On days like this, he missed her the most. Although being tossed in the garbage had ended long ago, he never stopped feeling alone, and being a semblance of accepted sometimes actually made it worse. He was closer and closer to belonging, but always just as far. Always watching someone else be hugged, held, and loved. If he was honest, he knew that really, Finn was just a placeholder. He knew it was an adolescent crush. Growing up isolated made you so much more aware of yourself and your future. He knew he'd leave this town, go away to school, meet interesting, amazing people, fall in love...
But on days like this, it felt so far away. A half smile in the locker room that he knows is just casual, friendly, offhand, to help temper the skittish discomfort of the others. The football team wasn't mean to him. They needed him. But they weren't nice, either. There was no wrestling, no towel snapping, no crude insults, no hazing. Just cautious distance. Forced politeness. Tolerance. This is what it would be like if Artie joined cross country, he thought, and it made him smile a little. It was cold comfort, though. Although Finn's strong body and gentle eyes made his heart turn over, really he knew it wasn't that he pined for Finn's affections. He just pined for affection.
If she was here, it would be different. He knew his dad loved him, and that, of course, was important. But Dad loved him in a dad way--rough, curt, undemonstrative, solid. And he had his friends, but no matter how close they are, there still something...conditional. Mama would love him in a way that likes to say "I love you" and place a soft hand on your cheek. A way that would make days like this go away. Rummaging through his hope chest (the one that had held her baby teeth, her trousseau, the blankets sewn for him long before he was even a thought), he unwrapped a bottle of perfume from a silk scarf printed with tiny sailboats. He buried his face in the pile and inhaled deeply, lay across his bed, and let himself move into a trance...
She would already be there when he got home from school, and would greet him with a kiss on the forehead, because his dad wasn't home from work to grumble about making the boy soft. He'd force a smile and go to his room and she'd let him, just knowing he needed his space. After a while, he'd find her on the couch, the scarf tied around her head, keeping her dark hair out of her eyes as she read.
"Hey, Poppy," she'd grin, moving over just enough to invite him. He'd sit down next to her and she'd brush his hair from his face and the tears would come. He would be a little embarrassed and know he was far too old for this sort of thing, but lay his cheek in her lap anyway. She'd put her book face down across the arm of the couch and rub his arm with one gentle hand.
"What's wrong with my guy?" she'd ask.
"Boy trouble," he'd say through a teary smile, and she'd laugh--he would never have had to tell her, because she would have always known.
"I'm lucky," she'd say stroking his hair (and he wouldn't care if it was mussed), "Not many moms get this opportunity with their sons. Who is he? I'll run him over."
This would make him laugh against his will. "It's nobody, Mama. That's the problem."
"Oh, honey," she'd coo, and he'd feel the tension of sustaining his constant bravado slip away. "I know it's hard. It's hard to be young, especially if you're different, and especially in a town like this."
By now the sadness would have begun to ebb. The hitching sobs would have gentled into shaky but steady breaths and he would feel himself start to grow tired, warm and safe and adored. Her eyes would stay compassionate, but would go a little far away, a little sad. "You don't want somebody from here who'd have to hide you to keep from getting teased or worse. Don't ever let anyone make you feel ashamed of who you are...your father and I made you. I consider it a personal insult for someone--even you--to say that half of us is shameful. You want someone to make you feel like the wonderful young man you are. You're so special, Kurt. You want someone who knows that as well as I do."
"I just want someone to hold me," he whispered...and realized he'd said it aloud. His shirt was wrinkling, and he'd gotten tears and snot on his jacket. His room was colder than it'd been before. He wondered how long he'd been away. He sat up slowly and looked at the talisman still clutched loosely in his hands. He wiped away the last of his tears with the palm of his hand and placed the bottle and fabric back in the trunk. She'd loved him so much that she could still comfort him, even after all these years gone. He could wait. He could wait until someone came along who could do that, too. Someone she would have given her blessings to. Realizing this, he went upstairs to start dinner, knowing he could make it through any day like this.