Title: we seem to never end
Word Count: 4,200
Summary: "I have a box you know,'" she uttered quietly, "A box of things that used to be ours..." One night, a bottle of red wine and a box of memories was all they needed to know.
You look behind you
And smile back at me
‘You always could have been the right one for me,’
It wasn’t until the candles had sunk low, into molten stubs with soft, dusky flickering light that Rachel really began to talk. Their dinner plates were cleared and stacked up by the sink haphazardly, there was a pot of leftover spaghetti sauce on the stove and the only signs of their evening were the empty wine bottles on the table in front of them.
With a few glasses of wine in Rachel’s system she was finally comfortable around him again and her words began to flow easily. He was warm, contentedness radiating from within, from the soft light, from the warm food in his stomach, from the light, lilting sound of her voice and he was happy to let her talk.
She had changed, but then, maybe they both had. Her words were honeyed and rose and fell in a soft, soothing way that settled over him, like a warm blanket.
With her, once again, it felt oddly, like returning to your childhood bed, or slipping into a jacket you hadn’t seen in a long time. It was warm, welcoming and he felt at ease. It felt like the vaguest hint of a memory, it felt like a time when things were different.
It felt... good.
The candlelight danced against the tiled walls of her kitchen as she sat opposite him. Her hair sparkled in the dim light and she talked.
‘Always,’ she mused thoughtfully, ‘If things hadn’t been different, I think you could have been the right one for me,’
He nodded slowly, ‘If things hadn’t been different.’
‘But they were,’ she sighed, ‘They most definitely were,’
She sipped from her wine glass, contemplatively staring into the distance beyond him.
‘I was so stupid back then,’ he laughed softly, ‘God, I was only eighteen. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing – I thought I did, but... I was only a kid.’
‘I was only sixteen,’ Rachel mused, ‘I was so certain I loved you. But then again, I thought I loved Finn too. And Puck. But maybe I did,’
‘I loved you,’ Jesse countered quietly, meeting her eyes with his humble confession, ‘I really did.’
Rachel’s eyes locked firmly with his, and the brown orbs sparkled as the light danced within them. She was silent for a long time, staring at him, searching his face for traces of the boy that was, becoming familiar with the man that remained.
Finally, she broke the silence and her admission was so soft, he would have missed it if he hadn’t clung to her every word.
‘I have a box, you know,’ Rachel uttered inaudibly , ‘A box of the things that used to be ours, things that we left behind.’
‘Really?’ he asked.
Rachel shrugged, somewhat sheepishly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, ‘It’s pathetic, I know. But you were my first, real boyfriend, the first boy that I had a real relationship with. So I kept a lot of those things to remind me, you know, where I’d been, where I was going.’
He studied her for a brief moment, looking at the woman who sat before him and knew that he truly was sitting with a stranger.
‘So, you have a box.’
Rachel shrugged again, ‘It’s stupid, but it’s just something I like to have. Like you’ll always be part of my history, but I kept you compartmented, away from the new, but filed away safely with the old.’
They lapsed into a thick, easy silence as Rachel swirled the wine around her glass thoughtfully. This time, he was the one to break the silence.
‘I’d like to see it,’
Rachel’s head snapped up and she surveyed him through widened eyes.
‘You... you what?’
‘I’d like to see it,’ he repeated, ‘Your box. Of us.’
Rachel shook her head immediately, her dark curls bobbing furiously, ‘No,’ she murmured emphatically, ‘It’s... it’s private.’
‘But, it’s about me technically... so it’s not private.’
He reached out, slipping his hand over hers, their eyes locking, ‘Rachel, please. For old times’ sake?’
Rachel stared at him for a long moment, their gazes far more prolonged than it needed to be. Finally, he saw the resignation in her eyes as she conceded.
She slid off her stool and sashayed from the room, her skirt swishing as she disappeared from view.
The circumstances that had led him to sitting in her kitchen were still surprising to him: it was purely fate’s work that meant that they both wind up in the same bar on a night weeks ago. It was purely destiny’s chance that they ran into one another again at an audition. But it was all their own doing that they exchanged numbers to catch up.
‘Okay, here it is,’ Rachel sigh, expelling a breath heavily as she re-entered the room.
She was laden with a auburn box and as she lay it down on the island in front of them, his fingers itched.
Suddenly, with the knowledge of what that box represented, he craved to know what it contained. He wanted to know what Rachel still clung to as her past, what and how Rachel remembered him. He wanted to know that she still thought of him the way he did her.
Rachel dragged her stool over to sit beside him, pulling the box with her. She settled beside him, the scent of her shampoo swirling around him briefly, in a way that made him think of times long gone. She glanced up at him, apprehension evident in her eyes.
‘Jesse, are you sure you want...’
‘Come on, it’s just a stroll down memory lane isn’t it?’ he coaxed, convincing himself more than her.
Rachel nodded, her mouth set in a nervous line, ‘Okay then. If you’re sure.’
She prised open the lid, opening a pathway to a time he’d shoved into the crevices of his mind.
The memories rose immediately, bringing to light a time which had long blurred in his memory. Bringing to light a time of crimson lips that tasted like Cherry Coke lipbalm and peppermints, a time when he lived in the Ohio summer sun, a time of the small, soft hand in his. A time that was a long, long time ago.
He peered into the box, as Rachel began to sift through the items.
‘They’re all silly really,’ she murmured, a hint of defensiveness lacing her tone, ‘Just little things that remind me.’
She handed him a strip of pictures from a photo booth – her face was glowing with the hum of youth, their expressions forever frozen in wide grins of joy. He was surprised at how sharply the memory surfaced. Allan County Fair. 2010. Her delighted gasps as they posed for photos, her lips pressed to his cheek, his tongue poked out at the camera, two sets of dramatic jazz hands.
He shook her head and the memory dissipated, like a parting fog as she continued to search. Finally, he found something that caught his attention.
‘Wait, you still have this?’
His fingers brushed hers as he reached for the object. Delicious shocks curled up his hand as he wrapped his fingers around the CD, pulling it out.
‘God, I’d nearly forgotten about this. I made it this after we’d been dating for a few months.’
Rachel smiled, ‘If I remember correctly, you gave it to me as an anniversary gift, I think.’
He glanced at the case, flipping it over to scan the list of songs, ‘It was. I remember that much.’
‘Here, this is for you,’ he said easily, presenting her with the gift.
It was simply wrapped, a CD case with a red bow taped onto it with great care. The cover was his own work, an absentminded sketch that cried brilliance, down to his delicate lettering of the tracks.
‘You made me a CD?’ she smiled proudly, ‘Like a mix tape?’
He shrugged nonchalantly, sprawling out on her bed, ‘Listen to it.’
She slipped to disc into the CD player before settling onto the bed beside him. He curled his arm around her, pulling her snugly to his body, nestling his face in her hair. The first track of the CD began to play, filling the room with soft, acoustic guitar music. He imagined his fingers stroking the strings as he slipped his fingers through hers, strumming the notes on the back of her hand.
She hummed quietly against him, and as she turned her head to bury her head against his chest, he could feel her smile. He leant down, his lips grazing her ear and he began to sing.
His words were low and gravelly in her ear as his voice danced over the notes, along with the CD swelling in the thick air.
‘It hasn’t felt like this before, it hasn’t felt like home, before you...’ he sang gently and Rachel turned her face upwards to stare at him.
For a moment, he was taken aback at the intensity of her expression. Her face was reverent, her eyes full of adoration and love and... pride. She smiled at him, like he was her whole world and it made something in his heart warm. She looked at him like no one else ever had.
She cut him off mid-lyric as she craned up to capture his lips in a gentle, chaste kiss and he curled his fingers in amongst her hair. Together, they fell back against her bed, exchanging soft kisses and tender touches, losing themselves to one another as the music played on...
Rachel smiled softly, turning the CD over in her hands fondly.
‘I thought that what you did was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me. I played that CD so many times, and I knew all of those songs by heart.’
With that, she tossed the CD back into the box, stroking the rim of the box absentmindedly. He glanced in, pulling out a few items himself. There was a necklace, the one he’d given to her, the one that she’d lost on a ride in a theme park that he’d had to rescue as it slipped deeper into the water. There was a ticket stub from the time he drove them to Cincinnati to see a leg of the Phantom tour and there was that Care Bear that he’d won for her on one of their very first dates. His hands continued to pry through the items until he reached a soft cloth bundle. He pulled it out, shaking out the object so he could see it. Unfurled before him was what used to be his favourite t-shirt. The black cloth was still as soft as he remembered, and the artistic abstract logo that he once thought was his way of making a statement had dulled.
‘So you’ve had this, all this time,’ he asked, chuckling affably, turning his eyes onto her.
Rachel shrugged noncommittally, ‘You left it with me. It’s all mine. Besides, I’d had for quite a while before we broke up.’
And then he remembered.
Rachel’s hands were everywhere today, he mused with only half a brain. He could only afford to offer half a brain to his thoughts, because the rest of his brain was busy controlling the burning desire that made his skin itch. Normally, he was good with Rachel, he could control his emotions by conjuring up the image of her mother, of remembering that he wasn’t really in a relationship with her. But today, that wasn’t working.
Today, Rachel had an odd lack of inhibitions as her warm, tiny hands roamed his body. They slipped under his shirt, sliding up his back, before her nails grazed the skin of his shoulders as she dragged them back down. He was happy to follow her cues today, let her decide the pace to take it: it was a change that they were even allowed to make out today, so he wasn’t going to complain. Their lips remained locked, releasing, re-locking over and over in a way that made his stomach tumble. He dipped his tongue into her mouth, prolonging the kiss, and she reacted to him immediately, her body arching up to meet his, their groins pressing together tightly. Jesse gasped, breaking the kiss, rolling away from her. He was getting too far – this was Rachel he was with.
As he rolled away, Rachel rolled with him, coming to settle on top. Her eyes sparkled with determination as she came to rest her hands on his stomach.
‘Rach...’ he half-groaned, ‘Please, come on. I can’t keep that up without having like a brain heammorage. We always have to stop – so come on, let’s go watch a movie.’
The pulsating ache from below his hips screamed otherwise, but he knew that Rachel would stop sooner or later, so it was better that he stopped now, before he couldn’t.
Rachel got an odd look on her face, and she slid her hands over his stomach slowly, staring at him, with an unreadable expression in her eyes.
‘What if...’ she tested slowly, her hands sliding up his chest, ‘I....’
Her hands glided down his chest again, coming to rest at the waistband of his jeans, ‘What if... I don’t want to stop,’ she tried.
He took a moment for the heaviness of her words to be comprehended, and his eyes widened.
‘Rach... I thought you...’
Her agile fingers played with the button of his jeans idly, staring thoughtfully at him. She popped the button and looked up, locking eyes with him.
‘I’m thinking differently...’
She dragged down the fly slowly and his stomach jerked violently. He wanted this. So bad.
But this was Rachel....
She stopped, evidently concerned by his lack of reciprocation. He sat up, his muscles shaking with the effort it took to reign in his desire. He held onto the hem of her shirt, pulling it up over her head, revealing a sea of toned, glowing olive skin. He sucked in a sharp breath, pulling her close to him, their bare chests pressed together.
‘Rach,’ he muttered, his voice trembling with the strain of his self control, ‘If we.... If we keep doing this, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stop.’
Rachel breathed in deeply, her breaths quavering and nervous, ‘I know.’
‘Only if you’re sure.’
He reached up, to cup her face, their lips meeting in a soft, passionate kiss. They’d crossed the point of no return.
When it was all over, he collapsed onto her bed, perfectly exhausted. His chest heaved as he gasped for air. The sweat beaded on his skin cooled, a comforting sensation in his sated state. Rachel was silent beside him, as he pulled her thin lilac sheet over his hips, and he wondered what she was thinking.
‘Rach...’ he murmured breathlessly, rolling to face her.
She was still lying on her back, where he’d left her. Her eyes were wide, staring at the canopy of her bed with intense fascination.
‘Rachel, are you okay?’ he pried.
At the sound of his voice, her eyes instantly welled up with tears and his heart wrenched. Shit.
‘Woah, woah, hold up Rachel. It’s okay. I’m sorry. I knew you weren’t ready...’
‘I just can’t believe it’s over,’ she murmured quietly, ‘That’s it. Virginity gone.’
‘It just... I just gave my virginity to you.’
Her eyes turned on him, frightened and withdrawn. He reached out to curl his fingers around her wrist protectively.
‘Rachel, god, I’m sorry. I really hope that you won’t regret that it was me.’
Her lips quivered and her hands probed for his, their fingers lacing, ‘No. I... I don’t regret it. I honestly don’t. I just can’t believe that it’s all over now.’
He chuckled quietly, ‘Come here. It’s okay.’
He helped her sit up, and she leant over briefly to fish an article of clothing off the floor. She returned with the soft black t-shirt he’d worn to her house, slipping it over her head. Then he pulled her into the crook of his arm, taking her hand gently, nuzzling his face in her hair.
And like that, everything was okay.
‘So you kept the t-shirt?’ he murmured, laughed affably, ‘All this time, I’d wondered where that shirt had gone.’
‘I kept the shirt,’ she confirmed with a shrug, ‘It felt like fair game. You took my virginity, I took your shirt.’
He nodded, ‘Good logic.’
Her eyes grew faraway, as she stared out the kitchen window thoughtfully, ‘The crazy thing was, in that moment, afterwards, I wondered if I was going to marry you one day.’
He turned to look at her, her profile outlined by the shadows of the moonlight. The dusky orange glow of the candles danced across her cheekbones, met with the silvery glow of the moon streaming in from above New York City’s skyline. Her lips were curved up in a distant smile, meant for the boy that he used to be, not for the man who stood before her today, and she rested her chin in the palm of her tiny, cupped hand. Her hair fell in dark curtains around her face, shrouding the girl before him in mystery of all the memories she didn’t share with him. For a split second he remembered what it felt like to be eighteen, what it felt like to love this girl and to never want to hurt her. He remembered that he’d made the biggest mistake of his life. For a split second, he wondered how he ever could have let her go.
‘Why did we ever break up?’ he mused suddenly, breaking the silence, ‘I mean... why didn’t I fight harder? Why didn’t I quit my team? Why didn’t I fix things?’
She shifted, her eyes locking with his, her smile becoming wry and cynical.
‘I know why.’
She leant into the box, shifting aside the few remaining items that lingered in the box and pulled out something that made his stomach wrench. She pushed it across the kitchen bench and stared at him.
‘There. There’s your reason.’
He was watching her. He’d been watching her since her team had arrived at the function centre, watching her clutching the hand of Finn, watching Puck with his arm around her, watching Mike and Matt who took the time to glare periodically at him. He’d been watching her the whole time. So why wasn’t she watching him too?
Since she’d arrived she’d been preoccupied, dashing between the boy’s and girl’s dressing rooms, the ones that were opposite his. He sat in the corridor and watched as she darted around, shrieking instructions, offering directions. But she didn’t even see him.
When she performed she blew his mind. She stood in Finn’s embrace, her voice soaring over the notes in a way that he knew original artist never could have imagined and he tried not to smile as his team exchange concerned glances. When it was his turn, he sang a ballad and he sang it for her. He stood by the piano, and he searched for her face in the audience. He couldn’t see for the glare of the lights, but he liked to believe that she was in the audience, watching him, understanding that he was apologizing.
When they announced the winners, they stood on the stage together, and he was so close to her. His hands burned to reach out to her, his throat ached to call out her name, but instead he was still. He made plans to talk to her afterwards, to beg for her to understand.
And then they called runner up and it came down between him and her. As Vocal Adrenaline were called as winners ,they team erupted in cheers around him, engulfing him in a tight hug, shrieks in his ears. He missed Rachel stepping forward to accept her smaller, silver trophy with a trite, forced smile on her face because he was being pushed forward himself.
He hoisted the gold trophy over his head with a grin, caught up in the moment truly. He lost himself as he was lifted on their shoulders, yelling their throats hoarse, celebrating the destruction of their fiercest competition. He didn’t see the faces of the audiences cheering for him. He didn’t see Rachel slip away. He didn’t chase after her.
Instead, he let the glint of the gold, the promise of an elusive future lull him into forgetting, lull him into believing that he didn’t need anything but that promise.
Instead of finding her and spending the rest of his life with her, he went to California.
Rachel looked up, her eyes pensive. Jesse turned over the small silver trophy in his hands curiously, tracing the engraving, feeling his hands shake.
‘That’s the reason why I let you go,’ he mused.
Rachel offered a small, sad smile, ‘Was it worth it?’
He shook his head disbelievingly, ‘I can’t... I can’t believe that I ever let that happen. Do you know, I don’t even know where that trophy is anymore. I don’t even know if it’s in storage from college. I gave up you for a trophy that I don’t even care about.’
She shrugged, ‘Everyone makes exchanges. Trophies for a love, money for children. It’s not surprising.’
‘But it wasn’t worth it!’ he protested, ‘It wasn’t worth it at all, because the glint of gold trophies don’t mean anything now that I go home to an empty bed at the end of the day.’
Rachel sighed, leaning forward to rest her face in her palm again, ‘It was years ago Jesse. Honestly...’
They lapsed into a long, deep silence, Jesse fixated on the trophy on his hands. It wasn’t worth it. It had never been worth it.
Finally, he expelled a breath noisily, clutching the kitchen counter tightly.
‘Well, that’s it isn’t it?’ he announced.
Rachel looked up, shaken from her reverie, ‘What do you mean?’
‘I guess that it’s. That’s where our relationship ends. I thought that, that seeing this box and looking at everything would just re-confirm what I’d told myself all along – that you just another girl, just one in a string of many, nothing worth memory. But instead, I learnt that it wasn’t worth it. That I fucked up what could have been the greatest thing that happened to me.’
Rachel’s eyes glistened with mournful tears, ‘Yes,’ she whispered, her voice shaking, ‘Yes, you did.’
He stood up, crossing the kitchen to her side. He clutched onto her elbow, his face inches from hers.
‘I am so sorry,’ he murmured, ‘I’m sorry for the trade-off I made. I’m sorry that I was stupid and eighteen. I’m sorry that I ever let that happen to you.’
Rachel lifted her head slightly and her lips brushed against his. She surged forward, and their lips met again, in a chaste, lingering kiss.
It felt like goodbye.
When they broke up, Rachel’s eyes were still sparkling sadly, but a smile curved at her lips. He felt the air change and knew that was his cue.
‘I... I should go,’ he breathed, pained to be even saying the words.
Rachel nodded, squeezing his hand fondly, ‘Thank you for tonight Jesse. I think it was what I needed.’
He shrugged, ‘Anytime. Maybe we’ll catch up some other time.’
She smiled, ‘Maybe.’
She walked him to the door, watched him as he shrugged on his jacket and leant against the doorframe as he made to leave.
‘I know I’ve already said it, but I’m sorry,’ he murmured as their final moments slipped through his fist, ‘And I honestly did love you. Please don’t cheapen what it was by forgetting that.’
She offered him a sentimental smile, cocking her head, ‘I know. I loved you too.’
He leant down, pressing a kiss to the top of her head before turning to leave.
He walked down the corridor, his heart aching with every step he took away from her. Once he got to the elevator, he stopped, turning around, and glanced back. Rachel stood there, still leaning in the doorway, still smiling. The elevator doors slid shut with a clang and she was gone.
He’d made a mistake when he was eighteen, a mistake that had consequences on two lives in the future and the mistake he’d made, the choice he’d made wasn’t worth it at all. But there was no going back now, looking back was only temporary, it wasn’t ever going to be a reality. He was now thirty three, single and living in New York City without a show business career.
He’d never see her again, he knew that. Her life was going to take off now, he’d allowed her the opportunity to finally let him go. Maybe one day he’d learn to let her go, just like she’d done him, but for now he’d cling to the box of memories he’d always keep of her.
and so broken in