This was not a conversation that Kurt was looking forward to, but it needed to be done. It was the final task that he needed to complete before returning to New York, but this was going to be like ripping out an impacted wisdom tooth. There was no way that this wasn’t going to be ugly and bloody and that he was going to have some new scars before this was done.
It really wouldn’t matter, he thought as he pulled into a parking spot at McKinley. All of the arrangements had been made and he was expected at the actors’ retirement home on Monday. His bags were packed and he had a late afternoon flight booked for that very day. No matter how much Rachel might rage and complain, he would be back in New York by dinnertime.
He checked the choir room and found her sorting through their collection of sheet music even though they’d worked out the lesson plan for the week already and had everything settled. That she was trying to reconfigure things on her own without his input was pretty typical of how she was handling their co-leadership roles and made him feel less conflicted about his decision.
“You’re here early,” he said, announcing his presence. “The kids won’t be here for another hour.”
“I know,” Rachel huffed. “I was just going over our lesson plan. I’m thinking that maybe we should use Celine Dion for this instead of Simon and Garfunkel for this lesson.”
Kurt sighed to himself, having somewhat expecting Rachel to pull a stunt like this again. “The whole point of this week’s work is to get them working together with their harmonies,” he reminded her tartly. “Not to figure out a way for you to take over the lessons to show off your vocal technique.”
Rachel looked up at him in shock at being so openly admonished. “That’s not what I’m doing!” she insisted. “I’m just…”
“Going behind my back again and forgetting about the lesson that we’ve worked out,” Kurt stated bluntly. “It’s not like you don’t do this all the time. You do remember that you’re not a member of New Directions anymore, right? We’re supposed to be coaching them and you’re not going to be on stage at Sectionals.”
Rachel looked at him, aghast at his insinuation. “I know that! But we need to get them more confident and without a big showcase number…”
“That was always one of the biggest problems that we had with New Directions,” Kurt observed, interrupting her and not caring about the insulted expression on her face. “There was too much focus on giving one powerhouse voice the spotlight and not actually working as a proper show choir. And let’s be honest… none of the kids really have the voice for Celine Dion. This is about giving you a chance to show off.”
Rachel glared at him sourly. “If all you’re going to do is insult me…”
Kurt let himself smile in the face of her outrage. It didn’t matter all that much in the end. “You know, we are supposed to be working together to teach the group and this isn’t the first time that you’ve ignored my input. We’re co-leaders, but as usual, you’re doing what you want regardless of what I think. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve wondered why I’m even here.”
Rachel huffed again, placing the sheet music she selected on the desk to be used in practice. “We’re supposed to be getting the group ready for Sectionals, and they’re not going to win if we don’t build up their confidence. There’s no one that’s ready to take the lead solo spot.”
Kurt crossed his arms over his chest, seeing exactly what Rachel was thinking. “Not if you’re looking for a soloist like you were,” he granted. “But they can definitely become a proper show choir and not just background singers for a powerhouse voice. That was something Mr. Schuester never managed with us. Or at least, he never tried since you monopolized every solo spot possible.”
She looked up in shock, glaring at him. “That is out of line!” she snapped. “Mr. Schuester…”
“Was a barely adequate teacher and a less adequate show choir coach,” Kurt stated firmly. “Look, I liked him but he had no interest in teaching us better vocal technique, or to be a better, more cohesive choir. He picked his leads and the rest of us were just the backup players. Our success was more about him reliving his glory days and you’re in danger of doing the same now. These kids deserve a lot better.”
Kurt looked down at the music that she had picked out. “Kitty, Roderick and Jane are our best voices, but none of this material works for them,” he insisted. “Instead of trying to find material that will best show what they can do, you’re picking things that you would sing. That’s not serving them well and you know it.”
This wasn’t the first time that they were butting heads about the direction to take the choir in, but Kurt knew that it would be the last. And he couldn’t let it go without making an effort to make Rachel see the error of her ways before she permanently damaged their prospects.
“Rachel, you need to figure out why you’re here,” he said firmly. “Trying to help get New Directions off the ground is a worthy idea, but only if it’s for their benefit. That means putting aside your own ego and taking them into consideration. They’re supposed to be a choir, and not just soloists who have to work together. If you insist on pushing them in that direction, they’re going to lose.”
“Fine,” Rachel snapped, all but throwing the sheet music at him to put away. “Have it your way.”
Kurt sighed, shaking his head. He felt badly about leaving the kids with just Rachel running things. She might resent having a voice of wisdom to hold her back from her worst inclinations, but she very much needed it. This wasn’t the first time that Kurt had to remind Rachel that she wasn’t a member of New Directions anymore and that her focus was to make the best of their talents, not showing off her own.
“Let’s just get through this lesson,” Kurt advised, not wanting to fight with her at the moment. There would be enough time for the fireworks afterwards. He considered that he probably should tell her of his plans before the choir arrived, but decided against it. At least they’d be able to get through the lesson before the inevitable explosion.
* * *
The lesson went well, for once Rachel taking a step back and letting Kurt run things. He suspected that she was pouting as her choice for the lesson material had been vetoed but Kurt thought that he’d made the right call to stick to his guns over this. The kids seemed to have a good time with the material, performing rousing renditions of “Baby Driver” and “Mrs. Robinson”. They had come a long way in figuring out how to layer their voices so that they worked together but allowed each one to be distinct. Jane’s alto worked perfectly with Kitty’s crisper pitch and Madison’s thinner but lovely soprano. Roderick led the boys, and the total package was the perfect balance that a good show choir needed.
“That sounds great,” Kurt praised, letting himself nod in approval. He was going to miss this, but he knew that he was making the right choice. “I think that you guys are going to make a very good showing at Sectionals. You’re really coming together as a team.”
“Before we finish for today, I need to talk to all of you,” Kurt requested. He smiled at the group, suddenly at lot more at peace than he’d been in quite a long time. “I know that I haven’t been the best instructor that I could have for all of you because I was so busy trying to deal with my own personal problems here. For that, I owe you all an apology. You deserved more than I was in a position to offer. You are all very talented and I know that this club is off to a good start. I’m honored to have been a part of that in some small way, and you’ve encouraged me as well. I’m looking forward to seeing you compete at Sectionals because I know that you’ll be amazing.”
The group smiled and clapped, and Kurt knew that they were finally starting to come together as a team. They reminded him so much of the original New Directions, back in that first year when all the possibilities in the world were open to them. So full of optimism and hope for the future and he now could see how much they helped him put his own life into perspective.
“Thanks, but why does that sound like you’re saying goodbye?” Mason asked jokingly. His bright smile suddenly faded when he realized what he’d said. “Wait… you aren’t really saying goodbye. Are you?”
Kurt inhaled deeply and nodded. “Yes, I am. Today is my last day working with you all. I’m very glad to have hand the chance to work with you the past few weeks, but this afternoon I’ll be returning to New York. The longer I stay here… we’ll, let’s just say that I get reminded of why I went to New York in the first place.
“Don’t get me wrong… my time spent in this room are some of my fondest memories,” he insisted at the sound of complaint and upset coming from the students, wanting to make it clear that they were not responsible for his decision. “I really enjoyed meeting all of you and having had a chance to help you become a real show choir, but it’s time for me to move forward. I’m returning to NYADA to finish my own education and hopefully I’ll get to live out some of my own dreams.”
He looked at all of the kids, seeing a little bit of himself in each of them. Roderick, who had to be drawn out of his shell to find his voice. Jane, who had to fight for her opportunities. Kitty, who was so brittle on the surface but had a strong heart underneath. The twins, who were just happy to be included. Spencer, who was just starting to understand that claiming his identity was such an important part of his growth. Even Myron, who was starting to find his own place in a bigger world. Wherever they went after this, Kurt knew that he had a small hand in helping them in their journey.
“Being here reminded me of what I’ve been striving towards and that I need to do it. It’s not fair of me to put my expectations and fears on your shoulders, and I’ve been doing myself a disservice by living vicariously through all of you. It’s time for me to leave the nest once and for all.”
Kurt smiled, knowing that finally he was doing the right things for the right reasons. “You’ll all face your own challenges in the coming months and years, and I know that you’ll face them with all of the courage that the original New Directions team showed. You have a proud legacy to uphold and I know that you are more than capable of doing so. And I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of that with you.”
The students seemed stunned and upset by his announcement, not wanting to lose one of the directors that they had come to depend on. Behind him, Kurt could feel Rachel’s glare burning a hole into his back. He’d have to face the music with her as well.
Once they dismissed the students, Kurt closed the door to give them a bit of privacy. He knew that he couldn’t postpone this confrontation.
“Rachel… let me..,”
She cut him off furiously. “How could you? Right before a competition you tell them that you’re abandoning them to run off to New York? They need you!”
“No, they don’t,” Kurt answered with calm certainty. “They have you and you can be an amazing coach if you let yourself be. You were right… I was here because of my own issues and it’s time to move past that.”
He sat down at the piano and tapped out a few wan notes idly. “I came here for all the wrong reasons, but I’m leaving for the right ones. I have school and my future to focus on. Blaine… I was right when I ended things between us,” he explained with calm certainty. “Coming back here was trying to recapture a past that needs to remain in the past. My future is in New York. It always has been, and I know that better than ever now. Staying here? It’s a trap.”
“So, you’re just going to dump these kids when they need you?” Rachel demanded. “They look up to you, Kurt.”
Kurt shook his head placidly, for once not feeling the need to battle with her. “Weren’t you the one who kept insisting that I was here to assist when you shot down every one of my ideas? Rachel, I can’t stay here. I only planned to be here a short time,” he reminded. “Just for a semester. I have classes of my own to get back to, and there are some shows that are going to hold auditions for replacements in the next few months. I can’t stay in Lima forever. I thought that you, of all people, would understand that.”
“But what about Blaine?” Rachel asked, dangling what she apparently thought was the irresistible carrot in front of him. “You came back to Lima for him. You can’t just be giving up.”
Kurt chuckled ruefully, shaking his head. “Blaine is a big part of the past that needs to stay there. I think that I needed the reminder of just why I broke up with him. We’re not good together, and I always felt like I had to run my life according to what he needed to feel happy regardless of how it affected me. I guess that I panicked at not having that security blanket but seeing him again just reinforced that I made the right call. I need to let things go. Both of us need to find our own ways now and I can’t hold myself completely responsible for anyone’s happiness except my own.”
She shook her head angrily. “I can’t believe that you’re doing this,” she snarled. “You made a commitment and now you’re just running out the door. And the hell with everyone else, so long as you do what you want.”
“Rachel, this isn’t about me leaving,” Kurt stated calmly but firmly. She was so transparent in her outrage, her motivations clear to anyone who looked at her. “This is about me going back to New York and you staying here. Isn’t it?”
“That’s not it at all!” Rachel retorted, her anger now finally being allowed free rein. “This is about you abandoning your responsibilities! You agreed to help coach New Directions and now that you’ve gotten what you wanted, you’re just running away.”
Kurt nearly laughed in the face of Rachel’s outrage. “That’s rather funny. Talking about running away. Because you’ve run away from anything that you thought stood in the way of what you wanted. NYADA, Funny Girl… Finn,” he pointed out sharply. “Nothing was ever enough for you. You never just took a deep breath and could be satisfied with what you accomplished for a single moment. No, it was always hunting out a bigger prize and not caring what bridges you burned behind you. I don’t want to do that. I need to finish my studies and do what I went to New York for.
“And maybe I won’t get a lead role right off the bat,” he granted, recalling Rachel’s nearly meteoric rise and fall. It was a lesson that he was determined to learn from. “Maybe I’ll spend years waiting on tables and going to open call auditions, but that’s what I need to do. I need to start living my life for myself and not for what other people expect of me. And that includes you, Rachel.”
He tried not to smile at her gasp of outrage and for once wasn’t going to let her off the hook. “You ruined your chances, Rachel,” he reminded her bluntly. “You had everything, but you threw it all away because it wasn’t enough. It never would be enough for you. It’s not anyone else’s fault that you’re here in Lima now. And I can’t stay here to hold your hand anymore.”
He looked about the choir room, as if to commit it to memory. Because after that day, he doubted that he would ever set foot in it again. “Sometimes we need to burn our bridges, but do it for the right reasons,” he stated with quiet confidence. He knew that he was making the right decision.
In a way, he did feel sorry for Rachel. Her behavior cost her everything she’d ever hoped for and the chances of regaining them were stacked against her. It might take years for her to overcome the damage she’d done to her professional career… if she ever really could. She was now trapped in Lima, worse than a Lima Loser. Because she had been a winner, until the moment when she decided that being a winner just wasn’t enough for her.
He sighed, having a feeling that this might be the last time they spoke. Rachel didn’t forgive betrayal, and that would be how she saw this.
“Take care of yourself, Rachel,” he said softly. When he stepped out of the room, it felt like a weight was being lifted from his shoulders.
He paused at the principle’s office to bid his old mentor goodbye, finding Sue Sylvester eyeing him like an irritated lion. “What are you still doing here?” she demanded.
“Just saying goodbye,” he assured her, allowing himself to smile. “I’m flying back to New York in a few hours.”
Her harsh features softened slightly at his proclamation. “Good,” she granted. “I was seriously questioning what you were doing here in the first place and thinking that I was going to have to call in a black ops team to extradite you.”
Kurt couldn’t help from chuckling at her response because as outlandish as it sounded, he didn’t question her ability to make it happen. “Not necessary. I’ll be back in New York in a few hours and I don’t plan on coming back here again.”
Sue nodded in approval. “That makes me quite happy,” she assured him. “You outgrew this place a long time ago. I was wondering what brought you back here.”
Kurt mused on that for a brief moment before answering, “Just lost my way for a little bit. But I know where I need to go now. I did want to ask you for a favor,” he explained.
She arched a thin eyebrow in query. “Oh?”
He nodded. “Just… please take it easy on New Directions,” he asked. “I know that Rachel is a pill, but these are good kids. They deserve a chance to succeed. I’m not asking you to help them. Just to stay out of their way and let them succeed or fail on their own.”
Sue leaned back in her seat, her sharp gaze appraising his request. “If this was being asked from anyone else...,” she warned, but Kurt knew that she would do as he asked. Not that she wouldn’t give Rachel a hard time, but at least she would take it easy on the kids. That was all he could ask for.
“Call me when you get back to New York,” Sue requested. “I just want to make sure that you don’t get distracted again.”
Kurt couldn’t help from laughing. “Not a chance of that happening,” he assured her. There would be no more surprise proposals in his future, he vowed to himself. “But I’ll let you know if I have any shows lined up. I’d love to have you there.”
Sue’s blue eyes positively glowed with pleasure at the prospect. “Take care of yourself, Porcelain,” she urged. “I’m expecting a great deal from you. Don’t disappoint me again.”
“I won’t,” he promised, giving a brief wave before walking out of her office and heading out to his car. He had plenty of time to get to the airport in time for his flight. A small, final trip down memory lane wouldn’t hurt, if only to cement home the reasons that he was leaving Lima once and for all.
A last stop at the Lima Bean, and a last unexceptional latte. A chance to look about and see what he was escaping. Sitting at a table where he’d spent hours over the past few years, watching the other patrons as he sipped his drink and thinking about what the next few months would bring. He might be lonely as he readjusted, but that didn’t need to be a permanent situation. So long as he stopped waiting on the group from Lima that only served to disappoint him. Kurt would meet new people and make new friends. He still had his family. His life would go on.
It seemed almost like a comical twist of fate when Blaine walked into the Lima Bean, looking a little frantic as his eyes darted about the café before fixing on Kurt. With a sigh of relief, Blaine hurried over to his table.
“Hey,” he greeted, a little breathlessly. “Rachel just called me.”
Of course she did, Kurt thought as he finished his latte. This would be her trump card; a last ditch effort to keep him in Lima. And perhaps a few days ago using Blaine to try to entice Kurt into sticking around might have worked. Kurt looked up at his former fiancé, seeing the flushed color of his cheeks and suspected that Blaine had all but run from Dalton to catch him.
“She said that you were leaving,” Blaine said a bit accusingly. “You’re going back to New York now?”
Kurt gazed up at his placidly, surprised that the idea of Blaine hurrying to stop him from leaving left him completely numb. He would have thought that he would feel some gratification that Blaine cared enough to try to stop him, but instead, he just didn’t care at all.
“My flight is this afternoon,” he informed his ex-fiance calmly. “And I’m starting my new work/study program on Monday.”
“But why?” Blaine asked, clearly confused. “I thought that you were going to stay and work with the McKinley glee club.”
Kurt shrugged. “I’ve done what I needed to here, but it’s not helping my studies so I spoke with my advisor. She agrees that my other plan will work better.”
“I don’t understand,” Blaine insisted, his eyes taking on that sad, puppy dog expression that he took on when he was trying to manipulate Kurt.
“There’s nothing to understand,” Kurt stated calmly. “I shouldn’t have come to Lima in the first place and I’m correcting that error.”
Blaine looked at him, his brows drawing down in distress. “But I thought…”
“Thought what? That I’d stick around to fight for you?” Kurt asked, guessing at Blaine’s intentions. “Or give up my future because you’re here?”
When Blaine flinched, Kurt knew that he had pegged exactly what Blaine had expected. And maybe a few days ago he might have, but he wasn’t a home wrecker. However odd he might have found Blaine’s and Dave’s relationship, Dave didn’t deserve to have Blaine stepping out on him.
And that’s what would have happened, Kurt realized. Blaine had already proven his inability to remain faithful and Kurt didn’t want to be on the wrong end of a relationship like that. For whatever reason, Dave seemed invested in whatever this thing he had with Blaine and Kurt didn’t want to be the reason for it to fall apart. Kurt wasn’t going to be the other man in this messy scenario.
He stood up and picked up his trash to toss out. “I need to get going so I don’t miss my flight,” he announced blandly, as if this little interaction meant nothing to him. He tossed the empty coffee cup into the garbage can before turning back to his former fiancé.
“You know… for whatever reason, Dave seems to care about you,” he reminded Blaine. “I don’t know if you really feel anything for him but don’t hurt him. He doesn’t deserve it.”
Kurt suspected that at some point, Blaine would hurt Dave. Hopefully by the time it happened, Dave would appreciate just who he was involved with and end things himself. This, however, was no longer Kurt’s responsibility.
“Kurt…” Blaine started again but didn’t say anything more. What else could he say?
Kurt just bid him a casual goodbye, as if he wasn’t walking out of the other man’s life forever and walked to his car. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he turned on the radio and smiled at the song that came one. Maybe the fates were playing around with him or just trying to tell him something, but the message came out loud and clear.
“My eyes are open wide,” Kurt sang along, his fingers tapping on the steering wheel in time with the rhythm. “By the way, I made it through the day. I watch the world outside. By the way, I’m leaving out today.”
He turned the car on the highway, heading towards the airport, his spirit lighter than it had been in some time. For the first time in what seemed like forever, he felt like he was moving towards something rather than trying to recapture a past that was better left behind.
“I just saw Haley’s Comet, she waved. Said ‘Why are you always running in place?’ Even the man in the moon disappeared. Somewhere in the stratosphere.”
Around him the scenery passed by as he moved on. Kurt didn’t know what the future would hold for him, but he knew that he would have to navigate it on his own. There would be schoolwork and auditions, successes and failures but Kurt would have to find the strength to face them.
Time to take off the safety wheels, he told himself.
“Tell my mother, tell my father,” he sang loudly as the music crested around him. “I’ve done the best I can! To make them realize this is my life, I hope they understand. I’m not angry, I’m just saying… Sometimes goodbye is a second chance.”
His second chance awaited him. Kurt let himself smile at the prospect of meeting it.