Disclaimer: Glee belongs to Ryan Murphy and Fox, not me.
"Rachel, baby, come downstairs!"
She climbed onto the bathroom counter and scooted closer to the mirror. "Just a second, Papa," she hollered. She peeled the tiny star-shaped stickers off the cardboard backing and pressed them carefully onto her ears. When she was satisfied, she slid off the counter and ran downstairs.
Papa was waiting by the kitchen counter, beaming from ear to ear with her brand new backpack in one hand and her hot pink lunchbox in the other. Both of them were monogrammed with "RBB" in big gold letters. "Honey, Daddy's already on the verandah with the camera," he said. "We can't send you off to school without the traditional first day of school picture, can we?"
"Of course not," she said, slipping the backpack over her shoulders and taking the lunchbox. Papa took her by the hand and walked her outside.
"There's our little angel," Daddy said. He paused. "Hiram! Did you let RaeRae pierce her ears?"
"What? No," Papa said.
"They're stick-ons, Daddy," Rachel explained, showing him her earlobes. "I needed gold stars for luck."
He smiled in relief. "Of course," he said, chucking her gently under the chin. "Now go stand by the mailbox for your picture."
Rachel stood where he pointed and struck a pose. Daddy took several pictures while Papa smiled. "You're getting so grown up," he said.
"I'm almost eight," she said proudly.
Daddy looked down at his watch. "Time to get you to school," he said. "Kiss Papa goodbye."
She obeyed and took Daddy by the hand. "Be good," Papa called. "Be our little star."
She climbed into the sleek dark green car and buckled her seatbelt. "I will," she promised.
Daddy waved goodbye and pulled out of the driveway. "Are you excited about starting third grade?" he said.
"So excited," she said, bouncing up and down in her seat. "Daddy, the third graders get to do a play. I want to be in it so bad!"
"You will be," he promised. "All the third graders get to be in it."
"I know, but I want to be the lead," she said. She pressed her nose to the window as they drove past the Rockeford bus stop. Several kids clambered onto the big yellow bus; she wondered if any of them would be in her class.
"Now, baby, you have to remember that there no small parts, just small actors," Daddy reminded her.
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, but I'm already a very small actor," she said.
He reached over and tugged one of her long black braids. "You are so precocious," he said.
She wrinkled her nose. "Is that a good thing?" she asked.
"A very good thing. Now sit down, okay?"
She obeyed, but only for a second. She lunged up and pulled down the visor. In the little mirror she could see the red bows at the ends of her thick silky braids, the perfect shade to match her new red plaid dress with the little black vest. Her gaze moved down to her brand new black and white saddle shoes.
"Daddy?" she asked. "Am I pretty?"
He reached over and closed the visor. "Honey, you don't have to look in mirrors and wonder if you're pretty," he said. "You are gorgeous."
She twirled the end of her braid around her finger. "Will the other kids think I'm pretty?" she asked.
"They have to," Daddy said. He pulled up into the drop off line in front of the elementary school. "All right. You have everything? Backpack and lunchbox?"
"Uh-huh," she nodded.
"And you promise to be good and listen to your teachers? And be nice to the other kids?"
She stared out the window, too distracted to answer. There are more kids here now than last year, she thought. This is going to be a lot harder than second grade.
"Rachel Barbra Berry, are you listening?"
"Yes, Daddy," she said.
He smiled. "All right," he said. "Give me a kiss, and then run on in."
She kissed him on the cheek, slid out of the car, and shut the door carefully. Daddy waved as he drove away; she waved back.
For the first day of school, all of the students were gathering in the auditorium. She shouldered her backpack, grabbed her lunchbox, and marched inside, following the bigger kids.
The aisles were blocked off by grades. She strode over to the third grade section and took the first open seat she could find. Once she had put her backpack carefully on the floor in front of her, she turned to the boy sitting next to her.
"Hi," she announced. "My name is Rachel Berry."
He barely glanced up from his book. "Hi," he said back, blinking large blue-green eyes. He turned a page, resting his chin on his hand, and tucked his legs underneath him.
"Are you in the third grade?" she asked.
He looked from her to the big number 3 on the sign and back to her. "Uh-huh," he said slowly.
"I like your bow tie," she offered.
He shrugged and turned back to his book. She settled into her seat and smiled broadly to no one in particular. She was Rachel Berry, she was seven, and she was going to be a star, whether or not she was going to popular in the third grade.
He stood at the foot of the stairs, kicking the banister. "Momma!" he hollered. "I'm gonna be late!"
"Just a second, Noah."
He plunked down on the bottom step, scowling. It was bad enough that his mother insisted on walking him to the bus stop on the first day of school. It was going to be worse if she made him late and they had to run the rest of the way there, with all of the bigger kids pointing and laughing.
He stuck out his bottom lip and stared down at his ratty sneakers. The kids wouldn't laugh if Dad was there. Dad was cool. Nobody messed with him.
"All right, here I am," his mother sighed. She walked slowly down the stairs, one hand on her belly. Noah's scowl deepened. Sure, it was cool that he was going to be a big brother, but it made his mom slower and more out of it than usual.
He stood up, grabbing his camo-print backpack in one hand and his sack lunch in the other. "I'm gonna be late," he said again.
Julie Puckerman picked up her purse and slung it over her shoulder. "You have time," she said.
Noah ducked around her, flung the front door open, and ran down the overgrown front path to the sidewalk. His mother followed at a slower pace, locking the front door and tucking the keys into her purse. "Noah, walk with me," she said.
"Momma, I'm eight," he complained. "I can walk to the bus on my own."
"But it's the first day of school," she said. She reached over and took his hand. He checked to see if any other kids were around, then squeezed it. "I can't believe you're in the fourth grade."
"I'm almost in middle school," he boasted.
She smiled. "Not quite," she said. "Now, remember, I have to work late tonight. Nana Miriam is going to come over to keep an eye on you until I get home."
His smile faded. "Momma, not Nana," he complained. He kicked viciously at a pebble in his path. "Why can't Dad come home?"
She closed her eyes as if praying for patience. "Noah, you know that Daddy has to be out of town a lot," she said. "That's what truck drivers do. He's in California right now, isn't that neat?"
"It'd be better if I was there too," Noah grumbled under his breath.
They approached the bus stop just as the big yellow schoolbus pulled up to the curb. He wrangled his hand away from his mother's. "Let me give you a kiss goodbye," Julie said.
He wrinkled his nose. "Momma, the other kids are watching," he said.
She dropped a kiss on the top of his head before he had time to pull away. "Be nice to the other kids, Noah," she warned.
He ran to catch up and hopped on the bus just in time. Most of the seats were full, though. He hesitated at the front, glancing down the aisles for a seat.
"Kid, sit down," the bus driver said.
He shifted his backpack and sat down on the first empty seat he saw. There was already a little girl sitting there. She looked up at him and frowned. "This seat's taken," she said.
"No, it ain't," he said.
She rolled her dark eyes, picked up her backpack, and scooted as far away from his possible. "Boys are so stupid," she said. "Ain't isn't a word."
He shrugged. "It's gotta be a word," he said. "I said it, didn't I?"
The girl tossed her dark pigtails and stared pointedly out the window. Noah slumped in his seat. Fourth grade was already shaping up to be a pretty sucky year.
"Hey, Puckerman! That your girlfriend?"
He slunk down in his seat. "She's not my girlfriend," he said.
One of the bigger kids- a fifth grader- leaned over the back of his seat and ruffled his dark hair. Noah ducked out of the way. "Aw, innit cute?" he cooed. "Noah and Santana, sittin' in a tree…"
"I'm not his girlfriend!" Santana declared.
"Noah's got a girlfriend, Noah's got a girlfriend," the fifth grader chanted.
Noah lunged, twisting around in his seat, and popped the bigger kid in the face. The shot was poorly aimed and there wasn't enough power behind it, but it smacked the kid in the eye with enough force to make him howl.
"Cut it out," the bus driver said. "Who punched him?"
"Noah Puckerman," the fifth grader declared.
Noah slumped down in his seat. He was going to get written up already, and he hadn't even made it onto school property.
"Ashley, slow down," she complained, running to keep up with her older sister.
Ashley stormed down the hallway, her blonde ponytail swinging. "I can't believe Mom and Dad are making me walk you to your class," she said. "I'm going to be so late!"
Quinn tried to pry her older sister's fingers off her hand. "The middle school is only across the street," she said.
"You don't understand, Quinnie," she said, her shoes clicking loudly on the tile floor. "I'm in eighth grade. I get to be one of the most popular girls in middle school! Next year I have to start high school at the bottom of the food chain again."
"Food chain?" Quinn repeated, confused.
"You'll understand when you're older," Ashley sighed. She halted in front of the door for Mrs. Martin's third grade class; Quinn nearly tripped over her sister's shoes. "She's your teacher, right?" "I don't remember…"
Ashley rolled her eyes and opened the door. The other students were busy putting their backpacks away and setting out their new folders and pencil boxes on their desks. Ashley marched up to the teacher, dragging Quinn behind her.
"I'm Ashley Fabray," she said. "I think my little sister is in this class."
Mrs. Martin consulted the class roster. "Why, yes, she is," she smiled. Quinn hid behind her sister. "Your desk is right over here, sweetheart. Go ahead and put your backpack away and take your seat."
Ashley ruffled her younger sister's golden curls. "Bye, Quinnie," she said. She readjusted her hot pink messenger bag over her shoulder and bolted.
Quinn looked around the noisy classroom, her heart thumping in her chest. She hated the first day of school. All those new kids, and new classrooms, and new…stuff. Daddy said she was a creature of habit. She wasn't quite sure what he meant by that, but she did know that the first day of school was the worst day of the year.
She hung her blue floral Pottery Barn Kids backpack on a hook in the back of the room and pulled out her folders and pencil box, then hugged them to her chest as she made her way to her seat. She slipped into her seat, the toes of her patent leather mary janes barely touching the floor, and arranged her folders neatly.
"That's really cool."
She glanced up. The boy sitting next to her was staring at her box of twenty-four Crayola markers. "Thank you," she said politely.
She usually didn't make a habit of talking to boys. They were usually noisy and dirty- two of the things she disliked immensely. But he seemed nice. His brown hair stuck up in all directions, and the buttons on his striped polo shirt weren't exactly buttoned right.
"You have, like, every color ever," he said. He picked up his pack of markers and waved them. "My mom just got me the eight ones." "They're very nice," she said.
He grinned. It was a nice smile, albeit a little lopsided. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Quinn Fabray," she said. She tugged nervously on the hem of her light blue dress.
"I'm Finn," he said. "Hey, our names rhyme!"
She smiled, unsure of how to respond. Luckily, Mrs. Martin chose that moment to stand up at the front of the classroom and clap her hands for their attention. "Good morning, class," she said.
"Good morning, Mrs. Martin," they chorused.
Quinn settled back in her seat, her small feet swinging back and forth, and adjusted the blue bow in her hair. She was pretty sure that third grade was going to be okay.
He squirmed in his seat. It was almost ten thirty, the best part of the morning. Recess.
He tapped his pencil anxiously against his penmanship workbook. The other kids copied their capital cursive A's quietly. They were excited about learning cursive, but he had been in the third grade for a grand total of two and a half hours but he was already bored.
Mrs. O'Leary stood up and rang the little bell on her desk. "Boys and girls, it's time for recess," she said.
The twenty or so third graders slammed their workbooks shut and dropped their pencils in their plastic pencil boxes with loud clicks. He was way ahead of them.
"Who would like to be line leader today?" Mrs. O'Leary asked. Half a dozen kids raised their hands, particularly one dark-haired girl who was practically falling out of her seat in excitement. "I saw Rachel's hand up first. All right, everyone line up at the door behind Rachel."
He scrambled to his feet and jumped over a desk in his haste to get in line. Mrs. O'Leary placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Careful, Arthur," she warned. "All right, everyone, stay nice and quiet in the hallways. We don't want to disturb the other classes."
He tried to stay as quiet as possible, but his new sneakers squeaked loudly on the floor. The halls were mostly quiet; he could hear teachers lecturing as they passed by closed classroom doors.
At long last they reached the back doors of the school. As soon as he hit the sunshine he took off running, followed by his classmates. Mrs. Martin's class was already on the playground, and Mrs. Cooper's class was close behind.
Artie jumped onto the round jungle gym and clambered to the top. A small blonde girl was already there, swinging her legs prissily back and forth. "This is the girl's fort," she said. "You can't be up here."
"Yes, I can," he retorted.
The girl pushed the sleeves of her cardigan up to her elbows and leaned over. "Brittany, don't be scared," she said. "We can't have a girl fort if I'm the only one in it."
He glanced down. Another blonde girl stood at the bottom of the jungle gym, gingerly poking the metal bars. "Can we pick another fort?" she asked. "I'm not afraid of heights…but I think I'm afraid of falling off them."
Artie rolled his eyes and dropped to the ground. He climbed out of the jungle gym and surveyed the playground. After a moment, he got a running start and ran all the way up the slide.
Two kids were sitting at the top, a boy in a bow tie and a little girl with way too much red curly hair. "I don't know why you always get to be Ariel," he complained.
"I told you," she said patiently. "I'm the one with the red hair. You have brown hair, so you can't be Ariel. You can be Belle."
"But I like Ariel the best," he argued.
Artie hopped over them and jumped onto the helix ladder on the side. The girls usually just slid down it, but he took it in three long strides and leaped to the ground, landing on his hands and knees. He stood up, brushing off his navy corduroys, and decided to try out the monkey bars.
Artie perched on the top, high above the ground. He could see the entire playground from up there. That dark-haired girl from his class- Rebecca, or whatever- was standing on the balance beam, singing loudly. Like, really loudly.
"She was in my class last year, and I don't think she ever shuts up," said a voice next to him.
He glanced over. "Who's class are you in this year?" he asked.
She tossed her dark hair back, making her gold earrings jingle. "Mrs. Martin's," she said. "I'm Mercedes."
"I'm Artie," he said. "Well, Arthur, but it's a dumb name."
She grinned. "Oh, hey, I think Mike finally got off the tire swing!" she said. She jumped to the ground and made a break for the ever-popular swing, managing to get to it before any of the other kids. The boy who had just gotten off staggered around, dizzy but laughing.
Artie jumped off too, landing in the thick cushion of dusty pebbles. Some of the other kids had started up a soccer game. He ran over to the first player he saw, a lanky boy with brown hair. "Can I play?" he asked.
"I guess," he said. "Santana's team needs another player."
A tomboyish girl with long legs and black hair whipped around. "Nah-uh, Finn" she said. "I don't need any more boys on my team."
"My team already has more people than you," Finn pointed out.
Santana huffed, crossing her skinny arms. "Fine," she huffed.
Artie joined the soccer game. He wasn't very good at dribbling or doing fancy kicks like Santana did, but he could run fast. For the next fifteen minutes, he zigzagged up and down the field, dodging the taller kids and kicking the ball out of his enemies' way.
Mrs. O'Leary blew her whistle. "Everyone come line up behind Rachel," she called.
Artie pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Finn punched him on the shoulder. "You're pretty good," he said. "Play with us tomorrow?"
"Sure," he said, grinning happily as he joined his class's line.
Finn rummaged through his cubby and pulled out his sack lunch. His tummy growled at the thought of eating whatever his mom had packed. Mom always packed really good lunches, especially on the first day of school. And the Eggos he'd had for breakfast seemed like a really, really long time ago.
He shuffled into the line with the rest of his classmates. They talked quietly amongst themselves, their small voices echoing in the empty halls, until Mrs. Martin gave a warning "shush."
The lunchroom was huge and full of sunshine from tall windows. Some of the kids headed towards the cafeteria line and picked up plastic trays. Finn headed towards the first empty table and sat down.
He unfolded the crumpled top of his paper bag and pulled out the array of plastic sandwich bags. Mom had packed him a big ham and cheese sandwich, carrot sticks and ranch dressing, a cup of applesauce, a huge stuck of Oreos, and a fruit punch Capri Sun. He grinned in anticipation.
Finn rummaged in the bottom for the napkin, and found a folded piece of paper. He pulled it out and smoothed the note, written in his mother's round, even print.
I hope you're having lots of fun in the third grade. I am so proud of you! Listen to your teachers and learn lots.
He folded the note up and stuck it in the pocket of jeans, blushing slightly. Mom liked leaving notes in his lunches, and he liked getting them, but there was no way that he was going to let anyone else see them.
He took a huge bite of his sandwich. Mom had even remembered that he like mayonnaise, not mustard. Thank goodness, because that stuff was gross.
"Uh…can I sit here?"
He glanced up. One of the fourth-graders, a kid with dark hair and dark eyes, stood in front of him, holding a crumpled brown bag in his hand. "Sure, I guess," he shrugged.
The fourth grader sat down at the table, a few seats away from him. He ripped his lunch bag open and yanked out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
"I'm Finn," he offered.
"Noah Puckerman," the fourth-grader said around a mouthful of sticky sandwich. "You can call me Puck."
Finn wrinkled his nose. "That's a funny nickname," he said.
"Yeah, well, it's not as funny as Finn," Puck retorted.
Finn scowled. He knew his name was unusual, but he liked it. He dunked a carrot stick in ranch dressing and shoved it in his mouth, chomping away.
They ate in awkward silence. Finn wasn't sure exactly why this kid was sitting with him. He was a fourth grader…and he looked like he was pretty tough.
"So…" Puck said. "Do you play soccer?"
Finn swallowed and nodded. "Uh-huh. Just at recess, though," he said. "I like football better."
Puck perked up. "You like football?" he said.
By the time the bell rang at the end of the lunch period, Finn decided that they might sort of be friends.
The other kids headed out to the bus stops and waiting cars. Kurt shouldered his backpack and went in the opposite direction, towards the art classroom.
He pushed the heavy door open. The art room smelled like tempera paint and fresh paper, two scents he'd been familiar with since babyhood. "Mom?" he called.
Mollie emerged from the storage closet, brushing her hair away from her face with the backs of her hands. "Hi, baby," she said. "Give me a second. The kindergarteners were fingerpainting."
She wiggled her paint-besmeared fingers in his direction and he laughed. "I don't have art class until tomorrow," he said.
"I know, but I'm looking forward to it," she said, washing her hands in the small sink and wiping them off on her blue smock. "How was your day?"
"It was pretty good," he said. He frowned. "Ella wouldn't let me be Ariel when were playing at recess."
"She does have red hair," his mother pointed out. She hung her smock up on the hook beside the door and picked up her big red bag. "Let's go, honey. We have to get dinner started for Daddy."
Kurt slipped his hand into his mother's as they walked down the hall to the parking lot. "Mom, I think I like the third grade," he announced.
She smiled as she unlocked the car and put her bag in the backseat. "And why is that?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "It's just more fun than second grade. And Ella's in my class this year."
"That's great," she said. "Buckle your seatbelt, honey."
He obeyed, kicking his feet in his new shoes back and forth. "We get to learn cursive this year, too," he said. "Now I get to write pretty like you do."
Mollie smiled and reached over to tickle her fingers lightly on the top of his knee. "You already write pretty," she said.
He tucked his legs underneath him. "But this means I'm going to be a grown up soon," he reminded her. "Only grown ups write in cursive."
She sighed. "I know," she said. She glanced over and smiled at him. "You're getting so big. Couldn't you stay my baby forever?"
"I don't think so," he said seriously.
Mollie laughed softly as she pulled into the driveway. "It was worth a shot," she said. "Go put on your playclothes and get your homework started, all right?"
He ran up to his room and exchanged his still wrinkle-free khaki shorts and button-up shirt for basketball shorts and a tee shirt with a superhero on it, then went back downstairs, his backpack in hand, to start his homework. His mother had already put out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for him on the kitchen table.
He took a big bite and pulled out his blue homework folder. Mollie sat down beside him, munching on a sugar cookie. "So what homework do you have?" she asked.
"Math," he said, wrinkling his nose as he pulled out a page of addition and subtraction problems.
She skimmed over the page. "You're a smart boy," she said. "This should be easy. Here, what's six plus three?"
"Nine," he said.
"And two plus eight?"
"So then you…"
"Carry the one?"
"Perfect," she said. She smoothed his cheek with her thumb, brushing away a few cookie crumbs. "So you add the one to the…"
"Mm-hm. So what do you have?"
"Four hundred and nine?"
"See, I told you could do it," she said. She kissed him on the temple. "Keep working. I'm going to start dinner."
He worked quietly on his math homework, writing out each number in painstakingly clear handwriting. His mother alternated between humming and singing softly as she puttered around the kitchen.
Kurt was nearly done when he heard the front door open. He scrambled to his feet and ran for the front door. "Hi, Dad!" he shouted.
"Hey, kiddo," Burt said, holding out his arms. Kurt jumped into his embrace, throwing his arms around his neck. "How was the first day of school?"
"Good, really good," he said.
Burt carried him into the kitchen. "Mollie?" he called.
She turned around, wiping her hands on her red and white checked apron. "Hi!" she said. "I didn't hear you come in."
Burt set his son down on the floor and leaned over to kiss his wife. "How did your first day back go?" he asked.
"No one ate any glue and no one cried. I call that a success," she smiled, kissing her husband on the cheek. "Dinner's just about ready. Kurt can set the table while you get cleaned up. Can't you, Kurt?"
"Uh-huh," he said, pulling the silverware drawer open. He cleared off his homework and set the table, folding the napkins precisely.
The rest of the night followed the predictable school night schedule for the Hummel household. He ate dinner, helped his mother clear the dishes off the table, and ate his dessert- neopolitan ice cream, his favorite- while he finished the rest of his homework. Afterwards he went upstairs and took a bath.
Usually he would just pick out his outfit for the next day and go right to sleep, but it was only eight o'clock and he could hear his parents in the living room, watching a movie. Kurt padded down the hall in his baggy pajamas and peeked around the corner.
They were watching Back to the Future, one of his dad's favorite movies. Burt was watching it with his feet propped up on the couch; Mollie was curled up beside him. She sat up when she noticed him hiding in the doorway.
"Kurt?" she said softly. "What's wrong?"
He crept closer into the flickering light of the television. "I can't sleep yet," he said. "Can I stay up?"
Burt smiled. "Just for a little bit," he said.
Kurt ran to the couch and jumped up beside his mother. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him onto her lap. He snuggled his head against her shoulder and settled in to watch the movie.
His dad laughed quietly, the sound rumbling in his throat. His mother held him close, smoothing his damp hair away from his forehead. Kurt nestled against her and slowly fell asleep.
I wish I could just pick all of them up and hug them and give them kisses and keep them in my pocket.
I'm focusing on Kurt, Puck, Quinn, Rachel, Finn, and Artie, because they have the most interesting backstories to me, but I want to include everybody. So Santana, Brittany, Mercedes, and Mike all made cameos in this chapter! I'll pull them in when I can.
Thank you so much for adding this story to your alerts and favorites. And most of all, your reviews! They totally make my day!