One - Mike’s Mad Skills
The shopping list is depressingly long. Even more depressingly, his mom’s got it divided up into ‘essentials’ (food) and ‘luxuries’ (personal hygiene).
Sam has sixteen dollars, an empty shopping cart, and what feels like a panic attack coming on. Since his family’s string of bad luck he’s learned to do a lot of things he’d never considered - he can cook pretty well on a hotplate, he can give his siblings and himself haircuts, he’s even learned to do a passable job of mending Stevie and Stacey’s clothes - but this grocery thing... there are so many aisles, and everything’s a different price, and he’ll have to figure out what’s cheapest versus what’s most necessary and he probably can’t afford any of it anyway but it is actually probable that his family will go hungry if he screws this up.
Crap. He’s pretty sure he’s starting to hyperventilate and he can’t afford to pay for the medical attention if he passes out in the condiments aisle.
“Dude, don’t get those,” says a voice right behind him. “There’s a two-for-one on the store-brand kind and this place does triple coupons.”
Sam turns around. Mike Chang is standing there with a half-full cart and a ring binder.
“I’m sorry?” he says intelligently.
Mike frowns a little and gives him a careful once-over. “Not used to grocery shopping, huh?”
“My mom’s busy,” Sam says defensively.
Mike nods knowingly. “That’s okay, I didn’t know anything the first time my mom sent me, either. I can show you the ropes.”
As it turns out, Mike’s kind of an expert on grocery shopping, which Sam didn’t even know was possible. His binder is full of coupons, organized to a slightly worrying degree, and after a few minutes of listening to him explain the complex strategy behind every item in his cart Sam just hands over his list and trails along behind.
Mike explains everything he’s doing, which is nice but bewildering, and somehow Sam winds up in the parking lot afterwards with everything on his list, a bill for three dollars and sixty-seven cents, and a stack of Mike’s extra coupons.
“I’m not entirely sure what just happened,” Sam admits, mostly to cover the fact that the idea of a whole extra twelve dollars and thirty-three cents is making him a little dizzy.
Mike laughs. “It’s kind of a weird hobby, I know, but I like math and I like strategy. This way I can do both and then get pudding.”
The pudding had been three for a dollar - free with Mike’s dollar-off coupon. Mike had done a little dance right there in the aisle.
“I’m not good at math,” Sam confesses. “But I do like pudding.”
Mike grins. “Tell you what - let me know next time you’re going shopping and I’ll come with you. We can get more pudding!”
Sam laughs for the first time in what feels like months. “Hey, I’m game as long as you do the pudding dance again.”
Two - Sequins Aren’t That Bad
After the pizza delivering incident, Sam expects Kurt to say something. They’d had a little bit of a conversation at the time, of course, but it was complicated by the Dalton boys fighting over the pizza and Sam being on the clock. In Sam’s experience Kurt’s not the kind of person to let stuff like this slide, and it’s weird that he hasn’t really brought it up since coming back to McKinley.
Sam wasn’t expecting Kurt to show up at the motel room with a stack of carefully folded designer clothes for him, though.
“Um, thanks,” Sam says, because on the one hand he’s incredibly touched and on the other he’s really worried about successfully pulling off sequins tomorrow at school. “Kurt, really, you didn’t have to do this.”
Kurt sniffs and sweeps his bangs back. “Please, I can tell K-mart from a mile away. This is a mission of mercy. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to you earlier in the year.”
“Actually, I shop at Walmart,” Sam says, straight-faced.
“Regardless, anything with ‘mart’ in the title is not appropriate,” Kurt says sternly.
Sam grins. He’s trying to think of something he can say to wind Kurt up further, because Kurt’s pretty funny when he gets going, but the door behind him opens before he really has a chance to.
It’s not a big motel room and it’s pretty hard to overlook someone in it, but Kurt’s standing a little behind Sam and Sam’s a lot bigger than he is so Sam’s dad has time to say heavily “Engine’s running pretty rough, I think we’ll have to - “ before he sees Kurt.
There’s a split second of awkwardness where Sam’s dad looks like he’s going to try to pretend his whole family’s not living in a motel room and the car isn’t on the fritz even though Kurt’s standing right there and it’s clearly not going to work, but Kurt covers like a pro.
“Mr. Evans!” He says brightly. “It’s nice to meet you. Sam’s been helping me with an assignment for Glee - is it true you taught him to play the guitar? He’s really quite talented.”
Sam’s never said anything like that and he has no idea if it was a lucky guess on Kurt’s part or what, but his dad and Kurt spend the next few minutes having an animated conversation about music and when Sam walks Kurt out his dad’s actually smiling a little.
“Thanks for that,” Sam says on their tiny pathetic shared porch, his shoulders hunched against the cold.
Kurt touches him lightly on the shoulder. “Anytime,” he says. “And I really mean that, Sam.”
It’s a really sweet thing to say and Sam’s sure Kurt means it, which probably means more sequins in Sam’s future. He’s pretty sure he can get his head around it, given time.
Three - The Barter System
He has more trouble getting his head around the next morning, when they discover Kurt and his dad elbows-deep in the engine of their car.
“What?” Sam manages. Next to him, his parents are totally speechless and he’s pretty sure it’s not entirely because Kurt’s coveralls have ‘Hummel Tires and Lube’ picked out on the back in rhinestones. The Evanses might be down on their luck, but they still have enough pride that straight-up charity, while appreciated, can have a bit of a sting to it.
“Should run fine now,” Kurt’s dad says, shutting the hood of the car. “Hope you don’t mind. I wanted to show my kid a few things.”
“I’m not very good with carburetors,” Kurt says regretfully.
“We can’t pay you,” Sam’s dad says stiffly, finally finding his voice.
“I didn’t pay you when your kid stood up for mine and got punched in the face for it,” Kurt’s dad says calmly. “Let me know if the car gives you any more trouble.” He picks up his toolbox and walks back to his truck, apparently having said everything he felt was necessary.
“See you at school, Sam,” Kurt says, picking up his own toolbox and following his father.
Sam and his parents just stand there for a moment.
“Were those coveralls tailored?” Sam’s mom says finally.
Four - Bullies Are Okay When They Use Their Powers For Good
About a month from the end of school, Stevie and Stacey start refusing to go. It takes Sam nearly half an hour to get them to fess up to being scared of some of the fifth-grade kids who have decided to take charge of the playground. Sam never really had trouble with bullies when he was a kid - not until the McKinley slushies hit home, actually. He doesn’t know what to say to his siblings beyond “Go find a teacher, and don’t tell Mom and Dad. They have enough worries,” which is pretty craptastic advice.
Stevie and Stacey agree. It takes them ten minutes to get down the last block to the elementary school and that’s only because halfway there Sam gets fed up, slings Stacey over one shoulder, and starts dragging Stevie along by the backpack with his free hand. It makes a hard morning even harder.
When they get to the schoolyard, Stevie latches on to the fence and refuses to let go. Sam has to put Stacey down to pry Stevie’s fingers free, so of course Stacey takes the opportunity to copy her brother and cling to the other side of the gate.
Sam’s seriously about to either scream or give up when Puck’s voice says “Morning, Evans,” behind him, and isn’t that just awful icing on the terrible morning cake?
Sam turns around and does a double-take, because tough Puck is standing there with a tiny brown-haired girl who looks like she’s about eleven. Her hair’s nicely done up in pigtails with ribbons and she’s wearing something pink and ruffly.
Sam literally cannot think of anything to say.
“This is my sister,” Puck says, which doesn’t help Sam’s sense of reality in any way. “Dude, what’s wrong with your two?”
“Bullies,” Sam bites out. He’s heard about what Puck was like before the glee club got him and he’s not expecting either sympathy or good advice.
“Huh,” Puck says thoughtfully, then turns to his sister. “Hey, Hairball, keep an eye on those two. They’re off-limits.”
Puck’s sister gives him an impressively disdainful look and says, “Why?”
“Because otherwise I’ll cut your hair off while you sleep and decapitate your dolls, monkey breath. Do what I tell you.”
Puck’s sister rolls her eyes. “Whatever, buttface, I’m doing it because I want to and not because you said so.” And, okay, now Sam can see the family resemblance.
Sam glances back at Stacey and Stevie. They seem to be impressed by the situation but not actively terrified, so Sam decides to go ahead and assume everything will work out fine. He doesn’t have the energy for anything else, and both of them are letting go of the fence which is freaking fantastic.
“Come on, losers,” Puck’s sister says, marching through the gate. Stevie and Stacey fall into step behind her before Sam can object to what he suspects is a Puckerman family form of affection.
“I’m not sure this is a really good idea,” Sam says nervously before remembering he’s talking to the king of not-really-good-ideas.
“It’ll be fine,” Puck says. “She puts on a big show but she totally has a soft spot for strays. Come on - if we leave now we have time to scam some donuts from the 7-11 before school.”
Five - Presents Make Everything Better
After the most humiliating glee rehearsal ever - and yes, he’s remembering the Bieber Thing We Don’t Talk About when he says that - Sam’s totally bracing himself for some obnoxious-but-well-meant overtures from the other glee kids. He likes them, he really does, and they’ve turned out to be good if weird friends, but subtlety has never been something any of them are good at.
Rachel does make “Sorry you’re poor” cookies (Sam eats the ‘poor’ before he gets home and divvies up the rest between Stevie and Stacey, who won’t think to unscramble the letters), and Finn does seem to think that force-feeding Sam an extra lunch every day will be helpful somehow, but most everyone else finds an understated way to help or show sympathy. Sam suddenly has more babysitting and ride-to-school offers than he knows what to do with.
He’s started to relax a little bit, and then Mercedes shows up on his front porch with a duffel bag.
“Uh, hi,” Sam says. He really likes Mercedes and she has an awesome voice, but they’ve never really had that much to do with each other.
Mercedes slides her bright pink shades down the end of her nose and says, “I have presents.”
Sam might worry about that statement, but Stacey and Stevie are too young to get hung up on pride and are just old enough to think that presents fix every bad feeling. They appear behind Sam so fast that he almost thinks they teleported.
Mercedes grins, takes off her sunglasses with a flourish, and pushes her way past Sam into the motel room.
“All right,” she says. “Do we wanna do this the grown up way or the fun way?”
“Fun way!!!” Stacey and Stevie shout, like there was ever any question.
“Smart kids,” Mercedes says approvingly, and upends the duffel bag all over the bed.
A riot of bright colors comes out - some of it’s clothing but a lot of it’s toys. Stevie and Stacey shriek happily and pounce, digging through the pile of treasure and showing each other what they find.
Mercedes retreats to stand by Sam, looking very satisfied with herself. “Me and Tina and Brittany went through our old stuff,” she explains. “We put in some clothes for Stacey because we figure your old things will be okay for Stevie but Stacey’s still going to need something cool. The toys are for both of them.”
Sam watches Stacey put on a yellow headband with cartoon bees on it and unearth what seriously looks like an old-school Transformer. Stevie has a bright purple scarf tied pirate-style around his waist and a handful of Legos. It’s like Christmas.
Sam doesn’t want to think about their next Christmas.
“Thanks, Mercedes,” Sam says, and only has to clear his throat a few times before the words get out okay. He’s touched, and a little humiliated, and a little embarrassed about being humiliated, and a little worried about adding something as frivolous as toys to everything else they’re trying to fit into one motel room. Regardless, it was a nice thing for them to do, and the toys are second-hand so it’s not entirely the same thing as straight-up charity. “Thank Tina and Brittany for me, too.”
“Of course,” Mercedes says, smiling sweetly up at him. “You get a present too, you know.”
Sam puts his hand out automatically. Mercedes drops a black-and-silver guitar pick into it. It has ‘Born to Rock’ written on it in glittery letters.
“Sorry about the smudges,” Mercedes says. “Brittany misspelled ‘rock’ on the first try.”