Author: vcg73 PM
Terri doesn't have many fans, but I thought it might be fun to team up two characters who normally have no reason to interact. And don't worry, this is NOT a romantic pairing! Just a new and unusual friendship.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Friendship/Hurt/Comfort - Kurt H. & Terri S. - Chapters: 9 - Words: 18,658 - Reviews: 166 - Favs: 102 - Follows: 48 - Updated: 09-30-10 - Published: 09-15-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6326804
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"It's snowing again."
Terri looked up from her inventory sheet, grimacing in exasperation at the worried comment. Howard Bamboo was supposed to be helping her take stock of the remaining bedding after their weekend half-off sale, but instead he was proving even less useful than usual as he stared out the window at the quickly falling white flakes. "Howard, will you please pay attention? We've only got a few more shelves to do and then you can take your break and go play in the snow."
Howard pulled at his lower lip, the plump, puppy-dog features scrunching and twisting as he continued to stare outside. His fingers were also twisting, winding the end of an expensive Egyptian cotton sheet around their stubby tips. Terri reached over and smacked the fretful digits, only for the fidgeting to transfer down to Howard's legs. His knees shifted and bent and crossed back and forth, making him look like a toddler in need of a diaper change.
"Howard," she groaned. "Will you please just get back to work?"
"I'm sorry," he moaned. "But look at it out there. We're all gonna be snowed in. My mom will be worried when I don't come home! And we don't have anything to eat here except the stuff in the vending machines. If the storm doesn't end in a couple of days, we'll begin to starve and people will start considering a lottery and you know cannibals always eat the fat guy first!"
Terri did a face-palm, realizing that the panicky little man was not going to stop whining until she took a look for herself and offered some kind of solid reassurance.
With a gusty sigh, she put down her papers and strode over to the window. Her bored expression immediately melted into concern, big blue eyes widening with shock as she took a good look outside and realized that Howard had not been exaggerating nearly as much as she had assumed.
It had been snowing when she came to work this morning and the weather service had estimated a couple of inches to fall throughout the morning and disappear by noon. Instead, that couple of inches had already transformed into at least a foot of new snow. And this, on top of the refrozen melt-off from the last snowstorm, would almost surely mean an invisible bed of ice underneath.
Terri watched for several minutes but the snow showed no sign of slowing down.
Realizing that it was up to her as store manager to determine whether or not to close down business for the safety of her employees and customers - not that there were many of the latter - Terri strode over to the radio. Shutting off the soft classical station piping through the airwaves, she searched out a weather report. Not a difficult task, given that pretty much every local station was concentrated on the storm.
"… and the front currently bearing down on the northeast region from Canada is expected to bring Lima at least two feet of new snow before nightfall. Local crews are working hard to clear the roads from this unexpected arctic blast, but residents are strongly encouraged to remain in their homes for the duration of the storm."
"And what about those of us who aren't at home, you idiot?" Terri muttered.
The weather reporter did not accommodate her with an answer, instead switching to the traffic team who outlined all the assorted blocks, jams and road hazards currently tying up the local freeways.
The last thing Terri Schuester wanted or needed was to be stuck at Sheets & Things all day with a bunch of whining, fretting, worry-warts. Activating the store intercom, she smiled to inject a pleasant note into her voice as she announced, "May I please have your attention? Due to the severe weather, Sheets & Things will be closing in ten minutes. Please close out your purchases and exit the store in an orderly manner. And please be careful driving home, everyone. It's nasty out there."
Anxious shoppers did not wait to be told twice. Within the first half of the allotted ten minute span, the store was empty.
"All employees report to the office. I'll sign you out and make sure you're paid for the remainder of the day," she said, using the intercom again. "I repeat, please clean up your work stations and report to the office."
She might get in a little trouble from the head office for that decision, but screw it. It wasn't her fault the weather had turned to crap. At least the employees - Howard, Cy, Jenny and herself were the only ones working today – would all be happy.
None of the others wasted any time turning in their time-sheets and fleeing the premises and Terri could not help feeling a bit resentful that nobody had even thought to ask if she was okay with closing up by herself, or if she needed a lift home.
Though, if she were honest with herself, Terri could admit that she was happy to take her sweet time closing as she walked up and down each empty aisle, straightening merchandise and tucking things into order. Anything to avoid going outside.
Snowstorms scared her, which was pretty silly for a woman who had been born and raised in western Ohio, but she had never before been forced to face one all alone. In the past, she had always had someone else to take responsibility and share the experience; first her parents, and then Will.
A pang of painful sorrow stabbed through her at the thought of Will, just as it always did. Her sweet, kind-hearted husband – ex-husband now – would never have allowed her to drive alone in this weather.
Now there was no other option.
A short while later, finished up with locking all of the cash registers and logging in the day's receipts, Terri looked around hopefully for something more to do. Her shoulders slumped as she realized that she had done it all and it was time to go.
Of course, she could simply stay, hole up here and wait. There were worse places to play refugee than a bedding store, but Howard had been right about the lack of food, and Terri knew she would be horribly ashamed if anyone found out that she had been too cowardly to face a little snow.
"Come on, Ter, you can do this," she whispered to herself, bundling into her coat, knitted cap and gloves, taking a deep breath as she opened the door and strode out into the storm.
Wind buffeted her, slicing through the warmth of her clothing and making her shudder as she locked up the doors and reset the alarm. She trudged carefully along the path her fellow employees had cut through the packed snow, grateful when she finally reached the safety of her car. Thank goodness she had bought snow tires this year instead of being forced to figure out tire chains!
Gloved fingers gripped the steering wheel so hard that they ached as Terri slid carefully out of the deserted parking lot and crept along the mostly empty streets. Abandoned and disabled vehicles met her eyes every so often, making her anxiety even worse.
"Almost there, almost there, keep going," she whispered repeatedly to herself as she inched closer and closer to home. Every so often, she would squeak in terror as her traction wobbled on a hidden patch of ice, but she was moving so slowly that she never slid more than a couple of feet before regaining control.
Wide-eyed and terrified, Terri cringed as she passed yet another abandoned vehicle, a big black SUV whose driver had apparently not been as lucky as she and had spun on a patch of ice and hit a pole. If a vehicle like that could not manage this storm, how could she, in her tiny little compact car?
Biting her lip, she resumed her mantra. "Almost there, almost there . . ."
Terri was only about a mile away from her apartment when she saw a bundled figure in dark jeans and a thick blue parka, stumbling their way along the side of the road; fighting to maintain even footing in the thick, heavy drifts. The person roved left and right in a distractingly uneven manner, almost weaving right into the street before managing to correct and continue the uncertain forward progress.
For a moment, Terri thought the pedestrian was drunk, but something about their motion spoke more of disorientation. Remembering the abandoned SUV, she hesitated. She was so close to home and what if this person needed to go somewhere clear across town? Nobody would blame her if she failed to stop, right?
Wrong. Terri sighed. She would blame herself, probably remain worried and guilt ridden all night. After all, what if their positions were reversed and she was the one who needed assistance?
Allowing her car to roll to a complete stop just ahead of the stranger, she rolled down her window and called out, "Hey, are you okay? Do you need some help?"
The walker's hunched posture straightened and he lifted his bent head, allowing the hood of his coat to fall back. Terri gasped. It was a boy, probably not more than fifteen or sixteen years old, with blood coating one side of his face!
He stared at her blankly, blue eyes filled with confusion as if he could not quite decide whether or not she was actually real.
Terri rummaged in her purse for her phone, intending to call 911 for him, but the cell showed no service. Silently cursing the weather, Terri put the car in park and got out, slipping and stumbling on the tamped down snow as she hurried to the boy's side.
"Are you okay?" she asked again, her voice low so as not to startle him. She thought that he looked a little bit familiar but she was not sure. "What's your name?"
"I gotta go home," he mumbled instead of answering the question. "Dad…get worried if I don' come home."
"Who's your dad? Maybe I can call him," she offered, brow wrinkling in frustration when she remembered that she would be unable to keep that promise. "Or, or maybe I should just take you to a hospital. You look like you could use some help."
"No. No, gotta go home," he insisted again.
Not much else seemed to be getting through to him, but he was stubbornly insistent on that point. Pulling easily out of the gentle grip she had taken on his arm, he moved a couple of steps forward before losing his balance and falling hard on his hands and knees.
With a soft cry of alarm, Terri ran to his side and helped him back up. From the torn and bloody knees of his jeans, this was not the first time he had stumbled and not every fall had been broken by soft snow.
"Okay, it's okay, I'll get you home," she said, leading him over to her car and getting him settled in the passenger seat.
The boy shivered from head to toe when the warmth of the still-gushing car heater struck his half-frozen body, tucking his hands into his armpits. He looked small and miserable, and so very cold that it made up Terri's mind. She had no idea where his home was, but she could at least offer him the hospitality of her own.
Yanking a few tissues free from the box she kept in the car, Terri dabbed at the blood on his face, earning a small whine of painful protest. The blood all seemed to be coming from a cut over his eyebrow and she was relieved to realize that the injury was not more severe.
Although, if he had a concussion that was probably pretty serious . . . right? What was the proper treatment for a concussion? Or hypothermia? Or exhaustion? Or whatever else might be wrong with this poor kid. Terri found herself sincerely wishing that she really did have the nurse's training that she had once feigned in an effort to get closer to her husband by invading his place of work.
That thought triggered a memory. When she had worked at the school, she had peeked in on Will's show-choir a few times while dropping by to check on him. That was where she had seen this boy before. He was one of Will's.
Wishing she had paid more attention to all of her ex-husband's enthusiastic babble about these kids, at least enough to recall their names, Terri pressed the wad of tissues against the seeping cut and placed the boy's hand over it. "You hold that there, sweetie. It'll be just a few minutes and we can get you cleaned up properly, okay?"
He nodded, pressing one hand obediently to the make-shift bandage. "Home?" he said hopefully.
"That's right," she agreed, putting the car back in gear and huffing in frustration when the tires simply spun place for a moment before jerking up out of the small indentation the melting snow had caused and rolling forward once again.
Having something new to worry about helped; the anxious eye Terri was keeping on her new passenger distracted her nicely from the fear of becoming road-kill. Before she knew it, she was pulling into the parking garage attached to her own apartment building, a deep sigh of relief escaping as she felt her tires settle onto even ground once more.
"Come with me," she said. "We'll get you dried off and patched up, and we'll call your father so he doesn't worry."
How she was going to do that if he refused to cooperate, she had no idea, but the promise was enough to get the teenager moving. He gasped, limping a bit as they began moving toward the elevator that led up to the apartments, his injured knees having grown stiff in the few minutes he had been allowed to rest.
Terri looped the boy's arm around her neck, making sure his other arm remained free to hold the tissue-wad in place, and helped him along. "Just a little ways now," she coaxed.
A few minutes later, panting with effort, she fumbled her keys out of the purse that had become trapped between their bodies and struggled through the front door. It was a modest apartment. The entire contents would have fit within the living room of the one she had shared with Will, and normally Terri hated that fact. Today, she was simply grateful not to have more than a few steps to walk before she could plunk her charge down on a chair.
The boy was panting a little as well, his youthful features tight with discomfort. Taking in the sight of his injured face and torn trouser-knees, noting that the heels of his hands were also scraped raw, Terri decided that a little medical attention was the first order of business.
Helping him out of his heavy coat and thick cashmere scarf, the portion of Terri's mind not occupied with emergency matters found itself admiring the style of the boy's outfit, the way the green of his scarf perfectly complemented the gold and green sweater he wore with it. A part of her felt embarrassed, his stylish and clearly expensive clothing sharply reminding of her own descent into off-the-rack shopping since the divorce.
Shaking off her musings, she asked, "Do you think you can make it into the bathroom, so we can clean you up a little?"
He nodded, allowing her to lever him back up to his feet; weaving a little as he hobbled into the tiny, white-tiled room she directed him towards.
Terri pondered how best to treat his injuries. The soaking wet black pants fitted absurdly tight against his legs and she knew there was no way she could roll them up to get access to his scraped knees. And yet, it would hardly be appropriate to ask a teenage boy to strip down in front of her, no matter how innocent the reason.
Glancing around the bathroom, she spotted a solution. Her bathrobe was hanging on the back of the door, and while buttercup yellow was probably not any boy's preferred color, at least it would keep this one warm and modest long enough for her to tend him.
"I don't suppose you're ready to tell me your name," she asked hopefully, pulling her limited medical supplies out of the mirrored cabinet over the sink as she set him down to sit on edge of the bathtub. "It would be a lot easier to call someone for you if I knew your name."
Instead of answering, he squeezed his eyes shut, the bloody wad of tissues falling to the floor as he pressed one hand against his forehead and wrapped the other arm around his middle, mumbling, "My head hurts, Mom. I don't feel good."
Terri stared at him, her blue eyes huge and startled at the unexpected address. Her heart clenched tightly at his innocent mistake, suddenly and painfully reminded of the baby she and Will had wanted so badly. A baby, who, thanks to her own deception would now never come to be.
Completely unaware of her difficulties, the boy's eyes opened wide, throat working convulsively. He repeated that same pleading word, "Mom?" and Terri acted just in time, pulling him forward to lean over the toilet just as he lost control of his stomach.
She held his bangs out of his tearing eyes, patting his back gently as the concussed youth coughed and spat. Finally, he slumped back, whimpering at the press of his scraped knees against the hard tile floor.
Rubbing her hand comfortingly across his shoulders, Terri got him a glass of water to rinse out his mouth then helped him back up to sit on the tub again. "It's okay, sweetie. You couldn't help it and now you'll probably start to feel a lot better. Let's just get you fixed up, hmm?"
Working him out of the sweater, which had caught a little dribble of vomit, Terri set it in the sink and helped him pull the bathrobe on over a plain white dress-shirt he had been wearing underneath the sweater. Thankfully, he did not require more than a tug on his belt to get the idea that she also wanted him to remove his trousers, saving her the embarrassment of trying to do it herself.
Terri turned her back while he finished, soaking out the soiled sweater and arranging bandages, antiseptic and ointment in a neat little row on the sink.
When she dared to turn around, Terri smiled. The boy had managed to remove his soaking wet shoes, socks and jeans and belt the robe securely around his waist and there was a little more sense coming into his greenish-blue eyes.
His brow scrunched as he studied her face. "You're not my mom." He rubbed his forehead, shaking his head a little. "No, of course you're not. I-I don't know why I even said that."
A swell of sympathy touched her heart. The poor thing just looked so lost and miserable. "My name is Terri Schuester."
Surprise flickered in his eyes. "Mr. Shue's wife?"
Not bothering to correct him, she said, "That's right. Can you tell me your name?"
"Kurt," he said simply, rubbing his aching head again.
Terri smiled at him. "It's nice to meet you, Kurt. What do you say we get you cleaned up and then find a way to get you home?"
"Okay," he agreed easily.
It only took a few minutes to get his scrapes and gashes cleaned up now that Kurt was cooperating. He was still not overly responsive and the tightness of his mouth suggested that he was struggling not to lose control of himself again, so Terri did not try to force him into a chat.
A powerful shiver overtook the boy's slender frame just as Terri finished applying a large bandage to his wounded left knee. "Why don't you go lie down for a few minutes while I see if my phone is working?"
He nodded. "Thanks, Mrs. Shue."
Terri felt oddly warm at that unexpected little nickname. She knew that all of Will's students referred to him as Shue but she had never had the name extended to her before. Rather than try to get him redressed in his wet clothing, she simply led the boy to her tiny bedroom and tucked him underneath the thick comforter that rested at the foot of her bed.
"You just rest awhile. I'll pop these in the dryer and be right back," she told him.
Part of her hesitated when Kurt's eyelids immediately slid shut. Wasn't it supposed to be a bad thing for concussed people to sleep? Or was it just that you had to wake them up a lot? She bit her lip, studying him doubtfully. Well, maybe it would be okay if she split the difference. Let him get a few minutes rest while she tried to contact some help, then wake him up and keep him talking once that help was on its way.
Yes, that sounded good.
Terri walked back into the main room and looked out the window. Still snowing, possibly even harder than before. Oh dear. What was she going to do if she could not reach anyone? What would either one of them do if her unexpected guest was forced to stay indefinitely?
"Please," she whispered, fishing out her phone again. Yes! There was a signal! Only a couple of bars and the connection seemed to be wavering a bit, but it was better than nothing.
Terri did not hesitate to dial the number most familiar to her heart, praying that he would pick up.
"Terri?" Will's voice was cautious as the line engaged a few moments later, obviously having checked his caller ID.
She breathed a sigh of intense relief. "Oh, Will, thank goodness!"
"Are you okay? You're not out in this storm, are you?"
Terri smiled, touched by his obvious worry. "I just got home, Will. I'm fine but I really need your help with something."
He interrupted, the concern changing to exasperation as he explained that he was snowed in at his own apartment and could not just jump in the car and come over. She could not blame him for acting suspicious. She had tried any number of ploys to convince him to change his mind and forgive her when they had first split up and he probably assumed this was something similar.
"Will, please! Just listen for a minute. I don't know how much longer my phone signal will last and I have one of your students here."
That brought him up short. "What? One of my students? At your apartment?"
She wondered what kind of conclusion he was drawing about that one. "Yes, he says his name is Kurt but I haven't been able to get much more out of him. I found him walking along the side of the road in the snow. I think his vehicle spun out or something. He hit his head and he seems really disoriented."
Deep concern instantly colored Will's voice. "Oh, my God. Is he all right? Did you call an ambulance?"
Feeling guilty, she said, "No, I couldn't get a phone signal until just now and he didn't want a hospital. He wants to go home to his parents."
"Just his dad," he corrected with a deep sigh that crackled over the phone line. "I'm not surprised. The two of them seem pretty close."
Terry felt a stab of pity for the boy in the next room, realizing from Will's wording that the mother must be either dead or out of the picture. No wonder he had looked so ashamed when he had realized his mistake in addressing her.
"Poor thing," she whispered. "I told him I'd try to get him back home but I didn't know where to begin. I don't even know his last name."
"Hummel," Will told her. "Hang on a sec, I'll get you his dad's number. I've got a list here somewhere of all the kids' contact info..."
She could hear the clicking and tapping of computer keys and Will muttering to himself in the background as he searched for the file. Finally she heard a triumphant exclamation and he came back on the line, reading her a phone number that she jotted down on a scrap of paper.
"My car barely made it home but maybe I could try to get a cab over there or something," he suggested and Terri had to smile, albeit a little sadly, at his sudden about-face offer to brave the storm for the sake of one of "his" kids. "It'll probably take awhile, but I-"
"No," she interrupted. "Stay. I'd rather know that you're safe. We'll be fine, Will. I'll just call his father and everything will be okay. Thank you for all your help."
Will's voice was warmer than it had been in quite some time as he said, "Any time. Tell Kurt or his dad to call me, okay?"
Knowing that he would fret and worry until he saw his student safe and sound at school again, she agreed, "Of course. I'd better go while I still have service."
They disconnected and she immediately called the number on the paper. There was no answer, so she hung up and tried again. Luck was still not smiling on her, so this time she left a message with her address, phone number and a brief explanation. After a moment, she realized that she had lost the connection again.
"Please let him have got all that," she murmured to the dead phone.
Knowing that even if he got the message immediately, it would probably be quite some time before Kurt's father arrived, Terri went back to her sleeping guest.
His face was rosy and mottled with wind-burn, nose and lips both a little chapped from the cold, and a colorful bruise was starting to form around his left eye from the gashed eyebrow down to his cheekbone. Both bandaged hands were pulled close to his body, which had scrunched up into a ball as he slept, and she could see that the boy was shivering in spite of the comforter.
"Hey," Terri whispered, shaking him lightly. "I'm sorry but I don't think I can afford to let you sleep any more."
It took a while for him to obey the gentle summons, long enough for a bubble of panic to well up inside Terri's chest. Oh, God, should she have kept him awake this whole time? What if she had given him brain-damage or something by letting him sleep!
Finally, his eyes blinked open and she was relieved to see them focus on her a bit more quickly than the last time. "Mrs. Shue?"
"That's right. Are you okay?"
He nodded, heavy eyelids already sliding closed again.
"No, no please don't go to sleep!" she begged frantically.
A note of definite whining filled his voice as he protested, "Tired."
Terri smiled, unable to help herself. "I know. I'm sorry. I wish I could let you sleep until your dad gets here but you bumped your head pretty hard, so I need you to stay awake, okay?"
His eyes struggled to open wider. "Dad?"
"I left him a message but I don't know how long it will take him to get here in this weather."
"Oh," he said sadly. "Pro'ly busy. Snow tires…"
Not understanding the mumbled words but realizing that she was losing him again, Terri shook the boy's shoulder firmly. "Kurt? Keep talking, okay? Do you remember what happened to you?"
He frowned, flinching as his fingers rose to press briefly against his bruised temple. "School let out early. I was going home. Started to slide … Don't 'member."
"Maybe that's a good thing," she said sympathetically. Certain that he would fall asleep again in seconds if she let him continue reclining, she suggested, "Do you think you can sit up for me?"
He nodded but the moment he had pushed his body fully upright, both of them realized that had been a mistake. Kurt's wind-burned face went dead-pale and his eyes widened. Terri jumped up but before she could even think to grab a garbage can or some other receptacle, the boy lurched forward and vomited for a second time over the side of the bed.
Both of them gasped, Kurt in pained embarrassment and Terri in horrified disgust.
She had really liked those shoes, damn it!