Kurt's dad told him that the best way to forget about his problems was to help someone else with theirs. Even though this sounded like the kind of advice that would be embroidered on a pillow belonging to those people on TV who had, like, sixty-seven kids, Kurt was desperate enough to try anything. He had his doubts, though, and he could definitely see any conversation with his helpee quickly devolving into some kind of misery poker. I have cancer, they'd say, to which he'd quickly respond, My mom died when I was ten. I lost my job, they'd say. Yeah? My dad had a stroke. My house burned down, they'd say. That's too bad, he'd reply. The boy who makes my life a living hell at school is secretly in love with me, but that isn't stopping him from turning my brains to scrambled eggs against my locker every day. And then the other person would start to bawl at the tragedy of Kurt's life.
He sighed. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. However, since he was standing in front of an old woman's house clutching a hot supper from Meals on Wheels and he had already rung the doorbell, it seemed a tad late to change his mind now. It took her forever to answer the doorbell, and Kurt was wondering if he had anything that could beat I lost all my legs and arms to flesh eating disease if that was indeed the reason for the delay when she finally opened the door and let him in.
She had all four limbs and her name was Miriam, as it turned out. She had emphysema from a lifetime of smoking (she'd quit long ago, though), and didn't have the energy anymore to cook for herself or get out of the house much. Kurt was about to tell her he was the only public homosexual in his entire school, which he thought at least tied her problems if not trumped them, but she just then offered him a glass of iced tea, and the moment was lost.
She was his only visit for the day, so he wasn't supposed to just dump the plate of meatloaf on the counter and skedaddle. His orders were to spend a couple of hours listening to her talk about The Good Old Days before iPods and flush toilets or whatever, or maybe doing some odd jobs for her around the house. As long as he didn't have to do anything that would get his cerulean blue cashmere sweater dirty, that was fine by Kurt.
Miriam put the meatloaf in the fridge since it was barely three in the afternoon and sat him down at the kitchen table with a china plate full of Oreos and a keen hankering for some conversation. Much to his surprise, she loved Jersey Shore (Kurt waited in breathless anticipation every week for The Situation to pull up his wifebeater again), her favourite album at the moment was Kings of Leon (although she agreed that the soundtrack from Wicked was also a winner), and by the sounds of some her stories, all people did in the '50s was drink and make out in the back seats of cars with no seat belts.
In other words, he had a wonderful time. Contrary to what he'd guessed, it was wonderful to talk to a stranger who had no idea, nor did she care, about his sexual orientation, his family, his woes, his pain, his drama. All she cared about was if he'd like another cookie, as she had oodles of them left because she had to watch her blood sugar levels. They were the best damn Oreos he'd ever eaten.
After what seemed like only minutes, they got around to talking about her house and how it was in quite a state of disrepair since it had been going on ten years since her husband had died. Kurt, a little drunk from the pleasure of her company, agreed in a sudden burst of confidence to try to fix the dripping faucet at her kitchen sink. Although it took them forever, with a little luck and a steady stream of unlikely advice from Miriam, he emerged victorious, wrench in hand, the drip just an unpleasant memory in the annals of plumbing. She hugged him like he was a returning war hero, and he was still basking in his unlikely home repair prowess when the doorbell rang.
Miriam glanced at the rooster clock on the wall above her kitchen window. "Oh my goodness, is it five o'clock already? I'm sorry, I asked my grandson to come over to move some boxes for me. I hope you don't mind. Actually, if you really don't mind, maybe you could help him? He's a good boy, but he doesn't have much time to visit his old Grammy anymore and it's a big job for one person."
"I'd be glad to help." At this point Kurt felt like, if asked, he could probably fix the Mid-east conflict, too. Bring it on, boxes! He just had to remember to lift with his legs, not with his back.
Miriam opened the door and stepped outside to give her grandson a quick squeeze on the porch. She had to reach up to do it, so Kurt guessed her grandson must be on the big side. Maybe he'd be cute and funny, too. Didn't hurt to dream. She pulled her grandson inside by one of his meaty hands. "I have someone I want you to meet, sweetie."
"Sure, Grammy," he answered. He came in, a big friendly grin plastered on his face.
It was Dave Karofsky. All the iced tea in Kurt's bladder instantly froze solid. Without really meaning to, Kurt lifted the wrench in his hands up as if to protect himself.
When he saw Kurt, the grin dropped off Karofsky's face like a sticky note with a smiley drawn on it. They both stood there unable to move or speak. Not so Miriam, who made introductions. "David, this is Kurt. He's a volunteer from Meals on Wheels. We've been having the best chat, haven't we, Kurt? He even fixed my kitchen sink!"
Karofsky took a deep, shaky breath, and Kurt tried to imagine what he could possibly say with his Grammy right here as a witness for the prosecution. "Nice to meet you, Kurt," Karofsky said without a trace of irony. His eyes darted with something akin to panic toward his grandmother as he waited for Kurt's reply. Miriam, oblivious to the tension, beamed at Kurt, a loving arm around Karofsky's waist.
"You too," Kurt managed, then cleared his throat. What else was he supposed to say when Miriam had given him cookies and and taught him the term "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey"? Kurt wasn't going to be the one to ruin her day or her opinion of her grandson.
"Kurt said he'd help you move those boxes, honey," Miriam said to Karofsky as she pulled his varsity jacket off his shoulders.
"That's okay, Grammy. I can do it myself." He shot Kurt a look.
"If he can do it himself, then maybe I should just go," Kurt hurriedly agreed. Suddenly he and Karofsky were on the same team, trying to save Miriam from any sort of collateral-damagey pain. How did he get into these kinds of messes, that's what he wanted to know.
"I was hoping since the two of you are here that you could move that old wardrobe down to the basement. It would help me so much, and that's definitely a two man job."
Karofsky opened his mouth like he had something he wanted to say, but apparently couldn't come up with anything and so shut it again. "I have to go to the bathroom," he said instead, and bolted down the hall.
"At least take your shoes off," Miriam called after him, but Karofsky didn't even slow down. "That boy," she said to Kurt in hushed tones. "I can't tell what he's thinking, never could, not even when he was a kid. You seem like such a nice person – do me a favour and try to make friends with him. I don't think he has one true friend, and he's always so sad I think he could use one." Whatever expression was on Kurt's face, it made her add, "Damn, I probably shouldn't have said that."
When Karofsky emerged several minutes later from the bathroom, his face was pale and still wet around the edges where he'd splashed it with water. Miriam led them both to the bedroom at the end of the hall, which as promised held nothing but boxes, more boxes, and an ancient oak wardrobe that no doubt led to Narnia in a previous life. She pulled open the creaky doors to reveal the inside packed tight with endless piles of books. "If you could put all those musty old books into boxes, you probably won't have too much trouble getting the wardrobe downstairs. I can help you if you want."
"No, you go watch TV, Grammy. We've got this."
Kurt had to agree that the only thing worse than packing a thousand books with Karofsky was packing a thousand books with him and his grandma, having to pretend to be nice to him the entire time.
"Then I'll leave you two to it," she said, and shut the door behind her when she went. It closed with an ominous and rather final "click".
"Let's just do this as fast as possible and get the hell out of here," Karofsky said, already digging through the mountain of boxes to find some empties they could use for the books.
"Fine by me." Kurt began pulling the books out of the wardrobe as quickly as he could, stacking them on the floor beside him. Karofsky went down on one knee beside him and began to fill the first box with books. Neither of them looked at each other, not even when Kurt chucked the books to the floor instead of stacking them, making Karofsky jerk his head back to avoid being hit. Karofsky smelled faintly of cheap aftershave and the outdoors.
Kurt didn't know what else to do, so he read the titles of the books before he discarded them. There were some romance and thriller paperbacks, but all the oversized ones had to do with hunting, football, hockey, fishing. Real manly stuff. Figured. He tossed a book with some poor doomed deer on the front cover. "I never could understand why anybody would take pleasure in killing some defenseless creature," he muttered.
"Yeah? Cause me and my dad and my grandpa used to go out every year on a hunting trip. Are you saying there's something wrong with that?" Of course, Karofsky had gone from zero to pissed in 1.5 seconds.
"I'm saying that fact doesn't surprise me in the least." He thought it wise to change the subject sooner rather than later. "Your grandma's quite a gal."
Kurt watched as Karofsky's shoulder's relaxed. "Yeah, she is. I try to visit her as much as I can, but it's hard with practice and everything."
This was the longest normal conversation the two of them had ever had. Much, much better than hateful insults, on both their parts. Kurt tried to keep the ball rolling. "It turns out we both like The Situation."
Karofsky actually laughed. "She just about cried when he got eliminated from Dancing With the Stars."
"He was totally robbed." Then, "Your grandma's worried about you, you know."
Now Karofsky looked up at him, but only for a second before he turned his head away. This was always the way Karofsky acted, like he could only take so much of seeing Kurt's face before it was too much. Kurt had always assumed it was because he made Karofsky sick. After the kiss in the locker room, that reasoning now seemed to be faulty. Ultra mega faulty. But thinking about that made the inevitable butterflies in Kurt's stomach act like they'd been zapped with a taser, so he didn't think about it anymore.
"Why, what did she say?"
"Not much, but she thinks you need more friends."
"I have plenty of friends. The whole team is my friend."
"Sure, and you rule over them with an iron fist."
"Do you always have to talk like that, Hummel?" Karofsky folded shut the flaps of the box he was working on and started on the next one.
"Like what?" Kurt was well aware how his voice was not at all like the rest of the boys, not that he could help it. Or wanted to help it.
"Like you're a poet. Speaking poetry all the time, even when you're just talking about regular stuff."
Kurt hugged The Complete Guide to Freshwater Fishing to his chest. "You think that's how I talk?"
"I guess. I don't know. No."
Kurt sighed and handed Karofsky the book. It didn't take them that long to pack up the rest of the books, and then they only had to deal with the empty wardrobe. It was heavy enough that it brought hernias to mind. "Let's walk it down the hall," Karofsky said.
"As opposed to what?" Kurt asked, mystified.
Karofsky showed him how to shuffle the wardrobe along like it had feet, so they could move it without even lifting it. They manhandled the wardrobe down the hall toward the kitchen.
Miriam met them there with two big glasses of water. "I thought you might need this. You don't want to get dehydrated." They gratefully gulped it down. "Kurt tells me he belongs to a Glee Club, David," Miriam said as they drank.
"That right?" Karofsky answered in a carefully neutral voice.
"My David sings, too," Miriam told Kurt, who promptly choked on the water until it came up his nose.
"What? You do. He sings all the time for me. He's good, too. He's a crooner – he likes the standards. Sing something for Kurt, Davey. Come on."
Karofsky's face was as red as his varsity jacket. "Grammy, don't."
She gave him a cuddle. "You won't do it for your old Grammy who could die of an aneurism at any given moment? Please-please-please-please?"
"Please-please-please-please," said Kurt, grinning so hard it made his cheeks hurt.
Karofsky shot him a death glare, but there was no way Kurt and Miriam were letting this one go. "Sing the one by that Michael Buble, David. That's his favourite, you know."
Karofsky paused, possibly hoping that God would strike him dead, but when God didn't cooperate he clasped his hands in front of him like a kid in a school Christmas concert and started singing the song about twice as fast as it really went, and twice as mumbly, too.
"Wherever you are, whenever it's right
You'll come out of nowhere and into my life."
Kurt's eyes bugged. Karofsky was a tenor, with a warm, velvety tone. He could actually sing. Kurt didn't know how many more shocks his heart could take in one week.
"And I know that we can be so amazing
And, baby, your love is gonna change me
And now I can see every possibility
And somehow I know that it'll all turn out
You'll make me work, so we can work to work it out
And I promise you, kid, I give so much more than I get
I just haven't met you yet."
Karofsky's voice faded awkwardly away. He rubbed his nose with annoyance and looked everywhere but in Kurt's direction as Miriam gave him a hearty round of applause.
Kurt's smile faded. That song was Karofsky's favourite? Before Kurt could analyze why that made him so sad, Karofsky began to walk the wardrobe to the basement door by himself.
Kurt hurried to help him get it down the stairs. Karofsky went first, taking the brunt of the weight as he tried to maneuver it around the corner. "It's slipping," he said to Kurt. "Get it. Get it-get it-get it." Kurt didn't get it. The wardrobe slid forward, bouncing into Karofsky with enough force that he grunted as it knocked him into the wall behind him. They looked at each other over the top of the wardrobe. "Body check," Kurt told him smugly.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, and before long they were at the bottom of the stairs in the basement, which was unfinished and plenty spooky, as basements tended to be. It didn't help that an entire wall of the basement was covered in a row of mounted animal heads, including a bear, a mountain lion, a moose, and Bambie's mother. "Oh my god, it's like the Bates Motel in here," Kurt said with a shudder.
Karofsky laughed again. "When I was a kid I totally thought they were all looking at me. I hated coming down here to get stuff out of the freezer."
It suddenly struck Kurt that he and Karofsky were talking and even laughing together like nothing had ever happened between them. That Karofsky had never been a bully, had never hurt him, had never kissed him like Kurt was his for taking whether Kurt wanted it or not.
"Why did you do it, Karofsky? All those years, you were so horrible to me. Why?"
Karofsky flinched, then ran a hand over his face. "I don't know. Because I could. Because you..." He searched for the right words.
Kurt could feel the old rage crawl into his chest. "Because I disgusted you?"
Karofsky seemed genuinely surprised at this suggestion. "No. I had to do those things to you. I had to make sure everybody could see how much I hated you, so nobody could see how much I..."
There was a long, awkward silence as both of them filled in the blank at the end of that sentence. How much I...want you. Think about you. Envy you. Am you. Kurt shook it off. "It doesn't matter. There's no excuse for the way you treated me. None. You're a bully and a coward."
Instead of answering, Karofsky picked up one of the books on hunting and leafed through it. "You know how I said I went hunting with my family every fall? I never killed anything, not once. They thought my aim sucked, but the truth was that I didn't want to do it. My dad and Gramps never let me forget it. They'd hassle me about it until I cried when I was little. Then one year I just stopped crying." Without warning he chucked the book across the basement so hard the cover broke off when it hit the empty work bench. "All the men in my family are like that. All of them. My dad would rather see me dead than..." Karofsky's voice broke.
Good lord. Poor, screwed up Karofsky and his screwed up family. "But still," he said, although not half as harshly as before.
"Anyway, what's the big deal if I shoved you around a little these last few years?"
"You have got to be joking. How do you figure that?"
"You're going to find some other fairy who loves you and you're going to live happily ever after in your purple house with pink furniture in San Francisco or where the fuck ever, and I'm going to stay here in Lima working at my dad's store and marrying one of the Cheerios and losing my hair by the time I'm thirty." He smiled crookedly.
"Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me...it gets better?"
Karofsky kept his eyes on the cement floor. "I hope it gets better for somebody."
A pain stabbed into Kurt's heart, and it took him a moment to identify its source: for the first time, he felt pity for Karofsky.
Karofsky saw the look on Kurt's face and mistook it for self-pity. "I know it was a shitty thing to do, okay? You want to get back at me? Go for it." He held his hands away from his body, giving Kurt his pick of targets. "Go on, throw a punch. I won't fight back."
Kurt didn't move, although he'd fantasized about this moment dozens of times. Pushing Karofsky down the stairs and watching him bounce against concrete. Elbowing him in the face. A baseball bat to the backs of his knees. Slamming his fingers in the school doors. Running him over in the parking lot.
And here it was, his chance at last. Karofsky waited, eyebrows up. He almost seemed eager for Kurt to dish out some kind of justice. Upstairs, Miriam started to hum Michael Buble as she opened then closed the fridge door. Kurt finally shrugged. "I think not. Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of cashmere? Besides, I don't need to hurt you; you're doing a fine job of that yourself. You may hate what I am, but at least I'm living my life honestly. Your whole life is a lie, Karofsky. I'm free, and you're in a prison you made."
Karofsky slowly lowered his arms. He swallowed once, twice. "And here I thought you didn't know how to hit." He sat down heavily on one of the boxes of book.
Kurt's stomach dropped. Why had he said that? Why had he stooped so low? That's right, because he could. He wanted to hurt Karofsky, and now that he had he felt worse than before. Kurt wasn't angry anymore, he just wanted Karofsky to understand what he'd done. "That was my first kiss with a boy, you know. You ruined it for me. That's my memory now, you assaulting me in a locker room."
Karofsky looked suitably appalled. "Your first ever? You're kidding me. What about that guy on the stairs with the uniform?"
"Nope. You beat him to it." He tried not to dissolve right then and there into a puddle of bitterness.
Karofsky leaned back against the wardrobe and sighed. "If it makes you feel any better, that kiss wasn't so hot for me, either. You kicked me to the curb then stomped on my head."
An image of Karofsky's stricken face when Kurt had pushed him away in the locker room flashed through Kurt's mind. What a disaster. "It wasn't exactly ideal, was it? Maybe it's best if we forget it ever happened.
Karofsky nodded wearily. "Sure. Good."
Kurt hesitated. In the locker room he'd said that Karofsky wasn't his type, but that wasn't quite right. Big confident jocks were exactly his type – just ask Finn. It was boys who were cruel that weren't Kurt's type. Boys who didn't know how to do anything but hurt other people for no good reason. If Karofsky stopped being that kind of boy, then what was he? The answer to that made Kurt's mouth go dry. He suddenly said for no good reason on the face of the earth, "But you realize you're still going to have to take it back."
"You mean, what I said to you?"
"No, what you did to me."
"The locker slams? I take it back."
"No, not that."
"You mean the...the kiss thing?" He couldn't have looked more despondent, more defeated. "Fine. I take it back. I'm sorry."
Kurt shook his head. "That's not good enough. I want you to take it back. Literally."
Karofsky stared at him, his nicely-groomed eyebrows crowding together. No doubt trying to remember what literally meant. "You want me to...?"
Kurt tapped his own mouth with one finger. "I don't want that stupid kiss anymore. It's yours, so you have to take it back."
The silence was very loud, and felt the like summer air just before lightning struck. Karofsky got up from the box. Kurt backed away from him, suddenly scared. Of exactly what he couldn't decide; there were so many things to be scared of when it came to Karofsky. When Kurt's back bumped into the wardrobe there was no place left to go. It was the only time they'd been this close when violence wasn't involved. Kurt looked up into Karofsky's eyes as he came in nice and tight. He was very tall, wasn't he? Very tall, very broad in the shoulders. Kurt's heart was beating so hard he could feel it in his teeth.
"Are you sure you want me to take it back?" Karofsky was taking no chances. This time he wanted Kurt's full cooperation.
"Yes?" Kurt replied, and that was as sure as he was going get.
"I'm sorry," Karofsky whispered. "I know I'm not what you..." He trailed off, half-heartedly gesturing at himself, at his bulky body and stupid hair and rough hands. They both knew he was the direct opposite of handsome, compact, perfect Blaine in pretty much every aspect.
Kurt could barely take a breath. "Yes, you are," he whispered back. "Trust me." He'd always thought Karofsky was nothing more than a dumb jock, as simple to figure out as primary colours. But now a gamut of emotions crossed Karofsky's face, his motives and expectations too complicated for Kurt to decipher. Karofsky gave him a little shove, pinning him to the wardrobe. A shock of excitement ran through Kurt, into his fingertips and between his legs. His ears were ringing so loudly he thought he was going to faint.
Karofsky kissed him. Kurt, inexperienced and uncertain, closed his eyes and allowed Karofsky to do whatever he pleased. It was an excellent strategy. Like most everything else Karofsky tried, he wanted to be good at this; he wanted to excel. Karofsky had without a doubt kissed many a Cheerio in his day, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He held Kurt's face in his hands and gave him the slow and romantic first kiss Kurt had always dreamed of. The second kiss, however, was much more demanding – so demanding that it made Kurt moan and open his mouth so Karofsky could do whatever he wanted to that part of him, too. The third kiss was the kind Kurt had only dared imagine while he was alone in bed at night, or in the shower. This time it was Karofsky who made the small, desperate noises.
As it turned out, it took Karofsky a long, long time to take the kiss back. When he finally stopped, burying his hot face into the nape of Kurt's neck, they were both gasping for air, trembling against each other with a throbbing, pleasurable need. "I don't know why I hate you so much," Karofsky said against his skin.
Kurt gently pushed him away until they could look at each other. "The opposite of love isn't hate, you know. It's indifference."
Karofsky ran his thumb over Kurt's lips. "There you go, talking poetry again. What does that even mean?"
"It means that until you figure things out for yourself, we can't do this again. And you can't bully me anymore. It means you need me as a friend more than you know."
Karofsky took this news stoically, nodding his agreement when no words came. They straightened their clothes and brought the rest of the books downstairs, then got their coats and said goodbye to Miriam, who made them both promise they'd come back soon to visit. She pulled Kurt aside when Karofsky had already stepped outside. "I think you're exactly what the doctor ordered," she said approvingly, and pushed him and his astonished face out the door.
They stood on her porch and did up their coats; it felt like it was going to snow. Kurt took a deep breath of cold air. Karofsky left first, striding down the sidewalk like he owned it. "See you at school, Kurt," he said over his shoulder.
Kurt watched him go. "See you at school, Dave." Then he headed for home, where he knew his dad would be waiting for him with supper on the table.