Prompt: 125. Kurt didn’t get the sensible heels for his third birthday.
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Kurt Hummel (age 2-3), Burt Hummel/Kurt’s mother (Karen), and Aunt Mildred.
Warnings: Bambi’s mother dies. Also, cancer and homophobia.
Disclaimer: Glee belongs to its respective owners and creators, not me.
Summary: Thanks to an off-hand comment from his mother, there’s only one thing Kurt wants for his birthday.
Karen Hummel was distracted, to say the least, when Kurt toddled into the room. Now that the matter of her earrings had been settled, after nearly an hour of holding different pairs to her ears and shaking her head, all that was left to decide on was which pair of shoes she would wear. This was absolutely, by no means, a small task. The Hummels were a fairly young couple who had crossed the five year anniversary mark but not quite hit the tenth, and yet somehow, Karen had managed to accumulate far too many different pairs of shoes in that small time span. Burt did not dare question it, and suspected he didn’t really want to know anyway, but Kurt had always taken particular interest.
The bed was a little difficult to crawl up on, but Kurt managed to pull himself up. He stayed where he was for a second, with his face pressed into the comforter. It smelled like the rest of the room, like his mother, whose perfume always smelled like her garden outside. From there, he made his way stealthily over to the nearest edge of the bed to his mother, who was standing a couple of feet from her cheval mirror, so that she could see her feet reflected. There was something about the shoes that just was not right. She pouted about it at first as she slipped them off, but then smiled into the mirror when she saw the little boy behind her.
"Hi Kurt," she said. When she turned, the skirt of her dress followed slowly behind. "Are you here to help Mommy pick her shoes? I can’t really go to dinner without them, you know." Her laughter was awkward, but soft.
That wasn’t really why he was in the room, and both of them knew it, but Kurt smiled and nodded. "Uh-huh!"
Karen had heard all kinds of terrible things about the “terrible twos”, and had, of course, worried about the potential tantrums and screaming and declarations of wanting everything he could possibly receive. Kurt had been surprisingly good though, or at least better than expected. He was a clingy sort of child, who liked to follow his parents around quite a bit and poke his nose into their business. He was curious, and the two traits combined gave him a fondness for "helping", as his mother put it. This was not the way Burt put it though, especially when Kurt "helped" him with the newspaper in the morning by "helping" it onto the floor after "helping" tearing it open. He could not really say it upset him as a mechanic though, to see that his son already was taking an interest in taking things apart. Eventually he would get the putting them back together part down.
"It’s a sign he’s going to take after his old man some day," he would say, with just a hint of pride.
With a smile, Kurt’s mother held up two shoes, from two different pairs. One was flat like a sandal, and had latches and things that looked fun to play with, so he took that one for himself so he could try and undo all the ties and put his hand into it like it was a fancy glove.
"I guess these are mine then," she said, fairly satisfied with her son’s choice. She was a little less satisfied when she had to pull the other shoe out of Kurt’s mouth, but to his credit the shoe did have really difficult latches.
The shoe Kurt had not chosen came from a pair of heels. They were plain, and black, but they were still a favorite pair. It was difficult to go wrong with a pair of good heels anyway, in Karen’s opinion. Kurt, meanwhile, was fascinated that his mother had just grown a couple of inches. She turned around in a circle, looking in the mirror at her final ensemble. She placed her hands on her hips, feeling a little overly confident in her new look.
"That should do it!" she said. "Everyone should have a pair of sensible heels, Kurt. They work with so many looks."
She went on, but Kurt latched onto that sentence and didn’t really pay attention to the rest. He didn’t really know what "sensible" meant, but it sounded like it was a good thing. His mother thought it was a good thing, anyway. He looked down at her feet, at her beautiful black shoes.
They were really nice shoes.
"I want them too!" he said, suddenly. "I want sensible heels!" His tongue didn’t really have a good hold of the word sensible yet, so it came out sort of funny, but he had a look of determination that was too adorable to miss.
Karen paused, and looked at Kurt. She realized then that she had made an error, in forgetting she was talking to a little boy when she said "everyone" should have a pair. She was quick though, and gave him a reassuring hair-ruffle.
"Maybe for your birthday, Sweetie," she said, as though he had just asked for a toy he had seen on a commercial. Besides, his birthday was months away. Surely he would forget about it by then, right?
"I want sensible heels."
The breakfast table went silent at that precocious statement. Kurt’s parents glanced at each other, and then back at their son, who was returning their stare.
"Come again?" Burt asked, hoping that he hadn’t heard his son correctly. Maybe he had said "I want a sensible football" or something else more reasonable than heels.
But no, Kurt said it again. "Sensible heels," he said. "Everyone should have a pair." He looked smugly at his mother, because she would understand and agree and get him his own pair just like hers.
Burt was giving her a look too, but it was far from smug. Karen, meanwhile, had turned beet red, realizing her son had an impeccable memory.
"Uh. Hold on a sec, Kurt," he said, standing up and pushing in his chair. "Your mother and I need to go talk." That didn’t seem to be enough, so he pointed at Kurt and told him to drink his juice, before awkwardly escorting his wife to the living room.
"...Sensible heels?" he said under his breath the second they were out of Kurt’s sight. "We are not getting our son girl’s shoes! Why would he even want them anyway?"
"I’m sorry; this is my fault" she confessed, sighing into her hand. "He heard me saying that and I guess the idea just sort of...stuck."
"Yeah. Great," he said, sinking into a chair. "What the hell are we going to do about it? He’s a little boy, not a girl, or some cross-dressing que-"
"Well, he’s not!"
Things went quiet for a minute, before Karen sighed, and made her way behind the chair. She had always been small enough to do so, and when her husband was sitting there with something on his mind, she would stand on tip-toe to lean over the top and rub his shoulders, and whisper to him. This time was no different, except that her grip was not as strong.
"Burt...he’s only turning three," she said. "That’s too young for either of us to know anything like that about him." Scratching his head a little, she added, "I know you’re a big softy anyway."
"I am not."
"Are too!" she laughed, and draped her arms over his shoulders in an embrace of sorts. "I know you too well. And I know there is nothing in the world that could make you stop loving our little boy. No matter what."
There was no response. Burt lifted his head and peered at the kitchen doorway, where he knew his son was sitting, drinking his apple juice, and probably wondering what was so bad about sensible heels. Of course, there were many, many things wrong with it, from his manly, fatherly perspective, but his wife did have a point. Burt sighed, in defeat.
"...Do you think he’s, you know?"
"...Really, Burt. It’s too soon." She laughed, "I’ll let you know in a few years if he comes home from school telling me the other boys have cooties."
"Come on, Karen; that’s not funny."
"Sure it is! The guys at the shop will think it’s adorable."
He turned and gave his wife a deadpan look, because no, no they would not. She just chuckled, and came out from behind the chair to kiss him on the forehead.
"I’m just teasing, dear," she said. "Don’t worry. I started this whole mess about sensible heels, and I’ll find the most sensible way to fix it. I can tell you don’t want to go near it with a ten foot pole anyway."
She was absolutely right too, and it was written all over Burt’s face. After just one more loving kiss to the cheek, she turned to go rejoin Kurt at the breakfast table. She only took one step though, before turning around again.
"Oh, and you might want to hide your gifts a bit better," she said. "That NERF football really clashes against all my hatboxes up in the closet, and if I can see it clearly there, I’m sure our toddler will find it in no time."
Burt started, as though he was going to protest against her sassy remark, but he remembered that he really had hidden his football there, and that it was sort of in plain sight, wasn’t it? And it was pretty distinctly football shaped as well, and unwrapped. Damn it.
"You using all of those boxes, Karen?"
"There’s an empty one at the top that will fit it."
"You’re welcome. I love you, dear," she said. She couldn’t help it; the giggles took over as she headed back to the kitchen. Her husband’s heavy footfalls could be heard as he went upstairs, and when he returned to the table he had nothing to say about either footballs or sensible shoes. He just wanted to eat his bacon and eggs in peace, and she thought it was adorable.
"Hello? Is this Jeanne’s Dance Studio? This is Karen Hummel, and I had a question, if you don’t mind?"
She idly flipped through their copy of the yellow pages as she waited for a response from who she assumed was Jeanne.
"I was wondering how young your tap classes run?"
Karen frowned at the answer she received. It was the same answer she had been given by the last two studios she had called.
"Oh...well, I’m not planning to enroll him just yet," she tried to explain. "I just want to get him the shoes. It’s kind of complicated, but I wanted to know if you had tap shoes for little boys. Do you?"
It was the perfect plan. Tap shoes had a little bit of a heel, and they did not look overly feminine, so there was no reason they would upset Burt, aside from the possibility of Kurt ruining their floors with them. She would just pitch them as very sensible and she wouldn’t have to tell Kurt he couldn’t have his shoes.
"...He’s almost three. In a couple of weeks he’ll be three."
Again, the same answers the last two studios had given her – toddlers were not often coordinated enough to be able to perform the complicated steps of tap dancing.
"That’s really, really not the point," she insisted. "Does any-"
She pulled the phone away mid-sentence and coughed into her elbow. There had been a cold going around in the neighborhood recently, but she insisted she was not feeling bad enough to stay in bed. Burt did not approve, but there was no stopping her when she had something she needed to do.
"I’m sorry about that. Now, does anyone make tap shoes for toddlers? ...No, really, I just need the shoes."
It seemed like she would have to move on to another studio at first, but then Jeanne gave her some good news.
"Really? That’s great!" Beaming, she began to jot down the address of a store that would be able to help her, but her pen slowed as she listened. "Oh...no smaller than that? He’s only a size eight right now."
"I suppose you’re right," she chuckled at the response. "If he wants sensible heels that badly, he’s just going to have to grow into them. ...Huh? Wait, no, it’s not a prank-"
It was too late. The line had gone silent.
Karen had meant to buy the shoes that week. There were only two weeks until Kurt’s birthday, and it was killing her to put off shopping for her son. She had been more prepared the year before, but it had been so much simpler. There had been no questions of "Where do I buy sensible heels for my three-year-old boy?" that year. Kurt had been happy enough with the piano play mat she gave him, though as parents the sound of him rolling around on it quickly became grating.
She had meant to go though, but her cold had worsened considerably. Even when she was not confined to bed, she felt a malaise, of sorts. Even her husband could see that she was not up to her usual high spirits, no matter how she tried to act like it. Around the tenth day, Burt was by her side, on the edge of the bed. There was nothing new to report, once again, but instead of heading downstairs to make another breakfast for her to not touch, he wrung his hands together and remained there.
"Karen...we’ve really got to get you to a hospital," he said, as firmly as he could muster. "You’re not getting any better."
"I saw our doctor," she whined. It was a quiet and weak whine though, and thus not effective.
"You saw him almost a week ago," he said. "We all did. But me and Kurt are fine now, and you’re still in bed. Something else is wrong."
Karen pulled her knees up to her chest. That was what her body had been telling her, but she was still apprehensive. Burt was looking at her, and she did not have to return his gaze to know it. She could feel that hard, forceful stare, and knew he could see how thin she had become in just ten days.
"It’s almost Kurt’s birthday, you know. He’s starting to get really excited about it," she said softly. "It’s nice."
It was nice, but not nice enough to change the subject completely. "Yeah," Burt said. "It’ll be nicer if you’re well for it."
"I haven’t gotten his present yet." She rested her head on her knees and focused her attention on the blanket.
"What are you getting him?" he asked, rising to the task. "I can run and get it, if it’s bugging you that much."
She shook her head, without bothering to lift it. "No, it’s okay. I’ll get it."
"You’re sure as hell not going out like this."
"Well, obviously. I need to comb my hair."
Burt was not amused. Neither was Karen, but she smiled at her husband.
"I’m kidding. Really."
Karen straightened herself, and Burt took this opportunity to put the back of his hand on her forehead. He would get a thermometer later. His hand was cool though, and it felt nice. She shut her eyes, and the relief of his touch threatened to pull her into slumber.
"So what are you getting him?"
She smiled. “It’s a surprise. You’ll see.”
"Come on, you can tell me. What is it?" His hand moved slowly from her face to her hair, where he slowly brushed the strands out of her face. His face was hardened though, and worried.
"You’re just going have to wait," she said, with a chuckle. "Kurt will like it though. I know he will."
Burt raised an eyebrow, but did not press it further. Instead, he took his hand away.
"Are you hungry?"
No. She really wasn’t.
"You’ve got to eat something." He sighed. "How about some toast?"
"Okay." She was quiet. Her stomach was objecting, not out of nausea, but disinterest.
Burt nodded, and turned to leave. Before he reached the door though, he looked back at his wife and pointed at her.
"If you’re not any better tomorrow, I am picking you up, putting you in the truck, and driving your ass to the hospital. You hear?"
Karen nodded. It was sort of sweet, coming from Burt.
One of Kurt’s earliest memories was of his third birthday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly happy memory.
His Aunt Mildred’s house smelled just like she did – like sharp liquor. It made Kurt’s eyes water every time he visited, at least until he got used to it. She lived alone in a house that was too big for her, which she had acquired through inheritance. The house was quiet in a spooky way. It was always weirder when she spoke though, because half the time she would talk to the walls, or the plants, or anything else that would listen to her. She was his father’s sister, older by ten years. He generally considered her unreliable, and had been mentally shoved into the “holidays and emergencies only” category of family ties.
Kurt’s mother had been in the hospital for nearly a week at that point, while they tried to figure out what exactly was wrong. No one was telling Kurt anything though, since he was so young. He had simply been left in his Aunt Mildred’s care while his father was at the hospital with his mother. His father would come and check on Kurt periodically though, just to make sure Aunt Mildred hadn’t let him into her brandy, or that he hadn’t fallen down the stairs while she was too wasted to pay attention. Kurt was too young to notice these details though. He remembered her as kind of old, and kind of smelly, and kind of weird. She was also kind of interesting though, and she had plenty of stories about his dad when he was a kid, and her glory days of entering pageants. His father said they were all lies, but Kurt wasn’t sure if that was because they really were, or because he didn’t want to talk about them.
It was not until about three in the afternoon that Aunt Mildred found out it was Kurt’s birthday, and only because he brought it up to her. When he whined about it, she ruffled his hair. Kurt hadn’t decided if he liked that gesture yet or not.
"I’m sorry I forgot, kiddo," she said. She seemed genuine too, as though her birthday had been forgotten before. "Let’s throw you a little something here! Yes, that sounds like a marvelous idea, doesn’t it? A little boy shouldn’t be so full of ennui on his birthday."
Kurt wasn’t sure what ennui meant, but he didn’t have an opportunity to ask. "Yes, we’ll have a party here!" She said. Then she turned to Kurt and asked, "So, what did you want for your birthday?"
Without missing a beat, Kurt said, "A pair of sensible heels."
He would grow up to find out that if Aunt Mildred was giving you a strange look, you had probably said something really weird.
"I’m sorry, Sweetie," she said. "I don’t think I’ve got any that fit you."
Aunt Mildred was not expecting this answer to make Kurt cry. It had been such a rotten week though that the tears just started to slide down his face, and his face scrunched up. His parents had left him at his smelly Aunt Mildred’s house forever, and everyone had forgotten his birthday, and now he wasn’t even going to get the only thing he had wanted. Aunt Mildred panicked.
"Uh. Err...It’s okay, dea-" Except no, Kurt informed her that it absolutely was not okay, through a loud wail.
"...Wait! I know just the thing!" she exclaimed very suddenly and dramatically, enough so for Kurt to slow his crying down out of confusion. She deserted him for a second though, which didn’t help at all. When she returned, she was holding something very shiny in her hands. It came to points at the top, and it was covered in gems. Kurt rubbed at his eyes.
"It’s a tiara. I won it at Little Miss Ohio 19...70?" The year was escaping her, so she gave up on it. "Anyway, I won it when I was a little girl, and I want you to have it. It’s too small for me now."
She beckoned him over, but when he put out his hands to touch it, she gently guided them back down, before putting the tiara on his head. It was a little loose, but that was to be expected. Kurt was fascinated, and tried to look up at it while it was sitting on his head, with no success. He felt around until his hands finally grasped cool metal and gems. It was the most amazing thing he had ever seen or worn.
Aunt Mildred crouched down to his level. "And you know what else?" She said, "It’s magic."
No way. It was magic too? Kurt’s eyes were wide, and he looked at her, expecting her to continue on about this magic stuff.
"Really. It has the power to..." She hesitated for a second, since she had not completely thought this plan through. "Uh. It has the power to make you fierce!"
She stood up and put her hands on her hips for emphasis, and put on her best fierce face, with her nose slightly upturned. "So fierce that everyone else just wishes they could be that fierce. It’s like you can do anything!"
Kurt nodded along, but he wasn’t sure he completely understood. He imitated her, by putting his hands on his hips and pointing his own nose up like she was. In his tiara, he was the fiercest three-year-old anyone had ever seen.
"Fierce!" he shouted, as though this turned on the tiara powers somehow. That’s how it worked in cartoons, right? Aunt Mildred applauded.
To her credit, she tried to throw something of a party together, but it did not come out as planned. Kurt learned that day that matches do not make good replacements for candles, and that they should not be shoved into Hostess cupcakes and lit on fire. They had to settle for ice cream in the end. Coffee ice cream. At least it had whipped cream.
Unfortunately, Aunt Mildred did not have a whole lot of fun things to do at her house. She had movies though, so they sat on the couch with their ice cream, and spent most of the day in front of the television. All in all, it could have been a worse day.
When his father showed up, he was greeted with the wonderful sight of his son in a tiara, crying into what was essentially ice cream soup, watching Bambi for the first time.
"Ba-a-ambi!" Kurt looked up at his dad with teary eyes. "H-His mommy!" He wasn’t really sure what had happened, exactly, but all of the music had stopped and his mother couldn’t be with him anymore and it was way too sad!
His father was not moved. He was busy glaring at Aunt Mildred. She shrugged in reply, taking a sip of her wine.
"Where’re we going?"
"As far away from your Aunt Mildred as possible," Burt grumbled into the steering wheel of his truck.
"Because she’s a drunk who lit the kitchen on fire and dressed you up like a girl," he said. He was usually frank with Kurt when they were alone, since he was still young enough to not fully understand the situation anyway.
"...I was fierce." Kurt tried to make his fierce powers work without the tiara, but his father would not look.
"No one is going to be fierce in this car, you understand?" He was firm and forceful, and Kurt took his hands off his hips without a word.
After an awkward moment, Burt elaborated. "We’re going to go see your mom. She’s been missing you a lot."
"Is she all better?"
"Not yet," he said, after a minute or two. "But she will be. She’s gonna get all better, and then she’ll come back home like normal, all right? ...Stop making that face!"
"I’m not making a face!"
"You are too; you’re doing that pouty thing." His father couldn’t really look, because he had to keep his eyes on the road, but Kurt was, in fact, doing that pouty thing.
They had reached the hospital at this point, and Burt pulled into the parking lot. Instead of hurrying Kurt inside, he parked the car and turned to him.
"Hey. ...Hey!" He nudged Kurt’s shoulder a little. "I’m your dad, and I love you. I’m not going to lie to you. She’s going to be fine. And she’s definitely not going to want to see you all pouty like that. It’s your birthday, so cheer up!"
Kurt sniffed and tried to look a little happier. It wasn’t working.
He sighed, and then blindly rummaged in the space behind him for his gift to Kurt. It was awkwardly wrapped and very obviously football-shaped. When Kurt opened it, he was fascinated by the bright neon colors for a second or two, but then he decided squishing it was more fun than what it was actually meant for. By the time the tip had become a chew toy, Burt knew it hadn’t been the hit he thought it might have been. He knew Karen would have had something perfect. He refused to acknowledge the contribution of Aunt Mildred.
"Look, we’re going to do this right once this mess with your mom is settled,” he said. “She’s got something in mind for you, and you’ll get it when she’s better."
"I will?" Kurt’s face lit up. "...Is it sensib-"
"Don’t even ask," Burt interrupted, for a myriad of reasons. "I don’t know what it is, but she doesn’t have it yet, so don’t bug her about it. She feels bad enough she’s in the hospital on your birthday without you making a fuss over that."
He was sure he would have to tell Kurt off later, since kids tend to have a short attention span for things like that. Kurt seemed to understand though, at least to some extent. At the very least, he did not protest immediately, which was good enough for the time being.
Burt wasn’t a mind reader though, and all of this talk about sensible shoes and fierceness and the possibility of Kurt being queer as a three dollar bill made it apparent that Burt didn’t really know his son as well as he thought he did. He had a false impression of his son that he had maintained for three whole years. He imagined his son would be a jock, like his old man had been. After high school he might go to college, because that’s what kids did nowadays, but he would return and happily work at the garage afterward. He would get married one day, and have kids of his own. Burt would eventually retire, and Kurt would continue the business, giving it to his own son, and so on for many generations of Hummels. Burt would never force any of this on Kurt directly, of course, but he had been rather wrapped up in the American dream.
Karen had seen beyond that though. Burt had jokingly blamed her for that damn piano mat, and the following assault on their ears, but it had been the hit gift that year. Kurt had loved it more than anything else. All this time, Burt thought he had known his son so well, but Karen was the one who really understood Kurt. What the hell would he do if she...?
He would do nothing, because she would be fine. It made him uneasy to think otherwise, so he pulled it all inward and got out of the truck. Now was not the time to be thinking about things like that. That would be reserved for later that night, when he was laying alone for the first time in the bed he and Karen shared. He would not even be doing that if Karen had not insisted that he stop trying to sleep at the hospital.
"Come on," he said, more softly. "Your mom’s waiting for us."
Burt lifted his son out of the car and set him down on the pavement. While he was locking the door, Kurt tugged on his father’s pants continuously and calling for him, demanding his attention. When Burt finally looked, he was ready to snap at him, but he stopped abruptly. Kurt had his arms up, and was grabbing at the air with his fingers. This had come to be a classic Kurt gesture that meant "Please Daddy, pick me up. I’m going to look at you adorably until you do".
Burt could almost hear his wife. An echo of her words remained in his head, even after weeks had passed. I know there is nothing in the world that could make you stop loving our little boy. No matter what.
"...Only ‘cause it’s you, all right?" he said, putting his tough guy act on again as he lifted Kurt onto his shoulders. "If it was some other kid, they’d still be down there wishing they had a view this good."
Kurt laughed, wrapping his arms around his father’s baseball hat and snuggling his face into the back of his head.
"Hey, I’m not a racecar, you know!"
"I said I’m not!"
But he ran faster anyway. They played in the parking lot for just a couple of minutes, even if Burt was tired, and cranky, and frustrated with his wife’s health. Things would be much more somber in the hospital room, where Kurt wouldn’t be able to run around like a little boy, and his mother would be far quieter than she ever should be. She would laugh quietly while Kurt told her all about Aunt Mildred and Bambi and tiaras, and she would ruffle his hair. She would close her eyes sometimes, and Kurt would have to retell parts, but both of his parents insisted she would be okay. The doctors would talk above his head, but they never looked very happy about the news. And then his father would bring him home, to their quiet house, and the cycle would repeat itself.
His mother came home, eventually, but she wasn’t really any better. She remained in various degrees of sickness for the next few years, before things turned grave. Between treatments and hospital visits, they never got a chance to really revisit his third birthday, aside from a rushed trip to the bakery on their way home, on the day his mother was first discharged. Kurt was bouncing from cake to cake in the display case, and his parents followed more quietly, still somber from the news they had received.
"Kurt. Kurt, dear," his mother called him over. "How about this cake?"
She was pointing at a white cake with pink trim, a cake very clearly designed for a little girl who wanted to grow up quickly and do big girl things. Drawn onto the cake in frosting were various dress-up items, like a tiara, and a tacky purse, and large high heeled shoes.
"How about it, Kurt? It says it’s chocolate inside, and they look very sensible. What do you say?"
Burt didn’t have the energy to argue. He was looking at other cakes, pretending not to listen, while remaining as close to his wife as possible without clinging.
Kurt nodded enthusiastically. The gravity of the situation was well over his head, and he didn’t understand why his dad was so quiet that day. But the cake looked good, and it had those heels, so he was happy enough, for the moment.
It was the closest he would ever come to owning a pair of sensible heels anyway.