Thousands upon thousands of words in the English language, and Gary chose the one combination of consonants and vowels that felt like a blade in Burt's back.
Three letters, and a perfectly good conversation was over. It wasn't the first.
Three letters, and a perfectly good mechanic was fired. He wasn't the first.
Three letters, and one son.
It had been a sweltering day at the shop. Burt and Gary finally found time for a break. They had been making idle chit chat over a lunch of burgers and onion rings from the small stand across the street. Work had been hell all morning, one car after another coming into the shop, and most of the problems not easily fixable. Burt had just been thinking to himself that he was lucky to have hired Gary, because on a day like today he couldn't handle to flood of cars by himself. He was young, had a lot of energy, and actually had a good deal of technical training to be an excellent addition to Burt's business. Plus, they both liked the same baseball team. A bonus. The time passed faster at work with some solid company.
Then the radio in the background stopped playing 80s rock classics and started its daily cycle of entertainment news. Burt was tuning out the latest about Britney, Jay-Z, and Lindsay Lohan, focusing all of his attention on the delicious onion rings Gary had recommended he try. Gary, however, seemed vaguely amused by the Hollywood gossip, making quips along the way. A "she's hot" here and there with a "crazy chick" sprinkled into his running commentary were more interesting to Burt than the gossip itself.
"Lohan sure did have some weekend, didn't she?" the cocky radio personality laughed. "In other news, singer Ricky Martin has finally come out of the closet as a homosexual…"
"Christ," Gary muttered. Burt shifted in his seat, clearing his throat a little. He could feel his face turning red.
"Is he the vida vida loco guy?" Burt questioned, hoping to distract the conversation from the obvious before it got started. "Via Loca? La Vido Loci? Something like that? They don't make music like they used to."
Gary rolled his eyes. "As if that was so god damn hard to tell, you know? Guy shakes his ass in leather pants like a fairy in every music video he's in, and I'm supposed to be surprised he's gay?"
Burt clenched his jaw. Suddenly his lunch was sitting very heavy in his stomach. Gary tore his burger down the middle and chomped down on one half.
"What the hell do I care about who you screw, you know? I don't go 'round talkin' about how straight I am."
Standing slowly, Burt started to clean up his area, throwing food wrappers and other bits of trash into the garbage. He made a show of glancing at his watch, hoping Gary would get the drift that it was time to get back to work, even if Burt had promised a thirty minute break.
"But that's a fag for you. Always gotta cram it down our throats."
And there it was. Three letters.
Burt had been ignorant like that once. He'd been the high school jock that picked on the weaklings. Karma had a sense of justice, though. A dead wife and a gay son would make sure he reevaluated his world view about what was important. Burt went from king of his realm to quiet monk when she took her last breath. If the universe is crushed around you, it makes it very difficult to look at another human being with disdain.
The world is too big, and his time on it too short, to waste time hating others.
This wasn't the first time those three letters had made him snap. There was Jimmy, the employee turned beer buddy he'd gone to baseball games with after hitting it off at the shop a few years ago. It was nice to have a friend, because work and taking care of Kurt didn't allow for much socializing. But then Jim had ranted about the queers taking over the country and that was the end of their friendship. Kurt had just entered puberty, experimenting with expensive hair products every morning.
Burt had been aware of his son's tendencies for a long time, and tried to avoid anything derogatory regarding homosexuals, even if he didn't really understand much about the subject. It was all he really knew to do. When Kurt was 10, they stopped going to church when a guest preacher taught a sermon on the sins of deviant lifestyles and not a single member of the congregation stood up to ask why this man's God was so small.
Burt had a habit of giving up things that wouldn't take time for his son. Gary wouldn't be the first or the last.
"I'd really appreciate it if you didn't say that word in front of me," Burt started gently. He counted to ten inside his head, trying to stay calm.
Choking on the next bite of his burger, Gary is obviously taken aback. "What?"
"I said I would appreciate it if you didn't say fag in front of me. I don't want to hear it."
Blushing, the younger mechanic looked around as if expecting a cameraman to jump out of a cabinet any moment and yell "You just got punk'd!" The only thing he found, however, was a stern expression of a very, very serious man twice his size.
"Whoa man. I didn't know you were like that…"
Burt made no movement. The radio blared Bon Jovi. Have a nice day.
"Like what, exactly?"
Gary swallowed. "Didn't know you were queer, man…"
Burt clenched his fist. "So I gotta be gay to be offended?"
Dude. Look. There was something about the casual words flung at him from this idiot that made Burt see red. Gary obviously had no damn clue about words and the weight they could hold. He'd probably said I love you to every girlfriend he'd ever had, and only meant it once. He was the type to think that words were just things that fell off the tongue, without understanding that words had definitions, and those definitions had connotations, and connotations were all about feeling.
Gary said fag. He might as well have said Kurt. Kurt, the little baby that Burt and his wife had waited so long for. Kurt, with his mother's eyes and sensibility staring back at Burt from beyond the grave at every dinner, at every breakfast. Fag, the word that fell so easily from such ignorant lips. Kurt, a name that had a connotation of its own—strong.
Burt flung a wrench down on the work bench nearest him, and Gary jumped. "My son is gay, Gary. And frankly, I don't think you have a clue how stupid you sounded just now. I can tell you, my son doesn't flaunt anything. He does, says, and acts like whatever feels is natural."
But Burt turned his back on Gary and pulled his company checkbook off of a shelf.
" He goes around this town every single day, Gary, with people like you assuming things about him, not a single one of you taking a second to think about how much he holds back because this town just couldn't handle it."
Burt filled out a check that covered all the hours Gary had worked that week and tore it from the book roughly. Gary looked white as a sheet.
"He's given up a lot for me. I can give up you for him."
"Please, Mr. Hummel…"
Waving the check in front of Gary's face, Burt resisted the urge to backhand the younger man.
"I'd like you to leave. Don't come back. Next time you go flaunting your opinion, just don't."
Gary was frozen in his spot, so Burt just let the check fall to the ground. Turning on his heel, Burt started gathering the things he would need to work on the old Mustang that had arrived in the shop that morning. Eventually a stunned Gary would gather himself together and exit quietly. Burt finished the rest of the work on his own that afternoon.
When Burt went to open the shop the next morning, there was Gary leaning against the door. He looked pale and solemn. A moment of your time, please Mr. Hummel? A pause, a nod. The words came out in a rush, and not once could he lift his eyes to meet Burt's gaze. Gary's little sister is mentally challenged, sir. He knows what it's like to hear the word "retard" thrown around. He knows the sting of the judgment of others. He's truly sorry. He just didn't think. He really needs this job, Mr. Hummel. Please forgive him.
Burt stared him down in silence. After a long moment, Gary couldn't take it anymore and scampered back to his truck like a frightened animal. So, Burt stared at the dust the truck stirs up as Gary drove away.
Gary got his job back the next day. The world is too big, and his time on it too short, to waste time hating others.
A/N: This fic was based on a prompt from the Glee Fluff Meme, though I'm not sure if it's particularly fluffy. The prompt is below:
I love stories about Kurt & his dad. So can i have a story where Burt defends a random gay person to his friends or family because he wouldn't want people to talk S**t about his son so he's not going to let his friends/family abuse somebody else.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please review. Mucho love.