Kurt’s blue eyes went wide as a frosted cupcake was set upon his high-chair tray, a single candle ablaze on its surface.
When Mommy, Daddy, Uncle Andy, Grandpa Curtis and Grandma Eileen started singing to him, he smiled and clapped both hands hard around the tempting pile of frosting.
Kurt laughed when the sugary topping went flying and a big splatter of white abruptly decorated Daddy’s surprised face.
Everyone else started laughed too, including the startled father, who retaliated by giving his birthday boy a sticky peck on the cheek and then helped him to blow out a new candle.
Kurt looked between his presents, confused.
Mommy had given him the pretty dolly he had begged for at the store. Daddy had given him a truck, not big enough to ride but too big to live with the little cars Daddy gave him at Christmas.
His parents seemed to be mad at each other.
Kurt looked at the doll, then at the truck. He smiled and placed Dolly inside the truck and began to drive her around the carpet.
Mommy and Daddy seemed surprised by his actions, but then they laughed, and Kurt knew he had figured out the puzzle.
His shoes were black and shiny, buckles on the sides and 1-inch heels on the base. He clomped over the hardwood floors, listening to the click-tap-click-tap in delight. They went perfectly with his dove gray coveralls with “Kurt” sewn on the pocket in black sequins. Mommy had made the outfit for him.
Spotting Daddy watching him, Kurt threw himself into waiting arms. Daddy’s smile looked like he had an owie but was trying to be a big boy and not cry.
Kurt hugged him. “It’s okay, Daddy.”
Burt looked surprised but hugged him back. “Yeah, buddy. I think it is.”
Ballet girls were nice. When they heard it was his birthday today, they threw him a party. Kurt puffed up with pleasure when presented with cookies, a sparkly wand and a tiara that read ‘Happy Birthday’ in shiny letters. He was not as fond of the kisses they gave, but four was very grown up, so he screwed up his face and allowed it. The teacher even let him wear the special puffy pink tutu over his little black leotard!
He saw Mommy and Daddy up in the gallery taking pictures, so he waved.
Kurt hoped today would last forever.
“Can I have cupcakes?”
Kurt’s mother looked up from her book. “I don’t think we have any, sweetheart.”
“Can we have some Thursday? My birthday is the last day of preschool.”
“It is?” she said, looking surprised. “Is it your birthday already?”
He nodded seriously. “Don’t you remember, Mommy? You were there.”
She laughed. “Well, you have me there. What kind of cupcakes would you like, sweetie? And don’t say cheesecake. Those are two completely different kinds of dessert.”
Kurt’s hopeful expression fell. “Oh,” he said, clearly disappointed. Then his face brightened again. “Chocolate?”
She nodded. “That we can do.”
Burt sat up just in time to catch the little body that launched at him. “What’s wrong, slugger?”
“It’s my birthday!”
Grinning despite the way his heart was hammering at the abrupt awakening, Burt asked, “Yeah? I like birthdays. Do I get a present?”
“No,” the boy scoffed. “I get presents!”
Burt squinted at the clock. 3:15am. “Not until morning, you don’t.”
Kurt pouted and tried, “It’s almost morning.”
“Not close enough, kid. C’mere,” Burt pulled him into the warm bed between himself and his wife.
Kurt snuggled down and went right back to sleep.
Burt was less lucky.
Kids had started treating him funny this year. He was too fancy, too girly, holding hands was weird.
Nobody was coming.
“I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“Am I too late?”
They jumped as a little black girl with pom-pom hair popped out of nowhere.
“I’m Mercedes,” she greeted. “We just moved here. Mom said you would have invited me if you’d known.”
“I’m Kurt.” He smiled. “Do you like tea parties?”
“Is there cake?”
Mrs. Hummel beamed. “Cake, ice cream, and Kool-Aid.”
Kurt shrugged. “Nobody else came.”
She grabbed his hand like she’d known him forever. “More for us! Happy Birthday, Kurt.”
Kurt took a deep breath, thought for a moment, and carefully blew out the candles. All but the extra one that his parents always put on his cake.
“Aren’t you gonna finish, bud?”
He looked from Daddy over to his mother, home again, but so frail he was sometimes afraid to hug her, worried she might pop like a fragile soap bubble. He offered her the candle. “Here, Mommy. Blow it out. Maybe you’ll get another year to grow on.”
The eyes of the two adults met, then Mommy nodded. The three of them blew out the final candle together.
Barely daring to hope, Kurt came down the stairs. Birthday cakes and presents had been Mommy’s specialty. Daddy had forgotten his own birthday and had nearly forgotten Christmas.
Kurt gasped when he saw it, waiting, shining and spectacular against the front door.
Bright green, sissy bars with foil streamers, and a banana seat. Perfect!
Burt smiled. He had scoffed a such a “girly” bike when Kurt spotted it at the toy store. But now, looking at the all-too-rare joy in his son’s eyes and feeling the approving smile his wife would have given, he nodded. It was perfect.
Buying gifts was tough when your kid always clammed up on you. A dad had to be observant.
Ten years old. A landmark like that needed something special, but the only thing Kurt seemed into was clothes. He had enough of those for ten kids.
He’d probably like a Barbie he could change in and out of different outfits, but Burt cringed at the thought.
He did doodle pretty good though. Sure, it was mostly pictures of clothes, but that was a start.
A fancy sketchpad with a case and a hundred different colored pencils. Yeah, that was the ticket.
“Dad, where are we going?”
Kurt sighed with exaggerated impatience. He had come home from school to find Dad waiting at the truck, ordering him to get in, then not saying another word. The suspense was killing him.
They had pulled up in front of a nondescript brick building. “Columbus Culinary Arts?”
“You like to cook right? Well, we’re gonna fix your birthday dinner this year with the help of a real chef. Lessons are once a week for the next couple months.”
Gourmet cooking lessons!
“Oh wow. Dad, this is amazing!”
Burt grinned. “Happy Birthday, kid.”
Last year’s surprise had gone so well that Burt had decided on a repeat. But when he saw the excitement on Kurt’s face at finding a pair of tickets inside his birthday card turn to disappointment and horror, quickly masked with a fake smile, he knew he’d goofed.
“I know baseball isn’t your thing,” he said, almost pleading. “But you’ve never seen a live game before. It’s a whole different experience. It’s a home game. We can yell and scream, and cheer our team on with thousands of other fans.”
The stiff not-smile never wavered. “Sounds . . . fun.”
Dad had bought out one of the partners at the garage this spring and now owned a majority share of the renamed “Hummel Tires & Lube”. Kurt wanted to snicker at that name, but he was proud too.
His birthday this year coincided with Friday Night Dinner. Dad had invited all the mechanics over for a potluck. They’d had Mary’s special fried chicken, Cassius’s homemade cornbread, and Davy’s mac’n’cheese. Now Dad brought out the cake.
Kurt laughed. A sheet-cake with a tow-truck and two little plastic mechanics for decoration.
“You and me kid. Partners.”
The mechanics cheered and everybody dug in.
Kurt froze when he saw tickets peeping out of his card. Not again. Noise, sunburn, unhealthy food, tacky uniforms, and Dad trying so hard to make a boring sport seem like fun.
He sighed and pasted on a smile, which quickly transformed into shock.
“Wicked?” he squeaked, staring hard at the little papers as if the printing might change if he dared to look away.
“Embassy Theater is giving regional business owners a discount this year,” Burt said apologetically. “It’s just a traveling production, not real Broadway, but I …”
His apology was cut off by a joyful teenaged hug.
“Don’t worry, son, you got this. Just remember everything I taught you. You got a whole year to get ready for the practical test.”
“And it’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. Not everybody does.”
“I’m fine, Dad.”
“I’ll be right here waiting for you when you’re through.”
“I know that, Dad. I’ll be okay, really.”
At that moment, Kurt’s name was called and he sprang from his hard green plastic chair. His dad’s repeated reassurances were making him jumpy.
Twenty minutes later, a brightly grinning Kurt was waving his freshly minted driver’s permit.
Burt patted the giant blue bow the dealership had provided over the hood of the shining black Lincoln Navigator.
Kurt was gonna flip! He’d passed his DMV test with flying colors and was no doubt showing off his shiny new license to all his friends at school.
He paused. Did Kurt have any friends to share this accomplishment with? He always seemed so alone.
Maybe that’s why he had decided to spoil his son with a huge birthday gift.
It wasn’t right for such a good kid to be all alone. Maybe having his own ride would help change that.
A dozen teens gathered in Kurt’s basement to celebrate the end-of-school, non-disbanding of Glee, and Kurt’s birthday, all in one.
“Not like ten years ago,” Mercedes said to Kurt, as they watched Mike and Brittany dance.
“Your seventh? It was just you, me, your mom, and lots of chocolate cake.”
Kurt was astounded. “That was you?”
“I remember a little girl who showed up and invited herself to my party.”
“And I remember a little boy who needed a friend as much as I did.”
He squeezed her hand. “Thanks for coming.”
She squeezed back. “Always.”
Kurt stared at his birthday cake, unable to think of anything to wish for.
He was 18-years-old today, a legal adult. He had new family in Carole and Finn, his dad was on the mend, he would be back at McKinley for senior year, he had made his first visit to New York City, and he had a boyfriend! One who had just told Kurt that he loved him for the very first time.
‘I wish for next year to be as good as this,” he thought, taking a deep breath and blowing.
The flames flickered out, all except one.
Senior year had been a disaster, and now he had not gotten into NYADA, despite his well-praised audition.
“Blaine wants me to spend another year here,” he whispered. “I just can’t.”
Burt’s callused hand squeezed his neck. “Then don’t. You’re 19 now, a man. You got talents galore, work experience from the garage, enough drive for ten kids, and your mom’s life insurance money to give you a start.”
“No buts,” Burt said firmly. “You go on to New York and grab life by the balls.”
Kurt felt his optimism rise. “Help me look for apartments?”
“You got it.”
What a difference a year made.
He’d dumped Blaine after being cheated on less than a month after leaving Lima. He was enrolled at FIT and sharing a shoebox apartment with a fellow design student and a Broadway hopeful, but both were young gay men from small towns, and they had a lot in common.
“Happy Birthday!” Elliott shouted, tossing a handful of glittery sequins at him.
Adam came in playing the birthday song on a kazoo he had gotten from who-knows-where. “Ready for Callbacks? $20 on who gets the first hot guy’s number!”
“I already have yours. I win!”
“I have the honor of presenting your first official grown-up drink,” Adam said, smiling lovingly at his grinning boyfriend of nearly a year. He set down a martini glass with a cherry floating on top. “A Manhattan seemed appropriate.”
Kurt beamed and gave him a kiss, then took an experimental sip. “I’ve had alcohol before,” he admitted. “Mostly wine, though. Mm, this is good!”
“I thought you’d like it. Happy Birthday, my love. May the future bring every good thing you wish for, and never more heartache than you can handle.”
Kurt could not have asked for a better sentiment.