In the end, Puck throws a dart.
He speeds away from Lima on his bike, fully intending to enlist in the Air Force like he’d told Coach Beiste. Puck heads up I–75 to Toledo, where a cousin on his mom’s side has at least agreed to let him crash while he arranges things, meets with an Air Force recruiter, and all of that. After his first two visits to the recruiting office, though, he starts to waver, wondering what he should really do. The Air Force recruiter informs him that his chances of actually flying a plane in the Air Force are slim to none, because he doesn’t test well and has no post-high school education.
Beiste’s comment about how the guys in Top Gun were naval aviators tickles in the back of his mind, so Puck goes and meets with a recruiter from the Navy, too. The results there are disappointingly similar: he’s not likely to be able to ever fly a plane. Even if he were to somehow get a college degree, even if he were to somehow improve his test-taking skills, there are just a lot more people wanting to fly a plane than there are spots for pilots. Both the Air Force and Navy recruiters do their best to get him to enlist regardless, talking about all the other jobs he could do.
Puck doesn’t really know what to do with the information, because he doesn’t want to join either branch only to end up feeling like an underpaid grunt with none of the glory. After four weeks, while Puck’s still wavering about what to do next, his cousin tells him he has two weeks to either find a job and contribute or get out. Puck spends the next two weeks looking for jobs and looking for another place to crash, and on the day of the deadline his cousin gave him, Puck drives across to Cleveland to stay with Jake’s mom’s sister, who apparently needs someone to help her make rent until her lease is up in September. She doesn’t want much for his share of the rent, though, which will make it easy for Puck to save up once he finds a job.
When the first crappy minimum-wage job tells him they’ll only have him working for twenty-five hours a week, Puck goes out to find a second crappy minimum-wage job, and he starts putting up signs about pool cleaning. The season’s close enough that he has to start looking for clients, and eventually he finds a few.
He doesn’t sleep with any of the pool cleaning clients in Cleveland. It means less pay, and that’s surprisingly depressing, when he realizes he was basically a prostitute for years and never connected the dots. It takes less time at each house, though, so he brings in more money from the pool cleaning overall. He feels like all he does is work; he doesn’t date, he doesn’t go to many movies, and he tries his best not to think about the fact that he’s grieving for Finn just as much as he was the first week after Finn died.
His money adds up at least. He pays his small share of the rent, buys his own groceries, puts gas in his truck, and buys more pool chemicals, but by the end of the summer, Puck has enough money saved up that he feels comfortable putting in his two week notices. He’ll finish up a few days before the lease ends, and he’ll leave Cleveland then. The money he has saved will let him drive anywhere in the country that he picks, plus put down first and last month’s rent, if he can’t find a roommate situation, and even get him through until the first paycheck comes in from whatever new job he finds wherever he ends up.
The only thing left to do is decide where to go.
Leaving Lima had helped, but Ohio still reminds him of Finn, and maybe he’s mourning too much for his best friend. That’s what his mom says when he calls home every week or two. That’s what his cousin thought, too, and he’s not sure about Jake’s mom’s sister, but she probably does. At least she doesn’t mention it when he looks sad or says he’s got more hours at work or doesn’t want to see any movies, and Puck figures the further he gets from Lima and from Ohio, the less anyone will think that’s weird. Wherever Noah Puckerman ends up, no one there will know who he used to be or how he used to act, and that’s fine with him.
All of that is in Puck’s head when he stands in front of a map of the US that he bought at the gas station. He tacks it to the wall and picks up the dart he stole from the ground outside the bar around the corner three nights earlier, and then Puck closes his eyes. He lets the dart fly, willing to go wherever it lands, as long as it’s not Ohio, or too close to Ohio. When he opens his eyes, though, the dart is in the ocean, so he snorts and retrieves it. A second try is too close to Los Angeles for Puck to want to go there, so he throws the dart a third time, his eyes squeezed tight. When he finally opens them, he nods and takes out a highlighter, running it over the route from Cleveland to the city closest to the dart. Eugene, Oregon. He’ll take I–80 west away from Cleveland, heading towards Chicago, and he won’t leave I–80 until Salt Lake City. I–84 will take him north through Idaho before taking US–20 the rest of the way west to Eugene.
It’s a long drive, a day and a half even if he drove straight through and never stopped, which means he figures it’ll take him a good three days. “Tomorrow, then,” he says to himself, taking the map down and folding it up. It doesn’t take him long to pack up the rest of his stuff, and he collects his final paychecks before going to sleep early. He wakes up at five am, loads his truck, and starts driving west.
It takes him six hours, including breakfast and refueling, to get to Joliet, Illinois, and he stops there, noting the date. Tuesday, September 10, 2013, then, is the last day he was in Ohio, and he doesn’t really intend on going back. It’ll make his mom sad every once in awhile, and his sister will claim to miss him when he calls, trying to make him feel guilty, but she really won’t. He can always call Jake or talk to him online, and hell, Puck knows he’s running, but he doesn’t really care. Puck lets himself linger over lunch, figuring that it makes the most sense to eat when the sun’s at its highest. Plus, lunch is cheaper than dinner at most places, so he’d rather get fast food for dinner.
The next six hours take him out of Illinois and across most of Iowa, boring him to tears, but he stops for Subway, gas, and some cans of Red Bull before heading west again. It’s 1:30 am before he pulls off the interstate near Sidney, Nebraska, tired of looking for a truck stop. He stops at the 24-hour Walmart instead, replenishing his stock of Red Bull and pop and buying a few candy bars. He’ll have to keep driving to find a truck stop, just wanting a place to nap a few hours and maybe take a shower without having to pay for an entire night in a crappy motel room.
It takes him another hour and a half, almost to Cheyenne, before he finds a promising-looking Pilot. It has a Cinnabon, which isn’t open yet, but he figures by the time he wakes up after a four or so hour nap, it will be. He pays for a shower and then locks himself in his truck, the alarm set on his phone.
Puck’s tired enough that he sleeps right through the alarm, sleeping until close to ten am. At least, it’s ten eastern time, and he groans when he realizes he needs to reset his watch and everything else. It’ll be another pain in the ass to reset it again once he’s in pacific, but at least he’ll stop getting the time wrong. Convinced it’s eight am., he realizes he didn’t sleep as late as he thought, but it was still longer than he meant to. He gets a Cinnabon and decides to drive around Cheyenne for a little while.
The town’s nice enough, and as he finds a place selling brunch even on a Wednesday morning, he thinks about staying there. He doesn’t have a particular attachment to Eugene, just a dart throw, and he’s already tired of driving. After he eats, he drives around more, nearly stopping to ask about a ‘help wanted’ sign. Something doesn’t feel right, though, and he points his truck back towards I–80.
The signs for I–25, with mentions of Denver and other places in Colorado, make him think about taking that detour, too. It wouldn’t be far, after all, but then he remembers that a lot of rich people ski in Colorado, and in the end, he doesn’t do that well with rich people. There’s some kind of crazy Christians in Colorado, too, or at least he thinks that’s where they are, and he doesn’t want to step in that yellow jacket nest, either, so he keeps heading west on I–80 past the junction with I–25.
He decides he made a great choice by not staying in Cheyenne, not when it takes him six hours to make it across Wyoming and to the next large city, Salt Lake City. It’s close to seven at night, mountain time, and again, Puck starts thinking about just staying. His phone says it’s another twelve and a half or thirteen hours of pure driving to get to Eugene, and while his gas money and food money are holding out, his eyes and butt are tired and sore. The exit where he stops for dinner even has ‘Congregation Kol Ami’. Puck decides to drive through the city not on the interstate, just to see what it’s like, and he’s starting to think he could stay there when he turns a corner and suddenly sees a big-ass church.
“Mormons. Right,” he says to himself with a sigh. He’s pretty sure the Mormons would drive him nuts, so he gets on I–84 heading north around 8:30 pm. If he’s lucky, he’ll hit the truck stops outside Boise by one or two. It’s a little earlier than he wants to stop, but it isn’t far from Boise that he’ll have to leave the interstate behind, and he’d rather do that in the sunshine after some sleep.
He pulls into the Flying J right around 1:30 am, and doesn’t have to wait for a shower. When he mentions to the clerk that he was planning to sleep in the parking lot, the clerk shakes his head and instead directs Puck down the road to the Ralfroy Motel. Puck grumbles to himself about spending the money on a motel, but he knows he can’t go any further, not on Red Bull and too–little sleep, so he drives up the road and pays for a night.
Puck unloads everything he can’t lock inside the truck, then locks the door, puts the chainlock on, and props a chair in front of the door before pulling the curtains and falling face-down against the motel pillow. He must fall asleep within seconds, because he doesn’t even remember pulling the sheet up over himself.
When he does wake up, everything is just how he left it, down to the chair and the chainlock, but the sheets are on top of him, so he had to have pulled them up. He groans when he turns to the side and realizes he’s slept way longer than he intended. It had been 2:30 am before he finished unloading, sure, but he still hadn’t intended for it to be over twelve hours of sleep, and he groans. He probably owes them for another night already, which means he might as well take his time showering and getting some food.
He doesn’t have a particular destination in mind when he leaves the motel, so he just turns to the north, heading more into downtown Boise, if Boise has a downtown. The road curves around Boise State University before taking him over a river and, after a few turns, what Puck figures is the nice part of town. There’s a coffee shop there, at any rate, so Puck parks a few blocks down and walks to it, getting coffee and a sandwich before sitting at one of their outdoor tables.
The people seem nice enough in Boise, and Puck feels weirdly comfortable in a way he hasn’t in any other town he’s stopped in. It’s only Thursday, he was still in Ohio on Tuesday morning, but it feels like an entirely different life almost. Even after all of the sleep, he’s not sure he wants to get up the next morning and keep driving. His phone says it’d be another eight hours, almost all of it on a US road instead of an interstate, and Puck decides right there that maybe Boise, Idaho, isn’t such a bad place to start over.
He ends up buying another cup of coffee, having a long conversation with the barista about neighborhoods and places to work, and taking three numbers off the coffee shop board for people looking for a roommate. He gets another sandwich to go, to eat for dinner in a few more hours, and heads back to the motel, driving through a few neighborhoods on his way. Boise seems like a good decision, and anyway, Puck knows he wasn’t really running to anything or anywhere, just from. Boise seems like a pretty good ‘to’.
It takes two more days before any of the roommate ads pan out. The house is between Capitol Boulevard and Americana Boulevard, but on the same side of the river as the coffee shop. The other three guys in the house are students, two at Boise State and one at Western Idaho, which may or may not be a community college. The rent is even cheaper than Puck was hoping for, and he doesn’t have to put down first and last month’s rent, or even a deposit, since the rest of them are already living there. It’s just a small bedroom, but he has his own small bathroom right off of it, and it has enough space in the kitchen that Puck doesn’t think shared food storage will be an issue.
The cheaper rent and lack of deposit lets Puck feel less panicked about finding a job at least, and he applies for several, figuring it’ll be like Cleveland and he’ll need to find two different part-time jobs. He goes back to the coffee shop, which he learns is part of Hyde Park, and applies for some restaurant jobs nearby, but he also goes down a few nearby main roads, applying at anywhere that looks likely and not too boring. He knows enough about himself to know that he’d rather work with people than in a cubicle, so when he gets offered twenty hours a week at the Capital Lumber TrueValue Hardware Store, he accepts. Even if their estimate of five hours stocking and fifteen hours with customers is off, it’s still better than a cubicle or stocking after-hours. He goes through training within a few days, and on his second day of work, he gets a call from one of the restaurants near the coffee shop.
They offer him a job bussing tables for the dinner shift, which works out great since the hardware store closes at five every day, and is closed on Sunday completely. If either place lets him move up to full-time, it’d be easier, but twenty one place and twenty-five at the other isn’t bad.
By the time Puck’s been in Boise for two full weeks, he can find his way around, at least as long as he stays in the places he frequents, and he has a new bank account, so he’s not hiding his cash anymore. He wakes up on Friday morning feeling pretty good about things, and he keeps feeling pretty good until just before his lunch break.
He’s about to clock out for lunch when he hears Finn’s voice.
He stops in his tracks, feeling frozen, before he shakes his head and rolls his eyes at himself. It’s not Finn’s voice, of course. It’s just someone that sounds vaguely like Finn, and Puck had been thinking about Finn that morning, when he couldn’t reach something and had to get a stepstool. That’s all it is, Puck knows, but it still makes him sad as he heads down the road with his lunch in hand. The fast food selection near the hardware store is bad, since Puck doesn’t like fried chicken, so most days he walks down the street with his packed-at-home lunch.
The Catholic church is the closest garden space, and Puck knows it’ll get too cold soon to eat outside, but he likes to amuse himself thinking about the Catholic God and Jewish God arguing over what it means that Puck sits there to eat. This afternoon, though, all he can think about is his damn brain, making him think that he heard Finn. Almost six months later—or maybe more than six months, but Puck doesn’t want to figure it out precisely—and hundreds of miles away, that’s when his brain tries to give him the thing he’s been wanting to hear.
Maybe, Puck tells himself, he just needs to be busier. He asks his boss at the hardware store if there’s any chance of more hours, since he’s already realized he could work fulltime at the hardware store and still keep bussing tables at the restaurant. The manager looks surprised, and Puck tries to explain that he’s working two jobs, but he still has too much time on his hands.
“You could always take some classes at the community college,” one of Puck’s coworkers offers, overhearing the conversation. “I wish I had, at your age. Before you settle down with a family.”
Puck snorts. He hasn’t dated since Toledo, hasn’t had sex since Toledo, and it’s not that he doesn’t notice people when he’s out, but he just doesn’t really care. He figures pretty soon he’ll get a reputation for not dating, but it hasn’t been long enough yet. “Maybe next semester,” Puck tells his coworker.
“Might not be too late for this one,” Puck’s manager says.
“Nah.” Puck shakes his head. “After the holidays, maybe.” Puck sighs as he turns to leave the break room/office. The holidays makes him think of Finn, how the big dork always loved Christmas so damn much, and Christmas isn’t even Puck’s holiday. It shouldn’t make him that sad, but it does.
His manager at the hardware store does put Puck on the schedule for more hours when the October schedule is posted, and Puck hopes that helps. He gets up on Sunday and decides that maybe he should start working out again, just to give him something else to do besides work. He goes for a run, looking for a gym along the way, and finds one that looks like it won’t be too expensive. Some weight training and some cardio won’t be a bad thing, and he doesn’t want to have down time.
Puck tries not to think about his weird moment, and mostly succeeds until over a week’s passed. He’s at work mid-afternoon, helping a customer find the right kind of nails, and as he walks past an aisle, he would swear he sees Finn.
He’s so sure it’s Finn that he trips over his own feet, but he has to recover and keep walking towards the nails, because he has a customer following him. He can’t stare at the profile that he is sure is Finn’s. By the time his customer has found his nails and is headed for the checkout, and Puck backtracks, the aisle is completely empty. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s even been in it recently, and Puck stands at the end of the aisle staring down it for at least thirty seconds. It makes sense, in a weird sort of way, that the place where he heard someone with a voice like Finn’s, would be the place where his brain would come up with an image of Finn. Same location, but far enough from Ohio to make sure he knows it’s not real. It makes sense, in a twisted sort of way, and Puck shakes his head as he walks away from the aisle.
He’s doing his best to start over, because he’s in Boise for the long haul, and he guesses that part of his brain just isn’t ready to let Finn go quite yet.