One post it note toward the middle of the notebook was covered in a giant frowny face. Frowning back at it, Kurt peeled it off of the page and turned it over.
Today was a bad day, a scribbled message on the back read. Depression is awful. I wish you were here, but I don't know what I'd say or do if you were.
Rachel Berry, as it turned out, was among the most obnoxious, goal-oriented, tunnel-visioned people that Kurt had ever met. Which meant that, at least for fundraising purposes, she was perfect.
Within an hour of Kurt's arrival that afternoon, Rachel made several phone calls—consisting almost entirely of fast-paced shouting on her end—before turning to Kurt and announcing with a winning smile that she had spoken with her Glee club, and had arranged both a bake sale and a public concert to help support the Save Our Lion Fundraising Campaign.
"Noah is an excellent baker," she assured Kurt, beaming. "I don't know what his secret ingredient is, but his special cupcakes netted several hundreds of dollars in profits at our last fundraising bake sale, with several of our customers coming back for fifth helpings."
Tactfully deciding not to enlighten Rachel about the usual 'secret ingredient' in 'special' baked anything, Kurt smiled back. "And the concert?" he asked, impressed by the speed at which she had managed to get everything started.
Rachel's grin faltered. "Those are somewhat less successful," she admitted unhappily. "Oftentimes, most of the money we raise at those is from people paying us to go away."
She bristled. "Obviously, the people in this town simply aren't ready to embrace such a breathtaking display of talent," she added. "Until then, I consider it excellent practice for the future, when I may have to occasionally adapt my performances in the face of an unresponsive audience. Still, every dollar helps."
Kurt couldn't disagree with that.
Rachel proved to be even more resourceful over the following weeks. While Kurt contacted Carmel's Student Council (who agreed immediately to solicit local businesses for donations and/or items to auction off on eBay or to give away to extra-generous donors) and Environmental Club (who traded their assistance contacting newspapers and animal rights groups in exchange for Kurt's solemn oath to replace the lightbulbs in Carmel's auditorium with the energy-efficient variety), Rachel worked on her Two Gay Dads until they agreed to use their famous ACLU connections to help. Eleven days after Kurt first had his meeting with Desra, Dylan, and Mr. Patrickson, a letter of support and a $250 check arrived from the regional chapter of the ACLU, accompanied by a handwritten note detailing several other organizations that the Berry's might successfully petition for the same.
The New Directions, as Rachel had predicted, had much more success with their bake sale than with their concert. They weren't the only ones to make a similar effort, however: using the contact information that Blaine's friend Wes had given him, Kurt had gotten in touch with the newest Head of the Warbler Council, and had petitioned for their help as well. Wes had solemnly sworn his assistance and secrecy—"If Warbler Blaine asks, of course, we won't deny our participation, but The Council has agreed to respect your wishes and keep your involvement under wraps for the time being. Even if we don't understand why you'd want to deny your valuable contribution."—and the Dalton Academy Warblers performed their own vocal fundraisers in Westerville's two shopping malls during the second week of July, enchanting listeners with their matching summer-weight uniforms and prep school charm.
And after an appeal to Shelby, who subsequently mentioned in a Vocal Adrenaline-wide email that anyone who participated in an informal concert at the zoo itself would receive ten hours of community service credit from the music department, nearly the entire championship-winning team showed up to lend their support to the cause, including a handful of the newly-graduated seniors. At the front of the group was Jesse, with the largest donation of the day: a $1,000 check from the St. James family.
"Angela loves lions," he explained casually to an incredulous Kurt as he handed over the slip of paper. "And my parents recently discovered that my brother's been using the rent money that they've been sending him to fund his burgeoning marijuana distribution business, so they had some extra cash on hand to give away this month."
An hour after the successful concert ended—and the rest of the team had either gone home or to visit the aquatic exhibits—Kurt took a second look at the check.
It was filled out in Jesse's handwriting.
"How are things going between you and that Blaine kid?" Kurt's dad asked him over the business section of the paper one morning. "You guys doing better yet, or are we still awkwardly avoiding the subject?"
Kurt, who had been staring at his granola parfait in the vain hope that it would transport itself magically into his stomach, grimaced at the question. "Things are better," he admitted, poking the concoction with a spoon. "Mostly. We're trying to work out all of our issues, and…"
He paused, sighing. "I think it's working," he concluded. "I want it to be working, and I'm pretty sure he does too, but…it's complicated, I guess. Sometimes wanting something isn't quite enough."
Burt snorted. "Kid, your existence is complicated. If you want something, you go after it as hard as you can and hope like hell that it works out, end of story. Don't make excuses in order to avoid putting in the effort."
Kurt couldn't stop himself from smiling at his dad's passion on the subject, especially compared with his and Blaine's inauspicious first meeting. "I won't, Dad," he assured Burt. "I promise."
Burt grunted. "Good," he replied. Picking up his empty plate and coffee mug, he got up from the table and deposited the dishes into the sink. He nodded at Kurt's bowl. "Promise you'll eat that, too. You've got too much going on right now, even without skipping meals. Work, rehearsal, this crazy zoo project…"
"Don't forget voice lessons," Kurt added gloomily, resting his head on the table. "I have my first one tomorrow."
His dad ruffled his hair. "Quit worrying, Buddy," he told Kurt for the dozenth time. "You're going to knock his socks off, and we both know it. And if you don't, I'll buy him a hearing aid."
Kurt smiled weakly as Burt left the room. Sighing audibly, and wanting nothing more than to go back to bed, he picked up his spoon.
Three weeks into the fundraiser, Kurt, Rachel, and their small group of conscripted helpers were doing far better than anyone could have possibly predicted. Donations had hit $6,537 before they began tapering off, but a full color spread in The Lima Gazette—the Environmental Club had come through, and Kurt spent two days screwing in lightbulbs—had spread the word and stirred up additional interest from people who hadn't heard about their efforts, and a fresh spate of contributions had come pouring in. Although raising the necessary funding by August 20th (the tentative date that Mr. Patrickson had eventually given him) certainly wasn't guaranteed, Kurt was feeling better about their chances of success than ever.
There was still one phone call that he needed to make, however.
Though he and Blaine had talked over the phone a handful of times since Kurt had begun organizing the fundraiser—most recently on Blaine's birthday, two days before—Kurt had avoided mentioning anything about Rafiki's potential fate to him, not wanting to upset Blaine while he was so far away and unable to do anything about it. With the deadline beginning to creep closer, however, Kurt's unease over his self-enforced silence grew until finally, with extreme trepidation, he locked himself into his room one afternoon and dialed Blaine's number.
Blaine, who was at the grocery store with his Grandma, sounded happily surprised to hear from him. "I was going to call you tonight, to thank you for my birthday present," he told Kurt, talking louder than usual in order to be heard over the crowds in the shop. "It's too hot to wear it now, but I had it on at the house, since we had the air conditioning running—it's gorgeous, Kurt."
Strapped for time, Kurt had sent him a beautifully crafted jacket that he'd found while bargain hunting online, with the promise to tailor it to Blaine's precise measurements once he was back in Ohio.
The card that he had started to draw for him remained unfinished.
"I'm sorry it got there late," Kurt apologized. "I wasn't sure how long it would take to get over the border through the mail, and I must have underestimated the travel time by a couple of days."
Kurt could hear the smile in Blaine's voice as he assured Kurt that it didn't matter in the slightest. "I love it, and it fits really well even without any adjustments," he added. "Oh—hang on a second, Kurt."
Kurt curled up in his desk chair, drained beyond all belief, while Blaine plucked items from the top shelves for his Grandma, and then hefted a large bag of cat food into their cart. He sounds so happy right now, he mused sadly. And I don't want to be the one to ruin it.
"Sorry," Blaine breathed into the phone after a minute. "This is probably the only time I ever get to be the tall one, so I tend to savor it." He paused. "Is everything all right?" he wanted to know. "Not that I don't—it's just that you're usually so busy during the day, so I wasn't expecting to hear from you."
Kurt wanted to lie, more than anything.
"Actually…there's something that I think you should know," he said instead. "It's about Rafiki."
Blaine was quiet while Kurt told him the whole story—his own involvement excluded. "There's a fundraiser going on to try and collect the money that the zoo would need to keep him for another year or so, but obviously nothing's guaranteed," he did say. "I didn't want to tell you at first, because I know how much the lions mean to you, but…the biggest mistakes I've made with you have been when I've tried to protect you from things that I was afraid would upset you, instead of supporting you while you handled them on your own."
He bit his lip until it began to sting. "I'm sorry that this is happening, and I'm sorry that I'm hurting you by telling you," he confessed. "But I can't keep making the same mistakes, not if I want to earn your trust back. I'm so sorry, Blaine."
Blaine was silent for a painfully long moment.
Finally, Kurt heard him sniff. "Don't be sorry," he said quietly, and Kurt pressed the phone closer to his ear in order to hear him better. "I'm glad that—I'm glad you called."
Kurt blinked rapidly, his eyes suddenly damp.
Blaine cleared his throat. "The fundraiser," he asked, and Kurt's muscles tightened, "are you going to help? Will you—for me, since I can't…"
He trailed off, and Kurt nodded. "Of course," he promised. "I'll help enough for both of us, I swear."
Blaine sighed. "Thank you," he offered softly. "That means a lot."
There was a pause, and Kurt could hear Blaine filling his Grandma in on the situation in the background. After a few minutes, Blaine came back. "Kurt, Grandma wants to talk to you, if that's all right," he explained, a hint of apology in his voice. "Is that—"
"Of course," Kurt repeated, interrupting. "Put her on."
There was a brief scuffling noise as Blaine passed the phone. "Kurt?" Blaine's Grandma asked, her voice light and tinny over the line.
Kurt smiled, even though she couldn't see him. "Hi Mrs. Anderson," he replied, in a slightly louder voice than he'd been using. "How are you?"
Blaine's Grandma sighed affectedly. "I was doing wonderfully, thank you, until your zoo broke my favorite grandson's heart," she told him ruefully. "But aren't you a sweetheart for asking. Do me a favor, won't you?"
Kurt's smile grew—Blaine's Grandma was his favorite elderly person ever. "Anything, Mrs. Anderson. What can I do for you?"
"That's what I like to hear," Blaine's Grandma answered approvingly. "Be a dear, and find out who I should make a check out to? I know my money is in Canadian currency, but it'll still buy that little lion cub a few good meals."
By the end of the following week, the Save Our Lion Fundraising Campaign (though it wasn't technically official, Rachel's name had stuck) had raised over $9,000, but donations were beginning to dry up.
"Don't beat yourself up," Desra lectured Kurt sternly, when she reported the most recent figures to him and saw the glum expression on his face. "You've taken on a lot of work for a kid your age, and I don't mind telling you that you've done a hell of a lot better than a lot of us expected you to."
Kurt smiled wryly in spite of himself. "I'm starting to lose track of how often people tell me something along those lines," he admitted, thinking of the number of times that Shelby, his father, and even Blaine had ordered him not to be so hard on himself.
Desra shrugged. "Well, they can't all be wrong," she pointed out lightly. "Now. Is there anyone else that you can ask to contribute that you haven't talked to already?"
Kurt sighed. "I can't ask anyone else for more money," he replied, kicking at the ground with his left foot. "Everyone has already given so much. Maybe if I dipped into my savings—"
"Stop that sentence," Desra ordered, cutting him off abruptly. "You gave $50 and a huge chunk of your summer, and that's enough. Save the rest of your money for business school."
She sighed, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "There have to be a few adults in your life that you haven't personally talked to," she reiterated. "And my advice is to figure out who they are, because even if a few more of those organizations that your extremely peppy little girlfriend wrote to end up coming through, it's going to be close, Kurt. Email your school, talk to your friends' parents, get your friends to talk to their friends' parents; we're in the home stretch, now."
When Kurt got back to his car, parked in its increasingly familiar spot in the zoo parking lot, he started the engine and glanced at the clock on the dashboard—11:26am.
Which only left him half an hour to eat lunch, change into his dance clothes, and drive out to Carmel for VA training camp. Great.
Sighing, Kurt quickly sent Wes a text, asking if he knew of anyone on the faculty at Dalton who would be willing to send out a school-wide email asking for help. Although several of the boys who attended the Academy had partial scholarships that helped pay their tuition, many of the other students came from families that were loaded—or were at least modestly wealthy, like Blaine's parents.
Kurt stopped short.
Blaine's parents. He'd been so concerned about Blaine that it had never occurred to him to tell Blaine's parents about the fundraiser. Which, given Blaine's connection to the lions and memberships in Vocal Adrenaline and the Warblers, both of whom had contributed their time and talents to the cause, was a pretty massive oversight on his part.
Kurt glanced at the clock again—11:28—and put the car into reverse.
Visiting the Andersons would have to wait until after rehearsal.
By the time Kurt reached Blaine's house, however, it was nearly 5:30—he and the other rising juniors had spent over three straight hours teaching the incoming freshmen how to do double pirouettes, and it was a sweaty job as well as a thankless one. Kurt had gratefully taken advantage of the freshly-cleaned locker room by the school gym, and then had stopped at the Lima Bean for an extra-large mocha before making the drive out to the Andersons' house.
And maybe it was the effect of so much caffeine on his overworked muscles and empty stomach, but Kurt felt his nerves growing inexplicably as he walked up the path to Blaine's front porch and climbed up the steps, and was surprised to find, when he reached out to ring the doorbell, that his hands were shaking. Fighting the impulse to run back to his car and drive away before someone answered the door, Kurt planted his feet solidly on the porch and waited.
Blaine would do this for you, he reminded himself sternly. You will do this for him.
Kurt heard a scraping sound as the deadbolt turned, and Mrs. Anderson opened the door.
A head shorter than Kurt without her usual high-heeled shoes, she looked up at him curiously. "Kurt," she said politely, clutching the door frame. "What a nice surprise; I wasn't expecting to see you—Blaine should have told me that you were coming."
Chastised, Kurt grimaced. "I'm sorry, I didn't think to call ahead," he said apologetically. "I can come back at a more convenient time."
Mrs. Anderson's meticulously arched eyebrows shot up. "Oh no, I didn't mean to imply—of course you're welcome here," she stammered, her nervous tone matching Kurt's. "Please, come in." She stepped back and gestured for Kurt to follow her inside, and Kurt obeyed.
"Can I get you something to drink?" she asked, as Kurt stepped out of his sandals and followed her down the hall to the kitchen.
Kurt smiled. "Actually, would you mind if I had a glass of water?" he requested. "I just came from rehearsal, so…"
Mrs. Anderson reached into the cabinet before Kurt could even finish his sentence, pulling out two glasses and handing them to him. "I just sliced some lemon into a fresh pitcher," she told him with a small smile. "Have a seat; I'll grab it."
Once again, Kurt complied meekly, sitting on one of the stools at the counter and holding the glasses still for Blaine's mother as she filled them with lemon water and left the heavy frosted pitcher between them on the marble countertop.
"So," she said to Kurt with a slight sigh, once she had taken her seat, "Blaine's Grandmother tells me that you're helping out with the fundraiser that's been going on at the zoo." Reaching into her purse, which had been sitting an arms-length away on the counter, she pulled out a slip of paper and passed it to Kurt.
"My husband and I would like to contribute," she told him, "if you'd take a personal check."
Kurt glanced automatically at the paper. And choked.
Mrs. Anderson had given him $500.
"I'm sorry," he managed to sputter once he'd finished coughing, Mrs. Anderson's hand on his back. "I just—first of all, thank you so much; this is so incredibly generous of you. But how did you know that I was—I didn't even know that I was coming here until today."
Mrs. Anderson ignored his stammering, studying him carefully for a minute. Finally, she looked away from Kurt. "I don't know if Blaine's ever told you about my work," she said quietly, tracing a ring of condensation left on the countertop by her glass. "My company examines business documents—financial, internal, contracts, and so on—for discrepancies. One of the first things that I noticed when I read the Gazette article about the fundraiser was how far out of their way everyone involved went to avoid naming the local student who put the entire effort together." Her smile was brittle. "If Blaine was here, I might have thought that it was him," she admitted, "especially when I read that all of those show choirs had gotten involved. But then Blaine's Grandma called and told me how upset Blaine was about the whole situation, and that she had sent you a check to bring to the zoo, since you were helping with the fundraiser. And I knew that it was you."
She looked up at Kurt, and he was shocked to see that her eyes were damp with unshed tears.
"When we were in Niagara Falls, Blaine told us that the two of you…have feelings for each other," she explained, dabbing at her eyes with the edge of her sleeve. "You put this together for him, didn't you? And you didn't tell him that it was you because you didn't want him to feel like he owed you anything."
Kurt's mouth was dry.
Blaine had finally told his parents about them, even if he hadn't mentioned it to Kurt.
"It's true," he confessed, so quietly that he was nearly whispering. "It's true. I love your son, Mrs. Anderson."
Blaine's mother closed her eyes, nodding even as she paled slightly. "And…you know what happened to him at his last school," she confirmed evenly. "Not Carmel, but Aquinas."
Kurt nodded back. "I do now," he told her. "He didn't say anything about it to me for a long time, but I know now."
Mrs. Anderson let out a humorless laugh, tracing her fingers over the counter again. "I suppose that I should be glad that I'm not the only one he doesn't share everything with," she admitted, swallowing. "But I wish he would have told us sooner, even if I know why he didn't."
Kurt watched silently as her eyes flooded with tears again, at a loss for words.
"I just wanted to protect him," Mrs. Anderson explained, choking up. "I didn't want him to be hurt again. He's my little boy, and…" She hid her face in her hands, beginning to sob.
Kurt, trying not to panic, grabbed a box of tissues off of a nearby table and carefully handed one to Blaine's mother. As she wiped her face, still crying, Kurt took her hand, squeezing it gently in what he hoped was a comforting manner.
Mrs. Anderson squeezed back, holding onto Kurt like a lifeline.
Finally, Mrs. Anderson's tears slowed, her shuddering breaths beginning to even out. "I'm sorry," she apologized weakly, giving Kurt his bloodless hand back. "I didn't mean to fall apart like that."
Kurt shook his hand out underneath the counter, out of her sight. "Don't be sorry," he said earnestly, dipping his head slightly to meet her eyes. "He's your son; don't be sorry."
When Mrs. Anderson walked Kurt to the front door ten minutes later, her check tucked safely in his pocket, she took a moment to reach up and squeeze his shoulder gently.
"You're a very nice boy, Kurt," she told him, her voice still somewhat shaky. "I'm not…I'm still not crazy about the idea of Blaine having a boyfriend, because of what those monsters did to him last year."
Kurt looked down at the ground sadly, nodding.
Mrs. Anderson lifted his chin back up with her fingers. "For what it's worth, though," she added, gazing at him seriously, "If Blaine was going to—I know that you two aren't…together, right now."
She smiled sadly at him. "What I'm trying to say," she said more firmly, "is that I'd want it to be you. If Blaine was going to be with anyone, I'd want it to be you."