The old Chevy, cherry red with a cracked leather seats, winds up the Pacific Coast Highway towards San Francisco and Portland and Seattle and then who knows where, really.
Cooper, he's at the wheel, hair mussed and aviators obscuring his eyes. Blaine feels hollow, not being able to see Cooper's eyes - because Cooper's expressions live through and radiate out of them.
The song changes to something soft and melodic with a singer who has a mediocre voice but lyrics that are so heartfelt that it's impossible to ignore.
As they come around a curve, Cooper looks over at him, smirks. With a wink, he reaches over and ruffles his hair like Blaine's still that little boy that he'd been years ago, when his big brother let him sit in the front seat of his car when they'd go get ice cream alone despite the fact that Momma would have flipped. He remembers feeling so grown up being with the high school aged Cooper, so tall and popular and handsome. His feet couldn't hit the mat of the same very car they found themselves in today, and ten years later Cooper still has his graduation tassles hanging from the rearview.
"Penny for your thoughts, Blainers," Cooper says and Blaine - he doesn't know where to start.
Blaine's sixteen and in high school and he's watching his boyfriend - the first boy he'd ever truly loved - make plans to go far far away. He's so entrenched in Kurt's happiness he feels guilty for even being just that little bit worried, just that little bit lonely. Momma's in the kitchen a lot these days, baking up a storm. It always smells like cookies or scones in their house and there's always too much so Blaine always goes to school with a two tupperware containers - one to share with the Glee club, one to mail out to Cooper in Seattle. Momma's been sad lately, Blaine knows, and his father's at work later now. Blaine tries not to figure out that his parent's unhappiness has increased with Blaine's happiness - it makes his heart hurt.
Momma sings, though, still, as she stirs and folds the batter with cranberries or chocolate chips or coconut shreds. She sings with the radio or along with the theme song of whatever TV show is playing.
Sometimes, Blaine can't listen to her and he escapes to his room to study or write in his journal or talk to Kurt on Skype. Others he sits on the steps with the cordless phone and talks to Cooper, holds the phone up for him to hear.
Cooper Anderson; he'd grown up in a different house then Blaine, really. They'd been nearly eleven years apart. Cooper had been the accident in a young couple's early marriage; born when Momma was only 21. Blaine had come later; come when they were financially secure and their father was settled in his career. Cooper remembers a Momma who'd puree food for him by hand; who'd hand-sew baby clothes and knit sweaters for the family. There's many a picture of the three of them, pre-Blaine, bundled up in well-worn, thrift store bought clothes in front of the home Blaine never knew in South Lima.
Father was a lawyer by the time Blaine was born and a partner by the time Blaine hit grade school. He'd sometimes sit in their den with home videos and not recognize the man who used to crawl all over the floor with a toddler Cooper, tickling him to tears. He most certainly did not know the man who'd build snow forts or go camping or swimming in the lake.
By the time Blaine was old enough to do any of those things, his father was all serious business and suits and "I'm much too tired, Blaine, not now".
For a long time Blaine felt nothing for Cooper except jealousy. It took him years to grow out of it. Sometimes, when he lets himself be sixteen, he still is.
The first time Blaine gets to spend a full night with Kurt he spends most of the evening awake and watching Kurt sleep, amazed that there's a boy who loves him enough to not take him too seriously, who gets jealous even though there's really no reason to be jealous, who sometimes is embarrassed by his behavior but lets him do whatever he wants anyway. It reminds him that he's human and that he's in love and that they're not perfect, not either of them, not really. He cries a little that night because he feels so much and at the same time feels at a loss because this is just so fucking out of control. What is he doing, anyway?
At 5AM he texts Cooper, i feel like i'm spiraling out of control.
Cooper doesn't text back right away; he wouldn't. Blaine gets up and attempts to make blueberry pancakes but burns half of them. That's okay, because those will be his half.
When he's finishing up making up the tray to carry up to Kurt, his phone buzzes.
Who needs control, anyway?
Cooper moves to Seattle for college and never comes back. Well, he comes back, but not for good. He comes back for college breaks at first, and then for a couple of weeks at a time between undergrad and grad school, and then when real life kicks in he doesn't come home much at all.
Blaine's thirteen when he ends up concussed with a black eye after daring to attend a school dance with another boy.
Cooper had been home that weekend; he'd helped him pick out the tie he'd wear.
He's the first person Blaine sees when he opens his eyes in the hospital. Later, he's the last person he sees before he goes back to sleep, drowsy on pain meds and eyes puffy from crying.
For three weeks he calls Cooper in tears, everyday at 3PM on the dot, hiding in the hall closet and curled under the hanging coats. He begs him, pleads, everyday, for Cooper to take him away from this place, to let him live with him in Seattle. Cooper answers everytime and Blaine suspects he cries sometimes, too, but reality is a twenty-three year old in grad school can't support a kid, not even his brother, especially when it means both of them would be eliminated from the family by the grim-faced man they used to think of as their father. Cooper apologizes at the end of every call and usually just has to hang up on him to get him off the line.
Much later, Blaine will find out how painful those calls were for Cooper, who was just really a kid himself; struggling to find his footing in a world that's not kind to young people at all. Later, he'd find out how much yelling Cooper had done at his parents; how he'd fought for them to simply emancipate Blaine and give him parental rights; being able to afford it be damned.
Even later, he'll learn that while he spent the greater parts of his night being mad at Cooper - so so mad - Cooper had always been on his side, always.
Cooper stood tall at nearly six feet and he had these sparkling blue eyes that must have come from their father's Irish ancestry. As a teenager (which is how Blaine remembered him most), he was lanky and a bit ungangly but he always smiled and had confidence and always brought a friend or two home in tow after school. They didn't see eye to eye much; Blaine was too young to understand Cooper's interests but was endlessly fascinated with him, with wanting to be him and wanting to look like and talk like him.
He remembers sitting on the steps as Cooper put a corsage on his date's wrist on what must have been his prom night, his head pressed against the wood railing as Momma cooed over her oldest boy and the pretty petite girl on his arm. He remembers watching, feeling so overwhelmed by the glitter on her dress; by the stuffy tie Cooper had worn. He remembers watching them be ushered out by Momma who presses the front door closed behind them and promptly cries (and Blaine still doesn't understand why), disappearing into the den to lay down until it was time for him to come home.
He remembers running up to the big bay window to watch as Cooper opens the door of his banged up old Toyota for his date. He remembers Cooper spotting him and waving with a wink.
He remembers then, retreating back upstairs, busting into Cooper's room and peering at the discarded ties on his brother's unmade bed. His Momma finds him not much later, trying to tie the tie, trying to be a grown up like Cooper. She'd laughed through watery eyes and whisked him out of the room, tsking fondly.
Momma is getting sick, and more sick still, and Blaine's seventeen and he knows she's not getting any better.
There was a diagnosis and a few tests and she's given an expiration date like some frozen food or carton of milk.
She's not sad, not like he is. Father spends even more time away. Cooper, he shows up one day and moves back in. Kurt, he's in New York a lot and has yet to meet Cooper but they've talked on the phone a few times, Blaine knows, even though they're trying to hide it. They're both worried about him.
In between it all, Blaine's trying to apply to college like nothing's wrong, because most likely college will be post-Momma, after everything, and Cooper won't let him give up his dreams. Momma won't let him give up his dreams.
He sits at the kitchen table one day as Momma (thin, frail) and Cooper mix the batter for chocolate chip muffins (Blaine's favorites) and Momma starts singing, as usual. Blaine, elbow-deep in admissions essays and trying not to notice Momma's thinning wrists (waist, legs, arms) ignores it at first, because Cooper, he can't hold a note (not like Blaine can, not like Kurt, either).
His phone buzzes then; a message from Kurt.
And he does - and Kurt's there, duffle bag and smile and Blaine nearly cries when Kurt steps over the threshold and they embrace because Kurt said he wouldn't be able to get back to Ohio for another couple of months at least.
Kurt and Cooper had never met before but they do now and because Kurt's always been beloved by his mother, she's ecstatic to see him. Kurt doesn't let it show on his face how devastated he is by her health because he's Kurt and his heart is just so big that his smile is genuine despite the worry lingering in his eyes. Kurt folds himself into their afternoon like he belongs there, in their cracked and shambled little family (sans Father) and is helping the baking right away, shooing Blaine back to his essays with a smile. When Momma starts up on "Here Comes The Sun" he harmonizes with her with a bright grin, tying an apron on and handling the muffin pans like a pro. Halfway through the second verse Cooper twirls Momma until she's laughing, really laughing, waltzing with her son across the cold marble floor in the cold large kitchen that is nothing like the kitchen Cooper had grown up in (Blaine knows).
Later, Kurt sits next to Momma at the table and she reminsces about her two boys, about the very different people they were; are, how they'd grown up with a different mother and father, really, even if they were the same people. Cooper washes dishes as Blaine pretends to write and instead listens to the stories, the tales he'd heard a million times before; the ones he'd never heard, the ones he'd thought he'd never hear again.
She pulls a photo out of one of the albums on the table in front of her. There's four or five copies of this one and she hands one to each of them with a smile. It's of a ten year old Cooper sitting in a big ratty old easy-chair in the old house Blaine never really knew, Blaine in his arms, blue eyes wide and bright. Momma was crouched next to the chair, mid-laugh, eyes careful on her oldest and her youngest. Blaine's never seen it before.
"Keep it, each of you," She says, and presses the remaining copy to her chest with a sigh, "All of my boys deserve a copy of it."
Momma's gone not three months later, and a copy of that photo is placed in her casket, along with one of Cooper and Blaine at 12 and 22 respectively, and then a final one of the three of them in the kitchen that evening, after they'd sat down to tea and the best chocolate chip muffins Blaine had ever had.
It's the one and only time he'd ever seen Cooper cry, at Momma's funeral, standing alone. Blaine's holding Kurt's hand so tight that his knuckles are white and he wishes Cooper had someone there to hold hands with, who would hold him later that night. He expresses guilt later in between tears and frustrated sobs, face buried in Kurt's neck and fingers clutching at his suit sleeves.
The summer before college Cooper quits his job and suggest a road trip, just the two of them, of the West Coast. They start in Seattle and then make it all the way to San Diego and back again taking the Pacific Coast Highway as much of the trip as they can.
The cherry red Chevy was always Momma's even though it was father's pursuit, and she'd left it to them with a wish that they'd find themselves somewhere, and always, always love each other.
They take photos in front of bizarre landmarks, normal landmarks, random landmarks. They barely sleep and sing bad pop songs at the top of their lungs and see a lot of movies. Kurt texts him over and over and they send him so so many pictures. Sometimes Blaine puts him on speaker and they tell Kurt of the craziness they'd seen that day, of the craziness they hope to see the next day.
Blaine remembers Cooper when he was seventeen, tall and dark and mysterious and popular and everything Blaine ever wanted to be, sliding that corsage on that girl's wrist with a proud smile. Now, years later, Blaine knows Cooper's not all that put together, all that settled, and has and had just as many doubts, concerns, self confidence issues Blaine had ever had himself. Sometimes it's comforting to know that Cooper's not perfect. Sometimes it's terrifying. Mostly, it's terrifying. Sometimes it's comforting.
They land back in Seattle on a dreary rainy Sunday evening and they're both not sure where to go from there.
Someday soon, Cooper will get married to a pretty little blonde girl, a best friend that he'd always swore he'd felt so platonically for ("You made me realize I shouldn't shut my eyes to what's in front of me, Blainers," He'd say, at their reception, eyes only on his bride) and not long after, he'd be an uncle to a little girl who'd be graced with the same curls Blaine had always felt cursed with. Later, Kurt and Blaine will lose their footing, but it'll be Cooper who urges Blaine to not give up. They'll find their way back to one another, they will.
Someday, Blaine will walk down the aisle to Kurt, Cooper by his side as his best man.
Blaine has this memory, right, of an Ohio winter, when the snow had fallen to the point where school was impossible and all he could think about was the big blue sled in the garage that Cooper had promised all fall he'd take him on.
Eight and brimming with excitement, Momma bundled up Blaine until only his eyes were visible; fingers tucked into mitten and legs stiff with layers. Cooper had raced him into the snow then, long legs carrying him farther then Blaine up the hill, faster and faster. When Blaine couldn't catch up Cooper scooped him up and tucked him under his arm like an oversized football, Blaine giggling and protesting in equal amounts. He remembers the race to the top, being settled in the sled with Cooper.
Most of all, he remembers the wind; the cold, the snow as they went hurdling down the hill; the sound of Cooper's laughter in his ears, the rush of the adrenaline through his body.
Later, Cooper, always busy with his friends Cooper, sits and listens to Blaine play piano, listens to the song he'd written (plunky and embarrassing in retrospect). He remembers Momma making them hot chocolate and it being simply the BEST day ever.
It's Blaine's favorite memory.
On their road trip they stop in Santa Monica, at the very end of Route 66, on the Santa Monica Pier, looking out into the ocean beyond.
"Blaine," Cooper says, "I'm glad we're doing this."
Blaine's glad, too, even if Momma will never see either of them get married, will never hold any of her grandchildren, will never sing with them again.
He'd never rather be anywhere else.