Puck has kept his mouth shut about Los Angeles since Finn turned him down, but when Finn decides that he’s not going to New York with Rachel, Puck decides to open it again. This time, he frames it differently.
“I need your help,” he says to Finn, two days after Rachel left on the train. They’re sitting under the awning at Dairy King, eating their Tornadoes—Oreo for Puck and Butterfinger for Finn—and Puck kicks the underside of the table repeatedly as his leg swings back and forth.
“Okay. What’s up?” Finn asks.
“I need company when I’m driving across the goddamn country,” Puck says. “You can help me unload in LA and then fly back.”
Finn stirs his Tornado half-heartedly. “How long a drive is it? And this isn’t a trick to get me to split the cost of gas, right?”
“No.” Puck rolls his eyes and keeps kicking the table. “It’s like, I don’t know, thirty-six hours, but I wasn’t going to drive straight through.”
“Yeah, that’d be a long time to drive,” Finn says, “but sure. Not like I’ve got anything else to do right now.”
“Awesome. I figured I’d head out Wednesday morning early,” Puck says.
“Cool. Anything specific you need me to bring?” Finn asks.
“Clothes?” Puck says. “Bring your trunks, we’ll go to the beach before you fly back.”
“Need me to help you get your shit packed up?”
“You can help me make sure none of it’s gonna shift around when we load it, I guess,” Puck says.
“Sounds good. We should load up Tuesday night. I’ll just crash at your place and we’ll leave from there,” Finn says.
“Oh, you can make playlists, too,” Puck says. “You know there’s going to be no good radio stations in the Plains.”
Finn gives Puck a broad smile. “Sure. That, I can do.”
Puck returns the grin, mentally congratulating himself on approaching Finn the right way. “I knew I could count on you, dude.”
“Hey, what are best friends for?” Finn says. “Other than helping you pass classes and getting you over putting your girlfriend on a train and maybe never seeing her again.”
Puck winces. “I think at that point you kinda have to go with ‘ex-girlfriend’.”
“Another thing best friends are for: brutal honesty,” Puck says with a shrug.
“Maybe you can keep it a little less brutal for another couple of days?” Finn asks.
“At some point in the near future you’ll have to go with ‘ex-girlfriend’?”
“How about at some point in the near future, I’ll talk about her, period, but for now I’m all done talking about her,” Finn offers.
“Dude, you brought her up,” Puck says. “Not me.”
“I know, but now I don’t want to talk about her anymore, okay?” Finn says.
Puck shrugs again. “I also convinced you not to go sign those Army papers, which I think deserves a pat on the back.” He holds his Tornado cup in one hand and pats his back with the other hand. “See?”
“Yeah,” Finn laughs. “My hero.”
Puck grins and starts singing. “Did you ever knowwww that youuu’re my heeeerooo.”
“Oh god. No. No, no, no,” Finn says, still laughing.
“And everything I would like to be! I can fly higher than an eagle,” Puck continues singing.
“Kill me now,” Finn groans.
Puck drops his voice to a whisper. “You are the wind beneath my wings, bro.”
“Yeah,” Finn says. “You’re mine, too, dude. So much wind.”
“That was only once, I was young, and your mom’s the one who offered us all-you-can-eat Mexican,” Puck immediately says.
“And it’s a memory that’s going to haunt me the rest of my life,” Finn says.
“Aww, I’m going to be in your memories forever,” Puck says, finishing his Tornado and lying back on the table. “That’s so sweet.”
“Don’t worry. That’s not the only memory I’ll have forever,” Finn says. “There’s lots of stuff. You going to California isn’t going to change that.”
“Hmph,” Puck says, because while he wants to go to LA, maybe even needs to go, thinking about Finn back in Lima without him isn’t a great train of thought. “Middle school better not be the sum total of them.”
“Hey. Come on, you know it’s not,” Finn says gently.
“Not just Little League, either,” Puck says, then rolls onto his side and pushes himself up. “C’mon. Let’s go kick each other’s asses at Mario before I pack it.”
When Puck falls asleep Tuesday night, his room looks skeletal, and he’s okay with that. Everything is packed and ready except for his duffel bag and Finn’s backpack. After the alarm goes off in the morning, all Puck has to do is toss his phone charger in his bag and zip it up before nudging Finn.
“Finn. C’mon,” he says quietly.
“It’s early,” Finn grumbles. “Twenty more minutes.”
“Yeah, you can sleep after we get going,” Puck agrees. “Or I’ll buy you coffee at Mickey D’s.”
Finn makes a snorting noise and curls up a little more tightly for a few seconds before opening one eye and stretching. “If we aren’t doing it all in one day, why’ve we got to get on the road so early?”
“So we can avoid driving straight into the sun in the late afternoon and evening,” Puck says. “We’ll stop for the day by four or five.”
“I did pack my swim trunks, so if we stop someplace with a pool, we can swim,” Finn says. He sits up, stretching again. “Okay. Just let me brush my teeth and we can hit the road.”
“Hit the road, Jack,” Puck half-sings, half-says. “Too bad neither of us is a Jack.”
“Jack Hudson would be a good name for a P.I., though,” Finn says. He stumbles into the bathroom to brush his teeth and take a piss, possibly both at the same time, knowing Finn.
“You can change your name if you go into detecting,” Puck calls into the bathroom as he pulls his jeans on.
“I’ll hang onto it in case I ever need an alias,” Finn answers, sounding like his toothbrush is in his mouth.
“Good plan.” Puck picks up his duffel bag and looks over the room. “Any place we need to stop on the way out?”
Finn reappears from the bathroom and reaches for his backpack. “I probably should’ve gotten some flip flops or something.”
“’Kay. Coffee and flip flops, check,” Puck says. “So long, Lima.”
“Me and Lima’ll be sure to send you a postcard once I’m back,” Finn says.
Puck covers up the face he’s making by heading out the door of his bedroom. “Is it my former bedroom or still my bedroom?” he asks Finn as they head out the front door.
“I think it’s officially your former bedroom, dude,” Finn says. “That’s weird to think about.”
“A little bit, yeah.” Puck squeezes his duffel bag in and climbs into the driver’s seat. “Next stop, Fort Wayne. After coffee, I mean.”
“Definitely after coffee,” Finn says. He gets in the passenger seat, tucking his backpack behind his legs in the floorboard, then shuts his door.
“I’ll stop at the one on Elida, even though it’s the wrong side of the road,” Puck says. “So you can get like eight minutes of sleep, if you want.”
“Sounds good to me,” Finn says, leaning against the door and closing his eyes.
“Yeah, I figured,” Puck says quietly, starting up the jeep and pulling out of the driveway. If he doesn’t think about it too much, it’s just the two of them, heading west, and that seems like a pretty good start.
Big Brain with Smart Lighting; Bloomington, IN
The extra-large coffee Finn had back in Lima hits right before the rest stop at mile marker 325 on I–69 northbound outside Fort Wayne, so Puck pulls into the rest stop parking lot so Finn can pee. On the way out of the rest stop, Finn passes a big display full of pamphlets for various sites in Indiana. The one in front has a picture of a giant brain on it and promises ‘smart lighting’, whatever that is. Finn suddenly has never wanted to visit a place as much as he wants to visit the Big Brain in Bloomington, which probably means the pamphlets were designed really well. He takes one out to the jeep and hands it to Puck.
“We should go,” Finn says. “It has ‘smart lighting’.”
“All this time, I never knew that regular lighting was dumb,” Puck says. He pulls out his phone and puts the address of the Big Brain in it, though. “Yeah, okay.”
“I know it’s in the opposite direction,” Finn says.
Puck laughs. “Just a little bit. Phone says there’s an exit a mile ahead we can turn around at, though. Or we can go four more miles, grab a bite to eat, then head south. Your call.”
“Let’s just head straight for the brain. We’ll find another place to eat on the way.”
“I feel like we’re on the Magic School Bus. Remember that? Straight for the brain!”
“You don’t have a dress with pictures of brains on it, though,” Finn says. “Maybe we can get you a Hawaiian-type shirt like that.”
“They probably have souvenir t-shirts at the Big Brain, but by then, we’ll already be at the brain,” Puck says.
“This is cool. I always wanted to go to one of those weird tourist things, but I’ve never actually done it. Thanks for agreeing to take me,” Finn says.
Puck waves his hand as they merge back onto the interstate. “As long as we don’t end up on a search for, like, every dick-shaped rock in the continental US.”
Finn laughs. “How many of those do you think there even are?”
“I’d be you a lot of money that someone’s tried to figure it out, is what I’m saying.”
“I promise we don’t have to look for every dick-shaped rock,” Finn says, “but now we have to find at least one.”
“I solemnly swear I will find you at least one dick. Shaped rock,” Puck says, clearly trying hard to keep a straight face.
“We just need to find the D, Puck,” Finn says.
Puck nods slowly. “Won’t be anywhere near the brain.”
“We’ll start with the brain, though, then go from there,” Finn says. “Maybe the ‘smart lighting’ will tell us where to go.”
The Big Brain is farther from Fort Wayne than Finn realized, and when they hit the two hour mark, he starts to feel a little guilty about how much he’s derailing their driving plan. Still, Puck had said they weren’t doing it all in one go, and they were going to stop early in the day anyway, plus this could be the last long trip they ever take together. That last reason is why Finn doesn’t take back his request and tell Puck to nevermind and put them back on their course to LA.
Since the ‘smart lighting’ doesn’t really show up until after dark, they stop in Bloomington to eat and wait out the sun. Finn wants to stop at Yogi’s Bar & Grill, but Puck sees a sign for a place called the Runcible Spoon and says they should eat there instead. Finn’s the reason why they’re three hours south of the interstate they were supposed to be on, so he lets Puck have the win on dinner choice. Finn can’t complain about his reuben and fries, and Puck seems happy with his shrimp and scallop linguine.
“See, I’m fancy,” Puck says, gesturing to his plate.
“You’re a giant dork, is what you are,” Finn says. It hurts a little, though, thinking about how much he’ll miss Puck’s dorkiness. Puck isn’t even in LA yet, and Finn’s already missing him. Maybe Finn’s a giant dork, too.
When their dinner is finished and the sun starts to set, they hop over to the Indiana University campus and spend a little time wandering around until they get to the Big Brain. The brain is, as promised, big. They’re only in front of it for a couple of minutes before the lights start to flicker and move.
“That’s cool,” Finn says.
“I wasn’t expecting the smart lights to be rainbow colors,” Puck admits.
“Me either, but it’s pretty,” Finn says. “This is the best large stone brain I’ve ever seen.”
Puck nudges his side. “Have you ever seen any other stone brains, large or small?” he asks, voice lowered.
“Well, no, but I feel like even if I had, this one would still be the best,” Finn says. “Look at it. How could another brain be better than this brain?”
“It is a pretty impressive brain,” Puck says. “I feel like we should have brought snacks.”
“We only just ate dinner, though.”
“Principle of it. Sitting in the dark around something large and glowing.”
“Yeah, popcorn would probably have been cool to have,” Finn concedes. “Guess we didn’t plan this very well. I’m sorry I sidetracked us and didn’t even think about bringing popcorn.”
Puck laughs. “When we stop in Cloverdale tonight, we can pick up some emergency popcorn.”
“Emergency popcorn. I like that,” Finn says.
“We can write a travel guide after this. First rule of road trip’ll be ‘Emergency Popcorn’.”
Giant Copper Indian, Welden the Metal Man, Curtis Apple Orchard Store; Champaign, IL
By mid-morning on the second day, Puck is pulling into a rest area just inside Illinois on I–74, and after visiting the bathroom and perusing the vending machines, he walks over to the display of tourist pamphlets. Most of them are pretty boring-looking, but when Finn comes out of the bathroom, Puck waves him over.
“Dude, look at this. Two giant metal statues and an apple orchard,” Puck says, holding out one of the pamphlets.
“All in the same town?” Finn asks as he plucks the pamphlet from Puck’s hand and unfolds it. “So, we’re going, right?”
“They’re even at the apple orchard,” Puck says. “And yeah, definitely. You want a Snickers from the machine?”
“Sure, unless they have Take 5.”
“Dude, they never have Take 5,” Puck says as he walks back towards the vending area. Sure enough, the vending machine does not have Take 5, so he gets two Snickers and heads back towards the jeep. The drive to Champaign doesn’t take too long, and when they pull into the Curtis Orchard lot, Puck starts laughing. “Flying Monkey Cafe!”
“As long as they don’t just serve bananas,” Finn says.
“This is amazing,” Puck says. He parks and they follow the signs to the Giant Copper Indian, which is exactly as advertised. “It really is pretty giant. No false claims, here.”
“Wow, yeah, that’s huge,” Finn says. “This may be better than the brain, even.”
“There’s a Metal Man, too, but he’s not advertised as giant, so he’s probably harder to spot,” Puck says. “How did we never hear about these places before?”
“Maybe they’re the kind of thing you have to leave the state to hear about, and we never really left the state for anything but glee club,” Finn says.
“We could have done a glee club tour,” Puck says. “Think about it. How incredible would that have been? And don’t say it, it’s not dorky.”
“It’s a little bit dorky.”
“I said don’t say it! Dorky is having a Wizard of Oz themed restaurant at your orchard.”
“Fine. It’s not not dorky,” Finn says.
“I think that’s a technicality,” Puck says.
“You’re a technicality.”
“That was a pretty weak comeback, dude,” Puck says. He slings his arm around Finn and steers him away from the Giant Copper Indian. “Let’s go find the Metal Man and then have the advertised Randy’s Brat.”
“Yeah, but we’re buying some apples before we leave,” Finn says. “And some postcards.”
“Definitely. Emergency apples to go with emergency popcorn.”
“We’re gonna have to get a trailer for all our emergency rations.”
Puck grins at the use of ‘we’. “Good problem to have.”
“Think they have fudge?” Finn asks.
“If they don’t, we’ll look for a pamphlet at the next rest area,” Puck says.
The McDonald’s No. 1 Store Museum; Des Plaines, IL
“How do you feel about stopping at the world’s very first McDonald’s?” Finn asks as they’re leaving Champaign.
“As long as they aren’t like the creepy Russians, and the original Ronald McDonald’s not lying there embalmed and visible,” Puck says. “Like they did to Lenin.”
“There’s a museum, but I didn’t see anything about a real, dead Ronald McDonald.”
“Then, yeah, let’s go!” Puck says. “Where is it?”
“Des Plaines. It’s about two hours or so north,” Finn says. It’s really more like two-and-a-half hours, but rounding down seemed like the smart course of action. “It looked cool, and I figured, hey, we’re not too worried about getting there in two days, right?”
“We’d have to catch a plane in Chicago if that were our concern,” Puck says with a laugh. “The very first Mickey D’s, though. That’s pretty cool.”
“That’s what I thought! I’m going to buy a postcard there,” Finn says.
“Who are you going to send all these postcards to?”
Finn gives Puck a look that he hope conveys what a silly question that was. “You. Duh.”
“Oh.” Puck doesn’t say anything for a few moments, then continues with, “Back on the interstate!”
Finn hooks his phone up to Puck’s stereo and puts on one of the playlists he made for the drive. He’s glad now that he couldn’t settle on just a few themes for their roadtrip playlists, and ended up filling all his phone’s storage with music. The playlist he picks first is one he made of songs Carole used to play a lot when they were younger, mostly songs from the late ’80s and early ’90s. Soon, they’re zipping up the highway singing along to “Come Out and Play (Keep ’Em Separated)” by the Offspring.
The McDonald’s N0.1 Store Museum turns out to be nothing much to write home about—in fact, it’s actually kind of creepy with the mannequins and all—but they eat dinner at the modern McDonald’s across the street from it anyway, and Puck doesn’t look like he thinks the additional hours added to the trip were a waste. Finn finishes his fries before Puck does, so he reaches over and takes one of Puck’s.
“Hey!” Puck says. “You could just buy more.”
“They taste better when I steal them from you. They’ve always tasted better when I steal them,” Finn says.
“Guess you’re running on borrowed time,” Puck says. “How’s the Rand Manor Motel sound?”
“Like something you just made up to be funny,” Finn says.
“It’s around the corner, up Rand. Actual budget motel with ‘playful decor’,” Puck says.
“That sounds like it’s one of those motels with the vibrating bed and the mirror on the ceiling,” Finn points out.
“I think it’s a bunch of Coca-Cola signs, but hey, now I know for sure where your mind goes with ‘playful’.”
“I can’t help how my brain works.”
“I’m going to send you a ceiling mirror one day, and you’re going to have to explain that to your mom,” Puck says cheerfully as he eats the last of his fries. “Ice cream to go?”
“Sure. We’ll go check into Randy’s Love Shack Manor or whatever it’s called,” Finn says.
Puck laughs. “No, dude. Randy had the brats. This is Rand.”
“Rand, Randy, everybody in this state has the same name,” Finn complains. He gathers up their trash and throws it in the can as they leave McDonald’s.
“Good thing we’re not staying, or we’d become Pand and Fand.”
“Fand Handson, at your service.”
Rand Manor Hotel is a little bit what Carole would call ‘kitschy’, and it’s not the cleanest place Finn’s ever stayed, but the price is right and the bed is comfortable enough. They share like they always did when they were kids. Finn sleeps deeply and dreams about giant metal men eating McDonald’s in the middle of a corn maze.
House on the Rock; Spring Green, WI
Puck wakes up before Finn, with Finn more or less wrapped around him, and he decides—a little guiltily—that he’s not going to wiggle away or wake Finn up or any of the other options that would probably be the right thing to do. It’s not like he has that many opportunities left to be around Finn, period, much less this close to him, and probably Finn will roll away before he wakes up. Probably, Puck repeats to himself. Twenty minutes later, that’s exactly what happens, and Puck decides he should look at their route for the day.
He slips out of the room quietly and walks to the office, hoping they have a pot of coffee going. They do, and while Puck waits for it to finish brewing, he looks over the small display of tourist pamphlets. “House on the Rock,” he reads out loud to himself as he pours his coffee. “What’s a detour to Wisconsin?”
When Puck gets back to the room, balancing two cups of coffee, the pamphlet, and the key, Finn is starting to move around. “Hey, how do you feel about another detour?” Puck asks.
Finn looks surprisingly excited, considering he isn’t the easiest waker. “Yeah? Where to this time?”
“Place in Wisconsin called House on the Rock.”
“Holy— for real?” Finn asks, looking even more excited. “The real House on the Rock?”
“Is there a fake one? Yeah, House on the Rock,” Puck says, handing Finn the pamphlet.
“Like in that book, American Gods! Tina had me read it. It took me all of Christmas break, but it was really good!” Finn turns the pamphlet over in his hands, grinning like a kid.
“Yeah? Cool,” Puck says, matching Finn’s grin. “Want to head out and eat breakfast on the way?”
“Yeah! Let’s get going so we have lots of time!”
Puck takes them through a Starbucks drive-through just inside Wisconsin, since none of the other restaurants are open yet, and it’s close to lunchtime when they arrive in Spring Green, Wisconsin. “Okay, tell me where to turn without bouncing too much.”
“We just stay on 14 until 23, then we turn left, and it’s on the right. There’s supposed to be a sign,” Finn says.
“Look for the sign, got it. So what’s the book, again?”
“It’s called American Gods. It’s about this guy named Shadow, who’s really big, and he’s in prison, about to get out…”
Finn finishes the description of the plot right as Puck parks at the House on the Rock. “Good timing,” Puck says.
“So there’s a lot of stuff in here, and it’ll take a while to go through,” Finn says, looking like he can barely constrain his desire to leap around like a puppy.
“We can find a motel here tonight, probably,” Puck offers. It’s already three days into a trip that should have only taken three days, and they’re in Wisconsin, not even Iowa or some place, but if Finn doesn’t call him out on that, Puck’s not going to.
“I hope the carousel looks like I pictured it in my head,” Finn says, giving in to the leaping a little. “The way the book described it, it was just huge.”
“We’ll ride the carousel,” Puck promises.
“No, you’re not allowed to ride it. They don’t let you.”
“Well, that’s dumb.” The overall impression Puck has of the House on the Rock is strange. Part of him expected some kind of thematic element to everything stuffed into it, but the only real commonality he can figure out is ‘somewhat bizarre’. Finn is so delighted, though, that after a bit, Puck stops looking around and focuses on watching Finn, which is at least a very consistent theme of excitement. When it’s almost five Central Time, Puck throws his arm over Finn’s shoulders.
“They’re about to close, dude.”
“Oh, wow, already?” Finn asks. “I thought they were open until five.”
“Yeah, it’s ten ’til five.”
“I completely lost track! Did you like it?”
“Yeah, it was cool,” Puck says, and if he’s defining ‘it’ as ‘watching Finn’, that’s his business.
“Thanks for stopping here. This was the coolest place I’ve ever gone,” Finn says. “I’m really glad you got to go with me.”
“It was pretty unexpected, but yeah, it was wild,” Puck says. “And we can head back to that motel we passed on US–14, the one with the picnic tables.”
“Sure. Can we afford to keep staying in motels? I know we didn’t exactly plan on taking this long, but I’m having such a good time, and I’ve got money saved up if we need it,” Finn says.
“They’ve been pretty cheap so far. You can pick up tomorrow’s?”
“Yeah. That sounds good.”
“Plus, they have the best pamphlets.”
Rock in the House; Fountain City, WI
Roadside America recommended checking out the Rock in the House after seeing the House on the Rock. Finn stands in front of the 55-pound boulder and the hole in the back of the house it had crashed into in 1995 with his hands in his pockets, Puck next to him.
“I thought it would be more impressive,” Finn says.
“It’s exactly what it says it is, I guess,” Puck says.
“Maybe we should go now,” Finn suggests.
“What else did we want to see in Wisconsin?”
“Didn’t I see something about a waterpark?”
Puck grins. “Oh yeah, and we both have trunks!”
Waterpark Capital of the World; Wisconsin Dells, WI
“You’re pink,” Puck says as they wait in line for lemonade.
“Not everybody bakes to a golden tan,” Finn says. “Some of us have to go through the crispy stage first.”
“You’ve never been that tan,” Puck points out, holding out his own arm and putting it alongside Finn’s. As warm as it is, even more heat is radiating off Finn’s arm.
“Not for lack of trying!” Finn says.
“Two more slides after this, and drive to Madison for dinner at that animatronic ice cream place?” Puck asks. “I don’t know how we managed to beat the lines at most of the slides.”
“I don’t know how we talked ourselves into making a loop of the whole state of Wisconsin,” Finn says.
“Maybe it’s some kind of mystical plot. The pamphlets were left just for us.”
“I like that idea, like we’re on some sort of journey-thing. Like from English class, remember? The epic journey? Like we’re on an epic journey,” Finn says.
“That seems like an accurate description,” Puck says as they get their lemonades and walk towards a bench. “Or an excellent adventure.”
“And we’re just waiting on a phone booth to drop out of the sky?”
“Well… yeah. We’re gonna save the world, dude.”
“Just you and me, huh?” Finn asks, the smile on his face gentle. “Saving the whole world?”
“At least our part of it,” Puck says. “Don’t you think you’re up for it?” They’re taking it slowly enough that Puck can let himself pretend that the trip will stretch on for days, indefinitely.
“Hey, if anybody can do it together, it’s us,” Finn says.
“All we need is a catchy name, since ‘Dynamic Duo’ and ‘Wonder Twins’ are both in use.”
“Bro-ly Moly,” Finn suggests.
“People might think we’re rodents,” Puck says.
“Hmm. Then I’ve got nothing.”
“It’ll come to us.” Finn doesn’t call him out on how he’s acting, so Puck slurps the last of his lemonade before standing up and tossing it in the trash. “Ready for those last two slides?”
“Oh yeah. Let’s do it!” Finn says.
Ella’s Animatronic Ice Cream Parlor & Kosher Deli; Madison, WI
The drive back to Madison is a little more sedate. Finn drives and Puck dozes for most of the hour it takes to get to the ice cream parlor and deli they’d seen fliers for. Finn keeps catching himself looking over at Puck and watching him sleep, which means taking his eyes off the road a little too often. They haven’t even made it out of the Midwest yet, but Finn’s already dreading the end of this trip and the inevitability of leaving Puck behind in LA and flying back to Ohio alone. Maybe they can keep up this crazy zigzag between tourist traps and roadside weirdness. Maybe they can stretch the trip out longer and longer, so long they never actually make it.
Finn waits until they stop at the Ella’s Animatronic Ice Cream Parlor & Kosher Deli to put his hand on Puck’s shoulder and shake it gently. “Hey. Hey, Puck?”
Puck doesn’t immediately say anything, just rolls his weight and his head towards Finn. “Mmm?”
“You ready to eat?”
“Already?” Puck asks, his eyes still closed.
“You slept,” Finn says.
“While you…” Puck trails off and then opens his eyes, shaking his head. “Oh. Right. Deli.”
“They have that chicken soup like your Nana makes,” Finn says. “Want to go in?”
“Nana’ll be so proud. Yeah, let’s get some dinner,” Puck says.
The deli itself is the brightest, flashiest, busiest place Finn has ever eaten. Every surface, including the tables, seems to have something moving and whirring in, on, or under it. Finn elbows Puck and nods towards the carousel.
“We can actually ride that one,” Finn says.
“Finally,” Puck says, and his eyes seem to light up.
“And have all the gefilte fish you could possible eat,” Finn says. “Not that you should.”
Puck shakes his head and makes a face. “Not even Nana can make those good.” He looks through the menu and grins. “But blintzes.”
“Yeah. I’m playing it safe with another reuben.”
“Aww, you can get a reuben anywhere, dude.”
“Yeah, and this is one of those places,” Finn says. “How about this: you can pick one thing on the menu for me to eat, and I’ll eat it, no matter what.”
“I promise it won’t be the gefilte,” Puck says.
“I trust you. Plus, neither one of us really wants to bunk up with somebody with gefilte breath,” Finn says.
“I don’t want to do anything with someone with gefilte breath,” Puck says. “How about some kugel.”
“That’s the noodle stuff?”
“Sounds good,” Finn says. “Let’s do the carousel first, so we don’t get motion sick.”
“So you don’t get motion sick,” Puck says cheerfully.
“That’s for both our benefit.”
“Probably, yeah,” Puck says, heading towards the carousel.
They ride the carousel several times, until they’re both a little dizzy, then they order their dinner. Finn does get the reuben with a side of kugel, while Puck gets matzo ball soup and three cherry blintzes. They don’t really talk while they eat, but it feels peaceful. Every time Finn catches Puck’s eyes, they smile at each other, and everything is good and right.
Spam Museum; Austin, MN
It takes four hours to get from Madison to the Spam Museum, which is advertised at their Madison motel. Finn puts on an indie rock playlist, and they make good time, the sun at their backs. They’re almost to Austin, where the Spam Museum is, when Puck realizes just how dark pink—red, really—Finn’s face is.
“Did you pack aloe?” Puck asks.
Finn shakes his head. “No. Should I have?”
“Maybe the gift shop at the Spam Museum’ll have some,” Puck says. “At a minimum, we should buy some Spam.”
“To save for the apocalypse maybe,” Finn says.
“Or Nebraska, which might be close enough,” Puck says. “We have to remember to see if there are any good pamphlets. Maybe we take I–35 south into Iowa and find a welcome center.”
“Yeah. Sounds good. Can we turn the air up a little?”
“Heat coming off?” Puck asks sympathetically.
“Yeah. I guess I should’ve used a higher SPF or something,” Finn says. “Or been born less sunburnable.”
“Little late on the last one.” Puck exits I–90 and turns left, following the signs towards the Spam Museum.
“Do you think it’s shaped like a can of Spam?” Finn asks, leaning his head back against the seat and closing his eyes.
“If it is, do we have to take stairs to the top and go in that way?”
“That would be funny.”
“Yeah, it would.” When they reach the museum, though, it’s a brick building with checkered tile trim. “It’s very normal looking,” Puck says.
“That’s kind of disappointing,” Finn says. He sits up with a long, dramatic sigh. “So, Spam-seeing time?”
“Everything we ever wanted to know about Spam,” Puck says. “We’ll be the most knowledgeable Spam fans wherever we go.”
“I didn’t want to know anything at all about Spam, though, including the taste. I want to un-remember the taste, even,” Finn says.
“And yet, you’ll still have this great knowledge about it,” Puck says. He holds the door open for Finn with a gesture. Finn walks through, giving Puck the most sarcastic-looking smile he can probably manage. The museum is at least clean and well-organized, and in the gift shop, Puck does find a very small bottle of after-sun lotion. He puts it and three cans of Spam down for the cashier to ring up, looking at Finn.
“You need anything else from the Spam Land?” Puck asks.
“Got my postcard,” Finn says, holding it up.
Puck knows he frowns a little as he nods for Finn to add it to the pile. He doesn’t like the thought of finding a postcard from the Spam Museum in his mailbox in November or January, but he isn’t going to argue with Finn about it right there in the gift shop.
“Ready for Iowa?” he asks instead.
“Hell yeah,” Finn says. “The real question is, is Iowa ready for us?”
Puck laughs. “No one ever is.”
The Crookedest Street in the World; Burlington, IA
The jeep is perched at the top of Snake Alley, Puck in the driver’s seat and Finn doing his best to subtly clutch the door and the side of his seat without Puck noticing.
“We should hiss or something as we drive it,” Puck says.
“Yeah, you should totally do that,” Finn says, surreptitiously checking his seatbelt again. “Just do it before I chicken out, dude.”
“It’s just twisty-turny,” Puck says as he begins heading down. “Then we can head towards Riverside.”
“Uh-huh,” Finn says. Puck laughs a little and then stops talking as they continue down Snake Alley. Finn holds his breath as the jeep hugs each hairpin turn.
Puck speeds up a little at the very end. “See! Easy.”
“I regret ever agreeing to that.”
“But now you can say you survived it! I’ll find you a t-shirt online.”
“I feel a little lightheaded,” Finn admits.
“Lean your head back and close your eyes,” Puck says.
Finn leans his head back and closes his eyes. “You sound like your Nana.”
“Nana’s smart,” Puck insists. “You want me to get you a Sprite or something?”
“Yeah, that would be nice.” Finn keeps his eyes closed and lets Puck take him through a drive-through for a Sprite, which does help a little. “Thanks, Puck.”
“We’ll avoid any of those swinging bridge places, okay?”
Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk; Riverside, IA
Finn sleeps the entire hour’s drive to Riverside, which gives Puck what’s probably too much time to think. He puts on one of Finn’s playlists, volume low, and sings along softly as he heads north. The fact that he’s driving north at all means he’s definitely not heading towards LA. They’re farther east than they were the day before, at the Spam Museum. It’s extending the time that he and Finn have together, though, and Puck’s letting his mind consider again trying to get Finn to stay in LA. Sure, Finn doesn’t have that much stuff with him, but Puck thinks it’d be pretty easy to convince Carole to ship stuff out for Finn. Maybe he’ll mention it in another day or two. After they get into Nebraska.
He parks near the Riverside City Hall, noting the signs to the marker for James T. Kirk’s Future Birthplace, then puts his hand on Finn’s shoulder. “Finn. Hey, Finn.”
“No more snakes!” Finn says, sitting bolt upright before opening his eyes and blinking hard. “Oh. Hey. We there?”
“Riverside, Iowa, the future birthplace of one James T. Kirk,” Puck says. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah. A lot. Thanks for letting me sleep,” Finn says, rubbing his face with the back of his hands.
“There’s a little museum if we want to hit it, or we can head towards Iowa City after we see the marker, get some food and a motel,” Puck says.
“Let’s go see the marker. I want a picture.”
“You want me to take a picture of you with the marker?” Puck offers as they climb out of the jeep.
“I want a selfie of both of us with the marker,” Finn says. “Who cares if I came here alone? I want pictures to prove I came here with you.”
“Maybe someone else’ll be hanging around so they can take it for us.”
“That would be even better,” Finn says.
The marker is about the size that Puck expected, and he nudges Finn towards it as he approaches a woman standing nearby. “Hey, would you take a picture of us with the marker?”
“Sure! You boys get on up there by that marker,” the woman says, gesturing for the two of them to stand near the marker. She gestures again, “You just skwunch on up there now. Little closer. Little closer.”
Puck keeps moving as she talks, and Finn puts his arm around Puck’s shoulders, leaning in close so their sides touch. “Really glad we have that no-gefilte rule,” Puck whispers. Finn laughs loudly, throwing his head back a little.
“That’s a keeper!” the women chirps, handing Puck’s phone back to him.
“Thanks,” Puck tells her, pulling up the pictures and sending all of them to Finn. “Last one’s the best one, dude.”
“Send it to my mom, too,” Finn says. When his phone dings, he pulls it out of his pocket and looks at the pictures, smiling as he scrolls through them. “I look like a goofball in the last one.”
“No, it’s the best one,” Puck insists.
“Says you! You actually look good in it,” Finn says, pocketing his phone again.
“Nah, I look best in the second one, but your eyes are closed, so it’s not the best one.”
“Whatever you say. It’s not fair you don’t burn and you’re way more photogenic than me.”
“So you’re saying I don’t actually look that good? I just photograph well?” Puck says, pretending to be offended.
Finn just slings his arm around Puck’s shoulders again and pulls into a half-hug. “You’ve gotta be good-looking to start off with to photograph well, dummy.”
“Yeah, yeah, that was a good recovery,” Puck says, grinning at Finn. “Your improv skills are growing.”
“Let’s go find a place to stay, you weirdo,” Finn says, hauling Puck back towards the jeep by the shoulders.
“Which means Iowa City, equally weirdo.”
Carhenge; Alliance, NE
“It’s like, what if Transformers was real, but it happened thousands of years in the past, and we only have this marker to remember the history of our car overlords by,” Finn says. He and Puck stand next to each other in front of Carhenge, the cars all stacked and sprayed grey.
“So they’re skeletons?”
“No, they’re that— that—” Finn snaps his fingers. “Like when you carve a picture of a god.”
Puck scratches his head. “Idols? Totem pole?”
Finn shakes his head. “It’s a smart-sounding word. That’s probably why I can’t remember.”
“Hey!” Puck says.
“Rude,” Puck says. “Sphinx?”
“I wasn’t being rude to you!” Finn says. “And no, it’s like… it makes me think about effort.”
“I didn’t say who it was rude to. Effigy?”
“Yes!” Finn says, pointing at Puck, then giving him a thumbs up.
Puck laughs and then makes a face, shaking his head a little. The sun shines through Carhenge, outlining the cars in gold light, and Finn smiles at Puck as they stand there. Everything feels like those cars, edged in gold, and there’s something there, some idea Finn can’t quite latch onto. He just knows this is the youngest and freest they’ll ever be again, right there together, and he reaches for Puck’s hand. Puck glances over at Finn briefly, then back at Carhenge, still smiling slightly. Finn gives Puck’s hand a squeeze before letting it go. Life is so fast, but so good.
Birthplace of Kool-Aid; Hastings, NE
The motel in Sidney, Nebraska, had had the pamphlet for the birthplace of Kool Aid, and with the two of them splitting costs, it had been an easy mental calculation for Puck. Drive halfway across Nebraska, back towards the east, and get another day on their now definitely epic road trip? They’d paid for a second night at Motel 6 in Sidney before heading out, and now they’re standing in front of the Kool Aid Man in all his glory. It’s unexpectedly greater than Puck would have thought.
“I want to get at least two packets of every flavor in the gift shop,” Puck says.
“You’re damn right that’s what we’re doing!” Finn says.
“Maybe they sell pitchers, too.”
“Oh, yeah, that would be awesome!” Finn says. “We could use it for— I mean, you could. At your new place in LA.”
If Puck’s completely honest with himself, he doesn’t actually know why Finn’s going to fly back to Lima after they get to LA. The whole thing with Rachel had been a reason, even if Puck had thought it wasn’t a good idea, but now, Puck doesn’t know what Finn plans to do other than convince himself he belongs in Lima for some reason. He doesn’t say any of that, though, and shrugs instead.
“And if we stay at any more motels with the picnic areas, we could have Kool Aid instead of pop.”
“We need to either buy the kind with the sugar already in it or buy some sugar, then,” Finn says.
“We can get sugar at that Safeway we saw in Sidney,” Puck says. “It’s weird how it’s kind of nice spending two days in a row at the same motel.”
“Yeah. Like, I’m enjoying traveling, but it’s nice to be in the same place for a little while,” Finn agrees.
“Less unpacking and work to do before we crash tonight, too, even if it is a queen size this time.”
“I don’t mind too much. Not like we haven’t shared a bed about a billion other times, and a queen’s way bigger than your bed back in Lima was.”
“Yeah, but I also fell out of my bed at least twice, and so did you,” Puck reminds Finn with a grin.
“If you manage to fall out of a queen, then I’d really be impressed,” Finn says, returning Puck’s smile.
“Well, I am pretty impressive.”
Puck laughs and puts his arm around Finn. “Let’s get those packets and head back?”
“Ohhh yeah,” Finn says, like the Kool Aid man would say it.
Puck is pretty sure he’s still laughing at that when they get back in the jeep loaded down with Kool Aid, and he laughs quietly to himself a few times on the drive back to Sidney. It really is somehow more relaxed when they stop and get Subway before going back to the motel, and Puck starts to reach for the remote before he decides they don’t really need the TV on. They finish eating and Puck goes ahead and strips down to boxers, flopping onto the bed.
Finn takes off his shorts and lies down next to Puck in his t-shirt and boxers, hand behind his head as he stares up at the ceiling.
“Is there something up there?” Puck asks after a few moments of staring at what he thinks is the same spot.
“Just thinking,” Finn says.
“Yeah? Anything specific?”
“A lot of stuff. Kind of general, but some specific, I guess.”
“You want to talk about it?” Puck offers.
“I don’t know,” Finn says, half-shrugging and still staring at the ceiling. “It’s just a lot of change. A lot of people going away.”
Puck makes himself not retort with “You could be, too,” instead saying “Yeah, I guess so.”
“It’s just, I don’t know. Weird. Hard.”
“What’s hardest?” Puck asks.
“It’s different kinds of hard. It sucks Rachel went to New York. It sucks you won’t still be around,” Finn says.
Puck knows he’s making a face, but Finn’s probably not looking, so he can make all the faces he wants while he decides which of those is better to touch first. “You still could have gone to New York with her,” he says carefully.
“Nah. Not really. She wouldn’t have done what she needed to do if I was there with her,” Finn says. “She needed to go do the college thing and not worry about a boyfriend.”
“Can I play devil’s advocate?”
Finn sighs. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Okay, if that’s the case, then you wouldn’t have been planning to get married when she was still seventeen, you know?” Puck says. “So that’s a good reason to tell people and I fully support you telling every other person in the world that as the reason, but in this room, you and me? I don’t buy it.”
Finn sighs again, longer this time. “It didn’t feel right.”
Puck nods a little. “Which part?”
“I could see this whole life, you know?” Finn says. He rolls over onto his side facing Puck, propping his head up on one hand. “The whole thing, how stuff would be, what New York would be like, but I couldn’t really see myself there. I could see Rachel, and I could even see Kurt, but when I pictured it all in my head, I wasn’t in any of the pictures.” He picks at a loose thread on the bedspread. “The pictures didn’t look like I even belonged in them.”
Puck nods. “Yeah. Okay. Why’d you ask her to get married? I mean, I’ve got a theory, but what’s your reason?”
“It’s dumb,” Finn says.
“So? It’s me.”
“I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life,” Finn says. “Like, no clue. My parents got married really young, and I thought maybe I could do that, only do it better. I could live the life my mom and dad could have had if he hadn’t… you know?”
“I guess I can see that,” Puck says. “I mean, I think the secret is that most people don’t know at eighteen what they’re supposed to do with their life. People like Rachel are rare.”
“I thought I’d be playing football and going to college like that. I didn’t have any other plans, but suddenly everybody was asking me what they were, and I didn’t know what to tell them. I thought I could get that right, at least. I could get being married right, or not screw it up too bad, anyway,” Finn says. His face turns a little red.
“You got screwed on the football thing, dude.” Puck rolls over to look at Finn. “There’s like, so many schools with football scholarships. Anyway, that sort of fits with what I thought.”
“You going to tell me your theory now?” Finn asks. He doesn’t quite make eye contact with Puck, looking slightly to the side of his head.
Puck stares at the bedspread. “You have to let me finish and not interrupt.”
“Is it bad?”
“I don’t know. I think you might want to argue with me, is all.”
“Okay, I promise I won’t interrupt, even if it’s bad,” Finn says.
“Okay, so, after I realized it wasn’t because Rachel was pregnant, I thought about it,” Puck says. “’Cause I’d already decided you weren’t really in love with her, but now you were getting engaged, and then I realized you were sort of infatuated with the idea of being in love with her, and I think you couldn’t see yourself in New York ’cause part of you was starting to realize you weren’t in love with her.”
“Hmm,” Finn says, pressing his lips together.
“And then you had to break up with her in a way that didn’t involve hurting her, ’cause I’m not saying you hate her or anything. I think you like her and I think probably if the two of you had become best friends instead of dating it would have been insane, but you had to do something grand-gesture-y for her instead of admitting it to her. Or yourself, I guess, for that matter.”
Finn’s lips press together a little more firmly. “Hmm.”
“So what you’re saying about figuring you could do marriage, that fits, I think,” Puck says.
“Am I allowed to talk yet?” Finn asks.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
“I did love her,” Finn says.
Puck glances up from the bedspread briefly, weighing how he wants to respond. “Okay,” he says slowly. “When?”
“I don’t know. Most of the time.” Puck doesn’t say anything, but he does make eye contact and raise an eyebrow. “What?” Finn asks.
“I’m not recording your answer to play for her or your mom or anything,” Puck says.
“Well, I did, okay? Jesus,” Finn says. “I did.”
“Yeah, you said that already, and I’m not doubting that. I just think you know when.”
“Regionals. After Regionals.”
Puck frowns, because if he’s honest, he sometimes still, after three years, can’t remember if Sectionals or Regionals happens first. “Wait. Wait,” Puck says. “Which Regionals. Which year?”
“The one where we sang ‘Faithfully’.”
“That was sophomore year,” Puck says quietly.
“So?” Finn asks. “We broke up and we got back together, so, you know, on and off since.”
Puck knows he’s still frowning. “You’re trying to convince me you loved her—which still isn’t being in love with her, and don’t think I didn’t notice that—only when you were dating and didn’t when you weren’t, and you turned it on and off like that?”
“Now you’re just trying to confuse me,” Finn says, rolling back onto his back and looking up at the ceiling again.
“That’s what you just told me!”
“It wasn’t— I wasn’t turning it on and off. I just felt it more sometimes. It was easier to feel it when we were together, is all!”
“I don’t think that’s how it works, either,” Puck says.
“How do you know?” Finn says. “Who were you ever in love with? Like, really in love with, not just wanted to hook up with them or something.”
“Yeah? Who were you in love with?” Puck retorts.
“Quinn and Rachel.”
Puck starts laughing, because whatever else he knows, he knows Finn wasn’t in love with Quinn. Neither of them were, which makes them possibly the biggest jackasses, as far as Quinn goes, but he knows it’s true.
“Don’t laugh at me,” Finn says. “It’s not funny.”
“You were never in love with Quinn, and you know it. And you maybe loved Rachel, but that’s not the same as in love, either.”
“Yes I was!” Finn insists.
“Dude. You so weren’t. Neither was I. We owe Quinn like a fuckton of apologies, but neither one of us was ever in love with her.”
“So neither one of us has ever been in love, is what you’re telling me,” Finn says. “That’s just— well, it’s stupid.”
“Why is it stupid?” Puck asks. “For real, why? We’re eighteen, not thirty-eight.”
“It just is. It’s like you’re saying I don’t know what love feels like.”
Puck shrugs. “Maybe you don’t. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Why, what do you think it feels like?”
“It’s big and exciting, and you want to be with them all the time, even if they’re yelling at you and mad at you. It’s just, it’s big. It’s got to feel big,” Finn says.
“Okay, no on the yelling, but, Finn, that’s a crush.”
“Crushes are small.”
Puck shakes his head. “No, that’s the thing about ’em is they feel like… you can’t think about anything else but that person. Like you said, big and exciting, but then it fades pretty fast. Oh, hey, maybe that’s what you felt more and less of with Rachel.”
“That’s stupid. So, what, is love boring? What do you think it feels like?” Finn demands.
“Stop calling everything I say stupid,” Puck says. “Just ’cause you disagree with me doesn’t mean it’s stupid. Something can be calm and not boring. Like that river at the waterpark with the floats. It was the perfect temperature, too.”
“So love is a lazy river that goes around and around in a loop, and you just end up right back where you started?”
“If where you started is good, what’s wrong with that? It’s like… safety. And you can go do big things and come back to the nice river.”
Finn frowns up at the ceiling. “Yeah, but… but if that’s love, then that means…” He sighs and doesn’t continue, just scowling upward more intently.
“Means what?” Puck asks.
“It’s nothing. It doesn’t mean anything,” Finn says. “I don’t know what it means.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Puck sighs. “I guess I’ll ask you again tomorrow.”
“And the day after that if you don’t like my answer?”
“Have I ever stopped and let you get away without answering?”
Finn huffs loudly and rolls onto his other side, away from Puck. “No.”
“At least I’m consistent,” Puck says, mostly to himself.
Muffler Man; Longmont, CO
Finn takes the keys in the morning when they leave the motel. “I’ll drive. You catch up on sleep or something, if you want.”
“Okay,” Puck says, looking surprised.
“I’m taking I–76, though. I don’t want to go through Wyoming. There’s nothing fun there on the list of stuff to see,” Finn says.
Puck shrugs and settles into the passenger seat. “Okay, sounds good.”
“Here,” Finn says, handing Puck his phone. “Pick a playlist you like.”
“You put anything from fourth or fifth grade on here?”
“Scroll through and see. I don’t remember what all I put on there,” Finn says. He starts the jeep so he can concentrate on that and keep Puck from recognizing the expression on Finn’s face, which is most likely the one he gets when he isn’t totally, one-hundred-percent telling the truth. So maybe Finn spent several hours putting together the perfect road trip playlists. So what.
“Oh good,” Puck says after he’s been staring at Finn’s phone for close to a minute, and a moment later, Kelly Clarkson starts singing.
“Yeah, I guess I stuck some of that on there,” Finn says.
“Cool,” Puck says, sitting back and leaning his head against the window.
“Yeah,” Finn says.
They drive, listening to music and not talking. Finn occasionally looks over at Puck, expecting him to be asleep, but he isn’t. About two hours into the drive, Finn glances over at Puck just as Puck is looking in Finn’s direction.
“All good?” Puck asks.
“Yeah,” Finn says. “Just, I’m sorry I said what you said was stupid.”
Puck shrugs. “You don’t always like my theories.”
“I don’t like them. I don’t agree with them. I shouldn’t have said they were stupid, though.”
“Probably you did ’cause you know I wasn’t completely off-base,” Puck says with another shrug. “But thanks.”
“No problem,” Finn says. “So, what’s the thing we’re seeing today? Another metal man?”
“Made of mufflers, no less.”
“Weird. Think it’ll be as big as the Giant Copper Indian?”
“Wouldn’t they advertise that as a selling point if it were? ‘Bigger than the Giant Copper Indian!’”
“Maybe they don’t know about him this far west,” Finn says.
“Does that make us missionaries of the Giant Copper Indian?”
“Is he our god? Do we worship him now?”
“I won’t tell Nana if you won’t,” Puck says.
“I won’t say a word,” Finn promises. “I’d never betray the Nana Pact.”
“Then we’re safe. He’s an undemanding god.”
“Yeah, but the holidays are crap.”
Balanced Rock; Manitou Springs, CO
Finn hasn’t mentioned their conversation in Nebraska again, and Puck isn’t going to bring it up again yet, either. Mostly because he knows Finn, and he figures Finn needs time to chew things over, like cows with their cud, but a little bit because Rachel wasn’t the only thing Finn mentioned, and probably they need to talk about Puck going to LA, too.
“That’s definitely a big balanced rock,” Puck says as soon as they pull into the lot.
“It’s impressive how it’s balanced like that,” Finn says. “We don’t get rocks like that back in Ohio, for sure.”
“I don’t think Ohio gets rocks, period,” Puck says.
“You hit them when you dig.”
“Are they still rocks if they’re just part of the earth’s crust and everything?”
“Hmm,” Finn says. “If you break them loose, I think they become rocks at that point.”
“Man-made but not artificial rocks. I like it.”
“We’d be like a force of nature. Really dedicated nature.”
Puck nods. “Dedicated Nature. That’s gotta be the name of something.”
“You can call your first movie that,” Finn says.
“For The Rock,” Puck says. “Gotta star The Rock.”
America’s Highest Suspension Bridge; Cañon City, CO
“Nah,” Finn says.
Aliens, Dude. Aliens; Roswell, NM
They leave the Palomino Motel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, headed for Roswell, which Puck figures could be a multi-day stay if the pamphlets they’ve collected are anything to go by. For the first day, though, Puck heads straight to the International UFO Museum.
“We can get a room at one of those cheapy motels we passed on the road in,” Puck says. “Check out all the other alien places tomorrow.”
“Sounds good to me. Think there’s a place where you can look up at space with a giant telescope to see if you can find spaceships?” Finn asks.
“Hmm.” Puck stares at his phone and looks while he gestures for Finn to buy the tickets with an added moment of sticking out his tongue. They’re headed into the main part of the museum when he shakes his head. “Not really. There’s some place with private cabins outside town, but that’s it.”
“Too bad. That would be cool,” Finn says. “This place is kind of neat, though.”
Puck almost says “Maybe next time,” but decides that the middle of the UFO museum isn’t the best place to have that kind of discussion. “Yeah, it is. Makes you want to believe every single thing they say.”
“Like those posters. ‘I want to believe’,” Finn says.
“Exactly. I’m not sure I do, but it’d be so cool if I did,” Puck says.
Finn nods. “The idea of believing sounds fun, anyway. If we really did believe, we’d probably be freaked out all the time, though.”
“Oh man, yeah. Everything’d be a UFO or alien possession or something.”
“Like Sam and Brittany!”
“Damn. Yep,” Puck says. “Exactly.”
“Life would be simpler, but scarier,” Finn says.
“It’s probably scary enough while we don’t believe in most of it,” Puck says. “It’s fun, though.”
“Yeah. We should’ve planned ahead. We could’ve stayed longer!”
“If we’d planned ahead, we might’ve left it out, though,” Puck points out. “We might’ve only put down staid, normal things.”
“That’s us. Staid,” Finn says. “What does ‘staid’ even mean?”
“Ties, or socks with sandals.”
“Yeah, that’s not us at all, dude.”
“I mean, we clean up nice when we have to, but not on a trip,” Puck says. “And never socks with sandals.”
“That’s what old people do. We’re not old people,” Finn says.
Puck laughs. “Not for decades, anyway.”
“Some day we’ll be old, but not today,” Finn says. He balls up a fist and shakes it at the ceiling. “Not today, oldness!”
“Today, just aliens.”
Four Corners; CO, UT, AZ, NM
The drive to Four Corners was long, and the monument isn’t super exciting compared to aliens or giant metal men or carousels, but Finn has to admit that it’s pretty cool to be able to lie down in four states at once, which he does for Puck to takes pictures of. After, he gets up and takes pictures of Puck lying on all four states at once. When he’s taken enough pictures, he stands on the Arizona corner and gestures for Puck to go stand on the Colorado corner.
“So, this is what it’ll be like,” Finn says.
“The coming southwestern war?” Puck asks blankly.
“No,” Finn says, shaking his head. “When you’re in a different state from me. I’m in Arizona now, but you’re all the way over in Colorado.”
Puck makes a face at him and then snorts.
“What?” Finn says.
“That’s probably not accurate, you realize.”
“What? That it won’t be the same when you’re in California as it is when we’re like two steps away from each other? Yeah, couldn’t have figured that out on my own, thanks,” Finn says.
“Hey, you’re the one that brought it up, not me,” Puck says.
“Yeah, but I was just kidding around,” Finn says. “I wasn’t talking about what it would really be like. I mean, yeah, I wish it would be like this.”
Puck shrugs a little. “No one’s waiting for you in Ohio, dude.”
“My family’s there,” Finn says.
“I think Carole’d survive with you in a different state. Remember, that was your plan two months ago?”
“It was different when I thought I would be going with Rachel.”
Puck snorts again and then rolls his eyes. “Yeah, whatever.”
“Don’t ‘whatever’ at me!” Finn says.
“Don’t tell me you have to go back because of Carole, but she would have been fine if it was Rachel, then,” Puck says, stomping over into New Mexico again.
“Maybe I’m not fine with it.”
“Oh, Rachel—who you weren’t in love with, by the way—is enough to leave Ohio for, but she’s the only one, ever? Got it.”
“I didn’t say that!” Finn says, trying to keep his voice down, even though he really feels like yelling. “Quit making up what you think I’m saying when I’m not saying it.”
“Then what are you saying? You’re not okay with ever leaving Ohio? Great. Have fun.”
“I didn’t say that either!”
“Then what?” Puck says, and his voice is definitely closer to yelling.
“I don’t want to sit around a city I don’t know while you’re out picking up girls and bringing them home, and I’m sleeping on your sofa like some pathetic loser!” Finn blurts out.
Puck stares at him for a good ten or fifteen seconds, then throws up his arms and starts walking towards the jeep. “Fuck you,” he says over his shoulder.
“What!” Finn shouts after him. “What are you mad at me about? You’re the one that picked LA! You’re the one with plans!”
“Because I had to!” Puck yells, still not turning around. “Because not all of us are fucking heroes in Lima.”
Finn starts stomping after Puck. “Who’s a hero? I’m sure as shit not a hero. I don’t have anything!”
“I’d be fifty fucking years old, and everything about me in that town would still be set from before I turned seventeen,” Puck says. “I had to leave, and you’re pissy because you think I might hook up.”
“I’m not pissy. You’re the one who’s pissy!” Finn says, catching up with Puck. “You’re the one who started yelling!”
“Don’t you get it?” Puck says, stopping and turning to look at Finn. “You— I thought you’d at least care.”
“I do care. I’m driving across the country with you, aren’t I? I don’t want you to leave, but you’re leaving, and I’m trying to be, like, supportive!” Finn says.
“Yeah, you care so much that you decided the possibility, unconfirmed, that I might hook up when you didn’t, was enough to say, nah, I’ll stay in Ohio,” Puck says. “Just… fuck you.”
“You don’t understand—” Finn says, but since he’s not sure he understands any better than Puck, he doesn’t try to even continue the statement.
“I understand that you never even asked me why I was leaving,” Puck says quietly as he unlocks the jeep. Finn leans against the passenger door as Puck gets into the jeep, and he stays there until Puck cranks the engine.
Finn sighs softly. “I don’t want you to go,” he says, but only to himself, then he gets into the jeep, too.
Tinkertown; Sandia Park, NM
The problem with finding pamphlets, Puck decides as they finally pull into Sandia Park across from their next destination, is that they aren’t going about their driving in a particularly organized way. It means that the trip is taking even longer, which is probably a good thing, especially since they haven’t spoken in at least four hours. As Puck looks around the town, though, he realizes it’s time to break the silence for logistical reasons.
“Shit. There’s no motels in this town.”
“We can sleep in the jeep, I guess,” Finn says.
“There was that Days Inn back on the other side of the national forest,” Puck says with a sigh. “We can drive back after the museum, or go down towards I–40.”
“Whichever you want.”
“Thanks for the strong opinion,” Puck says, shutting off the engine and climbing out of the jeep.
“I don’t care either way,” Finn says. “I don’t have a strong opinion. I really don’t give a shit where we stay or which way we drive.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed.”
“Good. So go wherever the hell you want.”
“You could stay here, and not have to worry about my theoretical social life, how about that?” Puck says as he stalks towards the Tinkertown sign.
“Fine. Maybe I will,” Finn says. “Maybe I’ll just stay in New Mexico.”
“Thanks,” Finn tosses back.
Puck stops and looks at Finn, looks at the sign, then looks around. “Sign says the post office is that way. You could go change your address and everything.”
“Thanks for the helpful advice,” Finn says, and he does turn and start walking in the direction Puck indicated.
“You’re a horrible New Mexico resident,” Puck calls after him. “You don’t even have any water.”
“Like you even care!” Finn shouts back without turning around.
“I’m the only one who gives a shit!” Puck yells. “I know you don’t.”
Finn’s only response is to flip Puck off with both hands and to continue walking. Puck rolls his eyes and heads to the Tinkertown entrance. He leaves three-fifty in cash with the ticket clerk, telling her it’s in case “this big idiot shows back up.” She smiles at him for whatever reason, and when Puck’s thoroughly explored Tinkertown, he heads back to the jeep.
Finn isn’t there, and Puck sets an alarm on his phone. If he’s going to get back through the national forest and not get cited for sleeping in the jeep on federal property, he has to leave Sandia Park before it gets too late, wherever Finn is. He stays probably fifteen or twenty minutes too long, then heads back towards the last motel they passed, a Days Inn. Finn has his phone and his wallet, and Puck can’t make him show back up. He’ll have to pass back through the next day, anyway.
The sun wakes him up before six the next morning, which he guesses is a good enough sign as any to get some coffee and drive through the national forest for the third time in twenty-four hours. “I’m never coming back here again in my life,” Puck says as he clears the sign marking federal property. He drives slowly past Tinkertown, then ends up at the Shell, because the jeep needs gas anyway. It’s only 7:15, and Puck figures Finn’s probably still in town, even if he doesn’t know where.
Smokey Bear’s Grave; Capitan, NM
Finn walked for a decent amount of time away from Tinkertown. He’d expected Puck to come after him, but when Puck didn’t, Finn definitely wasn’t turning around and going back, so he had kept walking. He ate at the Lazy Lizard Grill, which was part of a gas station—everything in the town seemed like it was part of a gas station—and then wandered around until it got late. Then, when he was sure Puck was gone, he ended up sitting under a tree outside the San Antonio Catholic Mission, and that’s where he fell asleep. Maybe he cried a little, but nobody was there to see.
When he wakes up in the morning, earlier than he probably would have if he hadn’t spent the night under a tree outside a church, Finn realizes he has no idea what’s happening next. He isn’t sure if Puck stayed somewhere nearby and plans to come look for him. He doesn’t know if Puck would come if Finn called him and asked him to come back. He also has no idea why Puck’s so mad at him, or even why he’s so mad at Puck, and he wishes a little bit he hadn’t even agreed to come on this stupid trip, no matter how much fun they may have had at earlier points.
He gets a cup of coffee and a stale doughnut at the Shell. It’s not even 6:30 in the morning yet, so wherever Puck is, he’s probably not awake yet. Finn walks down the road to the post office and sits in front of the post office sign, drinking his coffee in the early morning heat, and half-heartedly watching the road in hopes that Puck changed his mind and is coming back for him. He thinks he maybe has some bark and dirt down the back of his shorts now from sleeping against the tree, which is probably exactly what he deserves.
“You can get federal charges for loitering at the post office, too,” Puck’s voice says from behind him.
Finn wants to leap to his feet and run to Puck and maybe cry a little (more), but he doesn’t. He keeps himself calm and doesn’t turn around, and says, “You came back.”
“I give more shits than you. Just the way it works,” Puck says. “Jeep’s at the Shell.”
“If that’s how you feel, you should’ve have come back,” Finn says.
“Been the way it’s worked for a few years now. Still here.”
“You don’t give more shits than me.”
“So you would have come back for sure?” Puck asks.
Finn stands and dusts himself off without looking back at Puck. “I wouldn’t have left.”
“Oh, right. How could I forget,” Puck says with a sigh.
“Whatever,” Finn says. He turns to look at Puck, not really making eye contact. “So now what?”
“Smokey the Bear.”
Puck shrugs and turns, walking towards the Shell. After a couples of seconds, Finn follows him, walking a few paces behind all the way back to the jeep. They get into the jeep silently and drive silently for the full nearly three hours to Capitan. Finn doesn’t even put on a playlist.
When they finally arrive in Capitan, Puck pulls into the parking lot of the Smokey Bear Restaurant. “Lunch, then grave, then sleep.”
“Fine,” Finn says.
The hostess seats them, and they both make a big show of looking through the whole menu in order to avoid looking at each other, or at least, Finn does, and he thinks Puck might be doing the same. They both get chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes, but Puck gets applesauce as his second side and Finn orders peas. Puck gives Finn a look when he orders, and again when the food arrives.
“What now?” Finn asks. “Did the way I ordered my food offend you?”
“Peas,” Puck says, almost mournfully.
“So? I like peas.”
“So you either forgot I hate them or ordered them on purpose.”
“I didn’t order them for you to eat. I ordered them for me to eat,” Finn says.
“Whatever,” Puck says, taking a bite of his applesauce.
“Great. Now I can’t even order food for myself that I like without you seeing it as some kind of insult or proof that you give more of a shit than me,” Finn says, angrily spearing peas with his fork.
“You said it, not me,” Puck says with a shrug.
“Whatever,” Finn says.
“Let’s just eat and go see the grave.”
“Sounds fine by me.”
They finish eating without talking again, then walk back over to the park. It’s not big, as parks go, and they’re able to walk through and look at all the stuff about Smokey the Bear. Normally, Finn would be all about taking pictures with the guy in the Smokey suit, but he just doesn’t have the heart for it today. He stands in front of the plaque marking Smokey’s grave, not sure if Puck’s still near him or not.
“I’m going to die alone like this bear,” Finn says under his breath.
“Did you say something?” Puck asks.
“Nothing important,” Finn says.
“Let’s just go check in at the motel.”
Finn follows Puck to the Smokey Bear Motel to check in, sliding his credit card across the counter to pay before Puck can say anything. Even though they’re barely speaking, they get a single queen room like they have been because it’s cheaper.
As soon as they’re in the room, Finn announces, “I’m taking a shower,” and then promptly does that, getting all the bark and grit and sweat off of his back and successfully avoiding Puck for another twenty minutes. When he finally gets out of the shower, Puck’s toiletries—razor included—and a used washcloth are sitting out by the sink and Puck is already in bed. Since Finn’s previous night’s sleep was mostly vertical under a tree, turning in early sounds like a good idea, even if 6:30 is too early to even be normal-early.
“Go ahead and turn out the lights,” Puck says.
Finn flips off the lights and gets into bed next to Puck, their backs to each other and at least a foot of space between them. After a few minutes, Puck starts fake sleep deep breathing. Finn really is tired, though, so he closes his eyes and counts backwards from a hundred to keep from focusing all his attention on Puck’s slow, even breaths. He falls asleep before he hits thirty.
“Finn?” Puck’s voice says.
“Huh?” Finn asks, lifting his head from the pillow in the dark room. “What? Is it on fire?”
“No, Smokey’s doing a good job,” Puck says.
“Okay. Can I go back to sleep?”
“Not yet,” Puck says. “Is that really why you said no?”
“What?” Finn asks.
“Because of some made-up scenario in your head about sleeping on a couch?”
“I don’t know.”
“You had this in your head, and you never even asked me about it?” Puck continues, sounding sad. “Or why I was going?”
“I never had to ask that,” Finn says.
“Because you assumed a bunch of shit?” Puck asks.
“Because everyone wants to leave Lima,” Finn says softly. “Why wouldn’t you leave if you could?”
“Clearly not everyone, ’cause you turned me down pretty damn fast,” Puck says. “You didn’t ask me what it’d be like in LA. You didn’t ask me why I’d leave without you. You didn’t ask me anything, you just made up shit about me in your head.”
Finn shrugs. “People move away from their friends all the time. I just figured, you know, you gave me a chance and I didn’t take it, but that wasn’t going to stop you from doing it. And why wouldn’t that stuff I made up about you be real? It’s not like you wouldn’t fit in better than me. It’s not like you wouldn’t want to date. I’d just be this big, dumb guy from Ohio.”
“Because I’m not an asshole!”
“Living your life doesn’t make you an asshole.”
“I’m not going to go out to a club or something and tell you to stay home and keep the fucking couch warm. Geez. I should send Rachel a congratulatory text.”
“Can you really see me in a club?” Finn asks. “I can barely dance. I would look ridiculous.”
“Oh my god,” Puck says. “Fine. You dislike yourself, apparently. Stop projecting it on me.”
“I like myself fine.”
“So it’s just me you don’t like. Great. Great time to realize that, after all these years,” Puck says.
“What are you talking about? Of course I like you!” Finn says. “I don’t want to be your seagull!”
“What?” Puck says. “Like in Finding Nemo?”
“Huh? No, like in that story about the sailor.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, dude. Seagulls live near land.”
“The story where the sailor kills the seagull, so he has to wear it around his neck for the rest of his life, and then they run out of water, and like sink or something,” Finn says. “From English class.”
“That’s an albatross. The poem about the albatross?”
“Yeah, okay. Albatross, then. I don’t want to be your albatross!”
“Right. You’re concerned about me, and that’s why all this shit? That doesn’t make any sense, Finn!”
“None of this makes any sense, because it’s the middle of the night!”
“It hasn’t made sense the entire time!”
“It’s not any more sense-making right now than it has been the whole time, so why do we have to fight about it right now?” Finn asks, letting his head drop back onto his pillow. “I don’t know what you want. I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m tired of feeling like you’re going to take everything I say the wrong way. I’m tired of feeling like I’m too stupid to talk to you!”
“Oh my god, I didn’t say you were stupid,” Puck says. “I just want a good reason from you. A real reason. Instead you keep giving me crap, so I have to assume you don’t give a fuck about me after all.”
“I didn’t want you to go and I couldn’t ask you to stay!” Finn says before he can stop himself.
“You could have come with me!”
“I don’t know how to be— I just don’t know, okay?” Finn says.
“You just don’t know why you can’t come with me. Great,” Puck says. “That’s just great.”
“I don’t know how to be the two of us in another city and have it keep being like it is in Lima,” Finn says.
“It probably wouldn’t be exactly the same, but that doesn’t mean it’d be worse. Jesus Christ, Finn,” Puck says. “So you make up shit about me to justify that.”
“If I moved to LA with you, I don’t know what that makes us,” Finn says, “and at least if I’m in Lima, I know where I stand, and I don’t—” He cuts himself off, shaking his head, because he can’t even think it through clearly in his own head, let alone explain it to Puck.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s still not a reason to assume things.”
“Then tell me. Tell me how it would be, so I don’t assume anything. Tell me how it would be so I can stop building these, I don’t know, these fantasies or whatever in my head about it!”
“Oh, now you ask,” Puck mutters. “Right now it might involve tossing you into the ocean. I figured it’d be, you know. The two of us against the city.”
“But what if you met somebody, and then it’s just me against the city?” Finn asks.
“You mean, like you did to me senior year?” Puck snaps.
“Oh,” Finn says quietly. “Okay. Sorry.” He rolls onto his side away from Puck and curls up a little in the dark. “Sorry,” he says again.
“I’m just saying, I’m not the one with the recent history of doing that,” Puck says, and the bed shifts as Puck rolls over too.
“I didn’t know you felt like that.”
Puck snorts. “How could I not?”
“You had whatever weird thing was going with you and Quinn and Shelby,” Finn says, shrugging his top shoulder.
“Uh-huh. Which was over by Hanukkah.”
“I thought you didn’t really need me much anymore,” Finn says. “Like, you did fine without us hanging out together all the time, and, and, and I don’t know, Puck. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you feel that way. I didn’t ask you how it made you feel, because we don’t really do that so much. Maybe I should’ve.” He sighs. “I guess I should’ve.”
“Great, being capable of making plans means I don’t need a best friend. I’ll keep that in mind. You would have had to hang out with me to ask, though, you know?”
“Yeah,” Finn says, and sighs again. “Yeah, I know.”
Puck doesn’t say anything for a few moments. “The worst part was that I didn’t even hate her.”
“Rachel. Pretty much anyone else, I could have.”
“Why would you hate Rachel?” Finn asks.
“Uh, we’ve been having the same conversation, right?”
“But we weren’t even talking about Rachel.”
“Dude. She replaced me.”
“No,” Finn says, louder and more firmly than he means to. “No, she didn’t.”
“Who’d you spend your free time with? Who’d you make plans with? Who’d you see The Muppets with? Not me, not me, not me.”
“I didn’t really make any plans, though. Rachel made the plans. All I did was pick a school I didn’t even get into. Nothing I tried to plan worked out, so why would I keep trying to plan stuff? I’m, like, really bad at it!”
“Fine. You still spent all your free time with her. Replaced.”
“I’m sorry I was a shitty friend, okay? I’m sorry. I sucked, and I’m sorry,” Finn says. “What else do you want me to say? I’m a terrible friend, and I still don’t want you to go.”
“Oh my god,” Puck huffs. “I can’t not go. Do you want me to drive you to Albuquerque?”
“What? No! Why do you think we looped all around Wisconsin and New Mexico, Puck?” Finn asks.
“We didn’t plot our course to begin with?”
“Why do you think I even looked for pamphlets?” Finn asks. “And if I’m not stupid, then why would I pick stuff that’s on the totally other side of the state of the stuff we were already going to?”
“Instagram photo project?”
“You want to go into forestry and seeing Smokey’s grave is inspirational?”
“Yeah, that’s totally it,” Finn says. He rolls onto his back again, then continues rolling onto his side to face Puck. “I didn’t want this trip to be over.”
“You’d be good at inspiring people not to start fires,” Puck says, then sighs. “Yeah. I know.”
“I still don’t.” Puck’s back is still to Finn, so Finn puts a hand on Puck’s shoulder.
Puck’s muscles tense briefly, then relax. “I guess it’s good we still have two stops in New Mexico, huh?”
“Yeah. Probably lots of stuff in Arizona, too, you know?”
“‘Arizona: Not Just the Grand Canyon’?” Puck suggests.
“It’s a pretty big canyon, though,” Finn says. “Might take us a while just for that.”
“Yeah.” Puck slowly rolls onto his back again, his head turning towards Finn completely. “Thorough canyon exploration. It’s the sequel to Dedicated Nature.”
Finn’s hand is now partially on Puck’s shoulder, and partially resting on his chest, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, so he doesn’t pull his hand away. “Yeah. That sounds good to me.”
Puck shifts once more, then puts his hand on top of Finn’s. “Yeah. Good.”
Billy the Kid’s Grave; Fort Sumner, NM
“It’s like they couldn’t resist the chance to put him in jail in death,” Puck says as they look at the cage surrounding Billy the Kid’s grave.
“He’s got his friends with him, at least,” Finn says. “He’s not alone.”
“Friends?” Puck says. “That’s not usually why people get buried together.”
“Well, the tombstone says ‘PALS’ on it.”
“It was probably placed in the 1800s. Of course it says ‘PALS’,” Puck says. “You think it was all three of them?”
Finn shrugs. “Billy the Kid was really young when he died, so who knows?”
“Yeah, but they did a lot of stuff for their ages.” Puck nudges Finn. “We could start our life of crime right here.”
“I don’t want to kill anybody, though,” Finn says.
“Bank robbery? Shoplifting?” Puck pauses. “Illicit littering?”
“Illicit loitering,” Finn says, leaning against the bars around Billy the Kid’s grave.
“Finn ‘The Loiterer’ Hudson. What’s another word for loitering?”
“That doesn’t really go with Puckerman. I could be a loafer.”
“Hanger Hudson and Puck ‘The Loafer’ Puckerman,” Finn says. “You don’t really look like a loaf, though.”
“Probably a good thing. It’d be hard to live fast or whatever if I did.”
“Loaf fast, die slow.”
RV Muffler Man; Hatch, NM
“You know,” Finn says, as they stand outside the fence around the RV Muffler Man, “I’ve seen better giant men.”
“He’s definitely no Giant Copper Indian, that’s for sure,” Puck says.
“I guess we’re becoming that thing, the one that means hard to impress.”
“Yeah, jaded,” Finn says. “I just expect more out of my giant man statues these days.”
Puck laughs. “You’re gathering data to make your own one day.”
“Finn’s Giant Man,” Finn says.
Grand Canyon; Williams, AZ
They’ve only been at the Grand Canyon for five minutes or so, but Puck doesn’t think either one of them has said anything other than ‘wow’.
“Worth the drive for sure,” Puck finally says.
“It’s just so— wow,” Finn says. “How is it real?”
“And why is there only one of them? Why didn’t rivers do this other places?”
“I don’t know. They should!”
“We should go down there, to one of the raft places,” Puck says. “Right?”
“Yeah. Let’s look on the Grand Canyon website and see what they have!” Finn says.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. We can figure out where and do it tomorrow, maybe.”
It takes them a little bit to figure out a raft tour that isn’t seven days or more, but eventually, they find one outfit that offers a one-day twelve-hour plus tour that puts in near Williams. It’s expensive, though, a lot more than Puck would have expected.
“Shit, I was expecting maybe seventy-five bucks,” Puck admits quietly to Finn.
“It’s okay. I’ve got it,” Finn says, taking out a credit card and handing it to the woman handling the booking. “For emergencies.”
“Emergency rafting the Grand Canyon?” Puck says.
“Yeah,” Finn says. He looks a little shifty, like he’s not quite being honest, but since Finn doesn’t look upset—he looks happy, if anything—Puck decides not to call him on it. By the time they arrive at the meetup point the next morning early, Finn is bouncing a little. The overall rafting involves a lot of water, a lot of wind, Finn looking like he can’t decide whether to be terrified or exhilarated, and everyone in the raft squealing and yelling.
When they stop for lunch, Puck digs into his double-bagged stuff with a laugh. “Yeah, you already got burnt,” he says to Finn, pulling out the small bottle of after-sun lotion.
“Worth it!” Finn says. “Hey, you’re a little red, too, on your nose.” He reaches out and lightly runs a fingertip down Puck’s nose.
“No way,” Puck argues.
“Way,” Finn says. He pulls his phone—lucky for them they both invested in the waterproof cases—out of his pocket and snaps a picture of Puck, then flips the phone around for Puck to see.
“Huh,” Puck says, glaring at the phone. “Well, I guess you can put this on me after I do you.”
“Is this your first sunburn?” Finn asks, in a voice that sounds like he’s almost baby-talking Puck, then promptly takes another picture of Puck.
Puck sticks his tongue out at Finn while he opens the bottle and squirts some of the lotion on his fingers. “Unless you hid one from me at some point.”
“Aww, it’s Pick’s first sunburn!” Finn says, apparently to the entire group. “Get in here with me for a selfie, Puck. You have to. We’re documenting this!”
“Oh my god, Finn,” Puck says, but he leans in anyway. Finn takes the picture, then hands the phone off to another guy in the rafting group, who takes a couple shots of them together.
“Thanks,” Finn says as he takes his phone back and starts scrolling through the pictures, his smile getting wider as he looks at them.
“Is it like a timeline of sunburns?” Puck jokes.
“What? I just wanted a picture. A couple of pictures. You know, of us.”
“Yeah, I know. We should see if that guy’s offer of the waterproof bag thing still stands, we could get a few in the raft.”
“Oh yeah, that would rock! Ask him!” Finn says, nudging Puck with his elbow. He pulls his shirt off and wrings some water out of it, then whips Puck with the end of the shirt.
“Ow!” Puck says as he stands up. “Didn’t know you were into that.”
Finn whips him with the shirt again. “Into what?”
Puck starts laughing. “Whipping?”
“Only you,” Finn says. He stands up, too, and tries to get Puck with the shirt a third time, but Puck sidesteps it by a few inches.
“Yep, exactly,” Finn agrees. The shirt snaps through the air again, this time a good foot away from Puck.
“I’m going to selectively tackle you,” Puck warns, then does exactly that. Finn laughs on the way down, landing with an ‘oof’, and wraps his arms around Puck as soon as they hit the gritty canyon sand, rolling them over and over. Puck pushes off with one leg, trying to roll them closer to the water’s edge.
“You trying to take us in?” Finn asks, lifting his hips to try to flip Puck over.
“We’re all sandy now, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Finn says. He finally manages to flip them again, pinning Puck against the sand. Finn stares down at Puck for a long time, his hands on Puck’s shoulders and one leg between Puck’s. After what feels like at least a full minute, Finn suddenly leans in close to Puck’s face, gently bringing his lips to Puck’s. Almost as suddenly, Finn’s eyes widen and he rolls off of Puck, lying on his back in the sand next to him.
Puck doesn’t really know what to say, which is why it’s probably really convenient he can hear the guide telling people to finish up so they can get back on the river. Puck pushes himself to his feet and offers Finn a hand. “C’mon, let’s go rinse off.”
“Yeah,” Finn says. He lets Puck pull him up, giving Puck a crooked, shy-looking grin.
“And put on more sunscreen. We’ve got hours left.”
“Yeah,” Finn says, moving his hand, his fingertips brushing against the side of his hair like he’s trying to tuck it behind his ear. Puck has to turn his head fast to hide his grin, because it’s like Finn’s suddenly both long-haired and shy, and while neither of those is exactly true, it’s still pretty adorable.
Puck doesn’t quite turn back before speaking. “Race you.”
Wigwam Village Motel No. 6; Holbrook, AZ
They’re tired, and their muscles are sore and aching, and they’re both sunburned all across their faces and necks, but the two hour drive out to the Wigwam Village Motel No. 6 feels just as light and fun as the first legs of their trip had. And yeah, it’s back in the opposite direction, two hours east of their put-in point for the Grand Canyon, but that means it’s also an extra two hours away from LA and the end of their trip.
Finn doesn’t know what he was thinking when he kissed Puck. Maybe he wasn’t thinking at all. He doesn’t want to take it back, though. He isn’t really ready to talk about it yet, but he definitely doesn’t want to take it back. He occasionally turns to look at Puck while they’re driving, and if Puck notices him looking this time, it isn’t weird or awkward.
“We should just plan to stay two nights,” Finn says. “Give our sunburns a chance to heal up.”
“Yeah, that sounds good,” Puck says. “We had a really busy day. Lazy day’d be good.”
“We earned it,” Finn says.
They stop for lunch near the motel, taking their time eating before going to check in for two nights. The inside of the concrete wigwam is cool and dark. Finn flops down on one side of the bed, patting the space next to him.
“This is surprisingly appealing,” Puck says he crawls up the length of the bed before dropping onto his stomach.
“It’s so quiet and cool in here,” Finn says. “And still.”
“Nap?” Finn asks. He knows at some point, Puck’s going to ask him about the kiss, but he’s hoping that point isn’t now. He’s tired, Puck is tired, and all Finn wants to do right now is take a nap together.
“God, yes. First one up goes and gets takeout for dinner.”
“It’ll be you. I’m in for the night.”
Puck yawns. “Competitive sleeping. I like it.”
“Mmhmm,” Finn says, closing his eyes. “I’m already asleep. Winning.” Finn wakes up hours later to the smell of steak. He lifts his head and sniffs without opening his eyes. “Did I win?”
“Only if you want steak and baked potato.”
“I want,” Finn says, opening his eyes. He puts his hands out and does a ‘gimme’ gesture with them.
“Sit up first, neither of us wants to sleep in butter.”
Finn sits up. “Now I want,” he says, making the ‘gimme’ hands at Puck again.
Puck laughs and hands him one of the take out containers. “There’s even wine. They didn’t ask for ID.”
“Oh man, this is fancy-pants,” Finn says. “Am I dressed right for this occasion?”
“Well, they’re not fancy bottles,” Puck says, displaying two mini-bottles of wine. “Or fancy glasses, come to think of it, since I grabbed the cups from the sink.”
“Okay. That’s good, because this is really the only outfit I’ve got, and it’s been washed in the shower that last few times,” Finn says. He sits cross-legged on the bed with the take out container in front of him so he can cut the steak. His eyes roll back in his head a little at the first bite. “This is amazing.”
Puck pours one of the bottles into a cup and hands it to Finn. “Yeah, I decided we needed something that wasn’t fast food for once.”
Finn takes a sip of the red wine. It’s a little bitter and earthy, but it’s nice with the steak. “Good call. This is the best.”
“You know what the best part is?”
“We can sleep as late as we want to in the morning.”
“God, that is the best part,” Finn says. “Let’s finish eating and go to bed early like old people.”
“As long as we don’t put on socks with sandals, it’s all good.”
After they eat, they both lie down in bed. Finn keeps expecting Puck to say something about the kiss, but as they turn off the lights and go to sleep, Puck doesn’t say anything, not even in the dark. They sleep a long time, catching up for the sleep they’d missed on other days, and it’s close to noon before Finn wakes up and nudges Puck awake.
They leave the wigwam for lunch, then return for a nap, then again for dinner, finally coming back at around eight to turn in for their second and final night there. Puck showers, then Finn, and then it’s a little past nine that they’re getting into bed with the lights off.
“Hey,” Puck says quietly after about a minute passes.
“Hey,” Finn replies.
“When we were down by the river…” Puck starts, then trails off.
“Yeah,” Finn says.
“After we finished eating, I mean,” Puck continues.
Puck laughs softly. “I wasn’t hallucinating, right?”
Finn shakes his head in the dark. “Nah. I mean, I don’t think so.”
“Oh, good you’re confident in my mental health,” Puck says jokingly.
“I guess you could’ve seen a leprechaun, too, or something, but if you mean, you know.” Finn shrugs, again, not particularly visible in the dark.
“Yeah,” Finn says, letting out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “The kissing. Was that— did I mess that up?”
“No, it was fine. Good. It was good,” Puck says, sounding a little bit like he’s rambling. “It was pretty quick, so you know, longer would be good.”
“If you don’t want me to ever do it again, I won’t, and we don’t even have to talk about it, but I’m not taking it back, and I’m not saying I’m sorry, because I’m not sorry,” Finn says, all in a rush.
“Huh? When did I say that?”
“You didn’t. I just wanted to get it out there,” Finn says. “I’m not sorry. I don’t take it back, not even a little.”
“Okay. I didn’t want you to.”
“I mean, I actually said longer was good, but I think you missed that part.”
Finn laughs. “Yeah, I guess I did.”
“I’m going to take your rambling to mean this is okay,” Puck says, and he shifts onto his side, pushing himself up before leaning over and kissing Finn. Finn inhales sharply, not quite a gasp, but then he just focuses on Puck’s lips, soft and still a little wind-chafed from the canyon. He tilts his head up, pressing into the kiss, putting a hand on Puck’s shoulder. Puck’s weight seems to shift, a little more of it in Finn’s hand.
Finn rolls a little, so Puck’s partially on top of him and Finn has another free hand. He runs his hand lightly up Puck’s back and neck, cupping the back of his head. Puck’s entire body feels like it relaxes a little, his lips parting slightly at the same time. Finn lets his lips part, too, tip of his tongue touching Puck’s lower lip before pushing barely into Puck’s mouth. It seems like Puck really likes it, even though there’s not one specific thing Puck’s doing to give Finn that impression. Puck’s leg slips between Finn’s legs and then stays there.
Finn absolutely doesn’t—but maybe does a little bit—let out a ‘meep!’ noise as Puck’s leg snugs up between his. Finn’s hand pushes into Puck’s hair, twisting in it around his fingers as he kisses Puck harder, with a little more tongue. Puck responds by pressing up very slightly with his leg, putting a little more into his kiss at the same time.
Yeah, this time Finn definitely meeps as he feels Puck’s leg pressing up against his dick, making Finn immediately aware of the fact that he’s not just enjoying the kissing, he’s fully and legitimately turned on by it. He lifts his leg, too, the one between Puck’s, pushing up and hoping Puck enjoys it as much as Finn is. Puck rocks his hips down, and Finn can feel that Puck’s dick is also hard.
Realizing that, that Puck is just as turned on as him, makes Finn feel a little frantic, tugging on Puck’s hair as he kisses him and rocks his hips up against Puck. Puck slides his mouth to one side, kissing up Finn’s jaw and to his ear.
“You’re going to come like this if we keep going,” Puck says in a low whisper.
“Yeah?” Finn says. “You asking or telling?”
“Telling, so if you don’t want to, we can’t keep going.”
“What if I want to? Do you want to? Will you, too?” Finn asks.
Puck presses his leg against Finn’s dick with more force behind it. “That. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”
“Okay. Yeah, good,” Finn says, breathing heavily against the side of Puck’s face as he pushes against Puck’s leg and rolls his hips upward, feeling Puck’s dick pressing against his leg, too. “Puck,” he says softly. “Puck.”
“Yeah, keep doing that, just like that,” Puck says.
“Yeah,” Finn says. He feels like he’s grabbing at Puck with both hands, pulling his hair and yanking down on his clothes, anything to feel more of Puck against him. He manages to get one hand up the back of Puck’s t-shirt, spreading his fingers across Puck’s lower back to hold him even closer.
“We’re going to come,” Puck says, still talking in a low whisper. “We’re going to come any second now.”
“I want to. I want you to,” Finn says. “You should. You should come now, Puck. You should—” He breaks off as he starts to come, surprising himself, clinging to Puck.
Puck is shaking, and the two of them are both shaking enough that the bed itself is vibrating with them. Puck comes only a few seconds after Finn, and he buries his face against Finn’s neck as he does. Finn grips Puck tightly, keeping him so close, never mind the hot, sticky spots on their boxers. He presses his lips to the side of Puck’s neck, tasting the salt of Puck’s skin.
“Wow,” Finn whispers, knowing he sounds awed, even more than he had at the Grand Canyon.
“Yeah,” Puck says, sounding a little giddy. “We came. You came.”
“Yeah,” Finn agrees. He twines his fingers in Puck’s hair with one hand, strokes the skin of Puck’s back with the other, too overwhelmed to say or ask anything else.
“Sleep now,” Puck says after another minute or so passes.
Finn nods, not unwinding any part of his body from Puck’s. He knows they’ll both be a little gross, and maybe a little stuck together, in the morning, but he doesn’t care. He feels good all the way down to his toes. “Yeah,” he says against Puck’s neck. “Sleep now.”
Phallic Rock; Scottsdale, AZ
There isn’t very much talking when they wake up the next morning, a little dirty and more than a little bit stuck together. Finn and Puck exchange some smiles and glances as they shower, pack back up, and grab breakfast, heading towards Scottsdale.
Puck is a little doubtful about the so-called Phallic Rock until they pull into the parking area and take a look. “Oh my god,” Puck says, barely holding back a laugh.
“It looks like a dick,” Finn says. He lets out a noise that sounds suspiciously like a giggle. “It’s a dick rock.”
“It’s, like, perfectly shaped. Do you think someone secretly shaped it? Or, like, Native Americans, a long time ago?”
“It’s a—” Finn giggles again. “It’s a cock rock.”
“We need to get someone to take our pictures with the cock rock!” Puck says as he laughs. “And make sure we don’t caption it, so people think we didn’t realize.”
“This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Finn says.
Puck waves at one of the other tourists around. “Can you take a picture of the two of us?”
“Sure,” one of the tourists, a man in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals with socks, says. He takes the phone that Puck holds out to him.
Finn puts an arm around Puck’s shoulders and pulls him close, leaning his mouth close to Puck’s ear. “Say ‘dick rock’.”
Puck laughs, turning towards Finn and half-hiding his face against Finn’s shoulder. “Cock rock,” he whispers as the tourist finishes and offers him the phone back.
Finn lets out another giggle. “Cock out with your rock out,” he says under his breath to Puck.
“Thanks,” Puck tells the tourist, then turns back to Finn and laughs again. “Suns out, guns out, rock out, cock out?”
“I don’t even know how to live in the same world as this rock!” Finn says, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth to smother what sounds like another giggle trying to come out. “It’s too amazing.”
“How do people live in the same city as it?”
“I would give all directions based on the location of this rock. Like, ‘oh it’s about a half-mile from the cock rock’ or ‘turn left three lights past the cock rock’.”
“There needs to be a word for ‘rock’ that rhymes with ‘dick’ so we can mix it up,” Puck says. “This is the best part of Arizona.”
“Yeah, we need to just leave the state now, because I don’t think it could possibly get any better than it’s already been up to this point,” Finn says.
“Exactly. Peak Arizona.”
Dinosaurs; Vernal and Jensen, UT
Jensen, Utah, is a ten hour drive away, minimum, but they cut out of Scottsdale at a reasonable hour and decide to just drive it straight through, except for stops for gas or bathroom breaks. As the sun starts to sink along the western horizon, the air cools rapidly, and they roll down the windows and crank up the radio, singing loudly to Finn’s playlists. Finn drives to the first stop, then Puck takes over for a while, and then Finn drives again in the dark.
“You sure about LA?” Finn asks over the sound of the radio and the wind rushing past the jeep. “We could just live on the road like this forever.”
“The money runs out eventually,” Puck says.
“We could get jobs on the road. You could play your guitar in a bar. I could, I don’t know, pick cabbages or be a bartender.”
Puck laughs. “Do you know how long it took to save up this much? Way, way long.”
“Still, we should give it some thought, is what I’m saying,” Finn says.
“You could be a bartender.”
“Yeah, I could,” Finn agrees. “I’ll think about it.”
“I thought I’d be so relieved to be done with classes, you know? But it’s weird to think about September without them.”
“You could take some college classes, maybe. Or like some kind of training, like bartending school.”
“Yeah, so could you,” Puck says, then snorts. “College classes in what?”
“Music? Small business management?”
Puck laughs. “Don’t business majors like, wear ties to class? They’d love me.”
“I think you’d be just fine without the tie,” Finn says. “And who cares if they love you?”
“I’m definitely not buying any ties,” Puck agrees.
“You don’t need them.”
“Ties? Business majors? Both?”
“Ties,” Finn says. “Business major only if you want it. We’ll figure it out. Maybe you’ll like not having classes and it’ll be a non-issue, anyway.”
“See, you’re already good at the talking part of bartending,” Puck says.
“Lucky me. Finally a natural at something!”
Puck laughs. “More than just that.”
They arrive at the Best Western Dinosaur Inn in Vernal so late that they’re already half asleep as they fall onto the single shared queen bed, and Finn thinks he might actually fall asleep in the middle of kissing Puck. In the morning, though, they wake up with their arms and legs tangled together. Finn’s still waiting for it to feel weird or awkward, but it hasn’t yet, so maybe it’s not going to. More than anything, it feels like something that’s always been there waiting for Finn to clue in. Maybe it’s a little like the lazy river thing Puck said.
“Dinosaur time!” Finn says, shaking Puck’s shoulder to get him out of bed. “This town has so many dinos for us to take pictures with.”
“The dinosaurs are taking pictures?” Puck mumbles, his eyes still closed.
“No, we are. We’ll start with the Vernal Dinosaur Museum and Gardens, since it’s attached to the hotel, but then we’re going into Jensen for those dinosaurs,” Finn says.
“That’s amazing,” Puck says, squinting at Finn and yawning. “I want dinosaur-shaped French toast sticks.”
“We’re going to get dinosaur everything,” Finn promises.
They do get dinosaur everything. They have one dinosaur t-shirt apiece and a pair of matching dinosaur trucker hats by the time they leave the Vernal Dinosaur Museum and drive over to Jensen. Finn takes a picture of Puck sitting on the crook-necked brontosaurus statue, then Puck takes Finn’s picture, then they once again manage to rope another tourist into taking a picture of the two of them together. Finn sends Puck a copy of that one, plus sending it and the one of just him on the dinosaur to Carole.
After the photo op bronto-type dinosaur, they drive around until they find the concrete T-rex and repeat the photo process, without an additional this time, unfortunately. Finn puts one arm around Puck, squeezing them both into the frame as he holds his phone as far out as he can to capture himself, Puck, and the T-rex in one selfie. As Finn’s showing Puck the picture, he kisses the corner of Puck’s mouth, then looks down at his own feet, feeling silly and strangely shy.
Puck bumps Finn’s shoulder gently, then puts his hand on Finn’s chin, tilting Finn’s face towards him before kissing him. Finn holds his phone out again and takes a selfie of them kissing. Puck laughs when they stop.
“Going to send those to Carole, too?” Puck asks.
“Would you mind?”
Puck shakes his head.
“Then… yeah,” Finn says. He swipes through the kiss pics for the best one and sends it to Carole as fast as he can, before he loses his nerve. After returning the phone to his pocket, Finn gives Puck a big grin.
“You know what this dinosaur trip needs to cap it off?” Puck says, returning the grin.
“We should have dinner at the Dinosaur Brew Haus.”
“That’s perfect!” Finn says. “First, though, we should drive out to Dinosaur, Colorado, since the pamphlet from the hotel said it was only about eleven miles away, plus we’re totally going back to that pink dinosaur we passed on the way in last night.”
“I want a t-shirt with the pink dinosaur on it,” Puck says wistfully. “There’s enough pamphlets in the jeep that we could have planned a DinoWeek.”
“So, Dinosaur National Monument, then Dinosaur, Colorado, then back to Vernal for the pink dinosaur and the Dinosaur Brew Haus,” Finn says.
“Where we will not get the advertised basket of onion rings.”
“No?” Finn asks, smiling a little, his cheeks feeling warm like he’s gotten sunburned again. “Why not?”
Puck laughs and very quickly kisses Finn. “You know why.”
“Maybe I want you to say,” Finn says.
“You want me to specify our after-dinner activities? Right here?” Puck says teasingly.
Finn shrugs. “In the jeep, then.”
“Well, first there’s all the kissing,” Puck says as he starts walking.
“Yeah, of course,” Finn says, putting an arm around Puck’s shoulders as they approach the jeep.
“Which is actually the reason for the prohibition on onion rings, come to think of it, so the rest of it can just stay a surprise.”
“I guess surprises are okay, too.”
Muffler Mr. Spock; Salt Lake City, UT
Puck stares in front of him, then glances at Finn. “I think the rumors of Muffler Spock suggested more, you know. Grandeur.”
“It’s not even a whole Spock,” Finn says. “It’s only a Half-Spock.”
“Utah should stick to promoting their dinosaurs, for sure,” Puck says. “Want to head out of town and find a good place on the road to Primm?”
“Yeah. We could go to bed early, even,” Finn says. He looks excited about the prospect.
Puck grins as he nods. It’s completely unsurprising that Finn would go from dancing way around the edges of what either of them were feeling to completely enthusiastic about making out as much as possible, in a very good way.
“We’ll find a motel with a free continental breakfast, even,” Puck says. “Breakfast almost in bed.”
“I could go get the continental breakfast and bring it back to you in bed,” Finn says.
“Only if you get back in bed, too.”
Puck grabs Finn’s hand and turns towards the jeep. “Deal.”
Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car; Primm, NV
This leg of the trip is hot, even with the a/c on full blast, and the sweaty backs of Finn’s legs stick to the seat, his t-shirt soaked as well. He’s tired, and he’s sure Puck is, too. They aren’t cranky-tired, luckily, just weary and impatient to actually get to their destination finally. Finn hasn’t said it to Puck yet, that he does want to stay in LA after all, but he does and he will. He’d made that decision back at the Grand Canyon when he spent his return air fare money on their rafting trip.
“You got enough water?” Finn asks Puck, who’s driving with one hand on the wheel, his dino trucker hat pulled low to cut some of the heat glare off the highway.
“Yeah. I’ll get some more in fifteen or twenty minutes, maybe?” Puck says.
“Okay. We can swap out whenever you need to,” Finn says. “I can’t believe how hot it’s getting.”
“The desert finally caught up with us, I guess.”
“We going to try to stop in Vegas or just keep going to Primm?”
“We’re not twenty-one. Seems like maybe a waste to stop there now?” Puck says.
Finn nods. “Yeah. We can always go back once we turn twenty-one. We could do a birthday trip.”
“We can start saving now and make that epic.”
“Yeah, we can,” Finn says. He puts his left hand on Puck’s right leg, letting it rest there, his thumb moving back and forth against the fabric of Puck’s shorts.
“We can stay in the air conditioned motel room until checkout in the morning, too,” Puck says wryly.
“Nice,” Finn says. “I can’t wait for an ice-cold shower.”
Puck snorts. “Ice-cold, huh?”
“What? You can warm me up again after!”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Puck says.
“Is that all you’re going to hold?” Finn asks, squeezing Puck’s thigh gently.
Puck glances over briefly and smiles too innocently. “Your hand?”
“Only my hand?” Finn prompts.
“Your other cheeks, too.”
Finn laughs loudly, giving Puck’s leg another squeeze. “Yeah, you bet you are!”
After hours of desert, they do at least go through Las Vegas, which looks neat and like a place that probably would be worth returning to in a few years. Still, Finn’s mostly focused on getting to LA, now that he’s decided to do what he should have done when Puck first asked him. Primm, Nevada, is only about an hour past Vegas, so before much longer, they’re pulling up to the address they had for Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car.
“Uh. It’s a hotel and casino,” Finn says. “Did we not realize that?”
“I didn’t,” Puck says.
“Want to go in and see the car, at least?” Finn asks.
“Yeah, we should.”
“Okay,” Finn says. They park and go inside, where a desk clerk of some kind directs them to the car. It’s pretty much as advertised, an extremely shot-up old Ford inside a glass case. Finn frowns a little as he looks at it.
“Can we, you know… not go out like that?” Puck asks.
“Yeah, that’s a definite nah,” Finn says. “Zero bullets for us.”
“We’ll have to put the brakes on that life of crime, then, I guess.”
“We never did come up with a very good outlaw name for you, anyway. Hanger Hudson was good, but Puck ‘The Loaf’ Puckerman just isn’t very catchy.”
“Oh, sure, pick on my outlaw name,” Puck says with a laugh.
Finn laughs, too. “It’s just, we picked loitering as our crime of choice, dude. It’s hard to have a really cool-sounding name if that’s our main crime.”
“Finn and Puck: Not Cut Out For a Life of Crime,” Puck says. “That’s our movie.”
“Sounds good to me,” Finn says. “You want to stop around here or just push through to LA?”
“It’s another three and a half hours, right?” Puck frowns a little. “Maybe we should stop around here. Hit the streets of LA a little fresher.”
“Yeah. Lots to figure out there, right?”
“Yeah.” Puck cuts his eyes towards Finn. “But not flight information. Right?”
“What flight?” Finn asks. “I can’t afford a flight. I spent my air fare on whitewater rafting.”
Puck laughs. “Of course you did. Of course.”
“You don’t mind?”
“That makes the rafting the, like, honeymoon equivalent of dating, right?”
Finn just grins and takes Puck’s hand in his. Puck steps even closer, shaking his head a little.
“Come on. Let’s go rest up for LA,” Puck says after a few moments pass.
“Only rest?” Finn asks.
“Don’t you think you’ll want to rest after we finish making out and taking off our shirts and grinding all up on each other?”
“Possibly,” Finn says, “but we’ll probably need to do that again first so I can be sure.”
Puck grins. “Such a sacrifice.”
The I–15 to Los Angeles, CA
Even though they’re up early, the sun is already warm when they leave Primm and cross into California. Puck feels the coffee hit his system about twenty minutes into the drive, and after another five minutes, he decides he’s awake enough for conversation.
“What’s your earliest crush?” Puck asks. “Both the earliest you realized and the earliest now that you’re looking back with more knowledge.”
“Mindy Beeman. She moved to Lima the second half of first grade,” Finn says. “She was the earliest one I realized. I liked her hair.”
“Yeah. It was shiny, and her seat was by the window, so the sun came through it and she looked like the light-up angel on our Christmas tree.”
Puck laughs a little. “Okay. First one you only realized later?”
“Wolverine,” Finn says.
“In the movie?”
“Yeah, the first X-Men movie. It came out the summer before first grade, and I don’t know how I got Mom to take me to see it, but she did, and now that I’m looking back at it, definitely Wolverine.”
“Go Carole,” Puck says. “Wanna know mine?”
“Okay, so the first one I realized was third grade. Remember Emily Dubicki? She was two years ahead of us.”
“The one who always wore overalls?” Finn asks.
“That was the other Emily. Emily Dubicki had the chin-length hair.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember her.”
“Yeah, her, for like a good half the year,” Puck says, shaking his head a little at his third-grade self.
“What was your first one looking back, though?” Finn asks.
“What was it we said? Wanting to be around them all the time?”
Puck reaches over and pokes at Finn’s upper arm. “Hmm, wonder who that might be, then?”
“Who?” Finn asks.
“You, doofus,” Puck says with a laugh. He glances over at Finn briefly, noticing immediately that Finn’s starting to blush.
“For real? All the way back then?” Finn asks.
“I remember asking my mom if you could move in, and after she tried to put me off by explaining that Carole’d miss you, I told her that was fine, I’d ask Carole if I could move in with you, then.”
“I thought all best friends were like that,” Finn says. “I never thought about it being a crush.”
“I don’t think that they are. I mean, I thought they were too, and once I even mentioned it to Santana when we were dating.” Puck laughs. “And she said she and Brittany were totally the same way.”
“Well, I guess she wasn’t wrong, huh?”
“I should have expanded my survey or something, I guess,” Puck says with another laugh.
“Yeah, probably would’ve given you different information, for sure,” Finn says.
“Now we know.” Puck pauses. “Think we should let Santana know?”
“Maybe I can just post the pictures from our trip and she can figure it out on her own.”
“When people ask for stories about moving, we should leave out why it took so long and horrify them with the length of our move from Ohio to California,” Puck says.
“I don’t know, Puck,” Finn says. “I think I’d have a hard time telling this story in a horrifying way, except the part where you left me in New Mexico and I slept under a tree outside the Catholic Mission.”
“Nah, we tell it cheerfully but bare-bones. ‘It took weeks’,” Puck says. “Leave it to them to fill in the blanks. Anyway, the important part is I gave you your space and then came back.”
“The important part is the coming back,” Finn says.
“Plus, that part’s just for us.”
“I think the whole thing is just for us.”
“We appeared in LA one day, from parts unknown?” Puck says.
Finn laughs. “We came up out of the ocean.”
“There are worse places to come from. Now we just have to figure out where we’re landing. Couple more nights in a cheap motel, you think?”
“We should start looking at apartments on Craigslist,” Finn says. “We might find something good pretty fast.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Studio apartment. There’s an air mattress in one of those boxes that’ll hold us for a night or two.”
“It’s a little bit true, you know, what you said about two dudes in one bed.”
“Hmm. Yeah.” Puck looks over at Finn and grins. “Does that mean every time we shared a bed, our whole lives, it was a little bit gay?”
“In hindsight?” Finn asks, grinning back at Puck. “Probably at least a little.”
From the moment they enter Los Angeles County, things go faster and easier than Puck expects, from the traffic to the studio apartment downtown that’s listed on Craigslist and, yes, absolutely they can take a tour that day and then sign a lease. By the time the sun’s setting, they’re in said studio apartment, the air mattress is set up, and they’re eating takeout from some place called Pasta Roma.
“Tomorrow we’ll figure out the money flow,” Puck says.
“I can’t believe we’re finally here,” Finn says. He bumps his knee against Puck’s and smiles at him.
“Official Los Angeles residents, with a lease and an upcoming electric bill,” Puck says, returning the smile.
“I was thinking I could apply to the tile place next door, or that garage a little bit down the street, maybe,” Finn says. “I guess I have to call Mom at some point and ask about my stuff, huh?”
“It can’t be that much to ship it, right? And in a few days, we’ll get a real mattress,” Puck says. “Good thing I decided it was worth the extra seven bucks to get a queen and not a twin?”
Finn nods. “You’re smart like that.”
“If you’re done, we could probably catch the last of the sunset from bed.”
“Our first west coast sunset.”