Author's Note: I typically invite any and all criticism on my stories, as I think that (if it is constructive) it ultimately helps a writer. However, this story is a bit personal, so I ask that if you don't have something nice to say, please don't say anything at all. Thank you and enjoy!
Rachel jogged up the stairs leading to her and Kurt's apartment, her high ponytail bouncing behind her. She swung her gym bag back and forth merrily, gaining enough momentum so the hot-pink luggage could land over her shoulder and she could use the bulk of her muscle to pull open the large metal door. She saw Kurt in her periphery, sitting in the middle of the couch with the phone clutched between his hands. Her beaming smile faded as soon as she closed the door and he turned at the sound, his face even paler than usual.
"What's the matter?" She asked, dropping the bag and rushing over. "Is it your father?"
Kurt's frown deepened, his eyes even tilting down in sadness. "No."
His voice was scratchy and Rachel couldn't imagine what had him so upset. Kurt's father had be in remission for more than two years now, but she knew he always worried the cancer would come back. Moreover, Burt's eating habits weren't exactly conducive to a long life, especially for someone who'd already suffered one heart attack. If it wasn't Burt, though, then there was only one other option.
"Did something happen with Blaine?"
"Rach, it's your father." The words rushed out, his red-rimmed eyes staring back at her. "LeRoy died this morning."
Part of her felt like her heart was racing, and another part felt as if it had stopped entirely. She'd been kneeling in front of her friend and suddenly couldn't hold her own weight, falling back to the ground with her torso slumped over herself. Only then did she take her first real breath since hearing the news, the inhale a mix of desperation and sorrow as her hands flew up to cover her face just as it crumbled in agony. She felt Kurt's arms wrap around her even as her body wracked with emotions, the hushed sound of his soothing words nothing in comparison to the tortured cries coming from her throat and from inside her head.
Rachel had always been close to her fathers. Even when she was younger and she was so determined to be perfect and famous that she'd sacrificed time away from home, she'd always made a point to remember that it was their love and support that made it possible and to be grateful for such. They'd paid for the voice lessons and the dance classes and they'd encouraged her to follow her dreams even when she was being bullied for posting videos on MySpace or when she'd choked her first NYADA audition. They were not just her fathers, but her friends. And now one of them was gone.
"I have to call Daddy."
Kurt nodded, picking himself up off the floor and handing her the phone he'd left in the middle of the couch. He bent down and kissed the top of her head before walking away to give her some privacy. The dial tone rang in Rachel's ear for at least three full minutes before she found it within herself to dial the numbers to her childhood home. Usually Hiram picked up after two rings at most, but this time it took five before she heard his grave tone.
"Daddy?" She questioned, in the back of her mind wincing at the question. Of course it was her daddy. Her father wouldn't be answering the phone anymore.
That's all it took for the floodgates to open back up, the two openly crying over the phone with no other words passing between them. There was nothing that was going to bring LeRoy back, and no explanation would make either of them feel better. Instead, the two just stayed on the line together for nearly an hour, comforted that they could be there for one another even when neither could be there for the other.
"I love you, Daddy," Rachel said in closing, sniffling and grabbing a tissue from the box Kurt had brought out some time while she was on the phone. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I know, Honey. Have a good show."
She hung up before she started sobbing again, collapsing onto the floor in a heap of despair. There was no one in the world Rachel loved more than her fathers, and yet she was stuck in New York until at least tomorrow night due to school. She was in her senior year at NYADA and tomorrow night was the musical showcase. Rachel was a pivotal member of a group dance number and had two lead solos; not only could her future very well rest on her performance, but it was mandatory in order to graduate.
"Are you going to be able to sing tomorrow?" Kurt asked gently, only stepping closer once she started to peel herself off the floor.
"I have to."
"No, I know. But, I mean … can you?"
Rachel felt her lip tremble, but the rest of her body stayed firm, strong. "Yes."
Whether Kurt believed her or not, he nodded and walked away once more, giving Rachel the space that he knew she'd need. They'd lived together for nearly four years; they were both well-versed in the others' idiosyncrasies. Kurt, for instance, in the same situation would want someone around him the entire time - the more the merrier, in fact - but he wouldn't talk. He'd simply want the company, to not feel alone. Rachel preferred the opposite, not necessarily to wallow or to think about everything, but rather to keep busy. In the hours after Kurt went back to his room and Rachel finally lied down in her bed, she'd cleaned the apartment, tried a new recipe for dinner, reorganized her closet, checked flights for Ohio, showered and laid out her clothes for tomorrow.
In bed, though, she wasn't able to ignore the demons wrestling inside her head. There were so many different emotions swimming inside her that she felt numb to any particular one. So, instead of focusing on the guilt she felt for not being able to rush home to be there for her daddy or the pain that came with losing someone close, Rachel grabbed her phone from the nightstand and texted a familiar number. She knew it was late, but she had to at least try to do something productive when she knew sleep would elude her.
I'm here. Call me.
Finn's response to her short question of his name was almost instantaneous, and even though it didn't stop the hurting, it did make her smile slightly.
"Hello," she tried not to sound as depressed as she was, but failed miserably. "I'm sorry it's so late."
"You can call anytime. You know that."
She smiled again, letting a tear fall down her cheek uninterrupted. She'd used all the tissues already and she really didn't want to have to go to the bathroom for toilet paper; even though Kurt knew she'd want space, it didn't mean he wasn't sitting in his room with his ears perked up waiting for her to exit so he could pounce. She wanted to be grateful to have such wonderful people in her life, but it just reminded her that she was now missing one of those people.
She inhaled a shaky breath, her eyes focused on the hem of her lap where her hand that wasn't holding the phone was toying with a wayward strand of fabric from her bedspread. "Could you do me a favor?" She waited until he acknowledged her question, almost humming in response. Offhandedly she wondered if he'd just been waiting for her call. "It appears the earliest flight from New York to Toledo isn't until, well, tomorrow morning, now, I guess." She sighed heavily, wondering for the millionth time if the showcase was really worth it. "I hate the thought of Daddy being alone for another full day, so can you please just … check on him for me?"
"Of course," he breathed. "We're actually going to breakfast."
"You are?" She was genuinely surprised. Not necessarily because Finn was waking early enough to have breakfast with her father - and the fact that the activity included eating was not a shock at all; he was taking classes in the morning and at night to earn an Education degree while still directing the glee club in the afternoons and helping out at Burt's shop whenever he could.
"Yeah. Puck arranged it." He paused for a brief moment before adding, "They actually went to dinner tonight. I guess Puck made your dad eat a bacon double cheeseburger in honor of LeRoy."
Rachel let out a sound that was a mix between a laugh and a cry, her head shaking in disbelief. Although, if she were being honest with herself, she should have known Noah would take it upon himself to comfort her dad in the best way he knew how. Her fathers had been called upon to watch Noah a few times when he was younger and his mother was in a bind, but they'd always spoken to him at temple. He and LeRoy had started to get very close once Noah moved back from LA, bonding over sports (and clearly bacon) and other things that didn't interest Hiram. Their relationship was the main reason Rachel had called Finn instead of Noah; she knew he would be hurting almost as much as her (though he'd never admit it).
"Please thank him for me." She sniffled, feeling her emotions starting to get the better of her again. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I will. And, uh, take care of yourself, Rach."
She nodded even though he couldn't see, then pressed the end button on her cell phone. Slinking back down in her bed, Rachel allowed herself to cry until she woke up the next morning. Kurt had taken the role of trying to get her to ignore her feelings, making her breakfast and talking to her about the show and his classes and anything else that wasn't directly related to her father's passing. Before she knew it, she was in the dressing room of the performance hall, sitting in her first outfit while having her hair and makeup done.
"Couldn't sleep, huh?"
Rachel mentally shook herself out of her fog, looking at the student stylist in the mirror. "I beg your pardon?"
"The bags under your eyes. You don't normally need this much makeup."
"Oh." Rachel looked at her reflection, frowning at the hollow eyes she saw staring back at her. For a split second, she wondered if she'd lied to Kurt. Maybe she couldn't pull this off. "My father died yesterday."
The stylist gasped and gave her condolences, but the rest of the time was spent in a silence that even Rachel could recognize as awkward. Luckily she was more focused on the words she'd said, and how they'd been the first time they'd come out of her own mouth. They'd tasted bitter and felt like a lie, if only because Rachel didn't want to believe them. Even with the gut-wrenching sadness to remind her constantly, she wasn't sure if the fact that her father was dead had really hit her yet.
All through her performances, Rachel couldn't help but think about all the things her father would miss in her life. Somewhere - she wasn't sure where, as they'd only told her that they wouldn't be sitting front row center since those were apparently reserved - there were two empty seats that were intended for her fathers. And from now on, there would always be a seat that was once meant for LeRoy. He wouldn't see her first Broadway show. He wouldn't be there for her first (of many) Tony Awards. He wouldn't walk her down the aisle. He'd never hold a grandchild.
He was gone.
It was the one thought that just kept cycling through her mind. Even as she bowed along with the rest of her classmates after what was probably one of the best performances of her life, Rachel couldn't stop the flow of morbid thoughts from strong-holding her mind and heart. She tried to pass off her tears as excitement for the performance, accepting roses and applause as if she wasn't dying inside. Once appropriate, she rushed off stage in search of a secluded space. Unfortunately, her dressing room was not empty as she'd expected it to be.
"Go ahead n' change." He smirked. "I'll wait."
"Noah," she breathed, still shell-shocked by his appearance. "What are you doing here?"
"I heard you couldn't get a flight until tomorrow, so I thought I'd just take ya myself." Puck lifted a bag that she'd recognized as her own. "Got Porcelain to pack your shit, so let's go."
"How did … It's a 10-hour drive from Lima to New York."
"Woulda been eight if the truck wasn't such a piece of shit." He shrugged. "We won't get back too much sooner than your flight, but I kinda thought …"
She stepped forward and hugged him, tearing up for a multitude of reasons before she whispered, "Thank you, Noah."
The two left directly from Rachel's school, neither talking until pulling onto the main drag that would take them back to their hometown. Rachel asked Puck about his family and his job at Burt's shop. His mother was doing well, and Sarah was enjoying high school as the antithesis of any Puckerman before her; she was in the art club and frequented many events to take pictures for yearbook, and was a sweet (if not sarcastic) young woman. Jake was getting ready to graduate before heading off to college at UCLA on a full scholarship. He and Marley were going to take over California the way Puck had pretended to be doing before moving back to Lima.
They'd both begged Puck to come with them come fall, but he'd turned them down. When Rachel had asked why, he simply said he was considering other opportunities. He'd started taking classes last year at the community college for automotive mechanics technology, which he continued to call "Grease Monkey School" despite Rachel's reprimanding; she hated how self-deprecating he could be when he should be proud of himself to have found something at which he could excel.
"Your Dad's good," he stated quietly after she'd asked yet again how his family was. "Ya know … as good as can be."
She nodded, staring blankly out the window. She watched the passing scenery for what felt like only a few minutes, but when she turned back and focused on the clock radio, she noticed that nearly two hours had gone by. "I'm terribly sorry, Noah. You were kind enough to drive all the way to New York to pick me up, and yet I haven't made nearly the same amount of effort to converse with you during the trip."
"S'okay." His eyes managed to stay on the road but veer to her, too. "You might think Kurt and Finn are the only ones who get you, but I know ya pretty well, too, Berry."
"I know that," she confessed softly, her breathing as unsteady as her gaze. She knew she should keep his gaze (or his cursory glances while driving), but she couldn't help but look down at her lap as she spoke. "About what happened during winter break …"
"S'cool," he interrupted, him also not daring to look anywhere but straight ahead. "It's not important now."
Rachel knew what he meant, but something inside her wouldn't let him brush it off so easily. She'd spent the last four months thinking about what had happened that night on Hanukkah, and it almost didn't seem fair that it be completely ignored simply because there were more pressing matters now. Still, she didn't have it in her to have the conversation necessary, so all she could do was reach across the console and grab his hand, lacing her fingers with his.
"It's more important now than ever."
Puck nodded at her response, following her into comfortable silence until they again started talking about nothing just to pass the time. It was just past dawn when he'd dropped her off in front of her house, and Rachel wasn't the least bit surprised to see her dad sitting on the porch with an extra cup of coffee waiting on the arm of the empty rocker to his side. She'd accepted it gladly, falling into casual conversation with Hiram until the inevitable crept up; they'd spoken openly of their feelings, both reminiscing and grieving.
Hours later, after she had helped her dad with most of the arrangements and finished cleaning up after dinner, Rachel went for a run. After moving to New York, she'd transitioned from running on her elliptical to running outdoors. The workout was a great way to see the sights, but it was also invaluable time for getting lost in her thoughts. Conversely, however, it was also easy to run away from her thoughts. She could focus on her form or her breathing … or the tall, dark gentleman slowing to a stop in front of her.
"Are you stalking me?"
Puck grinned, using the bottom of his shirt to wipe his face free of the sweat that had formed during his run. "Just droppin' my binoculars off at the shop." He winked, his breathing harsh. "Where ya headed?"
"Nowhere." Rachel shrugged emptily. "Anywhere but home, I guess."
Puck nodded, the two falling into step with one another, walking in the direction opposite of both their houses. "How long you in town for?"
"I'm not sure." Rachel tried to pass off her unsteady breath as a result of her run. "The synagogue has organized the funeral for tomorrow in order to keep within the confines of our customs, but then there's obviously the time of mourning; I don't want my dad home alone when people start bombarding the house with their condolences."
"I heard you had an audition next week."
Rachel hummed in the affirmative. "There will be plenty of other opportunities. And classes are basically over, so I actually have the freedom to attend to my dad's needs. There's so much to do and …"
"Cut the shit, Rach," he interrupted, grabbing her arm and forcing her to stop along with him. "It's okay to be sad and whatever. It sucks; I'mma miss Roy, too, but you can't just stop livin' your life 'cause he's gone."
"Not that I'd hate havin' ya closer or nothin'."
"Noah," she repeated, this time the tone much softer. Only he could flip her emotions so quickly. "You don't understand." She winced as soon as the words left her mouth. He would understand. Not only because she'd known her father and was close to him, but also because Noah's own father had died almost two years ago in a drunk driving accident. "I'm sorry."
"S'not the same for me. I get that. You guys were really tight and my dad and I were basically strangers." He shrugged, starting to walk again with her at his side. "But even though he wasn't the best dad, he was still mine, ya know?"
Rachel nodded, feeling the tears start to well up and hoping desperately that they wouldn't stay at bay. She'd been trying so hard to stay strong, if only for her father's sake. The last thing she wanted to do was start sobbing in the middle of their small town; her father might hear of it before she even returned home given the townspeople's ear for gossip.
"But you knew your father. And so did I, and I know he wouldn't want you to give up on your dreams or whatever because of this."
Rachel buried her face in his chest, clinging to him to try to hide her breakdown as the tears fell uncontrollably. She didn't care that he stunk of sweat or that both of them were too hot to be so close. The only thing that mattered was that he was there for her, his left arm wound tightly around her waist while his right hand basically brushed her hair. The motion was soothing, and matched with his even breath Rachel felt herself begin to calm. She felt better wrapped in his arms, and it was the first indication that the pain might eventually be able to fade into the background; she would never forget her father, but she might actually be able to move on, to succeed at life and make him proud.
Starting the next week, with her first real, Broadway audition.
"I'll be performing a rendition of 'The Show Must Go On' by the band Queen." Rachel smiled at their slightly muted expressions of confusion, softly adding, "It was one of my father's favorites."
What are we living for
I guess we know the score
On and on
Does anybody know what we are looking for
Another mindless crime
Behind the curtain
In the Pantomime
Hold the line
Does anybody want to take it anymore
The show must go on
The show must go on
Inside my heart is breaking
My makeup may be flaking
But my smile still stays on
I'll leave it all to chance
Another failed romance
On and on
Does anybody know what we are living for
I guess I'm learning
I must be warmer now
I'll soon be turning
Round the corner now
Outside the dawn is breaking
But inside in the dark I'm aching to be free
The show must go on
The show must go on
Inside my heart is breaking
My makeup may be flaking
But my smile still stays on
My soul is painted
Like the wings of butterflies
Fairytales of yesterday
Will grow but never die
I can fly, my friends
The show must go on
The show must go on
I'll face it with a grin
I'm never giving in
On with the show
I'll top the bill
I have to find the will to carry on
With the show, with the show
The show must go on
After she'd finished and been told she got the part, Noah was the first person she texted.
I'll buy ya a drink next time I'm in NY.
Rachel smiled, asking when that would be.
Depending on traffic, a few hours.
Walking in the middle of a crowded sidewalk on her way back to her apartment, Rachel laughed out loud. Even though she'd just landed her first role on Broadway, Rachel knew that, of the two new developments, her father would have been most excited about her budding romantic life. And even though it went against her diet and basically all her principles, she figured she'd honor LeRoy and celebrate both accomplishments over dinner - she'd make Noah order the bacon cheeseburger for her, though.