Chapter 1: Dina Miller
Kurt's mom is sick again. She's in the hospital. Kurt's dad brings him downtown to visit her almost every day, except sometimes he has to go to the hospital alone. When he does, he drops off Kurt with the neighbors. Mr. and Mrs. Miller want to be called John and Sharon. Their living room smells strange, like cigarette smoke and old cooking. All of their furniture smells of their German Shepherd, Kaiser, who stays in the backyard when Kurt comes over. Whenever Kurt is in the living room, Kaiser stands right outside the sliding glass doors, panting. He's very big and Kurt's afraid of him.
John and Sharon have a daughter named Dina. She's twelve. Kurt's five. When Kurt goes to the Miller's house he prefers to be with Dina. Her room is decorated in white and pale pink and she keeps it clean and tidy. She lets him stay as long as he's quiet and doesn't bother her. Kurt sits on a stool at the edge of Dina's vanity and watches her while she brushes her hair. Every once in a while, she puts the hairbrush down and threads her hands through her bangs; she fluffs the back up a little, turning her head to look at herself from each side. When their eyes meet in the mirror she gives him a small smile before turning her attention back to her own reflection.
Lately, a lot of people want to look at Kurt, or touch him; his preschool teacher Mrs. Dabrowski, Cal and George from the garage, Sharon and John, some of the nurses. They all look really sad; they ruffle his hair and squeeze his shoulders, and Kurt doesn't like it. Dina mostly ignores him. Downstairs, Sharon and John keep the radio on, but Dina rarely listens to music, so her room is very quiet. In the silence, Kurt rests his chin on his hands and watches while Dina parts her hair into a braid and does it up with white elastic bands. She's very pretty. Sometimes she puts on lip-gloss and mascara. When she does, Kurt pulls his legs up under himself and watches while she drags the applicator through her eyelashes with a steady hand, stroking upwards to make the lashes curl. Finally she turns towards him.“How do I look?” she asks softly.
Dina says she's too old to really play anymore, but sometimes if Kurt is lucky she will bring out her Barbie dolls and they change their clothes and do their hair. Sometimes she'll read him a book. When he sits pressed up against her side, Kurt thinks he can smell flowers. At the dinner table he watches her closely to copy the way she holds her knife and fork between her fingers like a grown-up.
One day when he knocks on her door she beckons him over to stand beside her by the stool. “You want to see what I bought today?” She opens a small cardboard box with silver lettering and tilts it until a small round container slides into her palm. She opens it carefully. Inside are two different shades of eye shadow and a small sponge, a mirror on the inside of the lid. “They even put perfume in it.” She hands it to him. “Here, smell.”
Kurt receives the container with both hands. It smells like grease and something sweet and synthetic, and the scent tickles his nose. The powder glitters when he tips it towards the light. Kurt carefully touches the pad of his finger to the surface. It comes away with a smudge of silver gray. He holds it up for Dina to see, and they both smile.
“Look.” She closes her eyes and now Kurt can see it: a glittery shadow on the soft skin of her eyelids, fading out across her browbones. She opens her eyes again. “It's pretty, isn't it?”
Kurt nods. He turns to look at himself in the mirror. Closing one eye he carefully drags his finger with the powder across his eyelid. But the color's too dark, and he's too clumsy and it doesn't look right. Dina picks the container from his hand. “You want me to do it?”
She puts him on the stool and makes him tilt his face up towards the light. Kurt closes his eyes and sits very still while Dina applies the small sponge, then the mascara applicator, and at last the wet, syrupy lip-gloss pen. Dina's breath feels like a warm, recurring breeze across his skin while she works. “There,” she finally says, turning him a little so he's facing towards the mirror. “You can look now.”
Kurt holds his breath and opens his eyes. He stares at his reflection; his eyes look bright against the silver on his eyelids. His lips are shiny and pink. He looks beautiful like Dina.
Dina's standing behind him. “Do you like it?”
Kurt nods fervently. He tilts his head this way and that, admiring Dina's work. He hesitates for a moment. “Can I wear a dress, too?”
Dina's old dance recital dress is a little too big, but she ties the peach colored sash tightly around his waist so it almost doesn't show in the mirror. The skirt hangs low enough to hide his Velcro sneakers. He's swaying a little from side to side, watching the fabric move as the hem of the skirt drags against the carpet, when Sharon opens the door.
“Dinner's --” Sharon stops as Kurt turns towards her. She swallows. “Oh, sweetheart,” she says, and then, in a different tone of voice “Dina come here for a second.” She opens the door a little wider. Her eyes are still soft, but there's something weird about the set of her mouth. Kurt looks back at Dina, feeling unsure. She looks apprehensive. Kurt's still not sure what's going on. He shifts his weight back and forth on his feet, bites his lip.
“Dina,” Sharon repeats, voice a little firmer.
Dina moves to slip past her mom and the door is pulled closed. She is gone for a long time. Kurt sits on her bed in the crinkling taffeta dress and waits for them to return. His palms are sweaty; he wipes them on the white satin bedspread. When Dina comes back it looks like she's been crying. “I'm sorry Kurt, I didn't know about... I'm really sorry about your mom,” she says, and then she helps him out of the dress and puts it back in the closet. She goes to the bathroom and gets a washcloth and washes his face until the skin around his eyes looks blotchy and red in the mirror. Dina puts her hands on his shoulders and Kurt squirms a little beneath the gentle weight. “Let's just read a book, okay?”
Kurt knows that his dad has come to pick him up when he hears Kaiser barking in the garden. He pushes off the bed and runs to the stairs, but stops when he hears Sharon and his dad talking downstairs. Suddenly frightened, he sits down at the top of the staircase. He can hear Sharon saying “Dina didn't mean to -” and “must be so hard for him -” and “it's totally understandable why he would -.” She talks for a long time, but Kurt mostly listens for the low murmur of his dad's monosyllabic answers.
He descends the stairs when he's called for. His dad is standing in the middle of the living room, wearing his cover-alls and his cap. “Hey Kurt.”
Kurt leans against the banister. He checks Sharon's reaction, trying to gauge the situation, but she's just looking at him with big sad eyes.
“You ready to go home, buddy?” Kurt's dad asks mildly. He's smiling but he looks unhappy, too.
Kurt wants to go home really badly, but at the same time he's glued to the spot. Finally his dad walks over and picks him up. He says goodbye to John and Sharon, and then he carries Kurt out of the house and into the chilly evening air. Kurt hugs his dad real tight, hiding his face in the hot, scratchy skin on his neck. “I wore Dina's dress today,” he confesses.
He can feel his dad nodding. “Sharon told me.”
Kurt made sure not to cry earlier, but being carried by his dad makes him feel very small, and he's still scared that he's going to be told off. He tries closing his eyes tightly, but he can't help crying a little bit. Kurt has his own dress in the closet in his room. It's pale blue with a lace front and frilly sleeves. His mom helped him pick it in the girl's department at Target – a couple of days after Mrs. Dabrowski told him off for hogging the Belle costume - and they made a deal that he could only wear dresses at home from now on. Mom had kneeled down and clasped his hands. “This is your dress and you can wear this all you want to, but you can't wear dresses at preschool anymore, okay?”
Kurt rubs his face against his dad's shirt. “Do you think Mom will be angry with me when she comes home?”
His dad sighs. “No, Kurt, I don't think your mom's going to be angry with you.” A big hand comes up to rub Kurt's back. “You're okay, kiddo.”
Kurt goes over to the Miller house again three days later. This time, Sharon shuts Kaiser in the living room and takes Kurt outside to play Frisbee in the garden.
Chapter 2: Mark Simmons
Kurt is eight years old. He has two best friends: Dina Miller and Mark Simmons. Dina babysits him every weekday afternoon until Kurt's dad comes home. They play Snap and watch Disney movies on VHS. Mark is a new boy in the neighborhood. Kurt first met him when he and his mom showed up at their house to ask if Kurt wanted to come out and play. Mark and his mom and sister have just moved in four houses down the street. Mark's parents are divorced and his dad has moved to another city. Kurt's mom is dead. Neither of them like to talk about that stuff.
It's the middle of winter and for the first many weeks of their friendship there's a thick blanket of snow covering the neighborhood. Kurt and Mark spend their afternoons outside in Kurt's backyard. They make snow angels and snow men and dig out secret caves in the snowdrift in the back of the garden against the fence. They only come into the kitchen when it gets dark, to drink hot cocoa before Mark's mom comes to pick him up.
One day Kurt's dad joins them in the garden and makes snow lanterns with them. He allows the boys to stay outside to watch them burning as darkness falls. They're sitting on the edge of the terrace, looking out onto the half circle of snow lanterns, and the darkness beyond. Kurt has wedged his hands between his thighs. Mark shifts to sit a little closer. “Are your hands cold?” he asks.
Kurt had insisted on wearing his pretty, thin woolen gloves, but now they are packed with sticky clumps of snow. He nods. “Yeah”
“We can trade.” Mark pulls off his ski mittens with his teeth and offers them to Kurt. Kurt clumsily takes off his wet gloves and they switch. Mark's mittens are warm and dry inside. Kurt wriggles his frozen fingers against their soft fleece lining.
Soon after, they hear Mark's mom calling from the front yard. Mark groans. “I don't want to go home.” He jumps off the terrace. “Come on, let's hide in the cave.”
The snow creaks loudly as they run across the yard and scramble into their new cave, hidden in the shadows at the far side of the garden. A few seconds later Mark's mom comes around the corner of the house. “Mark? I heard you guys. Where are you?”
Kurt moves to crawl out of the cave, but Mark stops him with a hand on his arm.
“Mark?” through the low opening they can see the dark shape of Mark's mom at the other end of the garden, walking towards the lanterns. “Mark, come here, please.”
“Hey -” Kurt starts, but Mark shushes him.
Mark's mom stops in the center of the garden, behind the flickering lanterns. She squints her eyes looking out into the dark. “Kurt?” she tries. She sounds tired. “Please don't do this now, Mark, we have to get home.”
“Let's hide until she leaves,” Mark mutters darkly. Kurt doesn't like it. He doesn't understand why Mark gets so angry with his mom sometimes.
“Kurt?” Mark's mom tries again. She shifts her feet. “Come on, guys.” She stands waiting for a long moment. She looks lonely in the dark. Kurt blinks. The cold ground is beginning to sting the skin of his thighs. There's a lump in his throat.
Finally Mark's mom turns on her heel and walks back to the front of the house. “Ha!” Mark says, eyes fixed on her retreating form, but when he turns and notices that Kurt has started crying, his features soften. “Hey, why are you crying?” Kurt doesn't answer. He's missing his own mom, but it's hard to say.
“Hey,” Mark repeats helplessly. He hesitates for a moment, and then he pulls Kurt into an awkward embrace. Kurt rolls towards him, pressing even closer. He can feel Mark's skinny arms and the curve of his ribcage beneath the layers of down and wool and cotton. Mark presses his mouth close to Kurt's ear. “Don't cry. Come on, we'll go find your dad.”
Once the snow melts, they move inside. For weeks they stay in the living room watching movies, or playing with crayons and stuff that Kurt brings into the kitchen. But eventually Mark grows restless. “Why can't I come into your room?”
Kurt worries his lip with his teeth. He's never had any boy friends who came to his house, before, and he doesn't want Mark to see his room. But Mark keeps asking, and in the end Kurt reluctantly opens the door to his room and lets Mark step inside. Kurt holds is breath while Mark looks around and wrinkles his nose.“All your stuff is girl stuff.”
“Not all of it,” Kurt quickly protests. He has crayons and stuffed animals and some musical instruments, too.
Mark looks unconvinced. “Most of your stuff is girl stuff.”
Defeated, Kurt takes in the tea set he got for his last birthday, the shelf with his My Little Pony, the clothes rack of costumes with his old blue dress hanging at the front. On his table stands the slender porcelain doll that he fell in love with at the hospital gift shop. His mom had given it to him as a Christmas present even though it had been summer at the time. He bites his lip. “That's because I'm a little bit girl,” he finally says.
“Really?” Mark looks skeptical.
“Not all the way,” Kurt reassures him, “just a little bit.”
Mark scrunches up his face, then shrugs, “Huh,” and moves on, inspecting the colored glass bottles on the windowsill. Kurt's lets out a quiet sigh of relief.
Mark doesn't want to play with Kurt's costumes or the coloring books or bead kit. They play rock stars, instead; Mark jumps around with a pencil for a microphone and headbangs to rock songs on the radio while Kurt shakes and shimmies to Toni Braxton on his cassette player.
In spring, they start playing house a lot. Kurt's the wife. He puts on his big curly wig backwards and they laugh at how the hair falls into his face. Mark's really bad at being serious about the game, but it's okay - Kurt still likes it. They have a son, Snotface the lime green teddy, who has already lived through an appendicitis operation at Mark's hand. Kurt and Mark go to work in separate corners of the room, and when they come home, they tell Snotface to be quiet, or do the dishes, or go to bed. When Snotface has been tucked into the laundry basket, they close the door to the hall and crawl under the covers of Kurt's bed. Mark finds Kurt in the dark. They lie close together and whisper secrets to each other. Kurt puts his hands on Mark's sides to feel the rapid movements of his ribcage as he breathes. The sun falls into his room in the late afternoon. When it gets too stuffy beneath the blankets they push them away, flushed and giggling, to face a new day.
It's a really good game, but after a while, Kurt gets annoyed with the wig. It's itchy and the hair gets stuck in the corners of his mouth. He doesn't want to wear the princess slippers all the time, either. “I want to be a boy today,” he says, throwing the platinum blonde wig into the corner. They're sitting on the bed in a shaft of late afternoon sunshine.
“You can't be a boy,” Mark says. He's trying to fit Snotface into the porcelain doll's dress. It isn't working.
“Because I can't be the girl,” Mark responds, making it sound like Kurt's being stupid.
Kurt shrugs defensively. “Can't we just be two boys?”
Mark drops Snotface to the floor, one arm squeezed painfully into the too-small dress. “No, stupid. That's gay,” he says, sounding annoyed.
Kurt squirms. He's pretty sure gay is a bad word, and Mark normally never uses bad words.
“I'm not stupid. I don't want to play with you if I can't be a boy.” Kurt crosses his arms over his chest. “And this is my room,” he adds after a beat, lifting his chin. His heart is beating really fast. They stare at each other for a long moment.
Finally Mark jumps off the bed. He kicks Snotface as he walks to the door. “I don't care,” he says, “you're stupid. You're the one who said you were a girl, anyway.”
Kurt doesn't answer. He waits, staring out at the setting sun, until he's heard Mark stomp down the hall and slam the front door behind him.. Then he makes his way to the living room where his dad is watching TV with the curtains drawn. “Did Mark leave already?” his dad asks when Kurt slides into the room.
“Yeah, he had to go home and clean his room.”
Kurt's dad nods absently. The light from the TV is flickering across his reclining form in the half-dark. Kurt walks over and climbs onto the couch next to him. Rescue 911 is on. Kurt leans against his side. His dad is wearing his blue shirt; it smells like motor oil and sweat and the fabric feels worn and soft against Kurt's cheek. “Dad?” he says, reaching down to fidget with the loose thread in the couch upholstery.
“I'm a boy.”
Kurt scoots over on the couch a little when his father sits up straight, suddenly giving Kurt his full attention. “Yes. Yes you are.” His dad clears his throat. “Why do you say that?”
Kurt shrugs, intent on the loose piece of thread, twirling it around his finger. “I don't know,” he mumbles. He glances up at his dad for a second. “Can we watch Fantasia?”
His dad takes a long look at him, then gets up to find the videotape. Kurt makes him fastforward the video until they get to the part with the centaurs. After a couple of minutes, he crawls under his father's arm.
Later, after dinner, his dad comes to his room. He leans against the doorjamb, halfway inside. “Do you want to... would you rather not be a boy?” he asks hesitantly.
Kurt is coloring a lion family in his book. He glances up at his dad who's leaning back on his heels with a funny look on his face, then back down at the picture. “No, I want to be a boy,” he says. Out of the corner of his eyes he sees his dad slump forward slightly. Kurt leans close to the coloring book and slants his hand so he won't smudge the wet orange marker of the lion's mane. “Just, Mark said I couldn't be.”
“Mark said that?” his dad asks carefully.
“Yes, but he was just being stupid. I don't care,” Kurt lies – something about the question gives Kurt a feeling that Mark might get in trouble with his dad if he doesn't.
That night, when Kurt has washed his face and brushed his teeth, he calls for his dad to come say goodnight. His dad kneels down next to his bed. “Alright, lemme check.” Kurt sits up and opens his mouth wide while his dad checks first his top and then his bottom teeth. “Good job.”
Kurt closes his mouth. His father's face is still really close. Kurt swallows. “I think... Maybe I'm a little bit a girl,” he blurts out; he's been thinking about it all evening. “Or maybe I'm just a girly boy,” he rephrases at the frown on his dad's face.
“Well,” his dad says, looking at a loss for words, “I guess... I guess you'll figure it out.” He kisses the top of Kurt's head and then gets up. “Just. Don't let Mark push you around.” He flicks the switch on his way out.
“I won't.” Kurt lies back down in the bed. He stares at the ceiling for a while before he falls asleep.
Chapter 3: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brunner and Mrs Caetano
Kurt's in fifth grade, but he's reading at an eight grade level. He is an exceptional speller and he has a firm grasp on the principles of mathematics. He has a good singing voice, too. His dad's really proud of his achievements. “I never thought a child of mine would be top of the class,” he says with a wink when Kurt shows him his report card. Nevertheless, he still comes home from parent-teacher conferences looking grave and tired. Kurt doesn't like to think about what the teachers have told him. He does his best to avoid his dad when he tries to talk about it.
His dad is always encouraging him to go outside. “You and Mark used to go biking,” he says, when he comes home and finds Kurt on the couch, watching My Fair Lady. “When I was your age I was out playing football every day, not sitting in front of the TV.”
Kurt doesn't answer. He bites the nail on his thumb as he watches his dad leave the living room. The truth is that Mark hasn't wanted to go biking with Kurt for a very long time, and Kurt doesn't want to play sports. He's been getting these really bad stomach aches lately, especially on Thursdays when he has gym. He's short and a little chubby, he never gets picked for anything, and when they play contact sports he's always afraid of getting hurt.
School's not all bad; Kurt likes most of the subjects. He hates recess, though. Sometimes the girls will let him join them for games of Uno, but he can never be sure what kind of mood they're in, and he feels horrible standing there alone outside their circle while they decide. The boys have been ignoring him since kindergarten. Sometimes he just stays seated by his desk until the bell rings again.
The worst part is waiting for the bus after school. The bus lot is supposed to be supervised, but a lot of the teachers step aside for cigarette breaks or phone calls, and that's when things get ugly. The guys from seventh grade have a bad reputation and they never miss a chance to harass the younger students. They shout at Kurt all the time, but at least they don't grab hold of him, like they do with Matthew from sixth grade. Kurt knows it's just a matter of time, though.
It finally happens on a Thursday. Kurt hears the group of guys talking among themselves when he walks past, but they don't say anything to him. He's almost beginning to relax when Ben shouts “Hey, Kurt, what's up with the outfit?”
Kurt quickly casts a glance at where Mr Reinholt is supposed to be keeping an eye on them, but there's no one there. Kurt goes hot and then cold, his pulse picks up. He hunches his shoulders but keeps walking - he usually manages to get past them unscathed if he just ignores them.
“Hey! Princess, he asked you a question,” Jaden shouts.
Kurt stops. Maybe they'll just make fun of him. Maybe the bus will show up before anything happens. Around him he can see the other kids move away without looking up or breaking off their conversations. He hears the seventh graders coming up behind him, their sneakers slapping against the asphalt. There are four of them, today; he counted them out of the corner of his eye when he came round the corner. Jaden, Ben, Noah and Ajay. Noah's the meanest one.
Kurt can feel his entire body tensing up on its own volition. He doesn't look at their faces when they come around to stand in front of him. All he can see with his head lowered are shoes, baggy jeans and big hands loosely fisted. “It's just a shirt,” he says. The shirt has a high neck and the three silver ropes stitched across the chest. It had reminded him of King Mongkut's in The King and I.
“It's just a shirt,” Ben mocks, using his falsetto, and Kurt has to bite his own lip to keep quiet. He usually avoids speaking to them, because every time he uses his voice, he's giving them another reason to make fun of him.
“Yeah, then what's this?” Noah steps forward. He grabs hold of the silver ropes and pulls Kurt forward a little. Kurt slides and stumbles. He can feel himself beginning to sweat and he hopes it doesn't show.
“It's very pretty, Kurt. Did you buy it in the girl's department?” Ajay asks. The boys all laugh, loud and excited. Somewhere in the surrounding crowd a couple of girls titter. Noah's fingers tighten in the shirt, his bony knuckles pressing painfully into Kurt's sternum. Kurt doesn't point out that Ajay wore a purple shirt the other day, because it doesn't work like that. Ajay doesn't have a weirdly high pitched voice, he isn't small and round-faced, and Kurt has no business noticing what clothes another boy is wearing, anyway.
“You know what would make it even prettier?” Noah asks, and then says, “Hey, Ben get me a pen, willya?” over his shoulder. As he reaches back to receive the felt pen from Ben, his fist in the front of Kurt's shirt loosens for a split second.
Running makes it worse, but Kurt ends up trying it, anyway. He used to think that people were stupid for doing it, but now he realizes that with the anger and fear coursing through his body it's practically impossible to fight down the instinct, even in the face of definite inevitability. He barely makes it three steps before he feels rough hands close firmly around his arms, dragging him down on his stomach on the ground. He grunts when he feels the weight of someone sitting on his thighs, someone pressing his wrists against the gravelly asphalt. When he looks up, he can see all the other kids watching.
He's two thirds of the way through his closet when his dad comes home. There's a messy pile of clothes on his bed, thrown on top of the shirt with the ornamental silver rope that is now covered in words, written with permanent marker across the front and back while Kurt lay limp and humiliated on the ground. He's washed his face with cold water until he stopped crying, but beneath his plain blue t-shirt there are lines of black on his chest where the ink went through the fabric.
“Kurt what are you doing?”
He hadn't heard the front door, but suddenly his dad is standing in the doorway, still in his work clothes, hands by his sides. Kurt walks over to dump another stack of clothes on top of the pile. “I don't want these clothes anymore,” he says grimly.
His dad watches him carry another armful of clothes from the closet before he steps over to the bed. “Kurt, some of these are almost new.” He holds up the sweater with the red snowflake pattern and the wide lapels that Kurt had begged his dad for because it would go so well with his tweed pants and red shoes.
Kurt looks at it for a moment before returning his attention to the closet. “I don't want it,” he grinds out. He runs his hands over the folded garments on the shelves, stopping to pull out the orange pants and the cream and peach checkered jumper. He motions at the pile of stuff next to the clothing. “And I don't want that stuff, either.”
The Wizard of Oz poster tore at the corner when he pulled it from the wall; it lies rolled up sloppily next to his gold-and-feather-studded Venetian Mask and his embroidered throw pillows. His dad reaches into the pile to pick up the slender porcelain doll that Kurt has kept long after he put away the costumes and the bead kits. Kurt watches out of the corner of his eye as his dad smooths down its blond polyester hair before placing it gently back on the bed with a sigh. “You can't just throw away half your wardrobe,” he says. He starts sorting through the clothes.“Heck, two thirds of your wardrobe,” he mumbles. He is getting dangerously close to the ruined shirt at the bottom of the pile.
Kurt panics - he does not want his dad to see the shirt; he doesn't want him to see the words written on it in big, crooked letters. He takes two running steps and pulls the sweater his dad is holding out of his hands and throws it back on the bed. “Dad, I don't want it anymore,” he shouts, and then immediately slams his mouth shut, a little shocked with himself. He is not allowed to talk to his dad in that tone of voice.
His dad whips his head around. The silence drags out as he watches Kurt intently. “Kurt, what's going on?” he finally asks, voice low.
Kurt tries really hard, but eventually a couple of tears spill over and run down his cheeks. He wipes them away angrily. “Nothing,” he says stupidly, “I just don't want it.”
“Come here.” His dad holds out his arms. Kurt only hesitates for a moment. He was so determined that his dad shouldn't find out, but he still feels a huge wave of relief as he steps into the embrace. “Is this about school?” his dad asks.
“They hurt you?”
He takes a deep breath, then shakes his head.
“They call you names?”
He nods again. He's not sure if he imagines his dad holding his breath for a split second.“What did they call you?”
“Just... names,” Kurt sighs. “Can I just... Can't I be home schooled?” he asks morosely into the front of his dad's shirt.
His dad hugs him tight, but he doesn't answer.
The next evening, he calls Kurt into the kitchen. “I can't take you out of Independence,” he says, voice tinged with regret. He's resting his elbows on the table. Bills, school letters and bank papers are scattered on the kitchen table around him. “Unity is too far away, and I can't... Private school's just not an option, right now. I'm sorry.”
Kurt nods. He already knew.
Burt sits back heavily in the kitchen chair. “So here's what we're going to do. I'm going to speak to the principal.”
“I'm going to speak to the principal,” Burt repeats firmly, overriding him. “And also, we're going to find something for you to do outside of school. An antidote. I'm going to shut my big mouth about biking and football, and you're going to tell me what you'd really like to do.”
Two weeks later, Kurt is waiting outside the Buckland Community Center's music room for his first singing lesson with Mrs Caetano.
He enters the room when the previous pupil, a skinny girl with long brown hair, leaves. Mrs Caetano is waiting for him at the other side of the room, standing by the piano with her hands folded and a smile on her face. “Hi Kurt, welcome on board.” She reaches to shake his hand, and a collection of bracelets jangle on her wrist. She looks pretty old to Kurt, but she's wearing bright red lipstick. Her hair is done up in a fluffy eighties-style bob with auburn highlights and she's wearing a flared black jumpsuit with a wide snakeskin belt. Red pumps. Kurt instantly gets the feeling that he is going to like her.
She starts out by making him do scale runs to determine his range and her French manicured nails click against the keys as she plays the piano. After Kurt has to give out after the highest note he can reach, Mrs. Caetano sits back and lets out a low whistle. “Has anyone ever told you what a special voice you have?”
Kurt feels himself go cold all over, but then he recognizes the impressed look on her face and realizes that she is not mocking him. He hesitates, then allows himself to smile wryly. “Some of the guys from seventh grade call me Helium Boy,” he offers, tentatively joking.
Mrs. Caetano looks stunned, but then her features pull into a grim smile. “Oh, I see.” She leans back a little on the piano stool, appraising him, and Kurt can't help fidgeting a little under her keen gaze. He dressed up for the occasion, in a bold red cardigan that would probably give him hell at school. “Well, screw them, eh?” she finally says, startling a smile out of him. She winks and then she leans down to dig through the big leather bag standing beside her. After a moment, she pulls out a stack of sheet music.
“Look, Kurt,” she says in a confidential tone, “You've got a voice in you; your high register is exceptionally strong. I wouldn't be surprised if you turned out to be a countertenor even after your voice breaks.” Kurt isn't really sure what a countertenor is, but he likes the sound of it, the way Mrs Caetano dwells on the word like it's something really special.
“You've got no reason to let people put you down. So stand up straight, chest out. You can't sing standing hunched like that. Christ, you can barely breathe like that.”
Kurt straightens his back and takes a deep breath, then reaches up to brush his bangs out of his eyes. Just standing like that makes him feel better, stronger.
“Much better,” Mrs Caetano laughs. “Okay, let's get cracking.” She leafs through the stack of notes. “Now, what kind of songs would you like to sing?”
“Uhm. Ballads. Broadway.”
“Of course,” Mrs Caetano snaps her fingers. “Excellent! You know, I had a feeling you would be a musical kind of guy.” She leafs through the sheets and triumphantly pulls out a collection of papers that she places on the sheet holder. “Here. 'Defying Gravity'! How's that for a start?”
Chapter 4: Timepiece. Kai, Trish and Billy (especially Billy)
Kurt has just turned fourteen. He has been training with Mrs Caetano for two years now, and he has developed a remarkable singing voice - which he is going to utilize to get him the hell out of Ohio as soon as humanly possible. He's been spending a lot of time studying designers, too, and teaching himself how to recognize quality clothing by looking at seams and fabrics. Straight after high school he is moving to New York to become a Broadway star, and he's not going to look and act like a redneck from Lima once he gets there. He's probably the best dressed kid in the state.
Also, he's pretty sure he's gay. Or a twink and a fag and a fairy, if you ask three seniors from his new high school who think they've got it all figured out. Kurt tries hard not to care. He hasn't told anyone - no one really listens to those guys, anyway; everyone knows that Jason's mom doesn't know who Jason's dad is, that Sean is going to end up joining his brother's septic tank business, and that Jeremy barely has two functioning brain cells and cries during written exams. Kurt knows that people don't even expect those guys to graduate at the end of the year. All he cares about is that six months from now they're out of McKinley and out of his life. He thinks long and hard about this every time they trip him up in the hall, or throw disgusting little bread nuggets at the back of his head when he moves past their table at lunch.
He had thought that high school might be different than middle school, but it's not. By now, it's just a necessary evil that he has learned to live with. He's smarter than most of the other kids who wear polyester football jackets and plaid shirts and hang out at Burger King after school, anyway, and he's got other and better things to do. He puts in long hours at the garage, and spends the money on Ebay searching for reduced male couture and vintage accessories
On weekends he takes the bus into town. The Ada Theater shows all the old musical classics at four dollars per ticket, so Kurt usually treats himself to one or two shows. Afterwards, he goes for coffee at the Meeting Place where he drinks a non-fat Mocha and pretends to read Vogue while watching the college students, home for the weekend, who are always hanging out in the sofa section at the back. One of the guys in the little group wears a lot of Lacoste. He seems to mostly hang out with the girls and he has a really loud laugh. Kurt often watches him surreptitiously over the rim of his coffee cup, wondering if he might be gay, too.
After coffee he spends a couple of hours shopping. Lima doesn't have a lot to offer, but at least the Benetton store has some really nice knitwear, and H&M does have some interesting things once in a while. One time the Lima branch amazingly decides to carry the catalog black kilt that is so obviously a rip-off from last year's runway fall collections. It hangs untouched for three Saturdays in a row among baggy jeans and sweatpants, and then it goes on sale. Kurt circles the men's section three times before he finally mans up and just buys the damn thing.
Still, shopping in Lima doesn't really get interesting until he finds Timepiece. The first time he enters the store it's mostly out of a vague anthropological interest. Timepiece is Lima's only alternative clothes shop, but Kurt never really felt tempted by their black on black window displays. He has always felt convinced that being goth is just an excuse not to wash your hair. All that the (two or three) goth kids at his high school seem to wear are atrocious Fruit of the Loom print sweatshirts and infected piercings (except, maybe, for the girl who Kurt thinks is named Tina. She has something interesting going on once in a while). In any case, he has never understood how anyone could bear to be goth in Lima, where he himself is always craving something bright and colorful just to cheer him up.
But then one day when he walks past Timepiece's shop window, he sees the male mannequin wearing a kneelenght black and purple renaissance coat, and his interest is piqued enough to enter.
The store consists of one long and narrow room, with the counter at the far end. Kurt spots leather, lace, latex – in row after row of clothes racks standing close together. Not all of it is black, but Kurt's not surprised that it certainly seems to be the predominant color.
“Hi,” the sales girl across the room says brightly. Her hair is done up in dark red dreads and she seems to be wearing a pair of goggles for a headband. Her eyes are heavily made up and she is wearing a studded choker around her neck.
Kurt looks around, a little startled by her enthusiastic greeting, and realizes that he is the only person in there. “Hi,” he replies tentatively. He glances down at his own bright blue Marc Jacobs jacket and his shiny new Jeremy Scott sneakers, and feels ridiculously out of place. He debates just inching backwards towards the door for a quick exit.
The girl doesn't seem to notice. “Can I help you?” she asks brightly.
“Uhm. No. Thanks.” Kurt smiles tightly. “I'll just... have a look around.” He walks over to one of the racks of leather, chiffon and lace and starts aimlessly browsing through the hangers.
“Sure thing.” The girl returns her attention to tagging a stack of clothes lying on the counter.
Kurt means to just politely look at a couple of garments, just to get a feel for the style, and then leave. But then he finds the hanger with the kilts and skirts, a whole row of them - masculine, black and dark tartan, obviously menswear. He decides to stay a little longer.
After a few minutes the door opens and a guy comes into the store. Kurt looks up briefly and then does a slower double take. The guy is wearing black jeans, heavy boots, an over-sized aviator coat... and eyeliner. And yes, sure, Kurt has seen men wearing make-up before – but only online, or on TV. Not in the flesh, not in Lima.
“Hi Trish,” the guy calls out as soon he enters, and walks down to the girl at the counter. “Hey Kai,” the girl replies. They kiss each other's cheeks. Kai moves next to her behind the counter. After a moment he calls out in Kurt's direction. “Hey, you looking for anything in particular?”
Kurt freezes.“Uhm, no. Not really.”
“Okay,” Kai says genially. He's a small guy with narrow shoulders. His hair is pitch black, reaching his jawline on one side and shaved to the skull on the other. “Just let us know if we can help you.”
The next weekend, Kurt dresses in his black jeans and waistcoat, a Henley and his mother's silver brooch before going out. He assesses the finished result in the mirror in his closet. He's still baby-faced, still a little wide around the waist and hips. He hasn't stopped hoping that he'll eventually grow tall and slender like his mom – he has her long eyelashes and full mouth, at least. In the downstairs bathroom there's a pouch with her make-up in one of the drawers, untouched for years. Kurt contemplates having a look through it, but he decides against it in the end, since he could easily meet someone from school in town.
Timepiece is busier than it was last Saturday. Kurt comes to the store straight after Hello Dolly!, bypassing Funny Girl which he's already seen four times. He takes his time looking through the clothes this time around, flipping sleeves inside out to check the seam stitches, ruthlessly tracking down loose threads and polyester blends. Some of the clothes are cheaply made, but some of it is surprisingly elegant work. People come and go. Trish is alone behind the counter, but she seems to know most of the customers who come into the store in small groups of two or three.
It's late afternoon and the store is emptying out when the door slams open, making Kurt start. He looks up to see a tall, slender guy stride through the store, hair and shirt drenched. He looks furious.
“Oh Christ, Billy,” Trish says, moving out from behind the counter.
“I know, this town, right? Jesus!” the guy exclaims, running a hand through his wet hair from the nape of his neck to his forehead in a frustrated gesture. He distractedly bends down to kiss Trish on the cheek before moving behind the counter where he rummages around and finally brings out a piece of cloth that he uses to dry his hair.
“Who were they?” Trish asks.
“No-one I know. Just your average Lima trash who thought they were being funny.” Billy's voice is light and slightly nasal, and it drips with sarcasm.
Trish goes to stand next to him, and says something in a low voice. Kurt notices that the few other customers in the shop are returning to their own conversations, but he finds himself drawing closer to the counter, pretending to browse through the latex section.
He catches the tail end of what Billy is saying, “ -- just shouting names, you know, fag, freak - the usual,” as he runs the cloth down the nape of his neck. Kurt swallows, his hands gripping at a random piece of clothes.
“Crap, I'm soaked through,” Billy continues with disgust, pulling at his wet shirt.
“Here” Trish pulls her tattered shirt over her head, leaving the black top that she has underneath.
“Thanks.” Billy quickly shrugs out of his shirt, revealing his pale naked torso for the two seconds it takes him to pull on the dry one. The hem of his trousers is wet with whatever substance the Lima trash decided to pour over him. Kurt looks at him, really looks at him, while Billy arranges the shirt and dabs at his smooth belly and his trousers with the piece of cloth. Kurt realizes that Billy only seems tall because he is wearing buckled platform boots that give him at least a couple of extra inches. His jeans are tight and low-slung, overlaid with three studded belts, and he's finely built: slender legs, narrow hips, long lean torso. Kurt stares, he can't stop. He notices that Billy's eyes are a very light blue, accentuated by his smudged eye make-up. Kurt's heart is beating a little fast. He keeps looking while Billy walks over to the dressing room mirror to try and fix his hair, brushing his long black bangs down in front of his face.
Kurt becomes a regular at Timepiece.
Trish and Kai learn his name and start talking to him when there's no one else in the shop. Billy mostly works weekdays, but he comes by to hang out on Saturdays if he hasn't got anything better to do. Kurt buys accessories, skull pattern socks, black and white cameo cuff links and a leather bracelet. He has a three-week love affair with a pair of safety pin trim pants that Trish teasingly comments on, but he doesn't buy them. The guys from school would kill him if he turned up dressed in something like that.
He learns from Kai that Timepiece carries mostly goth, but also some cyber, some steampunk, fetish and even a little bit of emo. The two silver hoops in Trish's lower lip are called snake bite piercings. She and Kai and Billy go to goth concerts in Columbus. The three of them bitch and gossip about the store owner, Stephanie, who never comes in on the weekend. They discuss the new clothes, talk about their favorite bands, make sarcastic comments about Lima and middle class America, and refer to 'the scene' a lot.
Kurt picks up a couple of band names from their conversations. Mrs Caetano looks surprised but doesn't say anything when Kurt suddenly wants to try out Joy Division. His dad grumbles about the Sisters of Mercy that Kurt blasts out for a while, though, going so far as to say that he is actually beginning to miss Barbra Streisand - and Kurt reluctantly has to admit to himself that he agrees. He really does like some of the clothes, though. He wears the skull socks with his salmon colored slacks and finds that the contrast works pretty well.
Billy, Kai and Trish all model for the store. Kurt knows this because they crop up in the pictures on the store's website. One day, he comes in and Trish is decorating the wall around the large, gold-framed mirror with new pictures from a photo session that Stephanie had set up in Columbus. She tells Kurt about the shoot and the clothes (“so awesome, Kurt, you don't even know.”) while Kurt casually looks at the big glossy photos. One picture in particular draws him in. The photo is obviously intended to showcase a low neck netted shirt, but what catches Kurt's attention is the face which is framed by black and blond synthetic dreads. The person, boy or girl, is heavily made up: thick eyeliner and a strip of dark purple lipstick across the Cupid's bow giving the androgynous face a doll-like appearance above an intricate Victorian choker. Kurt leans in closer trying to figure out why the person looks so familiar, and then flushes hot all over when he realizes that it's Billy.
“Pretty hot, right?” Trish says. Kurt doesn't know if she's referring to the entire photo spread or the picture of Billy in particular. He can feel heat creeping to his cheeks and decides to just shrug noncommittally.
But after seeing that picture, he starts collecting the signs like a mental case file of evidence: The time Billy holds up a striped chiffon skirt shouting “I could pull this off, right?” to Trish at the other end of the store, the time he comes into the store with a small coffin-shaped handbag dangling from his elbow; Billy carefully applying dark purple nail polish to his fingernails with his hands splayed on the counter on a particularly slow Saturday afternoon. Billy could not be any further from Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire – or Daphne and Josephine - if he tried. He wears tight jeans and a flared brocade jacket with wide velvet cuffs. He comes into the store in a dark brown leather skirt with maroon Doc Martens. He carefully arranges his hair in the dressing room mirror every time he walks past and cocks his hip and places a hand on his waist when he's assessing the outfits that customers try on.
Alone in his room, Kurt starts experimenting a little. He pencils in his eyebrows, follows a Youtube tutorial and learns how to do smoky eyes. He's noticed that Billy puts something on his lips, but he can't figure out what, and he doesn't dare ask. His mom only had a couple of dried out lipsticks in muted colors, so Kurt ends up picking up a few glosses at Walgreen's one Saturday.
After Kurt's hung around the store for months, Trish starts making him try on clothes when business is slow. Kurt realizes that she is babying him a little, but he doesn't mind it too much - in fact, he kind of likes the attention, and she does have a good eye. Kurt is wearing one of her outfits when Billy comes in, one day. Billy stops in his tracks and looks him up and down. Kurt doesn't know what to do with his hands.
Kurt blushes beneath Billy's gaze. He's wearing low rise jeans, a wide belt and an array of different bands and bangles on both wrists. Billy leans back a little, assessing him. “You'd make a good emo kid, you know,” he says and winks.
That night, Kurt spends time online looking at Youtube videos of beautiful emo boys kissing. He lies down on his bed with this tight warm feeling in his belly. Looking up at the ceiling, he slides a hand up under his shirt over his stomach, to let his fingers drag across his nipples, exploring the sensation. He closes his eyes while he moves his other hand below the waistband of his jeans, just holding himself outside the thin material of his briefs.
Two Saturdays later, Kurt steps in and finds Trish and Billy engaged in deep conversation, leaning against the counter faces turned towards each other. Trish looks excited. “Hey Kurt,” she says, briefly turning towards him. “We got this awesome new batch of brooches, you're going to love them.” And then she turns back to her conversation with Billy.
“Okay.” Kurt walks over to the jewelry section. He looks at the new brooches, but keeps an eye on Trish and Billy by the counter.
“Look at you smiling,” Trish laughs, and Billy pulls away, looking pleased and embarrassed. “Aw, you're so happy.” Trish leans over and smooshes his cheeks. Billy wrestles away. “Shut up,” he protests, but he's laughing, too.
The brooches are gorgeous and intricate: interlocked cogwheels, antique looking keys, a tiny pair of gilded sewing scissors. Kurt studies them one by one while he tries to keep track of Trish and Billy's low and giddy conversation. Finally, he picks the scissors pendant and turns towards the counter, pasting on a smile. When he approaches, Billy draws up to greet him. Trish pulls away and hits him lightly on the arm. “Billy's got a girlfriend,” she singsongs, bumping her shoulder against a grumbling Billy, and winking at Kurt like she's letting him in on a secret.
“Shut up, Trish,” Billy groans.
“No. Never,” Trish laughs.
Kurt looks from one to the other, unsure. He places the scissor pendant on the counter without saying anything. Billy casually scans the price tag and bags the item. “She's such a pain,” he says confidentially with a lopsided smile and a flick of his hair in Trish's direction. He holds out his hand for Kurt's card, and Kurt hands it to him while smiling until his cheeks hurt. He leaves the store immediately after. When he gets home he throws the bag with the pendant into a drawer without even looking at it.
It turns out to be true. Kurt sees Billy's new girlfriend the next Saturday. She's extremely handsome, with glossy hair that reaches her waist, long legs in torn nylons and a pleated skirt - and Kurt can't help reflexively turning away when she laughingly leans in to press a kiss on Billy's mouth.
Still, Kurt returns to Timepiece three Saturdays later, and most Saturdays after that. Billy and Trish eventually move on to other jobs, but Kurt still discusses style and sartorial quality with Kai. He becomes friendly with some of the other regulars, and he starts buying garments from the store after he feels like he's grown into his body a little better: a pair of bondage shorts, an awesome white jacket, kneelenght Doc Martens, those slim safety pin pants, a top hat and a few other items. It's a long time before he unearths the scissor pendant from the bottom of his drawer, though, and even longer before he finally feels like wearing it.
... Later (years later), long after Kurt has stopped needing for someone to be exactly like himself – once he has friends and a boyfriend (and once Tina has beat him lovingly upside the head for being ignorant and biphobic) - he does see Billy at Timepiece again, hand in hand with a cute blond guy. Kurt doesn't approach them. By this time, even Kai has moved on from Timepiece, and Billy probably wouldn't recognize Kurt anymore. It still makes Kurt smile as he browses through the jeans section.
Chapter 5: Finn Hudson
Kurt and Finn reach a truce after Finn turns up at school in a size 17 red vinyl dress to defend him against Azimio and Karofsky - but that same evening things are still tense and awkward at the dinner table. Carole and Burt clearly notice that something's up, but they leave it alone. Things have been a little tender all around in the house ever since Burt shouted at Finn for calling Kurt the f-word.
Kurt doesn't feel like eating, so he pushes Carole's ratatouille around on the plate and watches the wall clock count out thirty minutes before he pushes his chair back. “Can I start on the dishes now? I've got a lot of homework to do.”
His dad looks up from his plate and gives him a silent nod.
“I'll help you,” Finn says, almost turning over his chair as he rushes to stand. Kurt can't really refuse in front of Carole and his dad, even if he wants to.
They carry everything to the kitchen and start on the dishes in silence. Kurt carefully scrapes the plates and bowls before placing them in the dishwasher while Finn rolls up his sleeves and starts in on washing the pots and pans, carelessly splashing water everywhere. Kurt shuts the dishwasher and casts a furtive glance to the side: Finn's long torso is bent awkwardly over the too-low sink, the front of his rumbled no-brand t-shirt already soaked with water, because God forbid he should put on an apron.
Kurt takes a deep breath and turns away to clear the kitchen counter.
He taught himself not to walk into anything with blind trust a long time ago, but during the last months, Kurt had been beginning to think that Finn was different. That maybe his hopeless crush wasn't entirely hopeless. Finn had seemed flawless and sincere, and nicer to Kurt than most other guys. Between Glee club, the pregnancy intervention and bonding over dead parents, Kurt had begun to let himself believe that Finn might actually be -- he never really finished that thought, because put into words it sounded ludicrous: Finn was alpha jock, the head cheerleader's boyfriend. But still, Finn was nice to him.
Finn fumbles with the glass pan, and then curses when he accidentally splashes water on the floor. He steps around the puddle, tiptoeing in his gray tube socks. If Kurt squints he can still see the guy that he had built Finn up to be in his head, although that guy has been steadily eroded by the sweaty teenager who dresses in the shower, but leaves his dirty underwear on the floor by his bed.
Kurt had not been in love before, not like that. For weeks he'd felt hot and desperate and obsessively attuned to anything Finn did. He'd been plagued by searing jealousy, crushing despondency, and then ten minutes later, stupid, desperate hope. While he was cooking up the plan to bring their parents together, he had elaborate dreams of he and Finn lounging on the soft blankets of their shared room, enjoying quiet evenings reading next to each other while listening to soft jazz standards, and of Finn folding him into his huge arms and holding him, like Tom and Amy in Morocco.
But then they actually moved in together, and everything turned out tangled and stupid and weird - and not at all like in the movies.
Kurt quietly moves to place the salad bowl by the edge of the sink.
Finn looks up from the dishes. “Kurt,” he starts, “I'm sorry about what I said the other day.”
“Yeah, well.” Kurt shrugs and turns away. He does not want to have this conversation.
“It's just, I'm used to being around normal people,” Finn continues helplessly, and Kurt swivels around, but Finn is not meeting his eyes. “And you being the way you are, I mean, you -- it kind of makes me uncomfortable sometimes, even if I don't want it to.”
“Oh, I'm sorry.” Kurt says bitingly, placing a hand on his hip. He wants to say all of it: I'm sorry my affection is so distasteful to you, I'm sorry it's so problematic for you to be seen with me, I'm sorry I'm not normal.
But Finn overrides him. “Look, what I'm trying to say is, maybe you were right - maybe I'm not always that different from those other guys.” He wipes his forehead with a wet hand. “But the thing is, I want to be,” he says earnestly, “is that enough? For now, I mean?”
Finn's eyes are bright and pleading, and Kurt has to turn away from his gaze. He busies himself with wiping the counter to hide his face. He's never forgiven anyone before for giving him crap about being who he is, but then again no one has actually ever asked him to be forgiven.
In the next room, his dad barks out a laugh and Carole joins in over the faint hum of the TV. It would seem that they've resolved the argument that Kurt heard them have yesterday, when Burt told Carole about shouting at Finn.
When Kurt turns back around, Finn is still looking at him. He is leaning his palms against the bottom of the washing bowl, standing with his arms under the water, and he doesn't seem to notice that his socks are soaking up the puddle on the floor. Kurt sighs. Cohabiting with Finn might not have gone the way that he had planned, but maybe it could still turn out to be something good. He drops the dishrag and grabs the apron hanging from one of the cupboards. Tying the apron around his waist, he walks over and gives Finn a gentle push. “Here, let me do the rest of the washing,” he says, a little exasperated, plucking the dish brush out of Finn's hand. “I know how you hate it.”
“Thanks, dude.” Finn steps away from the sink. He rests a soapy hand on Kurt's shoulder for a moment, and just this once Kurt lets it go.
Chapter 6: Blaine Anderson
They've been dating for five weeks when Blaine comes to Kurt's house to sleep over for the first time.
The boarding students at Dalton are allowed to spend the weekend away from school as long as their parents give written permission and provide the address where their child will be staying. Kurt is a day student and drives home every afternoon, but Blaine's parents live in New Jersey and Blaine only goes home to his family on the holidays.
Kurt had spent the better part of the previous Tuesday hanging around at the garage, bugging his dad to agree to the arrangement. Today is Saturday. His dad has already demonstratively put out sheets and blankets for Blaine on one of the sofas in the living room. Meanwhile Kurt has spent most of the day fretting over which outfit to wear, cleaning his room and obsessively rearranging books and throw pillows, even though Blaine has visited him several times before and knows what his room looks like. He has just changed out of his form fitting Dior sweater in favor of the slightly more muted Ralph Lauren cardigan when the doorbell rings.
"I'll get it," Kurt shouts, hurrying down the stairs to get to the door before anyone else. Outside, Blaine is standing on the doorstep with a bright and dorky smile on his face. Kurt stops short, hand still on the doorknob. Blaine's hair is gelled back and neatly parted in accordance with Dalton fashion, but he is out of uniform instead wearing a short sleeved checkered shirt and a pale pink bow tie. Kurt pauses, taking him in for a moment. It had been a bit of a surprise the first time he'd seen Blaine out of uniform – he'd been prepared for the polo shirts and the cardigans, not so much the bow tie collection and the cropped pants. Sometimes Blaine looks fantastic and sometimes, well, fashion is hard, but Kurt is getting used to Blaine's hit-and-miss sense of it. He can't help smiling back at his boyfriend's excited expression, and then Blaine steps up and clasps his face in his hands, drawing Kurt in for a quick kiss. "Hi," he says, sounding a little breathless. Something about him seems electric with a nervous energy that Kurt can fully relate to.
"Hi," Kurt echoes, helplessly staring at Blaine's gorgeous eyes, his long eyelashes and the slight shadow of stubble on his cheeks. He doesn't shave on the weekend, Kurt thinks, stowing away the information along with all the other little new things that he notices about Blaine every day. He still sometimes has trouble believing that this beautiful boy is really his boyfriend.
He grabs Blaine by the hand and drags him into the living room where his dad is sitting on the couch with a Bud Light in one hand. His sock-clad feet are resting on the coffee table, which means that Carole and Finn mustn't have come home from visiting Finn's aunt yet.
"Dad, Blaine's here. We're going upstairs," Kurt says in a rush, feeling impatient, but dutifully complying with the agreed-on Hummel-Hudson house protocol. His fingers tighten instinctively when he feels Blaine's hand sliding out of his grip.
"Hello sir," Blaine says formally. His eyes are fixed on Burt and he is standing military straight. He doesn't seem to be aware that he is suddenly squeezing Kurt's hand.
"Hello Blaine," Burt replies, sounding a little stilted. He moves his eyes from the screen for a second to acknowledge him, and then shifts his gaze to Kurt. "Door stays open, Kurt, don't forget. And dinner's at seven."
Kurt smiles and rolls his eyes at Blaine's expression as they turn to leave the room. "Don't worry," he says once they are in the hallway, "My dad always turns monosyllabic when there's a game on." And, Kurt's beginning to notice, also when he's feeling a little awkward - but he doesn't say that to Blaine.
Blaine spent Friday afternoon practicing with the Warblers, so the two of them spend a good hour going through the new steps that David came up with for the Maroon 5 number. He also fills Kurt in on the latest news on Jeff and Nick who are either living out an epic bromance, or might actually be a little bit in love. Whatever's the case, Kurt and Blaine follow every new development in their relationship with keen interest.
After a while Kurt goes downstairs, past his dad in the living room ("You guys having a good time?" "Yes, Dad," "Good."), to get two cups of coffee from the kitchen. When he returns to his room, the CD they'd put on has come to its end. Blaine is sitting in front of his vanity mirror and Kurt realizes that he's holding the lipstick that Kurt bought along with bunch of other beauty products a few months ago - studying it intently as he turns it over between his fingers.
Kurt stops just inside the door. He had put his cosmetics out on the table along with his lotions and hair products to make room for something else in the drawer, and then sort of forgot about it. He uses one foot to pull the door to, and then straightens up, holding the two mugs of coffee out in front of him. "I bought that for a performance I did in Glee club," he says, clutching the handles on the mugs. He lifts his chin, but he can't help feeling a little nervous. He has only known Blaine for four months, and there's still a bunch of stuff that they haven't really talked about. "Le Jazz Hot from--"
"Oh, from Victor/Victoria," Blaine finishes for him, looking up and smiling briefly. Kurt sets down the mugs on the coffee table. Blaine's still preoccupied with the lipstick, but he doesn't look surprised or weirded out, and Kurt relaxes slightly. "It's a really good movie," Blaine adds, and Kurt nods. It's still a tiny thrill to him that Blaine knows these sorts of things; that even though they've grown up completely different, it still seems like they've been drawn towards the same things as if by homing beacons.
Blaine puts down the lipstick and moves on to touch the eye shadow and the flat gold canister containing the blush. "Did you dress up in drag at school?" he asks, sounding like he's wavering between awe and disbelief.
Kurt hesitates for a moment. "No, I wasn't in drag," he finally responds, framing his words carefully. He walks over to the CD player and presses the play button - the room is too quiet.
When he had first begun to realize that he was gay, Kurt spent some time online - enough to decide that he never needed to watch porn again ever, enough to discover that even some gay guys make fun of queens and sissies - and enough to learn that a lot of gay dating profiles specifically ask for straight-acting boyfriends. For all that Blaine knows his musicals, he also knows his standard football lineups and basic boxing techniques. He told Kurt that he came out when he was fifteen, and no one had guessed it beforehand, not even his parents or his closest friends.
Kurt finally turns back towards Blaine. "I don't really do drag. I just. I like make-up. Sometimes." He shrugs, carefully dropping his shoulders to look relaxed.
"Okay, I mean, that's--" Blaine breaks eyes contact. Kurt studies his turned away face. He can't read his expression. On the stereo, Adele starts in on 'Hometown Glory'. Kurt moves over to the vanity and Blaine slides over on the bench to make room for Kurt next to him.
"I know a lot of people don't get it, but I don't care," Kurt says, and it comes out a little sharper than he meant to, but Blaine's silence is raising his hackles.
Blaine is fidgeting with the crease on his pressed pants, his face still turned away. "I've never really, I mean – I haven't," he starts. "But at my old high school there was this guy, this ballet dancer, Ricky Abrams." Blaine stops, biting his lip. "He tied his hair back with big flowery scarves and sometimes he wore make-up and nail polish. People used to give him hell for it."
"I know how that feels." Kurt is unable to keep a hint of bitterness from his voice, and Blaine moves his head in a small nod of acknowledgment without looking up. "Yeah," he breathes out, and Kurt knows that they're both thinking about Karofsky.
Blaine finally meets Kurt's eyes in the mirror. "I had the biggest crush on Ricky," he says, carefully searching Kurt's face. "Sometimes when I was practicing with the choir he'd be down at the other end of the gym stretching, and I couldn't keep my eyes off him." Blaine rolls his eyes, mocking himself a little, smiling although he looks uncomfortable. Kurt doesn't really know how to react. "But I was too scared to tell him," Blaine says quietly, "I was too scared to tell anybody."
Kurt clears his throat, feeling at a loss. He's not used to seeing Blaine likes this, searching and insecure. "I've been scared, too," he offers.
"Yeah," Blaine acquiesces, but he doesn't look entirely convinced. He straightens up in the seat, looking maybe a little embarrassed. "You know what people called me at my old high school?" Kurt shakes his head. "Plaine." Blaine catches his eye for a moment in the mirror and grimaces. "Well. That and Blanderson." Kurt shakes his head imperceptibly without really thinking about it. To him, Blaine had always seemed self-assured and charismatic - intensely interesting from the first time Kurt set eyes on him.
"I spent so much time trying to stay out of sight. When I came out, and people started talking about me, I had no clue what to do. I know how to get straight A's and win trophies, but I'm not brave the way you are...." Blaine sighs. "All of this," he makes a motion that encompasses the both of them, and Kurt quickly takes in what the mirror shows him: two boys in pretty clothes, sitting close together on a vanity bench and sharing secrets. "I guess I'm still trying to figure it out," Blaine finishes with an uncertain smile.
Kurt realizes that Blaine was afraid of receiving anger or condemnation for his confessions. He has to swallow down a lump of affection. In the end he doesn't say anything at all. He touches Blaine's bowtie with two fingers, and then leans in to kiss him softly.
Blaine leans into the kiss, and Kurt can almost taste his relief. After a moment he pulls back and gestures at his bowtie. "Do you like it?" he asks earnestly, his face open and unguarded.
It's been dawning on Kurt that Blaine isn't the larger than life, out and proud guy that Kurt had first crushed on. Blaine doesn't try to hide it. Even though they haven't known each other all that long, Blaine lets all of his guards come down when they're together. It's still hard for Kurt to understand how Blaine can stand being so vulnerable, how he still wants to believe that every new person he meets is going to be reasonable and kind, and that guys like Karofsky will understand the error of their ways if he just talks to them. Blaine constantly puts himself out there, and is disappointed every time people let him down. Kurt can't help but admire Blaine's stubborn optimism, especially when he knows that Blaine has been hurt and humiliated in the past, too, although in different ways than Kurt. From what he knows, Blaine's experiences were sudden and violent, without the years and years that Kurt has had to build up resilience. Blaine hasn't told him much about it yet, but Kurt has noticed the vertical scar beneath Blaine's lip, which Blaine had explained as coming from a split lip and then said nothing more about.
Kurt leans back on the bench and takes it all in: Blaine in his preppy shirt and baby pink bow tie, with his soft, dark eyes and naked expression. He tugs on the bowtie, smooths his hands over the checkered shirt. "I like it," he says, bending the truth a little bit, but not really lying.
Blaine smiles, pleased and blushing a little. "I never wore these clothes before I met you," he says, "they were just hanging in my closet."
Kurt is distracted by Blaine's eyes, which keep going back to Kurt's lips. Ricky Abrams, his brain helpfully supplies, and the hungry expression that he suddenly recognizes in Blaine's covert glances sends hot sparks all through his body. He swallows, feeling suddenly daring. "Hey, there's something I want to show you."
Kurt also has clothes in his closet that he's never worn to school. Some of them he bought at Timepiece, others he bought online within the last few years. He has to stop himself from holding his breath while he watches Blaine silently push back one hanger after the other: the shimmery Quasimi leggings that work so well with his knee high boots, the Gaultier corset that he bought to wear over a billowy silk shirt, the cutaway jacquard jacket with the gold buttons and mutton sleeves, the H&M kilt that Kurt actually wore to school one time and which earned him both a slushie by Karofsky and a dumpster toss by Azimio. Most of these clothes he has kept in his closet, along with his occasional wish to to grow his hair out, to have longer legs, a smaller waistline and a more androgynous face.
Blaine stops at the smooth cotton t-shirt dress with the wide boat neck that dips down below Kurt's shoulder blades in the back. He runs his fingers over the fabric, then pulls the hanger out of the closet. "This is gorgeous," he says, and then hesitantly, "could you... can I see you it on you?" Kurt draws a deep breath. The tips of Blaine's ears are bright pink.
Kurt almost protests, but Blaine looks so eager – embarrassed, but not ashamed – and Kurt can still feel how Blaine's appraising gaze sends little shudders of something quick and hot and exciting along the web of his veins. "Give me a second." Kurt steps over to look out the window and down into the driveway. Carole's car still isn't back. He walks over and pulls the door further open. From downstairs he can hear the faint murmur of the sports commentator on the TV set, the creak of springs as his Dad shifts on the sofa. He pushes the door almost shut. "Okay," he acquiesces, his heart hammering a mile a minute.
Blaine sits back down on the vanity bench and watches avidly as Kurt applies the black liner and eye shadow. Kurt uses a big soft brush to apply a matte blush along the underside of his cheekbones. Finally, he drags the lipstick carefully over his lips, using the tip of his little finger to remove a tiny smudge on his Cupid's bow. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Blaine's fingers twitch slightly where he has placed his hands, one over the other on the vanity's white glass surface.
He steps away from the vanity. "Okay, so. I'm going to change now."
Blaine nods mutely, his eyes dark and intense. He turns his back to Kurt when he walks to the clothes hanging ready on the closet door, but doesn't offer to leave. Kurt grabs the hanger and stands still for a minute, listening for sounds from the hall. Nothing. He starts in on the buttons on his cardigan, fumbling slightly. Blaine is being a gentleman, turning away - he has seen Kurt in his underwear before, since they have gym together at Dalton. But this feels different, deliciously and excruciatingly intimate. The murmur of Adele's voice is still playing in the background, but the hushed sound of fabric moving over skin sounds so much louder than the music to Kurt as he changes into the shirt and leggings. Blaine keeps resolutely gazing out of the window, but Kurt can see the flush creeping up the back of his neck, the tense set of his shoulders.
"You can, um. You can look now."
Blaine turns around. "Wow."
Kurt swallows. He doesn't know where to put his hands, doesn't know quite how to hold himself beneath Blaine's open appraisal.
"Is this..." Blaine runs his palms over his own thighs, then pushes himself up to stand. "Is this a part of yourself that you usually keep in the closet?" he asks, moving close. They both cringe a little at the unintentional corniness, but then their eyes meet and they both crack a smile.
Kurt wants to say something witty or sarcastic, but all he comes up with is: "In a way, I guess, but it's not really... the clothes are just a part of it. Of all of it. All of me, I mean." Because it's not just about the clothes: it's about preferring to be a part of the girls' group in Glee, it's being thankful for having grown up tall and slender like his mom - about loving musicals and make-up and his countertenor voice. It's about how he doesn't feel entirely like either a boy or a girl, or even a girly boy, and how he doesn't like putting too many words to it, not until he feels like he's found better ones.
Blaine's smile softens. "I like it," he starts, and blushes deeply. "Understatement of the year," he mumbles self-consciously, looking down, and then back up. "I mean, I like it, but not just like --" he flounders, flushing an even darker shade of red. "I like you - you telling me stuff, getting to know you."
Kurt rolls his eyes, his own cheeks burning with pleasure and embarrassment. His boyfriend is such a sentimental dork sometimes.
Blaine just smiles and reaches out to put a hand on the back of Kurt's neck, warm fingers sliding through the short hair there, while he places his other hand on Kurt's waist. The edge of his palm comes to rest on the jut of Kurt's hipbone just above the lining of the low cut leggings, his fingers touching lightly against skin and muscle beneath the thin shirt. He leans in and catches Kurt's tiny gasp with his lips, turns it into a kiss, his mouth hot, his tongue soft and teasing despite the stuttered rhythm of his breath.
The CD player makes a tiny sound as the music stops and the disc stops spinning.
Kurt leans into the kiss as he trails his fingers down Blaine's arms, drawing a feather-light outline along the muscle, the rougher skin on his elbows, the hair of his underarm. Blaine's pulse is steady and rapid just below the thin skin on his wrist, and Kurt gives in to just absorbing the sensory information from every point of contact between them, every press and slide and tangle of tongues and fingers.
When Blaine finally pulls back he wipes a finger across his own lips and looks at the smear of red on the pad of his finger "Wow," he reiterates dumbly.
Kurt blinks hard, startled by his own body's visceral reaction to that image. Blaine seems equally rattled, looking back at him, and Kurt quickly assesses himself: one side of the shirt has fallen down over his shoulder, and his hair and mouth must be a mess. He shivers hard, and he is just about to lean back in towards Blaine, when the sound of a door slamming somewhere downstairs shakes him out of his trance. This wasn't exactly something that Kurt had planned on happening, and even though his dad has always been ten kinds of awesome, there are still some things that Kurt doesn't necessarily want him to know about. He takes a step back. "My dad," he reluctantly says, casting a glance at his jeans and shirt, neatly folded over the back of his desk chair.
"Oh." Blaine breathes out, shaking himself a little. The look of disappointment on his face is at the same time comical and very, very flattering. "Can we just... for a little while longer?" Blaine looks slightly undone, eyes wide, lips red and swollen.
"Dinner'll be ready in --" Kurt protests weakly, but then Blaine places a palm on his shoulder where the shirt has slid down, cupping his naked skin. His thumb slides tentatively over Kurt's collarbone just underneath the neckline of the shirt, and Kurt's breath hitches. He doesn't really recognize himself like this, but he likes it. He hadn't needed to worry so much about being timid or unexcitable, he realizes, because kissing and touching Blaine like this makes him feel something that those stupid online clips never made him feel - something hot and churning and almost unbearably good.
He quickly checks the clock on the wall behind Blaine. Five fifty-five. In the silence of his room, he thinks he can hear the radio playing from the kitchen, which means his dad has started in on cooking dinner. All the tension drains out of his body. The door is almost closed all the way, and through the small crack of the opening the hallway is dark. He wets his lips. So far, he and Blaine haven't had time for much more than chaste kisses and quick make-out sessions. After dinner, Finn will be home, and in his room on the other side of the hallway. A metallic clang of a pot or a pan being dropped convinces Kurt that his dad is busy in the kitchen.
"Do you want to - we could lie down on the bed, if you like."
Blaine's eyes go wide, his whole body rigid. "I can't," he stutters, blushing deep scarlet. "If we lie down I'm going to -- I can't." His hands are suddenly eager and nervous as he draws Kurt in against him to hide his face, clutching him and bringing their bodies close. Pressed together like this, Kurt can feel the hot line of Blaine's erection through the thin layers of clothing separating them. Heat pools in his groin, in the low of his stomach, and everything's suddenly a little overwhelming. This is so far from anything they've done before. He tightens his grip and feels Blaine do the same. For a moment they just stand still, clinging to each other in the middle of the room. Blaine's skin is burning hot beneath Kurt's palm. His breath is rushing through the small hairs at the nape of Kurt's neck, making them stand on end despite the fact that he is burning up, too.
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway makes them spring apart abruptly, and a few seconds later they can hear car doors slamming, and then Finn's voice from outside.
For a moment, Kurt feels like he could almost cry with frustration, but then he looks over at Blaine – almost at the other end of the room, obsessively smoothing his hair back into place and pulling his shirttails out to cover the front of his pants - and when their eyes meet they share a nervous, giddy laugh. They meet in the middle of the room, still grinning sheepishly. "I can't wear these," Kurt says, pulling the shirt in place over his shoulders. He gives Blaine a final, firm kiss, and then walks over to the clothes hanging over the back of his chair.
Blaine regretfully tugs at the sleek fabric of the t-shirt before letting him go. "Once we get to New York," he says wistfully. Kurt's hands still on the folded jeans and shirt. Those six words have become a kind of mantra for them: "Once we get to New York we can go to awesome gay bars," "once we get to New York we can walk in the Pride," "once we get to New York we can hold hands in public."
For years, Kurt has been telling himself that there are guys in New York that walk around in these kinds of clothes like it's nothing; that he just needs to get out of Ohio. But sometimes it's been hard for him to hold on to that thought, being fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old and living in Lima. For the longest time, the thought of New York was the only thing that could make him feel like he could brave another day at McKinley. But then he had met Blaine and New York had become a shared fantasy, a dream that they both could spend hours elaborating on. Now, here, it suddenly seems very close, almost a reality.
Blaine has courteously turned his back again, standing by the window, but Kurt walks over and grabs his hand, turns him around and draws him back into a tight hug.
"What is it?" Blaine asks into the nape of his neck.
Kurt draws in a deep breath. Blaine is warm and solid against him; his hands come up to close around Kurt's back. Around Blaine, Kurt doesn't have to worry about feeling vulnerable or exposed. "Just, what you said that first time we kissed?" he mumbles quietly, "I'd been looking for you for a long time too, you know."