All Roads Lead Back To You
Rachel stood in front of her closet, going through each outfit with the drilled precision of a soldier. She pushed one outfit to the reject stack and then reconsidered, tugging it back into view for a second evaluation. After a moment she shook her head and pushed it to the side, tugging the next outfit forward.
“I haven’t seen you look this determined since you were picking out all the lyric changes in the movie version of The Last Five Years,” Kurt noted, walking into her bedroom.
“I still don’t understand why there were so many,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at him. “Some of my favorite lines, too.”
“That’s what happens when you take genius to the masses.”
Rachel smirked, turning her attention back to her closet. She pulled a dress forward and paused, tilting her head to the side.
“That’s not an opening night dress,” Kurt said. “That’s a third date, hoping to score dress. Unless, of course, we’re considering this the third date.”
“The two coffees do not count,” Rachel returned promptly. “Besides, those were right after Sam and I broke up.”
Kurt shrugged. “I don’t see your point.”
“Besides, he’s been having lots of coffees lately. Ever since he taught that seminar class at NYADA every female student has been calling him to sit down for ‘career advice’.”
The disapproval was evident, and Kurt couldn’t help but point out, “If you were in their position, you would do the same exact thing.”
“Of course I would,” Rachel said, pulling a dark purple shift dress out of her closet. It dipped low in the back and hit mid-thigh, the perfect length on her petite frame. “But that’s beside the point.” She turned back toward Kurt and held the dress up. “What do you think?”
“I love it.”
She began to undress, Kurt settling on the edge of the bed as he examined his nails. Propriety had long escaped their interactions, especially since she walked in on him and Blaine in a delicate position a few weeks prior when she was dropping off a movie she’d borrowed.
“So, what is your angle tonight?” Kurt asked.
Rachel walked over to him and gestured for him to zip her dress. He stood up and finished the zipper, patting her back when he was finished.
“I don’t have an angle.”
“Of course you do,” he said. “You don’t go to an ex-boyfriend’s opening night without some angle.”
“Um, yes you do. Besides, it’s been so long since we’ve dated. We’re just friends now.”
“You’re conveniently leaving out the whole part where he basically got you a part in that musical, and you guys kissed after Sectionals. I know you want to think you’re just friends, but at least one part of this equation is feeling a bit more than friendly.”
Rachel wound her hair into a bun at the nape of her neck. “Okay, for starters, he recommended me for the part. Which any other number of people would have done for me. And the kiss was just…familiar. I don’t know. I told you that it wasn’t anything.”
“I know,” Kurt said. He went over to her vanity and fished through her jewelry until he found the perfect delicate gold necklace. He placed it around her neck and clasped it closed. “But, I just think you should admit that there is something there. Because there is. There always has been.”
“I am excited to see him perform again,” Rachel admitted, reaching up and running her fingers along the star-shaped charm on her necklace.
“Tell me if it’s any good. Blaine and I might go next weekend.”
“Of course it will be good,” Rachel said automatically. “He’s always good.”
Jesse’s show was being held at the Eugene O’Neil theater, and Rachel felt a familiar thrill sing through her veins as she walked into the lobby. She would never not find a theater absolutely enthralling. Even without performing herself, there was something magical about the plush carpeting and high ceilings. Theaters were a place where anything could happen, and usually did.
She spotted a group of NYADA groupies over by the cash bar and she quickly rushed past them, not wanting to get caught in their conversation. They’d learned pretty quickly that her and Jesse had history, and immediately she was attacked with questions and demands. What was it like singing with him? What was he really like? Did his hair feel as soft as it looked? She got by with as few words as she could, but the NYADA groupies hung on even those scarce words.
She walked into the theater, heading down to the front bay of seats. She’d splurged for a close aisle, not wanting to miss a minute of the action on stage. She saw that her seat was sandwiched between an older couple and a woman who looked like she could be the third Olson twin. She gingerly squeezed past the elderly couple, tripping on the wife’s purse and nearly careening into the husband.
“I’m so sorry,” she stammered.
“It’s quite alright,” he said, shooting her a good-natured grin. “You didn’t twist your ankle or anything, did you?”
Rachel shook her head, dropping into her seat. “No, my ankle is fine.”
“Good. Then we both are alright.”
His wife laid a hand on his knee to get his attention and then pointed at the program in her lap.
“This is who I was telling you about, dear. Jesse St. James. This is his first Broadway show, and he is supposed to just be marvelous.”
Rachel tried not to make it obvious that she was eavesdropping, but she couldn’t help herself from leaning over a bit, wanting to catch every bit of the conversation.
“He was in a off-Broadway production of Spring Awakening,” the man said, reading off Jesse’s short biography. “Weren’t we going to see that?”
“Not that production,” his wife corrected easily, “But yes, the one at Covenant Garden. It’s air conditioner broke, though, and it –“
“Was during July when we had all those insufferably hot days,” he finished. “That was an awful month. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life.”
Rachel opened up her own program and flipped through, trying to read the inscriptions, but really just waiting to see his picture. She felt her chest constrict the moment she flipped over to his smiling face. He looked so happy, and he probably was. Landing the first big Broadway role was a big deal. She saw the leading lady right below him, and thought to herself how that could have been her. She was content with her decision, and at the end of the day knew it was the right one for her, but she still couldn’t help herself from thinking about what it would have been like if she took that leap of faith and joined him in the show.
She was just finishing up reading the program when the lights dimmed and the stage manager gave the usual pre-show spiel. The overture began and Rachel felt a thrill travel straight down her spine. The music was beautiful – no surprise there – and she closed her eyes as she let the melody flow through her.
Her eyes drifted open as he walked on stage, his presence on the cavernous stage filling it completely. With the first note of his song she felt herself pulled forward in her seat, breath held as his voice filled her ears. God, she had missed this. Hearing him run drills during the seminar hadn’t been like this. His voice had been strong and pure, like it always was, but this was performing. This was the Jesse she’d unwittingly fallen in love with all those years before, and she felt such a yearning that she had to cross her legs.
It all was beginning to feel a bit too overwhelming, and then the female lead walked on stage and the moment was broken. The girl had a pleasant enough voice, but Rachel kept envisioning herself on that stage, singing the same lines, but differently. She sat back in her seat, inwardly telling herself to stop overanalyzing the show and just enjoy it. When Jesse began singing again, his voice sliding up and down the notes in a way that almost seemed too personal for an audience, she had little troubling in the enjoying.
It was a compact show, made to feel even more compressed and urgent with the lack of an intermission, and by the time the finale rolled around Rachel felt emotionally drained. She could tell the audience shared this sentiment, all of them languishing in the final notes of the closing song, sated like after a large meal. The curtain fell and then sprung back up for curtain call. The audience rose to its feet, clapping along as the bit players ran out for their moment in the spotlight. The applause was near deafening by the time Jesse ran out, his face slick with sweat from the stage lights, and eyes bright. He dipped down into a bow and hesitated for a fraction of a second on his way up, his eyes locking with Rachel’s.
Just as quickly as the moment happened it was over, the cast joining hands and executing one final bow. They disappeared behind the curtain, waving as it dropped to the floor with a resounding thud.
Rachel found herself nervous at the stage door. She almost didn’t go, something about that moment in the audience rattling her, but she knew she’d regret it if she slipped home without telling him how much she enjoyed the show. The stage door was packed, young teenagers crooning on about Jesse like he was the newest member of New Directions, and of course, the NYADA groupies staked their spot right in front, all of them with freshly applied lipstick and perfume.
Rachel hung back, not wanting to be a part of the mess of nails and egos. She’d wait her turn. While she waited for the cast to walk out she texted Kurt, telling him how great the show had been. He responded in a way that was classically him.
How many impure thoughts did you have?
If you say zero, I know you are lying.
She chuckled, and typed back.
I refuse to answer this question.
(Two. Maybe three.)
The loud surge of noise alerted her to the cast’s arrival and she glanced up, smile pulling at her mouth as she took in the sight of Jesse surrounded by his fans, unsuccessfully trying to cater to everyone. She watched him sign one fan’s playbill while taking a photograph with another fan. He looked stretched thin, being pulled from one fan to another, but she knew he loved it. This was what they were working toward for all those years.
The NYADA groupies were playing at their absolute most prepared, grabbing his attention and holding it with an iron-clad fist. Rachel counted at least five unnecessary arm strokes, and one ill-conceived cheek kiss that Rachel could tell by the stiffening of Jesse’s shoulders was not appreciated. As he pulled back, physically putting some distance between himself and the groupies, his gaze went further back and directly onto her. His smile shifted, growing larger almost, and she nodded, giving him a small wave.
She didn’t want to pull him from his other fans, but he excused himself and walked over, stuffing his hands in his pockets. She pressed her lips together to smooth her lip gloss, hoping that she didn’t look as nervous as she felt.
“Rachel, you’re here. I thought I saw you in the audience.”
“I told you I would come to your opening night,” she said. “You were wonderful, by the way. The people around me could not stop raving about you. But, of course, I wasn’t surprised. Oh, before I forget…” she reached into her purse and pulled out a bright pink plastic Easter egg with his name scrawled on it. “As promised.”
He laughed, taking the egg from her. “You weren’t joking about this.”
“I was going to bring a hard boiled egg but then I realized I don’t actually know how to make those.”
He smirked. “I think you just boil the egg. It’s pretty self-explanatory.”
“I guess,” she said slowly. “But then it wouldn’t have been pink.”
He shook his head, thinking to himself that of course Rachel would want the egg to be pink. He slipped it into the pocket of his jacket and said, “Well, thank you for my pink egg. I promise to cherish it.”
“You better. I had to go to three Walgreens to find that. You’d think it being around Easter all of the drug stores would have Easter decorations, but that’s not true.”
Jesse laughed. “I promise you it will be center stage on my fireplace mantel. So, you liked the show?”
“No,” she said simply, catching a confused glanced from him. She grinned and told him, “I loved it. Every single part from beginning to end. It was wonderful.”
“Thank you. Coming from you, that really means something.”
“I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed I turned down that role now,” she said. “It’s pretty good stuff.”
“It is,” he echoed. “Natalie’s really good up there, but…” he leaned in, hand bracing her arm. “I think we both know I was always hoping it would be you.”
She blushed as he pulled back, trying to cover her sudden lack of words with a dainty cough.
“So, first show done,” she finally said. “That has to be pretty exciting. How are you celebrating?”
“The cast and crew is having drinks down at this old pub,” he said. “It’s not special but it’s a place we all used to go to during rehearsals.”
“That sounds nice,” Rachel said.
“You should come with,” he said suddenly.
Rachel, taken aback, stammered, “Oh, I don’t want to crash your guys’ party. I mean, you’re all celebrating your opening night. That’s –“
“I want you to be there,” he said. “Look, whenever I thought about my first Broadway show, I always sort of imagined you being there.”
She stared up at him, completely dumbfounded. “You did? Really?”
He nodded. “I did. And now you are here. So, would you please celebrate with me? It wouldn’t feel completely right without you there.”
She nodded, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ears. “Okay, sure. I’ll celebrate with you.”
The Pub ended up being only a few blocks from the theater, so they walked, talking about everything and nothing as they made their way through the city. He asked her about her family. She asked him how it felt to be NYADA’s most popular guest instructor.
“If I had any idea it would be like that I wouldn’t have done it,” he said, laughing after Rachel recounted the less than covert attraction the female – and some male – students had toward him.
“Oh please, you love it.”
“I felt like they all kept singing with these bedroom eyes. Even when the song in no way called for them.”
Rachel laughed. “You know, I knew there was something off about that one girl’s performance of Send In The Clowns.”
“You were great, by the way,” he said, knocking his elbow against hers. “Not that you need me to tell you that.”
“Really?” she asked. She’d been nervous that day, having been sick for the entire week with a chest cold and only recovering her voice the day before.
“Why do you sound so surprised?” he asked with genuine disbelief.
“I thought it was awful,” she said. “I’d been so sick that week. And then…” she trailed off, almost blurting out the second part of why that week had been the one from hell.
“Sam and I broke up,” she said.
He nodded, an uncomfortable silence falling between them.
“You should sing that song at your showcase,” he said, breaking the silence. “It was really good.”
“I don’t know. I was thinking of singing Still Hurting from The Last Five Years.”
“Art imitating life?” he asked lightly, although she could sense the real question behind it.
“No,” she said honestly. “I just really love that song. But, I don’t know. I haven’t fully decided.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what you choose,” Jesse said.
She looked up at him. “Does that mean you’re coming to the showcase?”
“Of course,” he said immediately. “I already bought my ticket.”
She laughed. “No, you didn’t.”
He sent her this challenging look and then pulled his phone out of his pocket, swiping in and typing something quickly. After a moment he handed her the phone. Plain on the screen was the order confirmation for the showcase tickets.
“You did,” Rachel said with a grin, handing him the phone back. “I’m impressed. It isn’t for a few weeks.”
He shrugged, sliding the phone back into his pocket. “I didn’t want to chance it being sold out.”
They walked the rest of the way to the pub in a comfortable silence, their gaits perfectly matched and bodies inching closer until their hands brushed between them. He took her hand and gave it a small squeeze.
“I’m really happy you came tonight,” he said.
Rachel felt his words wash over her and murmured, “Me too.”
“I remember you,” Natalie said to Rachel, leaning forward with one hand wrapped loosely around a large stein of beer. “You auditioned right before me. I remember standing outside of the audition room and practically shitting myself. You were good.”
Rachel smiled uncomfortably. “Thank you.”
“I should be thanking you,” Natalie said with a laugh. “I heard the first offer turned down the role. I’m guessing that was you.”
Rachel nodded, glancing over at Jesse. She wondered how much this Natalie actually knew about her and Jesse’s history, and why she’d turned down the role.
“I accepted an offer at NYADA instead,” Rachel explained, taking a small sip of her beer. It tasted sour and she winced slightly as she set it back down on the table.
“NYADA,” Natalie repeated. “Is that how you know Jesse?” She turned her attention to Jesse and said, “That’s where you led that one seminar, right?”
“Yes,” Jesse said. “But Rachel and I know each other from high school.”
Natalie glanced between them, mouth screwed to the side, and then said, “You guys dated, didn’t you? I’m feeling some sort of vibe between you.”
Jesse laughed. “Yes, we did. I actually transferred to her school to woo her.”
Rachel snorted. “You’re leaving out a lot of that story, buddy.”
Interest piqued, Natalie said, “This sounds dramatic. Tell me everything.”
Rachel looked over at Jesse and he shrugged as if to say, tell her how ever much you want. With the distance from what happened, she found it relatively easy to tell the story – enjoyable, even. The entire thing had a sort of screwy romantic comedy feel to it, almost, and it seemed fitting. Her and Jesse’s story would be one made for the stage.
“And then here we are,” Rachel finished. “Sitting at a pub, without even an ounce of animosity left. Except perhaps on my part for the awful scarves phase he went through.”
“They were not that bad,” Jesse argued.
“They were very bad,” Rachel held, laughing at the wounded look on his face. “Come on. How can you honestly think they were not bad?”
“It was the fashion at the time!”
“No, it was your fashion. Even Kurt said he wouldn’t have touched them.”
Jesse’s eyes widened. “Ouch.”
Rachel laughed, impulsively leaning forward and patting his cheek. “Don’t worry. You have very good style now.”
He grinned, reaching up and catching her hand with his.
“Well, thank you. Maybe I should try those scarves again. I might have grown into them.”
She laughed, more out of reflex at what he said, her mind very much on the fact that her hand was encased in his for the second time that night, and he didn’t seem to be thinking of letting it go. She wasn’t thinking of pulling away, either.
Rachel stood at the jukebox, scrolling through the music selections. She’d put in three dollars, which let her choose the next three songs. She scrolled through the artist selections, grinning at the number of unconventional bar artists that she found.
“If you choose Barbra Streisand everyone in this pub will hate you,” Jesse said, suddenly beside her.
She laughed, glancing up at him. “I’m not choosing Barbra Streisand. Although, I would argue her music is perfect for any setting.”
“I know you would and I tend to agree. But, I’m just here to save you from the pub-goers’ ire. It’s a Friday night. Things can get rowdy.”
“Don’t you worry,” she told him with characteristic Rachel-Berry-determination. “I am going to choose the perfect songs. I’ll have this entire pub up and singing.”
“What are you thinking?”
She arched a single eyebrow, as if to tell him to wait and see, and then turned back to the jukebox screen. She scrolled over to the “R”s and clicked on The Rolling Stones. She heard Jesse murmur his approval as she selected Brown Sugar. Next, she hopped on over to the “P”s and clicked on The Proclaimers, selecting the always appropriate 500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be).
“I underestimated you,” Jesse said, smile evident in his voice.
“And now, to round out my wonderful selections…” she went over to the “T”s and clicked on Taylor Swift.
“No, you’re not,” Jesse groaned.
“Oh yes. Yes, I am.”
“This is hurting my soul just a little,” Jesse complained, watching her scroll through the long list of songs. “If you choose We Are Never Getting Back Together I might have to leave.”
She snorted. “Calm down. Have I failed you yet in my song choices?”
“No,” he admitted.
“Then have some faith.”
“In you? I always do.”
She glanced up at him, and felt a bit lightheaded when she realized just how close they were standing. His body was angled toward her, one hand stuffed in his pocket and the other braced on the edge of the jukebox. It would only take the slightest inch forward for their bodies to touch, and she found herself wanting that more than she cared to admit.
Her eyes met his and something in his gaze shifted. He moved closer, hand coming out of his pocket and resting lightly on the small of her back. Needing some distraction, she turned back to the jukebox screen and determinedly scrolled through the offerings. She selected Shake It Off with an assured tap of her finger on the screen. She looked up at Jesse triumphantly and said, “That is how you choose songs on a jukebox.”
“Very impressive,” he returned with feigned sincerity. “You should teach a class or something.”
Brown Sugar started up, and a man over by the bar went, “Man, I love this song!”
Rachel smirked, tilting her head to the side as she returned, “I prove my point.”
His hand was still on her back, and she’d somehow scooted closer to him, her hip pressing against his. He looked down at her with that smile that she’d always thought of as hers, and she thought to herself how easy it would be to just reach up and tug his mouth to hers. What was stopping her? She was single. As far as she knew, he was, too. They were together at a pub after his Broadway debut, and it seemed to all make sense. Just as she’d made the decision, her palms itching at her side, Natalie called over to them.
Whatever spell had been over them disappeared and Jesse dropped his hand, moving away from her.
“Yeah, Nat?” he called back.
“We’re doing another round. Are you two in?”
“I think I’m actually going to head home,” Rachel said, suddenly feeling a very real need to get as far from the pub as possible. She almost kissed him. Sure, they’d kissed before, but it was always in those in-between moments when nothing could really happen, so there was no risk. But now, everything was different. Because they weren’t in-between. For probably the first time since he’d approached her in that music store all those years before they were meeting on the same playing field as equals, and it scared her.
“Didn’t you just pay for three songs?” Jesse asked in confusion.
“Consider it my gift to this pub,” she said, spinning the lie quickly. “I have rehearsal tomorrow morning. I need some sleep.”
“Okay. I’ll walk you out to get a cab.”
“No, stay,” she said. “You’re celebrating, remember?”
“Are you sure?” he said. “Because I’m pretty good at hailing cabs. It’s on my resume and everything.”
She smirked. “I lived here for an entire year without you to hail me cabs and did just fine. You stay here with your friends.”
He seemed reluctant, but he nodded anyway.
“Okay. Thank you for coming out with me. It was nice.”
“Yeah, it was,” she said softly. It was nice, and he was nice, and she really had to get out of there.
“We should do it again, maybe?” he asked. “I hear there’s this thing called dinner. It’s all the rage now.”
She laughed. “Is that so?”
“I’ll call you,” he said.
She nodded. “Okay.”
She went over to the table with him and said goodbye briefly before heading out. In the crisp night air she felt her head clear, and she thought about that moment back by the jukebox, and how warm Jesse’s hand had felt against her back. She thought about all those in-between moments, and how they’d felt more real than anything she ever had with Sam.
Impulsively she turned back to the pub, only to find Jesse standing in front of her. Before she could say a word he stepped forward and kissed her, hands framing her face as his mouth moved deftly against hers. She smiled against his mouth, relief flooding her chest. She couldn’t believe that she almost ran away from this.
He pulled away slightly and said, “I wanted to do that the entire time we were in there.”
“I did, too,” she admitted.
He leaned in and kissed her again, her body practically singing against his as she felt bits of her stir that hadn’t been stirred in quite some time. A cab rolled to a stop behind them, and Jesse pulled away slightly to murmur, “Do you still need that cab?”
She nodded with a small smile playing on her lips. “Yeah.”
He watched her turn away from him and walk over to the cab, opening the door and sliding in. She peaked her head out of the open doorway and asked, “Are you coming?”
He grinned and slipped into the cab, closing the door beside him. His hand rested heavily on her leg and they barely got her address out before her hands slipped into his jacket, and his mouth found her neck.
They slept in the next day.