The first time Burt set eyes on Blaine Anderson's face, it was on a photograph that Kurt hastily pulled down from the door of his locker at McKinley High where they'd come after school to collect his things before driving to Dalton to sign the final admission papers. Burt just managed to catch a glimpse of some preppy looking kid with a genial smile - wearing the same red lapel uniform that he had ordered three sets of earlier in the day, under Kurt's careful instructions - before the picture frame was hurriedly put away and Kurt was moving on.
“Wait. Who's that guy?”
Kurt shrugged, his shoulders tense. ”Nobody.”
Burt glanced down into the box where Kurt had carefully placed the photo frame with the picture side down. ”Nobody, huh?”
Kurt busied himself with pulling down the collage of magazine clips that had surrounded the picture. His face was turned away. “It's that boy I told you about from Dalton, Blaine. But it's nothing like that.”
His voice was light, but judging from the way Kurt was studiously avoiding his gaze, Burt had a hunch that it had to be at least a little bit like that. “And he gave you his picture?”
“No. Uh, actually, I printed it from his Facebook page,” Kurt said in a rush. He sounded a little high-pitched.
Burt sighed. ”Kurt, please tell me this isn't a repeat performance of your crush on Finn.” He realized that he had lowered his voice even though the hallway was empty.
Kurt dropped a handful of magazine cutouts on top of the picture frame. “No, Dad. Don't be silly.”
Burt had a hard time believing that it was just him being silly - Kurt was acting snappy the way he did when somebody hit a sore spot - but he decided to let it rest.
For a while that photo was the only image he had to pin to Kurt's stories about Blaine and the Warblers. But he worried that Kurt was once again getting himself into something that he couldn't handle. He couldn't help but notice that even though Kurt had only known this guy for a couple of months it was suddenly “Blaine this,” and “Blaine that”; long hours after school with the Warblers and then inviting Blaine out for coffee afterwards; pictures printed off the Internet like this guy was some kind of movie star.
Burt knew that he should be used to it by now. Kurt never did anything half-heartedly. He determinedly wore his flashy clothes to a school full of football jocks and hockey players; he dressed up in wigs and high heels and sang with the girls in Glee Club. Kurt set himself up to get his heart broken. Burt loved his kid to bits and pieces, but this was the boy who had decided to hit on the high school quarterback; persistently and with very little finesse, according to Carole.
Burt wished that he could just let it go and stop worrying; but the thing was, he had made a promise. To Kathy. And to himself.
When he and Kathy had gone shopping for Kurt's third birthday, they had found themselves staring mutely at each other in the boys' section of Toys'R'Us for a long, tense moment, before Kathy had said: “What are we even doing here? Our son wants a tea set and a pair of sensible heels.” She was finally putting into words something they had both carefully stepped around ever since Kurt had become old enough to voice his wants and wishes.
Burt opened his mouth to protest - but then he stopped. Earlier that same day, Kurt had been poring over footwear catalogs, using his red crayon to circle the shoes he wanted. The baseball glove, the football and the fire truck that he had been gifted with last Christmas all stood untouched on a shelf in his room. Burt glanced down at his own safety boots. “Heels, huh?”
They looked at the toy guns and race cars around them, and then back at each other. Burt arched an eyebrow. The corner of Kathy's mouth twitched. “And a tea set,” she replied, and for the first time they let go of all the doubt and worry and just laughed about it; because at least the two of them were on the same page: Kurt was a marvelous kid no matter what he wanted for his birthday, and together they were going to do their best to help him along whichever way he chose.
Five years later, Kathy was gone. He and Kurt were alone.
In the years that followed, Burt had often found himself thinking back on the silent pact that he and Kathy had made in the boys' section of Toys'R'Us. Kathy had been the strong one, the one who tackled the Halloween party in kindergarten, when Kurt wanted to dress up as the Little Mermaid; the first time they overheard another kid teasing their son about being girly, and Burt's own mom, who stubbornly kept bringing Kurt “proper clothes”, when all Kurt wanted to wear was his sweater with the pink dots on it. Sometimes, Kathy had to tackle Burt himself, when a lifetime of macho culture caught up with him, and he balked at Kurt's request to get a sparkly rhinestone butterfly on the coveralls that Burt had bought for him to wear at the garage.
After Kathy passed away, Burt had to work twice as hard to smooth the path for Kurt and to accept the ways that their son was different. As Kurt grew older, keeping that promise meant more than reevaluating his own expectations of his son, more than allowing Kurt to use his money on ridiculous outfits, and more than fighting for his right to sing girl songs at choir practice. It was also learning how to live with his and Kathy's worst fear – the one that could still seize him when Kurt left the house wearing form fitting sweaters or sequin brooches - that someone was going to hurt their son for being the way he was.
Fear made him yell at Finn in their basement back in the day, and it was fear that made him put his elbow to the throat of seventeen year old David Karofsky in the hallway at McKinley only four days earlier. In those moments, those two kids had represented every time Burt had worried; every time Kurt had come home in dirty clothes and refused to talk about it, every time Burt had caught news of hate crimes on the radio or heard careless remarks about homosexuals at the auto shop or at the bar.
The bottom line was: he was a little protective. He didn't like seeing his son get hurt.
Burt finally met Blaine Anderson in person when Kurt brought him to the McKinley football championship game.
“Blaine, meet my dad,” Kurt said cheerily and practically pushed Blaine forward. Blaine went stiffly. Burt regarded him for a long moment. They were surrounded by people in polyester, washed denim and fleece holding big gulps and hot dogs. Blaine, on the other hand, looked effortlessly, unconsciously upper class. The kid was flawlessly groomed, from his leather gloves, Burberry scarf and a pricey looking pea coat, to the way his hair was gelled down and parted to the side.
“Mr. Hummel, it's a pleasure to meet you.” Blaine said formally. He reached out a gloved hand. His smile was white toothed and wide, but oddly vacant of emotion. He had his attention focused on Burt and so he didn't see the way Kurt was gazing at him from the side – like he thought that Blaine was the sun and the moon and the stars.
Burt saw it all too clearly, though. Kurt was smiling softly, a mix of admiration and awe painted on his face, and in an instant, Burt could see all the ways that this smooth, detached golden boy could end up hurting his son.
Burt grabbed his hand. Blaine's plastic smile stayed in place, but Burt imagined he saw a flicker of doubt beneath Blaine's polished exterior when Burt shook his hand a little firmer and for a little longer than he had meant to.
“Blaine. I've heard a lot about you.” Burt was trying to inflect the statement with a subtle hint of warning. He had heard about Blaine's bullying intervention - which had somehow provoked Karofsky into making death threats to Kurt while Blaine himself was miles away, doo-wopping his way through the top 40 in his perfectly safe surroundings. And he had heard about Blaine berating Kurt for not instantly fitting into Dalton's high society manners, telling him to tone it down. Sure, that wasn't the way Kurt had put it when he'd told Burt the stories, but Burt was convinced that was what had actually happened.
“And this is Carole,” Kurt hurried on, sending his dad a mildly worried glance. Burt finally let go of Blaine's hand.
Blaine shook hands with Carole, complimenting her on her coat and her haircut - and Burt could tell that Carole was both charmed and slightly amused.
During halftime, Burt and Carole bought them all snacks. Blaine ate his hot dog neatly, with his smooth black gloves still on. The two boys were talking about the game, and Blaine sounded more a like a TV speaker than a teenage boy, pointing out players from the opposite team and commenting on their style. Kurt looked captivated, but Burt wasn't impressed.
After the game, Finn was going to Breadstix with the rest of the football team, while Kurt was going to drive Blaine back to Dalton before coming back home. Burt had said goodbye to the kids, and now he was sitting in the car while he waited for Carole to come back from the ladies' room. He had the stereo on and was humming along to Springsteen singing about his “Glory Days”, tapping out the rhythm on the wheel, when he saw Kurt and Blaine break away from the group of Glee kids hanging out at the parking lot and walk towards Kurt's car.
Burt watched them go, two dark shapes in the moist October air with their backs to the projector glare from the field. Even in the half-dark Kurt's body language was painfully obvious to read; there was an extra sashay in his step and his whole body was turned towards Blaine. His open hand was swaying close to where Blaine's was buried in his pocket, his fingers brushing up against the thick wool of Blaine's coat. Blaine seemed oblivious, walking with both hands deep in his pockets, his back straight and head forward; he was completely ignoring Kurt's blatant invitation.
Burt realized his fingers had become wrapped tightly around the wheel and forced himself to relax. How could someone fail to notice or acknowledge that kind of adoration? On the car stereo, Springsteen moved on to “Dancing in the Dark” while Burt watched Kurt's car pull away. The flash of the headlights swept over the cars and people in the lot, and Burt was left with the familiar tight and helpless squeeze of his heart that he hadn't really known before he became a parent.
He wanted to say something to Carole, maybe try to make light of it, “I think my son has a crush on a freaking Ken doll,” but when she finally slid into the seat beside him she was flushed with joy and pride over Finn, talking excitedly about the game, and Burt decided to just let it rest.
He told himself that he shouldn't be surprised that Kurt had developed a crush on a kid like Blaine; after all, Kurt had always loved expensive and extravagant things. But Burt didn't like it any more than he liked it when Kurt spent his entire allowance on some outrageous outfit that would only get him trouble at school. And as the weeks passed by and he had to watch Kurt's mood going up and down depending on Blaine's actions, he found himself having an even harder time accepting Kurt's fascination with Blaine than he had Kurt's love for Alexander McQueen.
It remained an uneasy thought at the back of Burt's mind, until the day he found Blaine passed out drunk in Kurt's bed. Kurt was tight-lipped and miserable the entire day – and Burt worried what might have happened; if they'd done something stupid, if Blaine had taken advantage. He broached the subject in the evening, during his weekly cholesterol free cooking session, and Kurt simply said, “It's Blaine. He's interested in Rachel,” in a voice that echoed with betrayal.
One collapsed soufflé later, Burt finally brought it up with Carole. “Kurt hangs on this guy's words like he's some kind of gay Messiah,” he said, following her down the stairs to the basement, “and he's not. He's a coddled, private school doofus.” Burt paused in the doorway to the laundry room. “And I'm worried that he's playing with Kurt's feelings.”
Carole sighed. “When Finn and Rachel broke up, Finn played Counterstrike for three days straight. I don't think he slept at all.” She grunted softly as she bent down to pull a load of laundry out of the dryer. “That girl makes him completely bonkers.”
She dumped the clothes into the laundry basket and began sorting it. “But I guess it's not for me to decide who he falls in love with.” She shot Burt a pointed look, then handed him a shirt which he automatically folded, using his chin to pin it against his chest while he carefully folded the sleeves towards the middle. He put it in the pile of clothes to bring back upstairs, and then turned back to receive the McKinley football hoodie that Carole was holding out for him.
She gave him a brief sympathetic smile, touching his fingers as the hoodie exchanged hands. “I know it's tough to watch, but it's part of being a teenager. I'm sure Blaine didn't mean to make Kurt sad.”
“Well, I don't like him one bit,” Burt mumbled. He felt a little like a contrary child and he knew that Carole was smiling at him. He hefted the laundry basket onto his hip and made a quick exit before she tried to convince him to think otherwise – because he knew that she could. His wife was a very smart woman.
Two weeks later, Burt came home from the garage to find Kurt sitting by the kitchen table, staring morosely into a mug of tea. The box of heart shaped chocolates that Burt had brought home for Carole the previous evening - half as a joke and more than half in earnest - had been raided by Finn and now stood empty in the center of the table. Burt walked across the room and flipped the switch on the kettle before turning to lean against the counter.
“So, how was your Valentine's day?”
Kurt shrugged. “Pretty good. I got to hang out with the Warblers and the guys from Glee Club.” He flashed Burt a hint of a smile.
Burt studied him for a second, before letting out a deep breath; the kid was practically radiating misery. He turned back around to grab a mug from the cupboard and busied himself with the jar of instant coffee.
“Now why do I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me?” he asked, pouring the water over the coffee. He checked over his shoulder when he didn't immediately get an answer. Kurt was spinning his cup slowly around on the table. “Does this have something to do with Blaine,” he asked, aiming for casual.
For a long moment, the only sound in the room was Burt's spoon clinking against the sides of his mug as he stirred his coffee. He sighed, resigned to how Kurt had a habit of answering these kinds of questions by not saying anything at all, when Kurt quietly said “I really like Blaine. But he doesn't like me the same way.”
Burt stopped stirring. For a long moment he stared down at the last few granules of coffee dissolving in the water. Then he turned around. “Look Kurt. You're -” he paused, searching for a word that wouldn't get him the Dad! eye-roll, “You're a wonderful person,” he finally said. Kurt stared firmly down at the table, and Burt got the feeling he had only narrowly escaped it. “If Blaine doesn't realize that, then he's not worth having your heart broken for.”
Kurt nodded slowly, giving Burt a wan smile. Burt pushed away, coffee in hand. For a brief moment he felt like he had accomplished something, but when he looked back over his shoulder Kurt was staring down into his tea again, his shoulders slumped, and Burt could tell that his son hadn't believed him for one minute.
When Blaine walked into the garage in his fancy cotton/cashmere blend school scarf (which Burt recognized because Kurt had been begging him for one, just the other day), and encouraged Burt to talk about sex with his son, he came off eloquent, passionate, and utterly obnoxious - and Burt knew with absolute certainty that Kurt would die of shame if he ever knew.
“I'm sorry if I'm overstepping,” Blaine finished, brows furrowed.
In fact, Blaine was wading around several yards out of bounds, and he didn't even seem to realize it. Burt watched him walk out of the auto shop. “Smart-ass,” he murmured to himself, leaning back in to bolt the newly cleaned carburetor into place. He had half a mind to go after Blaine and give him a speech of his own, about how you shouldn't toy with people's feelings, and how he was pretty oblivious for someone who talked so smart.
Cal walked over from the car lift, wiping his hands. “He a customer?” he asked with some interest, which was understandable; the kid looked like money.
“No. A friend of Kurt's.”
“Oh,” Calvin said, and then, “oh...”
“Friend, Cal, not boyfriend,” Burt said, exasperated. The guys at the garage had figured out for themselves that Kurt was gay. Kurt had probably made it pretty easy to guess when he'd come to the auto shop wearing coveralls with a sparkling turquoise butterfly across the shoulders. Burt was long past being embarrassed, though he couldn't honestly say that he hadn't been in the past.
“He a swish too?”
“Jesus, Cal.” Burt had learned by now to tell the ignorant from the bigoted, and so he just rolled his eyes and slapped Cal reproachfully on the shoulder before reaching over for the ratchet.
“Sorry, gay, or whatever's the right word.” Cal scratched the back of his neck. “What did he want?”
“Just wanted to tell me something.” Burt walked around the hood to connect the fuel hose to the accelerator pump.
“Huh. What's so important? Couldn't he just have picked up the phone?” Cal had already lost interest and was walking back to the Mustang he was working on.
“Apparently not.” Burt glanced up from the engine again, but Blaine was long gone.
It was Kurt's cooking night that evening and Burt watched while his son showed Finn how to peel a tiger shrimp with an air of overbearing patience. After dinner he went into his office and sat down by the computer. He just meant to check the store's email, but after he'd closed that down, he opened up Google in a new window.
He took a deep breath before typing in “gay sex”, and then hesitated for a moment with his index finger hovering over the key, before finally hitting enter. He frowned as he scrolled down the first page of hits: Gotgayporn.org, SkeezyXXX, Lovethecock.com. The list went on. On page two there was a link to a gay chat which Burt didn't think sounded too bad, but when he clicked it, a new window popped up. A guy with an unsettling similarity to Chuck Norris – bare-chested, wearing half unbuttoned leather pants - promised him that it would only cost him 20 dollars for a live webcam show, payable by visa, debit or credit card. Burt hastily closed down the window and then sat in front of the computer for a long time, staring at his desktop.
This was what Blaine must have encountered in his first forays, he realized. He couldn't help but wonder if Blaine had realized when he had traveled all the way from Westerville to Lima - to talk to Burt about this - how much he had inadvertently revealed about himself. If he had, then Burt had to hand it to him; at least the guy that Kurt had decided to put on a pedestal had some guts.
And Burt grudgingly had to admit that Blaine probably had a point. Kurt would balk at this. He had always been a timid child; he liked everything neat and orderly; he planned out outfits days in advance, he had a 45 minute nightly skin routine. He didn't like being touched by anyone; he walked out from sex scenes in movies. As far as Burt knew, Kurt had never even kissed a boy.
Burt himself had kissed Anita Collins at fourteen. At seventeen he had made love to Kathy for the first time. But he had been thinking and talking about sex long before that, looking at magazines and laughing with his guy friends in Max Knowles's basement. He vividly remembered all the insecurities he'd been hiding underneath his teenage boy bravado; how crude and obscene those pictures had seemed to him. And long before Max had handed him his first Hustler magazine, Burt had already been exposed to a truckload of stupid teen movies, some rudimentary blackboard drawings by an embarrassed fifth grade biology teacher, and a bunch of older friends who had recounted their own experiences in hushed voices.
Kurt couldn't just turn on the TV any given evening and see guys like him - and the biology lesson about the birds and the bees wasn't going to help him much, either. Burt frowned at the screen. It was not fair that his kid's nearest option should be this kind of commercialized sexuality. He opened up a new window, this time typing “sex education” into the search bar.
Two days later he went to the free health center on Market Street and Third after work. Behind the counter a small thin woman sprang to her feet. Burt cast a glance around. The walls in the clinic's lobby were plastered with posters with catchy slogans about syphilis and birth control. Beneath the posters were shelf after shelf of books, cards and brochures.
“Can I help you?” The woman – Jenny, her name tag said - smiled encouragingly at him.
Burt was momentarily distracted by the I ♥ Sex Education print on her t-shirt. “I don't know. Do you have anything I could give to a gay kid?”
The woman stepped out from behind the counter. “Yes, are you looking for something to use in a school setting?”
Burt pushed his cap back. “No. No, I just need it for my son.”
The woman's smile widened; she looked delighted. “Well, of course, we do, Mr.-” she leaned in to read his name from the label on his coveralls,“Hummel. Right over here.” She led him over to a couple of shelves with a small assortment of brochures which all looked thorough and explanatory and embarrassing as hell. “Here you go.” She looked like she wanted to add “and bravo!” and only barely managed to restrain herself.
Thankfully, a small group of girls entered the lobby at that moment. Jenny excused herself and turned away, leaving Burt to peruse the two shelves of brochures alone. He took a deep breath and reached for one of the pamphlets, going for Growing Up Gay first and bypassing the brightly colored How to have safer sex (with the same sex) for the moment.
He eventually pocketed a few different ones. Next to the shelves stood a candy jar full of free condoms in different colors. Burt glanced back; Jenny was now engaged in a conversation with the girls who had just come in. He stared at the jar and then he took a condom and folded it carefully into one of the pamphlets. If he had anything to say about it, Kurt was not having sex till he'd turned thirty, but... As far as his own parents had known, he and Kathy also hadn't had sex, except of course they'd had sex, on the uncomfortable backseat of Burt's first car. Without protection. On the poster over the jar of condoms there was a pink phallus wearing the Aids ribbon as a scarf, happily proclaiming that “Condoms Save Lives!” and Burt figured, better safe than sorry.
It took him four days after that - twice peeking at random pages of step-by-step illustrations and chickening out - before he manned up and did what Blaine's parents apparently hadn't. Because no matter how pretentious he'd been about it, Blaine was right - no one should get their first introduction to sex from Skeezy.com.
“Um. Dad? You know Blaine?”
Burt looked up from his hot dogs and mashed potatoes - it was Finn's cooking night - to see Kurt blushing and fidgety at the other side of the dinner table.
“He's my boyfriend now.”
For a moment Burt was too caught up in the expression on Kurt's face to really pay attention to what he was saying. There was that smile - that sweet, faunish expression that reminded him so much of Kathy at seventeen. He hadn't seen such a free smile on Kurt's face since Marc Jacobs released his spring collection.
Then his gaze shifted to Finn, who was sitting next to Kurt, looking alternately at Burt and Kurt with wide eyes and his cheeks full of food - and it hit home what Kurt had actually just told him. Burt puts his fork down a little harder than he intended to. “How long?”
Kurt's smile flickered at the tone of his voice. He raised his chin imperceptibly. “Three days.”
Finn swallowed noisily, cheeks still full.
Burt jumped when Carole kicked him lightly in the shins underneath table. He noticed that his left hand was clenched into a fist and deliberately opened it to place his palm flat against the tabletop. “Good. That's good, Kurt.” he said, forcing a smile. He mostly meant it.
“Congratulations, Kurt,” Carole added, with another touch to Burt's ankle beneath the table, “Blaine seems like a really nice guy.”
“Thank you.” Kurt smiled brightly and picked up his fork, spearing a chunk of overcooked hot dog. Next to him, Finn finally started chewing again.
Burt never found out what made Blaine change his mind, or open his eyes and get a freaking clue, or whatever he had needed to do. All he knew was that instead of Kurt being moody and preoccupied, Burt now had a giggling, moony-eyed teenage son who talked for hours in low tones with his cell phone pressed against his ear.
He was not exactly eager to have Blaine back into his house, but Blaine was boarding - since his family was all the way over in New Jersey - and if the alternative was Kurt spending weekends at Dalton to be with Blaine, then Burt guessed that he had no choice. Still, the first Friday afternoon that Blaine showed up at their house with a backpack to spend the night and what Burt felt sure was a self-satisfied smirk on his face, Burt had to take a deep breath and remind himself of the couch in the living room that he had already demonstratively made up.
Blaine wasn't a bad house guest. He was still bland and too polite, and he called Burt “sir” with such sincerity that it actually made him cringe a little. But he scrambled out of his chair to help clear the table after dinner, and played Wii for three hours with Finn, Kurt and Quinn and was a good sport about losing horribly - and when he and Kurt retreated to Kurt's room to watch a movie, he agreed to the open door policy with an almost comical earnestness.
“See, we can do this,” Carole said, joining Burt in the upstairs office after finding an excuse to walk past Finn's open bedroom door, where he and Quinn were laughing over YouTube videos. Burt had a feeling that she was telling herself this just as much as she was talking to him. He hadn't failed to notice the slightly pinched expression she had worn all through dinner as Quinn had talked about the upcoming prom.
Saturday morning, Burt woke up, like he always did, at eight o'clock. Carole disentangled herself and rolled away from him with a small sound. She didn't wake up as Burt moved to sit at the edge of the bed. He couldn't help running a hand over her hair, just once, despite her sleepy protest. He pulled on his jeans and a shirt and headed downstairs.
He was at the bottom of the stairs, scratching his chest through his t-shirt, when across the living room Blaine scrambled to his feet from the couch like a jack in the box. Burt stopped in his tracks.
Blaine wavered on his feet for a moment, looking sleepy and confused. He had bedhead and the dark shadow of morning stubble. He was wearing a t-shirt with the Dalton logo on the breast. His pajama bottoms were rolled up at the ankles. Burt couldn't help but notice the dark hair of his arms and legs; the audible scraping sound when Blaine sleepily rubbed his palm over his cheek. For a second, there was this strange man in Burt's living room. But then Blaine blinked a couple of times, waking up fully - and like someone flicked a switch there was that familiar too-wide smile, and Blaine was just a kid again.
“Good morning, Mr. Hummel,” he beamed.
Burt blinked. This is my son's boyfriend, he thought, and right on the heels of that: this bumbling idiot is holding my kid's heart in his hands.
He mumbled out a reply, and then quickly moved towards the door to the kitchen. Once inside, he spent a moment leaning against the kitchen sink and staring out the window into the driveway. For some reason he found himself thinking about a few years ago when Kurt had developed an intense obsession with the TV show Smallville. Burt had teased him about it, and Kurt had defensively listed all the show's hidden qualities. It wasn't until Kurt started branching out into a seemingly unconnected string of crappy teen movies that Burt had realized that maybe Kurt's obsession wasn't so much about superheroes as it was about the bald guy who played Lex Luthor.
Burt pushed away from the sink. Being gay was more than musicals and fancy clothes. Of course he knew that. And some day the reality of it wouldn't be able to catch him off guard anymore. He decided that just for that, he had earned himself pancakes for breakfast.
Sunday afternoon he and Kurt drove Blaine back to Dalton in time for curfew. There were a couple of other people in the parking lot; parents with their children. Burt stayed in the car and watched Blaine and Kurt's goodbyes. Kurt clasped Blaine's hand for a moment before letting go. They were standing a few yards from the open passenger door, and Burt very carefully didn't listen in on their conversation, Kurt speaking softly, Blaine's voice deep and even.
Finally Kurt got into the passenger seat and slammed the door shut. Blaine smiled and waved, and Burt raised two fingers from the wheel before putting the car in reverse and pulling away from the impressive main building.
They drove a couple of miles in silence. Then Kurt cleared his throat. “I really liked having Blaine over,” he stated. “It's going to be okay, right? Him coming over?” His voice was carefully neutral. He was looking straight ahead at the road, and Burt knew his kid well enough that he could see the gears of Kurt's brain working, already preparing a list of arguments, just in case. Most of his life, Kurt had been used to having to fight tooth and claw for what he wanted.
Burt bought himself a little time by checking the mirrors and pulling into the other lane. “Kurt, of course you can have your boyfriend over,” he finally said, sounding a little less convincing than he had aimed for. In the periphery of his vision he saw Kurt whip his head around. Burt shifted in his seat, rolling his shoulders. “Look, all this might be a little awkward for me sometimes,” he relented, “but I'm going to deal with it, because I love you.”
He took his eyes of the road for a second to glance over at his son. Kurt opened his mouth, and then closed it, looking mollified. Burt was focusing on the road again when he felt Kurt touch his arm lightly. Kurt was smiling. “Thanks, Dad.”
The next two weekends turned out to be reserved for Warbler practice. Kurt stumbled home at ten pm, grumpy and hoarse, saying “If any of you guys put on empowered girl pop this evening, I will kill you in your sleep,” without a trace of humor.
But the weekend after that, Blaine came over again. Finn had gone with Puck and Sam to an off-season football team get-together. Burt and Carole were trying to watch Casino Royale, but half an hour into the film they were distracted by music drifting down from upstairs and someone singing along. They tried to ignore it for a while, but then the music was followed by a series of loud thumps, as if someone was jumping or moving furniture.
“Okay, that's it.” Burt got up from the sofa; Carole stopped the movie.
He paused halfway up the stairs, and cocked his head. Blaine was singing, and it sounded like the guy was really giving it his all. Above his vocal runs, Burt could hear peels of delighted laughter. It took him a moment to realize that it had to be Kurt laughing. He moved closer to the door, intrigued; he hadn't heard Kurt laughing like that very often, and never with anyone but Mercedes.
Burt knocked briefly before pushing the door fully open. “Hey, guys.”
As the door swung inwards he caught a glimpse of Blaine scrambling down from the back of the sofa. He had apparently been serenading Kurt, who was reclining casually on the cushions at the other end of the couch. It took Kurt another split second to react, and then he sprang to his feet next to Blaine. The radio was blasting something that sounded like Michael Jackson, and behind them, Kurt's massive closet was open and several garments were hanging from the doors.
Blaine had twisted off the knitted cap that had been perched crookedly on his head, and was now struggling to untangle what looked like a cream colored satin cape. “Sorry, sir. We were just, uh, practicing.” He was working furiously on the knotted strings beneath the cape's fluffy fur trimming.
Next to him, Kurt rolled his eyes. He was feigning exasperation for all it was worth, but the blush creeping up his throat betrayed him.
Burt glanced from one to the other. “Just keep it down, willya,” he said brusquely and then pulled the door almost closed to hide his smile. As he started to descend the staircase, he could hear the boys whispering furiously behind him. He shook his head to himself, still smiling a little.
Carole resumed the movie as Burt returned to the living room. He sat down heavily and slung an arm over the back of the couch. Carole scooted a little closer, curling herself into the crook of his arm. On the screen, Vesper Lynd found her seat across from Bond in the train wagon, and Burt smiled in anticipation. He loved this scene.
“What were they doing up there?” Carole asked.
“I think they were playing dress-up,” Burt huffed, and then added, “It would seem the Ken-doll does come with outfits other than the uniform.”
“Oh hush,” Carole replied, fond and exasperated, eyes still on the screen.
She gave a delighted laugh when Vesper Lynd and Bond delivered the final lines of their snappy back-and-forth exchange, and Burt smiled into her hair. He'd known she would love that. Vesper Lynd left the screen. The movie continued. After a little while, Carole took a deep breath and released it slowly. “You know, Blaine is still just a kid, no matter how hard he tries to fool everyone, including himself.”
“Hush, I'm watching the movie,” Burt grumbled, trying to hide the smile in his voice. He flinched and let out a laugh when Carole groaned and slapped him lightly on the thigh.
Burt stood unmoving by the workbench for a moment, taking in the tools lying in front of him. He finally chose the wrench. The Buick they'd gotten in earlier in the day needed new brake pads, and he needed something he could use a little force on.
As he walked over to the Buick he glanced darkly at Kurt's Lincoln Navigator, parked with the hood popped, three cars down. Yesterday afternoon, Blaine and Kurt had been leaning towards each other on either side of the engine, illuminated by the lantern hung from the hood while Kurt showed Blaine how to change the oil.
Burt knelt down by the Buick and gave the rusty wheel hub a couple of knocks. He reckoned that he should have seen it coming; he hadn't missed the hot look that Blaine had given Kurt when he came to pick him up for prom a couple of weeks back, or the way they seemed to always be inching closer and closer to each other.
He had managed to wrench loose the first couple of lug nuts when he heard the rattle of the garage door sliding open and Kurt entered, approaching him warily. His hair was combed neatly to the side again, and he was wearing a different shirt than the one he'd hastily pulled on when Burt had made the mistake of coming into his room without knocking. Burt hammered the wrench against the rotor screws a couple of times, trying to make them come loose. “Don't try to tell me nothing was going on this time,” he said accusingly, not looking up from the hub.
“You didn't knock,” Kurt replied haughtily. Burt wouldn't have guessed how nervous he was if it hadn't been for the way he was tensely pulling the sleeves of his sweater down over his hands.
“I told you: no inappropriate behavior in my house.” Burt gave the rotor screw one last knock and then got up to get his impact driver.
“We've been perfect gentlemen around the house.” Kurt looked close to asphyxiation, but he bravely trucked on. “We didn't think anyone was home, and we weren't, you know, we weren't doing anything.” Kurt threw up his hands. “We're only, like, on page two of that pamphlet you gave me.”
“Well, that's two pages too far as long as you're under my roof.” Burt didn't want to think about those pamphlet illustrations at all. He scanned his workbench, searching for his impact driver. He couldn't see it anywhere.
“We still had our pants on!” Kurt blurted out, voice raised, and then immediately looked shocked at himself for doing so.
“Whoa!” Burt held up his hands. Gay or straight, there was only so much a parent needed to know about their children's sex life, and seeing Blaine's tousled head and bare shoulders duck down to hide beneath the blankets of Kurt's bed when Burt had entered the room already qualified as way, way, way more than enough.
Kurt walked over next to Burt and opened the first drawer in the workbench. He rummaged around for a moment, head bent. “Sorry, Dad. It's just, Blaine has two roommates at Dalton, so we don't get a lot of chances to be alone together.” Kurt stepped under the light to hand him the missing impact driver, and Burt noticed the pink blush across his cheekbones. “We won't do it again. We're just gonna... not do it,” he trailed off, looking just about as convinced as Burt felt.
Burt looked down at the impact driver resting in his open palm with a sense of resignation. “Okay, stop right there.”
Kurt eyed him cautiously.
“Look, you guys are teenagers, so I know you're not just gonna stop fooling around. And I don't want the two of you to be doing this in cars, or cinemas, or any other unsafe places where people might see you and give you flack for it.” He wiped his forehead. “So if you're doing this, you're going to do it -” He kind of deflated when he realized what he was about to say. “I guess you are doing it under my roof... But you stick to page two, you hear me,” he added, trying to regain a little authority.
Kurt nodded, lips tight.
“And Kurt, don't do anything you don't want to, okay?” Burt said, a little more softly.
“I don't,” Kurt replied quickly, and then immediately went bright red.
Burt shook his head. Carole would kill him if she knew; Finn would never let them live it down if he caught word of this. “And no one hears about this, okay?”
“God, no!” Kurt looked horrified.
“Good. Now, are you gonna help me with these brake pads?”
Kurt bit his lip. “I think I might have to do some damage control, Blaine's pretty traumatized.”
“Yeah well, he's not the only one,” Burt grumbled, kneeling back down next to the Buick.
But after a while he found himself smiling, despite it all. Kurt had been nervous about breaking the rules, not about his dad freaking out over catching him making out with a boy. It made Burt feel like he'd at least done something right.
It was early summer, and Burt was in the backyard trimming down the Camellia bushes for Carole when Blaine approached him with Kurt trailing close behind.
He somehow managed to look even more prim and proper than usual; his hair shiny and unmoving in the mild summer breeze.
“I turn seventeen at the end of this month,” he started, squinting a little in the sun, “and Kurt and I have been talking, and... I wanted to ask you and Carole - since plane tickets are really expensive this time of year, and I can only go home for the weekend, anyway, and summer break's coming up, and it would be silly to go twice in such a short time...” Blaine cut himself off and took a deep breath. “I wanted to ask if it would be okay if I had my birthday party here, at your house?” There was something brittle around the edges of the smooth and pleasant expression on his face. Burt still couldn't figure out what Blaine's smile meant most of the time, but obviously Kurt could, because he was hanging back, staring Burt down with pleading eyes and looking a little anxious.
“It would only be a few friends, and I'll pay for everything myself. I was thinking maybe we could use the garden if the weather's nice -”
Burt wiped his hands against his jeans. “Are your parents okay with this?”
Something passed over Blaine's face, but it was gone in an instant. “Yes, sir.”
“Okay. If Carole's okay with it, then it's fine by me.”
Blaine and Kurt decided to invite the Warblers and a handful of the kids from McKinley. For two weeks, Kurt was in full party planner mode. Blaine put forth a couple of suggestions, but smiled and shrugged at most of Kurt's inquiries for color themes and table ornaments. Burt couldn't help but notice that he didn't seem quite as invested in his own birthday as Kurt did. It didn't sit quite right with him.
On the morning of Blaine's birthday party, Burt looked intently at himself in the mirror while he brushed his teeth. He could hear Carole moving in the bedroom, the swish of linen as she made their bed. He spat out the toothpaste and ran the tap. “So, I was thinking, we could go to the mall today,” he said, raising his voice to make himself heard in the other room. “Take the kids out for lunch, maybe. Buy some snacks for that party they're having.”
There was a moment of quiet, and then Carole appeared in the doorway. “You mean, you want to help out with Blaine's party?” she teased.
Burt shrugged defensively. “Well, it is his birthday.”
Carole smiled, her eyes crinkling a little at the corners. “I think it's a great idea. I'll ask Finn if he and Rachel want to come.”
Finn was back to dating Rachel Berry. Burt had to admit that Carole was marginally better at dealing with her offspring's dating life than he was (although he had heard her mutter something about her son dating a Kewpie doll, in her darkest hour), even though Rachel seemed to spend every waking hour glued to Finn's side. Burt privately found it kind of sweet to see; Finn, big and dumb and happy, with this tiny, clever little thing at his side. It reminded him of Kathy and himself, back in the day.
They drove out to the Northland Plaza and gave each of the kids fifty dollars to spend. Kurt had already bought most of the stuff for the party, but Burt and Carole ended up going to the supermarket to buy some extra snacks and soda, anyway. They met up with the kids at the food court for an Italian all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, and Kurt fearlessly forced his dad away from the lasagna and cannelloni, and over to the salad bar.
The kids spread out while Burt and Carole had their coffee. Carole told him the story about how Christopher had won every single teddy from a shooting stall for her, for her eighteenth birthday. “The owner was so angry,” Carole laughed, “and I was saddled with like, 20 life-sized teddy bears. But boy, was Chris proud of himself.”
“He must have been one hell of a shot,” Burt chuckled. He emptied his cup and then looked at his watch. “Alright, let me just get a coffee to go, and then we can head back.” He got up to join the queue for the cash register. Grabbing his wallet from his back pocket, he idly scanned the court for the kids.
Finn and Rachel were over by the soda fountain. It took him another moment to spot Blaine and Kurt, who were perched on the ledge of the raised palm tree garden at the center of the court. They were sitting close together, inspecting some gadget that one of them had bought, and they could have just been friends, except for how Blaine's right foot was gently hooked around Kurt's left, rocking their legs slowly back and forth.
By reflex, Burt scanned the court to see if anyone had noticed.
Blaine had slowly turned out to be what Burt had first named handsy and later grudgingly reinterpreted as affectionate. He would grab Kurt's hand to get his attention, lean in for half hugs, squirm to sit with Kurt's feet in his lap on the sofa. Burt looked over at them again, and this time he saw Kurt's easy smile, the way he turned his head to say something to Blaine, bringing their faces even closer together. He was allowing someone into his personal space with no reservations for the first time in his life. Burt looked away, feeling suddenly intrusive. He realized that no matter how those damn pamphlets defined it, Kurt and Blaine were intimate, and quite possibly - almost certainly – very much in love.
Just the same as he and Kathy, or Carole and Christopher.
From somewhere above, a tinny voice called for Mr. George Smith to please come to information. Somewhere else a woman laughed, cutting though the general murmur of voices in the food court. The queue moved forward and Burt shuffled to follow.
Finn and Rachel were walking back from the soda fountain, hand in hand. Burt let his gaze follow them as they walked over to Carole by the table. He'd seen it a hundred times before; Finn reaching out for Rachel's hands, Rachel leaning in and Finn slinging an arm around her shoulder. It had never made him feel uneasy, unsafe. He realized that despite all the hard work he'd done, there had still been a tiny part of his brain that hadn't recognized that Kurt and Blaine were exactly the same. That if you could just peel away all the norms and narrow-mindedness of society, there was really nothing controversial about Kurt and Blaine being affectionate in the food court of the Northland Plaza.
It made him feel a flash of shame for the times he had told them to keep it down, out of fear. All the times in the past when he had wished that his five-year-old, ten-year-old, thirteen-year-old just knew how to hide it.
It wasn't fair. They shouldn't need to hide.
“How can I help you?” The guy behind the cash register, a skinny pimpled guy, took his order and then rang up the check. Burt pushed a wad of one dollar bills across the counter and numbly received his change and the Styrofoam cup of coffee. As he stepped away from the counter, he glanced toward the bench where Kurt and Blaine had been sitting, but a group of teens were walking past outside the restaurant partition, blocking his view.
“Are we leaving?”
He was torn out of his reverie to see Finn standing in front of him, with Rachel by his side. Behind them, Kurt and Blaine were returning to their table. They were walking shoulder to shoulder, still talking, and their hands were brushing up against each other in the narrow space between their bodies.
Burt nodded. “Yup. We're leaving.”
Burt walked out into the back yard with a bowl of potato chips in one hand and a tray of vegetable slices in the other. The evening was still quite warm. They'd set up a table in the middle of the garden, and Kurt had done what he could to hide the faded plastic furniture beneath blankets and pillows. A bunch of Glee kids and Dalton Warblers were sipping soda from Carole's high stemmed glasses and chatting happily amongst themselves. Kurt had hung the trees and bushes with tiny Chinese lanterns. In the corner of the garden a couple of girls were dancing to music playing from speakers that had been moved to the open living room window.
Burt spotted Kurt sitting alone at the end of the table, one elbow propped up, biting the nail of his thumb. Frowning, he walked over next to him to place the snacks on the table.
“Hey, where's Blaine?” he asked, voice low.
Blaine had been bouncing from person to person when Burt had come out to retrieve the empty trays and bowls, and Kurt had been trying to keep up with him, smilingly tugging at the back of his jacket.
“His parents called,” Kurt said, turning to face him. “I think he's on the other side of the house.”
Kurt looked worried and tense, and Burt could hear the silent plea in his voice. He didn't know what he had done to deserve the amount of trust that his son placed in him, and had been placing in him ever since the day he reached for Burt's hand at Kathy's funeral, trusting him to make everything better. But he wanted to live up to it. “I'll go check on him.” He grabbed a couple of empty soda bottles and headed back inside.
In the kitchen, Carole was standing a little away from the window with her arms wrapped around herself. Burt placed the empty soda bottles on the table and walked up behind her to follow her gaze. Outside, Blaine stood in the driveway with his shoulders hunched, holding his cell phone tightly to his ear while one foot was kicking aimlessly at the ground.
Burt reached out to touch her elbow. “I'll go talk to him”
Without turning her head, Carole leaned back, resting a little of her weight against his body. “You're a good man, Burt Hummel. That's why I married you.”
Blaine was saying his goodbyes when Burt stepped outside. He turned around at the sound of the front door opening, pocketing his phone. “My family,” he said lightly, by way of explaining. His eyes looked awfully bright.
Burt nodded. He closed the door behind him and walked down the front stairs. “So. You wanna tell me why you're here?” he asked, offering one of the two Pepsi bottles that he'd brought out.
Blaine accepted it with a twist at the corner of his mouth “Well, sir, your son Kurt and me -” he attempted, with a spark of humor.
Burt cut him off. ”Why you're here, today,” he pressed, not unkindly.
The change in Blaine was remarkable; his whole face seemed to dim. “Mom and Dad were a little disappointed that I didn't fly home today,” he admitted.
Burt frowned. “Why didn't you?”
Blaine bit his lip, visibly nervous. He moved to sit down on the stairs to the door. “The last time I went home, my dad took me camping by Echo Lake. Fishing and everything. The time before that we rebuilt the car. And the time before that we went to a Giants game, and he bought me corn dogs and a beer on the sly.”
Burt deflated a little. He didn't know exactly what he had been preparing for, but this wasn't it. “Well, that doesn't sound so bad.” He sat down next to Blaine with a soft grunt.
”It isn't. It's just.” Blaine started fidgeting with the label on his soda bottle, “I like camping, and I like tinkering with cars, but ever since I came out, my parents interpret everything as signs.” He shrugged unhappily. “I feel like I have to weigh my every single action when I'm at home; if I want to watch Moulin Rouge with my sisters they disapprove, but if I want to watch a game with Dad they're happy. It's kind of exhausting. I mean, I've always liked football, but I've always liked musicals, too.”
Burt watched quietly while Blaine took a sip of his drink and then went back to peeling off the label.
“But they can't... we come from a Catholic community, and...” Blaine hesitated for a moment. “I know my parents love me,” he finally said. His voice was even, but Burt didn't miss the way his glance flickered for a second. The corners of Blaine's mouth were still twisted upwards, although it no longer resembled a smile.“But they're still praying that I'll change back to the boy I used to be.”
Burt found himself thinking back to a year ago, to Kurt looking hurt and betrayed, standing with tears in his eyes in the McKinley High auditorium. He had a visceral memory of hugging his son, willing him to understand that he was accepted and loved.
Blaine swallowed convulsively a couple of times, completely focused on peeling off the last remains of glue and paper from the curved plastic surface. “The thing is, though, I never changed.” He reached down to place the naked bottle gently on the ground; his fingers were shaking.
Burt mentally chastised himself for his initial, unkind thoughts about Blaine on his high horse with his rich boy privileges. He had forgotten about the Pepsi in his own hand, until it almost slipped from his grasp. He set it to the side and put his hands down on the cold concrete, pushing himself back on the step. “Blaine...”
“You know, out of five siblings, I'm the only one who's boarding?” Blaine glanced up quickly before rushing on, “I mean, I wanted to go - these bullies beat me up pretty badly, and Mom and Dad did it to protect me... Just, sometimes... Sometimes it hurts.” He blinked rapidly a couple of times.
Burt was at a loss for words. He wanted to be able to say that one day it was going to be alright. But he couldn't promise that, no matter how much he wanted to. He had practically known that his son was gay from the day he and Kathy had brought home a pair of size 9 princess slippers, wrapped in flowery paper and a big purple ribbon. He had had years and years to get used to it, and if he was honest with himself, he had probably needed it, to get to where he was now. He couldn't make any promises for Blaine's parents.
Blaine ran the back of his hand across his eyes, looking embarrassed and surprised. “Sorry,” he said with a shaky laugh, “I don't tell this to a lot of people.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Burt said gruffly. He wasn't going to hug Blaine - he didn't want to embarrass the kid on his birthday - but he put his hand on his shoulder, grabbing hold and shaking him a little. “You're a good kid, Blaine. No one should try to change you.”
Blaine smiled weakly.
They both jumped a little at Mercedes' voice coming from behind them. She was standing in the doorway, looking a little uncertain. Kurt came into view behind her, in the shadowed light of the hallway. “Blaine, the Warblers want to sing you Happy Birthday,” he said, “if you want to.”
Blaine turned his body to face them, and just like that, his whole demeanor changed, and there was that smile again, that wide smile that apparently covered up a long range of emotions.
“Yep. I'm coming.” He shot Burt a quick glance, then got up to go inside.
Burt got up, too, to follow them in.
As they moved inside the hallway, Burt saw Kurt touch Blaine briefly on the arm, like a question. Blaine nodded quietly; his profile was a silhouette in the low light. It was obvious that Kurt was one of those few people that Blaine had already talked to, and when he tentatively put his arm around Blaine's shoulder as Mercedes walked on ahead, Burt felt a rush of affection towards his son, towards both of them.
Burt heard the creak of someone coming down the stairs before Kurt mumbled out “Hey, Dad,” from somewhere behind him. He sounded a little croaky from having just woken up.
“Hey.” Burt kept looking out the living room window while Kurt padded up to stand beside him. He took a sip of his morning coffee. Kurt groaned softly as he looked out the window and saw what had caught Burt's attention.
Down in the garden, Blaine – wearing pajama bottoms and a striped sweater - was dancing around with a black plastic bag in his hand, picking up used paper plates and crumbled napkins from the party. He had his headphones on and was mouthing the words to the song he was hearing. While they watched from inside, he twirled on the wet grass, nearly tripping himself up in the plastic bag.
Burt snorted. “He's really kind of goofy, isn't he?”
Kurt inclined his head, and their eyes met briefly before both of them looked back down into the garden where Blaine was now doing a series of dance moves that Burt vaguely recognized as something from Footloose.
“He is,” Kurt sighed. “If I had known that from the beginning, I probably wouldn't have started dating him.”
Burt turned his head. Kurt was looking straight ahead. He was resting his chin on his hand, hiding his mouth, but his eyes were crinkling at the corners. He turned his head towards Burt and they shared a smile.
“I'd better go help him,” Kurt said. He started walking towards the door, but then he turned around. “Don't let him see you. He'd die of shame,” he smirked. “He pretty much thinks you're the coolest person ever.”
Burt raised his brows.“Really?”
“Yes. Imagine my embarrassment.” Kurt pursed his lips, then smiled warmly and walked away.
It was early enough in the day that the light was still pale and misty outside. The long-extinguished Chinese lanterns were spotted dark with dew. Burt heard the garden door slide open and closed, and saw Blaine come back from a spinning air guitar move and light up at the sight of Kurt approaching. He watched for a little while Blaine enthusiastically tried to enroll a very reluctant Kurt in the dance. He moved away when Blaine pulled Kurt into a tight embrace, to give the boys their privacy.
One day, hopefully soon, Blaine would trust that in this house, everyone worked hard to accept each other for exactly who they were. That here, at least, he didn't need to hide. For now, Burt placed his empty coffee cup on the sofa table, deciding to go back upstairs and cuddle with his wife; let the boys have the first floor for a while.
Carole didn't open her eyes as he slid back under the covers. “I'm not awake,” she murmured, but she still scooted closer, wrapping her arm around his waist. Burt pushed his palm up the sleeve of her t-shirt to stroke the soft skin of her shoulder. He thought about Kurt and Blaine dancing in the garden.
“You know what,” he said, “I get this feeling that Blaine's going to be around for a long time.” Carole twisted her head and cracked one eye open to check his reaction. He just gave her a crooked smile, and then he slid further down the bed and into her arms.
New York City was a ten hour drive from Lima and Burt would have driven it if Carole hadn't put her foot down. They let Finn book the plane tickets; he had traveled from Columbus to New York City a couple of times already, since – surprising to all - he and Rachel seemed to be maintaining a happy, long distance relationship.
Rachel greeted them at baggage claim with big hugs and a stream of excited chatter. Burt looked on as Carole smilingly grabbed her arms, as if trying to contain all that energy and motion. He knew that Carole had had her ins and outs with Rachel over the last years; she and Finn were on their fourth break-up and make-up cycle, but at least the break-ups seemed to be getting less frequent, and their time apart much shorter. And Rachel was a sweet girl, really.
Burt let himself be ushered through airport buses and subway trains to their hotel where they dropped off their luggage and then went back out on the street, following Rachel like small, colorful beacon through the press of people moving in every direction.
Rachel herded all of them through the subway ticket barriers and down the steep and endless escalators to catch the E train to Greenwich Village. Once they were on the train, she spent the ride alternately chatting and texting furiously, while Burt, Finn and Carole nodded and otherwise kept their hands firmly on the metal pole at the center of their little group, trying not to knock anyone over every time the train jostled to a halt.
Blaine was waiting for them outside the campus auditorium with his cell phone in his hand. “Hi!” He kissed Rachel and then gave each of them a quick hug. “He should be going on in about twenty minutes. This way.”
Blaine had never hit a second growth spurt the way Kurt had. He'd been letting his hair grow a little since he left Dalton, and he was wearing glasses. He'd left the school uniform behind four years ago and he was slowly beginning to dress down a little; today he was wearing slacks without a belt, and a white shirt that was rolled up at the sleeves. His striped tie, however, told Burt that he still hadn't given in to letting Kurt dress him.
The music exams had already started, so once they got into the concert hall, they found their seats in silence. On stage, a guy was sitting on a chair with some kind of stringed instrument between his knees. Next to him, a girl with a big head of hair and a soft, breathy voice was singing something that Burt recognized from one of the many musicals that Kurt had made him watch, back in Lima.
Blaine handed a stack of programs down the line. Burt found Kurt's name halfway on the list of BA graduates. The program said that he was going to sing Piaf's “L'accordéoniste”. Burt had no idea what that meant. He was just about to ask Carole beside him, when the lights went out briefly, and around them the crowd started clapping. The lights came back on and the two people on the stage bowed deeply several times before walking off stage.
There was a short break, while a couple of people quickly moved instruments and microphone stands. “That was Martha and Angelo,” Blaine whispered, “They're both from Kurt's class.”
The lights in the hall dimmed again. The stage was empty. A spotlight came on, flickering briefly before growing in strength, and then Kurt walked on to the stage. Tall and slim, dressed immaculately; he waved briefly to the crowd as he walked over to stand by the microphone at the front of the stage There was a beat of silence. Somewhere in the dark a girl whooped loudly, making Kurt lose his posture for a second, laughing.
Burt was so focused on Kurt that he didn't even see the guy who had walked in to sit by the piano until he started playing. Kurt visibly drew into himself at the first notes; his eyes became fixed on something in the darkness above the crowd; his posture and breathing changed. The music swelled, then stopped, and then picked back up when Kurt started singing in a clear, strong voice. Burt had never heard the music before and he didn't speak a word of French, but it was obviously something with a lot of passion - and Kurt was pulling it off, pronouncing every word with anger and sorrow and regret as the piano led the song up and down in intensity.
Burt watched avidly. Sometime into the third verse, he cast a quick glance around at the people in the crowd, trying to gage their reaction. At the back of the hall, he saw two girls standing leaned against each other, watching with their hands intertwined. Looking closer, he realized that one of them was the scary cheerleader that used to come over once in a while when Kurt invited the Glee club over. She caught him watching, and waved with a soft smile before she directed her attention back to Kurt's performance.
Burt waved hesitantly before shifting back in his seat. As he turned back around, his gaze was caught by Blaine sitting three seats down. Blaine was leaning forward in his seat. The stage lights reflected dimly on the black wire of his glasses. Burt saw his lips moving and realized that he was mouthing the words along with Kurt on the stage, like he knew the song by heart. Unaware of being watched, Blaine looked completely unguarded for once, and his expression was one of awe and adoration.
Burt blinked once and then turned away.
On the stage, Kurt finished the song on a long, mournful note. His hands were clenched into fists by his sides and his upturned face looked like a white, grieving mask in the stark spotlight. The room went dark for a second, and then the crowd erupted into applause. When the stage lights came back on a split second later, Kurt was already shaking it off, shedding all of that emotion and replacing it with an easy smile as he playfully bowed and curtsied to the hooting and whistling from fellow students. Beside Carole, Rachel was clapping furiously and crying. Burt looked down at his own hands, lying palms open in his lap, before he joined in, scrambling to his feet when the crowd got up.
Kurt came down while the guys on stage were still setting up instruments and microphones for the next students. Blaine stood up to greet him with a kiss. A couple of people came over to congratulate him, hugging him and slapping his shoulders. The scary cheerleader pushed her way through the small crowd to envelop both Blaine and Kurt in a hug while her girlfriend looked on, smiling.
Burt and Carole, Finn and Rachel stood by their seats, waiting for a chance to move out into the aisle, while all these young, well dressed people crowded around Kurt with their bright smiles and easy shows of affection. Burt felt like he was getting a glimpse into a strange new world. This was Kurt's place. This was where his son has been headed all his life; the kind of place he must have been longing for when he was thirteen and watched The Sound of Music for the fiftieth time, alone in his room on the weekend.
“Hey!” Kurt spotted them and started pushing forward to reach them. He squeezed past the first seat, standing on his toes to hug Finn, and smiling fondly at Rachel who was still wiping her eyes.
It had happened so gradually that sometimes Burt failed to notice all the little ways that Kurt had changed, but right here, it was obvious how many of his rough edges had been filed away; how much of that bitter resignation - that had been so unbefitting on a fifteen-year-old - had disappeared ever since he had joined Glee Club and started having friends.
Kurt had finally made his way to him. Burt hugged his son tightly for a long moment, and then followed him and the others as they pushed out into the aisle. He looked on as Rachel and Finn joined Blaine and the cheerleader, while Kurt stepped to the side to say something to Carole.
Here they were: Burt, Carole, and their sons with their girlfriend and boyfriend. It was easy, now, to push to the back the many lonely years that he and Kurt had had after Kathy died.
Burt stepped away. He gave up smoking a long time ago. Kathy had always wanted him to stop and shortly before she died, he finally managed to do so. He hadn't had a single cigarette since, but sometimes he missed the excuse to step outside for a moment. He moved quietly towards the exit.
Carole found him after a little while. “Are you okay?”
Burt nodded. “He was good,” he said quietly, looking out across the dark parking lot.
“He was,” she agreed, coming up to stand beside him.
Burt cleared his throat. “They look happy.”
“They do,” Carole said, and then moved closer to look at him searchingly. “Burt Hummel, are you crying?”
“No.” He took a deep breath.
Smiling affectionately, Carole leaned up to kiss him.
Behind them the door creaked as it was pushed open. ”Carole? Burt? We're ready to leave if you are.” Blaine's voice sounded a little uncertain.
"Sure thing, Blaine, be right with you,” Burt replied. Between the buildings and naked branches of trees, the lights of New York City were flickering around him. He turned towards Carole. “Well,” he said, reaching out to clasp her hand, “you wanna take the kids out for Friday dinner?”