Open Your Eyes – A Short Story
He half expected not to be here. Walking across the stage at the McKinley graduation ceremony. Pumping his fist and letting out a loud yell when Principle Figgins handed him his diploma. He even checked when he got back to his seat to make sure it really said his name and that it wasn't some fucked up joke.
Noah Puckerman, high school graduate. He likes the sound of that.
At the beginning of the school year, Ms. Pillsbury had warned him that he was in danger of not graduating if he didn't get his act together. He blew her off, declaring that he was too much of a badass to care about books. All he cared about was babes. Two days later, she found out and showed up on his doorstep with her tiny arms loaded with books. She pushed her way in, delivered a long and drawn out speech about how he needed to live up to his potential and how she was not going to let him throw his life away. He might not have known half of the words she was saying but he got what she meant.
She pushed her way into his house multiple times more over the next few months. She would spend hours babbling on about Shakespeare and quadratic equations and all this other shit he knew nothing and cared nothing about. She would ignore him when he would tell her had other things, and other girls, he needed to be doing. Somewhere along the line, he gave up trying to even stop her.
He was still McKinley's biggest badass. He flexed his sexual prowess like he was trying to set some sort of high school record (which he is fairly certain he did). He threw his fair share of losers in the dumpster, making damn sure it was often Jacob Ben Israel who found himself rolling in banana peels and cafeteria mystery meat. He rolled his eyes at her as she griped again about not getting all of the solos in Glee and how she wished people were half as determined as she was to win Nationals. But in between, he went to class and he did his work and maybe he even learned something here or there.
It got him here.
Leaning back against the expanse of the bleachers, he lets his scratchy gown fall open as he stares out at the football field. It's empty now. Everyone else is long gone, out celebrating their special day with the special people in their lives. Him? Well his mom had to go to work right after, telling him she was sorry she couldn't spend more time with him but that they couldn't afford for her to miss a day of work. She gave him a kiss on the cheek, told him she was proud of him and then left to drop his sister off at her friends for the evening so he could go out and celebrate his achievement.
He's not exactly sure why he isn't doing that yet. Why he isn't celebrating with some broad up against the wall at Santana's "It's over, bitches" party. He really knows the answer.
He's so lost in thought that he doesn't hear anyone approach until Finn's voice interrupts him. "Remember the zombie halftime show," he asks.
"Course," he scoffs, "I was a pretty badass zombie."
Finn takes a seat beside him and leans back. Neither says anything for a few minutes, both relieving memories that took place on the field before them. It's Finn who finally breaks the silence. "What are you still doing here, man? I thought you'd be at San's party by now."
He shakes his head. "Not sure." Finn nods as if he agrees. "I think maybe . . . . I'm not ready to let go of this just yet." He jerks his head to the side and glares at Finn, "And I'm not turning all soft like Hummel or anything. It's just that these past few years have been pretty kickass and now it's all going to change. Not sure how ready I'm for that."
"I know. It's going to be weird not seeing everybody every day." Puck feels a slight twinge in his heart but he quickly bucks up and laughs it off.
"Or tossing people in dumpsters every day," he chimes in.
Finn nods his head, "but hey, me and Quinn and most of the others are still going to be around this summer. Maybe we could all hang out sometime or I could help you with your pool cleaning. Somethin…," he shrugs and Puck just nods. They both grow silent again.
From the corner of his eye, he sees Finn turn to look at him. He takes a deep breath as if he is unsure what to say, then opens his mouth, hesitates, and then speaks softly. "So you gonna let her go without telling her?"
He shifts his head to the right and clenches his jaw, careful to keep his eyes from Finn. It doesn't keep her image from clouding his mind. "Don't know what you're talking about, Hudson," he lies.
"Cut the shit, Puck." He laughs slightly because that's something he would say, not Finn, but Finn ignores him and continues on. "You think I don't know what it looks like . . . . what it feels like . . . to want Rachel Berry."
"Don't want Berry," he spouts out. The edge in his voice surprises even him but he holds firm in his stance and doesn't turn his gaze to his friend. He already knows Finn can read him without even seeing the pained look on his face. Years of fighting and friendship have made them both well tuned to each other, as gay as he thinks that sounds.
"You know, I have to admit I wasn't comfortable at first when I noticed you looking at her that way again. Not that you ever really stopped. I kinda always thought you were using Lauren to distract you from Quinn back then but now I think that maybe you were even using her then to distract you from Rachel." Finn stops briefly and takes a deep breath. "Then this past year. I don't know . . . but you kinda changed. You tried real hard to show everybody that you didn't, that you were still badass Puck, but I've known you for a long time and I could see that you had. . . . and I know Rachel was helping you."
Puck jerks his head back to finally look at him but Finn just smiles dopily. "Don't worry, she didn't tell me. Rach does know how to keep quiet sometimes. But last fall I noticed you didn't hang out real long after football practice and sometimes you didn't show up to San's parties on the weekend. So I went by your house one evening and I saw Rachel's car." He takes a deep breath before he continues. "First I thought you two were fooling around again. Was kinda mad about that but I know I didn't have a right to be, even though I had made you promise not to go after any of my girls anymore."
"Rachel's not your girl."
Finn flinches at Puck's words and raises his palms up. "I know, man, I know. But I'll always care about her. She's kinda under my skin in her crazy Rachel Berry sorta way. But your right, she's not my girl and she wasn't then either." He loosens up a bit when Puck turns his gaze away again. "Listen, I know I'm not the smartest person in the world but I figured out Rachel was helping you when you started going to class and doing things you were supposed to. It was like you were actually trying. And then I'd see the way Rachel would smile when she would see you come into class and how you would look at her for just a second when you thought no one else was looking. Then," he shrugs, "you started looking at her longer and you started defending her a little bit more than normal, even when she wasn't around . . . . so I knew you weren't just trying to impress her to get up her skirt. Then she announced in Glee that she was accepted to Juilliard and while everybody else was jumping up and congratulating her, you looked like someone had, I don't know, killed your cat or wrecked your truck."
Puck just shakes his head. He doesn't need Finn telling him this stuff, hell he already knows it all. . "Your becoming a girl, Hudson . . . . watching me in Glee, stalking me after graduation and talking too much. You've been around Hummel too long."
He starts to get up but Finn stands right beside him and grabs his arm before he can move. "I'm trying to help you, Puck." Puck glares at him but says nothing until Finn releases his grasp. "She's pretty awesome. Not everyone sees that here. But you do. And it won't take long for some dude at Juilliard to see it too. It'll be too late then so you need to tell her how you feel now."
Puck lowers his head slightly and stuffs his hands into his pockets. "Not good at that shit, Finn. I don't talk feelings and I certainly don't talk feelings with Berry. Besides, she deserves better than some loser like me that's only going to bring her down."
Finn raises an eyebrow and chuckles, "she's never thought you were a loser. And if she didn't see something in you, she wouldn't have helped you the way she did. She didn't gain anything from you passing your classes, Puck. It's not like in Glee where she forces everyone to do their best because she wants to win. She did it for you . . . You. That should probably tell you something."
At that moment, it clicks for him and he knows that standing on the McKinley bleachers with Finn Hudson is not where he should be. So he glances at Finn and just nods his head. He knows Puck shouldn't be here either. Finn had his back this time and he'll thank him for that later. Right now though, he needs to see Rachel.
He doesn't remember the drive to her house, hell he doesn't even remember getting in his truck, but somehow he makes it there. He forces his old truck into park and jumps out before he realizes that she's sitting on the front steps. Her hands are folded gently on top of her lap and she is staring down at them.
"Hello Noah," she says softly as he approaches, "I wasn't expecting you." She never raises her gaze to him so he sits down beside of her and kicks his legs out onto the sidewalk. "I thought perhaps you would be attending Santana's soiree. I'm sure there is a great deal of alcohol and debauchery to partake in there."
"Not interested," he states flatly and she turns her head slightly to look at him.
"So you thought it would be more interesting to come to my house and sit on my porch." He knows she's really not asking so he says nothing.
He fiddles with his thumbs, fighting with the words and emotions clouding his head. Then he takes a deep breath and glues his gaze forward. "So you talk too much and you say things that I sometimes don't understand so right now, I just need you to not talk and let me say this. Can you handle that, Berry?" He can see her mouth fall open, fighting against herself to say something, but instead she nods her head slowly.
He runs a hand across his mohawk and fights the butterflies in his stomach before he continues. "So, first of all, thank you. I haven't told you that and I should have. I don't really understand why the hell you cared about the Lima loser finishing high school but you did. And even though you drive me fuckin insane with all your "your better than you think" bullshit, it kinds feels good thinking that you think that. And I may not have said it but I appreciate it. "
He feels like he is under a microscope and a heat lamp at the same time as he feels her eyes rest gently on him as he speaks. And while he told her he didn't want her to talk, part of him wants her to interrupt him right now because he doesn't know how the hell he is supposed to say what he needs to say. But she doesn't, she simply gazes at him and waits for him to continue. It takes a few minutes before he does.
"I don't know what happened, Rachel, or when it happened but somewhere along the way, I kinda started looking forward to seeing you and I didn't mind hearing your neurotic rants so much. Don't get me wrong, I still think you should have a patent on your own brand of crazy, but I started to like that crazy. And not like before, when I liked it because I wanted up your skirt." He smirks briefly, hoping to hide some of the jitters he is feeling inside. This is so unlike him, but then again, everything about him is different when it comes to her. He takes another breath. "And maybe I started to want to make you proud of me, to show you that what you were doing wasn't a mistake. It was different, you know, the way you smiled at me like I did something right. I'm not real used to that feeling. But I liked it."
He fidgets uncomfortably for a few moments and then shrugs his shoulders, still keeping his gaze from her. "I guess I expected it all to go away at some point but it hasn't. And now you're leaving and none of this really even matters. But. . . . I guess that maybe I'm kinda in love with you." His heart flutters slightly as the words escape his mouth.
He places his hands on his thighs, not allowing himself to look at her. He feels like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders now that she finally knows but he also can't help but feel nervous, even scared, at how she is going to react. And when she doesn't react, he pushes himself up off the steps. "So there you go . . . . now I will let you get back to your packing and leaving and whatever," he runs a hand through his mohawk and glances at her warily, "like I said, you're leaving and none of this matters and I need to get to Santana's party anyway." He feels like he is going to lose it and he can't do that shit in front of her, not with her looking as shell-shocked as she is right now.
Turning on his heels, he starts to head to the safety of his truck but then he feels her tiny hand on his arm and he stops dead in his tracks. He closes his eyes as he turns his body to her, trying to find some sort of Puck resolve that he has lost lately. He doesn't. His eyes open and he sees her smiling softly at him, the look of surprise long gone. "It matters," she whispers, "it's always mattered. And maybe your timing isn't perfect, nor has it ever been, and I've been awaiting this confession for a very long time, but that's fine. It matters to me. You matter to me, Noah Puckerman."
He feels his heart skip a little as she steps in closer to him and slides her hand around his waist. He cups her cheek and stares at her as she beams up at him. "You were waiting a long time for this," he asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes," she states firmly. "I realized several months ago that your brutish and sexist behavior coupled with my perfectionist tendencies and slight overzealousness were a perfect match for each other. But I needed you to come to that realization yourself."
"You are a little dramatic," he laughs as he rubs his thumb along her skin.
"I know. But that is who I am and you are the only person who never tried to change that." As the words escape her lips, her eyes fall and he quickly pulls her in tighter and brings her eyes back to him.
"Not gonna. I've grown pretty damn attached to your crazy." She smiles gently and he takes her in for a few seconds before he takes a deep breath. "So what does this mean, Rach? I mean, I know you're leaving tomorrow."
The smile slides from her face and she nods her head. "It means we have tonight. And it means that we have visits to plan and emails to write and texts to send. And maybe, when you're ready, you can move to New York. Because I fully expect that you will succeed there just as I know you will anywhere else." The smile slips back and she giggles softly. "I hope you believe I'm worth it, Mr. Puckerman, because you know when I'm in something, I'm all in and I'm determined to see it through and make it work. You're getting one hundred percent of Rachel Berry, even if I'm hundreds of miles away."
He cocks an eyebrow and smirks, "Do I get one hundred percent of you tonight? Cause I'm all in this too and I'm pretty sure I can prove how much I think you're worth . . ." She lifts onto her tiptoes and catches his words before he can finish. He leans his head down to gain better access to her soft lips and slides his hands onto her back, trailing one up her back and catching her hair in his fingers. Crushing her against him, they ravage each other for a few minutes until he reluctantly loosens his grip and stares down at her swollen lips.
He rests his forehead against hers and holds her there as they catch their breath. It's then they hear a loud laugh from afar and look up to find Santana, Finn, Mercedes, Quinn and Kurt in a car at the end of her driveway.
"It's about time you got your head out of your ass, Puckerman, and grabbed what was right in front of you," Santana yells, "We were all getting pretty freaking sick of the puppy dog looks. Way to man up."
He feels Rachel slide her arm around his waist and pulls herself tightly to his side.
"And now that we see that you are not in need of our matchmaking services," Kurt chimes in, "We will leave you two be and let you go ahead with your goodbye. You have less than 24 hours Noah Puckerman to make sure some hot young talent doesn't make her forget you when she gets to New York. Make it memorable."
As Finn pulls Kurt back into the car and Santana speeds off, he looks down at Rachel. She beams up at him and he thinks she has never been more beautiful. "It's not goodbye. It's just the beginning." She lifts up and kisses him briefly, knowing she is leaving him wanting more. "And my dads are not home."
That's all the encouragement he needs.
He realizes that night just how perfectly Rachel Berry fits into his arms and into his life and as he kisses her the next morning and watches her leave, he's already planning for the next time he will have her in his arms. His eyes are wide open now and focused solely on keeping Rachel Berry by his side and he knows that is exactly what he wants and needs.
The guys at Juilliard don't stand a chance.