A For Effort
Sequel to "Beyond the Scars."
A For Effort
I rolled down the east hallway, grateful for the chance to be alone. The last couple of days had been weird and it was a nice change to not have people shooting curious glances at me every few seconds. I knew why they kept looking at me like that but it didn't make the situation any better. I was trying not to think about it, and the staring was like a constant reminder.
Just a few feet from the choir room door I stopped, my brow furrowing in confusion. There was music coming from inside. I'd thought everyone had headed home, since Glee had ended fifteen minutes ago. I had only hung back because I needed to get my guitar to practice the new song for jazz band. As I listened closer I frowned, because I was pretty certain of who it was and had no idea why they'd be hanging out in the music room alone after rehearsal.
I considered just turning and going home, but I really needed to get those chords down this weekend or they might give my solo to James. Trying to keep quiet, I rolled into the doorway.
Puck was standing near the band equipment, one foot resting on the bottom riser. His yellow polo was laying discarded on the ground, leaving only the thin white tank covering his torso, and his suspenders were hanging down against his hips. He had a focused look on his face, and my red Fender was hung over his shoulder as he played an almost faultless AC/DC song with his tongue between his teeth. I'd never heard him play electric before, but I had to admit he was pretty good. Not quite as fast or clean as me, but still good.
As the song ended I clapped. Puck looked up in surprise and pressed a hand to the strings. "That was good," I said, rolling a little further into the room.
"I didn't know I was being watched," he said, rubbing the back of his neck, obviously uncomfortable. Which was sort of weird, considering it was Puck and he never lets nerves show. Of course that's because he generally hides them by just punching people, which I had to admit I was grateful he didn't do.
"I just came to get my guitar," I explained.
Puck looked down at it and laughed. "Oh yeah, right," he said, lifting the strap off his shoulder. "I probably should've asked. I just needed to be doing something and I left mine at home."
"It's fine," I said, rolling over to take the guitar he was offering out to me. "As long as you didn't scratch it. I just polished it up the other night." Puck made an amused noise as my eyes scanned the length of my guitar, and once I was certain it was still undamaged, I started putting it into the case. "What are you doing here? Don't you usually bolt the moment rehearsal is over?"
Puck sat down on the riser and shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. "Just don't wanna go home, that's all," he said, rolling his shoulders and his gaze practically daring me to argue the point with him. I just nodded and finished with the straps on the case. To my surprise, he kept going regardless of my lack of prompting. "Can't get any peace and quiet at home, you know? Moment I get in that door, my kid sister's latched on my side and I can't get rid of her."
"Yeah, I get that," I agreed, twisting to hang the straps of my guitar case over the handles of my chair. Once I had it arranged so I was sure it wouldn't slip off, I turned back to find him watching me, his eyebrow raised. "I have a little sister too," I said by way of explanation and he nodded.
I regarded him curiously, wondering what had compelled him to hide out in the choir room alone for peace. I debated about asking him but wasn't sure whether the weird quasi-friendship we'd developed that day in the locker rooms would protect me that far. Once he'd stopped trying to make me want to transfer schools, he'd actually turned out to be a fairly decent guy most of the time, and I did want to help him somehow if I could. Besides, I sort of felt like I owed it to him; even though I could tell he had ulterior motives, he really had come through with that bake sale.
"Take a picture, Wheels," Puck said suddenly, startling me back to reality. I blinked and shook my head, toying with the ridiculous white gloves Mr. Schue had chosen for our costumes. White, really? Anyone with a lick of common sense knew that white gloves and wheelchair wheels were not a good combination. The palms of mine were already a dull grayish brown.
"What's bugging you?" I asked before I could stop myself. Puck looked over, arching an eyebrow, but I figured I was safe until he started scowling. "You came here for the quiet and were playing my guitar to get something out."
That was the point when I stopped, because his jaw set and his eyes flicked away from me to stare a hole into the wall. "None of your business, Dr. Phil," he grunted, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. I nodded and stared down at my lap, weighing my choices and wondering whether it'd be safer to wait quietly until he simmered out or if I'd be able to get out of the room without him deciding to take his frustration out on me. "Besides, I'm not taking advice from you again. That damn fortune cookie scar spiel was complete bullshit."
I laughed wryly. "Yeah, you too?" I asked sarcastically. After all, it wasn't like the advice had turned out all that great for me. It's possible to move past your scars. Yeah, right.
Puck looked up at me, raising an eyebrow – again. He has very active eyebrows. "You couldn't even get your own advice to work?" he drawled in amusement. "That's pretty pathetic."
"Tell me about it," I said, shaking my head. He was watching me expectantly and for a moment I hesitated. I had determinedly not spoken to anybody about it, not even my family. So why would I suddenly spill to Puck of all people?
"This got anything to do with the fact that you're not talking to your girlfriend?" Puck asked before I could decide whether or not to say anything. I bit my lip, knowing I'd been caught. After all, it wasn't like everyone hadn't noticed that Tina and I were suddenly not the inseparable duo we'd been up until this week.
"I thought I could beat these scars by being able to date like a normal person. We went out and then she blew the whole thing," I said in a rush, my hands unconsciously fisting in my lap.
"By letting slip she can actually speak fluent English?" Puck offered and I glanced over in surprise. "She told Beyonce, we all found out pretty fast after that." I nodded. Of course she'd turn to gush all her feelings to her new non-handicapped friends, and of course that friend would have to be the biggest gossip in William McKinley High. I picked a piece of lint off the knee of my jeans with more force than necessary.
"People just don't understand unless they have the scars too," I said when the silence in the room got too heavy.
Puck surprised me by letting out a dull laugh. "Yeah, okay dude," he said but there was something sardonic in his tone that confused me. Before I could form the question to ask about it, he sighed and went on. "Your stupid advice didn't do shit for me either," he admitted. "Well she said I'm not a Lima-Loser, but she still doesn't want anything to do with me. She says it, that she was wrong about me, but I don't think she really believes it. And who knows, maybe she's right." He shrugged, scowling and flexing his hands around his upper arms in agitation.
I watched him silently, trying to make sense of this. I had no idea who he was talking about, although I had theories. There were only two girls I'd seen that Puck seemed to have any interest in beyond sex, and even on those two I wasn't quite positive that's where he stood. Of the two of them, I honestly couldn't say which one was more likely to reject him for being a Lima-Loser, and each only led to new questions I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answers to. Glee club contained way too much drama already.
"So your dad was a bum," I said dismissively. He glared at me, but his expression was uncertain. "So what? Doesn't mean much. Lots of people still turn out alright anyway. Of course there is still the problem of the fact that you're kind of an ass."
Puck stared at me for a second and then he laughed. "You've got balls, Abrams, I'll give you that," he said. I covertly let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. He grunted and ran a hand back over his Mohawk. "I just don't get why she's so damn hung up on this. I mean, sure, I've screwed up a lot, but I'm trying, ain't I? What happened to all that 'A for effort' shit they tell ya in grade school?"
"It's grade school," I answered with a shrug. "They tell you a lot of things that are completely useless. Like if you stand up to peer pressure, people will respect you instead of ridicule you. Or that there's a real world application for algebra. It's stuff that doesn't work in reality."
"But I'm not my dad," Puck said in frustration, and I was surprised by the intensity that he said it with. Like he was trying to prove the truth to someone. And I wasn't quite sure that someone was me. "My old man, he went around beatin' up on his family for stupid things. He never had a nice thing to say about any one of us, and calling him on his shit was a sure-fire way of getting your ass kicked. I'm not that dude."
I couldn't help but smirk a little at that one. "Well, now that part I'm not completely sure of," I said. I reflexively flinched backward when his hard gaze turned on me. "Whoa, wait a second, hear me out before you start pummeling," I said, holding up my hands in surrender. "See this? This would be that 'calling your shit and getting your ass kicked' moment."
Puck was still scowling, but the darkness in his eyes had shifted into something else and I felt slightly less afraid for my life. Slightly. "Think about it, Puck," I said, finally feeling safe enough to at least lower my hands into my lap. "What do you do all day at school? You go around beating up other students and tossing out insults at everyone you pass, most of the time for really stupid reasons." He was glaring at the ground and I took it as a sign he was listening and thinking about what I was saying.
"You say that you're not like him, but you spend all your time abusing everyone you can find the slightest reason to abuse them for. So you toss the gay kids in the dumpster, and throw slushies at the girls with the attitudes as big as their dreams, and lock the cripples in port-a-potties. You bring down everyone around you, even your best friend." I was surprise when it almost looked like he winced at that, but I wasn't sure exactly which part had gotten to him.
"However, on the flip side," I continued, and I saw him half-glance up at me curiously before returning to staring at the floor, "I still think you're right in what you said. You're not really like him. You're both bullies and jerks and a couple dozen other less polite words I can think of off the top of my head, but you're different. I think, unlike him, that you know what you do is wrong. And that's the biggest point, because if you know it's broken then you can fix it. That's what's going to save you from being a Lima-Loser in the end."
There was a tense silence as I finished, and I waited for him to suddenly attack me. Despite my earlier reservations, I realized belatedly that I had just unleashed what could definitely be construed as a very insulting speech. I never had been good at knowing when to keep my opinions to myself, and it wouldn't be the first time it'd gotten me in trouble.
Puck flexed his hands, his knuckles cracking, and I recoiled into my chair a little further. Then he looked up at me and his expression was deathly serious. "You know, Wheels, you talk a lot," he said flatly. "Like, as much as Crazy Berry does.
"Tempted to light yourself on fire yet?" I asked, hoping the joke would lighten the mood just a little because I'm sure if I had mobility in my legs, they'd be shaking.
"A little bit," Puck answered off-handedly. "You talk a lot. And you're full of a lot of shit." I smirked, shaking my head. It wasn't like I'd expected him to actually take anything I'd said to heart. Of course I hadn't expected him to the first time either, and he'd proven me wrong then. "And you're lucky my arms are sore after that stupid wheelchair number or I'd kick your ass."
He'd stopped scowling so hard and there was little conviction in his tone, so I dared to add, "Go ahead, I can't feel it anyway."
Puck stared at me for a second and then smirked. "You are some kinda weird."
"Says the man with the Mohawk," I deadpanned.
"Dude, the Mohawk is so badass," he argued.
I snorted. "Well I do have to say it goes well with the suspenders," I said casually.
Puck rolled his eyes. "Don't make fun of me for that, you picked the clothes."
"Did not," I said indignantly, shaking my head. "This was all Mr. Schue's idea. I hate polo shirts."
Puck smirked and nodded. "Yeah, whatever," he said. He grunted as he stood up and then grabbed the discarded half of his costume and slipped into his letterman's jacket. "Well as much fun as it is sitting here while you try to shrink my head," he said sarcastically, "I gotta head. If I'm too late picking up the demon child from the sitter Mom'll get on my case about it again."
I grinned and nodded. "It's cool, I have to go too," I admitted, glancing at my watch and cringing. "If I don't get home soon my mom will start panicking and call the search and rescue team to come find me."
"Paranoid much?" Puck asked as I checked that all of my bags were secure one more time before turning toward the door.
"Yeah, well, she's just a little overprotective," I said, shrugging casually as we left the choir room and went back down the east hall. "She was finally starting to get normal again and then I wound up taped to a flagpole after school one day and that all went out the window. Wouldn't have been so bad if she hadn't been the one to find me."
Puck made a noise that sounded vaguely like a laugh, but didn't say anything more than that. I glanced sideways at him curiously, but he was staring straight ahead and his expression was determinedly blank. Taking the change in demeanor as just another complexity in the insanity that is Noah Puckerman, I just went along with it. After all, it's not like it could've had anything to do with the fact that he was the one who'd taped my chair to the flagpole that day. Once we were outside the school he made to head for the parking lot while I turned my chair to go around the front of the school to roll home. As I turned away from him I tossed a "Later," over my shoulder and he returned it distractedly.
I had only gotten a few feet away when a voice stopped me. "Hey Abrams." I raised an eyebrow and swiveled back to see Puck standing at the curb with his one hand tucked deep into his pocket, looking uncomfortable. "Thanks for letting me play your guitar. And you know, all the other stuff."
Surprised didn't even come close to summing up how I was feeling at that moment. After a second of blank staring, I nodded. "You're welcome," I said calmly, smiling.
"And about the flagpole, and all that –" He stopped, looking even more awkward as he ran a hand over his Mohawk and let it rest at the back of his neck, rubbing the muscles anxiously. "You're kinda a cool guy, and I'm, like, sorry. For, you know…"
"For doing everything in your power to make my high school experience a living hell?" I offered casually, despite the fact that I was floored Puck even knew how to apologize. He grimaced but nodded. "Yeah, I know. You haven't really done anything to me in almost two months. Nothing since that slushie the day after the porta-potty. I take that as a sign you're making progress." He smirked and looked up at me, cocking an eyebrow daringly. I just smiled and added, "You're still an ass most of the time, but we'll call it an A for effort, shall we?"
Puck rolled his eyes but he was trying not to laugh. "You're an idiot," he informed me. I grinned, because I could tell that he didn't really mean it. At least not completely. "I'll catch you later, Abrams."
"See ya," I replied and then turned around and headed for home again. When his truck roared past me leaving the parking lot, I raised a hand to wave and he jerked his chin up in acknowledgement. It was weird, how talking to Puck hadn't actually solved any of my problems but I still felt better somehow. Things between Tina and I were still a nightmare and it didn't look like they'd be getting better any time soon, but it was kind of nice to know that I wasn't alone in the club of people whose lives were defined by their scars.