After my outburst I calmed down a bit, and suddenly felt very embarrassed for having broken down like that in front of Burt. I felt like I should thank him or something, because I was truly grateful for what he did for me, but all I did was get tear stains on his car seats and probably make him feel really uncomfortable.
By the time we were back at Kurt's house my face was dry of tears.
"I'm just gonna...be alone for a bit," I muttered to Kurt, toeing off my shoes in the entryway.
"Okay," he said, sounding a little reluctant. "Let me know if you need anything." I nodded and headed downstairs with my box and bundle of clothes.
Setting my stuff on the bed, I sat cross-legged on the mattress and took a few shaky breaths. It felt odd, knowing my ties were severed with my dad, but I decided not to dwell on it for now. Instead, I opened up the battered shoebox.
It had been a very long time since I really looked through everything in here, because if my dad found anything that reminded him of my mom, he would burn it in the kitchen sink like almost every photograph of her. And if he found anything worth more than a nickel, he would hock it for more drugs. This box was stuffed with only my most precious things, and I didn't like to risk opening it if he was in any danger of seeing it.
I brushed the dust gently off the faded cardboard, my heart racing just a bit as I flipped the lid up. What took up the most space were the first three Harry Potter books and photographs. The books were paperback and crushed nearly to pulp from being crammed in a skinny box for so long, the covers bent and spines peeling. It broke my heart a little, seeing such a prominent part of my childhood so damaged, but at least I still had them. Carefully setting them aside to flatten out, I turned to look at the small stack of photos.
There were a couple of my school pictures, and one of me as a baby playing in our old house. Also one from when I was about six, trying to walk our new golden retriever puppy who was half-tugging me down the sidewalk - Mom had taken the dog with her when she left, and I wondered vaguely if she - the dog - was still alive. Brandi was her name, I remembered. Another very faded picture depicted my parents' wedding, and yet another showed me blowing out the candles on my seventh birthday, flanked by my mom and dad. It was the last picture of the three of us together.
The rest of the box was filled with small trinkets - some jewelry of my mother's, small action figures I used to play with, old birthday cards - junk that I couldn't bear to give away.
Unwilling to pick through those memories right now, I closed the shoebox and set it aside, picking up the first Harry Potter book. It had been ages since I had read any of them, and I hadn't even seen any of the movies after the second one. The more recent books I had read from the school library, thankfully.
Kurt came downstairs when I was finished with the third chapter, carrying two plates.
"Mind if I come in?" he asked with a small smile, and I shook my head. He handed me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and kind of hovered awkwardly until I motioned for him to sit down.
"Thanks," I muttered, my voice scratchy from crying.
"No problem. What are you reading?"
"Harry Potter." I dog-eared the page and set it aside, realizing it might not be very polite to read while Kurt was sitting there with me, and started eating.
"I wish I could help," Kurt said in a small voice after a few moments, his food untouched. His statement confused me and I set down my sandwich.
"Are you kidding me?" I laughed humorlessly. "Kurt, you've helped me more than anyone ever has. You did what...what I was too cowardly to do." I looked down, hating how weak I sounded but wanting him to know I wasn't ungrateful.
"Blaine, that's not cowardice," Kurt said softly after a moment. "You compromised your safety because you didn't want to send your father to jail. You were protecting someone you loved."
"I thought it would make him like me," I sniffled, sounding like a child. "I thought he'd be grateful that I didn't turn him in to the cops, but if he was, he damn well never showed it." I could feel my eyes getting hot with tears, and I wondered why I always cried when I got angry. "I-is it so wrong that I just want someone to care about me?"
Fuck, it felt good to say that, even if I regretted it instantly. The next thing I knew Kurt was next to me, pulling me close like in the car, and I slumped against him in defeat.
"I care," Kurt murmured against my hair. "You know I do. I won't let anyone hurt you."
I squeezed my eyes shut and felt tears escape, and I couldn't even manage to say anything back, even though there were thousands of words waiting on my tongue. Kurt let me rest against him, not quite crying but not quite not crying either. He just rubbed my back and played with my hair, which he seemed strangely fond of.
"We have all the books and movies if you want to use any of them," he said after a while, and it took me a second to realize he was referring to Harry Potter. "Finn's a huge fan."
"Thanks," I croaked, wiping my eyes.
"Will you be okay?"
"...We're sleeping in the same bed tonight, right?"
Kurt and I slept in the same positions we had on our first night together, me huddled against his chest and his strong arms around me. He sang to me again, a song I didn't recognize but really liked, and again his voice sedated me so that I didn't have any nightmares.
On Sunday Burt helped Kurt and I move an old twin bed from the garage down into Kurt's basement room. It was quite old, with a metal frame painted white that kurt seemed hesitant about letting anywhere near his cream shag carpet, and he later told me it had been his bed when he was much smaller.
"You can have the dresser," Kurt told me once all the furniture was rearranged to accommodate the new addition. He was emptying his own clothes out of said dresser, migrating them to the huge closet.
"Do you really think my clothes are going to take up a whole dresser?" I said skeptically - all of my clothes and my shoebox fit comfortably in the top drawer alone.
"Do you really think I'm going to let the answer be 'no' for much longer?" he countered teasingly, making me blush. I knew he was going to take me shopping, but I honestly didn't mind sharing clothes with him, even if they were a little big. If I rolled up the cuffs on his pants they fit pretty well, and actually looked decent. Not to mention they all smelled like Kurt.
After school on Monday I was predictably dragged to the mall by a very excited Kurt, who was eager to teach me the art of shopping.
"Pick out anything you want," he said with a grand gesture as we walked down a hallway that smelled strongly of the perfume coming from Abercrombie & Fitch. "You have fewer belongings than that crazy homeless person outside the public library."
"Kurt, I don't want you spending your money on me."
"Nonsense. What am I going to do with it, buy more scarves? I'd much rather buy you things, just name a store."
I was conscious of the fact that Kurt had a hand on my shoulder, which I didn't mind - we were usually very touchy-feely at home - but this was in public in Ohio, and people were starting to stare.
"Geez, Kurt, I don't know…" I grumbled, my face beginning to slip into the hard mask I used to wear. I wished I could snap out of my defensive mood, because I knew Kurt was excited about this and I didn't want to kill his mood.
"Fine, I'll pick one," he decided, thankfully too eager to notice my discomfort. I was pulled into an Express, where stick-figure male mannequins wore blazers and bow ties and fedoras. "You need to embrace your inner gay."
I was headed towards the most nondescript shirts in the store when Kurt began steering me away.
"For God's sake, that's all you ever wear, don't you want a little variety?" he grumbled when he saw me looking at the plain tee-shirts.
"I don't look right in anything else," I protested, but he had already taken me by the arms and frog-marched me away.
"Have you seen yourself in anything else?"
"Well...no," I mumbled, having just realized it.
"Exactly." He had led me to a shelf of short-sleeved dress shirts.
"There's no way I'm wearing that. It would look terrible, all prim and proper with my wild hair," I said evasively. Honestly, I was just imagining if I started dressing nice, what everyone at school would think - that I'd gone soft, that I was easy pickings now, that I spent an awful lot of time hanging around the only out-of-the-closet guy in school...
"It needs a trim, Blaine, it really does," Kurt remarked about my hair, bringing me back to the present.
The shirts really did look nice, and I wouldn't mind if I had shorter hair that wasn't constantly falling over my eyes and looking out of control, and I loved being near Kurt like this, but it was just too much too fast.
"Look, Kurt," I sighed, thinking of how best to phrase my feelings without hurting his. "I'm really grateful that you're doing this for me, and I admit I do like those kinds of clothes, but people are already starting to suspect that something's up because we spend so much time together at school. I really admire how comfortable you are with yourself, but I'm not there yet. If I wear clothes like that, they might start bullying me again, and I can't take that right now, I just can't."
Instantly Kurt dropped his hands from my arms, stepping away from his position behind me and looking embarrassed. It made me feel awful because I knew he was trying to be nice to me, and I wished there was some way to let him know how much I appreciated it.
"Don't feel bad," he said softly, noticing my guilty expression. "I'm used to it. Thank you for telling me that. Let's go find you some new jeans." His tone was clipped but not unkind.
I ended up compromising with Kurt by selecting regular blue jeans, instead of black ones, and varied my tee-shirts by getting v-necks. I couldn't help but keep track of how much money Kurt was spending on me, guilt rising like bile in my throat, and I tried to get the cheapest things I could, despite Kurt's nose wrinkling repeatedly.
We were helped by a homophobic employee who kept smacking her gum and glaring at us as I tried on the clothes. She was clearly doing her best to annoy Kurt while he waited outside the dressing room with her, and I longed for the strength to tell her off for it, but I couldn't make myself do it.
Regardless of our less-than-stellar assistance, it was nice to wear clothes that fit me right, weren't worn out, and were actually comfortable. Kurt also bought me a winter coat and new shoes.
"Oh, I should get you an iPod, every teenager needs an iPod," he gushed as we passed the Apple store, and I grabbed his sleeve before he could veer inside.
"I draw the line at unnecessary electronic devices," I said firmly. Kurt laughed and gave in.
"For Christmas, maybe," I heard him mutter under his breath as he led me to a different store that looked way out of the price range I wanted him spending on me. I refused to try anything on there, but I saw him eyeing a dark blue sweater the entire time, and I wondered if he was planning on forcing me into it or getting it for himself.
"It would look great on you," I hinted, nodding toward the sweater. He might have blushed a little.
"Really?" he muttered, touching the fabric lightly and checking the price.
"Duh, you look great in everything." Oh God, was I flirting?
As soon as I saw Kurt smile shyly, in a quietly glowing way that I had never seen him smile before, I didn't regret my words. For once I'd said the right thing.
He wound up getting the sweater, which of course fit him beautifully, and we carried our many bags out to his car. I tried to thank him as much and in as many ways as possible on the way there.
"Blaine, if I hear one more thank you from you, I'm going to deny you access to my bedroom so you have to sleep alone on the couch in the living room tonight," Kurt threatened teasingly as we packed away all the bags in the trunk of the Navigator and got in.
"Oh, but I'd still be in your dreams, annoying you until you let me back in again," I reminded him playfully. "And let's face it, you wouldn't last two nights without me."
He looked at me fondly for a few moments, and I wondered what was going through his head before he smiled warmly at me.
"Yeah, you're probably right," he said softly, breaking his gaze to start the car up. "You might wake up with both of us squeezed on that tiny couch."
My god, we were flirting, weren't we? It was so new to me - Kurt and I had been close for a long time, after all he'd been through with me, but this playful, carefree relationship was fresh and it made me feel bubbly and even a little confident.
I was grinning like an idiot the whole way home.
The next morning I was shaken awake. It was still completely dark outside, so it must have been around four or five in the morning, and I couldn't see the person shaking me. I could just feel the large hand on my arm, and in a split-second I was sitting straight up in bed and trying to get as far away from the person as possible.
"Blaine, kiddo, it's me! Calm down, I don't wanna wake Kurt."
It was Burt, his voice quiet but urgent, standing over me in what looked like a bathrobe in the dim light.
"What's going on?" I asked, rubbing my eyes furiously to try to wake myself up. I kept glancing over to the silhouette of Kurt's sleeping form - usually if I woke up before Kurt, I would read Harry Potter until he awoke, because I still didn't quite like the awkward silences that ensued if Burt and I were in a room alone together.
"There's a police officer here - don't panic, nothing's wrong, she just wants to make sure you're here and safe," Burt explained calmly, helping me get out of bed. I didn't have a chance to change out of my pajamas (or rather, Kurt's. He had offered to buy me a pair of my own the day before, but I liked his old flannel pants and Lady Gaga concert tee-shirt better).
Even with Burt's words of comfort, I worried about the officer taking me away as we trudged up the stairs. Maybe they would put me in foster care, or try to contact my mom to see if she wanted me. I didn't know how I'd feel about the second option, but I wasn't willing to find out.
The officer was an Asian woman in full uniform despite the early hour - 3:42, the clock above the stove read - it looked like her and Burt had already been talking for a while, because she was seated on the couch with two steaming mugs on the coffee table. When she noticed us coming up the stairs she stood and reached out to shake my hand.
"Officer Braun, and you must be Blaine Anderson," she said in a professional tone, her eyes kind but shrewd. I shook her hand, wishing I at least had on proper clothes, feeling defenseless. Burt motioned for me to have a seat, Officer Braun settling back down on the armchair and Burt and I occupying the couch.
"Blaine, your father Rick Anderson was apprehended at 2:55 this morning," she said bluntly, leaning forward and sipping her coffee. "He was arrested for attempted shoplifting of cigarettes and being drunk and disorderly, facing trial."
I stared at her for a few moments, my sleepy brain trying to process everything. I didn't really feel anything; it certainly wasn't shocking that he'd gotten himself locked up, and I knew he deserved it.
"It's going to be a fairly easy trial, of course," the officer continued. "He was seen by two employees and security cameras, and all that's really left is to decide his sentence. Right now it's looking like seven months' time, with a five hundred dollar fine, if he behaves. He told us you were staying with Burt Hummel, and that your mother is estranged."
I nodded, not really seeing the woman in front of me even though I was looking right at her. This was way too much shit to deal with this early in the morning.
"Will I have to go back to her?" I asked softly, sounding much calmer than I felt.
"Probably not," Officer Braun assured me. "I've already spoken with Mr. Hummel about that. Your mother still holds legal guardianship of you, but you are supposedly Connected to this man's son, correct?" I nodded. "That gives you the legal right to stay here if you wish, even if your mother opts to house you, as long as you're living with an adult. We'll have to see proof that the two of you are Connected, of course, so we'll either have to wake him up and perform some testing exercises or make an appointment to do so at a later date."
"Actually, I have an easier way," I muttered, standing up and going quietly back downstairs, eager to get out of there. I could tell the adults were following me, and I led them to Kurt's bed, not looking at either of them. Silently apologizing to Kurt, I opened our Connection quite a bit and then deliberately and painfully kicked the corner of Kurt's nightstand.
Kurt let out a quiet moan of pain and shifted restlessly under the blankets, but he didn't wake up, which had been my goal. He already stressed about me enough, I didn't need him waking up to find a police officer questioning him.
"Well, I'd say that makes things pretty clear," Officer Braun muttered.
Burt talked upstairs with the officer for a while longer, going over some formalities - he would have to fill out paperwork, but nothing more, and then I could stay with Kurt as long as I wanted. I sat on the couch silently while they went over everything, my knees pulled up to my chest and chin resting on them, but I wasn't tired anymore. Seeming to sense that I wouldn't be able to sleep after this, Burt poured me a cup of coffee and sat beside me again once Officer Braun left.
"What's goin' through your head?" he asked calmly after a few minutes of quiet sipping. "I'm sorry you had to wake up to that."
"Kind of relieved, I guess," I said flatly, shrugging. "I know they can't take me away anymore, at least."
"I figured that part. You and Kurt are inseparable. I meant about your dad."
I looked down at my coffee, watching the flow of the steam and wondering what I was feeling and if it were possible to put into words if I figured it out.
"My dad left when I was twelve," Burt said after it became clear I wasn't going to say anything. "I know what it's like to feel guilty for loving someone."
I instantly turned to him when he said that, my eyes wide, because it felt like he had picked my brain for those exact words. He gave me a small, rather sad smile.
"I would have told you before, but you and Kurt seemed to need some bonding time," he muttered. "You're good for each other, that's for sure." I nodded, not really knowing what to say.
"Do you still love him?" I asked timidly after a pause, unable to stop myself. I had to know if it would ever stop, and Burt thought about his answer.
"I don't think so," he said carefully. "I haven't thought about him in ages, just started again when we were going after your dad. It's easy to see the darkness in a person when you've just met them, but with family it's a lot harder, especially with everybody tellin' you that you should either hate their guts or love them, because it's your responsibility as their kid." He gave a hard laugh. "But really...if they don't fulfil their responsibility as your parent, taking care of you and all that, you shouldn't have to hold up your end of the bargain."
"But I did," I muttered, angry with myself and voice shaking. "I covered his ass for years, and I think I still love both of them…"
"Once you've spent more years away from both of them than you have with them, it'll be easier to see," Burt assured me calmly. "They were good to you when you were little, right?" I nodded. "Those are the years that you form that bond, you know? And that kind of bond is hard to break. It might never break, but it will fade, I swear. I didn't stop wondering why my father left until I was in my thirties, and I realized it doesn't matter - he was an asshole. He left my mom and I as soon as times got hard, took most of our money and left without a word. Your dad got you sent to juvie and beat you to the ground several times a week. You can hate him and love him at the same time, Blaine."
My throat was so knotted I could barely breathe, every word he said hitting home in my chest. I felt his hand on my shoulder.
"Kiddo, you never have to worry about him again, and you can spend your whole life taking your time to figure out how you feel," he said softly. "Don't beat yourself up over this now. I guarantee, almost every kid with shitty parents goes through this."
I took a deep, shaky breath that came out as sort of a sob, my eyes screwed shut. The relief I felt was almost overwhelming, like I had been bound up like a mummy and was finally released, and Burt waited patiently for me to regain the ability to breathe properly.
"You should have seen Kurt when you were getting beat up," he muttered after a while, and I looked back up at him. "Scared the hell out of me, because it was before I knew about you two. He would get anxious every night, looking like he was about to cry...Carole told me she taught him how to help calm you down, meditating or something."
"I could feel it," I croaked, clearing my throat. "It was so much nicer, feeling like there was someone there with me while...while it was happening."
Burt nodded, patting my back before getting to his feet and stretching. "I'm gonna make some eggs, everyone will be up soon enough. If you ever wanna talk to me, I'm here."
"Thank you," I said softly, looking into his eyes and realizing I didn't say it nearly enough. He smiled and nodded.
We were sitting at the breakfast table, the sun peeking up and making shadows on the wall. There was silence, but not the dead, awkward silence that I was used to around Burt. It was comfortable, serene, and only interrupted when Kurt woke up and demanded to know what happened. Burt explained everything to him, shooting me a comforting smile while Kurt held my hand under the table. It quietly occurred to me that this - these people - were my life now.
Sorry I haven't been doing chapter previews lately, but I read all of your reviews and I'll try to reply to them when I can. I don't have much internet access these days. Also I have changed my pen name from Kenna 7 Elefant to Jory7Elefant, and my Tumblr username is now jory7elefant instead of kenna7elefant – long story short, I'm transgender and I've been going by Jory (my boy name) for a while, so I thought I should update my online names :) Thank you all for your patience, it really means a lot to me.