Glee. PG. Jesse St. James/Rachel Berry
for @fuckyeahstberry's November competition: choose one of Rachel’s scenes in season 2 and turn it into one involving Jesse. Set immediately at the end of "Auditions".
From outside the auditorium, Jesse can hear the faint strains of A Chorus Line. No recording, no piano in the background, no strings swelling. Just a girl and four thin walls and a barely-audible crack in the throat. It’s not even staged—he knows the difference, the discrepancy between the stutter of affect and the stutter of choked tears. He’s been coached in breathing, and the difference, while not apparent to the average listener, never fails to reveal itself to the trained ear.
Ah, he thinks, but this is Rachel—and he’s not sure if there’s a difference between the free and the scripted. If she would know in the first place whether she felt something genuinely or if she was simply living up to her expectations as a heroine.
Her voice soars—won’t forget, can’t regret—and alone in the McKinley High hallway between classes, he smiles a wry smile for no one else to see. She means every word, sings them from the diaphragm but doesn’t forget to check them through her heart. Every sweeping syllable, every glorious gradation of her vowels. That’s why she’s the heroine, after all. She earns the part.
The door squeaks when he pushes it open into the oncoming postsong silence. As he walks down the aisle, he whistles the bridge of “One,” hooking neatly into the traces of her last note. One-two, shoulder-up, he thinks, and his steps feel like a dance as he moves one foot in front of the other, closer and closer to her still standing form on the stage. One moment in her presence, and you can forget the rest—and her face is shocked, mouth frozen into a lyricless circle.
He reaches the stage as he finishes the line and has to work hard not to give her a flourish. Not that she wouldn’t appreciate it—somewhere inside the auditorium chambers that are always lit with stadium lighting inside her—but she wouldn’t say so, she’d work very hard not to. He takes a hand out of his pocket and waves. “Hi, Rachel.”
“How are you?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Listening to you sing,” he says.
She crosses her arms over her chest, fingers hugging her bare arms even though the auditorium retains heat far too well (stuffy air variegated with dust and the warm remainder of unused light, so unlike the neat calibers set in place around the Vocal Adrenaline stage; he thinks it can’t be good for the voice, spending too much time in here). “You forfeited that privilege.”
Amused at the idea of her wilfully cutting anyone out of her audience, he shrugs. “Can’t enforce that, Rachel. Your MySpace is still up.”
“The world deserves to hear me sing.”
“I know.” He nods. “I do.”
“You don’t count. Shouldn’t you be in California?”
“For future reference, they have internet connections there, too.”
“Why aren’t you there? There should be oceans between us.” A furrow fits between her brows and, again, he didn’t come here to laugh, he bites his lip and watches her map the continental United States in her head. “I mean, no. You know what I mean. There should be impossible boundaries of land and sea between us,” she presses, and her teeth press a ridge into her lower lip. Her eyes glare straight ahead, not at him. “I was looking forward to that.”
“School starts on the 20th.” He hops up onto the stage, next to her legs. She’s wearing a polka-dotted dress, socks up to her calves, hair up in a ponytail—she’s got bangs now. Looked better without them, but people like going for makeovers in junior year. He remembers this with precision and specifics in the back of his mind (Sean bleached his hair, Giselle started wearing skirts, he started wearing—well, Giselle) and wonders if this is the beginning of knowing how to be nostalgic. This will help him, later in life, in performances. High school is behind him, lockers and lunch meat he didn’t eat and he’s still not sure whether or not the UCLA show choir calls themselves a show choir or whether or not that term becomes bourgeois once you’ve graduated. Nostalgia, memories. But here’s Rachel. Still here, hasn’t moved. He’s eye to eye with her hemline, so he looks out at the empty rows of seats instead. “I’m still here for a week or so.”
He looks up. “Sit. You’re giving me a crick in my neck.”
“You deserve worse,” she says, but her voice is an octave too high and after a moment she kneels next to him. “You deserve epic discomfort and a lifetime of woe and regret, but I am not going to be the person who tortures you because I am not a cruel or vindictive person and I am better than that. Besides, I have a real boyfriend now,” she says, and she crosses her ankles neatly like an exclamation point.
“Hudson,” he says, not asking—not that he’d need to, not after months of the big lunkhead breathing over his shoulder and missing steps behind Rachel’s right shoulder. Not after “Jesse’s Girl”, which Rachel had told him about, tremulous and words pouring out too fast and please don’t try to defend my honor or do anything stupid with the faint gleam of suppressed hope in her eyes that he would throw the gauntlet and make things simpler. It would have been satisfying to do so, picturesque: sock the rival a good one and spend an hour nursing his knuckles and letting Rachel brush back his hair and kiss his forehead like a South Pacific war nurse. He hadn’t. Finn Hudson has bigger shoulders and bigger fists and Shelby had been calling him every hour on the hour. The black eye wouldn’t have been worth it, and Rachel would have been gone in a week. Was gone in a week. He had promised to listen to her, instead, with a very serious listening look on his face, had kissed Rachel’s hand mock-gallantly (once on the back and once below her knuckles, testing; he hadn’t known which would live up to her princessy mood most attractively—turns out, when he’d gotten his mouth back up to hers and her eyes were wide and wonderful and wanting, almost lidded already, her kissed fingers twining with his, that she hadn’t been altogether discerning).
He won’t think about it. She nods. “Yes.” Another little nod, another punctuation. “I’m with Finn now.” Her mouth is determined, unsmiling, and he wonders exactly how many days she’s been kissing goodbye. What a waste, he thinks, and is sure that it does not count as jealousy when you are categorically the better option. He’s heard Hudson’s first runs, a cappella and rough; he’s seen him around cheerleaders and footballers, bluff and false. It’s amazing that Rachel’s still singing show tunes—after a month with that cliché, she’ll probably be casting herself as Taylor Swift.
He’s not jealous, he won’t say it. Nothing ugly, not yet. “You sound very happy,” he chooses to say instead.
“What do you mean?” she says immediately, and glares at him—looks him full in the face for the first time.
“You were almost crying in the last bar—”
“Well, I’m not now, am I—”
“I’m happy.” Her body is as tense as a string, nearly vibrating by his side. “I’ve got everything I could possibly want. There's no better way this year could start.”
“Rachel,” he says, and reaches out over her lap, pressing his palm against the stage and leaning in. She’s framed in his arms and frozen, even as he leans in, close and closer.
His lips graze her cheek.
“If you’re happy, I’m happy,” he says close to the shell of her ear, bared by her pulled-up hair. He springs off the stage and he hears her exhale, swift and sharp between lips caught parted in the air, wrapped like preparation for a song around a breath he knew she’d forget to take. “Goodbye, Rachel.” He waves and gives her his best smile. It’s a damn good one. He practiced it for years until he didn’t need to. As he walks back up the aisle, he doesn’t hear her move. Somewhere along the lines, the smile turns real. Not bright, but deep, and satisfying.
He’ll be gone soon, but he’ll carry that face of hers on the plane with him. Goodbye, McKinley rattles around in his head like a refrain, but knowing there’s no shortage of songs for goodbyes he'll be able to drown it out soon—and fortunately now for him, he’ll get to check his musical backlog for songs about reunions. Just for future reference.
I’ll see you in a few months, Rachel Berry, he thinks.