(Author's note: here's the office on the corner of North and Main: http:/ www. flickr. com/photos/nubianamy/6035822381/in/set-72157627417978170
This is the last chapter, but the next story is long-plotted and under development. It'll follow Just That Side of True for a few chapters, and then the two stories will merge, just after Sectionals. Watch also for the upcoming Supernatural/Donutverse crossover story.)
Quinn wasn't sure what to expect when she ducked into the vacant storefront, but the cozy office perplexed her. She couldn't tell what the purpose of the office was. It could have been anything. The signs on the door read Howell, DDS and Lawton, LLP. The generic receptionist was smiling blankly at her. "Can I help you?" she said pleasantly.
"Um, I think so," she said. "My friend Puck said I was supposed to meet him here? Um, Noah Puckerman?"
"Mr. Puckerman is in the conference room," she said. "Right through there. Can I get you some coffee or tea?"
"No thank you," Quinn said, patting her bulging stomach. It didn't even sound good anymore, she thought. Giving up caffeine had been easier than she'd expected.
She followed the receptionist's pointing finger down the hall into a conference room. There was a table, at which Puck sat with a man in a suit. It was a nice suit, and he was very good looking. She smiled at him automatically.
"Hi," Puck said. He looked exhausted and a little anxious. She hoped he wasn't in trouble. This all looked very official. He gestured toward the man. "Quinn, this is my lawyer, Davis Lawton. Mr. Lawton, Quinn Fabray."
Quinn held out her hand and Mr. Lawton shook it. "May I call you Quinn?" he asked.
"I guess," she said, mystified. "Sure." Why did Puck have a lawyer?
"Let me get you up to speed, Quinn," he said, gesturing for them all to sit. "First, let me congratulate you on your upcoming blessed event. I'm given to understand you don't plan to keep the child?"
Quinn looked back and forth between Puck and Mr. Lawton. "No. I mean, that's right. I'm giving the child to... someone else."
"Ah. Well, my client is interested in signing the affidavit of parenthood." At her blank look, the lawyer clarified, "That means he would like to claim parental rights, as an non-emancipated minor."
"Puck - wants to be the father?" Puck watched her carefully, his face guarded. She felt a rush of panic. What would happen if he got the baby, and then Terri couldn't have it? "But if the baby is already promised to someone else? What happens then?"
"Are you saying you have already begun formal adoption proceedings? Have you filed paperwork with the state?"
"No," she said. "It's just been a - an informal agreement. So far."
Mr. Lawton riffled through some paperwork. "Well, I should probably inform you that in the state of Ohio, most parental affidavits are granted. You may have a fight on your hands if you wish to press for an outside adoption over a biological parent's rights." He handed her a copy of a paper, and she took it. "If you would look these over, we can arrange a time to have them signed. You might want to consult with your own lawyer, talk about your options." He nodded pleasantly, not pressing for smiles, and left them alone in the bare conference room.
Quinn shook her head in confusion. "Why are you doing this?" she whispered. "Is it - are you trying to get back at me or something? Because I thought we were -"
"No," Puck said, and he sounded as tired as he looked. "It's not about that at all. It's just about me, and her. I have to do this, Quinn. It's not just that she's part of me; it's that I need to be a part of her. I need to take care of her, or else I'll - I'll break into pieces. I don't know how to go on any other way."
"What the hell do you think you're going to do?" she said, incredulous. "How are you going to handle school while you're taking care of a kid? And don't even say you're going to drop out."
"I'm working on that," he said. He was more steady than she would have given him credit for, especially after last night. "This is bigger than me."
"But you're the one who has to be ready to handle it," she snapped. "I already know I can't do it. What makes you think you can?"
Puck hesitated a moment before saying, "They make me feel like I can do anything, Quinn. I've never fucking felt like that before, ever, but now - I really think I might be able to do it."
"They - you mean Finn and Kurt?" He nodded in silence, his chin up, ready to defend them, but she wasn't going to say anything - not now, anyway. She sighed. "Puck, this changes things a lot. I need - I need time to think about it. Can you let me have a little time?"
"I think you have a week," he said. "Then it'll be up to our lawyers to duke it out. And trust me, I know neither of us have a ton of spending money for lawyers right now. Let's see if we can make it quick and easy, all right?"
She didn't feel ready to answer without yelling, or falling apart, so she just sat there while he pushed back his chair and walked out the door.
The choir room looked empty without all the props and equipment from their hairography numbers. Mr. Schue greeted Glee club with a stack of new music. "How's your sister, Puck?" he asked, first thing. Everyone looked at Puck, and he shrugged.
"She's alive, thanks to you guys," he said. He stared at his feet. "I - I want to thank you. For everything."
"We got your back," Santana said, "and Sarah's."
Mr. Schue considered the group with a fond smile. "Last night was trial by fire," he said. "You came together for each other when you needed it. That's the true mark of a community. I think you all showed that when the going gets rough, you can really count on one another." He looked back at Puck. "I'm guessing this isn't the end of this for you, or Sarah. You'll let us know how we can help?"
"Yeah," Puck said quietly.
Mr. Schue nodded, and picked up a stack of music, handing it out. "Kurt, you and Finn and Rachel and Mercedes showed us what we'd been missing with your fantastic Hair number. But we can't use it for Sectionals. So now - we're starting from scratch," he said. "Grab a stool, everybody."
"So, we're a stool choir now?" Artie said in confusion, glancing at the music.
"Nope. We're not dancing with the stools. No gimmicks, no false theatricality. We're just going to sit in them and sing."
Kurt glanced at the music and saw the piece he'd found after hours of searching in the attic room. He looked up at Mr. Schue's face and saw anticipation in his eyes. Where are you going this weekend? he thought, wishing for an answer, but finding none. What's so important that you'd leave us before sectionals?
Rachel looked at the music, too, nodded in satisfaction, and said, "Thanks, Mr. Schuester."
Puck stayed close to Finn as they changed into their costumes, which consisted of colorful, plain t-shirts. "You sleep okay?" Finn asked him, but the dark circles under his eyes should have been answer enough. "You could have come to find us, when you woke up, you know."
Puck pulled the red t-shirt over his head. "I couldn't leave Sarah," he said in an undertone. "I don't know what's going to happen now. After school today - I don't even know where I'm going."
"You're going to stay with me, until we get it figured out."
"And Sarah? What are we going to do about her? You know she's just going to run away again if we make her go home."
"My mom and Burt, they're going to help," Finn said, more confidently than he felt. "We're going to the garage after school, and then dinner at Kurt's. You've got people who can help with this, Puck. You don't have to do it alone. Just hang in there."
He glanced around to make sure they were alone, then leaned in, and his breath was warm on Puck's neck. "We missed you last night," he said, "but we knew you needed to take care of Sarah. It came first. Tonight - we want to take care of you."
"God," Puck breathed, dropping his head to his chest. He closed his eyes. "Yeah, I could use that."
"I just wanted you to know we hadn't forgotten," Finn said, and clasped his hand one more time before they headed back to the auditorium. Puck followed close behind, and set up his stool right next to Finn's.
Santana sat on his other side, and she watched them carefully, noticing for the first time the subtle interactions between them, the way Puck looked to Finn, and Finn directed him with his hands, his eyes. She didn't understand, but she saw it, and filed it away.
Tina caught Kurt's hand as they brought in their stools. "I didn't get a chance to tell you," she said, in her shy, sweet way, "how much I enjoyed your song."
"I'm sorry I didn't ask you to sing with us," Kurt said. "It was just a scheduling thing, in the end. But I'm glad Mr. Schue gave you this piece. It's just right for your voice."
"The words in that song had a really important message," she said, cocking her head. "Was that meant for - someone in particular?" Her eyes flickered across the stage to where Puck was sitting on his stool, his head down. Kurt's eyes widened briefly, and she smiled. "I kind of thought so."
"Did - did Mercedes -?" he said anxiously, but she shook her head.
"No, Kurt. I'm pretty smart, you know. And I spend a lot of time watching and listening. Mercedes told me something was up, but she didn't give away your secret." She raised an eyebrow. "He is pretty cute, even if he's kind of a jerk."
"You have no idea," Kurt breathed, keeping his gaze carefully directed away from Puck. "It's way beyond that. And there's more, but -"
Then he looked around at the people surrounding him in the auditorium. He examined their friendly expressions, the looks of trust and appreciation. They were on his side. He didn't know exactly when that had happened, but somehow - it had. They were his family, too.
"We can talk later," Tina said. "I'd love to hear the rest. But you know, this song has a important message, too. I hope you'll hear it." She hugged him again. "Come sit by me?"
Tina really was the perfect one to deliver the song. She sang with astounding clarity, and exactly the right kind of honesty: the one that made everyone feel lucky to be alive, and made all the colors in the room that much more bright. Mr. Schue sat out in the audience and watched them with a clear, calm approval. They were good, and they knew it - but more than that, they were themselves.
You with the sad eyes
don't be discouraged
oh I realize
it's hard to take courage
in a world full of people
you can lose sight of it all
and the darkness inside you
can make you feel so small
Puck was self-conscious about people watching him, knowing he was hurting, but it wasn't as hard to take as usual, somehow. The pitying eyes of his fellow Glee members were not exactly welcome, but they didn't feel like an imposition, either. And it was good to know that at least some of them were positive and loving, like Mercedes - who would have thought? Even Quinn's expression, though tentative and anxious, didn't look angry. It was possible they might be able to get through this business about the baby without too much of a fight.
But I see your true colors
I see your true colors
and that's why I love you
so don't be afraid to let them show
your true colors
true colors are beautiful
like a rainbow
Kurt found Finn's eyes on him more than once during the song, and he delighted in it each time it happened. He could feel them inching out of their self-imposed closet a little bit at a time, and it gave him hope that, soon, soon, they could stop hiding, at least with their friends and family. It was going to happen. He sang with confidence. He wasn't afraid, because Finn was with him.
Show me a smile then
don't be unhappy, can't remember
when I last saw you laughing
if this world makes you crazy
and you've taken all you can bear
you call me up
because you know I'll be there
Carole stretched out her feet into Burt's lap and groaned. "God. One of these days they're going to develop a shoe that actually manages to last through a 10 hour day of standing."
"That would put all the foot-massagers out of business," Burt said, putting some pressure into her instep.
"Shoes are ultimately for fashion, not for common sense," Kurt declared, eyeing Finn's feet, still tied into his enormous athletic shoes. "Otherwise, we'd have, I don't know, big wads of cotton strapped to our feet - and you are not going to ask me to touch those disgusting things that have been in your sneakers all day, are you?"
"I didn't say anything," Finn protested, kicking off his shoes and peeling off his socks. "What? They don't smell. Do they?" he asked Puck, seated on the floor in front of the couch.
"You really want an answer?" Puck asked. He even grinned a little. A minute later he had Finn's foot in his hands and he was rubbing the heel.
"I don't much care for shoes," Sarah said. She had on slippers with big Tweety Bird heads on them. "If I could get permission to go barefoot at school, I bet I'd get better grades. I'd sure be more coordinated."
Carole brushed Sarah's hair back from her face, where it lay on Carole's lap, and went on stroking as Sarah's eyes fluttered closed. "You have any homework tonight?"
"Noah made me do it right after school," she said, eyes still closed. "At the garage. I have a paper due on Monday but I still need to do some research for it."
"I can take you to the library tomorrow," Kurt offered.
"I can find what I need on the 'net," she said, but Kurt shook his head.
"Not all the journals are digitized," he said. "Someday soon they're going to stop letting you use Internet resources for papers like those, and then where will you be?"
"Then I'll be waiting for you to drive me to the library," she said.
Burt looked up from his foot-rubbing. "Sarah..." he said. "You're going to have to talk about this some time tonight."
"But I like avoiding pain and suffering," she complained, but she sat up from her sprawl on Carole's lap and sighed. "Okay. I'm listening."
"Your mom and I met today while you were in school," Carole said. "We talked with some people from social services. Do you know what that means?"
"They're the people who are in charge of the foster care system," Sarah said. She poked at the couch with her foot, scowling.
Carole's voice was gentle. "Your mom doesn't think she needs any help, but Burt and I think she does. We're trying to get her to see the reasonable idea that she can't care for you right now, while she's dealing with these medical issues."
"My mom's attitude about me doesn't have anything to do with her being sick," Puck said, glaring at Finn's foot in his hands.
"Actually, it could be," said Burt. "Without knowing what's really going on with your mom, it's impossible to know for sure, but if she's having neurological problems, it could be affecting her judgment."
Puck laughed without humor. "Burt, I wish that were true, but she's always been a bitch."
"You watch your language, young man," Burt said severely, and Puck blinked at him, startled.
"Uh," he said. "Sorry."
Burt reached down and brushed Puck's shoulder with his hand. "This isn't easy for you, I got that. And I know your mom is acting like she's forty going on ten. But we've got to stay civil, especially when we're dealing with the system, with authorities, or they're going to treat you like you're bad kids." His hand tightened. "We know you're not."
Puck blinked harder, looking back at his lap, and took a steadying breath. "All right."
"Your mom said that you might decide that being home isn't worth it as long as Puck's not there, Sarah," Burt added. "Is that how you feel?"
Sarah nodded and stared at her lap. "Even with Timmy in the house, it's too full of bad memories. He's leaving soon, anyway, back to his apartment, and I don't want to be there alone." She shifted on the couch, looking uncomfortable. "Foster care, though... we've had people try that with us before. I don't want to stay with a family I don't know."
"And they can't split us up," said Puck, shaking his head. "I don't think either of us would stick around, if they tried that."
"Well, like we talked about before," said Carole, "there's a whole system to follow for placing you permanently, but the first thing they have to do is give you a safe place to be. And they'd rather put you with a friend of the family before they choose someone you don't know. That could be me, or we could probably make a case for Burt."
"If you had a choice, where would you stay?" Kurt asked her. She considered this.
"I think I want to be here, at your place," she said, brightening. "Because it's bigger, and the guest room has a television."
"Um, no," Puck snorted, whacking Sarah's left Tweety Bird slipper with his hand. "You're not getting a television on your room, no matter how cool Mr. Hummel is."
Burt seemed quietly pleased. To Sarah, he asked, "If your mom says it's okay, do you want to stay here tonight?"
"She won't," Sarah vowed, but she looked hopefully at Burt from half-lidded eyes.
"I'll call her right now," Burt said, and rose from the couch.
Kurt leaned against Finn, who slung an arm over Kurt's shoulder. Kurt's other hand rested on Puck's chest, sitting on the floor in front of the couch. "I was thinking about that game we played at the dinner party," Kurt said. "Looking ahead 1, 5 and 10 years. I'm starting to think that's impossible. There are so many things that could change in even just one year, much less five or ten. I just wish I knew how it was all going to come out."
"I guess nobody ever really knows," Finn said. "But we're doing it together. That's something you can count on."
"That's right," Carole agreed. "It's what family does."
"Mrs. Hudson?" Puck said.
"That's feeling awfully formal these days, Puck," she said. "How about you try Carole?"
"Carole," he said, digging in his backpack. "Would... I was hoping you might, maybe..." He held out his battered copy of All the King's Men, with a mirror image of Sarah's hopeful expression.
She smiled. "It'd be my pleasure," she said, as she opened to the page marked by the well-folded piece of paper and began to read.
And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.
- Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men