That Breathless Charm
When Kurt stepped inside the kitchen, his father was buried nose deep in one of Carole's crappy magazines.
"Kurt Hummel is one of the most talented artists of our time. The man not only acts like a god, embracing his characters like a second skin, but he also sings like an angel. Raised in Lima, Ohio, Kurt moved to New York at eighteen and enrolled into NYADA, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hummel is currently on Broadway with the musical "Validation", running for almost a year at the Imperial Theater. Hummel and his co-star, Rachel Berry, have received nightly standing ovations since the musical's premiere. His character, Rupert, is complex and beautifully flawed, and Mr. Hummel plays him with perfection. From the first time he sees Ada, the love of his life, to the moment she dies in his arms, Hummel and Berry could draw tears from rocks. The story could be a cliché, but it isn't, because Hummel and Berry are completely in tune with each other.
Mr. Hummel's personal life is completely unlike his character's. He is known to be quite a charmer, and is frequently seen in public with handsome young men, some famous, some completely anonymous, but rarely in the same company more than two or three times. He is openly gay, but has a policy of not talking about his personal life, ever. He's never been caught in any public displays of affection with any of the gentlemen he goes to dinners and parties with, and so far all of them have been labeled as friends."
"Why are you reading this crap, Dad?" Kurt asked, frowning as he opened one of the kitchen's cabinets looking for his mug.
Burt grimaced. "They have a page dedicated to you."
"Don't even tell me what it's about,"
Kurt put some water to boil and turned to his father, rolling his eyes. "It's a tabloid, and nothing good comes from a tabloid, Dad."
"Carole buys it because of the culinary section."
"Oh." Kurt opened the drawer by the sink and started rummaging through it, looking for the tea bags. He turned back to Burt when he heard his father clear his throat. "What, Dad?" he asked, exasperated.
"Aren't you going to ask me what the article is about?"
Kurt rolled his eyes again. "I wasn't going to, no. But you seem anxious to tell me, so go ahead. What, do they say how terrible my acting is, or how the play sucks?"
"Actually, no. They say you and Rachel are flawless. You know that, Kurt." Burt looked at his son, an uncomfortable expression on his face. "The play is a success, you are perfect and everything you touch is gold, sun and rainbows. It's what they say after that part."
"Well?" Kurt asked, putting his hands on his waist impatiently. "Tell me, then."
"They say you go out a lot with…they make you seem…"
"Dad, let it out!"
"They make you seem promiscuous, dammit! I don't like the way they talk about your personal life!"
Kurt closed his eyes, thinking about what to say. "Dad," he started, forgetting about the tea and sitting down at the table next to Burt. "You know how these tabloids work. The only reason they're saying that is because they don't know anything about my personal life. You know how private I am, and the only reason they're writing all this shit is because they have to dig up anything they can about me, otherwise they have nothing to write about. Gossip sells a lot, you know."
"But you never talk about your life anymore, son." Burt scratched his head, looking hesitant. "I know your life here wasn't easy and I know how lonely you were, but you used to come to me when you needed to. Now, it seems we don't talk anymore, Kurt. I'm not even sure you still trust me enough to talk about your life, son."
"Of course I trust you!" Kurt snapped. He asked in a worried tone, "You think I've changed?"
Burt shook his head. "You seem the same to me," he said, lowering his eyes to the table.
"But?" Kurt prodded.
"Well, Carole buys these gossip magazines from time to time, and there's stuff about things you said, parties you went, guys you dated…They make you seem cold, distant, not to mention they say you're the gay equivalent of a Don Juan, and it makes me think, 'who's this guy?'"
Kurt rolled his eyes, impatiently. He loved his father more than anything, but right now he wanted to strangle Carole for buying the damn magazine that had prompted this more than awkward conversation.
Burt hadn't finished, though. "I've always hoped that… you know, when you were in New York, living your dream, things would change. And since you moved, I've been waiting to meet that special guy in your life. But…every time you come home for vacation, you come alone. Every time we go to New York," Burt shrugged, "there doesn't seem to be someone special there, but there are a lot of 'just someones', from what I can tell."
"You shouldn't believe that crap they write," Kurt snapped again. He caught himself and continued in a more gentle tone. "Honestly, most of the guys I'm seen with are really just friends. They need gossip to sell their poor attempt at a magazine, so they write what they want and people believe it. Honestly, I don't care," he finished, in a cold tone.
"Your fans love you, Kurt. You should care about what they think."
"Of course they do; I'm fabulous. And they do go to see my plays, so if they wanna talk about me, let them talk. Everything is mostly made up, anyway." Kurt sighed, wanting to go back to sleep. He was on vacation, so that's what he should be doing right now: sleeping. "There's a big difference between the 'public' me and the real one," he said with finality, hoping it was enough for Burt.
"All right, maybe I'm exaggerating," Burt conceded, "but don't blur the lines between public and real, son, because sometimes? I think you do."
Kurt sighed. "Well, you're wrong. I don't. If there's something I've learned in this job, it's that I can't be too open, because people only want to see Kurt Hummel, the performer. They don't care about the real me, as long as I'm acting, singing, entertaining. And frankly, when they do care," he shivered a little, "sometimes they get a little creepy, stalking me and sending me presents you don't want to know about, and I hate the invasion of privacy that comes along with everything."
"Well, if there are people stalking you, I'm glad you're not a movie star."
Kurt smiled softly at that. "I can see you're fully into 'father mode' today," He patted Burt's hand over the table, making his father look him in the eyes. "Frankly, Dad, there's no one. No prince-charming banging at my door. I'm not a saint or anything, but I don't jump into bed with every guy I meet. I have boyfriends, of course, but I never go on dates on public. And yes, that sucks, because I should be able to do that. But the thing is that… there's no one special enough that I want to bring to my home in Lima, to introduce to my family. There has never been. I pretty much live for my work, and I put so much time into it that I don't have time or energy for anything else. I just…" he shrugged a little, "performing is all I am, it's all that I want for my life. I don't care about the rest."
"Performing is not gonna keep your feet warm at night," Burt reasoned then smirked a little. "I feel like I'm in some bizarre movie where I have to tell my adult son to find a boyfriend. I worry, Kurt. The magazine said you've been out with lots of guys and I just… I don't like it, Kurt."
"And you think I do? Even though I know fame has a price, I hate it. But we all knew it was going to happen if I ever got famous… unless I sucked at acting and singing, then no one would give a shit about me. In this case, I'm glad things are the way they are."
"Yeah, the price of fame, alright," Burt sighed. "You're an adult, Kurt, you've been living by yourself for almost ten years… you know what's best f, son. I just worry that you're just as lonely in New York as you were when you lived here in Lima."
"Dad, I'm living my dream. I'm where I'm supposed to be, I'm not lonely, I assure you. I have all I ever wanted: fame, money, friends… I love my work; people love to see me performing! What else could I wish for?"
Burt threw his hands up in exasperation. "Oh I don't know, Kurt, maybe someone to share your life with?"
Kurt laughed, amused by Burt's worry. "Dad, I'm twenty-eight. My career needs my full attention. Why would I want to get attached to someone and give up my freedom? I have no one tying me down, telling me what to do, demanding time I can't give… this way is simpler, a win-win situation, don't you think?"
Burt grimaced, but there was a playful glint in his eyes. "So, Finn is the only one who will give me grandchildren?"
"If that's what you expect from me, you better give up. I love my nephews, really, but… I've never been good with children, and to raise one… there would have to be someone I really cared about and I just… there's no place for anyone else in my life right now. If that someone ever comes, you'll be the first to know." Kurt patted Burt's hand again. "But hey, don't hold your breath here, alright? Just because you've found the love of your life – twice, I must add – it doesn't mean we all will. I'm happy, I have a great life. Let's leave it like that, okay?"
"Hey buddy, I'm a Dad. Worrying is my job."
Kurt nodded, smiling softly again. "I couldn't have wished for a better father, you know that. I'm all right, don't worry about me."
"I love you, Kurt."
"I love you too, Dad."
glee glee glee glee glee glee glee glee
"Kurt, I can't even start to tell you how happy I am that you agreed to do this."
"Honestly, Mr. Schue, it's nothing." But it was, it so was.
"The kids will be crazy when they see you. They're all your fans, and your presence may give them the motivation they need for Nationals next week. To think you started here, at McKinley…"
Kurt smiled at his old teacher – now with a lot more white hair than before – and straightened his tie again. It wasn't that he didn't want to meet McKinley's current glee club; it was that the school hadn't really left him good memories. Apart from the glee club and the friends he'd made there, high school had been a nightmare. David Karofsky's harassment in senior year had been almost unbearable, and if not for Puck, Sam, Mike and all the others, he firmly believed he wouldn't have survived. It hadn't been easy being the – unrequited, of course – love interest of a closet case who also was a violent bully. His friends had formed a safe perimeter around him, but it had always made him feel like a sore thumb. How many teenagers needed body guards to go to school?
"I'm so happy you came," Schue went on. "You're gonna love the kids. They're great, talented and really committed to winning the competition next week."
Kurt smiled faintly and nodded, looking around, doubting that he would really love a bunch of teenagers. He had met Mr. Schue at the grocery store, of all places, and his ex-teacher had asked him to come and meet the kids, so how could Kurt say no? Mr. Schue had been the first one to believe in his talent – even though most of the solos belonged always to Rachel and Finn, the golden couple. Now, walking by his side towards the choir room, he had mixed feelings. He was used to a big audience, so why was he nervous about meeting some kids?
McKinley seemed to be frozen in time. The same corridors, the same lockers, the same walls. Nothing seemed different. "Everything looks the same," Kurt said, eyeing Mr. Schue. "Ten years and the halls still look like the janitors didn't come to work today."
"Yeah, can't do a lot about the building but a lot has changed. Believe it or not, we now have a no bullying policy. And it really works, let me tell you. Oh, and we also have a gay-straight alliance, among other things. After Figgins retired and… well, a lot changed here, and people started to see things differently."
"Magically? Just like that? It's hard to believe."
"Of course not. Some, um… some things happened, and because of that…" Mr. Schue looked like he was about to say something, but changed his mind, and the subject. "But hey, glee club is respected now! There's actually competition to get a place in New Directions. I believe you and Rachel are the main reason for that; everyone wants to be like you."
"Wow. I never thought I'd see the day the glee club kids wouldn't be considered outcasts."
Mr. Schue laughed. "Oh, they still are; only, now they're proud of it."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Kurt faked a laugh. Damn, why had he agreed to come again?
"Here we are," Mr. Schue said, walking into the room and pulling Kurt along with him by the arm. "Good afternoon, everyone!"
When everyone realized who he was, Kurt instantly saw himself surrounded by the New Direction kids, who wanted to know literally everything about his work, Broadway, New York and what it took to get there, as they called it. Some of them were in awe of Kurt's presence, and just looked at him with their mouths hanging open.
The difference was that they were all… respectful. None of them invaded Kurt's personal space. None of them touched him. And it was such strange behavior for a bunch of teenagers that Kurt relaxed around them, and when he caught himself, he realized he was actually having a good time.
So, when one of them shyly asked him to come and see their rehearsals every day for the rest of the week – until they had to go to LA for the Nationals – and also to help Mr. Schue with Broadway tips and the routines figurine Kurt said yes. Later, he asked himself why several times, because hadn't he promised to himself never to set foot in McKinley again? But he said yes, and just like that, committed himself to a week of helping the 'new' New Directions, every afternoon.
At four PM sharp, Mr. Schue's cell phone beeped. "That's our cue, guys," the teacher said, after turning it off. "Today we're going to rehearse at the auditorium, and the band's waiting for us."
Mr. Schue and Kurt went straight to the audience while the kids took their places on the stage. They sat side by side on the third row, the stage lights were turned on…
And then Emma Pillsbury – no, Emma Schuester now, - entered the stage running, hand in hand with a young man. "Sorry, everyone!" she said when they stopped, right in the middle of the stage. "Some things came up at 'Take One' and we couldn't leave earlier. Will? Are you there?" she said, frowning, the stage lights too strong for her to see the audience.
"Yeah, we're here. Come sit with us!" Mr. Schuester said, and she left the stage, but the guy stayed.
"I'm really sorry we're late, Mr. Schue!" the man said, protecting his eyes from the light, trying to see the audience. "The kids at T1 were antsy today," he shrugged as a way of excuse, and turned his back to them, walking towards the black piano on the stage. "But hey, I'm yours for the rest of the day," he joked. On his way, he greeted each one of the New Directions kids, patting the boys' backs and squeezing the girls' hands. No one seemed to complain that he was taking his time to greet them; they were clearly fond of the guy.
Kurt looked at his watch, a little impatient. Not that he had anything else to do, but half the afternoon had passed, and he'd promised Burt to be there for dinner. Couldn't this guy greet the kids later, or go a little faster. Hadn't he realized he was delaying the rehearsal?
On the stage, the young man sat by the black piano on the right side, right in front of Kurt, turned to the audience and smiled. "We're ready!"
And that was when Kurt took a look at his face.
The guy was simply gorgeous. Black, curly, short hair, arranged gracefully but casually on his head as if he'd just woken up. Strong jaw, harmonic features, like - and Kurt almost laughed loud at his own thought - a Disney prince. And, okay, maybe his eyebrows were thicker than they should be and had funny - almost triangular - shapes, but frankly, they just added to the guy's perfect face. He seemed to be shorter than Kurt, and thin, but not too much, just a perfect slim waist and what seemed to be a toned torso and strong arms.
Kurt couldn't take his eyes off the guy. Maybe being here every afternoon wouldn't be a bad idea, after all.
When Emma sat beside Mr. Schue she squealed as soon as she saw Kurt. He smiled at her, trying to look excited and happy at seeing her after so many years, but deep down he was relieved at Mr. Schue's "Shhh, you can hug him later, they're about to start."
The New Directions kids were good. The small Asian girl and a tall blond boy - Kazue and Ernest, Kurt learned later, - had powerful voices and sang perfectly, while the other members swayed and hummed at the background, just like all the New Directions numbers had always been: the lead couple on the center of the stage and the rest on the background, harmonizing with them.
But as soon as the first part of the song ended everything changed, and Kurt was so surprised that he let out a small gasp: all the members came to the front and started to sing and dance. Each one of them sang one or two lines, then all of them sang together, the perfect definition of a choir. The dance movements were synchronized and some were even complex, their voices fitting perfectly. The first song morphed into the second and then into the third one gracefully and effortlessly, never breaking the pattern: one of them came to the center of the stage, sang his or her lines, then everyone sang together again. It was a beautiful thing to see, the way everyone was able to show their individual talent and then how good they were as a group, everything building up to the final moment, where they all gathered at the center of the stage, their voices suddenly silent while the instruments played their final notes.
It was beautiful and obviously rehearsed a lot, nothing like they had done when Kurt was a part of the glee club. Kurt didn't remember anything about choir competitions anymore, but he was fairly sure these kids had a big chance to win.
During the whole number Kurt had found himself staring at the pianist and then making himself look at New Directions, only to realize a few minutes later that he was staring at the young man again. His hands ran flawlessly across the keyboard, but the most impressive thing about him was the way he seemed to come alive playing; his face seeming illuminated not from the stage lights, but from the inside. Like he barely could contain the energy inside him.
"Let's do it again, guys!" the pianist said happily, sounding like he was inviting them to an afternoon at the beach. "You were all amazing, but I think we should do it again just to be sure we're doing everything right."
To Kurt's surprise, no one complained or even showed boredom or tiredness. They just went to their initial places again, smiling at the pianist, while he waved at the rest of the band to get ready again.
Kurt raised his eyebrows and looked at Mr. Schue. The teacher seemed to feel Kurt's stare and nudged at his arm, while the number started again at the stage. "Blaine is a perfectionist," he whispered as way of explanation. "But the kids don't mind, they love him and they know he means good."
"Blaine? Is he your co-director?" Kurt whispered back.
"Oh, no, no. You remember Brad, don't you?" when Kurt nodded, Mr. Schue went on. "Brad retired last year and Blaine came to work with us. He's a great musician, he's great with the kids - they value his opinion, and so do I. So, if he says they need to do it again, they do it again."
"Wow," Kurt whispered back, because since when had William Schuester listened to anyone's opinions but his own regarding the glee club? A lot had really changed here. Kurt didn't even remember seeing Brad give an opinion about anything… he was pretty much considered furniture. This guy though, who looked so young he could easily be one of the kids at New Directions, this guy told them what to do and Mr. Schue didn't bat an eye? Wow, indeed.
When the number finished and Mr. Schue told the kids they could go home, a lot of them didn't, gathering around Blaine and talking to him like old friends. In the third row, Kurt was suddenly pulled into a hug by Emma, and spent a few minutes talking to her and being hugged over and over. Apparently she had gotten over her obsession with germs. Surprisingly, he didn't mind the hugs. Emma seemed softer, calmer now. Maybe she had overcome her problem with age? And, of course, a lot of therapy?
The next thing he knew, the stage lights were turned off and Kurt was being directed towards the exit by Emma's hand on his arm. Mr. Schue was already in the corridor talking to Blaine, while the young man talked animatedly about something. Once, his eyes caught Kurt's and he smiled - and whoa! He had a beautiful smile and his eyes were hazel like -
"Crap!" Kurt told himself. "The guy is Mr. Schue's protégé or something like that. Now he's completely friend zoned. Good thing I'm not that interested."
"Why don't we all go out tonight?" Emma suggested. "I want to know everything about you, Kurt! Broadway must be the most amazing place in the whole world! And your play, my God, I heard it's awesome! I'm still waiting for Will to take me to New York to see it…"
"Mr. Schue told me he'll watch our rehearsals this whole week," said a silky voice at Kurt's side, and suddenly Blaine was there, while Mr. Schue stopped beside his wife. "I'm sure there'll be a lot of time to catch up with Mr. Hummel," Blaine added, smiling amicably at Kurt as if they'd already known each other.
"Let the man go home, Emma," Mr. Schue said, kissing her cheek. "Kurt came here to rest and we've already taken his whole afternoon."
"Hello, I'm Blaine Anderson," the young man said, extending his hand to Kurt. He had a firm grip, and this close he looked even younger and fuller of energy. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hummel."
"Kurt," he said, smiling, turning to the guy. "Call me Kurt."
"Okay, Kurt," Blaine smiled effortlessly at him and Kurt, so used to have people throwing themselves at is feet all the time and babbling every time they met him, welcomed Blaine's easy smile and the way he was looking at Kurt as if having a Broadway star at McKinley High was the most natural thing in the world. "What did you think of our number?"
"I liked it," Kurt said sincerely, and Blaine beamed at him. "They're really good."
"They're all excited that you're going to be here the whole week. Thank you, Kurt. They can really use the extra motivation," Blaine said, still smiling.
"They seemed pretty motivated in my opinion," Kurt smiled back, because how could he not? Blaine's smile was contagious.
"Well, this year… I think their chance at actually winning is great. Although ND has only won the Nationals twice, they've always placed among the top ten since the first time they won in 2012– well, you were there – but it's been what… five years since they won again? Yeah, I think it's been five years and… anyways, they're anxious, excited and terrified. I'm sure you remember the feeling," Blaine said.
"That I do," Kurt said, and the memory came rushing to him: the standing ovation they got, the huge first place trophy, the feeling of being at the top of the world. "Gosh, I will never forget how it felt. When we won, it was…everything. That day will be imprinted in my mind forever."
Kurt distinctly saw a shadow crossing Blaine's face, but maybe it was because they were so close… or maybe it was his imagination, because Blaine's smile turned even brighter. "Yeah, well, I hope the kids will have a day like that; they deserve it." He looked at his watch and frowned. "Oh no, not again! I completely lost track of time!" He briefly squeezed Kurt's hand unceremoniously, turning to Mr. Schue and Emma. "Percival is waiting for me, he gets anxious when I'm not at home by six. See you tomorrow! Bye, Kurt, it was great to meet you!"
Before Kurt knew it, Blaine was far down the corridor, running, his sneakers making a screeching noise on the floor.