That said, worst rehearsal ever; I spent all my time being useless backstage because they were working on the exact bits that didn't concern me. So...I ought to have been reviewing chem; instead, I wrote.
This is the product of my inability to listen to "Valkyrie In The Roller Disco" from the new New Pornographers album (which: fantastic) without seeing this:
Obviously, the combination of Neko Case + St. Berry could only lead to good (or, in any rate, diverting) things. ERGO.
you're a gold mine, goldmine. glee. jesse/rachel. pg-13.
there's always a song about this.
dedicated to aragons (SEEEEE) because she's awesome and got almost more excited than I did at the prospect of these kids sitting around and listening to Neko Case. OH YEAH.
They stand in the puddles of the disco ball’s glow, and it hits him that this, like every other date with Rachel Berry, manages to transcend lameness by going all the way through it and back around to the other side. There’s light in her hair, her fingers laced in his.
There’s a song about this.
There’s always a song about this.
He hums lightly in her ear, and she sparkles at him. “Is this one I know?”
“I don’t think so.”
The star that is Rachel Berry plus soundtrack (the one that shines like a commercial: this is your brain, this is your brain on music) dims slightly. He’s practically forced to promise her a mix.
Introducing girls to new songs ought to be a failsafe. But like so many things, the rules aren’t the same when applied to Rachel Berry.
It’s like this:
Jesse St. James has no fear.
Fear is a mere hypothetical in the well-scored metropolis that is Jesse St. James’s brain.
If he were maybe to be potentially subject to intimidation, well, in that case, making Rachel Berry a mixtape might psych him out.
His iTunes has a higher song count than Ohio has a population, but—it’s just that she’s picky.
He remembers, that first time she left him alone in her room, seeing her CD collection and thinking, oh no, this won’t do at all.
When she came back out of the bathroom, he had stowed his mix of custom-picked best of Broadway’s obscurest back in his bag and was sitting on his hands. “You said you had something for me?” she asked, and he had been forced to beckon her to the bed and show her the beginning of the full St. James makeout force.
He'd been trying very hard to pace himself—even before Rachel had brought out the Maginot Virginity Line, he had the sense to tread carefully: something about Rachel's predilection for milkmaid blouses coupled with the knowledge, implicit, that any boyfriendly wrongdoing would end up somewhere worthy of at least ten afterschool specials (admittedly, he wouldn't mind showing up in their Greatest Hits of Dangerous Boys, lots of venerable people got their start on Lifetime and he's more telegenic than most of their turgid troubled teens, but there's never a musical number and the point is that the girl leaves in the end)—but emergency ends required emergency means.
(Somewhere along the line, he lost the sequence he had started with. In hindsight? He’s going to blame that fucking mix.)
It worked, though. His hands explored the edges of the whale appliqué on her sweater, and she was distracted, all right.
Somewhere early on in the pre-Rachel days, he figured out that, in an almost failsafe generalization, girls and mixes are the best kind of symbiotic. He’s always found music to be a better be prepared than condoms or kegs when you’re trying to get a girl to open her legs, and Vocal Adrenaline tended to prove him right.
It’s thoughts like that that have screwed him over every now and again in the Rachel saga. The rules are so much more difficult to keep track of now—damn, he can’t remember the last time he dated a virgin. In the upper echelons of Vocal Adrenaline, they were like albatrosses: a subject for poems, not so much real life. And lame poems, at that.
Yet the rule of girls with relation to music still stands, and impressing Rachel Berry was (still is) his new favorite hobby.
Jesse St. James, it is said—by his coaches and his costars and, most of all, Jesse St. James—can sing anything.
And he’ll listen to anything he can sing
Evidently, he had thought at the time, recuperating from the brief disarmed moment of realizing her Broadway collection was bigger than his, there’s a world of music that Rachel can, nay, should be exposed to. He doesn’t have her focus, but he credits himself with broader vision.
Oh, Rachel Berry, there’s so much you don’t know, he thinks—but it wouldn’t be fun if she did.
She shows up in gold lamé leggings one day, and he decides it’s fate: the gods that granted him good hair and a great voice have decided to smile upon him, trapped in his musical quandary as he is. A new personal commandment: thou shalt be famous, but first, thou shalt make Rachel Berry a hipster.
He shuts his locker door with a clang of triumph and there she is next to the door, bouncing on her toes. “You’re smiling,” she says to him.
“Of course I am.” Charm like second nature fills in the blanks (best not to spoil the surprise, and you can’t gloat before you’ve actually been awesome): “You’re here. And I was just thinking about you.”
He manages to rearrange their schedule for the evening (they’d been planning on the senior center’s production of Chess, but Rachel concedes she has at times found the quality of their shows substandard) to something involving a mix CD, her bedroom, and hopefully her suitably impressed face.
Two out of three isn’t bad.
If you’re used to mediocrity, that is, which Jesse St. James has never been, and Jesse St. James is consequently dying a slow death as Rachel listens to the mix with a slight puzzled frown and makes the same face she did back at practice when Puck decided to set “Get Busy” to guitar.
He should have known better—
“I appreciate his use of the electric guitar, but I really feel like he’d be much better off if he got voice lessons. Or at least a small sense of pitch.”
“Okay,” he says, “no Radiohead.”
“He sounds like he’s in pain.”
“He’s expressing inner turmoil through lo-fi vocal stylings, Rachel.”
“I appreciate an emotionally fraught performance as much as any girl,” she says, folding her hands primly atop her lap, “but I would be significantly more impressed with the song if he could sing.”
It’s like she doesn’t realize she’s setting him a challenge.
On his knees, he sings I think you’re crazy, baby, reaching out with plaintive hands to her and listening to himself kick Thom Yorke in the proverbial larynx. It’s never been hard to win Rachel Berry over: she throws a Strawberry Shortcake doll at his face and laughs her way over to him until she’s laughing into his mouth. The CD lies on the floor, forgotten.
He goes home and stares disconsolately at the lists of song after song after song, briefly compelled to delete Kid A from his life forever until he realizes he, well, isn’t. He records himself singing for a while, adding the tracks to his personal playlist with a bullet. On a whim, he sends it to her, and gets a response in less than a minute. When he opens it, he’s smiling in spite of himself. (As reactions go, that one’s become a habit.)
He’s driving home when he realizes that he technically failed.
The lines between success and failure have begun to take on a worrying blur. It takes him a full, wounded hour to realize, later—it was a compliment. (He’s never been slow to find compliments anywhere.) That even if the mix was a failed mission, she still ended up with hearts in her eyes.
Success. Failure. He’s never been uncertain about the things he sets out to do before: not with girls, not with music, and certainly not with the two together.
So much better than the original!!
<3 Rachel *xo*xo*xo*
Stars, he presumes.
He sings his fluster out alone in his room to anything that isn’t Broadway or any of his fucking alt-rock: rocking out with Bowie and then, realizing that it deserves the big guns, getting out the fedora for Sinatra.
It’s slightly less cathartic than usual.
He’s gotten used to a bigger audience than this, he realizes.
(Rachel’s audience of one is bigger than most auditoriums he’s performed for. It’s true, he can make any audience into a big one—but it’s exhausting sometimes simply being Jesse St. James for them. The thing about Rachel Berry is that she makes it easy.)
After they leave the roller rink, lo that week-or-so later, he finally sits down and makes her another mix.
It’s all love songs. It’s the perfect contingency plan, he decides: impossible to lose face when it’s a good-boyfriend move. They fall into place easily, one after the other. He assumes it’s good luck and not the theme moving it along—there’s nothing lamer than trying to communicate by other people singing.
Third time’s the charm, anyway.
His uncle’s out of the house when he invites her over that weekend. The living room’s got a stereophonic sound system and a leather couch; when she sits down, it squeaks. Welcome to the bachelor pad, Rachel Berry.
She looks around, taking it in, then looks at him with that one excited-nervous (excited-to-be-nervous) face that she gets when they’re alone in the room together, more pronounced now in the post-virginitygate days than ever before. “Are you trying to seduce me?”
“Rachel.” He laughs. “I’m trying to educate you.”
He catches the brief pout—a-ha—before it goes away. Yet Rachel Berry is nothing if not adaptable, and she crosses her arms over the sequined front of her sweater and makes herself comfortable there on the couch.
The song he’d wanted at the roller disco, the New Pornographers singing, the guy, the girl, are first on the list. He waits, watching her.
“Is this the song?”
Of course she’d recognize it. Him excepted, she has a better ear than anyone he knows.
Neko Case’s fierce alto blooms over the electric guitar. Oh, he’s a sucker for women who make the walls ring. It’s the voice, the voices, that get him every time. The power built into someone so slight.
“You could probably sing it better,” he says
Her smile deepens. “Well,” she says, “there’s a part for you, too.”
It’s supposed to be a subdued song. It’s far from it by the time they’re done with it.
You’re a gold mine, he sings to Rachel Berry, and, thing is, he means it. She sticks a gold star on his forehead when they’re done.
They go back to the roller rink without the rest of the glee club, just the two of them almost alone on the rink, doing figure eights beneath the CLOSING TOMORROW banner, graceful with space to spare. When they burst into song (there’s always a song), there’s not much of an audience. (April hollers enough for at least four rows of seats, but neither of them can tell whether it’s genuine enthusiasm or the Boone’s Finest variety.) But at the end, Rachel gives a practiced twirl and spins in under his arm.
“We’re good together,” she says to him.
They leave with the lights up.