Jack and Diane
The house is silent as you walk in, and you're grateful as you head downstairs and lay your new Louis Vuitton attaché on your bed. It's been a long day and right now all you want is to be alone. You check the hall clock once you're upstairs and see that you still have almost two hours before your dad will be home from the garage. Plenty of time.
Your steps hesitate right outside the door, and for a moment all you can do is stand there and breathe. It's always hard, every time. Finally you reach out and push the door open. The hinges creak in a familiar way, a muted, pitchy groan. The room looks just like it has since you can remember. The gray carpeting, the maroon curtains, the faded brown duvet on the bed, the mahogany bedside tables, one of them covered in things like loose change and crumpled receipts and the other holding only a lamp and a photograph in a silver frame.
Looking away from the picture that looks too much like your own face, you walk over to the corner of the room. There it is, the dresser that leans to the left. One of the drawers doesn't close all the way, and another drawer is missing its handle. It used to be beautiful, perfection in carpentry, but when he found out about her, he threw all his hurt into it and the dresser had not come out the better for it.
Your fingers trace over the edges and for once you don't even consider what the contact with that much dust will do to your skin. This dresser was her favorite possession. He made it for her for their first anniversary. You move your hand down to the first row of drawers and grasp a handle. Pausing only long enough to take a breath, you tug the drawer open. The smell from inside, old wood and a faded floral blend, washes out over you and you drink it in.
The scent grows stronger with each new drawer you open, until it's almost real. You plant your hands against the edges of a drawer, letting the piece of furniture support your weight for a moment as you collect yourself. This day is more important than a normal day. You need something more.
Stopping to listen one more time to be sure you're alone in the house, you move over to the old radio sitting on Dad's night table. Rummaging through the box beneath it, you find an aged cassette and slip it into the tape deck. When you press the play button the music starts up, the quality sort of warped by time, but it's just what you need. With the sounds of Mellencamp drifting through the room, you walk back to the opened dresser and sit down on the floor.
You take off your shoes and set them off to the side, because she always hated wearing shoes. As you flex your tired, bare feet, you remember the summers when she would chase you through the yard. By the time you both came in for lunch, your feet would be grass-stained and she helped you scrub them clean. Even though she spent as much time out of her shoes as possible, she always had beautiful feet. You still use the exact same brand of lotion she used to rub onto the soles of your feet when you were little.
The song changes and you smooth out your sweater as you lay down on your back on the rough carpet. You habitually cross your ankles and your hands fold delicately on your stomach. For a moment you just stare up at the ceiling, at the blushed tint the light filtering through the curtains casts across the white surface. Scarlet. It was her favorite color, you remember. She told you that one night when you were watching Gone with the Wind together. You were five at the time, and you only remember because there was a character named Scarlett. She told you that if she had another baby, if you ever got a little sister, her name would be Scarlet because it was her favorite color. You never got a baby sister.
Taking a deep breath, her scent fills you and you close your eyes. You feel the tension easing out of your muscles the longer you lay there. Gradually the general scent of her perfume begins to break apart, until you can detect the individual smells. The earthy warmth of the mahogany wood, the soothing hush of lavender, the sharp poignant rose, the crisp burn of cinnamon.
In the background you can hear the off-pitch tape playing on and in your mind you hear her humming along. She had a beautiful voice, she's the one who taught you to sing when you were so small. She sang constantly; over the stove while she cooked dinner, when she was in the garden plucking weeds out from beneath her lilac bushes, when she tucked you into bed at night.
You heave a deep breath, a not-so-secret sigh, and immerse yourself further in the memories. Laying there, your eyes closed and her smell wrapping around you and her favorite record playing in your ears, it almost feels like she's there again. You breathe out the trials of the day and breathe in her comfort. In your head you're running a monologue of your day, knowing that somehow she's listening and hearing. You can almost feel the brush of her fingertips stroking your forehead and moving your hair out of the way. As a single, lone tear breaks through the wall of your lashes, you almost feel her thumb rubbing it off your cheek, even though the tear takes a different course down your temple and into your hair.
It's not until you hear the sound of a heavy footstep only meters away that you realize how far you've let yourself slip into your fantasies. Your eyes snap open and instantly land on him, standing there in the doorway watching you with his emotions as veiled as always. You mumble out an apology, make to stand up, but he surprises you by saying no. He crosses the room and sits down next to you, grunting with the effort. You can only watch in awe as he casually unlaces his work boots and tosses them in the direction of the closet. Then he sweeps his tattered baseball cap off and stretches out on his back, threading his hands together behind his head.
For a moment all you do is sit there and stare at him. He's never done this before. Of course then you've never actually let yourself get caught before. Things have been different between you and him since you came out to him, but this still wasn't something you felt comfortable telling him about. It sounded stupid enough when you said it to yourself, and when you'd said it aloud to Finn that one time, so you couldn't imagine how weird it would feel to say it to him.
His eyes are closed and he just lays there, his breathing steady but silent. When you realize that he's just going to let you be, that he's not going to interrogate you or make a big deal of it, you lay down again and fold your hands on your stomach. You feel a little tense because you can feel him there next to you and part of you is burning with embarrassment. There's a strange nervous vibe floating between the two of you, and you wonder where this is going to head.
Taking a steadying breath, you draw in her smell again and close your eyes. Maybe if you can't see him out of the corner of your eye it will make it less awkward. But as you lay there you are still fully aware of his presence. You can hear the steady rasp of his breathing and the slightly coarse sound of his sock scraping against the carpet as he taps his foot in tempo to the music. When you breathe in again, there are other smells mixed in with hers: motor oil and sweat and the vaguest trace of that sort of wood and leather cologne he wears.
And oddly enough, it's less obtrusive and more comforting. Those two blends of scents being together is something that you haven't smelled since you were six, when you could tell there was something wrong and you were scared so they let you climb into the bed between them to sleep. Now, laying there in between him and her dresser, surrounded by their scents, you feel like that kid again. All of the tension eases out of you and your next exhale comes out like a contented sigh. Next to you, you think you hear him breathe a similar noise.
The cassette clicks as it reaches the end and you wait expectantly, because thankfully it's a modern enough piece of technology to have automatic playback. A few seconds later the other side of the tape is playing and when the first song starts up you almost hear him smile.
"Here's a lil ditty, 'bout Jack and Diane, two 'Merican kids growin' up, in the heartland…"
He laughs quietly, only noticeable in his abrupt exhale. "This was her favorite song," he says in a low voice, casual like you've been holding a conversation this whole time. You already know this, but you stay silent and listen. He doesn't really talk to you about her. "It was really popular when we were in high school. She called it our song, 'cause we were like those kids in the song. One night, we were sitting out in the back of my truck, listening to the radio, and it came on. I'd never really heard it before, you know, I wasn't much into music. I remember she sang along, sorta sang it to me, real clear and proud and confident.
"A lot like how you sing," he says and you actually open your eyes, glancing sideways at him. His eyes are still shut and his face is sort of serene. "You sound so much like her when you sing, you know. Not just 'cause you sing all high like a girl, but because you're so comfortable. Strong, like her."
You feel your eyes starting to burn so you close them again. "You danced to it at your wedding, didn't you?" you ask, even though you know the answer. She told you, years and years ago, when you were dancing to it together in the living room.
He makes a little noise of agreement. "I don't think I ever loved a song so much as I did that day." You hear him shifting against the carpet, stretching slightly, before he settles in again. He takes a deep breath and so do you, both of you pulling in the comfort and strength of her presence lingering in the air around you.
"I miss her." You say the words before you even realize you've opened your mouth. His breath catches slightly and you feel guilty, thinking you've spoken too much.
"Me too, Kurt." There's a sort of raw emotion in his voice that you don't hear much. He's not like you, he doesn't project his feelings quite as firmly and eloquently. You've been growing closer recently and he's shown you what he's feeling more than he used to, but this emotion cuts through you. His voice sounds almost like it did that day he got the first anonymous call, only it's a different kind of hurt.
You both lapse into the quiet again and listen to the song whine on in the background while you collect yourself. If you let yourself cry you'll have to spend hours in front of the mirror tonight fixing all the damage it will do to your skin, and you're not really in the mood for that.
"Why are you home so early?" he asks curiously. "I thought you had that Glee club stuff today."
"We ended early," you answer. "Santana and Brittany are both gone because the Cheerios have a competition in Phoenix this weekend, and Artie had a doctor's appointment. Mr. Schue decided it wasn't worth it to keep practicing with a quarter of the team missing." He hums in understanding, and you ask, "What about you? It's not after six yet, is it?"
"Shut the garage down early," he says and you hear the hitch in his voice again. "It's her birthday."
You nod, even though you both still have your eyes closed, because you knew that was today. That's the reason you're currently where you are, laying on floor that will leave lint on your new sweater and listening to a worn-out cassette of music you don't actually like. It surprises you that he's come home though. Normally he stays out of the house even longer on her birthday. He never says it, but you know it's because it hurts him too much.
"It's been ten years," he says and you nod again, your throat feeling too thick to talk. "I – when we found out she was sick, I didn't know what I was going to do. She was always better at taking care of you than I was. At taking care of both of us. She'd been with me so long I didn't know how to function without her. I was so sure you'd grow up hating me because I couldn't make sense of you the way she did."
There's a beat of silence and after a moment of honest consideration you say, "I don't hate you. I never did." You take a deep breath and purse your lips thoughtfully. "I was a little scared of you, after she died. I'd always had her to protect me, but afterward I was afraid that you would see what I was and that you wouldn't love me. And then I wouldn't know what to do because then I wouldn't have anybody."
"I've always loved you, Kurt, you know that right?" he asks and his voice is actually sort of scared and timid. He really is afraid that you don't know.
"I know, Dad." His exhale sounds relieved. It shifts the air around you, and you're once again swept over by their smells. You feel safe.
The quiet settles again but this time it's comfortable and relaxed. He's tapping his foot again, and you mimic the motion. Your breathing evens out and so does his. Neither of you talks anymore, but it doesn't feel like you need to. Because for once, you honestly understand each other.
There's a loud click as the tape reaches its end and the absence of the music feels loud. You're reluctant to get up and move, but without John Cougar the spell is broken. You take one last deep breath and then open your eyes and sit up. When you're climbing to your feet he sits up as well, snatching his hat off the floor and putting it on his head again. His eyes follow you curiously as you walk over to the radio and put the cassette away.
You come back to close up the dresser and he joins you. You don't need help pushing in the heavy drawers, you've done it before, but having his hands applying pressure beside yours makes the job of shutting away her scent that much easier. It doesn't hurt so bad when that lingering smell is cut off. This time instead of being left with just the natural air of the room, you can still smell his warm scent, and that doesn't feel so bad.
A glance at the clock and a twist in your stomach tells you that it's dinnertime. You tell him you're going to start dinner, and you wander out into the kitchen. The shower runs for a few minutes, and then he joins you, slipping a beer can from the fridge and sitting down at the table to drink it.
He asks you about your day, and you tell him about how you did on your science test and the ridiculous outfit Mercedes wore and how you're pretty sure that your friends Artie and Tina are finally on the right track to getting back together. Then you ask him how his day was, and he tells you about an irritable customer he had and how the new mechanic he hired tried to put the wrong size rims on someone's Suburban and about the really nice 'Stang someone brought in to have looked at.
You keep on talking all through dinner, exchanging stories. You tell him about the new song you're supposed to be starting in Glee at the next rehearsal, and even though he doesn't know the song he tells you he's excited to hear it. He actually ventures to ask if you have anything dating related to talk about, and you're so touched by his attempt that you don't even feel that sad in telling him an unfortunate no. You smile to yourself when he tries not to look too relieved by that.
After you're both through eating you gather the dishes and take them to the sink. You feel lighter than you have in weeks, months maybe. While you run the plates beneath the water and line them up in the dishwasher, you feel the music slipping off your lips. And even though Mellencamp isn't your style, you find yourself singing it anyway. He's lingering in the kitchen, finishing his beer, and you hear him begin to hum along with you. His voice is deep and even while just humming he doesn't hit all the notes he tries, but when you glance over your shoulder and he smiles at you, you slow your pace with the dishes just to make this moment last longer. You can forgive the sharps and flats, because for the first time since she died it feels like the two of you are finally on the same page.