Author's Note: So, this website did something really fun and erased all my separator marks. Super! Again, citation: A History of Noah Puckerman, Abridged (which can be found on LJ) and Conversations between McKinley High Students were the inspiration for this story. No shame.
Set Myself On Fire
Rachel was Puck's first kiss.
It wasn't always slushies and nasty comments in the hallways. Lima's small, always has been, and of the already tiny population not even a quarter are Jewish. The local Jewish Community Center isn't much more than the basement of Rabbi Wiseman's house, since on weekdays the temple doubles as the local daycare center. Puck's dad split when he was six, maybe, and Mrs. Puckerman basically figured that if he couldn't have a father that made waffles and played catch in the backyard, well, he'd damn well get one that could save his immortal soul.
The Puckermans spent a lot of time at the Wisemans'.
Anyway, given that Rachel was a Jew through both her birth mother and her two dads, the population of Lima worked pretty hard to make sure that she was cared for by the community; half of them desperately wanted to 'save' her from the lifestyle of her fathers, and the other half figured, hey, a Jew's a Jew. So most Wednesday afternoons and every Shabbat, their parents carpooled. Wednesday was children's hour with the older kids in the community who volunteered to look after them and set a good, Jewish example, which basically meant that Donny Marks and Rebecca Sexton went into Donny's shed and smoked weed while the kids watched TV and drank caffeine-free Coke.
The Shabbat bored the crap out of Puck, who was required to sit still for more than twenty minutes and couldn't even bring his Gameboy, which he thought was total BS because it's not like he was listening anyway. But Wednesdays were all right, especially after Donny and Rebecca left because it meant that he had the run of the house.
Rachel was his first friend in Lima, but mostly what that meant was that she followed him around and carefully advised him not to touch things while he mostly ignored her. (It was a recurring theme in their relationship.) He took to moving things around in the house—just little things that no one would notice at first. He spent one day rearranging the kitchen, putting the plates where the wine glasses were supposed to go and the utensils in with the napkins.
Rachel, tight-lipped, sat on the counter, swinging her heels against the wood. When he asked for a hand, she turned her nose into the air and announced haughtily, "No, I will not to help you. This is a juvenile prank and I am not a hoodlum, like you."
Puck, having no idea what the words 'juvenile' and 'hoodlum' meant, chose to take them as compliments. He rolled his eyes. "You just don't want to get in trouble with your boyfriend Donny."
Rachel kicked a foot out at him as he passed and he nearly dropped a stack of plates. "He is not my boyfriend," she muttered with a scowl.
"You wish he was," Puck replied, making a disgusted face. "You've got his name written on your notebooks."
Rachel squealed, dropping off the counter and storming back into the TV room with her arms crossed over her chest. Puck sighed. He hated when she got all angry, 'cause it meant she'd tell her Dads and they'd tell her Mom and then he'd have to apologize in front of everybody.
He followed her back to the TV room and took the empty seat beside her. She didn't turn to look at him, but kept her eyes pinned to the TV like it was coolest thing ever. "Hey, look, sorry," he said half-heartedly. "Really."
Her eyes cut to him and she frowned. "You don't sound very sincere, Noah. My Dads say an apology isn't an apology if it doesn't come from the heart."
"Well, I said it, didn't I?"
Rachel sighed, but Puck knew that she accepted his apology because when Donny came in and demanded to know who'd messed up his kitchen, she just shrugged and said she didn't know, she'd been busy watching Rugrats.
In fifth grade they were put on the same rotation so some days they were together from 8:00am to 7:00pm, and Puck's Mom or Rachel's Dads would drive them to McDonalds or Arby's or something for dinner. Rachel's Dads were the ones who first started calling him Puck, after Rachel told them about his pranks at the Marks's place. Puck figured it was because his last name was Puckerman, but Rachel shook her head disparagingly at him over their shared plate of French fries and slapped a hand to her forehead.
"No, stupid, 'Puck' is the name of a famous character in Shakespearean literature. He's a mischief-causing sprite who casts spells on people to make them do silly things and plays practical jokes all the time."
He frowned, reaching for the salt. They'd done this so many times that it was a science; on Rachel's side of the plate was a huge goop of ketchup; on his, salt-and-pepper dip. "How can a can of soda pull a prank?"
Rachel giggled into her hand, the way she always did when she was trying not to let him know that she was making fun of him. "Not Sprite, a sprite. It's like … a fairy."
Puck gasped in horror. No way did she just call him a fairy! Fairies were like … small, and girly, and stuff. His little sister had a fairy doll and it wore a dress and had pink wings, and Puck wouldn't ever have wings that were pink. Blue, maybe, if they didn't have any awesome black ones. With fire on the tips. And red strips. And razorblades on the end, so he could kick bad-guy butt. "I wouldn't be a fairy," Puck told her sullenly. "I'd be, like … a ninja. Or a pirate. Or a dragon. Or a dude with a big sword. That was on fire. And shot lasers out of the tip."
Rachel frowned dubiously. "Why would you want to be a pirate? They're just degenerate thieves who died young of scurvy or other diseases due to poor hygiene and spent their lives stealing the money from decent, hardworking sailors. Not to mention that nasty 'plank' business."
Puck blinked at her. "I missed about half of what you just said," he said honestly. "I was thinking about my awesome laser beam sword/light saber/parachute. That's on fire."
"How can a sword also be a parachute?"
"'Cause it's magic."
"But if it's on fire, wouldn't it burn up and leave you plummeting to your demise?"
"Didn't you hear me? It's magic."
"So it's like a magic wand?"
"It. is. a. sword. Swords are way cooler than wands."
Her Dads usually interrupted before things got too violent, and drove Puck home with the promise to see him next Wednesday. On his doorstep, they told his mother in low tones about Puck now being a puck, and somehow she thought it was so funny that she started using it herself.
The name made her smile, so even though he was definitely not some lame fairy, he let her use it, and after a while it just sort of stuck.
That year they both turned eleven. Puck's birthday was ten days after Rachel's, and their parents developed the annoying habit of combining their parties into one event, so that among the adults it was Puck's-and-Rachel's birthday coming up, what were you bringing?
Anyway, since it was in June they always had a pool party, and that year Jenny Ward kissed Michael Katz in her kitchen when they were getting sodas, and it was all anybody talked about. Puck, never one to be upstaged on his own birthday, loudly and confidently told anybody who would listen that kissing was no big deal, he did it all the time.
When Susannah Leonard looked at him skeptically and asked, "Oh yeah? Who are you kissing?" he drew a blank and then blurted out, "Uhhh…Rachel?"
The parents rounded everyone up for cake and presents right after, so Puck took his chance to slip away and find Rachel, sitting at the piano in her wet swimsuit and plucking out some lame song that didn't even have words. He sat down awkwardly next to her and pushed a few keys. "So, um, I did something," he said uncomfortably, scratching the back of his head.
Rachel sighed. "Did you pee on my Dads' hydrangeas again? Because I thought we'd debunked the rumor about urine helping flowers grow."
Puck shook his head. "No, I, ummm… Itoldeveryonethatwe'dkissedokaygladyouaren'tmadthere'scakeinthekitchen."
Rachel came in several minutes later, frowning pensively, and carefully didn't look at him while they opened their presents. She neither confirmed nor denied the rumors that she and Puck were boyfriend and girlfriend, and when everyone left she very graciously thanked them for attending Puck's-and-Rachel's birthday this year.
Afterwards, Puck found her sitting on the stairs with her chin in her hands. He sat next to her and tied and untied his shoes, waiting for her to yell at him. Instead, to his surprise, she nudged his shoulder with hers and asked quietly, "Well, do you want to?"
He looked at her. "Want to what?"
She rolled her eyes. "Kiss, stupid. I mean, we have to get our first ones out of the way some time, right? And since everyone already thinks we did, we might as well. It just makes sense. And anyway, that way it won't be a lie, so…"
Puck shifted. He still thought that girls were pretty weird, and Rachel the weirdest, but she was also pretty cool sometimes and he figured, why not? She didn't suck all the time. So he said, "Sure," and leaned in. Their noses bumped and their teeth clacked kind of painfully, and it took them several tries to get close enough to actually just do it, and overall Puck felt like the experience wasn't all that Michael Katz made it out to be.
But it was great in the retelling.