Turns out that the supermarket is sort of distracting. He finds it soothing walking down each aisle to find the items on his list, pausing every now and then to decipher his mom’s handwriting. Her words are too elaborate, little curls looping over each other unnecessarily; it’s as if everything she writes is for a posh wedding invitation.
He sighs and heads to the bakery area, wondering how the decidedly dry-looking loaves are meant to be ‘freshly baked’ as the smiley man on the sign says. He picks some rolls instead and makes his way to the fruit and veg aisle, mood instantly souring when he catches sight of the ‘Californian Kiwis’ on the top shelf.
The thing is, he knows Cooper does care; he just likes to care from a distance. It’s ironic really that Cooper is the one who impressed on him from an early age how actions speak louder than words (Blaine, honestly, if you’d flicked the broccoli onto the floor instead of just saying you didn’t like it, mom wouldn’t have made you eat it) and yet whenever Cooper’s own actions matter, he merely hides behind his cheesy declarations of affection.
He chooses the greenest bananas he can find and pushes his cart onwards, glancing at his list to see what he needs in terms of dairy produce. When he glances up to find the milk and locks eyes with someone all too familiar, his heart sinks.
The thing is, Burt Hummel has seen him, too, and it would look beyond rude to turn around now. Resigned, he acknowledges Burt’s raised hand and heads over to him, trying not to look like he’s wheeling his cart to his execution.
“Hey, kiddo. Long time, no see!” Burt pushes the sleeves of his overalls up absentmindedly, leaning over the handles of his own cart.
“Hi, Mr Hummel.” Blaine responds dutifully, wondering what excuse he can make to get away quickly.
“I’m trying to find that fancy low-fat yoghurt that Carol likes.” Burt rolls his eyes, gesturing to the rows of products.
“The Greek one?” Blaine asks, handing the pot to Burt who looks like water was just turned into wine under his nose.
“How’d you know that?”
“Um, just a guess.” It’s Kurt’s favourite—he introduced Carol to it.
“Wow. I’m impressed, kid.”
Blaine half-smiles, pretends the compliment is genuine. Burt’s eyes narrow just slightly and Blaine holds his breath as he forces his mouth to widen. He’s perfected the art of drowning noiselessly, knows how to prevent his skin becoming translucent through its thinness, but he’s worried that Burt can actually see the air leaving his lungs. He doesn’t want anyone else to have to save him simply because the unending stream of bubbles rippled the surface.
“What’re you up to for Christmas, then?” Burt asks, bending over to pick up some cheese that Blaine is pretty certain he hadn’t intended to get until five seconds ago.
“Oh, um, just…family stuff. Y’know, the usual.”
“I thought your old man normally goes away at Christmas?”
Blaine mentally curses Burt’s impeccable memory.
“He’s staying at home this year.” He tries to say it like he’s a happy son, but Burt’s raised eyebrow tells him he has failed. Plus, the expression is so very Kurt-like that it makes Blaine’s stomach jump up to hit the lump already starting to form in his throat. He keeps stuttering around it anyway. “I, uh, I heard you’re off to— New York?”
“Yeah, unfortunately.” Burt sighs, placing the cheese in his cart and rubbing a hand over his face. He must then see the look on Blaine’s face because he hurries to clarify, “No, no, don’t get me wrong—I’m thrilled I’m seeing Kurt. I’d just hoped he’d be able to come back here to see Carol and Finn as well.”
You and me both, Blaine thinks, grabbing some yoghurt of his own to give his hands something to do.
“He’s gutted he won’t get to see you, kid.” Burt adds and Blaine isn’t sure whether his airway has been opened up or closed off by the comment. Is he choking on air or water?
“Oh, well, I—um, enjoy your trip anyway and—and Merry Christmas!” He stammers, wheeling the cart off down the aisle, forcing the tears back until he’s out of Burt’s bewildered sight. He feels the hot, prickly sensation of shame crawl up his spine, cursing himself for acting like such a lunatic in front of Mr Hummel. Why do you always run away, Blaine? You’re such a coward.
He abandons the trolley in the next aisle along and flees the store before he can bump into anyone else. When he gets home, his mother doesn’t even question where her groceries went.
Dinner is particularly bad this evening, his father muttering some comment about the leftovers they’re having and his mom apologising for not having been shopping yet. None of them mention the fact that it’s Blaine’s fault even though they’re all perfectly aware of it. His father just stares at his plate as he mimics Blaine’s habit of pushing food around aimlessly. It’s probably the only thing they’ve ever had in common.
His mom is half way through a pointless story about an art exhibition in Cleveland when the doorbell rings. She clears her throat, clearly surprised, and gets up to answer it. Blaine panics slightly as he’s left alone with his father—whose interest in his day-old potatoes has increased tenfold—until he recognises the voice at the door. Then he panics further, sliding off his chair to join his mother in the hallway.
“Ah, there you are, kiddo,” Burt Hummel says, offering Blaine a grin. “We were just talking about you.”
I know you were, Blaine thinks, you’ve come to tell my mom what a train wreck I am and I wish you wouldn’t.
“You were saying, Mr Hummel?” His mother looks like a rabbit caught in headlights, or maybe a frog by the way her eyes are bugging out in a forced show of politeness.
“I was just wonderin’ what Blaine was planning to do for the holidays?”
Blaine frowns in confusion as his mother stiffens. Mr Hummel knows he’s staying at home; he’d asked Blaine not three hours earlier.
“We’re just having a quiet family Christmas at home.”
Blaine can’t hold back the amused smile at his mom’s words. Family Christmas are two words he never thought he’d hear in connection with his parents. He’s pretty sure Burt picks up on his amusement, but thankfully he doesn’t comment.
“Hmm, well, I don’t want to intrude or anything like that,” He pauses and all Blaine can think is please, intrude away. “But I’m takin’ a trip to New York to see Kurt and I have a spare ticket if Blaine is interested.”
Blaine freezes and his mom stiffens impossibly further. “Oh, well, I—it’s a very kind offer, Mr Hummel, but I’m not sure—”
“Yes, please,” Blaine cuts her off, a dangerous hope fluttering inside him. “If Kurt doesn’t mind of course.”
“I’m keeping it a surprise for him—don’t worry I won’t wrap you up with a bow or anything.”
It’s a light-hearted comment, but the information contained in it slams a lid on the tiny jar of hope that was just beginning to tip over.
“Oh, no, I don’t want to….intrude.” He mimics Burt’s own phrasing, ducking his head in case any stray tears attempt to betray him for the second time that day. “I’m sure Kurt is looking forward to seeing you—”
“—And he’ll still get to see me, just with the added bonus of seeing you as well.”
Blaine huffs out a laugh again. He’s about as far from a ‘bonus’ as Kurt can get.
“Honestly, kid, he’ll be thrilled to see you. You’re all he talks about—even now.” Burt adds pointedly when Blaine goes to protest. “And I wouldn’t have bought you an extra ticket this afternoon unless I was certain. I know my son.”
“I…don’t know if this is a good idea.” His mother pipes up and Blaine’s not sure whether he’s glad or annoyed at her interruption.
“Well, if Blaine would like to, I’m happy to discuss it with that therapist guy he’s seeing. I just thought a change a scene might do us both some good, huh, Blaine?”
He wants to say yes so badly, but he’d rather spend a hundred Christmases at home than make Kurt feel uncomfortable for one of them.
“He’s been so worried about you.” Burt says in a quieter tone, ducking his head to try and catch Blaine’s gaze. “It would honestly make his Christmas if he got to spend it with you, knowing you’re ok.”
“No pressure; if you don’t want to, that’s fine. Just don’t say no on Kurt’s account ‘cause trust me you won’t be doing him any favours.”
“Ok,” Blaine says, drawing the word out as his brain catches up with it. “Ok, I’ll come.”
“Awesome!” Burt does a stupid little punch in the air and Blaine can’t help but return his grin; it’s infectious. And he’s going to see Kurt.
“Well I should probably talk it through with Dr Marissa, Blaine. I know you were going to stay with Cooper, but family is a little different and you’ll need to make sure you take all your medication with you, and have an emergency contact ready...”
He knows his mother is just being practical, caring about Blaine in her own weird way, but in this moment, he feels angry at her for marring the experience before it’s even started.
“Mom. It’ll be fine.” He says shortly and Burt clears his throat.
“No, you’re entirely right, Mrs Anderson. Have a chat with Blaine’s doctor and see what he thinks. It’s just an idea.”
“I’d really like to go.” Blaine says, feeling like the whole thing is slipping through his fingers before it’s even touched his palm.
His mom looks at him—really looks at him for the first time since he was in the hospital—and nods. “Ok,” She says, placing a hand on his shoulder and turning back to Burt. “I’ll double check with Dr Marissa and if he’s fine with it, I don’t see why Blaine can’t go to New York for a couple of days. As long as he’s back well before New Year.” She adds, and Blaine nods in agreement; as long as he gets to see Kurt, he doesn’t care about the terms.
A tiny voice in the back of his head wonders whether balloons are meant to travel in planes, whether the change in pressure will be too much for him, but he squashes it into a ball and locks it away. He’s going to see Kurt and that’s all that matters.