The autumn of 2012 was when Rachel Barbra Berry could officially say she made it. Leaving her friends and family behind for NYADA had been difficult at first, but Rachel’s pursuit of stardom was what truly mattered; they would just have to understand that. She could still perfectly recall taking her first step off the train at Grand Central Station and making her way to Times Square.
New York City felt more like home to Rachel than any place she had ever been before. While Lima was just existing, New York was living. Pulling her suitcase down the actual Broadway had been uplifting; any regrets about leaving her past behind had melted away. As she stopped and stared at the marquees flashing the names of stars in fluorescent lights, she knew that one day her name would shine just as brightly.
Rachel’s first few months at NYADA hadn’t been exactly what she’d expected. While she may have been McKinley’s most gifted songstress, the competition was much tougher here in New York. Rachel had been forced to face the fact that there really were people better than her. She had no doubt that she could work her way past them to the top of the class, though; nothing ever stops Rachel Berry.
Her passion for musical theater was nearly matched by her classmates, and lessons often collapsed into huge debates over which seminal Broadway classic was most appropriate to sing to a loved one, or who played the better Gypsy Lee Rose (which was Patti Lupone, by the way. No question).
Rachel knew that making friends was not her modus operandi at NYADA, though. While it would be nice to be able to hang out and take in a show with like -- minded individuals, she had to keep everyone at an arm’s length. You cannot make friends with your direct competition.
Her only real acquaintance in the city was her elderly neighbor, who would run lines with her in exchange for her picking up groceries for him on her way back from class.
So Rachel would spend her evenings alone in her apartment, staring out the window at the breathtaking New York City skyline and wondering just how expensive it would be to afford the wattage for Times Square alone. On her days off from class, she would travel to the Lincoln Center and sit on the fountain, watching ballerinas flit off to their lessons, or patrons wrapped in their most expensive furs (sadly) enter Avery Fisher Hall to listen to the Philharmonic. She would slowly chew her raisin bagel, wishing that she could have someone to be with, some of the time; someone to join her in Central Park on lazy Sundays, or window shop down Fifth Avenue. New York was meant to be shared with others.
In the first week of May, Rachel received an email during the middle of her Physiology of Vocal Technique lecture. The buzzing of her cell phone against the desktop drew her focus away from the interesting, albeit boring discussion on the larynx’s impact on vocal frequencies.
Displayed on the screen was an email entitled “Exciting News!!!” from Tina C-C. Rachel fondly smiled as she began to read what Tina had written.
Hey Rachel! I hope you’re doing okay all the way in New York. Everyone misses you here a lot, we sure could’ve used you at Regionals, lol. I hope you’re not too busy with exams or whatever to read this because I GOT INTO THE NEW YORK FILM ACADEMY!!!! Remember the school I wanted last year? I’m coming to New York next year! My parents said it’d be okay if I came to the city in June to look around or whatever, so if you’re not in Lima do you wanna hang out with me? Looking forward to maybe seeing you :D From, Tina
The fond smile on Rachel’s face transformed into an ecstatic beam. She was planning on staying in New York for the summer anyway, hoping to work as an usherette for a theater; NYADA had a student placement program with the Eugene O’Neill and Richard Rogers. She immediately responded to Tina’s email, saying she would be more than happy to show her around their new city. Within a half hour, Tina responded with a simple “Yay can’t wait :)”, leaving Rachel with another dopey grin on her face. This was just the kind of news Rachel needed to buoy her spirits.
The next couple of weeks flew by, with final recitals and written exams taking up the majority of Rachel’s free time. She had almost forgotten about Tina’s impending arrival until after her final recital, where she belted out a stunning rendition of “Someone Else’s Story”. She was walking home, grinning to herself about her excellent performance of capturing Florence’s pain, when she received another email from Tina. The message informed Rachel that she would be arriving Saturday morning at promptly 11:30 am via train. Rachel had already let Tina know she would be delighted to put the girl up in her apartment, considering how ludicrously expensive a hotel room would be for a poor high school student.
On the sunny day in June, Tina bounded off the train right into Rachel’s open arms. The girls twirled, gaining looks from passers-by, and squealed at each other. “Rachel, it’s so nice to see you,” Tina giggled as she buried her face in the other girl’s neck. “You’ve gotten taller.”
“And your hair is different. It’s very pretty,” Rachel noted, running her fingers through Tina’s shoulder length bob, highlighted platinum blonde.
“Yeah. New year, new hair.” The edges of Tina’s eyes crinkled as she beamed at Rachel. “I can’t believe I made it here. I’m actually in New York City. I’m going to live here.”
Rachel pulled Tina into a one arm embrace, steering the other girl down the sidewalk towards her apartment. “Surreal, isn’t it? The rest of the world feels so insignificant once you’re in the Big Apple. You’ll find it to be the best home a girl can have.”
Tina pulled her suitcase behind her, carefully avoiding the bustling pedestrians. “I forgot how busy the city was, I feel like a thousand people are pissed off at me pulling this ginormous thing on this tiny sidewalk.”
“You get used to it. I’m going to give you Rachel Berry’s Guide To New York, Tina. Rule Number One: Don’t take anything personal. People will shove you, curse at you, potentially even lash out. My first week here, I was so enamored with the displays outside the Majestic Theater, that I bumped into a very angry businessman, spilling his morning coffee all over his suit.”
Tina cringed. “Yikes, what’d he do?”
Rachel snorted. “Oh, I was called every offensive name under the sun, and received a death threat or two. I did genuinely feel awful, though. The worst part was that this gentleman was the spitting image of the great Hugh Panero. Can you imagine if I had spilled coffee onto the Phantom himself?” She shook her head in disbelief. “Just, don’t let it get to you. Life moves on. There’s only a couple more blocks to my apartment. Here,” Rachel took Tina’s hand firmly and headed off the sidewalk and into the hectic New York streets.
“Rachel, are you crazy? I don’t want to be killed on my first day here,” Tina said, slight panic edging in her voice.
“Rule Two, Tina: Jaywalking is a must. Don’t fret, like everything else in my life, I’m a natural.” She tugged Tina forward through a string of cars parked at a stoplight. A chorus of car horns sounded at the girls, who dodged and weaved vehicles edging their way down the road.
“Rachel...” Tina trailed off as a red sedan inched its way closer, almost colliding into her suitcase.
“Almost there,” she panted, her grip still firm with the other girl. She made it up onto the sidewalk across the street, helping Tina pull her luggage over the curb. “See? That wasn’t so difficult, was it? I’ve had to jaywalk with a music stand, my dance bag, and five books of sheet music. A tiny little suitcase is nothing.” She grinned fondly at Tina, their fingers still interlocked.
The girls approached Rachel’s old red bricked building on West 51st Street. “Wow, this is gorgeous,” Tina breathed, staring at the tall buildings and theaters lining the street.
Rachel sighed, running her fingertips over the familiar bricks. “My dads said I should live where everything feels right, a place where I wouldn’t feel homesick because I would be home. What better place than here?” She took her keys from her purse and unlocked the door to the lobby. They climbed 7 flights of stairs before they reached Rachel’s apartment.
“Voila,” she flourished as the door creaked open to reveal a simple, yet elegantly styled, bachelorette apartment.
“Aw, this is cute, Rach. Very cosy.” Tina stepped inside, admiring the simple white walls covered with framed photos of Barbra, Patti, Bernadette, and Liza. She wheeled her luggage through the door and placed it gently on the couch.
“It’s a pullout, so you can sleep there for as long as you’d like,” Rachel offered as she shut the door behind them, sliding the bolt lock across the door frame.
“Oh my God, your view!” Tina exclaimed as she hurried over to the window. “You can see for miles.”
Rachel laughed, remembering her similar excitement when she had first moved in and gazed upon the skyline. “It’s lovely at nighttime, especially. It’s a bit noisy, though. Garbage pickup is practically every night, and believe me, there is nothing worse than hearing that beeping at 3 am.” She wrinkled her nose and joined Tina at the window. “Rule Three: Invest in a good set of ear plugs.”
“Duly noted,” Tina smirked as she stared at the street below. “It must get pretty bright in here too at night?” she asked, fingering the black curtains at the windowsill.
Rachel nodded. “Yep. Rule Three Point Five should be: Also invest in dark curtains so you can sleep. Or a sleeping mask, whichever you prefer.” She moved over to her cramped kitchen. “Want some iced coffee? I brewed a pitcher this morning. We can catch up before you embark on the Rachel Berry Guide To New York: Tour Edition,” she quipped, pulling colorfully patterned mugs from her cupboard.
Tina walked over to the bistro set placed in the living area and sat down, accepting a bright pink mug patterned with kittens. Rachel slid her golden star mug across the counter as she joined Tina at the table. After pouring a couple splashes of soy milk into the coffee, she turned to Tina and smiled. “So why New York? Why drama? I faintly remember you mentioning last year you were interested in theater but that’s all I really know.”
Taking a slow sip of her beverage, Tina swallowed and began. “Since I was a freshman, I wanted to be in show business, so I figured theater and acting would be my best choice. I’m sure you remember my outrageous outfits throughout high school,” she giggled. “What better way to express myself than through drama?”
Rachel nodded and took another mouthful of coffee. “Yes, but you’re an extraordinary singer too, Tina. Why didn’t you apply for NYADA? You probably would have been guaranteed a spot, joining the ranks of one Rachel Berry,” she added with an exaggerated wink.
The other girl only smiled sadly, her eyes fixated on the grotesque pattern of the mug. “Thanks, but there’s no way I’m good enough, Rachel. I’m nothing like you. I probably sing better than some people, but there is no way I would’ve made it somewhere like NYADA.” She ran her delicate fingers along the handle, scratching at a chip in the paint.
Rachel frowned at her friend, confused as to why she was acting this way. “Don’t be ridiculous. Do you remember last year’s Sectionals? You sang a gorgeous solo, Tina, and probably singlehandedly won the competition for New Directions.” Rachel grabbed Tina’s hand softly over the mug. “You can’t doubt yourself.”
“It wasn’t a solo. Mike, Kurt and Quinn had lines too. I appreciate your support as a friend, but you have to accept I’m not good like you,” Tina lightly chuckled, taking the last drag of her coffee.
“Stand up. Right now,” Rachel demanded, getting out of her chair. She grabbed a sweater from the coat hook and swiped her keys from the counter. “I’m starting your New York tour earlier than anticipated.”
Hesitantly, Tina stood up and pulled her messenger bag over her shoulder. She followed Rachel into the hall as the other girl locked her apartment. “Where are you taking me?” Tina asked.
“It’s a surprise,” Rachel grinned.
The two girls walked into the bright New York sun and made their way down West 51st Street. “Are we taking the subway there? I’ve always wanted to go on the New York subway,” Tina said, pulling her sunglasses over her eyes. Rachel turned up her nose and emitted a disgusted grunt.
“Yuck, I am not taking you on those. They’re absolutely filthy and everyone is just too close for comfort. Besides, every single patron is pushy; if you don’t have your subway pass ready and waiting, people will literally shove you out of the way. That’s another rule, Tina: Always have your metrocard prepared, if taking the subway is an absolute necessity.” She linked her arm around Tina’s and led her around a corner. “It’s only a couple blocks from here. Besides, the weather is beautiful.”
She led the other girl down the crowded streets until they reached a large cluster of buildings, all with vines of ivy crawling down the sides and covering windowsills. Tina gasped as Rachel led her down a cobblestone path with flags on lampposts displaying in black scrawl “New York Academy for Dramatic Arts”.
“Welcome to my heaven,” Rachel beamed.
Tina gazed upon students sitting in the grass, playing instruments and singing along loudly while dancers stretched against the columns of the main hall. “It’s-it’s beautiful, Rachel,” she breathed, completely awed.
Rachel took Tina’s hand and pulled her towards a grey, circular building with the words “Auditorium” engraved over the doorway. She tugged the large, brass doorknobs and motioned Tina to enter. The two girls walked through the deserted red carpeted halls until they reached a set of heavy, oak doors.
“Go in,” Rachel said, pushing Tina firmly towards the entrance. Tina gasped as she quietly crept into the auditorium, observing the vast performance hall lined with matching red velvet seating and a golden ceiling.
“Oh, wow. I can’t believe you get to perform here,” Tina said, hesitantly stepping inside.
“One more thing you’re missing by not attending NYADA, you know.” Rachel gingerly locked her fingers around Tina’s and skipped towards the stage. They stomped up the stairs and spun around, looking towards the seats.
“Sing something, Tina. Whatever you like: musical theater, pop, hip hop for all I care,” she laughed. “I want to give you the chance to experience NYADA, experience what it’s like to perform, alone, on a stage like this.”
Rachel gave Tina a confident look and stepped away from the girl. She was held in place, however, by the tight grip of Tina’s fingers.
“Sing with me, Rachel. It’ll be like high school again,” Tina suggested.
Shaking her head, Rachel broke contact from Tina. “This is a solo for you, Tina. The solo you deserve in New York. Now, stop being ridiculous and tell me what you’re singing.”
“Well, I know it’s dumb and cliche but as I soon as the conductor or whatever announced we were in New York, I immediately sang the Frank Sinatra song. I couldn’t help it,” she laughed shyly.
“Perfection. Now, sing your heart out. Show NYADA and the city what you’re made of.” She jogged offstage, leaning against the thick drapery. She observed as Tina stared at her nervously and began the first few bars of “New York, New York”.
After the first ten words rang from her friend’s mouth, a radiant smile curled upon Rachel’s lips as Tina turned towards the invisible audience, her meek voice transformed into a louder tone which echoed off the walls.
Tina finished the song with her eyes closed and arms held out in front of her, singing out the final note.
Rachel wildly cheered, jumping up and down on the spot. “Tina! That was absolutely gorgeous,” she shrieked, throwing her arms around the other girl’s shoulders. “You are good enough for NYADA. Don’t ever doubt your talent, Tina Cohen-Chang.”
She heard Tina let out a soft sob in her ear, hugging back just as tight. “Thank you Rachel, you’re such a good friend. I can’t wait to spend all of next year with you,” she said, her voice thick with emotion.
Rachel squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back tears. She completely empathized with Tina’s feeling that maybe you aren’t good enough to make it. Rachel knew, however, she was good enough for the city of her dreams. She knew Tina was too.
If Tina decided to transfer to NYADA, Rachel would be more than willing to break her personal rule of keeping everyone at an arm’s length.