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Santana, Rachel and Kurt were filling the condiment bottles and chatting as they watched while the group of 4 singing wait staff finished their last song. Or rather Rachel and Santana were chatting and Kurt was trying to ignore them while not letting them know he was ignoring them, or at least not letting Rachel know he was ignoring them.   He wasn’t incredibly happy with anyone that moment, although he was at a better place with Santana than with Rachel.  It could have been because he and Santana had had it out a bit earlier so the air was partially cleared, but not cleared enough for him to be helping her chat with Rachel. Santana didn’t seem to be having any luck directing the chattering, either. It was the same babble that they had heard almost all week with a bit of a variation which they had heard nonstop for the last two days. He couldn’t wait until work required Rachel to focus on something else.  Yes, Blaine and Sam were in town for Blaine’s auditions. Kurt was well aware as Blaine was sharing his bed, Santana was well aware as Sam was sharing with her (and wasn’t that a fun argument that first hour of them showing up when they were trying to decide where to put Blaine and Sam’s bags.  Blaine wanted KURT to move out to the pullout bed in the front room with Santana and share with her while he and Sam slept in Kurt’s bed…because he didn’t want Sam to feel uncomfortable. Yeah, so much for loving boyfriends and time together.), heck everyone who had heard Rachel’s screeching loud voice had heard it over and over and over again. No, that did not need to be the sole thing talked about, seriously.  Yes, he and Santana and everyone else in the whole freaking world, he was sure, hoped Blaine did well on his auditions.  That did not mean they had to sit and discuss what Blaine might at that moment be singing or doing or talking about.  Because frankly Kurt didn’t know, Santana didn’t know and neither had been spoken to by the man to give them any clue.  Rachel had talked more to Blaine about auditions than they had and so she had the best idea when he might be singing or what he might be doing or whatnot and therefore didn’t need to be asking and drilling them while chattering on and on and on about her thoughts on the matter. Kurt wasn’t even certain of the time for Blaine’s auditions that morning, just that his spot was after 10am but before 1pm.  He had listened to Blaine’s meltdown and seen his show of nerves, but even in the midst of that Blaine never spoke about what he had planned for his auditions, other than to tell Kurt he needed Rachel’s help with that decision, not his. Kurt had instead offered suggestions on how to take the other course ideas Blaine had mumbled about and still stay involved in the Musical Theater/Music scene Blaine generally indicated he wanted employment in while alternatively trying to convince Blaine to not be a chicken. (Not in those words, Kurt had some sense of self-preservation still.) Of course neither response was correct….Kurt would never understand how scary it was for Blaine and how many dreams he might be not meeting (dreams Kurt had never heard of…so they were obviously well spoken of and discussed and everyone knew of them…), Kurt was so simple compared to Blaine.  He was from such a simple family with simple expectations and simple ideas, not like Blaine’s well-off family with their complex needs and ideas. Kurt had snorted and replied that maybe that was why Kurt was offering ideas and possible answers and trying to HELP instead of just letting Blaine meltdown, he was just so simple that way.  Kurt knew his answer wasn’t right…there was no way it could ever have been; it hadn’t been completely focused on making Blaine feel like the most important person in the world.  Kurt had also listened to Sam’s worries about making it anywhere and finding work and his lack of smarts…to which Kurt tried to remind him that there was help if he wanted to go to university, even with his poor grades and help with keeping his grades up and overcoming his issues enough to succeed at college if he wanted to go, like he’d always mentioned before Kurt left. Blaine got upset at him about that. However, through it all, the name of Blaine’s audition song never came up.  Rachel spoke as if it had….as if simply because she and Blaine discussed it the rest of the world was privy to their discussions and should care as much as they did about it.

Rachel’s other topics of choice to natter on about- Her fabulous accomplishments in landing Fanny and getting asked by seniors to participate in their projects, her stunning performances during the showcase and throughout the spring, her stellar newer looks, her wonderful standing with all the professors at the school … even those she’d never taken a class from who of course loved her completely because they’d heard all about her from others- were no better for conversation. (Kurt had been asked to help with projects as well, and so had Santana and she didn’t even go to NYADA, but none of that mattered to Rachel, if she even heard them when they said anything about it.)  Nor was the topic of her landing a solo section at NYADA’s “Into the Summer Spectacular”…one of the only freshman to do so…and the bragging about how everyone she had met doing Fanny so far ‘loved her’ really welcome conversation topics. Mostly because Kurt and Santana were sick and tired of them.  At least she wasn’t screaming at him about ‘lack of support’ and ‘lack of empathy’ like earlier in the day…or nagging at him about spending too much time on his pursuits (he went to his dance class that morning while Blaine was still sleeping after being out late…Ms. July moved it to 6am so it wouldn’t be interfered with by auditions for the musical theater group, that was it…that was all in terms of classes for the day, voice was a trip to the recording studio Madame had set up for the next evening and script analysis was a paper due Monday. Kurt had the day off at vogue and was working while Blaine was supposed to be at NYADA…to which Kurt was NOT invited.) and not enough time with Blaine. Kurt reminded her he’d spent three weeks telling everyone Rachel pointed him to how wonderful Blaine was and talking him up like there was no one else in the world…at both her and Blaine’s insistence, and that HE still needed to stay in school because it would do no good at all to fail himself after putting so much effort in getting Blaine in. (Which he thought was ridiculous in the first place. Blaine should be able to get in without anyone there already knowing his name. Rachel might have mentioned his name once or twice, but he KNEW she hadn’t done for him what she was doing for Blaine, not even a fraction of it.) Rachel scoffed and reminded him that she had been doing the same for Blaine and she still was making time for her boys.  Rachel had skipped class to ‘hang’ with the boys, but unlike Rachel Kurt wasn’t everyone’s darling. He didn’t believe in skipping class anyway.  Kurt shook his head to bring his thoughts back to the here and now.  Rachel was saying something about it being a shame she couldn’t fit in a trip for Blaine to meet the cast of Fanny and sing for them.  Santana was talking over her about being recognized at callbacks last night by someone who knew her from the cheer team performances that had been broadcasted on TV.  Kurt sighed and breathed deeply, wishing that the performers would hurry up so they could start work…and have a reason to separate from each other and not talk to each other for the next several hours.

Santana kicked Kurt’s leg and rolled her eyes at Rachel.  Blaine and Sam’s appearance Tuesday morning with no warning had been what set Santana off and what their ‘discussion’ had been about earlier in the day, right before they headed to work.  It would have been an all-out fight, Kurt suspected, if Rachel had been at the loft at the time, but Rachel needed new tights for dance after nearly putting a run in her current pair and so had left early to go do that before her shift started.  As it was it took Kurt nearly an hour to convince Santana that he had no idea Blaine and Sam were going to be there…including letting her have access to his phone so she could see there had been no texts or discussion of it via any sort of messaging and that Blaine hadn’t even called Kurt for a week before he showed up. Kurt had been under the impression Blaine was going to the NYADA tryouts at Columbus last weekend…and his texts were proof of that idea. And Kurt had to bribe her with the promise of not only next Wednesday to be gone from the loft from 9am until 9pm at the very least, but the promise to clear out for several hours on Sunday as well, so she could get in her missed ‘free loft space’ time…which Kurt had been unable to give her because Blaine would not leave the loft until HE wanted to the day before…which meant when Blane needed to be at NYU for his campus tour and audition and interview there. Another foot nudge from Santana made Kurt deeply breathe again and roll his eyes back.

Considering how long the medley had been going on, Kurt figured the staff must be at the end of some sort of a party or something. Gunther tended to offer up options for large groups during the week when often the day would be slow.  Weekend parties had to ‘rent’ the upstairs conference room, which luckily had its own stage and jukebox.  It was usually closed during the weekdays daytime hours, although all the tables around the balcony area were open and had to be staffed.  The wait-staff was dancing to the music provided by those performing as they delivered food or cleared tables.  Rachel was actually supposed to be out bussing tables, but Rachel took this job about as seriously as she took classes lately; she loved it when she got to perform and she dismissed it as frivolous and beneath her wonderfulness when she needed to actually work, but she still did the work if she had to.

“Midget,” Gunther said as he walked up behind the trio. “You are already supposed to be out there. Cassie left 15 minutes ago and she stayed an extra 15 because you hadn’t shown your face yet and Leo has been covering your tables ever since.” He glared at Rachel who fluttered her hands and started to head off to the rest room to wash before waiting tables. “You two...” he said pointing at Santana and Kurt, “Either of you sing Madonna?  Macy will not be in today, she was hit by a bicycle as she dropped her tot at daycare. In fifteen we have a party coming in and they have requested Madonna.  I need this to happen.  These are important people.  To me, this is important.”

“I could do it!” Rachel shouted and turned around to plant herself right in front of Gunther.

“No.  You are still in time out.  You are in vocal time out for the rest of the week, until next Wednesday.  Maybe then you will learn to share time on the stage and share songs with others and that you are not my only singer on the wait staff. Considering you are NOT out there doing your job right now and are making someone else cover their space and yours a full half hour into your shift, I’m not inclined to reconsider either.”

“But, I’m the best for the job.” Rachel said.

“No!”

Rachel stomped off and Gunther looked back to the other two.

“Hummel does.” Santana said.

Gunther looked at Kurt, skepticism writing across his face. Kurt considered refusing. Rachel hated when he sang and had been at the other wait staff about not letting him sing often because it kept her from singing as often and he wasn’t sure he wanted the drama.  But then he saw Rachel pause and start to turn back to rush over and demand she sing.

“I would prefer not to sing anything like ‘Papa Don’t Preach’, though.  That would just sound silly.” Kurt said, with a shrug.

“The only sure requests are ‘This Use To be My Playground’ and ‘Cherish’.” Gunther said.

“I can do those. No key change needed, either.  Also, maybe have Santana or Sal do the songs with Spanish in them.”

“Sal is Italian.” Santana said.

Kurt snorted. “He might be, but he speaks fluent Spanish.  He tore into Gabby the other day so harshly, you’d have been worshiping the ground the boy walks on.”

“That boy is like 10 years older than you.” Santana said.

“No way, maybe five but that would be pushing it.” Kurt said.

“No, closer to ten.” Santana said.

“No…”

“Enough.” Gunther said. “If you know enough to tell he is fluent why don’t you sing the songs?”

“Because although I understand Spanish pretty well after all these years around Santana, I do not speak it well enough to not butcher the song.  French I can sing in. Latin I can sing in if I’m walked through it bit by bit.  Spanish I mess up the pronunciation in.” Kurt replied.

“All right, all right. Just be ready at two-ish.  I don’t know what else the group may want but it should be all Madonna. It is their theme this year.  We can mix it up a bit with lead singers, I guess.”  Gunther looked over at the group just finishing their last set.  “That party should pay extra, they’ve had their wait staff singing so much they couldn’t care for their tables.  I’d best go hurry them along. They’ve been here hours now. Some groups are hours long groups…others, not so much.”

Kurt and Santana watched as the grumpy man walked towards the full section near the stage.  He had a smile pasted upon his face and was smiling and joking with patrons who were watching the performers.  The performers finished up and hopped off the stage.  Jess came over to Santana and told her which tables were still full in her area.

“I just bussed the others before we had to get up there so they are ready for people to be seated at.  Enjoy!  We had two birthday parties today and I know Gunther has another party booked in just a few, and I think even another after that.”

Santana tightened the lid on the ketchup bottle she’d just finished and waved as she walked to the restroom to wash-up. Kurt sighed as he looked at the trays in front of him and started wiping down the area they’d worked at.  As usual he got left with the clean-up.

Rudy, who Kurt was to replace, came over as he was wiping down the counter. Santana had been none too careful while filling the ketchup bottles and Rachel had been even worse when she had been filling salt and pepper shakers.

 “I have tables left to buss and three tables who are almost done.  I need the tips, do you mind?”

Kurt smiled.  “Not at all. It will give me time to clean-up here and wash up and we won’t have any time without someone on the floor.”

“You are a doll.  I just sat two tables, swing by and I’ll make sure they know you are the staff they need to flag down.”

Rudy went off and started clearing the tables that needed bussing and Kurt finished wiping away the ketchup mess Santana had left and the spilled salt and pepper Rachel had left.

Gunther came up just had Kurt was loading the filled bottles on trays to take into the back.

“Shouldn’t you be out there?” Gunther said.

“Rudy wanted to buss the tables that had left while he was performing and finish serving three who were nearly done.  I let him finish up.  His girlfriend’s birthday is this week and he is saving for a nice night out. I can’t do anything terribly fun until finals are over, so he needed those tips more than me.  Besides, now I can clean up here and move this all to the kitchen instead of leaving it here for you to do if you get a chance or not have my area not covered while I clean-up.  I’m going to take this tray to the back, go wash up, meet the customers at tables 12 and 16, see if they need drinks or are ready to order, and then come take these next two trays back.”

“Then you’ll be out on the floor and ready to perform in about fifteen minutes?  The group should be all here by then.  They want ‘This Used To Be My Playground’ first.”

“That is sort of a melancholy song to start out with.” Kurt stated.

“Yes, well sometimes groups meet up for less than perfectly cheerful reasons.”

“Oh.” Kurt said.

“I thought you’d understand.”

“Recent?”  Kurt asked.

“Oh heavens, no.  Let me tell you a quick story, boy.  You and your little pals, you aren’t the first group in this city like yourselves.  They happen all over the city and they happen over and over again. Kids meet at a university or move here all together from home, sticking with each other through time. You know, back before you were probably even born this was a karaoke place, the stage an open mike on off nights.  This group met at a NYU freshman orientation and stuck together. The kid dragging them about campus brought them here one of the evenings during that orientation week and had them get up and sing with each other in different forms as a team building exercise. 20 ragged kids who were tired and unsure. It worked.  They were here for hours and hours.  There were kids in the group going into politics and theater and art and medicine and education and business and music.  There were kids from overseas and from such small towns in the USA that they’d never even seen a skyscraper. Some were terrified of getting up in front of everyone, some of singing because they weren’t good, some of the songs and people they were to sing with.  After getting each kid up and singing the kid in charge told them that this ability to face what made one uncomfortable and to help each other through it would be what saw them through life. These kids stuck it out. Helped each other out, had each other’s backs.  New kids were added…roommates, lovers, siblings, new friends… some moved or went back overseas. But most of those kids, they kept coming here every other week. And they kept each other sane. The group when together laughed and were silly, they sang and danced and those non artists kept the artists grounded.  Four years passed and most the original group was nearly ready to graduate. About this time their last year half the group were here, waiting for others when they found out a bunch of the others were involved in a bad traffic accident. They lost probably the brightest star of the group that day…their heart, so to say, and the little dancer was left with broken dreams and years of working to find new ones and kid who would have been our future president was left comatose for years before he died too.  But you know what; they had each other’s backs.  They rallied around each other and got themselves and the others through it. Not one of those kids ever stopped trying or gave up or gave in and when they seemed close to it, the others of the group picked them up and carried them along till they could do it all again on their own.  Watch them today, boy.  You all are a nice little bunch. However, as much as shorty would like me to believe, I don’t think you all have each other’s backs nearly as often as she goes on and on about. Most the time I don’t think I’ll be seeing you all here or anywhere more than 20 years from now, not together keeping each other going.  Most the 18 of the originals left make it here every year around this time, even ones who have to fly in from far away and half the others, the ones living around here still, they make it in every month.”

Kurt watched as Gunther strode back to the kitchen area and then looked over where several wait staff were pushing tables together to make a couple huge tables in the area in front of the stage that the other party had just cleared out from, right in front of their largest booth. A second smaller booth seemed to be blocked off as well. They didn’t usually move tables together, and certainly not right up at front.  The group coming in meant something to Gunther, obviously.  They must be worth the fuss.

 He wondered if Gunther was right.  Sometimes he could picture the New Directions group getting together years down the road, but other times he had huge problems doing so.  He also had a hard time picturing the new kids with the group, or Dani or Elliot being allowed to join the group…and definitely not Adam or any of the others he was allowed by Rachel to talk to at NYADA (and certainly not those he spoke with that he wasn’t supposed to speak with because they weren’t the right sort). And then there was that…the fact the just because Rachel started NYADA before he did and had a reputation there to protect, supposedly, that he’d already dented, she thought she had some sort of say in who Kurt could talk to and what sort of classes he ought to be able to take.  She’d already informed him earlier in the week that she had already signed him up for ‘appropriate second year classes’ that did not interfere with her classes, instead of letting him choose his own.  And Kurt wasn’t even sure how…he’d thought they were at least a week or more away from that even being an option.

Kurt sighed and took the tray full of ketchup and mustard bottles to the kitchen and then headed to wash up.

By the time he was done washing his hands, when he glanced over to see where Rudy was, he noticed the trays of salt and pepper shakers was no longer sitting at the counter.  Rudy waved him over to table 12.

“Hello, I’m Kurt and I’ll be your singing waiter for the rest of the afternoon.”  Kurt said with a smile.

Rudy was waiting again when Kurt was done taking the drink and food orders for table 12 and 16.

“You’ll have some of the large group coming in; tables 14 and 18 were pushed over to make one of the large tables.  I just cleared table twenty and you’ll have tables 22 and 24 and 26 as soon as I buss them.  They each finished and paid while I was bussing the other three.”

“Eight tables today?” Kurt asked.

“Macy isn’t coming in. We split her tables between three of us.  You and Santana will have eight, as will Sal.  Miss Berry, Julie and Cora will all just have their normal six.  Also Harry isn’t coming in, he has the flu, so Paul and Jude not only have counter but have three tables a piece a well. I think Jude has the large booth.  I’m not sure who is working the upstairs.”

“I hope some more ladies.  They want Madonna songs and Rachel is grounded.”

“Tani and Layla are at the bar as extra tenders. Julie can’t sing today, don’t know why but Gunther is in agreement.  Peter is the official bartender till about four, then Alex should be in. Oh, Jamie is working at seating, and she has a lovely alto voice, even if she doesn’t sing very often. Leo is here somewhere but only for another hour, he was called in as extra help. Your friend Rachel isn’t the only one who showed up late or left early today. Luckily most the others have valid reasons so Gunther isn’t getting ready to fire people left and right.”

“That will help.  Now go get those tables bussed before all your tips go to a taxi because you missed your next bus.”

Rudy took off with an empty tray and Kurt got to work, turning in the food orders and getting the drinks.

Kurt got lost in seating and taking orders, noticing that the large tables were filling up, usually in groups of three or four, but sometimes just a single person at a time. A pretty red haired lady in a wheelchair rolled by, a teen and a tall man accompanying her to table 15.  A shorter man in a nice suit swept into the diner and over to the group forming, shaking hands with several other people along the way.  A tall man who he suspected might be Hawaiian sat by where the red haired lady was being wheeled to.  An African American woman sat next to him, often leaning against him when she spoke and next to her was a woman who Kurt was pretty sure was the Hawaiian man’s sister.  Tucking in and out of groups and around the tables was a brown haired woman whose hair looked like she had stuck her finger in a light socket and who had some of the palest skin Kurt had ever seen.  She had a really nice camera around her neck and was juggling two little point and shoots as well, taking photos of different groups of people and making sure each individual had a photo of them taken.  Every time someone new would come in there were hugs and kisses all around. Cameras were out all over the place, sitting on tables when they weren’t in use capturing groups of people together in different combinations. A dark haired lady with a short bob cut seemed to be another main photo taker; although considering her long denim skirt had paint smears on it Kurt suspected that she was some sort of artist most of the time.  Most of the others seemed comfortable with their cameras as well though.

 As Kurt picked up the appetizer order for table 12, Gunther waylaid him.

“Ask the tall blond lady for a count, so we can have their traditional drinks ready. The one wearing red and black.”

Kurt headed over, dropping the appetizers off at table 12 and moving to get the attention of one of the people who seemed to be in the center of the attention.

The lady he was supposed to speak with was talking with a shorter dark haired lady who reminded Kurt a lot of Tina when she was in her Goth stage, at least clothing wise. Kurt smiled to himself thinking about Tina and Brittany and himself way back then dancing his basement.  He rather thought that Kurt would be OK with where he was now, at least school and job wise.  He probably wouldn’t be as OK with the rest of his life.

“…Believe it’s been 20 years. ‘Think about how far we’ve come’.” The dark hair lady sang the last bit.

The blond Kurt was supposed to talk to smiled and sang back, “Think of all we have shared, it’s a wonder we survive.”

But here we are and we’re alive.” They sang together and burst out laughing.  Their voices were clear and well trained and made Kurt smile.

“Do you remember Celia and Lloyd doing the little fight after that pyramid scene?” the dark one asked.

“I thought she was going to deck him when he grabbed her and accidentally wrapped his arms right across her boobs.  I still think Andy reproducing that final set of scenes was cheating. The class was screen to stage and those numbers were stage numbers.”

“But they were produced on screen!” The dark haired chimed in a sing song voice.  It was obvious that the phrase had been repeated over and over and that she was copying the way someone had said it before.  “What do you think Andy would have thought about all this?”

The blond looked around at the people gathering at the tables and booths, and Kurt waved trying to get her attention. He noticed for the first time the booth to the side of the largest was filling with several kids and an African American man who was corralling them in one spot and making voices to entertain them. The man made him think of Matt back in his first year of glee club.  He wondered if Puck or Mike still kept in touch with him. A pretty woman with long braids with beads woven into them had her hand on his back and was helping.

The blond smiled. “He would have loved it.  He loved seeing everyone and being together.  Remember the first time Li made it back after she left after her freshman year?   He was so ecstatic I didn’t think we’d be able to keep him on the ground.  Just think of all the people who he’d have had to act out his visions.  Remember how hard a time he had getting enough of us to agree to act out those parts of ‘A League of Their Own’ that summer before.”

The dark haired lady laughed. “Oh, God remember Terry being dragged into it…literally.  I’ll never forget Andy pulling him by the shirt while he kept trying to go the other direction. I can’t believe Andy dragged us all to the movie over and over just so we could all see it and know what our parts should be played like.”

“Or when he yelled at Angel for dancing at the plate.  ‘They play ball, Ang, they do not dance.’”

“And when she kicked the dirt at him and got it on his lens.”  The dark haired lady looked around, eyes landing on the red haired lady in the wheelchair. “I miss them.”

“Yeah, sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago.” The blond said.

Kurt waved in a larger motion, trying to get one of the women’s attentions.  The dark haired lady saw him. “Claire, I think someone I trying to speak to you.”

The blond lady turned to Kurt and smiled.  Kurt couldn’t help smile back.  He briefly thought of Adam and how whenever he smiled it had the same effect, just something about the smile made those around feel the need to smile too.  The woman was stunning.  Kurt could easily imagine her working for Vogue as a model. The dark haired woman turned to face him fully as well and Kurt was again stunned by the woman’s looks.  She had an Asian look about her but also an Italian look, it was an intriguing combination.

“Hi, I’m Kurt.” He said, his voice a bit high. He blushed and took a deep breath. “Gunther would like to know a final count for your party, please. Oh, um, I’ll be your singing waiter for the day, well one of them…I’ve got the front left table.”

Claire smiled. “It’s nice to meet you.  The count is fifty six, not counting the infants but counting seven younger children and the three teens that are under aged.  The rest of us left our sprogs at home or in school. Also, can you ask if it would be possible for Gunther to store some suitcases? We have a family that is coming straight here from the airport.  We might have more people come in before dessert, but I’m sure that will be fine.”

“Thank you, I’ll ask.” Kurt said.

Kurt headed back to tell Gunther about the count and ask about the bags being stored in back. Gunther went out and talked to the woman himself.  Gunther was greeted with kisses to his cheeks and hugs from probably half the group and Kurt had to smile.  Gunther was often grouchy but Kurt was already forming a soft spot for the man because as grumpy as he was sometimes he was also honest and decent when you did what you were supposed to and did good work.  Kurt worked his other tables and thought about the conversation the women had been having and about New Directions…and Finn and what Gunther had said earlier and their first song request. What would Finn have had to say about things and how they were right now? About how Kurt was living his life?  Rachel? Santana?   What would he have said in a few years?  What would Puck have to say?  Or Mike?  Or Matt?  What would Kurt who had just led the football players to a win have to say about everything? Where was Finn’s playground? At first he thought about the football field, but then Kurt reconsidered.  Yeah, Finn loved football…but his playground was more likely the auditorium or the classroom and the drum set.  What would Finn have to say about the band?  He thinks Finn would have liked Dani, and maybe Elliot and he would have liked to have introduced Finn to Adam…and Finn would have had so much fun with the Apples.  He would have hated how Rachel spoke about them.