Puck sees her sitting at the bar the moment he steps inside. His feet freeze where he stands and his mouth opens. People jostle him as they come through the door behind him but he can't seem to make himself move. She's right there…after all this time.
He hasn't seen her since that last time on that last night. But since he arrived in Lima for his sister's graduation, his gut has told him that he was going to see her. He's avoided going out into public for that very reason. Seeing her, he knew, would twist him into a coil inside. He likes to pretend that he's over it and that he's moved on. But two years have done very little to turn the painful wounds she inflicted into nothing more than scars.
His eyes rake over her side profile and he feels like he can't breathe. She's just as beautiful as ever…just as beautiful as she was that fateful night when she made a choice that, as is the story of his whole life, left him on the outside looking in. He thinks about leaving. If he turns around now, she'll never know he was there. But the smell of her hair wafts toward him and his feet propel him forward until he's climbing on the stool next to her.
She doesn't lift her head when he sits down. Instead, she continues to stir the ice in her near-empty glass with a little brown stir stick. The bartender stands in front of him, waiting for him to order.
"Scotch on the rocks," he says quietly.
Her head shoots up and she looks over at him. He turns toward her but he doesn't meet her eyes. He can't. He won't. He knows what will happen if he looks into her eyes.
"Noah." Her voice is weak and no more than a whisper.
"Rachel," he acknowledges, nodding at the bartender when he sits the glass down in front of him.
Puck takes a quick drink and runs his thumb down the side of the glass to distract himself from taking in her close proximity.
"I—I didn't expect to see you here," she says.
"Sister's graduation," he answers, ignoring the fact that his chest is already starting to tighten just because she's so near. She smells the same and he recalls the way her scent clung to his skin.
Rachel nods in acknowledgment and Puck glances down at her hand. Her ring finger is bare but he can still see the telltale indention on her finger.
"How are you?" she asks.
Puck's not sure he wants to talk. Even exchanging rote pleasantries brings back a million conversations and a hundred soft whispers and pleas. Her voice reminds him of the songs she'd sing as they went about their days together. The soft tone reminds him of nights locked away in his bedroom. He's been trying to forget since the night she took it all from him.
"I'm fine," he finally answers. "How are you?" He asks because he knows he's supposed to but he really doesn't even want to know.
She shakes her head and glances down into her glass. "Finn left me," she admits, her voice thick with emotion. "He met a woman online and… we're divorcing." Her voice cracks and he knows she's crying.
He understands how she feels, only too well. The night she left him replays in his mind like a scene from a silent movie. He can see her mouth moving and he can feel the ache from the words she said but he can't hear them. He thinks it's his mind's way of coping. But he remembers how he was so sure that the sting of her walking away was going to kill him. He recollects walking around in a daze for weeks before packing his belongings and moving to Denver just for a change of pace and the hope that maybe somewhere else, he'd learn to breathe again. He can't forget the abject despondency that seeped into his pours and stayed for a very long time. He pretty sure that's how she feels right now.
"I'm sorry he broke your heart," he offers. And he means it. He doesn't want her to hurt. As much as she hurt him, he doesn't want to see her brokenhearted. He knows, all too acutely, how miserable it is to know that the person you love doesn't love you anymore or maybe never did at all.
She smiles through her tears and he sees it out of the corner of his eye. "That's very kind of you, considering…." Her voice fades away and he wants to laugh and finish her sentence for her. He wants to ask, "Considering you decided that a life with Finn would be better than a life with me and left me fucking high and dry?" But he doesn't say anything. He knows it's not worth it. And he knows that she's already thinking it anyway.
He quickly downs the rest of the scotch in his glass and accepts that in the string of bad choices he's made in his life, sitting down next to Rachel Berry – no, Rachel Hudson – will classify as one of his worst. He thinks maybe he did it because he was hoping for some kind of closure but it doesn't feel like closure at all. Instead, it feels like the seam of the wound was just ripped back open and the bleeding could start all over again.
He pushes up from the stool and prepares to leave. There's no sense in staying around and rehashing things he'd rather forget. But then, she slides off her stool and stands up, too. He looks at her quizzically but won't meet her eyes. Instead, he lets his gaze settle on her sculpted eyebrows.
"It was good to see you," she says.
He slides his hands into his pockets and nods. "Yeah," his voice is gruff.
She steps forward, like she's going to hug him, and he steps away. He won't touch her. Touching her would be a disaster. The feel of her in his arms would snap the last shred of control he has and then she'd be in his arms and in his bed and he'd never let her go again. He lost her once and it almost killed him. And as strong as he is, he knows he's not resilient enough to endure losing her for a second time.
He still dreams about her. He still remembers what it was like to love her and be loved by her. He can still see her eyes wide and emotional when their bodies moved together. And he still remembers the tears in her eyes when she kissed him and told him goodbye before she went back to Finn for the last time.
He wants to forget her and the memories and the pain. He wishes she would stop being a mystery to him, even two years after their relationship ended.
He has to walk away.
"Well…" he looks around and then back toward her. "See ya, Rachel."
He spins on his heel and pushes through the crowd and back out into the night air. It's time to go back to Denver. She made her choice a long time ago and left him to deal with the fallout and the loss and the misery and the pain and the realization that someone else was better. Now it's her turn to do the same.
As much as he would love to go back, he knows he has to go forward. He won't let himself fall again.