot chocolate filled with too many marshmallows.
"Your middle name is Elizabeth?" he said, a mixture of a laugh and a choke as his drink went down the wrong way.
Scooting up beside the blonde, she stared at Kurt as he narrowed his eyes.
"Yes, though I didn't tell Rachel. What else did Finn tell you? Because if he dared to tell you the sausage story..."
Rachel shrugged at Sam as she plucked a marshmallow from his hot chocolate. "I remain as in the dark as you, though it's a little darker in my case considering you didn't tell me the two of you were dating!"
A dramatic gasp escaped Kurt's lips, while Sam turned a funny shade of red and began to play with a piece of loose string on his pants.
"We aren't dating!"
"Yet," added Sam in the quietest voice, and Rachel beamed at the happy disbelief on Kurt's face.
"Awh, you're so cute!"
With a wave of his hand, Kurt snorted. "Enough of that. I brought you along for some girl talk, not so you could embarrass either of us." He tapped his fingers against the coffee table. "What have you done with my brother?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Is that why you look like a very flustered tomato?"
Rachel covered her face with her hands, practically recoiling when she felt someone squeeze her shoulder.
"Don't be mean, Kurt, lay off her." Squeezing her again, Sam flashed her a smile that she could just about see through her fingers. "Before Kurt grills you on the Finn stuff, I kinda just really wanna say sorry, you know, for screwing things up."
Rachel lowered her hands and shook her head from side to side. For some bizarre reason, she couldn't stand the look of guilt on his face. He looked so genuine that she found herself feeling guilty for making him feel guilty.
"You didn't screw up anything," she said softly, and despite the 'hmpph' sound that came from Kurt, she took Sam's hand and ran her fingers over his knuckles. "I don't understand what you're apologising for."
"For saying what I said to you that night. I was kind of a jerk, being all sexist and stuff, and I feel really bad about it. And, you know, making things worse with you and Kurt's brother."
The tension could have been cut with a knife. Rachel didn't know what to say, not when Kurt was staring at her like she was on trial for murder of the century, so she simply shrugged and offered him a coy smile.
"Occupational hazard. Finn was just a client like anyone else. Don't give me that look, Kurt, you know how it is."
"No, I don't. All I know is that my brother is in a deeper funk than ever, and you seem like the only one able to rectify that."
"Don't you think I'm trying?" she snapped, a huff under her breath. "He's ignoring me, Kurt. He won't answer my calls and he ignores my texts and when I paid him a visit, he didn't even open the door!"
"Woah woah woah, you talk too fast," murmured Sam, massaging his temple with two fingers. "I'm still recovering from going out with Kurt last night."
Before Rachel and Kurt could dive into a conversation on that very subject, Sam cleared his throat to demand attention (though she found herself staring at his hair as he messed it up slightly with a brush of his hand).
"How often do you call him?"
She bit her lip, closed her eyes briefly, and rocked back and forth in her spot. "At least twelve times a day." Opening them, she frowned at their respective expressions. Sam looked like he'd just seen a cat sprout wings and fly away, and Kurt looked like he'd heard said cat tell an incredibly funny joke. "What?"
"Twelve times a day? Jesus, Rachel."
She didn't appreciate Sam's tone, but he was a boy after all, and he'd be able to tell her if she hadn't been calling enough.
"What would you recommend?"
"That you stop bothering the guy. Look, there's showing an interest, and then there's, like, being a creepy stalker."
When Rachel glared in Kurt's direction to try and get him to come to her defence, he simply sniggered under his breath.
"But what if he thinks I'm not interested anymore?"
"That's the beauty of the cold shoulder! If you play hard to get, he'll be more determined to get your attention, especially if you make him jealous in the process."
It all sounded like terrible advice in Rachel's opinion, but really, what did she know?
She could do it. She could ignore him.
She considered deleting his number to resist temptation, but she wasn't that brave.
lxiii. The first week of 'operation – ignore Finn' was easier than she thought it would be, thanks to the distraction of Broadway. In order to keep herself busy, Rachel auditioned for anything and everything she could find, including stage hand and sound technician positions (she had to start somewhere, right?).
It was easy to forget Finn's smile as she belted out some Barbra.
It was easy to forget his natural dimples as she tapped her foot on stage to the rhythm of the music.
It was easy to forget that she'd gone a whole seven days without any clients.
lxiv. Was it considered normal to see a fire truck down the street, sending you into a spiral of depression and loneliness while the rest of the world passed you by?
Okay, maybe things weren't that bad, but she did feel incredibly sad, imagining Finn being so close yet so far. If only she had a talent for penning successful plays!
A beautiful, incredibly talented damsel in distress, waiting to be metaphorically saved by the lone fire fighter, his self confidence just as scarred as the many burn victims he encountered on his treacherous journey.
Except she wasn't really in distress at all, and the more she thought about it, the more pathetic she felt. It didn't do to dwell on things, especially boy things, but it wasn't her fault if it was all new to her.
She considered calling Finn to tell him about the play, but not sure that fit into the cold shoulder category, she instead made herself some soup and tried to forget all of her sorrows as she watched a re-run of Sex and the City.
lxv. Week two began with little fanfare; she received a call for Mohinder, and that was the extent of her excitement (though, granted, she got a kick out of saying 'Don't call here again or I'll report you to the police!', despite never even considering that route).
Her operation, however, was failing rapidly. She'd find herself beside the phone, itching to call him, and no matter how many times she played Sam's advice in her head, she didn't care about what the blonde had to say. Ignoring someone seemed like a sure fire way to announce that you were a disinterested jerk, and it was the complete opposite, not that Sam cared. Besides, what did he know? He had the hots for Kurt, and yet she didn't see him ignoring the brunette (not that she was with them 24/7, but still).
She tapped her fingers against the receiver of the phone, bottom lip between her teeth, eyes downcast and red. She hadn't slept well, not since it had dawned on her that she was in her second week of the danger zone.
The danger zone being the road to unemployment.
"Sam doesn't know what he's talking about," she muttered to herself. She began to pass the receiver to and fro between her hands whilst staring up at the ceiling, her features set in a permanent scowl. "I'm a strong, confident woman, and I don't need Finn to run my life or contribute to it in any way."
Putting down the phone, she stormed off into her kitchen to distract herself with making cookies.
lxvi. Five minutes later, she was sitting beside the phone once more, the same pensive look on her face.
To call or not to call, that was the question.
Maybe she could decide by luck? That way, the decision was out of her hands!
"Brilliant," she whispered, before fishing a dime out of her purse. "Heads I call him, tails I don't."
In the moment when the coin was in the air, making its way back to her hands, Rachel felt her gut make the decision for her. She couldn't not call. She missed being in his company, and while she assumed that the 'cold shoulder' would work in some cases, it wasn't a blanket technique that helped everyone. Finn didn't seem like the kind of man to play petty games like that; she wasn't going to put him through it.
Heads, heads, heads, heads...
She blinked, staring up above her before gazing down at her empty hands. No coin. She checked under the stool, and the phone, and her feet, but nothing.
She couldn't even put the damn thing in her swear jar.
lxvii. There was a moment when she considered something stupid, and like, really stupid. If calling Finn was off limits, was 'accidentally' causing a fire to have said fireman pay a visit the same thing?
Except once Rachel got it into her head, she couldn't get it out. In some ways, she was as dramatic as they came. If something bad were to happen to her, it was always preferable for it to be really bad.
Take, for example, crossing the road. If she were to almost be hit by a car and smushed to a pulp on the road, wouldn't it be much more exciting if the vehicle was one of Brad Pitt's sports cars, stolen by a masked thief? Being able to say 'I was nearly mowed down by Brad Pitt' had a completely different effect to 'I was nearly hit by an old woman who'd forgotten her glasses.'
Therefore, as soon as the fire scenario took shape, there was nothing she could do to get rid of it. She could only imagine the drama and the romance and the hot, fiery, passion between the two of them.
She could see it now!
Trapped in the apartment, going in and out of consciousness, battling to stay alive to admit her true feelings to a tall, handsome stranger. Banging on the door, smoke billowing from the raging fire, life slipping between her fingers.
That voice, that beacon of light.
A man in uniform rushing in to save her. Strong hands, lifting her up, carrying her to safety. The voice begging her to stay with him. A declaration of love.
After trying (and failing) to successfully burn her toast, Rachel soon gave up, promising herself to think of a better plan as she stepped into the shower to rinse away her worries.
lxviii. What's that saying? Be careful what you wish for because it could backfire in your face and metaphorically burn you like the fire on the floor above.
Backtrack time. There she was, towel drying her hair as she did her best impersonation of Judy Garland, when an obnoxious ringing noise filled her apartment and interrupted her chilling rendition of Over the Rainbow. She checked in every room for the culprit of the sound, but nothing.
Until she realised it was the fire alarm for the building. Her toast was slightly black, but no suspicious flames were involved, and she was fairly certain nothing else was on fire.
Her talent may have been red hot, but not on that scale.
Back to drying her hair, she figured that it was probably a mistake. Her daddy had struggled for weeks to try and navigate their newest fire alarm, and every time it beeped at him with some kind of warning, he'd hit the thing with a hammer to shut it up.
Simple but effective.
As she closed in on the last verse, she was once again interrupted, though the distraction came from her front door.
"Miss, you need to exit the building, the fire service are on their way."
Staring down at her teeny tiny penguin pyjamas, she squeaked in dismay and nodded to the invisible voice. "Of course, just let me get dressed!"
"No time! Unless you wanna burn to a crisp, out, now!"
So that's how Rachel found herself trudging down the stairs with the rest of the tenants at nine o'clock at night. At least she didn't feel too underdressed; one man was simply wearing a towel.
Wordlessly, they remained a large group at the edge of the sidewalk, all of them staring up at the building that looked very much intact.
Rachel huffed as she crossed her arms over her chest. It was cold, her nipples were too perky for their own good, and a man beside her wouldn't stop leering, no matter how many times she'd shot him a dirty glare.
There was no smoke from what she could see, which was a bit of a letdown. Yes yes, it was good that the fire was minimal and they were all out alive, etc etc, but she'd been led to believe by movies and television that when fires like these occurred, the whole building became engulfed in flames.
Thank God it hadn't though; all of her Barbra memorabilia was still inside.
Five minutes later (and a few disapproving grimaces in the pervert's direction later), the fire truck sauntered along like it didn't have a care in the world. The lights were flashing, but only barely; if you blinked, you'd miss them.
The doors opened. A couple of men in uniform jumped out and began talking to the super of the building, and then two more familiar figures made an appearance.
Damn, even Rachel had to admit that Puck looked good in his uniform. It suited him, and the confidence was clear as he held his head high and made his way into the building.
Finn, on the other hand... Well, let's just say that Rachel felt a sudden urge to push him to the ground and have her wicked way with him for the whole world to see.
Unfortunately, he didn't even spare her a smile as he followed after Puck, and she was forced to interact with Pervy to pass the time.
Five minutes soon became fifteen, and fifteen became half an hour. Why hadn't she grabbed a coat or something to keep her warm? Her pyjamas were practically short shorts, and while the penguins wearing ear muffs were adorable, they didn't exactly offer a lot of protection against the cold New York air. Her top was just as unhelpful; with thin straps, there were no arms, and a scrap of material barely covered her chest.
If she'd known she'd be parading around in her nightwear, she would have worn something warmer.
(Or something much more scandalous to entice Finn's appetite, but that was beside the point).
After an hour had passed, and after Rachel had given up on saying 'please don't ogle my breasts' to Mr Taylor (who was a life guard at a local swimming pool (shudder)), Finn and Puck emerged, still in one piece.
"Is it sorted? Is everyone going to be safe?" called out an old man, and Puck started laughing to the dismay of many; he was so incredibly tactless.
"You gotta be careful with candles, kids. Someone had one of those, like, tea light things? It was left alight in the bedroom and had set fire to the thong beside it."
Puck held up the offending item, a lacy red affair that was charred black and still smoking slightly.
"That's mine," sighed Mr Taylor. Gawking to herself, Rachel watched the man step forward to claim it, and in a moment of creeped out unity, she caught Finn's eye and the world stopped around them.
Well maybe not, because Puck seemed to notice her at the same time, and after a yell of "Berry!", she was engulfed in a hug and swept off her feet while Finn stared on, too caught off guard to react.
"Noah, you're squeezing too hard," she choked out. He laughed, patted her head, then put her back down on the sidewalk.
"Hot damn, I'm liking the outfit. God, you really do have awesome legs."
Rachel jumped at the sound of Finn's voice. It may only have been two weeks, but she'd found herself missing it immensely.
She still missed it now, in all honesty. Instead of the soft, warm timbre she was used to, he sounded harsh, serious, pissed off.
"Yeah yeah, I'll leave you two alone. I need to speak to the Chief anyway."
Puck punched her shoulder (playfully, she supposed, but she it hurt anyway), stalked off (winking at a few of the girls from her building), and left just her and Finn (and Mr Taylor, who was still staring).
Finn shifted a little where he stood, hands in the pockets of his uniform. "Um... You okay?"
She opened her mouth, closing it just as quickly.
Was she okay?
It depended what the definition meant.
Yes, she hadn't been burnt to death in the thong fire of '12, and she'd somehow managed to survive the pervert of the same year.
Yes, she had a job, and it paid reasonably well.
Yes, she had friends, friends that cared about her despite their differences.
She wasn't sure if he was asking any of that though.
So she simply shrugged, unable to meet his gaze when all she'd wanted for the past two weeks was to see him, talk to him, hug him.
"I miss you," she whispered, gazing down at her sheep slippers. He either didn't hear her or didn't choose to reply, but an awkward silence followed, and she felt like curling up in a ball and pretending none of it had ever happened.
She shivered, only to feel something heavy on her shoulders. Glancing up at him in panic, she saw the tiniest of smiles on his face as he placed his fireman's jacket around her. It was so tiny, in fact, that she couldn't be sure it had ever been there.
"As much as those pyjamas rock, they're not very New York practical, are they?"
Her eyes flashing, she snorted and stomped a foot on the floor. "How was I supposed to know I'd have to stand outside for an hour to be stared at by weirdos?"
Finn raised an eyebrow as she pulled the jacket closer around her. God, it smelt like him.
And, well, smoke and things, but beggars couldn't be choosers.
"Hey, you mind not ogling my girl?"
Her head snapped towards him so fast that she was seriously concerned she'd accumulated whiplash. Mr Taylor took one look at Finn before finally backing away completely because he'd called her my girl.
She was his girl.
"Sorry, I shouldn't have said that." He ran a hand through his hair, and Rachel found herself becoming preoccupied by the muscles in his arm. "I figured that if I said you were my girlfriend or whatever, he'd back off."
Ah yes, there was nothing like being slapped in the face with the cold fish of disappointment.
"I'm surprised you didn't start the fire on purpose, you know, to lure me out of my cave." The cheeky smile on Finn's face was too cute for her to resist, and temporarily forgetting the burning pit of disappointment that torched her very being, Rachel laughed in mock outrage.
If only he knew.
"Please, I'm not that desperate. I did, however, consider borrowing a cat to put in a tree, but that was planned for tomorrow night."
Finn started to laugh. Rachel started to laugh at the sound of him laughing. Puck watched them from afar and rolled his eyes. The Chief shouted for Finn to get going.
"I'll see you around, Rach. Keep the jacket and I'll come get it... sometime, I guess."
As he turned to leave, it felt like everything was slipping through her fingers. Here he was, after calling him and avoiding him and dreaming about him and drooling over him; she couldn't just let him walk away!
But that's what he wanted, and no matter how much it hurt, she had to respect that.
He stopped in his tracks, as if contemplating something. He turned, slowly, looked her up and down (she got legitimate goose bumps, but they were definitely the good kind), then took five long steps towards her. She waited for their first kiss.
He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed so tightly that Rachel started seeing stars behind her eyelids. Who was she to complain? Despite the lack of fresh air to breathe, she still managed to return the gesture as best she could, burying her face against his neck and sighing against his skin.
"Stay safe," he murmured. He pulled away, ran a finger over her quivering bottom lip, and kissed her.
No, it wasn't a full frontal make out in front of a less than eager crowd. He kissed her forehead, mussed up her hair, then winked at her as he jumped into the fire truck beside Puck.
She slept in his jacket that night, and maybe the night after, and maybe the night after that.
She continued to sleep in it as week three of being clientless began.