They’re doing a test in Spanish class.
Well, most of the class are. Puck’s just killing time until the bell rings. He watches out of the corner of his eye as Rachel smoothes down her skirt for the umpteenth time. As if she can feel his gaze, Rachael whips out a shiny silver compact. It looks like she’s inspecting her face like a normal girl. Rachel Berry is many things, Puck knows this (has seen this first-hand, many ways and many times – in school hallways, Rachel’s hair dripping with slushee; standing in front of glee club, acting like a presidential candidate; Rachel when she gets what she wants, kissing in her bedroom, and later she grins brighter than the gold-plated trophy clutched in her hand). Rachel Berry is many things, but a normal girl is not one of them – and so of course Rachel is not content merely to check her face for zits or whatever it is normal teenage girls do. No, she seems to be gazing intently at her own reflection. As he watches, he sees her lips move – knowing Rachel, it’s some sort of self-help mantra. You are the person in charge of your own destiny, he thinks, and he wonders where he’s seen that before. (Last week, his brain helpfully supplies. In Miss Pillsbury’s office.)
Most people no doubt think of Rachel as confident – and she is. Of course she is.
Puck reaches into his pocket and pops a few m&ms into his mouth – only to find Finn glaring at him. Puck glares back – loosen up – he indicates, with a quirked eyebrow, because, seriously, it’s not like a handful of candy is going to ruin his shape for football this season. Finn rolls his eyes. Gimme he mouths, and Puck would feel ashamed that he assumed Finn would be judgmental, except for how Finn lately has been almost entirely judgmental of everything Puck does (up to and including Quinn Fabray, and to be entirely fair, Puck can’t really blame Finn for that, or Quinn for that matter, which just leaves Puck left to blame and clearly that’s not a great outcome either).
He realises he’s still clutching a handful of chocolate in his hand too tight and it’s melting. Finn has already ducked his head and returned to his Spanish test, studiously scrawling something in spidery writing that Mr Schuester will no doubt roll his eyes over later that night when he is marking them.
Puck begins to systematically shred his test paper, tearing it into neat strips and lining them up on his desk in neat rows, like soldiers. He then amuses himself throwing half-melted chocolate at the back of Rachel Berry’s head.
Rachel doesn’t turn around, but Puck vows not to give up until the bell rings, or he runs out of chocolate. Whichever comes first.
“Rachel, Puck, I want you two working together on this,” says Mr Schuester, as he hands them each a thin pamphlet of sheet music.
Puck stares at. It’s not a song he recalls ever hearing, and he’s wracking his brains trying to place it when he hears Rachel’s tart voice by his left ear.
“Problem?” she enquires, sweet and sharp, like the razor in a candy apple.
“I can’t read this,” he says, jabbing his finger at a random page.
“What?” asks Rachael.
“I can’t read it,” he repeats. His words come out muffled – probably because he can’t be bothered raising his head from the desk where it is currently laying.
He actually means the sheet music – he plays guitar by ear, always has, songs he taught himself off the radio late at night (until his mom’s boyfriend would bang on the door and tell him to shut the fuck up) – but these black dots on black lines mean absolutely nothing to him. He can’t see how they make any kind of music he can follow.
Rachel, of course, takes the wrong end of the stick straight away – and because she’s Rachel Berry she doesn’t just take it, she grabs onto the stick with both hands and pulls hard (and Puck grins, because – innuendo, much?)
He doesn’t need to look up to see that Rachel’s eyes are shining – but he looks up anyway, and straight away wishes he hadn’t, because he can actually see the gears moving in Rachel’s head, and he feels the throb of a pre-emptive migraine coming on. (Before he met Rachel, he had thought migraines were just something his mom made up when she didn’t want to have her weekend with him. Although knowing his mom, they were probably from an overdose of Bourbon rather than Berry.)
“Oh my god,” says Rachel, looking intrigued. “I’ve heard about this, of course, but I’ve never met one. It’s a miracle you’ve made it to a sophomore!”
By the time he realises exactly where she’s going with this, she’s basically already founded the Rachel Berry School for the Dyslexic and/or Functionally Illiterate Jewish High-school Non-Hopers, and Rachel Berry is many things (including a force to be reckoned with) but Puck doesn’t have the heart to add “disappointed” to the list, and before he knows it he’s agreed to after school tutoring sessions, which will apparently form the missing piece on her extra-curricular list.
He’s going to tell her that he really can read at their first tutoring session, he really is – but before he can even open his mouth she whips the cover off a picnic basket crammed with chocolate cupcakes. “Can’t study on an empty stomach,” she informs him, as if it’s scientific fact and not something her grandmother used to say.
His grandmother used to say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
As Rachel ducks her head and earnestly begins to explain to him that a is indeed for apple Puck bites into a cupcake and his mind wanders. Fun with Dick and Jane – people give this stuff to kids? Seriously?
The tutoring sessions happen three afternoons a week in the music room. He doesn’t tell anyone about them, and it seems like Rachel doesn’t either. He tells himself that he’s just in it for the cupcakes.
The moment she stops bringing them, tutoring is over.
She must somehow sense that too, because each afternoon she brings a freshly-baked batch.
It’s the day of the speeches for student elections, and of course Rachel is first in line to walk up and present in front of the entire student body.
He sees her across the auditorium and finds himself striding towards her, because Rachel Berry is many things, he sees that every day, but that doesn’t mean she should be punished for it. She deserves better.
“Hey,” he says, grabbing her wrist and hauling her off the podium. “You can’t go up there like that.”
“Why not?” asks Rachel. “I have my notes and a clear outline of my speech and I’ve done my breathing techniques and I’ve got – “
“... the word ‘Loser’ taped to your shoulder,” Puck interrupts, reaching out a hand to rip off.
She looks at him, and her eyes well up, and he has a panicked moment where he thinks “aw crap” because Puck is a badass but crying girls have always been his Achilles heel (and yes, Rachel Berry, he does know what that is, and he can use it in a complete sentence).
“Puck,” she says, voice slow with realisation and a growing certainty, and he realises this is something else entirely, because Rachel is saying, “you can read.”
“Aw, crap,” Puck says, this time out loud – but it’s too late, because Rachel is looking at him like he just gave her the Glee solo, and he realises she thinks she did this.
She’s wrong – but she’s kind of right, even though she doesn’t know it – because she’s certainly done something, changed something vital in him – a few weeks ago Puck would have been the one taping that sign on, instead of making plans to find whoever did it and slam them into the nearest available locker.
Rachel’s talking again. She does that a lot – but it doesn’t give him a headache anymore.
“I am awesome,” Rachel says – and it’s not a boast, he realises. Or at least, not to her. It comes across as more of a statement of fact, but now that he’s gotten to know her he can virtually see the invisible question mark which dangles on the end of nearly every one of her sentences. He mentally rephrases that, with correct punctuation: I am awesome? – the qualifier dangling; an assertation awaiting final validation, growing heavier in the silence.
Puck has always liked breaking things – silence included.
“Yeah,” he says, and he can’t fight the grin that clumsily splits his face open when she beams at him. “Yeah, you kind of are.”
Puck has always liked breaking things; broken things – that’s no secret. What nobody knows (goodness knows Miss Pillsbury has tried, time and time again), not even Puck knows, is why.
He still doesn’t know, not really.
But he knows something else about himself now, something that's maybe nearly as important - perhaps more important, in the long run.
Puck likes breaking things, sure - but he also likes piecing them back together, after.
Rachel has taught him something after all – forgiveness is more than a noun or a verb.
Sometimes it’s cupcakes.
(You won’t find this definition of forgiveness in the dictionary,
but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.)