The music swelled just as his hands tightened on her hips, sliding down her body until he found the spot where they fit perfectly, where they'd always fit perfectly. But as they twirled across the dance floor with hundreds of eyes fixed on them, his focus wasn't his hands on her then but as they'd been that night. His hands had slid across her hips then, too, only there had been no fabric to separate the rough skin of his palms from the smooth curves of her hips. His entire body had shuddered when he'd finally held her that way; what had been a long-held fantasy had suddenly become reality.
Her eyes locked on the buttons of his tuxedo jacket and stayed there. But in her mind's eye, she saw him as she'd seen him at another time, in another place. His skin hadn't been inside a scratchy shirt but bare, sunkissed from a hard day's work. She'd been pressed against him then, too, as they'd danced in her moonlit bedroom to the sounds of an 80s love ballad that was wafting up through the open windows from somewhere off in the distance. The smell of incoming rain and the buzz of the late-summer cicadas had swirled with the music, creating an intoxicating mixture that seemed to buffer them from the rest of the world. The future had been calling but that night, everyone and everything pressing down on them had ceased to exist. It had been him and her and the smell of the August rain as it finally began to fall, seeping in through the windows just as he'd finally claimed her in the way he'd been dreaming.
As they made their way across the crowded dance floor of the harshly lit hall, her eyes drifted closed and she brought her nose near the opening of his shirt at the base of his throat and inhaled. The stuffy tuxedo subdued the smell that was all him but if she breathed in deep enough and long enough, she could easily be pulled under by the warmth of his scent that was so much a part of who he was. In the recesses of her mind, she could still remember that he'd smelled like soap, sunscreen, and sweat. And the next morning, when the only remnant that he'd even been there was a discarded wrapper, she'd clung to the scent, committing it to memory in case she was never lucky enough to smell it again. She'd cried when she finally had to rinse it away, replacing it with the sickeningly sweet strawberry scent of her body wash. Even right then on that dance floor, when he smelled like cologne and spray starch, she swore she could still detect just a hint of the coconut sunscreen that had lingered long after the sun had gone down that August night.
When he dipped her in time with the music, he watched her long chestnut locks tumble and move in the light and suddenly, he was seeing it as it had looked in the moonlight. It had tumbled over her face, brushing against his bare chest as she'd cried out his name, reaching forward for a kiss while her thighs moved in rhythm against his hips. He closed his eyes against the imagery because now – here – was not the time to think about the fact that, in those stolen moments, he'd never wanted anything more than to be right where he'd been.
As the song drew to a close, their dance almost over and their time alone quickly dwindling, he pulled her tighter against him. His lips brushed against her ear and he whispered, "I've never forgotten. And I know you haven't, either."
She pulled away abruptly, almost as if he'd bitten her, and then looked around the room to see if anyone noticed. Unsurprisingly, their eyes had been on the one in white and not on the one in green, so no one but him had even seen.
He reached for her hand and for a moment, their fingers touching and then locking as they had that day.
"New York is waiting for you, Rach," he'd said before kissing her, ignoring the tears in those big brown eyes.
"Don't forget me, Noah," she'd whispered.
He'd taken her in his arms and promised her that he wouldn't.
But he had. It had taken a while but he had.
And now they were here.
Rachel saw her approach out of the corner of her eye; the white of her dress blinding her in a way that made her feel both envious and sick. Stiffening, Rachel plastered on her stage smile: mega-watt and devoid of emotion. Her fingers disconnected from his, their hands dropping away from one another. Her hand slip up to his cheek, caressing it just as she had that night as he'd slid himself from her still-trembling body and pulled her into his arms.
"Enjoy your honeymoon, Noah." Their eyes locked and a thousand words that should have been said but now never could be said passed between them in a single glance.
She took a few steps back and then turned to walk away as he began to dance with the real star of the day – his new wife. When she reached the door, the fat tears of loss and regret that had been biding their time finally pooled and fell down her cheeks. I have everything I have ever wanted. My name in lights. Recognition. Awards. Respect. Envy. Before she could help herself, she'd turned to look back at the one thing that she still had to attain but now never could. His eyes met hers above the flaxen curls belonging to the woman of his future and she knew that he was thinking the same thing – how things might have been different if fate and life and growing up hadn't intervened.
He watched her wipe away a tear and then pulled his gaze away, dropping it to the floor as he twisted his wife into a spin. He wouldn't watch her go this time. He'd done it once before and it had nearly killed him. She stillbelonged to a world that didn't fit him...so he'd created a world of his own and she didn't belong it it any more than he belonged in hers.
When he looked up again, the spot she'd been standing in was vacant and the door was swinging. She was gone. Rachel had just breezed through it and out of his life once again. But this time, he knew it was for the lasttime.
She'd always be a star.
She'd always own a part of his heart.
And she might have been his.
But his future was here, in his arms.
Rachel had to stay what she was – a memory that he fought against in the dark of the night when he couldn't help but wonder what might have been...