"I think we're going to be a little short this year."
She wasn't meant to hear it. They didn't even know she was there. She had tugged on her father's hand cloyingly as soon as service finished with a murmured plea to go to the restroom, her Mary Janes skimming the floor as she left him behind, saving him from the awkwardness of waiting for her outside. She stayed longer than she should have, she knows, ensuring her hair was perfectly straight and smoothing her skirt where it had been crumpled by her anxious fingers, ensuring that she looked as perfect as she always would when the paparazzi began following her. She pasted her brightest smile on her face as she skipped back out of the restroom, only to feel it slip away as she heard the last few lines of her fathers' conversation.
"I heard about all of the layoffs at the hospital. Is everything okay?" Concern tinged Daddy's voice, and Rachel froze.
"Oh, I still have my job, Hiram. Don't worry." Mrs. Puckerman's voice sounded wearier than usual, heavier, with a deeper edge than Rachel was used to hearing from her.
She could practically feel the way he laid his hand on the woman's arm.
"I had to take a small cut in pay to keep my job, though," she finally admitted. "It's not much, but it's going to be a rough holiday season. I think we're going to be a little short this year."
She hasn't spent much time with him since his thirteenth birthday party over the summer, and even then he was so caught up in the chaotic fun of his new, teenage male friends, wielding neon orange and green water pistols against each other, that she sat in the corner alone until his new, popular female friends found her and laughed at her, when she resorted to the spot within the neighbor's bushes they had considered a fort when they were younger which she knew would hide her tears. She knew he saw the red rims of her eyes and heard the taunting laughter of the other girls as her fathers picked her up early, knew he could see the grief hiding behind her grin, and his abrupt turn away stung as much as the thorns that had carelessly, intrusively, brutally grown into their fort.
She still considered him one of her best friends.
"Noah's aware of the whole thing," she caught as her ears involuntarily picked up the rest of the conversation. "Bless his heart, he told me to spend all of the money we had on Sarah. He found a few things I had hidden away for him and demanded I return them and give everything to her."
Tears rose into a lump in her throat as his face swarmed in her mind, brow creased in determination as he tossed back shopping bags full of his favorite things at his mother's face, his small fingers trembling with the anger he aimed towards his mother but he knew was caused by a face he hadn't seen in years.
She knew him better than anyone. She knew Noah, no matter what this new "Puck" persona may do to her, and she knew that Noah would never let his mother and sister go without a happy holiday.
She barely noticed her fathers noticing her, guiding her into the conversation with the light push of a hand at her back, or the soft blush at Mrs. Puckerman's cheeks at the abrupt change in subject. She barely noticed her dad's proud narration of her most recent recital, or their questions about her latest performance piece, or their discussion about Hanukkah traditions.
She only perked back up from brooding on the image of his face when she heard his name.
"So where is Noah today, anyway?"
"He's off playing with some of his friends," said Mrs. Puckerman with a heavy sigh. "I'm glad he's made so many new friends this year, but I hate when they keep him from temple. He said something about a Star Wars game, and he's been so good with Sarah lately, so I just couldn't say no."
"Well, tell him we missed him," Daddy replied grandly, but Rachel barely noticed.
Because she had inadvertently reached the conclusion that Noah needed something special, and she had just realized what that something special was.
A Star Wars Hanukkah.
She swallowed back the sting as she was forced to admit to herself that she didn't know him that well anymore. The superficial things, at least.
A few years ago, she could easily say that she knew him better than anyone, and he would have agreed. She knew his favorite color, his favorite animal, the kinds of crayons he preferred, the teachers he thought were attractive (much to her chagrin), the classes he liked and the classes he hated, the girls he had already kissed, even his middle name. And he knew her just as well.
It was on the first day of school this year, when she caught his eye from her locker, grinning at her best friend as he stalked down the hallway, only to realize that he refused to look back, that she realized those days had since faded.
She watched him, of course. She always watched him, waiting for him to remember her, as though one day he would turn the corner, see her, and his eyes would light up with sudden recognition and he would lift her in his arms, spinning her around like she had seen in so many romantic comedies, apologizing over and over for not realizing she still attended that school. Yet everyday he looked not past her, not around her, but through her, as though she didn't exist, and her daydreams crashed around her like broken mirrors.
Yet only from watching him she had noticed his new interest in Star Wars. She had heard of the movies before though she had never seen them, but as she watched him throughout the day she saw him scribbling droids onto the paper he was supposed to be using for notes, sketching designs of spaceships on the backs of tests he was supposed to be taking, stashing the DVDs in his locker to share with all his friends, even patting Matt Rutherford on the back and calling him "Chewie," laughing loudly, obnoxiously, at the boy's grimace. She barely admitted it to herself, but her point of realization hit when his jeans fell too low and she caught sight of a few inches of underwear, the Star Wars logo blazing white against black cotton, and even as she immediately looked away, cheeks burning red, she knew how much it had clearly come to mean for him – and inwardly she knew how much he had changed from the little boy she once knew.
Her plan to reenact the films or make some sort of personal adventure out of them was scrapped after an afternoon of watching them, realizing that the extent of the universe within the films was far more than she had originally imagined. So she reduced her plan to a simple themed party, a two-person party like they had when they were younger, set up carefully, elaborately, in her basement.
She had only a few weeks before Hanukkah began, so she immediately threw herself into the project, making it her main focus, even reducing the hours she spent exercising her voice by fifteen minutes per day so she could skim through the yellow legal pad she had devoted to her plan. She had a plan of action, of course, mapped out perfectly on the fourth page, bubbles around each step and thick arrows drawn in between, with a shopping list drifting onto the next page.
Noah had been forced to give up too much in his life, and he was being forced to give up too much now, she thought; and his new friends wouldn't know that. So she was going to do what was her obligation as his previous best friend, as someone who truly knew him, as the girl who had loved him as a friend for years.
And, if it just so happened to bring him back to her, so be it.
He was supposed to be at Chang's house playing video games. At least, that's what he reassured himself as his mother dropped him off at the Berrys' house, nudging him out of the car and insisting that he go help Rachel with something. She wouldn't say what, and he took that as a sign of something disastrous. He hadn't spoken to Rachel in months, and he knew she wouldn't have anything nice to say to him.
He didn't mean to ignore her, really. It just sort of happened. Somewhere between making the football team, shaving his hair into a Mohawk, and rounding third with Santana Lopez, he had started ignoring the little girl he knew from temple. And, really, it's not like she could blame him. This was middle school, and they were going to be in high school soon. Your entire school experience was based on how popular you were, and there's no way she could blame him for trying to win over the popular kids, especially when he was such a natural at it. Or maybe she could, considering it was pretty obvious she didn't care about any of that shit.
"Okay, what do you need?" he spat out as soon as she had opened the door.
An ache in his gut started when her face fell for a moment, her aze dropping sadly down to his Chucks, before she put on her brightest smile again, the smile he could always see was faked. "Just come with me. It's in the basement."
He grumbled incoherently as she led him down to the basement and sat in his spot on the couch. And then she fucking left him.
It wasn't like he wanted to be here anyway.
He had been in this basement more than once before, of course, considering he spent most of his childhood doing favors for this chick and several of them involved something of a concert in this basement. It was here that he first played his guitar for an audience, as she sang along to whatever Christina Aguilera song was on the radio at the time, their parents grinning and waving in the audience of four while Rachel bowed proudly and Sarah nodded off to sleep.
"Are you ready?" Her voice cut into his memory, and he was reminded of the fact that he didn't want to be here, that they hadn't spent much time together, that he was going to help her and then get the fuck out. Hell, what could she possibly need help with that involves her getting ready?
The last thing he was expecting was Rachel fucking Berry to show up at the top of the stairs in a Princess Leia costume. Well, the white one, of course. There was no way he'd ever see her in that hot gold bikini, but the white one was pretty awesome too.
"Do you like it?" She twirled around after she reached the bottom of the stairs, like she had twirled showing him her first tutu years ago, her face flushed again with embarrassment. "It's not a real Princess Leia costume, of course, because it's so far past Halloween and almost all of the stores are closed, and even those that aren't didn't have popular costumes like that, so I had to make do with this sort of angel costume and then buy some accessories from Claire's. They always have nice things. But I think it works, don't you? Oh, here!"
She darted over to a cabinet and pulled out a vest. He took it from her, gaping. Han Solo's fucking vest.
"I actually ordered you a costume, since I did this all for you. It should fit okay, but I didn't really know your size anymore, so I had to guess, and I didn't think to ask your mother until later. The vest should fit, at least, though. Do – Do you like it?"
She bit her lip and glanced up at him through her lashes, and all he could get out was, "What is this?"
"It's a Star Wars Hanukkah," she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Then again, to her, maybe it was.
"What do you mean, 'Star Wars Hanukkah'?"
She adjusted the belt on her costume, twisted the barrettes holding her braids in further. "I – I heard your mother at temple a few weeks ago. She said you may not have the best Hanukkah this year, so I wanted to give one to you. And I know you like Star Wars, so…"
"So you planned a Star Wars Hanukkah party? Just for me? To cheer me up or something?" He glanced around, as though he were just realizing they were the only people there. What kind of party just had two people?
"Yes," she answered shyly.
Fuck, did she know how to make a guy feel guilty.
"I'm sorry if I had to lure you here under false pretenses. I wasn't sure you'd come if I invited you myself, but I really wanted to do this for you, so I went through your mother. I thought that would be more effective, if I told her I needed your help with something."
He was suddenly reminded of a little girl, reaching for a box of crackers in his pantry, reminded of laughing at her stretching to the tips of her toes as he sat comfortably in the kitchen, reminded of her pouting to his mother until she handed the box down to her and her telling his mother of his laughter, reminded of her devious smirk when his mother turned to yell at him and the first time he realized she was way more than she seemed.
"I always knew you had it in you, Berry."
He liked watching the way her blush spread gradually spread over her cheeks way too much.
"So what did you plan out for this party of yours?" he asked, grinning, shrugging the vest on over his long sleeved white tee shirt – perfect choice for the day, he was so clearly destined to be Han – and trying not to laugh as she beamed.
"Well, I've only seen the films once, so we could possibly watch those again. And, if not, I found a list of possible Star Wars related games we could play, like Guess the Galaxy or a few other trivia games I know you would win, or perhaps you closing your eyes and trying to find where I am in the room with the power of the Force, or –"
"It's okay. We can just watch the movies again," he interrupted quickly. "I don't think I even want to know how you were going to finish that sentence."
She glowered at him for a moment, before leaping to her toes. "Oh, I almost forgot!" She darted back to the cabinet, opening another drawer and pulling out a small, wrapped present. "Here. Here's your other present."
He shot an incredulous look at her. This girl was everything and more. How could she do all this when they hadn't even spoken outside temple in months? He quickly ripped open the package, and burst out laughing as he saw a yarmulke – one which she had made for him out of fabric with the Star Wars logo.
"Do you not like it?" she said meekly, stunned by his laughter, nervously smoothing her long white skirt.
"Are you kidding me? This is the fucking awesomest thing I've ever seen! You're, like, the best friend ever."
He swept her into a hug, her toes barely brushing the floor, and she laughed as she clasped her elbows around his neck, feeling like her heart was going to burst with happiness.
This girl – this girl was something else. All she had heard was that he might not have a lot for the holidays this year, and she went out and did something like this for him. She watched his favorite movies, bought him the costume of his favorite character, bought herself the costume of her favorite character (that's all it was, right?), and even sewed him something awesome. All after he was a complete dick to her all year because of some stupid notion he had of popularity and surviving high school.
He grinned as he let her go, slipping the yarmulke on his head as she giggled gaily and plugged in A New Hope.
"I was so nervous about this, I could barely sleep last night," she admitted, trotting back over to the couch, folding the length of her dress underneath her as the gracefully sat beside him.
"Are you kidding? I've got Chewie to entertain me if you wimp out on me." She laughed as he gestured to the television.
Luke had just destroyed the Death Star when her giggles faded, when she felt sleep creeping in; and Han had just been frozen in carbonite when she rested her head on his shoulder, eyes falling closed heavily. It was only when Luke lost his hand that he realized he had wrapped his arm around her comfortably, that her braids were tickling the side of his neck, that he was smiling as she slept beside him.
"I miss this," she murmured sleepily as he woke her up briefly to slip in the third movie. "I miss you."
"I miss you too," he whispered back, as surprised as she was that he was telling the truth.
"Don't ignore me anymore, Noah. Please. I – I just miss spending time with you."
She barely knew what she was saying, her voice and mind fogged with sleep and the comfortable lull of his scent as she dozed against his shoulder.
It didn't matter.
"Okay." He pulled her back to him, rested his chin against her temple. "Okay. We call a truce. I'll try to be nicer to you in school."
"It's not a truce if it's one-sided, Noah," she corrected automatically, somehow managing to sound exasperated even when she was half asleep.
"It's my truce, I decide what it's called."
She giggled and nestled her head back against her shoulder, simply content that she had her best friend back.
There was no way he could tell her, but she had done more for him in that one afternoon than any of his popular friends had in months. He tried to tell her with a small peck against her temple before he slipped away home, and the smile spreading over her face told him she got the message.
The truce lasted for a month. And then came the first slushie, thrown by Chase Grant, and then a few weeks later the first slushie thrown by him. And then came high school, and then came Finn Hudson. And, by the time Glee came, the truce and the Star Wars Hanukkah were long forgotten, her makeshift Leia costume hanging in the racks of the local Goodwill and his Star Wars yarmulke stuffed away in the back of his closet.
They met up again in New York.
She was rushing off to an audition, a six-dollar latte in one hand and a bright leather handbag in the other, when he charged around the corner, late for an interview. Her pure white blouse was soaked, brown seeping into her skin, but her gaze remained focused on the boy who once gave her a truce.
She swapped numbers with him, hands trembling as she keyed her name into his phone, leaving off the asterisk she had abandoned in college, and insisted he run off to make his interview. He walked backwards away from her amidst the busy New York sidewalk, grinning, oblivious to the knowing glances of pedestrians between them which colored her cheeks, and even as she walked home in a ruined shirt she knew she'd see him again.
Nothing had worked out between them in high school – later, he liked to say she was too interested in Luke to realize Han Solo was in love with her too – but a few weeks of spending time together years later showed her that they may finally be able to rekindle their friendship.
In a few more weeks, he kissed her, dropping her back off at her apartment after she had leaned heavily against him at the bar, grinning and giggling until he agreed to walk her home, and she knew their mere friendship may have long been forgotten.
It was a December that they moved in together, cursing their timing as they lugged boxes upon boxes of his belongings up the five flights to Rachel's apartment, barely shading their skin from the biting wind. He swore loudly as the final box hit the tile of her kitchen, and she hid her shiver at the profanities falling from his tongue by pressing her lips to his. She pulled together some dinner – microwaved and preprepared, at his insistence, to which she stuck out her tongue at him, which he then tried to swallow – and laughed with him over the amount of cardboard littering her, now their, living room, before they started unpacking.
It was the sixth or seventh box she found, "Hanukkah Stuff" scribbled in deep blue marker on the top, a box whose faded tape on the sides showed her had been hidden away in a closet for the past several years. She pried it open curiously, expecting a menorah of some kind, some relic of traditions past, when she gasped to find the Star Wars yarmulke she made when she had just turned thirteen.
Across the room, he glanced up at her, flushing as he saw what she held in her hands, carefully, daintily, as though it were an artifact from a past long forgotten.
"You kept it?" she whispered.
"Of course I did, baby. You made it for me. It was the best Hanukkah present I ever had."
Red-painted fingers covered her mouth, and tears filled her eyes. He had rushed over to pull her into his arms, as he always hated to see her cry, when she explained he had given her the best birthday present she could have imagined.
That year, they lit the first candle on the menorah as Han Solo and Princess Leia, Noah in a tailored costume Rachel had asked Kurt to make and Rachel in a white Leia costume Noah had found on online, their gifts for each other. He was sure her smile that night beamed brighter than all the lights in the world, when he cupped her cheek in his palm and told her she would always be his princess.
He would wait until the eighth night to show her the gold bikini costume he ordered with it.