Kurt doesn't think of her as often now as he had right after she had died. It's been half his life that she's been gone, after all. Certain smells bring her back, sometimes with a heart-expanding rush of joy, but there are other times it just hits him from out of nowhere: his mother is gone. It seems like such a common thing, having a mother, but he doesn't. Kurt Hummel has never been like anyone else; this is just another way that he is different from his friends.
The odor of exotic spice and ginger has all but faded from the empty glass bottle of perfume he still keeps on his vanity, but if he closes his eyes and remembers a night shortly before she died when she let him help her with her hair, everything she had been to him comes rushing back.
It was a night when she and his father were going out with some new friends who they wanted to impress. She pulled out her tortoiseshell combs and tried a few ways to style her hair with them. Kurt had leaned on the edge of the vanity, barely tall enough to reach the top, and stood perfectly still, fascinated by his mother's hair.
Elizabeth caught him staring and smiled. She took one of the combs and pulled him towards her lap, turning him so he could look into the mirror.
“See? You comb it through like this, then push it in.” She worked it through his baby fine hair and laughed when he went stock still, staring at the comb in the mirror. When it started slipping out (he just didn't have enough hair to hold it in; they were heavy) he quickly caught it, remembering how she had instructed him to be very extra careful with her special things.
He held it up to her hair and pushed it in, catching her side part behind her ear. She looked at herself in the mirror and smiled. “Kurt, that looks beautiful! Thank you, my love!”
She kissed him and rubbed his nose with hers. He beamed at his mother and took a step back as she sprayed her hair in place. “How do I look?” she asked.
Kurt pulls open the drawer to grab his horsehair brush for his nightly regime and sees the comb, the tissue paper covering it having been caught on the underside of the vanity and pulled back. He lays a finger on the corner of the thick shell, tracing the scalloped edge, smiling to himself.
He tucks the paper back over it and closes the drawer.
Kurt has dedicated an entire drawer in his vanity for storing every tortoiseshell hair comb, every brooch and necklace that his mother had treasured. He even has the old toothbrush she kept to clean them after wearing them. They're not all fabulous. They're not all real. But they're all her.
After her funeral he had gone to her bathroom and had taken the big makeup brush she would tease him with and kept it in his room. Some nights when he felt that his sadness would swallow him whole, he would take it, close his eyes, and lightly brush his cheeks with it, like his mother would have done as she put on her makeup. She always hummed softly as she danced her big powder brush over his cheeks and nose. He tries to not brush into the tears, knowing it will ruin the softness of the bristles.
One night when getting ready for Friday Date Night, she told Kurt that she always wanted to look her best for Daddy. She never had a hair out of place typically, but she enjoyed going to extra lengths to be especially pretty for his father. Kurt understood, as he always wanted to look his best, and he knew that Dates were Important. That was when you could wear your nicest things.
As she got herself ready, Kurt played with her scarves and put various do-dads in his hair as she sat at the simple, white vanity with her hair in curlers. He was fascinated with the process of putting on her “date face,” which he thought made her look very glamorous.
“I'm going out with Daddy, too,” he told her, using her eyebrow liner on his lips.
Elizabeth laughed and handed him a cotton swab. “Oh, you are, are you? And what about me, then? Shall I just stay home while you boys have the fun?”
“You can come too, but then I get to go with Daddy on a date all by myself and be pretty just like you.”
She pulled him close and laid her cheek on his hair, smiling into the mirror at him. “One day you'll go on your own dates with your very special love, and I bet you'll be even prettier.”
Burt poked his head in her room. “Hey, get a move on, good looking! Dinner is at eight, and you promised I could get the biggest steak they had.”
Elizabeth's hand flutters to her hair as she smiles at him. “I'll be just a second longer, Kurt's helping me with my finishing touches.”
Kurt smiled and looked down at the array of eye shadows, blushes, and hair bobs, making sure she had everything she needed. He didn't think there was any boy that could be better than his dad, but mostly he just got excited at the thought of getting dressed up and fancy like his mother.
He knew that other boys didn't play with their mother's things, even at such a young age he knew that was...unusual. But his mother never made him feel strange for enjoying these moments together. On the contrary, she loved his company, loved plopping him in her lap and putting mousse in his hair and making fun designs with it, her long fingers twirling loops or pulling his hair up into a pompadour.
Sometimes he just leaned against her, smelling the sweetness that was his mother, and smile at her as she followed her strict moisturizing regimen. She never raised her voice, she was only softness and hugs and smiles and she was all his.
Burt pokes his head in the room. “Hey, kiddo, shake a leg! Carole made reservations for us all at eight, and I've been good all week. I'm getting the biggest steak they have.”
“Dad,” Kurt warns, “I said a steak, not an entire side of cow. I haven't approved anything larger than a rib eye!”
“Yeah, yeah, then I get a loaded baked potato.”
Kurt narrows his eyes at his dad. “No cheese. Or bacon.”
“Deal,” Burt grins, clearly believing he's won some type of victory. “Anyway, time's a wasting, chop chop.”
Kurt flutters his hand by his ear, making sure his hair is smooth. “Okay, just give me a second longer; I have a few finishing touches left.”
Burt blinks a few times, then smiles at him, muttering something about maybe skipping the potato after all.
Kurt checks his nose for any shine and glances at the clock. Blaine should be there in a few minutes, and he wants to make sure he's ready on time. He pulls open the left hand drawer at his table, wondering if community theater merits something special.
He laughs to himself, because his mother would say that going on a date with the man you loved was something special. He pulls out a small brooch shaped like a beetle, glittering with vivid blues and greens. Kurt had the setting altered last year to include a small pearl for the eye. His emerald green shirt and charcoal jacket will set it off nicely, and he would put money on Blaine wearing his French blue oxford shirt tonight.
He pins the brooch to his lapel and smiles softly at it glittering on the dark grey wool of his jacket. He checks his hair one last time, smoothing back any strays over his ears and giving it a light spritz of hair spray to make sure it stays in place.
As he stands, he touches a small glass bottle on the edge of the vanity. His smile almost falters for a moment, remembering where the pearl came from and thinking of the scent that the bottle used to hold, but he rallies as he hears Blaine's car pulling up into the drive. The picture that Blaine and he took at a summer party catches his eye, and he lifts it to look more closely. Their arms are slung over each other's shoulders and Blaine is radiant, as always. Kurt is looking right at him, laughing. It's one of the few candid photos he approved from the night.
He sighs contentedly, and when he hears Blaine ring the doorbell, he puts the picture back in its place. One last look in the mirror and he knows that he looks his nicest and is going out with the person who makes him happiest. He grabs his wallet on his way downstairs.
His mother had such soft hair, and she kept it just longer than her shoulders so it would have a little bounce. She sat at her vanity, now his, and carefully prepared herself for her anniversary dinner with Burt. It is his most complete memory of her, that night. Kurt loved sitting with his mother as she got ready for a night out with his father. Seeing the two of them swaying together in the kitchen, the little pecks on the cheek, they made him feel safe and happy.
Kurt was given the special honor of helping her pick out her jewelry for the night. He carefully held necklaces in place so she could decide which one to wear. He loved closing his eyes and burying his nose in her hair. She always lightly sprayed her perfume into it.
She asked him which he liked best. The simple pearl on a silver necklace was his favorite. He didn't have the vocabulary to explain to her that the simplicity of it didn't detract from her beauty. She kissed him on the cheek, said she thought that was the perfect choice, and held her hair up while he managed the lobster clasp at the back of her neck. The smell of her perfume surrounded him.
Even when the babysitter sent him to bed, he could still smell her on his skin. He never felt afraid when they had their dates. He knew his mother and father were having a nice time, and they always came in to give him a kiss when they returned. He smiled into his pillow that night and thought of his mother wishing him sweet dreams as he drifted off.
Finn runs up the stairs three at a time, whistling to himself. His mind is racing with ideas for this week's glee assignment, and he wants to bounce them off Kurt before bedtime. Kurt's door is open slightly, so he walks in without knocking, normally a big no-no in their house. He stops in his tracks when he sees Kurt sitting at his makeup table, or whatever that thing was called. Kurt's cheek is resting on his hand, and his other hand moves cheerlessly through some stuff in a drawer.
Kurt looks up in shock at the intrusion.
“Hey man, sorry I didn't knock but I wanted...” and that's when Finn sees that he's been crying.
“Whoa, dude, I'm sorry. Hey, are you okay? Did Blaine do something? You want me to kick his ass?”
Kurt looks angry as he wipes his face off on his sleeve. “Back off, Bruiser. Blaine is perfect as always. You, however, are a giant lug who should remember Hummel-Hudson House Rule #1. Which is?”
“Always knock,” Finn recites. “Sorry, I just got excited.” He shifts on his feet and rubs at the back of his neck. “Seriously, are you okay?”
Kurt puts something that looks like a shiny bug in the drawer and closes it. “Just leave, please. I don't have the energy to try and explain complex emotions to you.”
“But-” He shuts up at the look Kurt gives him and leaves.
He sits on the edge of his bed, picking at a loose stitch in the blue-jean quilt, trying to figure out what just happened.
Kurt was sad when he was looking at that bug thing, and he keeps that in his mom-drawer. Once Kurt had asked him to hand him his anti-aging serum, and Finn randomly opened drawers hoping it was something clearly marked. Instead, Kurt had slammed the upper left drawer shut and explained through gritted teeth that those were his mother's things and he should never ever touch them. Or even think of touching them.
Kurt was really good at making sure Finn didn't repeat mistakes. Kurt was a lot like Quinn in that way, to the point and a little scary. Finn pulls the thread off the quilt with a little snap, feeling guilty for just a moment because his mom made him that out of their old jeans and it was really cool how she'd worked so hard on it for him.
People don't always give him credit for understanding stuff, and most of the time he doesn't care, because it means he doesn't have to worry about coordinating outfits with Rachel for Glee meetings or meditate on what emotional key the current Journey song they're working on is in, whatever that means.
But then there are times when it is important that people know that he does understand. He thinks it's important, anyway. He looks over at the top of his dresser. There are a handful of coins scattered, a Nerf football with the ends chewed off, and a small square box. He carefully brings the box to the bed next to him and opens it.
He traces the shiny medal crossed swords and runs his finger over the words “Liberation of Kuwait.” It's kept safe in the box so no dust or grime would make the multi-colored ribbon dirty. He lays it across the palm of his hand and walks to Kurt's door, softly knocking.
“Hey, um, Kurt?”
Kurt won't look at him. He's angrily scrubbing his face with a moist toilette. “What is it, Finn?” he hisses.
He walks over to Kurt and holds his hand out, chewing at his bottom lip.
“I didn't even know him, you know? I was just a baby when he died. Some guy in dress blues came to our house and gave my mom a flag and this box and told her he was sorry. He said my dad was a good soldier, a good man.”
Finn jams his free hand in his front pocket and scrunches his shoulders up in an apologetic shrug.
“All I know about him is from what people tell me he was like. But I look at this and I know that they didn't give these to just anyone, they gave them to soldiers that made a difference over there, you know?”
Kurt reaches out to touch it and seems to think better of it. He looks up at Finn for permission.
“Yeah, just be careful.”
Kurt smiles a little when he holds it. “Oh, it's heavy!”
“I know, right? And some of those dudes have them all over their chest, it's almost like armor.”
Kurt hands it back to him. Finn nervously smiles down at him, his mouth twisted up like he's not sure if it's okay yet. “It's nothing like you had with your mom, I know that, but... I get it. I look at this, and I remember the kind of guy I'm supposed to be. Someone he'd be proud of.”
Finn gives Kurt's shoulder a gentle squeeze. “You don't have to hide that stuff from me. Not from me, cool?”
Kurt blinks several times and smiles back at his step-brother. “Thanks, Finn.”
“You're my bro, bro.”
Kurt moves back to the drawer to pull out the glittery bug thing from earlier. Finn points a finger at it, saying, “That's cool, dude. I like the eye.”
Kurt picks it up and wraps it carefully it in some paper. “Me, too,” he says.
Kurt wraps his silk robe tightly at his waist and sits at his vanity, lining the bottles and jars up in order of application. His face is as clean as it can get, and his serum goes on in the bathroom. He picks up the smallest jar to the left. He uses his ring finger to pat eye cream in, and notices that the older he gets the more his hands are like his mother's. Long digits, delicate skin stretched over the bones and tendons, most of his baby fat gone. His father has large, wide hands, rough from manual labor, strong. He has his mother's hands.
His mother had explained to him when he was about six that you mustn't use your index fingers on the delicate skin around your eyes. He had sat perfectly still, eyes closed and a huge smile stretched across his face as she demonstrated on him. After patting it all in, she had held his cheeks, rubbed their noses and gave him a kiss.
“You won't have to worry about wrinkles, sweetheart, not for a long time. You are my perfect little Hummel figurine, aren't you?”
He thought his mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. He would look at their reflections in the mirror, their smiles, their complexions so similar, their love for each other so strongly written on their faces, and his heart seemed so full it hurt.
Every night after dinner and his bath, he would sit next to his mother, watching her clean her skin, and then apply creams and lotions, putting on the soft smells of bedtime. In his bed they would snuggle side by side as she read him stories of twelve sisters looking for their prince, of a woman with fabulous hair that was so strong that a handsome man used it to climb up and rescue her from a wicked witch, and about a young boy named Harold that had a purple crayon (Kurt's favorite color at the time) who made amazing places appear out of nowhere.
He would sink deeper and deeper into his pillow, her soft, high voice lulling him to sleep, and the last thing he saw every night was her face lying close to his as she kissed his nose and eyelids, whispering her love for him.
For a week after the funeral he had refused to let his father wash his pillowcase.
He doesn't use the same serums and night creams that his mother had; they were far too heavy for his young skin and caused breakouts. That had been a nightmare for two weeks until he had hit upon a system of products that would keep his skin fresh and bright. At one point he realized he was paying homage to her in a way, spending almost an hour going through the same motions she had. It keeps her memory with him.
He unscrews the lid on his night cream, hears his mother's voice reminding him to pat it in gently, and smiles to himself, almost able to recall her touch.
Burt comes up the stairs with a load of freshly washed laundry in his arms to be deposited in Kurt's room. Carole had quickly learned Kurt's method of folding items “to prolong the fibers,” and he smiles as he sees the bizarre flag that the boxer briefs were folded into, same as Kurt had done for him over the years.
Kurt's door is open, and as he steps inside he catches a glimpse of his son at the simple white vanity that Elizabeth had treasured. In the reflection he sees Kurt making an exaggerated face to stretch the skin under his eyebrows as he plucks stray hairs. A memory comes rushing back so strongly that he almost drops the laundry.
My god, he is Elizabeth's son.
Kurt even moves his hands in the same way she had, lightly patting here and there, his back tall and straight, and man, the first time he saw that good looking brunette she had a back so straight it was like she had a pole for a spine. He loved that about her, the confidence she had. It was like she was saying to the world, “Here I am. Are you ready?”
He looks at his son – he even has the bottles laid out just like she did – and sends a silent prayer of thanks to the Big Whoever that sent him Elizabeth first, but instead of leaving him empty when He called her back, gave him this boy that is the perfect example of everything he loved about his wife, with the bonus of all of Kurt's unique traits thrown in to sweeten the deal.
Kurt rubs leftover cream into his hands and catches his dad's reflection. He turns halfway, giving his dad a sweet smile that just about does Burt in.
“Hey, dad! Oh, thanks, you can just put those on the edge of my bed. Tell Carole I said thank you as well.”
Kurt keeps smiling and rubbing his hands as Burt looks at him, really looks at him.
“Dad? Are you okay?”
Burt shakes himself a little, sets the laundry down and plants a kiss on Kurt's hair, not caring about the “don't mess up the 'do” rule, seeing as Kurt's getting ready to go to bed. “Love you, that's all.”
Kurt smiles back and softly says, “I love you, too,” and hell if he doesn't have the same soft tone of voice that Elizabeth had as well.
Burt walks a bit more quickly than normal to his room to have a moment. He loves Carole, he does, he thinks she's the greatest thing that's happened to him in a long time. But part of what makes Carole so great is that she happily shares space in Burt's heart with Kurt and Elizabeth.
Carole comes into their room with a load of towels, and Burt hastily knuckles away a few tears at his eyes.
“Burt? Honey? You okay?”
“Yeah,” he laughs, “just..sometimes he's so much like her, you know?”
Carole rubs small circles in his back and smiles. “If she was half as great as Kurt is, it's no wonder you get like this.”
That's why he loves her, she gets it. There's no jealousy, there's just love. He pulls her into his arms and rocks her back and forth, kissing her cheek. “Speaking of great...”
She laughs and gives him a tighter squeeze, then lets go to retrieve the pile of towels hastily dropped on the bed. “Same to you, and more of it.”
She winks at him and heads towards the linen closet. Burt sees her and the ghost of a long-limbed, delicate brunette that moved with astounding grace.
Blaine lightly drags his fingers across the cracked leather band of Kurt's old watch. That Kurt happens to be wearing it and Blaine's fingers happen to ignore the leather after a moment in order to trace the hard bone of Kurt's wrist is just a bonus.
Kurt exhales softly at the touch and gets a warm glint in his eye. “It was her grandfather's watch, one of the first things he bought for himself, she had said.” Kurt does the band and hands it over to Blaine. “There was something about how the number four was four lines instead of IV that fascinated me. I thought it was a mistake, but she assured me that wasn't how proper watch faces looked. Something about Louis the XIV commenting on the balance visually. I loved that.”
“What, the balance, or that Louis the XIV was responsible for an important design detail?” Blaine chuckles, bumping shoulders with Kurt.
“Contrary to popular opinion, I don't actually prefer gilt and overly ornate décor,” Kurt runs his hand across Blaine's shoulder and lightly kisses his lips before standing up straight and smoothing the front of his shirt. “Plus, he had wooden teeth and smelled.”
“And this one?” Blaine asks, motioning at a pin lying on the velvet pad of the vanity's drawer.
“That,” Kurt says, his smile softening from flirty to something else entirely, “was her favorite hair accessory.”
Blaine's hand stops just short of picking it up. He looks sideways at Kurt to make sure he's allowed.
“Oh, you should feel how heavy it is!” Kurt holds a hand to the side of his mouth and jokes, “Not everything she had was real.” He laughs and says, “But those would now be considered illegal trade, I'm sure. She loved putting it in my hair, but it would never stay put.”
Blaine lifts it from the velvet lined drawer and carefully unwraps the tissue paper. It's heavier than it looks, and he studies it in his palm, feeling the weight. There’s a depth to the tortoise pattern that’s mesmerizing, and the bar of ivory that separates the decorative end from the actual comb is turning yellow with age. He runs a finger along the edge of the tines.
Kurt crosses his legs and grabs his knee, leaning back. “We would put it in my hair at the top of my head, like a little brown tiara. It was the only way to keep it from falling out.” Kurt smiles, looking off in the distance.
Blaine hasn't heard Kurt talk about his mother much before today. He never knew if it would have been appropriate to ask about her, or if it that would just cause him pain. But Blaine wonders about her, wants to know how much of her is in this boy he loves so fiercely, and it seems that this is the time when Kurt wants to tell him everything about her that he can remember.
The sudden rainstorm forced their plans of an outside picnic into an indoor picnic in his bedroom. They've spent the afternoon talking about their lives before they met, leading Kurt to pull out a scrapbook of family members. Blaine instantly knew who Elizabeth was, even without the adoring look on a much younger Burt's face. She had the same smile and porcelain complexion as Kurt.
“That's your mom,” he said.
“Yeah,” Kurt breathed. Smiling, he stood quickly, pulling Blaine to his feet, and brought him over to where Kurt kept his little mementos. Blaine barely wanted to say anything, so rare was the occasion that Kurt divulged any information from his past.
Kurt pulls different things out of the drawer, recounting stories about a rhinestone covered hair clip, a silver bud vase where she kept her makeup brushes, and the time she bought coral lipstick on accident and how they had spent the afternoon drawing exaggerated clown lips and laughing.
Blaine rests on the edge of the table, his hands crossed at the knee, smiling at Kurt. Kurt is normally such an “in the moment” person, or always looking to the future, that it's taken Blaine by surprise to see Kurt so wistful and willing to talk about her. Kurt looks happy about the memories, but there's something sad to it. It's to be expected. Even though he's not as close to his own parents as Kurt is with his, something in Blaine's chest tightens painfully at the thought of his mother being gone.
“Here, sit down, I want to see how it looks on you.”
Kurt hops up and tugs at Blaine to make him sit on the padded stool. Laughing, Blaine relents.
Standing behind him, Kurt takes a moment to rake his fingers through Blaine's hair, dislodging the curls from their gel-prison. Blaine closes his eyes and hums; he loves the feeling of Kurt's strong fingers on his scalp.
Kurt rakes the comb over the top of his head; the ends are rounded so it feels nice, not scratchy. Kurt twists a section at the top of Blaine's head in his fingers and sticks the comb in it so the scalloped end stands up.
“Hmm, I hate to say it, but you're just not the tiara type. Gilded laurel wreath, definitely.”
Blaine watches Kurt in the reflection as he fusses with Blaine's hair. He's so tall and lean, and he moves so effortlessly. Blaine jumps and pounces with big, noisy movements. Kurt hardly seems to stir the air. His hands are long and elegant, and Blaine has worshiped at the knob of wrist that drives him crazy.
Kurt stops in the middle of a rant about improper settings for crystals on the crowns of today, his fingers buried in Blaine's loosened curls. His cheeks pink as he notices Blaine stock still, smiling at him.
“What? Oh, don't tell me that you can't see the merit in a châton setting over cathedral?”
Laughing softly, Blaine takes one of Kurt's hands, kissing the palm. “You know, she sounds like she was pretty wonderful.”
Kurt's chest expands with a surprised breath and he wraps his arms around Blaine's shoulders and sighs. Blaine's hands automatically move to hold onto Kurt's forearm, to keep him there. They rest their cheeks against each other, and Kurt says to their reflection, “She was.”
Blaine eyes himself in the mirror; his hair is fluffed, and Kurt's done something to make the curls more defined over his brow. It's one of the first times he's not minded having his hair messy. He runs his free hand through the hair over his ear and asks, “How do I look?”
Kurt kisses the top of his head and says, “Perfect.”
“Are you sure you sure they said nothing but the list things? Doesn't seem like a lot of stuff is going with you, Kurt.”
Kurt tapes the last of the boxes closed, writing “Accessories” in neat script with a Sharpie across the top. “Dad, the room is about the size of your closet. It's New York; there isn't room for anything beyond me and my talent.”
Burt looks at the ground and smiles. “Yeah, well I don't know if there enough room for that, either.”
“I'm taking the last load to the car!” Finn shouts, the sound of his feet clomping down the stairs almost drowning him out. “I can't wait to see that building that looks like a shark fin!”
Kurt stops in the middle of hoisting the box and looks at his father. “What is he-? Finn!” he shouts towards the stairs. “The Flatiron Building is nowhere near NYADA!”
The sound of heavy feet taking the steps four at a time back up precede Finn, who pokes his head into Kurt's doorway. “But the map says it's only one block over and eight blocks up?”
“Those are New York City blocks, so it's practically an entire country away.”
Burt takes the box from Kurt. “Lemme get this; you do a quick run through and make sure you're not leaving anything behind.” Burt leaves and hollers back up the stairs, “I don't wanna be in Pennsylvania and you discover that you left all of your underwear, or something.”
Kurt hears the front door open and the house goes silent. He feels the buzz of his cell phone in his front pocket.
It's just a year. Just a year and then I'm there too.
Kurt sinks to the bed and replies back to Blaine, plus weekends and holidays and then we never do this not together thing again ok?
He scans the room for anything missing, even though he knows that he has everything important. His phone buzzes again. Well, almost everything, he thinks to himself.
Kurt reads, Love you. Always.
He smiles at the screen and rests his fingertips on his vanity, taking a second to look at himself in the mirror. Joy, excitement, and a touch of fear. A little longing is there, too, but it's not forever, he knows this much.
He grabs his leather messenger bag where all of his most important things are: his admissions forms, his map to his dorm, his iPad, a very private, very wonderful letter that no one will ever lay eyes on written in Blaine's familiar script, a glittery pin in the shape of a beetle with a pearl for an eye, and a small gold lapel pin of the Dalton crest.
Kurt has everything that is special to him that he can bring along. He exhales, squares his shoulders and leaves the house, typing, I love you, too. Always. before hopping in the car where Finn and Burt are arguing over which greasy spoon has the best hamburgers.
He holds his bag tightly in his lap, ready for this next big step, with all the love and support of the people that matter along for the ride.