“What are you wearing?”
Kurt jumped at the sound of a young and judgmental voice speaking directly in his ear.
He was standing on a wide marble step within the hallowed halls of Dalton Academy, surrounded by dozens of friends, acquaintances, and strangers from the assorted western Ohio high schools that Blaine had brought here today to witness his proposal. A proposal that was currently proceeding from the step below his own, and which Kurt was feeling increasingly pressured to accept in spite of his own very real misgivings.
And while it was a very distracting scene, he had not noticed anyone sneaking up behind him. He turned his head slightly, attempting to pay attention to Blaine’s words while simultaneously taking a quick peripheral peek over his right shoulder.
Kurt nearly jumped out of his skin when the voice spoke again, this time right next to him on the left. “Wait, are we getting proposed to?”
Whipping his head to the left, Kurt frowned. Who was that? He didn’t see anyone.
Blaine faltered a little, apparently noticing his distraction. “Kurt?” he mumbled, hazel eyes darting about as his intended frowned and looked everywhere but at him. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t you hear that?” he asked.
“I’m very good looking in the future!” the voice observed, sounding extremely pleased. “Tall too! But that suit has got to go. Peacock blue brocade can be beautiful if used sparingly. Maybe a vest or a jacket against an all black suit. Though on second thought that might make it look like you were about to deal roulette in Vegas. But an entire suit? And with a violet silk shirt to contrast? I know this is just a dream, otherwise I wouldn’t be watching myself, but what has happened to my fashion sense since I got old?”
The young voice was so utterly horrified that Kurt almost laughed in spite of the bizarre circumstance. For he recognized the speaker now. What was even stranger, he remembered now with a startling burst of clarity, that he had had this very dream when he was about 14 years old. Himself standing in what he had thought was a fairy tale palace, watching himself be proposed to by Prince Charming.
Had it not been a dream? For he did recall suddenly that it had occurred following a whack to the head brought about after one of the goon squad, who had already started targeting him in middle school, had aimed badly when shoving Kurt into a locker. Kurt had told his dad that he’d been hit with a dodge ball during P.E. His dad had skeptically bought it, not able to prove otherwise, but Kurt had been given a few days off of school that week, and he remembered being watched like a hawk the whole time.
He also remembered having a lot of strange half-remembered dreams that he had written off to concussion.
A little shiver went down his spine. Surely it was not possible that he had done some kind of astral time travel thing. Wasn’t that just a little too sci-fi for the real world?
And yet, he could not deny the voice that was apparently only in his own ears at this moment. For nobody else was reacting as if they heard a young teenager passing judgment on this whole affair.
“Actually, forget our fashion taste. What the hell is he wearing?”
Kurt bit down a smirk. He had forgotten how dramatically fond of italics he had been as a kid. But he focused, really focused for the first time, on that hideous banana yellow creation that Blaine had chosen, and had to give his alter ego a point on it. No doubt Blaine had wanted something that would force every eye onto him. It wasn’t like he had ever been able to stand not having 100% of the attention in any room turned his way.
Blinking, Kurt wondered where that harsh thought had come from. Sure, it was true, but shouldn’t his thoughts be focused toward how romantic this all was? Apparently listening to the point of view of his less inhibited younger self was sparking a little rebellion inside of him.
“He’s handsome, our boyfriend,” the young voice observed in a clinical tone that made his older self want to laugh. He remembered using it when deciding between two equally perfect outfits, trying to decide which would have more of a ‘wow’ factor. “But his fashion taste is terrible and I don’t like the hair. That slicked back Elvis retro thing is so 1995. It also makes him look like he’s pushing 30. Wait. Is he older than us? How old are we? Are we 30?”
That age must seem ancient to a boy of 14, Kurt supposed. His conscience prickled at the remembrance of his own life plan having been to find someone and become husbands or domestic partners, depending on what the law dictated so far in the future, with him by 30. Before that, he had always expected to live a life of fashionable single fabulosity, with boyfriends by the dozen, while he conquered the career of his choice. It had not been until high school, developing his first bad crush on Finn Hudson, being swamped with insistent hormones, and being constantly surrounded by relationships, that he had started longing for a commitment. Not because he knew what to do with one then, but because he had hated being the only person who did not even have the prospect of a real relationship.
He knew better than that now. So why was he still so determined to do something he knew in his gut that he was not ready for? Even if their ‘teenage dream’ had been perfect, was he really willing to enter into a lifelong commitment before he even hit 20?
Apparently unaware of his thoughts, the voice of his young observer continued with relentless interest. “Oh, my god. Is that Rachel? Tell me you are not thinking of letting Rachel Berry be your attendant. She’s the most obnoxious girl in school! And she’s dressed better than you! Maybe this is actually a nightmare. Oh, hey, there’s Dad. Hi, Dad!”
Kurt looked at his father, looking slightly confused a few steps below where he stood just behind Will Schuester. Burt looked around surreptitiously, as if he had heard the call, but knew it was not possible for it to be there.
“If he’s here at our proposal then he knows about us!” invisible Kurt said happily. “Did we come out to him, and he’s happy for us?”
The sound of a dreamy sigh made Kurt’s eyes unexpectedly prickle with tears. How well he remembered that feeling. That co-mingling of fear, dread, and hope that had gripped him every time he had considered biting the bullet, and telling his father that he was gay. Of course he would have thought he was dreaming all this, seeing his father in his every day attire in a place like this, while they were both surrounded by the glitter and formality of dozens of smiling peers. Friends were another thing that young Kurt had never been sure he would actually experience in real life.
“If this is a dream, does that mean Mom is here too?” the invisible speaker asked, this note of longing in his young voice going straight to Kurt’s heart. He had heard that question deep inside himself for so many years. The small childish part of him that had never entirely accepted that someone as wonderful, fun-loving, and tenderly understanding as his beautiful mother could just be snuffed out of his world after only eight short years.
“No,” he said softly. He knew suddenly that if his mother had been here, she never would have approved of this. She had held the safety and happiness of her only child as a sacred trust from the day he was born until her very last day on Earth. He had always been able to talk to her about anything, and this would have been no different. Mom never would have allowed him to compromise his heart and his future for a dream that he already knew did not live up to reality. “I’m sorry.”
He had been speaking to past-Kurt and to his mother, but when he said the words, it caused Blaine to stop mid-sentence with a look of shock. “What do you mean, no.”
Kurt blinked. Suddenly he knew that while he had not meant those words for Blaine, a part of him had actually wanted to say them out loud ever since he walked in the building.
“Kurt, what are you doing?” Blaine said, his voice more annoyed now as Kurt brushed past him to walk down a few steps, looking around at the crowd and realizing for the first time how few of these people he actually knew. “You’re embarrassing me! I don’t what you’re looking for, but it doesn’t matter. Can we just get on with this thing?”
Kurt turned to look at him, frowning at the irritated question.
“This thing?” he repeated, eyes narrowing. “You mean the thing where I’m missing my flight home so my ex-boyfriend who’s still in high school can ask me to agree to spend the rest of my life with him, even though we’ve only been casually back together as a couple for a couple of days? The thing where we’re both supposed to agree to love and be faithful to one another forever? That thing?”
Apparently he had not entirely lost his love of italics after all. His tone was biting, the reminder of his own youthful hopes and expectations making him feel angry and betrayed all over again.
Instead of understanding, Blaine actually rolled his eyes. “Not that again. I told you, I thought we were over when that happened! And didn’t I promise I would never ever do it again? Isn’t that enough? Why can’t you just get over it? It’s not like it meant anything, Kurt.”
That injured way he said Kurt’s voice, the way that usually deflated whatever outrage Kurt felt and caused him to guiltily give in, enraged him this time.
“No, Blaine. I can’t just get over it. Because we weren’t anywhere near over when it happened, and you know it. It’s called a long distance relationship, and what you did was horrible. Our being boyfriends meant everything to me. The fact that you could throw what we had away on a stranger after just a few weeks apart, because I couldn’t devote all of my attention to you while I was starting a new life in a different state? That meant something to me. It meant that I couldn’t trust you anymore. I don’t trust you, and I can’t forget that happened, so I guess I was wrong about being able to forgive it too. I’m sorry, but I can’t do this. I don’t want to spend my whole life with a guy that I don’t believe will keep a vow to honor and cherish me.”
Blaine sputtered. “But, but I . . . what about all this?” He gestured frantically around them as if he could not conceive of such a scene not magically wiping away whatever doubts Kurt had.
“This is all very beautiful,” Kurt said, glancing around at the streamers, balloons, and startled faces that filled the room, “but it’s only a child’s dream. The real world isn’t a pretty song and a lot of smiling faces. It’s hard work, and compromise, and shared joys, and making sacrifices for each other’s happiness. That’s what a real commitment means, Blaine. It means being there for the people you love even when conditions are not ideal. Even when they’re so bad that you don’t know what to say or how to move forward, but you keep trying because you love them too much to ever want to cause that person pain. It means being your best self and making good times for the two of you even when the worst things are happening.”
“I don’t understand,” he admitted, flopping his hands helplessly. “Where is all this coming from?”
Kurt looked at his dad, who was dashing away tears from eyes that carried mingled pride, regret, and new understanding.
“I was reminded on the way here about how much my mom and dad loved each other, and how deeply committed they were to each other. Even when my mom was dying, they never stopped trying to make each other smile. They never would have cheated on each other, or tried to pressure each other into making a decision that they knew was wrong. And when it was just Dad and me, he did the same for me. He wanted me to always know that I had a safe space with him, a home where I could be myself and try to block out all the pain of the outside world. And I did the same for him, even when I was a little clumsy about trying to protect him.”
Burt nodded, his smile wry as he was clearly remembering some of of the awkward, uncomfortable, but always deeply loving moments they had shared together
“I want that again,” Kurt said, turning back to his would-be fiance. “It’s been a long time since I had a place where I know I can always be myself without having to hide half of the things that make me who I am. A place where I can feel safe because I'll always know that I’m loved and respected. A home where I can be with someone who wants to make sure that I’m happy, just because knowing that makes him happy. Because I deserve that, Blaine. And because I’ll do the same for the man that I agree to spent my life with one day.”
“And I’m not that man?” he asked, sounding genuinely sad.
Kurt looked at him, smiled, and gently kissed his cheek. “No. I hope you will be that man for somebody one day, but we both know deep down that it can’t be me. Our relationship started right here in this hallway three years ago. It’s appropriate that it ends in the same place. Good luck, Blaine.”
They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, Blaine reading the truth in Kurt’s steady gaze. “I’ll miss you. I’ll always love you, Kurt.”
“Goodbye," he said simply. "Dad, I’ll meet you out at the car.”
Holding his head high, Kurt walked down the steps and past the shocked crowd of onlookers.
“Thanks, Kurt,” he whispered, no longer able to sense his younger self, who had probably awakened from his dream at the same time his present self had ended the swirling nightmare of his unwanted proposal.
Pushing past the great double doors of Dalton Academy, Kurt smiled and stepped out into the sunlight, leaving the past behind him.