"Finn," Carole said, "please quit kicking my seat."
"I told you we should have taken two cars," Finn groused, rearranging his legs and bumping the back of Carole's seat yet again. "We can't fit back here."
"It's our first time coming home as a family," Burt said. "We're all going to be together. Family values and all that."
"Dad," Kurt said, "Finn and I do value family. But we also value leg room."
Burt rolled his eyes and ignored the complaints from the back seat. The boys might have a point, but the drive wasn't long and this was important. He leaned forward as he slowed the car. They'd all seen the house before, of course- they'd all picked it out all together. But this was different. This was the first time that this house would be their home.
It was a white house with maple trees in the front yard. There was a small porch in front and a deck out back, hedges lining the walk up to the front door, and lots of windows. It wasn't a wide house, but it was a bigger, nicer house than Burt had ever thought he'd own. He looked at it with pride, and then at the boys in the back seat and his wife by his side. This was really happening. This family, this house, this dream… it was all really here.
"Come on," Burt said, pulling into the driveway and putting the car into park. "Let's get out. We're home."
It was going to take a long time to unpack all the boxes. They were everywhere, all over the house. Neatly labeled, supposedly, but Finn found that labels like "kitchen" or "living room, etc." didn't exactly tell you what was in them. Especially when the boxes came from the Hummel house, and he didn't have the first clue what was in there. And then, he had no idea where to put the stuff. Finn had just finished with a living room box that had a little clock, a really ugly vase, some pictures, and a few photo albums, and the only thing he had the first idea where to put it was the clock. He sighed and tore open another box, this time making sure it was from their house. At least with this he'd know exactly where everything should-Finn froze, staring down into the box.
He was still staring in the box when his mom came down the stairs. "Are you all right, honey?" she asked, padding towards the kitchen.
"I'm fine," Finn lied, and then sighed. "No."
He heard the shuffle of mugs and a pot, and then his mother was out in the living room, coffee mug in hand. She looked over his shoulder and down at what was in his hands, and then sat down on the couch beside him. "Oh."
"Yeah," Finn said, staring at the urn he was now holding. "Oh."
At one time, he would have been mad at his mom for just saying oh. It meant she hadn't thought about his father's ashes, that they weren't important. But now, he kind of got it. Because until they were sitting here in this new house, he hadn't really thought about what they should do with his father's ashes, either. He didn't know if he'd just assumed they should go where they'd always been or what, but it really hadn't been something in his mind.
"We can't just put him in the attic," Finn began.
"No, of course not," his mom said hastily. She sipped her coffee. She was still clearly not awake since she was on night shift. She was all rumpled and her hair still messed up, but she looked calm and happy. Happier than she'd been in a long time, really. "We could put them in your room if you want."
"I don't know," Finn said. "That's kind of creepy. But I don't know where else to put them. I thought on the mantle, but now that I see it, it just seems kind of wrong, you know? It makes him the center of the room, and…."
"And he's not. He's not the center of our lives anymore." His mother nodded, and then sighed. "Finn," she began slowly, "he'll always be a part of our lives. You know that, right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do. I mean, this isn't like that time before when I freaked out," Finn said. "I just… I don't want him in the middle of the room, but I don't want to let him go, either. You know what I mean?"
"I know exactly what you mean." She put her hand on his shoulder. "We've barely started getting the house set up. We don't have to find a spot for him right now."
"I know." Finn looked at the urn again. "I just don't quite know how to fit him in."
His mom wrapped her arm around his shoulders. "We'll figure it out," she said. "I'll talk to Burt about it. I promise."
She'd figure it out. It made Finn feel that old feeling, that no matter how bad things were, his mom could fix them. He smiled at her gratefully. "All right," he said, placing his dad's ashes gently back in the box. "Thanks, Mom."
She kissed his forehead. "Anything, sweetie."
It didn't take Kurt long to unpack, because he'd had everything perfectly organized. However, two days later he was packing again, and this time it seemed a lot harder. Dalton was far from hell, but Kurt still didn't really want to go. Not now, when his parents should be on their honeymoon. They should be in Hawaii, basking in the sun. But they weren't because he- Kurt placed a precisely folded shirt into the suitcase. No, it wasn't his fault. It was Karofsky's. But that didn't make it any better.
It was strange to be in this new house. He wished he had time to get used to it before he had to leave. The house was beautiful, with a lot of white woodwork and real tile in the kitchen, and a huge fireplace that had won him over in a heartbeat. But it wasn't the house he'd grown up in. He didn't mind the difference in his bedroom- it had been time for a change in décor anyway. But his mother didn't lurk around the corners, waiting for Kurt to remember her, and his father's distinctive bachelor chic taste wasn't stamped on everything in the house. (Which was a blessing from an aesthetic point of view.) But it still felt like a place he was visiting, and that when he came home from Dalton for a weekend, "home" would be the house he and his father shared, not this place.
He heard the footsteps outside seconds before his door burst open. "I still don't understand why you didn't tell me," Finn said, storming into Kurt's room as Kurt was folding his socks and placing them into his suitcase.
Kurt sighed. "I don't have to discuss everything with you. Just because we're brothers…." But he trailed off, losing any real heat. He wanted to be defensive and angry about it, but he was just too heartsick to care. "I just didn't want to talk about it then."
Finn looked angry, but he held his tongue. "I guess I get that," he finally said. "You really need your space when you're upset, don't you?"
"Well, can we talk about it now?" Finn asked. Kurt shrugged, and Finn took that as acquiescence. "It's a boarding school, right?"
"It is," Kurt said. The thought made his throat close up a little. "But I'll be home on the weekends." Finn nodded, staring at Kurt's suitcase like it was a personal affront to him. "It won't be that big a deal," Kurt said, trying to sound breezy and unconcerned. "We'll both be so busy anyway-"
"It's different," Finn insisted, overriding Kurt. "It's going to be a lot different, and you know it." Kurt looked down, tears burning against his eyes. "That's why I wanted us to talk about it," Finn continued. "We're just getting going and you're going off to boarding school? Without caring?"
Kurt's head snapped up. "You think I don't care? You think that's why I won't talk about it?"
"Well…" Finn backpedaled. "No?"
"I care," Kurt said. He rolled another pair of socks and shoved them angrily into their place in the suitcase. "Did it ever occur to you, Finn, that I don't want to talk about it because it's too painful for me? Because I can't manage to go to school here, and I have to be sent away because I can't go to school with all the normal people-"
"It's not like that!" Finn protested.
"I know it's not. Rationally, I understand that. But that's how it feels," Kurt said. "That's why I don't want to talk about it."
"And that's why you should," Finn insisted. "So I can tell you that that's not what's happening. That we want you to stay, but yeah, I guess you need to be safe. But I wish…."
Kurt sniffed. "It's not up to you to tell me that," he muttered. "You aren't the high king of emotional platitudes. You don't get to speak for the world."
"But I get to speak for myself. If you wanted to stay I could… I don't know. I could do something."
"Like you've done all this time?" Kurt's voice was sharp, but when he saw the hurt on Finn's face he softened. "Look, Finn. I know you want to help me. And I know that you think you mean it. But Karofsky and Azimio… you're scared of them, too." He expected Finn to deny it, but Finn didn't. He just kept staring at Kurt like a kicked puppy dog. "The fact is that no one person can keep me safe. The only thing that can keep me safe is a strict anti-bullying policy like Dalton has."
"I know." Finn looked down. "And I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't do more for you."
"Kurt? Do you think… do you think if I had done something, it could have been different?" Finn looked guilty, and a part of Kurt was glad. There were a lot of things that Finn might have been able to change, and could have changed. But Finn could never have changed that kiss in the locker room, and that was why Kurt was leaving. That was why Kurt was truly afraid for his life. Because Karofsky wouldn't kill Kurt for being gay, but he would kill Kurt if he even thought that Kurt had told anyone that he was.
"No," he said finally. "No. You couldn't have changed the end result."
Finn nodded. "I'll miss you," he said.
"I know." Kurt sighed. "I'll miss you, too."
Burt and cooking had not always gotten along, but if there was one thing he was good at, it was breakfast. He'd learned how to make omelets back in the early days of his marriage to Katherine, and by the time she was sick, he'd mastered eggs benedict. Those had been Kurt's favorite, even though as he got older he complained about the calories in the sauce. As a result, Burt only made eggs benedict when Kurt needed a treat. The morning that Kurt was to leave for Dalton, Burt was in the kitchen, toasting English muffins and making hollandaise sauce.
"Hey, buddy," he said when Kurt came in. "You ready to go?"
"I guess," Kurt said, sitting down heavily at the table. Burt glanced over his shoulder at Kurt. Kurt wasn't smiling. Burt decided to play it light.
"It looks like it's going to be great," he said. "The campus sure was nice." No answer. "And in a year or so, you'll be going to college anyway. Kind of like a preview, right?"
"I guess." Kurt perked up a little at that.
"And your friend, that Blaine kid," Burt continued. "He'll be there to show you around, right? And you're going to join that glee club there?"
That definitely made Kurt brighten. "Yes," he said.
"Good." Burt shifted a few pans around and started arranging the plates. He left two on the counter and set the other two on the table in front of himself and Kurt, hoping that Carole and Finn would still be a few more minutes. "So you ready to go?"
"I guess." Kurt poked at his eggs moodily.
"You know," Burt said, putting down his fork and leaning across the table, "if you don't want to stay there at this school- I mean, if you don't want to live there- you don't have to."
"But you already paid for the semester! The room and board is nonrefundable!" Kurt protested. "And it costs so much to commute-"
"I don't care. You just say the word, and if you want, you can live at home and go to that fancy school. We'll get you a bus pass or something."
Kurt's eyes lit up, but before he could say anything Finn came into the kitchen. "Something smells good," Finn said, and immediately gravitated towards the plates on the counter. "Is one of these mine?"
"Yeah," Burt said, as Kurt retreated back into his shell. Burt could see it, that the moment was lost and Kurt wasn't going to admit to any vulnerability now. He wanted to yell at Finn, but Finn had no idea what he had done. "Help yourself," he said instead. He stood up, putting his own plate in the sink. "Be ready in ten minutes, okay, buddy?"
Kurt nodded. "I will be," he said. He looked a little more confident than he had when he'd sat down. He speared some eggs on his fork and ate a proper bite. And just from that alone, Burt knew that Kurt was going to at least stay the rest of the semester at Dalton. He should be proud, he knew that, and really, he was. But all he could think was that this house was going to seem a lot quieter than it had before.
Finn was exhausted when he came home from a Thursday football practice. He wanted nothing more than to unwind with a video game, but there was someone in the living room, sitting in Burt's chair. Finn stopped short. "Oh. Um. Hi."
The man was old, bald, and wearing a red flannel shirt. He smiled at Finn. "Hello there, son. Nice to see you again."
Finn blinked. "I know you?"
The man laughed. "We've met, although it was a pretty busy day. At the wedding."
"Oh. Oh!" The pieces clicked into place, and yeah, now that he mentioned it, Finn did remember meeting him. It was Burt's father. "Nice to see you again, sir," Finn said in his best mother-approved voice. "How are you?"
"Good." Mr. Hummel's eyes raked over him. "Coming home from football practice?"
"Oh, yeah." Finn lifted his gym bag unnecessarily. "Tough one today."
"That's good." Mr. Hummel smiled. "If I remember right, you play quarterback, right?"
"Yeah, I do." Finn was warming up quickly to Mr. Hummel. "We've got a good team this year, too," he said proudly.
"Got some good receivers?"
"Yeah, we do." Finn sat down on the couch across from Mr. Hummel, and the two of them were still talking about the Titans a half hour later when Burt called them for dinner. Finn obligingly helped Mr. Hummel to his feet, and together they went out to the table.
Finn had learned early on that Burt was a pretty good cook with some things, and one of the things Burt could cook was roast beef. It smelled fantastic, and there was a big bowl of mashed potatoes and a small bowl of broccoli to go with it. "It looks great, Burt," Finn said, automatically because his mom would come home from the plant and pound him into the ground if he didn't say something complimentary about his stepfather's cooking. Burt grunted in response. Finn sat down at his seat, remembered to put his napkin in his lap, and even waited to serve himself.
Mr. Hummel sat down as well, although he didn't say anything about the food. "Was having a nice chat with Finn here about the team this year," Mr. Hummel said.
"Really." Burt frowned, which surprised Finn. Normally, football was the easiest thing in the world to talk to Burt about.
"What about Kurt?" Mr. Hummel said, taking some potatoes. "Is he going to kick again?"
Burt just shook his head and started to cut up his meat. Finn jumped in. "It's too bad he isn't," he told Mr. Hummel. "Kurt was, like, the best kicker we've ever had."
"Mmm. I don't suppose that you could talk him into it, can you?" Mr. Hummel said hopefully.
"I don't know about that," Finn said. "I mean, Kurt's at Dalton now. And besides, he does glee and everything-"
"That doesn't stop you," Mr. Hummel pointed out. "I hear you even sing the solos. Of course, if Kurt sang in the right range-"
"Dad," Burt said warningly.
Finn looked from one to the other, and for the first time, he realized that Burt looked really, really strained. It was weird, because Mr. Hummel was so nice. He was easy to talk to and everything. But Mr. Hummel was glaring back at Burt, and Finn had a feeling there was a huge story here that they weren't talking about.
"Did you go down to the VA today, Dad?" Burt finally asked, in the tone of someone changing the subject.
"Doctors," Mr. Hummel snorted. "Think they know everything. My hip is fine."
"The VA clinic?" Finn asked. "I didn't know you were a veteran, sir." His estimation of Mr. Hummel went up even higher.
Mr. Hummel nodded. "I fought in Vietnam," he said. "I'll tell you about it sometime."
"I'd love to hear about it," Finn said eagerly. Telling war stories was something his father would never be able to do with him. Talking to Mr. Hummel might let Finn know a little bit more about all the things his father did and saw, about who he was, more than what his mom could tell him. Mr. Hummel smiled at him.
Finn ended up enjoying the evening a lot, and even offered to do the dishes. He was humming to himself and washing the roasting pan when he heard Mr. Hummel and Burt talking.
"All I'm saying, Burt, is that you've got a good kid in there. What a son should be. You're really lucky you got this second chance." Finn couldn't help it- he shut off the water and edged closer to the edge of the kitchen to hear better. "And he could be a great influence on Kurt, a kid like that."
"Dad, if you say something like that again-" Burt began.
"I'm just saying Finn's a good kid!"
"You're saying Kurt's not good enough! And I've told you a hundred times, you don't talk that way about Kurt under my roof! Do you understand? If you do, I swear to God, I will kick you out of here."
Mr. Hummel grumbled something too softly for Finn to hear, and Finn had the sick feeling he was glad he couldn't hear it. He took a risk and peeked out around the edge of the door. Burt had his angry face on, and Mr. Hummel looked grumpy as well.
"I'm serious, Dad," Burt said. "Kurt is my son. I don't mind you talking to Finn and all, but don't you go thinking Kurt's going to be something he's not. Finn's great and I love him, but they are two very different kids and they're both gonna be who they're gonna be. And don't you dare say a word to Finn about Kurt."
"Fine. Get my coat, will you? It's time for me to go home."
Finn darted back to the sink. He didn't know the whole story, but he had heard enough to have an idea what was going on. It made him kind of sick to think that Kurt's grandpa liked Finn a lot better than he'd ever like Kurt. He stayed in the kitchen, staring into the sink, for a long while, until Burt came back in.
"Oh. Hi." Finn plunged his hands back into the dishwater. "Your dad go?"
"Yeah." Burt sighed, wiping his face with his hand. "You okay?"
"Me? I'm fine." Finn frowned. "What about you?"
"Yeah. I should be used to it by now," Burt said with a sigh. "It's not like he hasn't been saying the same stuff since Kurt was eight."
"Can you keep a secret?" Burt asked.
"Good." Burt pulled over a stepstool and got up to the highest shelf, where Finn thought there were just old wine glasses that they would only use when they had company. And there were, but behind them, Burt pulled out a bag of chips. Real chips, and barbecue flavored. He tossed them to Finn and then pulled down a bag of Combos for himself.
"Awesome," Finn said, examining his booty.
"Tell your mother or Kurt, and I will kill you," Burt promised. "There are only so many places I can hide my stash."
Finn frowned. "But the doctor said-"
"The doctor said moderation," Burt overrode him. "Not cutting every decent-tasting thing out of my life forever. But if Kurt and your mom had their way, I'd never eat another chip again. A little snacking when I'm stressed isn't going to hurt anyone."
Finn decided he saw the sense in that. The two of them settled down at the table. If Finn was worried, he noticed that Burt had tea instead of the milk that Finn was drinking, and that he did only eat a small amount of the Combos. He relaxed, and it was warm and close in the kitchen.
"So your dad seems pretty…" Finn petered out, because the word he was going to use was 'nice', but that was before he'd overheard the argument at the end. Burt glanced at him from the corner of his eyes.
"Yeah," he said, after a minute. "It's kind of a long story."
Burt made a face that told Finn he was right, but at the same time, shook his head. "We've never been all that close. Most of my life, my dad's been… well, he drank a lot."
Burt saw the horrified expression on Finn's face and laughed. "Nah, he didn't beat me, if that's what you're thinking. Never laid a hand on me if I didn't deserve it. He was just always not there, you know? I mean, he was there- he was real and all, I don't even remember him being away- but he was just…" he shook his head. "I was closer to my mom," he finally finished.
Burt munched a few Combos contemplatively. "Things got better for a while, especially when my mom died, but then Kurt started to-" he cut himself off. "Let's not talk about it now, all right? Hey, there's a Junkyard Wars marathon on tonight. Want to watch?"
"Yeah, sure," Finn said. There was a lot more he wanted to ask, wanted to say, but the look on Burt's face told him that maybe he shouldn't- not right now. He shrugged and joined Burt in the living room. It was weird. Mr. Hummel was technically his grandfather now- he was family, and Finn had really liked him. But if that was true, that Mr. Hummel wished Finn had been his grandson rather than Kurt… Finn's head was starting to hurt.
"Come on," Burt said, clapping a hand on Finn's shoulder. "I'll worry about my dad, okay? Don't worry about it."
It should make him feel better, but Finn couldn't help thinking he'd really be letting Kurt down if it did. Because if there was someone Finn wished he could change, it wasn't Kurt, but Mr. Hummel himself.
It was Friday. Fridays made everyone happy. Burt and Finn were glad to be done work for the week, and Carole was even happier, as it meant her two weeks of night shift were over. But now it also meant that Kurt was coming home from Dalton, and Carole would be lying if she said she wasn't happy about that.
The first time that Carole and Finn had been invited over for Friday night dinner at the Hummel house was one of Carole's favorite memories. It wasn't that the food was fancy (it had been roast chicken and potatoes), or that the conversation had been all that exciting (Finn and Burt had spent half the dinner talking about the Lakers). It was because that was the first time that she knew that she and Burt would probably get married. As the weeks passed she and Finn had become regulars, and it was the first step to the four of them becoming a family. Carole treasured that first Friday night dinner as the beginning of something special.
It was funny, she mused, as she put the lasagna into the oven on a Friday evening. Before all of this mess with the Karofsky kid, they rarely had eaten dinner together during the week anyway. She was still on shifts at the factory, Burt often worked overtime, and there was football and glee and homework and friends. Add in the fact that Kurt preferred his food steamed, Finn preferred his deep fried, and the two had declared war over the merits of tofu, and both Burt and Carole agreed that not all meals needed to be eaten together. But this week, the fact that Kurt was missing had seemed far more important.
"Did Kurt call and say he was going to be late or something?" Finn asked as he came into the kitchen.
"Burt's pacing out there, like he thinks Kurt's in a car accident or something."
Carole laughed. "It's fine, Finn. How was your day?"
"It was okay," Finn said with a shrug. He reached around her and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl. "Wow. You made lasagna? I thought you hated making that."
"It is a pain, but it's one of Kurt's favorites."
"Yeah. I like it, too." There was something about how Finn said that that caught Carole's attention, and she turned sharply to study her son. Finn was crunching into his purloined apple, but he was glaring at the oven.
"Is something wrong, honey?"
"Huh? Oh, no." Finn was clearly lying. Carole pressed her lips together, got the makings for a salad out, and waited. Finally Finn leaned against the counter. "Did you and Burt ever decide on a place for Dad's ashes?"
"Not yet," Carole said, unsure of how the two parts of the conversation connected. "I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it yet."
"But you've had time to make lasagna for Kurt."
The pieces clicked together. "Finn…."
"Look, I get it, okay?" Finn said, putting down his apple and not looking at her. "Kurt had to leave and he was pretty much driven out of school and it was partly my fau- and I know he was scared and everything. I get it. I get how important it all is. But Dad's ashes are important, too."
"And so are you."
"I didn't say that." Finn looked angry.
"Finn." Carole was starting to get annoyed now, because he was trying to guilt her and it was working. "The thing about making lasagna is that I can do it here in the kitchen. Alone. The thing about talking to Burt about your father's ashes is that we both have to be in the same place and in the right mood to talk about it. You have no idea how hard of a subject it is to bring up."
"How hard can it be?" Finn asked. "It's like, one of the big things you have in common. He should get it."
"He does get it! That doesn't mean we sit around and talk about it every night! For crying out loud, Finn, I just made lasagna! You don't have to turn this into a huge which-one-of-you-do-we-love-more thing!"
Finn looked guilty. "I'm sorry," he muttered.
"Well, you should be." Carole sighed and ran her hands through her hair. "I'm sorry, too," she said. "And you're right. It is important that we figure out what to do with your father's ashes. But please don't turn it into something like this, Finn."
"All right." He looked genuinely contrite. Carole peered up at him.
"Yeah. I'm sorry, Mom."
"It's okay. Come on. Help me finish dinner." She smiled and patted his arm. "We'll get through this, Finn, okay? We just all need some time to get used to it."
"Yeah, I know." Finn picked up a knife and a cucumber. Carole watched him for a moment. She should have expected this- she didn't know why she'd assumed Finn wouldn't get jealous of Kurt, especially after Kurt had been so visibly jealous of Finn. Maybe she'd just assumed that if Finn was going to have those problems, it would have been then, when Kurt did. It was a lousy assumption, and Carole resolved that she was going to do better, to show both boys that they were loved, and they were both an equal part of this family.
The door slammed. They heard Kurt's voice in the hall, and Carole immediately put down her work. Finn did too, and he was smiling, but as they went out to greet Kurt, Finn's eyes stayed on her. Carole sighed. She would be able to do it, but it was going to be a little more difficult than she'd thought.
Burt and Finn had gone out to watch some game, and Carole was relieved. Between Finn's grouchiness and Burt giving her advice about her job (which was ever so welcome, really, not like she hadn't been working this job for over ten years), she was just as happy to let them go. It was just her and Kurt in the house, and Kurt was sitting on the couch not really watching Friday night TV, his knees drawn up and his eyes unfocused. "Here," Carole said, handing Kurt a small bowl of ice cream. Kurt stared at it in shock.
"Ice cream. What does it look like?" Carole sat down beside him on the couch with her own bowl. "I heard you complaining about all the work you had to catch up on. Sounded like you had a rough day."
"But how did you know about ice cream?" Kurt asked.
"Because you went through a pint of it the evening after we pulled you from McKinley."
"It was Finn."
Carole looked at Kurt evenly. "It was salted caramel ice cream, Kurt. Finn doesn't eat that."
"Oh." Kurt tried not to look guilty as he picked up the spoon and scooped some up. "I see."
"And so is this. I know it's your favorite. It's mine, too, as it happens." Carole took a bite of her own. "So how is Dalton? I mean, really? And I'm not talking about the work. Give me the dirt, kiddo." She nudged him with her toe.
"The Warblers think I'm cute," Kurt said with a sigh.
"Cute? That's good."
"No, not cute like 'hey baby' cute," Kurt said. "Cute like, 'aww, look at him trying so hard' cute."
"Oh. Patronizing cute."
"Yes. But at least it's affectionate, I suppose." Kurt sighed and sat back, skimming his spoon along the ice cream in his bowl. "I know I told Dad that Dalton was a very open and accepting place, but I actually was telling the truth. Especially the Warblers. I even had someone offer to be my lab partner in chemistry."
Carole smiled at that. "What about your friend? Blaine?"
Kurt's face brightened, and oh, Carole knew that that was a crush right there. "He's fantastic," Kurt said. "We spent so much time together this week- don't worry, he found me," he added with a sarcastic tone that didn't quite cover up some deep bitterness in his voice," and Carole, I've never… I haven't had a friend like this before."
"Don't get me wrong, Carole, Finn's wonderful," Kurt hastened to reassure her. "And Mercedes, and the rest of New Directions. But Blaine is different. He's…" he looked around, all lit up and just amazed at his own luck. "He's amazing."
"I'm glad for you," Carole said. Glad and worried, because she didn't think anyone could live up to the pedestal that Kurt was putting this Blaine kid on. But then she needed to give Kurt more credit. He'd survived Finn's tumble from those heights just fine, and they had come off better for it on the other side. "I'm glad you're happy at Dalton, Kurt." His face froze, and she sighed. "Or at least that you have something to be happy about."
Kurt took a deep breath and raised his head proudly. "I do," he said. "So. What makes you eat ice cream today?"
"A lot of things," Carole admitted, recognizing that he was trying to change the subject. "Some things at the plant. Worries about you and Finn. Something your father-" she cut off sharply.
Kurt arched his eyebrows. "Is everything all right?"
"Oh sweetie, of course it is," Carole said. "Your father simply has a Y chromosome."
"Exactly." She smiled at Kurt, and he smiled back at her. "Your father was just being a man. I know you are as well, but-"
"I'm not always convinced we're the same species," Kurt finished before she did, and Carole was relieved he hadn't taken her comment the wrong way and gotten defensive. "No, I know exactly what you mean. Or I would, if I could get a man to take notice of me." He snorted. "They are all completely dense."
"Exactly. Thick-headed. You say one thing, and they hear something completely different."
"And they're always convinced they're so right," Kurt said. "Like there is no way that their particular brand of logic could ever be infallible."
"Or that anyone else could ever have a point that they didn't think of first."
"Or that you might actually know something they don't know."
"Or that you might just want them to listen, and not offer suggestions for every last little thing."
"Oh. He's doing that again, is he?" Kurt asked sympathetically.
Carole shook her head. "I'm sorry. I really shouldn't be complaining about your father to you."
"I would be to you," Kurt pointed out. "It's only fair, isn't it?"
"It's different," Carole said. "I'm the adult."
Kurt shrugged. "Maybe if you were talking about something serious. But this isn't serious, is it?" he realized. "Dad does that all the time. It's impossible to just talk to him about something and for him to just nod and say, 'yeah, that must be hard' or whatever. He always has to fix it."
"Exactly. Sometimes you just need to vent." Carole knew she shouldn't be unloading onto the shoulders of a seventeen-year-old boy, but Kurt was nodding enthusiastically.
"And eat ice cream," he finished for her. "I know the calories are horrendous, but I must admit, ice cream does make everything better. Is it helping?"
"It is," Carole said. "What about you?"
"More than I would care to admit."
Carole sighed. "You know what that means, don't you?"
"We finish the pint?" Kurt asked hopefully.
Carole laughed and handed him the remote. "Exactly. You find Project Runway, I'll go get the carton. We'll eat the rest and bitch about men."
Kurt's smile was genuine. "I can't imagine anything that I would like more."
Carole almost ruffled his hair. "Neither can I."
There was a knock against the frame of the open door. "Hey, Kurt," Blaine said, smiling as he swung into the room. "You made it back."
"Yes, the lure of small-minded homophobia and the high fashion of Target were not enough to keep me away." Kurt laughed. "How was your weekend?"
"Surprisingly boring," Blaine said. He drifted into Kurt's room and picked up a pen, playing with it. "How about you?"
"Do anything exciting?"
"Went shopping with Mercedes and spent time battling Finn on Halo."
Blaine blinked. "I didn't think you played video games."
"I don't much," Kurt confessed. "At least, not that type. But it's Finn."
"Mmm." Blaine's eyebrows quirked up. He had no idea what Kurt had once felt for Finn, but Kurt couldn't help looking away regardless. Instead, he found himself looking at the pictures on his mirror and on his desk. Some were framed, some were just the bare snapshots. Pictures of his New Directions, of course- he missed them so much more than he wanted to admit. But also pictures of his family. His father, with his arm draped casually around Kurt's shoulder. His mother, in an old picture that was starting to fade a little. A picture of Carole and his dad on their wedding day, and a picture of himself and Finn in their tuxes. But his favorite picture, the one his eyes lingered on every night, was the one of the four of them standing in front of the new house. It was the picture Carole was planning on using for Christmas cards this year- the very picture of a family.
"Homesick?" Blaine asked, mistaking Kurt's embarrassment for something else.
"No," Kurt lied, forcing a smile. "I just came from there. Why would I be?"
Blaine shrugged. "It's just that you seem really close to your family. I wouldn't blame you, by the way, if you were. I was, the first week I was here."
There was something very reassuring about that, that Blaine would accept that Kurt was homesick. Kurt turned back to face him, and seeing the expression on his face, Blaine sat down on Kurt's bed, legs crossed, obviously ready to listen. "I am a little," Kurt confessed. "It's just that everyone's still getting used to it, falling into roles, and I'm here."
"Well, I'm sure you can't be replaced," Blaine said, reaching forward and patting Kurt's knee. Kurt wished his blood wouldn't do that weird thing where it warmed at Blaine's touch but ran cold at his words, because that wasn't what he was thinking, at all. He pushed it away and brightened.
"At least I got to pick up my December issue of Vogue," he said. "Did you see the story on Angelina Jolie?"
As he intended, Blaine went for the new subject, and they chatted companionably. Kurt relaxed, relieved that Blaine hadn't thought the whole subject was silly, and that Blaine had felt the same way. He'd get over it and get used to living here at Dalton during the week. It would just take a little time, that was all.
"Are you going to buy one?" Janet asked Carole as they looked at the jewelry spread out on a table.
"I will," Carole said. "It's a good cause." One of the women in the plant was doing Team in Training, running a marathon to raise money for cancer research. She was selling beaded bracelets as a part of her fundraising. They were pretty, too, Carole thought.
"This one's my most popular," the woman said, showing them a bracelet with a bead with pink ribbon.
"Can't go wrong with that one," Janet said ruefully. "It seems like everyone knows someone with breast cancer these days. I'll take one of those."
"Can I have one of the orange ones?" Carole asked, handing over her money.
Janet frowned thoughtfully. "Those are for leukemia," she said. "I thought your aunt had breast cancer."
"She did. But Burt's first wife died of leukemia."
"Oh." Janet cocked her head. "That's kind of… well…."
"It's very kind," the woman selling the bracelets said.
"It's extremely kind," Janet said. "I just thought you'd pick something that someone in your family suffered from." Carole slipped the bracelet on her wrist and said nothing.
She was very aware of the bracelet all day, but in a pleasant sort of way. Mostly pleasant. It felt a little awkward, too, to be wearing this memorial in honor of a woman she'd never met, but who had loved the same man that Carole did. It wasn't until she arrived at home that she felt any hesitation about the bracelet at all, and it wasn't anything Burt said. It was walking into the living room and seeing Finn sitting on the couch, his father's picture in his hands.
"I know you don't want to put the ashes in your room," Carole said, "but you're old enough now to have that picture. I think you're past the age of breaking the frame."
"Thanks." Finn looked up. "Mom? Have you talked to Burt? About the ashes, I mean?"
"Not yet." Carole fidgeted. "Are you going to put the picture on your nightstand or a shelf?"
"I don't know," Finn said impatiently. "Why haven't you talked to him? You said you would."
Carole took a deep breath, and then another, forcing down her urge to snap at her son. "And I will. It just has to be the right time, Finn."
"Okay, okay." Finn stood up. "No need to get so snippy," he muttered. Fortunately for him, he muttered it quietly enough (and Carole was feeling guilty enough) that she could pretend she hadn’t heard. He gently put the picture down on the end table and disappeared into the kitchen.
Carole sat down on the couch and picked up the picture. She would never tell Finn, but sometimes it was hard to see Chris's face easily without the picture in front of her, and she was okay with that. She loved Chris and she always would, but she was happy now, too.
If she brought up the question of the urn to Burt, Burt's answer would be simple: what do you want? And the truth was, Carole didn't know how to answer that question. She knew where Chris belonged in her heart and in her life, but she wasn't sure where he belonged in this house. She glanced at the bracelet on her wrist, wondering if she'd crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed.
The thought was uncomfortable. She pulled the bracelet off and slipped it into her pocket, then stood up, the picture in her hand. She'd take it up to Finn's room, and then she'd find Burt and they'd talk about this. The first part of her plan went off without a hitch, but when she in Finn's room, her cell buzzed.
"Hey, babe, it's me."
"You sound exhausted," Carole said.
"I am. Hey, listen, I just got this car in that needs a new timing belt. The owner's willing to pay twice the money if I get it done tonight."
"You're kidding. That's a three or four hour job."
"Yeah. Guess they're desperate. And I'm not going to turn down that kind of money." She could see Burt tipping his hat back and smoothing his hand over his head. "Anyway, I'll be home late tonight."
"It's fine. I'll see you tonight." She hung up the phone and then shook her head. The conversation had waited this long, it could wait another day or two.
"Dad, come on. You wanted me to be more comfortable at Dalton," Kurt wheedled.
"Then you can stay next weekend," his father answered, the phone line crackling a little, like it knew how charged this conversation was. "You're coming home this weekend. We have family coming."
"It's not our family," Kurt said. "It's Finn's grandmother."
"She's our family now. You're coming home, and that's that."
"Fine," Kurt huffed, rolling his eyes. He said goodbye and hung up, irritated.
"Everything okay?" Blaine asked, looking up from the homework that he was doing as he sprawled across Kurt's bed.
"Yes," Kurt said with a sigh. "I just was hoping to stay here this weekend."
"Yeah?" Blaine sat up enthusiastically. "That would be great. We could go see a movie. They're showing the Robin Hood movie from the nineties. The Kevin Costner one."
"As appealing as that sounds," Kurt said sarcastically, and suddenly going home seemed a little less painful, "I've been summoned to appear at home." He rolled his eyes. "Finn's grandmother is going to be there."
"Oh. Is she that bad?"
"Actually, I don't know," Kurt confessed. "I only met her at the wedding, and then very briefly. But she's old, Blaine."
"So she'll hate me!"
"I don't know how anyone could hate you," Blaine said. Kurt glared at him, and he dropped the act. "All right. But think about it, Kurt. If she was going to hate you, would your dad insist that you were home for the weekend? Wouldn't he and Carole have her visit when you're not there?"
Kurt crossed his arms and looked away. "I guess," he muttered.
"No, you're right," Kurt said with a sigh. "I just get nervous, that's all. I'm still expecting some Catholic schoolmarm, ex-nun type who needs to learn about the wonders of tweezing."
Blaine laughed. "And you want to stay here," he said.
Kurt shrugged. "And be subjected to Kevin Costner's horrendous attempt at a British accent? I don't think so."
"Maybe next weekend?" Blaine asked, and Kurt's breath caught in his throat at Blaine's hopeful expression, and he nodded.
His mom still hadn't talked to Burt. Finn got it, he really did- but the fact that the urn still sat in a box was bothering him a lot. He thought about just putting the urn out himself, on the end of the mantle over the fireplace. No one would care much, right? But the idea of someone getting upset over it and yelling at him made him hesitate.
He was venting his frustration about the situation to Rachel over the phone when she said something that stopped him cold in his tracks. "Why don't you ask him? Maybe it would be easier for Burt to talk about it with you instead of your mom."
"That's crazy," Finn had said automatically, but as the evening wore on, he had to admit that Rachel was probably right. She was, a lot of the time. With a sigh, he headed downstairs.
Burt was still sitting up in the kitchen, drinking a beer. Finn came in, got up on the stool, and pulled down a bag of Burt's special chips. Burt watched him, amused.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Not much," Finn said. He sat down at the table. Burt took a few of the chips, an expectant look on his face. Finn decided not to wait. "Can I ask you something?" Burt nodded. "My mom said she'd ask you," Finn said, rushing on, "but I don't think she has yet. We still have my dad's ashes. I want to put them someplace, but I don't know where. Mom said we should decide together."
"Oh." Burt sat back. "Yeah, I can see where that's a hard question," he said, half to himself, half to Finn. "I hadn't even thought about it." He looked sharply at Finn. "Where do you want to put them?"
"I don't know," Finn admitted. "I mean, on the one hand, they're important, you know?" He was a little worried how Burt would take that, but Burt just nodded. "On the other hand, they aren't… I mean, you and Kurt never even knew him. I don't want him in some place that-" he tried to finish the sentence. Some place that took over the whole room. Some place that made him the center. But those words hurt to say, and Finn couldn't force them past his mouth.
"I see the problem," Burt said. He frowned and studied the living room from their seat at the table. "You know," he said finally, "that corner over there… it could use a bookcase."
"A nice bookcase. Not just for books, but for pictures, and that vase my sister Mildred gave us for our wedding, and that snow globe thing your mom has… for things like that. Important things that we don't want broken." He smiled a little. "I could build one."
"Yeah. Would that work?"
"I don't want it to be extra work," Finn began.
"It wouldn't be. We'd all use it."
They would. And then his father's ashes would be in a place of honor, a place where Finn felt like he hadn't been forgotten, but yes, not in the center of the room. Not in the center of his vision, of his life. "I could help you?" Finn suggested finally.
"Yeah," Burt said. "That's sounds good. We can do it together."
Finn felt like a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. They smiled at each other, and finished eating their chips in silence.
Finn's Nana was in the door in three seconds, and her arms were around Finn two seconds after that. Finn was smiling, and even Kurt couldn't help laughing. Nana wasn't small, but she still had to stand on her toes to kiss Finn on the cheek. She had the classic little-old-lady blue-haired perm (if Carole ever got one of those, Kurt would kill her), she wore a plain pair of polyester pants and a sweatshirt decorated with fall leaves, and no makeup. Finn looked absolutely delighted to see her.
As soon as she released him, she turned right to Kurt. "And Kurt!" she said, pulling him into a hug, just as tight as the one she'd given Finn. Kurt's eyes nearly bulged out of his head, and he looked at Finn in shock. Finn just shrugged.
"It's nice to see you again, Grandma Hudson," he said politely when she released him.
Nana waved him off. "You can call me Nana like Finn does," she informed him. "And you boys can also bring in my bag. I left it in the car. There's a little something for each of you in there as well."
"Come on," Finn said, grabbing Kurt by the arm and pulling him outside. He reached inside the trunk and pulled out a package with his name on in, tearing it open eagerly. "Awesome," he said, brandishing a pair of light-up drumsticks. "I've wanted a pair of these for ages."
"Remind me to thank her," Kurt said dryly.
Finn ignored his sarcasm. "Here," he said, handing Kurt his present and shouldering his grandmother's bag. "This one is for you."
Kurt stared at it stupidly for a minute. "What is it?"
"I don't know. Open it."
Kurt opened it slowly, and then pulled out a small stick pin. It was a sleek black bird, and Kurt recognized it as vintage. "Where did she get this?"
"No clue. Come on." Finn headed for the house, Kurt trailing after him, still admiring the pin. When they got back in the house, Nana was already settled in a chair, a cup of tea in her hands and Carole and Kurt's dad on the couch across from her.
"Where did you get this?" Kurt asked before anyone could say anything.
Nana looked worried. "Don't you like it? I can probably take it back- I picked it up at a little thrift store near me. Carole said it was the kind of thing that you like and-"
"Like it?" Kurt asked. "I love it. You have an eye for fashion."
Nana laughed a little. "I don't know about that," she said, gesturing to her sweatshirt and loose pants. "But I do listen to what Carole tells me you like."
"Well, thank you."
"You don't have to suck up to her, you know," Finn said later when they were taking the bags upstairs. "I know she's not your grandmother, but she likes you."
"I'm not sucking up," Kurt snapped. "You have no idea…"
"Finn, she gave me a pin.".
Kurt sighed heavily. "Do you know what my own grandfather gave me on my last birthday? A baseball cap,"
"Baseball caps are cool," Finn started, although he stopped as Kurt glared at him, and finally, understanding lit his face. "Oh. I guess I get it."
"I didn't expect your grandmother to like me, or to understand me at all," Kurt explained. "But she not only hugged me, but got me something that I would like, even if she doesn't consider it appropriate or masculine or… she got me something I wanted."
"Yeah, that's what she does." Finn shrugged. "Nana's great. I mean, really. She's like, the most awesome person I've ever known. She was a nurse in the Korean War and she's done a lot for veterans' groups and then retired people and she still plays golf all the time. My dad was her only child and-"
That surprised Kurt. "Wait. She's not your mom's mother?"
"No. Her last name is Hudson. She's my dad's mom, but my mom is like a daughter to her or something. My mom was never real close with her parents, at least not after she got pregnant with me."
"So wait a minute." Kurt stopped at the top of the stairs. "Your grandmother is under no obligation to like me or my father- in fact, she could not like us simply for taking her son's place- and she does this?"
Finn shrugged. "Yeah. I guess."
Kurt put the pin through his lapel. "I have a new favorite relative," he announced happily, and he was suddenly very, very glad he'd come home this weekend.
The sun was only just dawning when Burt headed down the stairs. Both boys and Carole were still asleep, and the guest room door was closed as well. It wasn't that early, but even still, Burt was a little surprised to find Nana sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for a pot of coffee.
"I hope you don't mind," she said when Burt came into the kitchen. "I just really need my coffee in the morning."
"Nope. Didn't realize you were up. Can I get you some breakfast? I'm going to make some oatmeal for myself."
"That sounds lovely."
"Really. Oatmeal sounds lovely," Burt said dryly.
Nana looked surprised. "It doesn't to you?"
"I'd rather have donuts," Burt admitted, pouring the skim milk. "But it's eat right or another heart attack, so…."
"Getting older sucks."
Her blunt language made Burt laugh. "Yeah," he said. "It does." He stirred the milk. "It is a lot better with some brown sugar and a banana." He began slicing one up. "So, what did you want to do today?"
"I don't know. I thought about taking the boys to the zoo, but they're really a bit beyond that, aren't they?" Nana got up to pour the coffee. "What do teenage boys enjoy doing these days, anyway?"
"Got me. Mostly it seems to be watching TV and hanging out with their friends. Eating." Burt frowned as he thought. "Of course, Finn and Kurt like doing completely different things half the time."
Burt finished making the oatmeal before he spoke again. "You're very good to Kurt, you know," he finally said. "It means a lot to him."
Nana sighed, and Burt braced himself for what she was about to say, especially as her face looked wistful and sad. He wasn't expecting her to say what she did.
"You have to understand," she began, "Chris is my only child. We were upset when he and Carole got into trouble, but Chris did the right thing without any prompting. He wanted to do the right thing. And I have no doubt in my mind that if he had not had to go to Iraq, he and Carole would have done very well together."
There wasn't much to say to that. Burt put the oatmeal down on the table and sat down across from her.
"I didn't know Carole well before she and Chris got married," Nana continued. "And for a while, I didn't make the effort. I was angry, and I was angry that Chris joined the military. I've been to war, you see. I've seen what it does to people, especially the young men who fight. I didn't want that for my Chris. But he wanted to provide for his baby, and the Army seemed like the best way." She leaned her chin on her hand, ignoring both coffee and oatmeal. "When he was killed, I was heartbroken. And I'm sure it's what killed my husband, six years later. The doctors called it a heart attack, but the truth was his heart just gave out.
"I thought I was going to be alone. No, truthfully, I thought I'd follow him right then and there. But I forgot I had Carole. Carole was there, helping me every step of the way." Nana smiled softly. "Do you know there were days I forgot that she was married to Chris? I thought of her- I think of her- as my own daughter. And I know what it feels like to be alone and lose a partner. That's not what I want for Carole, I love her too much." Nana smiled and laid a hand over Burt's. "So that's why I love you and Kurt. Because you are not the man who's taken my son's place. You are the man who has made my daughter happy again."
For a long moment, Burt's throat was too closed to speak. All he could do was cover Nana's other hand with his own. Any awkwardness he'd felt with this woman vanished. He tried to think of something to say, but all he could come up with was, "Yeah, I kind of think of you as Carole's mother, too."
"As it should be." Nana smiled, and pulled her hand away and picked up her spoon. "It's going to get all cold and gummy if we sit here being all sentimental."
Burt grinned and picked up his own spoon. The meal might be oatmeal, but it was one of the best breakfasts he'd had in a long time.
"So I take it you liked her," Carole said, settling on the couch, the phone cradled against her ear.
"She's extraordinary," Kurt said happily.
"But you didn't call and ask to talk to me just to discuss my former mother-in-law," Carole said.
"No." She could see Kurt's face changing into something more serious, even though he was miles away at Dalton. "I had a question."
"I figured. What's going on?"
Kurt hemmed and hawed for a moment. "Do you think," he finally said slowly, "that Dad would be all right if I stayed at Dalton for a weekend?"
Carole's eyebrows went up. On the one hand, Kurt could be so independent, wanting to do his own thing and often not worrying too much about permission. On the other hand, this was Burt. A lot of that teenage behavior went out of the window if he was at all worried about Burt.
"I think he'd be fine with it, honey," she said carefully. "He'll probably be happy that you're settling in there."
"You think so?" Kurt still sounded worried.
"I'm not entirely sure," Carole said, not wanting to give the final say when it wasn't her kid in question, "but I'm pretty sure he'll be fine with you asking."
"All right. Thank you, Carole." She could hear Kurt letting out a sigh of relief. She talked to him for a few minutes more, and then hung up, a little smile playing at the corner of her lips as she did so. Burt would be a little disappointed, but he would be fine with it, if Kurt was happy. Carole was just glad that he finally was.
"You psyched for the game tonight?" Burt asked as he sanded the wood for the bookshelf.
"Yeah." Finn sighed, and then tried to sound more enthusiastic. "No, yeah. I am. We've got a great team, and I really think we can get to the championships."
"I think you can, too," Burt said, with all the confidence in the world. "So what's bugging you?"
"Rachel's mad at me," Finn admitted.
"Oh." Burt raised his eyebrows. "Can I ask what happened?"
"You can ask, but it doesn't make any sense."
Burt nodded slowly. "Yeah, I get that. You okay?"
"I guess. At least for now. I mean, I've got football to keep my mind off it, right?"
"Right." Burt frowned.
"What's wrong?" Finn asked.
Burt smoothed the paper more slowly over the edge of the shelf. "My dad's coming to the game tonight." He glanced at Finn from the side of his eyes. "That okay with you?"
Finn shrugged. "Why wouldn't it be? Isn't it okay with you?"
"Yeah. It is. It's just…" Burt adjusted his cap. "He never came to one of Kurt's games, you know? I mean, I know Kurt didn't play long, but still. He's talking about coming to Sectionals, too."
"That's good, isn't it?" Finn asked. "Kurt will be singing at Sectionals." Burt didn't answer. "And he's come to other competitions before, right?"
"Oh." The realization washed over Finn slowly. Mr. Hummel was coming to hear him sing. Not Kurt. No wonder Burt looked pissed.
"Look," Burt said, "forget I said anything, okay? This isn't something you should be worrying about. You shouldn’t even know about it, really."
"No, it's okay," Finn said. He wondered how Kurt would feel when he saw his grandfather in the audience this time. Finn wanted to believe Kurt would just be happy- look how happy he'd gotten over that pin that Nana had given him- but Finn suspected that Kurt would put the pieces together. From the way Burt talked, it sounded like this weird, quiet rejection by Kurt's grandfather had been going on for a long time. And Finn knew how that felt. His mom's parents hardly talked to them. It sucked.
"You know what?" he said carefully. "Mr. Schuester's giving solos to some of the other kids this time, like Quinn and Sam and Santana. Me and Rachel aren't singing them."
"Yeah?" Burt glanced at him. "I didn't know that."
"Yeah. I'm just going to be swaying in the background." Finn faked a laugh. "I think it's kind of crazy- if you want to win you put your best players in the starting lineup, right? But that's what's happening."
"I didn’t know that," Burt repeated. He smiled. "Thanks for telling me."
"No problem." Finn looked at him. "You're still gonna come, right?"
"I'd come if you and Kurt were just tapping your feet," Burt said. "But I think it might put my dad off."
It was a strange thing, and Finn hoped he had done the right thing by telling Burt that. After all, maybe if Mr. Hummel came to Sectionals, he'd get how much Kurt loved Glee and stuff. Or maybe not, judging by the way Burt was smiling, like he was glad to have a reason that Mr. Hummel couldn't come. Because yeah, if Mr. Hummel started in on Kurt's range or something, or comparing him to Finn- especially if Kurt didn't get a solo- it would be worse than if he'd never come at all.
"I think we've got this about done," Burt said. Together they hoisted the shelf up to a standing position and stood back to admire their handwork. "Looks good," Burt said approvingly. "All we have to do now is paint it. And this is a good weekend to do it without Kurt around to complain we're using eggshell instead of white."
Finn laughed, but then caught himself. "Wait, there's a difference?"
"I know, right?" Burt clapped Finn on the shoulder. "We'll do it tomorrow. Right now, you'd better go get ready for your game."
"And Finn? Thanks."
Finn nodded. He wasn't sure he understood what had just happened completely, but he was sure that somewhere in there, he'd said he right thing.
Kurt would never say the weekend at Dalton was bad. Blaine had spent a lot of time with him, not just because this was the first weekend Kurt could spend at Dalton and he was being nice, but because Blaine wanted to. Kurt knew he was more than capable of making things up in his head, but he'd been careful enough with Blaine to know that Blaine was the one suggesting things for them to do, and that Blaine really did want to spend time with him. Blaine even managed to smooth over the disaster that was his Sectionals audition (Kurt still didn't quite understand where he'd gone wrong, but Blaine assured him he'd get it eventually.) So it was a good weekend.
Blaine had spent time with other people, too, leaving Kurt on his own. Which turned out to be fine, because all of the Warblers were friendly. Kurt had eaten lunch with Nick and Jeff, and David had offered to tutor him in math to get him caught up. And Kurt's lab partner, who couldn't sing a note but who was a good guy, invited Kurt to go to the movies with him and some friends. (Kurt had refused, but only because they were going to see Due Date. No. Just… no.) He'd had a good weekend- he really had.
He was sitting at his desk in his room on Sunday night when the phone rang. Kurt glanced at the caller ID, and then answered it immediately. "You do know I don't deliver pizza."
"Ha ha. I can't call to say hello?" Finn said through a mouthful of something.
"No, you can. I'm just surprised that you knew that the phone was used for something other than ordering takeout or delivery."
"Yeah. Rachel explained it to me," Finn said in a voice that Kurt couldn't tell if he was making an ironic joke or absolutely serious. The first seemed out of character, but the second was just too terrifying to be believed. "So what's up?"
"I don't know. You called me." Kurt sat back in his desk chair, stretching. He still had at least two hours of reading to go. "Why are you calling me, anyway?"
"I was complaining I hadn't talked to you in a while," Finn said. "And Mercedes and Rachel started lecturing about the phone, and that I could just pick up and call. I tried to explain that guys don't talk on the phone, but then they asked me if I remembered who exactly you were."
"They have a point," Kurt said dryly.
"Yeah, but that means you could have picked up the phone and called."
"Mmm." Kurt fell silent for that one.
"So how is Dalton, anyway?" Finn asked cautiously. "Everything going okay?"
"Everything's fine." Given how upset Finn had been about Kurt even coming here, Kurt wasn't sure how much Finn wanted to hear. He looked at the picture on the desk of him and Finn, the one of them in their tuxes at the wedding. They looked relaxed and happy there. Even when he was home, it was easy to talk to Finn. So why was there so much silence between them on the phone? "How are Dad and Carole?" Kurt asked, more just to say something.
"They're fine," Finn said. "They went out. Oh, and Burt finally told me about his secret stash of chips he thinks we all don't know about." Both of them laughed, but the conversation petered out again. In the silence, Kurt could hear Finn chewing, and even fainter, something on the TV.
"What are you watching?"
"Oh. There's not much on, but I was surfing and- you're going to think this is nuts."
"Oh, good. Blackmail. Tell me."
"Did you ever see American Tail?"
Kurt sat up straighter. "I loved that movie when I was a kid!"
"Yeah? Me, too. My mom picked it up for, like, a buck, and I had a month where I watched it almost every day."
"I must have watched it for two or three," Kurt remembered. "Did it age well?"
"Not really. The voices are really shrill, especially on the song."
"Oh, I remember that song," Kurt sighed wistfully. "Somewhere out there…"
"Dude, you are not singing on the phone."
Kurt smirked. "Beneath the pale moonlight," he continued, more to annoy Finn than anything else, and deliberately cracking the high note. "Someone's thinking of me and loving me tonight. Come on, Finn, you know you can't-"
"Somewhere out there, someone's saying a prayer," Finn sang back before Kurt could even finish mocking him. "That we'll find one another in that big somewhere out there."
"And even though we know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star."
"And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby, it helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky."
They burst into the last lyrics together, no longer squeaking and mocking, but singing the song to the best of their abilities. "Somewhere out there, if love can see us through, then we'll be together. Somewhere out there, out where dreams come true."
Their voices faded out, and Kurt had to admit they had sounded really, really good together. But then the reality of what they had just done hit him, at the same time it hit Finn.
"Dude," Finn said, "did we just sing each other 'Somewhere, Out There' over the phone?"
"Oh my god. We did." Kurt was torn between mortification and amusement. "We should never speak of this again."
"Yeah. Totally." Finn was laughing. "You know, we sounded really good, though. We should sing that at Sectionals."
"We should," Kurt agreed, and then they both stopped because they both remembered that they would be singing against each other at Sectionals. "Oh," Kurt said quietly.
"Yeah," Finn said.
"Let's not talk about that," Kurt said. He dove into the first question he could think of. "How's Rachel?"
That got Finn talking, and they got off the subject, Finn droning on as Kurt made "mm-hmm" noises at appropriate intervals. They talked for fifteen minutes more, until Finn must have decided he'd done his brotherly duty and they said goodnight. It seemed silly, but as Kurt hung up the phone, he thought the room seemed a lot quieter than it had before.
He stood up and walked over to his window, looking out over the lit paths on Dalton's small campus. The sun had fully set and the sky was dark, and when he looked up he could see a star. A bright star. He stood staring at it, and as he watched it twinkle, he couldn't help smiling.
The thing about Dalton was that it was a fresh start. And someday, Kurt really wanted that- a fresh start in a place where people wouldn't judge him based solely on provincial, back-water, hick-town standards of normalcy. But he'd wanted to make that start on his own terms, with his own timing. Not to have it forced on him by some ham-fisted bully who was so far in the closet that he could be a clothes hanger. (If Karofsky even knew what clothes hangers were. Kurt had his doubts.) Kurt ran his fingers over the edge of his phone. Dalton was great, but he didn't have those deep connections. They were friendly, but they were friendly because Kurt was human, not because Kurt was Kurt. He'd earned those friendships back with New Directions, as rocky as some of them might be, and he'd earned his brotherhood with Finn most of all.
If he was home right now, he'd probably be fighting with Finn, or doing his own homework up in his room. It wasn't like he and Finn would be having all of the magical bonding moments that Kurt had once imagined. He knew that. He'd grown up enough to acknowledge that. But that didn't mean he still missed it. He looked up at the sky one last time and shook his head. He was being ridiculous, staring at stars.
He had no idea that, back in Lima, Finn was doing the same thing.
"It's going to be a disaster," Kurt predicted. "Your Nana is going to meet my grandfather, they're going to exchange war stories and then fall in love, and they're going to get married and it's going to put us on some talk show." They were both sitting on their knees on the couch, peering out the windows at the driveway.
"First, my nana is, like, twenty years older than your grandpa," Finn said. "Second, I think Nana's got better taste than- oops." Kurt was staring at him strangely. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"No, I quite agree," Kurt said. "I just didn't expect you to agree with that. Don't you get along with my grandfather?"
"We get along okay," Finn said. "I guess. But he is kind of a jerk."
"Kind of." Kurt rolled his eyes and leaned on his elbows, looking out the window again. "He's a complete and utter homophobic ass who has refused to be seen in public with me for the past five years. Dad's tried to keep it from me, but even he can't hide that."
"Oh." Finn hadn't realized how clearly Kurt saw the situation. Fortunately, a car pulled up and ended the conversation.
They made it through all the hellos, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the first football game with no incident whatsoever. The two grandparents were civil to each other, but there were no obvious sparks. Kurt spent a lot of the morning helping Carole in the kitchen, and Finn sat out in the family room with Burt and the grandparents, talking about football and happily commenting on the games that were happening that afternoon. It was dinner that was the disaster.
It started out innocently enough, with Kurt poking his head out of the kitchen and calling for Burt to come handle the gravy.
"The gravy?" Mr. Hummel asked, furrowing his brow. "What do they need your help with for the gravy?"
"Burt makes great gravy," Finn said enthusiastically. "No lumps or anything. My mom's always has lumps."
Nana nudged Finn's ankle with her toe. "I'm sure it's better than what you know how to make," she teased.
"Of course it is," Mr. Hummel said. "Finn doesn't make gravy. The only thing men should have to do with the dinner is carving the turkey."
Finn frowned. "Look, I love my mom, but you haven't tasted her gravy compared to Burt's. And Kurt's been in the kitchen the whole day."
"Yeah, well, that's Kurt." Mr. Hummel sat back with a scowl. Finn glanced over at Nana for her reaction, but she was looking at the TV remote with a frown.
"We should turn it up," she suggested, doing so. Then there was a particularly exciting play that had two of them cheering and one swearing at the screen, so the conversation went by the wayside.
It got picked up again when Carole came out into the living room. "Dinner is served," she said, smiling and gesturing towards the dining room table. Finn managed to restrain himself from running out, because Thanksgiving dinner? Definitely one of the highlights of the year. And when he got to the table, the food smelled amazing.
Kurt appeared beside him wearing oven mitts and holding a casserole dish. "I made twice-baked sweet potatoes, just for you," he told Finn, brandishing the dish. "To show you the extent of my brotherly devotion, I used full fat sour cream, a stick of butter, brown sugar, toasted pecans, and marshmallows. The fat content alone should kill you, but you'll die with heaven on your tongue, courtesy of Martha Stewart and myself."
"I love you," Finn said, staring at the perfectly browned marshmallows that topped the potatoes that had been stuffed back into their shell. Because really, when presented with something that smelled that good, what else could you say?
Kurt did that weird thing he did with his head when he was acting all prim and proper and trying not to show that he was incredibly pleased with himself and put the casserole dish on the table. Finn sat down next to him, and after a short grace, they all started passing the food. Finn was so busy on loading up his plate that he barely listened to the conversation.
By the time he tuned back in, the adults were talking about the recent elections for governor. Finn had only barely followed them (and only because they were covering it in Current Events), but apparently Nana and Mr. Hummel had very different ideas.
"I'm surprised you didn't vote for Strickland," Mr. Hummel was saying. "After everything he did for vets? I don't know about you, but I sure appreciated him making my retirement tax-free."
"I do appreciate that," Nana acknowledged, cutting her turkey neatly. "But he has other ideas I don't agree with. I'm sure you can understand that."
"Oh. You're one of them," Mr. Hummel said disapprovingly, and Finn assumed that Mr. Hummel meant liberals or democrats or something.
"One of whom?" Nana asked.
"One of them Catholics."
Oh. Oh, wait. This wasn't going to be good. Nana was offended, Finn could see it in her posture. "Yes," she said. "I'm Catholic. What, pray tell, is so terribly wrong with that?"
"You people have a funny way of forgetting the whole separation of church and state thing."
"I hardly see it that way."
"Yeah, and that's the problem. Take that marriage amendment, for example." Finn had to think which one Mr. Hummel meant and if it was meant to ban or legalize gay marriage, because the national one had been, like, ages ago.
Nana glanced at Kurt. "I hardly think that that's an appropriate thing to argue about right now and-"
Mr. Hummel overrode her. "I'm not saying I agree with it, okay? The idea of fags and- excuse me, language, right Burt?" He rolled his eyes as Burt turned red with anger. "The idea of men marrying men and women marrying women isn't right. But the idea of changing the Constitution to take away the rights of Americans sickens me even more. That's not what this country's ever been about."
That shocked Finn down to his toes, and Kurt must have felt the same, because when Finn looked at him, his face was white. Nana glanced at Kurt as well. "This is not the place-" she began again.
"Bet you would have been in line for Prohibition, too," Mr. Hummel said. "And look how well that worked out! Ha!"
"Prohibition was also meant to protect people," Nana said primly.
Mr. Hummel snorted. "Yeah, protecting. That's what they told us when they sent us those draft notices and said, 'leave your wife and kids and come die for some bullshit.' I've had my rights taken away from me, lady, and no one should have that happen. The day we do that is the day the Communists start winning."
"Enough!" Burt shouted. "That's enough of this conversation!" And to Finn's surprise, he wasn't just glaring at Mr. Hummel, but at Nana, too. It was when he realized that why Burt was red with anger and why Kurt was so white. Kurt wasn't shocked at his grandfather, but because Nana…. The realization washed over Finn like a wave. Nana didn't believe in gay marriage.
Burt's color was returning to normal. "That's enough, all right?" he said, sitting back down at his place. "No more political talk. This is a family dinner."
Mr. Hummel didn't seem bothered, but Nana seemed distressed. She reached over and patted Kurt's hand. Kurt sat frozen, his face still stiff with shock. "Kurt, sweetheart, you are a very lovely, very sweet boy. Please don't think that I would ever think anything else, all right?"
Kurt opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Finn felt terrible for him. You are thinking something else, he wanted to say, and maybe if it had been anyone else, he would have. But this was his grandmother, and you didn't talk back to your grandmother.
"Good," Burt practically snarled. "Good. Now let's act like the family we are and not be tearing each other down at the Thanksgiving table."
"You obviously don't remember Thanksgiving at our house," Mr. Hummel muttered, but he obligingly changed the subject. "Cincinnati Bengals are playing the Jets tonight. What do you think their chances are, Finn?"
Finn sat up straight at the sound of his own name, "I think the Bengals have a chance," he said, starting to eat again. He started arguing companionably with Mr. Hummel about the game scheduled for tonight, and after a bit, Burt and Nana joined in, and even his mother added a comment or two. It felt like it was smoothed over, but beside Finn, he could still feel the anger radiating off Kurt, and he couldn't help feeling like he'd let his stepbrother down again.
The house was quiet, with the rest of the family asleep. Kurt sat on the couch, knees drawn up and hugging a pillow, Nana's voice going through his mind.
You are family, Kurt, she'd said, holding his hands in hers. And you always will be. You are a very, very dear boy, and I just wish…. She'd trailed off and kissed him on the forehead, and then picked up her coat and hat. And just like that, she'd left. Like she hadn't said anything at all.
Kurt startled, and then relaxed as he saw Carole standing there. She was wearing flannel pants and a t-shirt, and her hair was messed up and rumpled. She was also holding two wine glasses. "Want one?" she asked, holding it out to Kurt.
"That's wine," Kurt said unnecessarily.
"Yes, and I'm your legal guardian giving it to you. I needed a glass. I thought that you might like one, too." Kurt nodded and took it from her. "I would have brought the ice cream," Carole continued, sitting down next to Kurt, "but I'm stuffed."
"I am, too."
The corner of Carole's mouth quirked up in a smile, but it didn't even come close to reaching her eyes. "How are you doing?"
The warmth of the room and her face made Kurt skip any pretense. "Just… shocked, I guess. Disappointed." He took a little sip of wine. "Exhausted."
"You look tired." She leaned her head back, closing her eyes. "I'm sorry, Kurt."
"I should have said something when they started in. I know Dot. I should have known where she was going to go."
Kurt shrugged. "My father beat you to it." He sipped his wine again. "I just don't understand. She bought me a pin and she's so nice to me and she knows I'm gay. I know she knows. And yet she…" he shook his head. "I don't know what I should even do."
"When I first found out I was pregnant with Finn…" Carole began slowly, and then stopped. "Can I ask you not to repeat any of this conversation to Finn? Ever?"
Kurt sat up a little straighter. "Of course."
"I almost had an abortion."
"Oh." That shouldn't be so shocking, but it was.
"My parents wanted me to have one. I wanted to have one. Chris and I weren't married, and we were still in college."
"Oh." Another shock- Kurt had had no idea that Carole ever had gone to college. He wasn't sure where this was going, but he trusted Carole enough to know it was going somewhere.
"Chris proposed before I could have it, and I didn't feel like I could have that abortion anymore. Not now that the baby had a father, and I had someone to help me. We got married very quickly, so of course, everyone knew why. My parents were furious." Carole laughed bitterly. "Not that it mattered much- we were never that close. But Dot was furious, too. And even moreso when she found out that I was going to get an abortion.
"We had a huge fight, eventually. She was so dead set against it. She started speaking to me again and we smoothed things over, especially once Finn was born and Chris died, but it took her years to tell her that she forgave me for even considering it. Years."
"How many years?" Kurt asked.
Carole turned to face him, and she looked like she was about to cry. "She told me she forgave me at the wedding."
"When you married Finn's dad? But I thought you said-"
"When I married your father, Kurt. That's when she finally told me that she'd forgiven me." Seventeen years later. The words weren't said out loud, but Kurt heard them.
"Why?" he asked finally. "Why did you put up with her for all those years then? Why?"
Carole shrugged and took a drink of wine before she answered. "That's when she told me she forgave me, Kurt. She actually did it a long time ago. The way she treated me, it was like a daughter. And by the time Finn was two, I knew she had, even though we never talked about it. Sometimes the words 'I'm sorry' are important. Sometimes, they're not."
"It's a lovely story, Carole," Kurt finally said, "but it's not the same thing. You didn't get the abortion, but I'm always going to be gay. And I'm not going to hide it or pretend I'm not."
"And I am in no way asking you to," Carole said firmly. "If you want, we'll do our best to minimize your contact with her."
"I don't know," Kurt said, leaning his head back against the couch. "She was just so… so kind, Carole. The first time she visited, she gave me a pin, and I thought that she really understood."
"She gave you that pin because she wanted you to be happy."
"A pin isn't what I want."
He thought about that pin again. He'd treasured that pin- so small and delicate, perfect for so many pieces. The only person who had ever given him anything like that was Mercedes. Even his own father had avoided buying Kurt anything that might be construed as feminine, preferring to hand him the money and claim that he'd probably get it wrong if he tried to buy it himself. He thought about Finn pushing away and calling him a 'fag' just last year, and this year dancing with him in front of people.
Finn hadn't said anything tonight- Kurt hadn't let that pass unnoticed. It was his father who'd broken up that discussion. Kurt leaned forward and rested his forehead on his updrawn knees. "I don't understand any of this."
Carole tentatively touched his shoulder, and when Kurt didn't throw her off, she began to rub his back. "You don't have to decide anything tonight, Kurt," she said. "You don't have to make any final decisions at all. Ever. Play it by ear, if you want. Just tell us, and we'll help you." She slipped her arm around his shoulder, and Kurt leaned into her, letting her comfort him.
Kurt sat bolt-upright, looking at his father with wide eyes. "We're fine," he said.
His father seemed more interested in what was in his hand. "Wine?"
"I gave it to him, Burt." Carole was quick to jump in. "It's just one glass."
"Mmm." He didn't look convinced, but he didn't press it, either. Kurt relaxed a little. "You doing all right, buddy?"
Kurt nodded. He probably should talk about this all with his father, and he felt mildly guilty that he didn't. But after talking to Carole, he was completely worn out. His father wandered into the kitchen and got a beer.
"What's everyone doing up?" Finn asked, coming into the room. "I heard Burt coming downstairs. Are we doing a midnight snack? I could really go for a turkey sandwich right now."
Carole met Kurt's eyes and they both smiled, and Kurt knew the conversation was over. The moment was gone, and a part of Kurt was glad. But he also knew he was welcome to talk about it with her at any time, and there was something immensely comforting about that.
"I could manage a turkey sandwich," his dad said from the kitchen. "Anyone else?" Finn disappeared to the kitchen like a magnet was pulling on him.
"It's almost Pavlovian," Kurt said, watching Finn disappear. "Say 'turkey' and he literally starts drooling.'"
"You know," Carole said slowly, "maybe I could eat a little something."
To Kurt's surprise, his own stomach made a noise. "I could, too. I guess I didn't eat as much as I thought at dinner."
"Come on." Carole linked her arm through his. "Let's go watch how much your father and Finn can put away." Kurt squeezed her arm in silent thanks and followed after her. He had no clear idea what he was going to do right now, but it was nice to know that his family was going to support him, whatever choice he made.
Between Thanksgiving and Sectionals, Carole had expected Kurt's bad mood. But after Sectionals, Finn turned downright miserable to live with. The day after the competition he was stomping around, snapping at everyone in sight. Carole avoided him for a day just to see if it would blow over, but it didn't. So on Monday night, she went up to Finn's room and picked up a controller for the video game he was playing. Fortunately, he was playing Resident Evil, so she was able to join him pretty easily.
"So what's going on, kiddo?" she asked after they'd slain an especially difficult group of zombies.
"Well, we just killed off the Las Plagas in Manjini," Finn explained. "Next we have to-"
"I meant your attitude." Finn looked down. "I want an explanation."
Finn sighed heavily and paused the game. "It's a lot of stuff. I broke up with Rachel."
"Oh." Oh. Suddenly, Carole found herself a lot more tolerant of Finn's bad mood. "What happened?"
"I don't really want to talk about it," Finn said. He started the game back up and stared moodily at the screen. Carole sighed heavily and joined back in, and they played another level in silence.
"And it's just not fair, you know?" Finn exploded suddenly.
"Well, yeah, her. But that's not what I meant. Sectionals. Sectionals wasn't fair."
"I thought the tie was very fair," Carole said evenly.
"I wasn't talking about the tie. It was that Kurt was with the Warblers. I mean, I'm happy he was singing and all, but he should have been with us, you know? Mr. Schuester was even going to give him a solo for Sectionals, and he was standing there singing backup to a guy who, okay, was a really good singer, but… he just should have been with New Directions, okay?"
Carole touched his shoulder. "I know."
"It's just not fair," Finn said again. "If Rachel and I had sung, we would have beat the Warblers and Kurt wouldn't get to go on at all- it would be over."
Okay, then. Leave it to Finn. "You have an awfully high opinion of yourself there, mister," Carole said.
Finn rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."
"I do." Carole sighed. "But unless the school board members all have a massive personality transplants by Regionals, it's going to happen again. You're going to be competing against each other."
"I know." Finn looked genuinely miserable.
"And it's perfectly possible that your brother could kick your ass."
Finn looked offended. "New Directions is going to win Regionals this year," he said. "And Kurt should be with us to do it."
Carole gave up on the who-was-going-to-win thing. "He should be." She rubbed Finn's back.
"I just feel like everything is falling apart, you know? Kurt's at Dalton, me and Rachel broke up, everybody in glee club is snapping at everybody else… everything's falling apart."
"It feels that way sometimes," Carole said. "It will all work out, Finn. Even if you two never sing in the same Glee club again, you'll always be brothers. You'll always have that connection. It will be okay, for both you and Kurt. Okay?" He nodded. "And Rachel… if it's meant to be, it will be." Not that Carole remotely believed that- she and Chris had been 'meant to be', and they weren't. And it didn't look like Finn was buying it, either. "I know it sucks," she said. "But you'll get through it, okay?"
"And any time you want to talk about it-"
"I know. Thanks, Mom."
He was closing up again. Well, he was a teenaged boy talking to his mother. Carole supposed she should count herself lucky to have gotten this much out of him. She turned back to their game. "We're done the Las Plaguie things now, right?"
"Las Plagas. Yeah."
"What do we kill next?"
Finn grinned. "Zombies. There are always more zombies to kill."
Carole sighed. "Great."
The bookshelf was done. Finn helped Burt bring it into the living room, and they both stood back to admire their handiwork.
"We did good," Burt said, clapping Finn on the shoulder.
"We did." Finn nodded.
He wanted a few minutes alone. Burt seemed to sense it, because he cleared his throat. "I've got to go check on some things for the garage, okay?"
Finn nodded again. "Yeah. Yeah, that would be good."
Burt squeezed Finn's shoulder and then headed out of the room. Finn rummaged through the box and came up with the urn of his father's ashes.
"Well," he said out loud, because he felt like he should say something, "guess we're here, Dad. I mean, really here. The new house is nice, and… and I hope you like the spot." He put the urn down gently on a shelf. "Burt and I built it together. I thought that would be weird, you know? I mean, he's basically my step-father. You'd think he'd be… I don't know. Weird about it. But he wasn't. He was pretty cool. Everybody's pretty cool."
He felt like there should be so much more to say. After all, so much had happened. There was a lot his dad had missed, and a lot on his mind. But that urge to talk to his dad through the urn just wasn't there right now, and for once, Finn was okay with that. Maybe he didn't have to. It wasn't like it was forgetting his dad, to talk to people who were living, right? It wasn't like his dad didn't have a place anymore in their family.
He touched the bookshelf, smiling grimly at the urn once more. Then he turned away and pulled out his phone. He needed to talk, but he needed to talk to someone who could really listen.
It was the phone call that did it.
"Rachel cheated on me," Finn said with absolutely no preamble.
"Excuse me?" Kurt stared at his phone, and then looked around the study room. With the charged atmosphere that midterms created, there was no way he could talk in here. He slipped out into the hall. "I'm sorry, I misheard you. It sounded like you said that Rachel cheated on you."
"That's exactly what I said," Finn said. His voice sounded funny.
"But I thought you'd broken up."
"That's why I broke up with her. She cheated on me with Puck."
"Oh." Kurt sank down into a leather chair. "What happened?"
Finn started talking, and Kurt mainly made sympathetic noises at the right times. It wasn't a long story from Finn- probably five or ten minutes, tops. But for Finn on the phone, that was an epic.
"Have you told anyone else about this?" Kurt asked when Finn finished.
"Nah. I haven't even told Mom," Finn said. "I guess I just don't want it to be over."
"Admitting it is the first step," Kurt said lightly. "Have you talked to Puck at all?"
"No. Why would I want to do that?"
"Mmm. I can't say I blame you."
"I wanted to talk to you."
It hit him like a ton of bricks and his mouth went dry. "You wanted to talk to me."
"Yeah. It's kind of a big thing, you know? I mean, me and Rachel-"
It was kind of a big thing. Not Finn and Rachel- if Kurt was completely honest, he didn't care about that all that much. It was the revelation that, even though he was settling in better here at Dalton, Kurt desperately still wanted to be home.
"I have to go," he told Finn abruptly, and hung up before Finn could even say goodbye. He punched another number into the phone, and waited impatiently while it rang.
"Hummel Tires and Lube."
"Dad? We need to talk."
"Everything okay?" his dad asked.
"Everything's fine." Kurt took a deep breath. "I'm coming home."
"What, you mean tonight?"
"No. At the end of the semester. You haven't sent the bill in for next semester, have you?"
"Nope. Not yet. To be honest, I was going to have this conversation with you when you came home this weekend."
That surprised Kurt. "Really?"
"Well, yeah. You haven't seemed like yourself since you went to Dalton. Don't get me wrong," he rushed on, "you've seemed better. I guess not having that Karofsky kid breathing down your neck makes a world of difference, huh?" Kurt nodded silently. "But you look tired all the time," his dad finally said. "You look like you've lost your spark."
"It's not quite like that," Kurt insisted, even though it was.
"Wait a minute." His dad sounded like he was having a revelation of his own. "Have you been thinking that if you tell me you want to live at home, I'll think you can't hack it at that fancy pants boarding school?" Kurt didn't answer, and Burt snorted. "You should know better than that, Kurt. I know you can take it. You're turning that place on its ear, right?"
"Of course you are. But if you tell me you want to come home, all I'm going to think is that I'm glad we've got you around longer before you go off to college. And it will save us a bundle, that's for certain. Might even be able to look into taking a vacation this summer, all four of us."
"Really?" Kurt was distracted from any potential guilt by that. "To Paris?"
"Don't count on it. We wouldn't be able to go to Paris if Dalton paid us. I was thinking more to Cleveland. See the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
"Oh." Kurt hadn't really expected Paris, but you didn't get it if you didn't try. "I don’t suppose we could go to the theater while we're there?"
"We'll look into it." Burt stood up. "Anyway, aren't you supposed to be in school?"
"It's a study period. But I should go study. Midterms are going to be intense here."
"You'll do fine. And Kurt?"
"I'm glad we've got you home for one more year."
Kurt couldn't help smiling. "Me, too, Dad." He hung up the phone and looked up to see Blaine standing in front of him. "Oh. Hello."
"You look happy," Blaine said. "Good conversation?"
"It was." Kurt took a deep breath and crossed his legs, sitting up straighter. "I'm going to be living at home next semester. I mean, I'll still be here, of course," he said, all in a rush. "But I'll live at home."
"That's great." Blaine smiled at him and extended a hand. "Come on. We've got rehearsal."
It was the right decision, and Kurt knew it. He stood up and followed Blaine happily, feeling more at peace than he had since he'd come to Dalton.
Burt was hiding the evidence of his chip pillaging when Carole came downstairs- she could hear the hasty crumpling of the wrappers. She gave him a moment to finish, and then strolled into the kitchen as casually as she could.
"What's going on?" Carole asked as Burt said back down.
"Just paying some bills."
"Oh." Carole headed to the fridge and pulled out two light beers. He looked like he was thinking about something "Something bothering you?"
"Yeah. I got a call from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society looking for donations," he said. "I was just trying to figure out how much I should send them."
It wasn't a statement- it was a question. The beginning of a conversation. Carole sat down. "I usually send about three hundred to a combination of charities," she said. "There's the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund and the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund."
Burt nodded. "How would you feel about upping that? Maybe giving them two fifty each?"
Carole's eyes widened. "Are you serious?"
"I usually give five hundred to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society," Burt explained. "It only seems fair."
Carole jumped out of her seat and kissed him. "Burt, that's…" she smiled, wiping at her eyes a little. "You're amazing," she said.
"So are you. You sure you're okay with this?"
"Of course." She peered closer at him. "There's something else, isn't there?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "I kind of wanted to go to the cemetery today."
"Why didn't you just go?" Carole asked, puzzled. Why didn't you ask? But she'd known why. She knew exactly why. And she should have known better, because it didn't really hurt to hear Burt ask this of her at all. "If you need to go to the cemetery or some time alone or… Burt, I don't know what you need, but I want to be able to give it to you. Just tell me."
He smiled. "I think I will head to the cemetery, if you don't mind."
"Of course." Carole smiled understandingly. "Is there anything else?"
"Not really." Burt picked up his jacket and started pulling it on, but then stopped. "Well, just one thing."
He turned around to face her fully. "Just… can you tell me what you need, too? Don't be afraid it's going to hurt me or whatever to talk about it, okay? Because knowing that you understand and you're willing to help me… that's the best feeling in the world. I want to be able to do that for you, too."
Carole's eyes were wet again, but she nodded. "I will, Burt."
He leaned over and kissed her on the head. "I'll be back in a while, okay?"
He walked out of the house and down the sidewalk. Carole watched him go, with the feeling of a burden being lifted from her shoulders. As awkward as it was, they'd started really navigating those conversations, and she knew it could only be a good thing.
The clock said 6:42, and the dawn was just beginning to break outside the window. Dawn, schmawn, it was Christmas. Finn jumped out of bed, eager for the morning, even if he'd only gone to sleep five hours before.
The house was silent. Finn had no idea how everyone could still be asleep. They shouldn't be- it was Christmas morning, and even though he hadn't believed in Santa for ten years, you were never too old to be excited for Christmas morning. He grabbed his pillow from his bed and crept across the hall, opening Kurt's door quietly.
Kurt was still asleep, stretched out on his back, his mouth slightly open. Finn knew that this was going to cost him, but it was going to be so worth it. He edged up to right near the bed, got a better grip on his pillowcase, and then…
"Merry Christmas!" Finn said as Kurt came awake, startled and sputtering.
"Are you a lunatic?"
"Nope. It's Christmas morning."
Kurt looked at the clock. "Barely. I thought you'd sleep until eleven."
"It's Christmas morning," Finn repeated, because seriously, Kurt was supposed to be smart.
"I can't believe you did this," Kurt said, scooting out of bed. "I don’t' suppose there's any chance of getting back to bed now." He padded out of the room, ignoring Finn. Finn stood there for a long moment, grinning. He heard the toilet flush and the sound of water running in the bathroom, and then Kurt returned.
"I hate you, you know," Kurt said conversationally, climbing back into his bed. "You are great, huge, insane-"
The last word might have been 'lummox', but Finn wasn't sure because Kurt had managed to get up on his knees and put ice cold hands (probably specifically chilled for the purpose in the bathroom) on the back of Finn's neck. Finn yelled, twisting away from Kurt. "You're insane!"
"You started it."
After that, there was only one thing to do. Finn whacked Kurt across the face with his pillow. Kurt shrieked and dove for his own pillow, and within seconds the entire thing had devolved into an epic pillow fight.
"Wait," Kurt said, gasping with laughter after one of Finn's swings had come dangerously close to a picture. "Break anything and die." Kurt beat him into the hallway, both of them laughing. Until Finn took a swing, and nearly hit his mother in the face.
"What," Carole demanded, her arms crossed, "are you two doing?"
"He started it!" Kurt said immediately.
"It's Christmas," Finn said. He was suspicious. The way his mother was leaning against the wall, the way her arms were crossed…. "You don't have-"
She did. The pillow had been behind her, and she brought it around with a hard swing so it landed right on Finn's stomach. Years of Christmas morning pillow fights had taught Finn that his mother could swing a pillow like no one else. "You're going down," he told her, and began to attack. Carole retreated, laughing and shrieking.
"Burt! Get out here! You've got a damsel in distress." No answer. "Burt! Where the hell is my white knight?"
Burt came out, yawning. "What the heck are you all doing?"
His answer, of course, was a pillow in the face.
From there it was complete chaos, somehow ending up downstairs with Kurt and Finn behind a hastily constructed fort of sofa pillows as their parents attacked. It wasn't until Kurt came up with the idea of catapulting the smaller cushions and nearly knocked over a vase that the game got stopped.
"This is insane, you know that?" Burt said, putting one of the cushions back on the sofa and collapsing onto it. He was sweaty and red in the face, breathless and laughing. "You all are nuts."
"They are," Kurt said. "We had a perfectly dignified Christmas morning that- ouch!"
"Sorry. Reflex," Carole said, pulling her pillow back to her. "I had to get one last one in." Kurt tried to retaliate, but Carole blocked it. "Give it up, kiddo. Youth and skill are no match for age and treachery"
"You're not old, Carole."
"You can stop with the flattery- I already bought your Christmas present."
Finn was stretched on the floor, using one of the sofa cushions to pillow his head. "Speaking of Christmas presents…" he began, but no one really moved for the tree. Kurt sat down next to Finn, crossing his legs neatly, and Carole replaced another cushion and cuddled up to Burt. The four of them just rested, close together and laughing.
Later there would be presents and a big breakfast, and then grandparents over for a Christmas dinner that could be tense or could be wonderful. There would be phone calls to brothers and sisters, to friends and to cousins. There would be music- Finn had a playlist at the ready-- there would be football or It's a Wonderful Life on TV, and there would be moments when he thought about his dad or Rachel or other people that it hurt a little to think about. But right now there were just the four of them, laughing in the living room, and together.
Finn looked up at the lights of the tree, smiling. "Best. Christmas. Ever."