A/N: <3 une_fille & unequivocally. Best betas (enablers?) in the world or BEST BETAS IN THE WORLD?
WIN SOME, LOSE SOME
i'm old enough to feel the way i do
and i know that you are true
it's just a part of my genes
- pete yorn
Summer comes to Lima with little fanfare. While the last day of school used to usher in a season of snowballs instead of Slushees, bright pink slices of watermelon and pool party keggers, now all Puck has to look forward to is three solid months of getting his ass eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Finding a job is easier than he expects; he may be a fuck up, but opportunity has always had an uncanny habit of seeking him out. A week before school ends, his uncle’s best friend, Vinnie, calls him up and asks him to work at his garage over the summer. So after three straight days of not showering or even really changing out of his pajamas, Puck douses himself with Axe, tosses a navy blue shirt with his name sewn on the front over his ratty old wifebeater, and heads down to Vinnie’s Parts and Auto off Main Street.
The job is fine. He gets paid less than minimum wage but money is money, and if he wants out of this cow town, he needs to start saving up. It’s something he thinks a lot about these days: leaving. Sometime between the Glee Club suffering their heartbreaking defeat at Nationals and Quinn writing him off for good, he decides he's not going to waste his life in this fucking shithole any second longer than he has to. He tells himself he needs to start pinching pennies and saving up, so when he's done with school he’ll actually be able to go and figure out what he’s good at and make some money doing it. He doesn't know what that is yet, but if there’s one thing he’s sure of, it’s that this fucking place is slowly sucking the life out of him and he’s had enough.
So it doesn’t matter that he makes seven bucks an hour to fix carburetors with a bunch of old dudes all day—as long as it’s enough to get him a bus ticket out come graduation.
The second half of junior year wasn’t particularly kind to Noah Puckerman. For a while there in the middle, he thought maybe things were okay. His mom had sat him down, wiped her tears away with the back of her hand, and told him he had to grow the fuck up. He wasn’t generally someone who listened to his mother’s advice, but she gripped his shoulders so hard there were little bruises where her fingertips were and the look in her eyes told him that this wasn’t some fucking joke. So when Quinn moved in, he really tried to make things work. He took her to Lamaze class and did all the cheesy shit husbands do for their pregnant wives in the movies; he even tried to tell himself that she was his family now and that nothing else mattered. When he told his mom that he didn’t really feel it—that it was hard when neither person really felt anything for each other—she just put a hand on his face: if you pretend long enough, one day it’ll be real.
Quinn gave birth in April and it didn’t matter how much they prepared because Puck still had no fucking clue what to expect. And then a little girl with his green eyes wrapped her tiny fingers around his. Right then and there, he decided it: there was no chance in Hell they were giving that kid up. Not without a fight.
When Quinn told him she loved the baby too but wasn’t ready – that she just wanted her old life again – he fell back on what he knew best: blind rage and irrationality. He blew all the money he’d been saving to get them an apartment on an attorney. She got his petition for sole custody (addressed to her, sent to his house) and laughed bitterly before slapping him hard across the face. This isn’t some game, she had told him, this is our child’s life. He never understood why everyone always thought he was some idiot—I’m not fucking joking, this is real, he told her, shoving the notice back into her hands before storming out and fucking the first cougar who answered his call.
When he got back home that night, it was late, but Quinn was up in the living room feeding the baby. He tried to make a beeline for the stairs, but didn’t get more than half way there before she spoke up.
“There’s such a thing as open adoption, you know.” She never looked at him, only down at the kid. “She wouldn’t know that we were her parents, but we’d at least get to visit every now and then.”
“I’m not just giving my girl to a bunch of fucking strangers.”
She was silent for a long while, staring at the baby clutching at her clothes.
“I have a cousin in Louisiana. Her and her husband have been trying for a really long—” Finally, she looked up at him, interrupting her train of thought. She breathed deeply before speaking again. “They’d take good care of her.”
Quinn forgave him for a lot of really fucked up shit during her pregnancy – chalked it up to his pea brain and loose lips – but when he tried to take that baby away from her…It wasn’t something she could just forgive and forget. In the end, they compromised and agreed to send her to Quinn’s family down south. The assumption was that he could visit whenever he wanted; she even showed him pictures of a house with a big porch, white picket fences and a tire swing; a mother and a father. It wasn’t ‘til he saw them that he realized how stupid he’d been; that the kid would have everything he never had and no risk of him fucking it all up.
Quinn was right, but he didn’t have the nerve to tell her, so when she packed all her things from his mom’s guest room and high tailed it to Louisiana the day after school let out to spend the summer with her baby’s new parents and the only family that were willing to take her in, he knew he was never gonna see their kid again and that whatever life he pretended to want was fucking over.
It doesn’t take long for Puck to fall into his summer routine. He gets up at six every morning to run a few miles, which surprised even himself at first, but these days, the only thing that clears his head is getting some sort of work out in, even if it’s just a jog. After a quick breakfast, he’s out the door and at the shop from seven to seven everyday except Sundays and some Saturdays. Sometimes he works ‘til nine if he can weasel some extra hours in. He’s always too beat to ever do anything after work, so he schedules his pool cleanings for weekends: a chance to make some extra cash and satisfy his “needs.” All in all, it’s a pretty decent arrangement, he figures.
So when some shaggy-haired dude in skinny jeans and bright turquoise sneakers pulls his guitar and a bunch of flyers out of his backseat before dropping off his ’92 Carolla, Puck really doesn’t need (or have the time) to take on any additional commitments.
“Hey man, just need an oil change, but if you could check out the brake pads too, that would be fantastic,” the kid slips on the douchiest pair of wayfarers Puck’s ever seen, but instead of laughing and calling him out on it, his eyes wander to the flyers.
“You got a band?” He asks, wiping the grease from his hands. “Yo, I play guitar.”
He half expects the kid to blow him off (he can tell, he’s one of those elitist pricks) but instead, he nearly drops everything he’s holding and stares at Puck like he’s his fucking savior.
“Are you kidding me, man? Because if you’re fucking kidding me—”
“Nah, I’m pretty good too,” He replies, pulling the pen from behind his ear and checking some boxes on the form for the car.
“Listen,” the guy scrambles for a bright yellow flyer and hands it over, “come to this address tonight at eight and bring your guitar.”
When Puck shows up at the dude’s place, he doesn’t know what exactly he expects, all he knows is it wasn’t this. The address is for some grungy old apartment complex in a shitty part of town, and he thinks about leaving before he even knocks on the door, but he figures, what the fuck, you only live once.
“Hey man, thanks for coming by on such short notice,” as the guy from the garage shakes his hand and ushers him through the door, Puck can’t quite shake the feeling like this was all a big mistake. “It’s just we’ve been trying to find someone in this town who plays the guitar for the past month and it’s been fucking impossible.”
The place smells like week old pizza, dirty gym socks and weed, and far be it for Puck to criticize people’s personal hygiene habits, but…Shit’s disgusting.
“Yeah, well…” Puck trails off, looking around the drab, bare apartment scattered with back issues of Q and Penthouse, crooked posters from movies he’s never even heard of (what the fuck is a Donnie Darko anyway?) before tossing a nod at the other band mates. “What do you guys call yourselves anyway?”
“Wolf Hunter,” the guy says quickly and a cough sounding suspiciously like “tool” echoes from the direction of the couch. He spins around quick and points a warning finger at two dudes who look like they’d much rather be playing Halo than dealing with this shit. “Dude, shut the fuck up. Wolf names are in. Wolf Parade, Sea Wolf, Wolfmother…”
“We’re gonna have the fuckin’ ASPCA on our asses for this shit.” The lanky guy on the couch pipes in.
“All I’m saying is Ninja Zombies would be dope,” the bearded dude calls out and Puck shrugs, then nods his head in agreement.
“The day we’re the Ninja Zombies is the day I fucking kill myself.” The guy from the garage turns back to Puck and offers a hand. “Hey I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Ethan,” they shake and he gestures back to the guys behind him, “that’s Bleeker and the asshole at the end is Bam-Bam.”
“Like Barney Rubble’s kid?”
They don’t have any specific song in mind for his audition, they just tell him to show them what he’s got. When he busts out N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, they don’t know whether to laugh or kick him the fuck out, so they decide to play it off like a joke and cut him off half-way through. They ask him to play something a little more mellow, so he goes with Pink Floyd.
Thirty seconds in, they’re neck deep in a classic rock sing-a-long and Puck knows he’s got the gig.
His first free Saturday in June, Puck books appointments with all his most loyal pool customers; it’s been a while and he figures he should make the rounds. That is, until his mom wakes him up first thing in the morning to tell him she’ll be stuck at the hospital all day and won’t be able to take Sarah and her friends to that gay-ass game place with the singing waitresses on roller skates. Her eleventh birthday was last week but she’s been looking forward to this stupid party all month, and his mom feels awful. He doesn’t really give a shit and she doesn’t technically tell him he has to take his sister and her friends, but she has that tone in her voice that tells him he really has no other option.
“We can take ourselves, you know.” Sarah says, crossing her arms in indignation.
“Sure, because no child molesters hang out at Chuck E. Cheese.” His voice oozes sarcasm and her eyes just narrow.
“How many times do I have to tell you, Noah, it’s not Chuck E. Cheese. It’s called Starlight.”
As Sarah storms out of the living room, Puck plops down on the couch. He usually sleeps ‘til three in the afternoon anyway, so what’s a few hours in the middle of the day? At the very least, he figures all the chances he’ll have to turn Sarah’s birthday party into a living Hell will make it totally worth it.
When a couple of her friends meet up at the house to carpool over, he thinks maybe it won’t be that bad. Aside from some annoying as fuck Joe Jonas prepubescent orgasming, they’re pretty tame. But then Sandy Tompkins shows up.
The second Puck spots her crazy eyes, he knows he’s fucked. He understands the mysterious pull he has over the opposite sex, but this shit’s just mind-boggling. Ever since he dated the girl’s sister for a week last year, the kid’s over at their house all the fucking time, trying to have conversations with him as he slams his bedroom door in her face and making googly eyes at him across the kitchen that he’d think were innocent if she weren’t undressing him with them. Basically, the kid creeps him the fuck out, and now he’s stuck.
He’s cursing under his breath when he grabs the keys and heads to the door, trying to shepherd the kids out with a rousing, “get your asses in gear, twerps.” As he stands at the door watching them pass one by one, he notices Sandy sticking behind in the foyer. He swears the kid is staring at his package.
“Yo, amber alert,” he points a warning finger in her direction. “I know you like what you see, but shit’s disgusting so keep your pervy little Hannah Montana eyes to yourself and move it.”
Aside from having to meet a bunch of parents as they drop their kids off, Puck doesn’t really have to do anything at the stupid Starlight place, which makes the whole thing a lot more bearable. After a few minutes, he cashes in five bucks worth of tokens and heads straight to the arcade area, determined to completely wreck the four-eyed kid half his size standing at his favorite first person shooter game. After almost an hour passes, he tries his best to pretend like he didn’t actually have his ass handed to him five straight games by the Harry Potter wannabe next to him, but the girl peeking out from behind the wall, staring fiercely at his ass is kind of distracting.
“Seriously, kid, what’s your end game?” He calls to her, and she steps out from behind her hiding place, unabashed. “’Cause if you think you’re actually gonna get a piece of this, you’re wrong. So just go and play with your little friends. Maybe call me in ten years if you’re hot.”
Sandy bats her eyes and blows him a kiss, clearly pleased with herself as she skips back to her friends.
“Fuck¸” Puck rumbles to himself as he turns back to the game.
“Women,” the kid next to him mutters, rolling his eyes.
Puck fully intends to split his three hours evenly between the arcade and the basketball hoops at the other end of the place, but it’s not long before he realizes Sarah’s stupid little friend has started recruiting creepers to follow him around and worship the ground he walks on. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but last time he checked, he hasn’t switched faces with Finn Hudson, so all this Nick Jr. heartthrob business is really starting to fuck with his head. In fact, Puck is just about ready to put down his plastic gun and appeal to his new ten year-old arcade mate for help when he hears a familiar voice echo through the hall.
When he turns and peers out, he sees an even more familiar pair of skinny little legs wobbling on roller skates and flimsy arms struggling to hold a gigantic pan of pizza. He tosses the kid next to him his last two tokens before he makes his way out.
She stops in the middle of some song he doesn’t recognize and turns back to him, a horrified look on her face. He just grins and nods his head.
“Sexy skirt.” It’s not sexy, it’s the size of a house. Still, he knows an opportunity when he sees one, so he sidles up next to her, and places a hand dangerously close to her ass before arching his eyebrow in Sandy Thompkins’ direction. Rachel rolls her eyes and swats it away before turning back to the kids, continuing to serve them their pizza, completely oblivious to the four pairs of eyes now sending her daggers from across the table.
“What are you doing here, Puck?” She asks, a pop in her P. He crosses his arms and laughs as she struggles with the slices.
“You see that brat with the tiara? That little shit’s my sister.”
Rachel gasps, her eyes wide in shock. “Noah Puckerman, you can’t use that kind of language around the children.”
“Bitch, gimme my pizza!” One of Sarah’s male friends calls out, and Puck almost dies laughing.
She rolls her eyes again and starts singing as she hands out the final slices. She’s about ready to launch into her little routine when a venomous-looking Sandy shoves her fingers in her ears, and motions for all her friends to do the same.
“Lady, your singing sucks!” She calls out. “Just leave us alone!”
Rachel clamps her mouth closed and glares at Sandy, determined. “Fine. I’d rather my talents not be wasted on ungrateful little miscreants anyway!”
“And your face is ugly too!” Sandy calls out as Rachel skates off, Puck following close on her heels. “Right, Pucky?”
Puck spins around and points a menacing finger in Sandy’s direction. “Don’t you fucking start with that Pucky shit.”
When he follows Rachel into the performers’ area in the back, it’s practically silent except for the sounds of a few voices coming from the kitchen. He barely gets a word out before she flings her hands dramatically against over her face, and starts launching into her tragic tale of what is easily the worst summer she has ever endured. (“Berry, you realize we’re only a few weeks in, right?” “Your point being…?”)
It was a week before school ended when things really started to unravel for her. The internship she had lined up with the most critically-acclaimed musical theater troupe in New York City fell through (she didn’t have any idea how they found out she wasn’t actually a junior in college) and she was heartbroken. She didn’t let herself dwell though, and instead started researching places to pursue her passions in Cleveland. Trying to line something up in New York on such short notice wasn’t feasible, and though she knew there were limited opportunities in Ohio, if she’d find anything here, she figured it had to be in Cleveland. But it didn’t matter where she looked, the girl just couldn’t catch a break.
Her dads had told her not to sweat it, that she should just spend the summer relaxing for once, but she would have none of it. Doing nothing was never an option. She had three months free and she was determined to do something to further her career and challenge her vocal range, no matter the job. Turns out this place was the only position where she’d have a chance to sing on a regular basis while making a pretty decent summer salary. The roller skates were awful and the kids hated her almost as much as she hated them, but she just told herself, these are the sacrifices you make for your craft.
“Wow, Berry, your life is so hard,” Puck pats her on the knee and she glares at him through narrow eyes.
“It is, actually, thank you for sympathizing.” She straightens her skirt before turning her attention to him. “What about you? I would have expected you to be at that football camp Finn was so eager to attend in Ann Arbor this summer—” She’s cut off mid-sentence by a handsome looking man leaning over the counter, calling out from the kitchen.
“—Ray, fifteen milkshakes ready and waiting for your angelic high B!”
“Charlie, why do you do this to me?” Rachel groans melodramatically before getting up and skating over.
“You need any help with that?” Puck calls out as she struggles with the tray.
“No thank you, Noah. But I appreciate the gesture.”
“Awesome, ‘cause I didn’t actually plan on helping you.”
Of everyone at McKinley, the only people even remotely supportive of his attempted foray into fatherhood was the Glee Club. Genuine or completely insincere, their motivations didn’t really matter to Puck, he just appreciated having at least one class where people didn’t give him shit all the damn time.
Of everyone at McKinley, the only person who didn’t treat him any differently after all that was Rachel.
He doesn’t really know why he tells her about his job at the garage or offers that she stop by sometime, but as he’s heading out the door surrounded by obnoxious snots, he calls it over his shoulder. Yeah, he might have a soft spot for the chick, but that doesn’t change the fact that talking to her is like pulling teeth. In retrospect, he chalks it up to the fact that aside from his band mates (who don’t really count anyway because they’re all in college), he hasn’t seen anyone his age for the past couple weeks.
When the summer started, Puck thought he preferred it that way. All that baby drama from the past year fucked his rep up real good and news travels fast in a small town. Apparently, when you knock someone up, it doesn't matter how hot you are, no girl wants within ten feet of you. And the dudes? Well, his teammates were pretty cool, but he wasn’t an idiot, he knew when he wasn’t wanted. Sure, being a douche guaranteed a certain degree of social stability when it came to the herd, but at the end of the day, what he did to Finn – not only the most beloved kid in the whole fuckin’ school, but his best friend since he was seven – wasn’t the kind of shit people forgot.
With Rachel, it’s not that he wants someone to talk to or even wants some ass (he’s pretty sure he could bag a couple of the chicks who hang out at their Thursday night practice sessions anyway) but maybe it’s just…Having contact with something familiar that he misses.
He tries not to think about it, and the fact that she doesn’t come around right away helps. But then, just when he breathes a sigh of relief Friday evening (or does he tell himself it wouldn’t have been worth it anyway?) she shows up in a deep purple tube top and the shortest jean shorts he thinks he’s ever seen. The guys whistle and catcall, she reprimands them for being rude and chauvinistic, and he just says, “Whaddya want, Berry?”
He rolls back under the car he’s working on and hears her voice vaguely echo through the small space. “Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and I figured I’d stop by and say hello.” She pauses for a beat, tapping her toes nervously against the ground. “—And possibly see if maybe you wanna grab some frozen yogurt after you get out or something.”
He’s scheduled a pool cleaning for that night, but it’s obvious that she doesn’t have anyone to hang out with (in fact, she told him that much at his sister’s party) and technically neither does he. She’s totally not worth giving up his appointment with Mrs. H, but…
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” He calls from under the car. “Swing back around in an hour and I should be done.”
“This isn’t frozen yogurt, you know. This is just soft serve.” Rachel says, twirling her spoon through her vanilla with rainbow sprinkles. “Real frozen yogurt has active probiotic cultures that clear out your digestive tract with each refreshing little bite.”
“Active what?” The look of genuine disgust mixed with intense confusion on his face tells her it just isn’t worth the explanation.
“Forget about it.”
He’s already more than half done his chocolate vanilla twist with extra Oreos when they find an empty picnic table and take a seat. His back is fucking killing him from hours of wheeling himself under car after car, and he has a killer headache set firmly behind his eyes, but he just focuses on shoveling sweet bites into his mouth and the way Rachel’s tube top is slowly riding lower and lower…
“I don’t know how they do it, Noah. Working these awful menial jobs where your talents are wholly underappreciated and the people you serve are never grateful to at least have their stupid demon children fed.”
“Rough day with the brats?”
“Rough doesn’t even begin to describe it.” As she launches into a long-winded story about some seven year-old’s birthday party and a little boy who was determined to pull her skirt down as she was singing, Puck turns his brain off and lets her vent. He’s never really been friends with Berry (or not friends either, come to think of it) but after a year of seeing her on a pretty regular basis, he knows her schtick. To put it lightly, Berry’s a first-rate complainer. Sure, she can be a woman of action if she really feels like it, but for the most part, she bitches then sighs and deals with whatever shit situation she’s been dumped with. He, on the other hand, doesn’t understand the point of complaining; it’s just a waste of breath and energy that you could be spending making your shitty situation less shitty.
“Dude, why don’t you just fucking quit?” Rachel stares at him like he’s lost his mind.
“Did you even listen to a word I said?”
“No, not really,” he says, tossing his cup into the trashcan. Nothin’ but net.
“I knew this was a mistake—” He knows that tone. It’s the huffy one she gets right before her trademark storm outs in Glee. Just as she’s about to turn around, he reaches for her wrist.
“Listen, I don’t know what ‘this’ you think is such a mistake ‘cause last time I checked we were just two lame-ass, friendless losers eating shitty frozen yogurt together. If you think we’re gonna like, share our secrets and paint each other’s toenails, you’ve got another thing comin’.”
She rolls her eyes and snatches her hand away before crossing her arms stubbornly.
“All I’m saying is if the job’s so crappy, quit.” He stands up and yawns widely, stretching his arms over his head. As his shirt rides up and gives her a little peek of happy trail, her eyes dart away, then back to him, then away again, a faint blush washing over her cheeks. Thankfully, he’s too exhausted to notice, let alone give her crap about it. “It’s not like you need the money or anything.”
He leans back against the picnic table and sits down, resting his feet on the bench. She looks at him and thinks, you make a good point, then shakes the thought out of her head and takes a seat next to him.
“It’s not a matter of money, Noah. It’s a matter of personal growth.”
“Personal growth, my ass. Some of us don’t have the luxury.” She makes a face as he cracks his knuckles and stares off at a bunch of kids playing in the distance.
“Is that why you’re working so hard this summer?” She asks softly, unconsciously leaning her shoulder closer to his. “To take care of your baby?”
“The baby’s gone. Has a family.” He says stonily. Her eyes furrow and she contemplates pressing him further, but his slumped shoulders convince her that now’s probably not the time. “I’m working my tail off to get my ass outta here.” He says simply.
“I thought you liked Lima.”
“What’s there to like? The Blimpie’s on Chase? The Dollar Tree on Maple? This place is fucking amateur.”
“So you wanna leave…” She thinks aloud, locking her fingers together and holding them to her chin before peering back over at Puck. “What are you gonna do? Where are you gonna go?”
“Fuck if I know, man,” he says, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and fiddling with the case. “All I know is I gotta save up now so come May I can peace outta here for good. I’ll figure out the rest as I go along.”
She purses her lips and nods slowly, clearly not convinced. Neither of them say anything for a long moment, Rachel staring at her hands and him staring off at God knows what, then finally—
“So, what have you been up to since school ended?”
Puck hasn’t really had anyone to tell about crazy Vinnie at the garage and his 35 year-old, butt-ugly daughter who’s been trying to get in his pants for the past two weeks, so he finds himself cracking up as he spouts story after inappropriate story, much to Rachel’s distaste. He tosses in a brief mention of his pool cleaning business – also to her distaste – when he realizes he completely forgot to tell her about what probably is the most unexpectedly awesome thing he’s done, pretty much ever.
“And oh yeah, I joined a band, too. Which has been pretty fucking rough, trying to juggle our schedules and learn all these new songs and shit, but—I don’t know, it’s kinda cool.”
With the mention of music, her eyes perk up.
“What kind of a band?”
By the end of the month, Puck looks forward to his practices with the guys more than his weekend cougar fucks, which says a lot. Its kind of annoying that the elitist assholes give him such crap for stupid shit like wearing American Eagle shirts and loving Luda, but he doesn’t give a fuck ‘cause Bam-Bam’s always got his back.
Every few days, they give him a new song to learn and a couple of CDs to listen to. Ethan’s determined to root out his shitty taste, one epic album at a time. Puck would take offense to it, but free music is free music and the stuff they give him to listen to actually isn’t half bad. He expects it all to be experimental garbage with harpsichords and flutes and shit, but there’s always insane guitar riffs and vocals that make him think that joining a band was the best decision he ever made.
“You better have a meatball sub in that paper bag, Berry,” Puck calls out as she walks into the garage, her poofy pink skirt floating around her.
“If by meatball you mean tofuball, then yes.” He covers his face with his hands and groans as the guys around him cackle. He tosses a greasy towel at one of their faces before he snatches the bag from her, grabs his guitar and heads out the front door.
“Peace out, bitches,” he calls over his shoulder, waving a disinterested hand in the air as Vinnie says something about being back in an hour sharp for Samson’s Dodge Ram.
Puck doesn’t really think about how random this little thing he has going with Berry is, nor does he even like to put a label on it. It just exists, and almost always with some sort of food, which to be honest, is all the excuse he really needs. Still, he’s not stupid enough to not see that something was definitely going on. Ever since that day at the frozen yogurt place, Berry’s been showing up at the garage at lunchtime, asking him how band practice is going, distracting him with food, trying to dig deeper into the baby situation and to psychoanalyze his ass. He humors her, mostly because food ain’t free and he’s a growing boy, but also because she’s an easy chick to talk to. Back when him and Finn didn’t have any weird drama hanging between them, they used to talk about stuff, kinda like him and Berry do now. None of the gay-ass feelings shit she always tries to get him to think about, but just…Shooting the shit. Talking about everything and nothing, then bouncing.
The only difference is instead of Hudson, it’s this annoying little chick with perky tits and perfect legs. Yeah, his eyes still wander (he’s human, after all) but to be honest, he doesn’t want anything to do with any crazy teenage girls anymore. He’s got his cougars and that’s all he needs. No questions, no feelings, no hormonal outbursts, just sex, plain and simple. So while Berry is fly as hell, he doesn’t really think about that shit.
Too often, at least.
They finish their lunch on the swings by the playground across the street, Rachel bitching about her latest devil kid, and him running through chords in his head. When he pulls out his guitar and slings it over his shoulder, she crosses her arms and sighs exasperatedly.
“Noah, one day I will honestly start taking it personally that you never listen to a word I say.”
“Yo Berry, check it—” He starts playing a few lazy chords that quickly turn into a melody. She listens patiently as he sings a song she’s never heard before (she tells herself over and over, he’s not singing to me, he’s just singing at me. But it’s hard when he croons, if it's the wish to run away then I will grant it, take whatever what you think of while I go gas up the truck—) When he finishes, he looks up at her expectantly, and she slaps on a smile and claps. He fishes a CD out of his guitar case and hands it to her.
“Avett Brothers.” He says simply, fiddling with the cords on his guitar. “Ethan gave me that shit last week when I kept busting his ass with Luda.”
Rachel turns the case over in her hands and scans the track list.
“It’s probably not your kinda thing since there’s no, like, Barbara Streisand and shit, but its pretty chill.”
“I’m sure it is,” she says faintly, placing it in her purse and letting her fingers linger over it a beat longer than necessary.
“You know—” The shift in his tone startles her, but he pretends like it’s no big deal. “Our first gig’s coming up next week.” Her face lights up and she’s about to launch into a million and one reasons why these are the moments, Noah, but he cuts her off before she even opens her mouth. “—And I was thinking, if you wanted to check it out…I wouldn’t be pissed, is all.”
She looks at him coyly before nudging his knee.
“Are you saying you want me to come to your show, Noah Puckerman?”
“Fuck no. I’m just saying you’re the only person in this stupid town who doesn’t wanna fucking kill me, and I’m gonna need someone to witness this monumental moment in music history to tell everyone what awesome shit they missed out on when they finally stop treating me like a mutant freak.”
The frown on Rachel’s face is pretty priceless, he has to admit.
“Well…I’m honored…I guess…?”
He nods his head triumphantly and gives her a rough pat on the back (“Um, ow.”) before he puts his guitar away and checks the time. When he sits back up, he covers his face with his hands and groans loudly.
“Fuck, Berry. Making money blows.”
“At least you don’t have twenty five angry ten year-olds waiting to tear you apart. I’m sorry, Noah, but it makes no sense for me to sing Kiss the Girl instead of Part of Your World. It’s like they’ve never even seen The Little Mermaid.”
Puck’s first gig with Wolf Hunter ends up being the biggest shitshow he’s ever been a part of. (And he’s been a part of some pretty epic shitshows.)
It all starts when Rachel shows up as they’re getting everything set a half-hour early. He’s tuning his guitar and adjusting some wires on stage when her jaw drops, her eyes focusing solely on the new pair of leather pants he’s currently sporting.
“Noah Puckerman, what on Earth are you wearing?”
The whole band looks up to see her standing there, her hair in braided pigtails, her hands firmly planted at the waist of her plaid pink miniskirt in outrage.
“Puckerman, why is your girlfriend dressed like Pipi Longstockings?” Bleeker stares at Rachel like she’s some exotic, wild animal and Puck shoves his shoulder, muttering a quick, “the chick’s not my girlfriend, asshole,” under his breath. He’s about to chew him out real good with his whole, “The Puckerone is a Lone Stallion” speech, but steam’s practically coming out of Berry’s ears, and if he doesn’t go over there and shut her the fuck up, he’s pretty sure there will be serious hell to pay.
When he hops off the stage, he takes Rachel by the shoulders and directs her out of his band mates’ view.
“Berry, we don’t go on for another half hour, what are you doing here?”
“Noah, leather pants have no breathability. You really should have asked for my opinion before you made this purchase because not only does wearing tight pants lower your sperm count, but you will be seriously sorry to find out how awful those will chaff—”
“Shut up, I look sexy and you know it.”
“You look ridiculous.”
“No, just ridiculous.”
Puck expects there to be hordes of adoring chicks practically begging to get in his surprisingly breathable (but yes, painfully chaffing) leather pants, but the only people who show up are drunk middle-aged dudes trying to reclaim the glory of their youth. Rachel sits in the corner and watches the show in eager anticipation, because it’s actually the first time she’s ever been to a real concert (the Cleveland Philharmonic doesn’t count) and after hearing so much about Puck’s band mates it’s kind of fascinating to see them in real life. They’re exactly like he described them, which she still finds strange because they’re the complete opposite of everything he is. They’re hipster and cool and funny and talk about politics and foreign films. Quite frankly, they look like the kind of kids Puck used to stuff in trashcans at school.
The first song goes off without a hitch and Rachel is amazed by the fact that they are actually playing together and sounding like an actual band until the second song starts, Puck’s amp goes on the fritz, Ethan’s mic short circuits and Bleeker gets stung by a bee. By the third song, the band has completely deconstructed before her very eyes—except for Bam-Bam, who’s banging away on his drumkit like some Zen master.
When they finish their set, a group of drunk guys give them a rousing ovation before thrusting their lighters in the air and calling for an encore. Rachel whips around and gives them a stern glare before turning back to a disappointed-looking Puck.
As they start packing up their equipment, Rachel hops on stage and tries to give them a hand.
“I really don’t know how you boys expect to be taken seriously without an agent managing your affairs.” No one’s really listening to what she’s saying, but she keeps talking anyway. “If I were you—Bleeker, was it?—I’d slap a civil suit on Clyde’s for that awful sting. What if you were allergic to bees? They should be held entirely responsible—”
“Puckerman. Please make your girlfriend shut up,” Bleeker calls out from behind the amp only to get a stiff punch in the shoulder from Bam-Bam.
“Dude, that’s a lady you’re fuckin’ talking to. Show some respect.”
Bleeker rubs his arm and frowns before grumbling a quiet apology.
“Listen, being in a band fucking sucks,” Puck finally says, throwing his cords down. “You guys said I’d get so much ass I’d have to start a fucking raffle for that shit.”
“Maybe if you didn’t wear those awful pants—” Rachel shrugs, gesturing to his lower half.
“Seriously, dude, what were you even thinking?”
“Yeah, man. I think those pantaloons got some seriously bad juju,” Bam-Bam offers from behind the drums.
Puck just drops his head and glares pitifully at Rachel. She shrugs and gives him a comforting tap on the head. “Can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Within two days of Puck’s first gig, Rachel’s already in full agent mode. She doesn’t really ask anyone for their opinion on the matter, just starts showing up to practices, pulling cigarettes out of people’s mouths and throwing away half-eaten Twinkies and crusty old Hot Pockets. She brings organic soy rice cakes and carrot sticks every night and all the guys groan, except for Bam-Bam, who’s pretty sure he’s found a kindred spirit in the perky little hummingbird who’s taken them under her wing. Puck tries to pretend like he doesn’t know who this chick is (he’s not particularly successful) but to his shock, within a few days, practices stop dissolving into battles to the death with Bam-Bam's drum sticks (light saber sounds and everything) and they actually come up with a decent set list.
It doesn’t matter how many times they remind Rachel her help is neither required nor wanted, she keeps coming back. Puck’s pretty sure the rest of the guys are holding secret meetings about how and when to kick him out of the band, until one day, Rachel bursts through the door, hopping up and down in excitement.
“You’ll never believe it, but I just booked you all a show in Toledo that may actually include an audience.”
The guys start cheering and Rachel gives them each a big hug before running into Puck’s arms. He lifts her up, more than slightly baffled by the fact that this is actually real life and not some alternate reality, until he sets her down and she starts rambling on about estimates for merchandise and how they can get some tax deductions by creating an LLC. He looks at her suspiciously for a moment before crossing his arms.
“Berry, why do you suddenly care so much about this?”
“Listen, Noah. Just because I’m not going to make anything of myself this summer doesn’t mean I can’t help someone else. And let’s be real here, you guys need a lot of help.”
Before Puck can get a word out in response, he gets a hard thump on his back from Ethan.
“Puckerman, your girlfriend is apeshit…And it’s awesome.”