“Noah? What are you doing here?”
She wasn’t expecting him. Actually, it looked like she wasn’t expecting anyone – loose fitting NYADA tee shirt, tight yoga pants, bare feet. If he looked closely, she was pretty sure she wasn’t wearing a bra. She crossed her arms, blushing, and he realized she had caught his leer.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Berry. Is Finn here?”
He brushed past her, through the doorway, glancing around her (and Finn’s) apartment. It was cleaner than the last time he’d been here, for some football game a few months ago, when he furrowed his brow at the douche propping his feet up on the coffee table he knew Rachel had bought at some super special antique sale or something and loved, at his wiping his fingers, orange with cheese dust, on the couch Rachel had brought from two years’ living in a dorm room, at those fingers, still unmarred by a wedding band to match the diamond Rachel was still wearing after three years.
He didn’t notice that she was ignoring his question.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Noah. You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?”
“What, I can’t drop by my girl’s house to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day? Chill.”
She tried to squash the twist in her stomach at his possessive words. His girl. They were friends, just friends – good friends, close friends – but she never failed to flush when he phrased it like that. She tried to bite back the smile spreading over her lips. “You came halfway across the city just to wish me a happy Valentine’s Day?”
“Well, and give you a present. I’m not that stupid.” He finished his inspection of the room – much cleaner, actually – and turned back to her, pulling out a small black box from his coat pocket. He tossed it to her, grinning as she practically lunged to catch it.
She scowled at him, suppressing the smile threatening to curve her lips at his boisterous laugh as he walked aimlessly around her apartment; but her expression shifted into blank shock as she realized she held a small jewelry box. She couldn’t remember the last time she had received jewelry, except from her dads, and she stroked the velvet box adoringly before carefully pulling it open.
“Oh my gosh, Noah.”
“You like it?”
“Is this the same –”
“Yeah. I saw it in some shop window and thought of you. I figured I still owed you a replacement.”
Eight years old during recess, Rachel had rolled her eyes at the boy who had now taken to calling himself “Puck,” telling him it was a stupid name and that he probably didn’t even know where it came from and proceeding to give him a plot summary of Midsummer Night’s Dream. An eight-year-old Puck glared at her, walking away as she started to speak and turning to yank at her hair when he realized she was following him, making her lose her balance so far that she fell into a large puddle of mud. He laughed uproariously, ignoring the tears now streaming down her eyes as she wailed that she had lost the necklace her fathers had given her.
The necklace. A thin chain with the charm of two sterling silver eighth notes.
Her breath caught in her throat.
“This is amazing, Noah. This is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever done for me.”
“Even more amazing than a flash mob? And Sweet Caroline?” he teased.
She bit her lip adoringly, her brown eyes wide with honor and love as she whispered a soft “thank you” and reached to hug him. His hands settled warmly on her waist, their presence burning through the thin tee shirt she had stolen from Kurt, and his breath blew hot against her neck. She could hear the rhythm of his heartbeat as she pressed her ear against his chest.
He awkwardly pulled out of her grasp, and she glanced at the floor embarrassed.
“Well, I’d better be going. Working at the bar tonight. It’s going to be pretty busy, and I’ve got to get back. Just – just wanted to give you that,” he babbled, catching himself just before he said something stupid, before he forgot his role as just friend. He patted her awkwardly on the shoulder and turned around back towards the door, lifting one hand over his head in a backwards wave. “See ya, Berry.”
He turned slowly, confused, caught by the hopeful lilt in the end of her voice.
“Um.” She paused, biting her lip nervously like she always did, twisting her hands so that the jewelry box spun like a tilt-a-whirl. “Noah… Finn’s not here. And – and he’s not coming back. I mean – I just thought you should know.”
His heart stopped, and that familiar lightness in his chest – hope – surged back. He grinned foolishly at her. “Good to know, Rachel. I’ll see you around.” He glanced back long enough to see the smile creeping over her features before walking through the door and into the snow.
He grinned all the way home, deciding that, next Valentine’s Day, he wouldn’t be spending it across the city from her.