She sees the way he looks at her sometimes, when he's home on visits from college. The way those clear blue eyes search her face, observe her struggles when something unexpectedly reminds her of Finn. She knows in those moments that he wants to reach out, to offer comfort, to offer himself to fill in the gaping hole of her son's absence. But he does not. He takes a step forward, hesitates, and steps back again, folding in on himself with his arms across his middle as if trying to make himself vanish in case the fact of his living, breathing presence should be intrusive to her.
Carole wants to reach back in those moments. But she cannot. Because she is afraid of her own grief, and afraid that just maybe he is right. That she does resent his life simply because it is not Finn's. She does not want to hate this sweet and giving boy for not having been chosen by Fate. So she ignores the problem, pretends not to see those hopeful glances and aborted gestures.
Burt sees what is happening and he does not know how to deal with the growing distance between the son he loves and the wife he cherishes. He does not know how to bridge them past the memory of the stepson he also misses deeply. And so he waits, hoping that they will find their own way with time.
When the phone call comes Burt sits down hard on a chair, clutching the phone so hard his knuckles turn white. His face is abruptly so drawn and gray that Carole fears for his heart. When he hangs up, she learns that the caller was Rachel, weeping as she informed him that Kurt had been beaten in an alley and taken to a local area hospital. His condition is unknown.
It feels like time stops and then suddenly starts anew. All the feelings that Carole has kept buried since her son died comes rushing back to her. She feels the same thankfulness that she had felt toward Kurt when he was a sweet-faced little 16 year old offering makeup and wardrobe tips to help her ensnare his father's attention. The overwhelming affection she had felt when she had offered part of her wedding vows to the new son she was gaining along with her husband. The fierce protectiveness that had led her to tell Burt in no uncertain terms that they needed to forget their honeymoon and send Kurt to a school where he could be safe from threatening bullies. The sorrow and pride that she had felt the day he had left for New York with little more to his name than a fabulous hand-sewn wardrobe, a few thousand dollars and a lifetime of dreams.
The maternal love that she had believed buried forever with Finn.
Taking care of Burt, making certain that he took his medicines and ate a little food, packed enough clean underwear and socks for a few days in the city, then booking him in on the first available flight felt therapeutic. Doing something to help, and adding in a few little things to the luggage to help take care of her stepson felt soothing and calming in a way that all the grief counselors and well-meaning friends of the last six months had not been able to.
The time between her husband's departure and his phone call from the hospital felt endless, but when the call finally came, Carole wept with relief. Kurt was awake. He was battered and bruised, lightly concussed but coherent and, much more cheeringly, defiant. He was even hoping for a scar like some punk in an action movie, Burt reported, sounding annoyed but at the same time unable to prevent a smile that Carole could hear right through the phone. Burt also pretended to be annoyed that Blaine and Rachel kept trying to pull him aside and vent their own feelings on him, but Carole suspected that a part of him was grateful to have something to occupy his mind other than worry.
A few days passed and Kurt was released. He called her from his apartment, responding to her surprise by saying that he was sorry for bothering her. He was not sorry for standing up for that other young man in the alleyway, he admitted, but he hoped he had not caused her too much worry.
The words were stilted and strange in a way that was foreign to the boy she knew. Instinctively, Carole realized what he was trying not to say. A part of him longed to hear her say that she had been worried; that she did still love him. He wanted to know that it was okay to feel scared and overwhelmed in the aftermath of his ordeal. That it really was okay to feel proud of his actions. She suspected that he also needed to know that it was okay to grieve for the necessity of those actions.
So she did tell him all of those things. She allowed herself to be open and caring in the way he had missed. In the way she herself had missed.
As she expressed sorrow at the thought that she could have lost her second son to those mindless thugs, Carole began to cry. The feeling of grief overwhelmed her for a moment and Kurt began to cry in response. He apologized again, hesitated, then admitted that for a brief and bitter moment as he was being hurt, the only thing he had wanted in the world was his mother. And that he wished Carole could have come to New York with his dad.
She understood the unspoken message and another small sliver of her broken heart realigned itself. As she talked, telling Kurt all the things they would do together the next time he came home, planning a little weekend trip to New York herself during which he could show her all the wonders of his new life, hearing Kurt tell her all about his upcoming midwinter final, Carole found herself smiling without having to force it.
A strange feeling of warmth, the kind she always associated with Finn and his huge sloppy bear-hugs, stole over her. She could almost see her son's crooked smile and shining brown eyes regarding her with approval as she tore down a fence she had never meant to erect between herself and his brother.
Carole and Kurt talked for almost an hour, unconsciously healing their relationship word by word, until Burt came on to whisper that Kurt had fallen asleep holding the phone and to thank her for getting him to rest. Apparently, he had not been able to relax enough to sleep unmedicated since being admitted to the hospital. Carole wished them both goodnight and asked Burt to give Kurt a kiss on her behalf, knowing he would do it gladly.
Hanging up the phone, Carole felt a heavy weight ascending from her soul. Life was too short and far too fragile to hold yourself back from the people you loved.
She was a mother without a child. Kurt was a child without a mother. Together they did not have to be incomplete ever again.