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Too Late

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Cooper remembered getting the call; the hysterical sound of his mother's voice crackling over the landline at thirteen minutes after three in the morning, the damp darkness of his rickety little bedroom in his new apartment, even the clanking of the washing machine in the laundry room on the other side of the wall.

He could remember everything about that night, most especially the moment when his ears had finally deciphered his mother's babbling.

Blaine. Hospital.

Without a second thought, he'd slammed the phone down and stumbled out into the hall. He'd been on the highway back to Lima in under ten minutes, but he still hadn't made it in time. The same way he always got there just a second too late.

The day Blaine had taken his first wobbly steps, Cooper had left the room for only a second to take off his muddy shoes. He'd walked in just in time to see Blaine plop back down on his diapered butt as their mother had cooed in delight. Just a second too late.

When the boy down the road had been swinging his brand new baseball bat around and had landed an accidental hit on the front tire of Blaine's new bicycle, Cooper had just been rounding the corner, only ten feet behind, but too late once again.

Last year when Blaine had gotten the lead in the school musical Cooper had sworn to make the long trek down from Yale, but a flat tire had hung him up. He'd gotten there right as the last curtain had fallen and Blaine's final ringing note had echoed around the auditorium. Too late again.

It was Monday morning now, two days after the call. He was exhausted from crying and not sleeping, but he couldn't seem to remember how to function without Blaine's cheerful face around their childhood home. As he shuffled into the kitchen, the smell of coffee, probably left over from the previous night, hit his nostrils and he quickly poured himself a large mug before dropping down into a chair at the ornate kitchen table.

The local newspaper, The Lima News, was open in front of him, folded over to the death notices and obituary section. With a pained noise, Cooper looked away from it. He knew it was today, but that didn't make it any easier to see his baby brother's name on that list. Especially when he was certain it was little more than an obligatory death notice that the newspaper printed for any resident who died. Their father had made it quite clear he wasn't going to write one, not after what Blaine had told them he was, not after that exact thing had ended with him in a coffin.

Still, as Cooper took shaky sips of cold coffee, his eyes couldn't help but drift over to look at the picture attached to it. Blaine's young, handsome face, more plump than it was now, was staring back at him. Cooper took in the black and white photograph. It was Blaine's school photo from last year – his sophomore year at McKinley High.

Despite the feeling that his insides were being put through a garbage disposal, Cooper pulled the paper closer, tracing his fingertip over Blaine's cheek. A wet patch appeared on Blaine's shoulder, and then another on his neatly styled hair. Cooper swiped at his eyes, and cleared his throat, looking around to make sure their father wasn't in the room. The kitchen was empty, though. The whole house was silence at five o'clock in the morning.

He turned back to the newspaper, a watery smile pulling at his lips as he took in the little bow tie twisted around Blaine's neck. Every time he saw one he immediately thought of Blaine. It was hard not to when he remembered the four year old that had refused to untangle himself from his calf until Cooper showed him how to tie one properly. Because Blaine didn't want the clip-on ties or their father to tie it up for him. No, he wanted to do it himself – the same way Cooper did.

His eyes scanned down past the photograph, and before Cooper could force himself to shove the paper away, he began to read.

Blaine Devon Anderson, 16, of Lima passed away peacefully on Saturday, September 4, 1960, at Lima Medical Center.

He was born on October 15, 1943 to James C. Anderson and Lyra B. Anderson of Lima.

Blaine was a student at McKinley High School, where he was a prominent member of the boxing team, the choir, and the band. He was also the male lead soloist in his church choir. He was already set to continue his education at Julliard in August of 1962 with a full music scholarship.

He is survived by his parents, James (49) and Lyra (41); his older brother, Cooper (27); and both his maternal and paternal grandparents.

A memorial service will be held at 10 A.M. Monday, September 6, at Carmel Catholic Church. The family will be receiving friends later that evening at their home from 5 to 7 P.M. on Treebird Lane. The burial will be private.

Cooper stared long and hard at the short article. His hands were trembling uncontrollably, and his chest felt like a spiked ball was expanding in it. This wasn't fair. None of this should be happening. It was the first line that struck him the hardest, though. Passed away peacefully. He scoffed and tossed the paper onto the table top.

Blaine's death had been anything but peaceful. His mother must have written that. She'd been deluding herself into thinking it since he'd arrived at the hospital two days ago.

A sharp pang seared through his chest at the thought. His mother, not theirs anymore, his. Cooper's alone, because his brother – his baby brother – was dead.

Cooper stared down at the obituary again without really seeing it. Tears were clouding his eyes as he turned in his chair and tugged the door of the liquor cabinet open. A dark bottle of whiskey caught his attention. He yanked it free, slamming the little wooden door closed and turning back to the table. He struggled to pull the cork out for a few moments, finally popping it and pressing the smooth glass to his lips.

His baby brother was dead because he'd failed to protect him. He, Cooper, had failed to be there once again. Once again, he'd been too late. Only this time it wasn't for something monumental in Blaine's life, or to stop some kid from accidentally swinging a baseball bat on a street corner. This time he'd been too late to save Blaine from the harsh reality of their time.

Cooper would never forgive himself for being too late to say goodbye.

43 years later...

Kurt knew something bad was happening to his mother.

Months ago, his father had sat him down in a cold, colorless hospital waiting room after one of the scariest moments of his life. He'd explained that Kurt's mother was very sick and that was why she'd collapsed. At the time, Kurt hadn't really understood what he'd meant. He'd thought of it like that bad flu he'd had a few years ago when he'd done nothing but curl up in her arms for a week. But a week, and then a month, passed and she only started to look worse.

Now, five months later, with his aunt and grandparents here to "visit" and today even keep an eye on him while his father went by himself to the hospital where his mother had been moved, he thought he understood.

His mother was dying. Just like their fat, old cat had when Kurt was five. Just like his hamster had last spring. Something was going wrong inside of her that nobody knew how to fix and today his father had gone to say his own private goodbye. Kurt didn't know whether or not he wanted the same chance, or if he'd even get offered it. Instead of facing his tearful, broken father's return in a few hours, Kurt had run off to the nearby park, where his mother used to take him to play, to hide from all of them.

Kurt was surprised to find the little park empty, but after ten minutes of sitting on a swing by himself, he remembered it was a Wednesday morning. Everyone else was at school right now. He'd have the place to himself for a few hours at least. He looked around once more to make sure the place was really deserted. The last thing he wanted was for someone to see him crying all alone. An adult would think he was hurt or lost and bug him. The other kids would tease him for being a cry baby, but there was nobody around.

He stared down at his lap, and hugged himself tight as the tears started to build behind his eyes.

"Mind if I swing with you?"

Kurt's head shot up in alarm. He jerked so quickly he nearly toppled backwards off the swing, but a strong, big hand caught his and kept him upright.

"Watch it. You don't want to bust your head open."

Standing a few feet away from him, still clutching his hand tightly was a man – no, a teenage boy at least twice his age. Immediately, Kurt took in his neatly tamed curls and bright hazel eyes that reminded him of the princes he saw in Disney movies. He didn't know this boy – had never seen him at the park or even around town or at the mall with the other older kids – but something about him caught Kurt's interest, and felt almost... familiar, even if he was a stranger.

The boy gave him a bright, hopeful smile as he dropped onto the swing beside Kurt. Still uncertain, Kurt tugged his hand free, crossed his arms and legs, and turned his nose up at the boy.

"You're a stranger without a name," Kurt declared matter-of-factly, trying to discreetly brush away the tears still lingering on his eyelashes.

The strange boy laughed softly at his words, and something about the sound made Kurt's insides feel bubbly. From the corner of his eye he looked this boy over again. His outfit was unlike anything Kurt had ever seen on the teenage boys around town. It reminded him of something from one of his mother's old record covers or magazines. This boy seemed cheerful and harmless enough, but Kurt definitely didn't know him, even in passing. He'd remember someone dressed like this.

"You look sad," the boy said gently, and Kurt glared over at him and sniffed.

"That's a stupid name," Kurt said snottily.

Another chuckle greeted his words.

"What?" The boy's eyes crinkled up and Kurt's stomach felt weird again. "That's not– oh. My name's Blaine."

"You're still a stranger," Kurt told him loftily. "I don't have time for strangers."

"Aw, come on," Blaine pouted. "Don't be so mean."

"I'm not being mean," Kurt retorted. "I'm being smart."

"Your mother's taught you well then," Blaine replied, and Kurt's chest twisted at his words.

Some part of his pain must have shown on his face, because Blaine's smile shrank and disappeared.

"Kurt," Kurt supplied after a few moments of silence. His voice was soft and timid. "My name's Kurt."

"It's very nice to meet you, Kurt who doesn't talk to strangers," Blaine replied, twirling his hand in the air as he bowed his head.

Despite himself Kurt giggled at the action. Maybe this Blaine guy was okay then, but the comment about his mother still weighed heavily on his mind. Before he could stop himself he blurted out what was on his mind so much these days.

"Have you ever known anyone who died?"

The fact that Blaine didn't seem surprised by his words felt a little weird to Kurt, but he shrugged it off as Blaine sighed. He quietly watched Blaine as the older boy turned his eyes over to the empty park.

"Yeah," he answered softly. "I know a lot of people who have died."

"Do you... do you think they really are happy after?" Kurt wondered desperately. "Will she really be watching over me?"

"She'll still love you, Kurt," Blaine replied gently. "Death can't stop that. Nothing can stop your mother from loving you."

"My– how did you know that?" Kurt demanded suspiciously.

"I know lots of things," Blaine said slyly. He paused and grasped Kurt's hand tightly once more. "But even if she's not here with you, she'll still be okay. Just because you can't see her every day or touch her doesn't mean you can't love her and that she isn't happy or doesn't love you... where ever she is.

"I know it's hard right now," Blaine continued, reaching into his pocket and tugging out an old silver pocket watch. He flipped it open and glanced at it quickly. "It'll be hard for a long time even, but you'll always have her in here." Blaine poked Kurt in the chest, right over his heart. "Nobody can take her away from you, not even death, as long as you keep her alive in your heart."

"I– " Kurt paused as he stared up at the older boy in wonder. Blaine sounded so sure of himself, so positive that regardless of what happened his mother would be okay and love Kurt. He didn't understand it, but there was something about Blaine's voice when he'd spoken, some quality in his tone or in his posture and the set of his jaw that made Kurt trust him – believe him.

"Kurt! Kurt, are you out here? Kurt!"

His father's terrified voice echoed down the road and into the park. Kurt twisted around to stare out towards the street as Blaine squeezed his hand once more and let go.

"Go on," Blaine encouraged, dropping his watch back into his pocket. "I'll be here whenever you come back."

"But how will you know when– "

"Like I said, I know lots of things," Blaine repeated. A small, sad smile pulled up the corners of his mouth as he helped Kurt to his feet. "Hurry. Your dad sounds really worried."

"How did you kn– " But Kurt stopped himself as he remembered what Blaine had just said. He didn't know how Blaine knew these things, but for whatever reason he did. Maybe all older people knew stuff like that, or maybe his father's frantic voice had been kind of obvious. "See ya, Blaine," Kurt said, stumbling through the wood chips towards the road.

He looked back once more to find Blaine smiling and waving at him before his father came into view.

"Kurt? Kurt! There you are! You had me worried sick!" Burt called out in relief, sprinting across the small park and scooping Kurt up into his arms.

"Daddy, I'm fine," Kurt assured him, wrapping his arms around his father's neck and twisting so that he could introduce Blaine to his father.

But the swing set was empty. There was nobody else in sight behind them and no sign of Blaine anywhere near the entrance. Kurt hadn't seen him rush past to get to the gate either, but he was gone, the swing still swaying from his presence.

For a single moment, he almost questioned his father about the mysterious boy and whether or not he'd seen him, but Burt would have stopped Blaine if he'd run past. He would have seen Kurt standing by him and talking to him when he'd turned the corner. But his father hadn't even mentioned the boy so Kurt decided not to either.

"Come on, son. We're... w- we're going to visit your mom, okay?" Burt mumbled, trying to sound reassuring and strong, but Kurt could hear the heartbreak in his voice.

Blaine's words floated through his head as Burt carried him towards the street.

Nobody can take her away from you, not even death, as long as you keep her alive in heart.

"It'll be okay, Daddy," Kurt whispered, still dreading this potentially final visit, but feeling a little lighter. "We'll always have her love."