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When Blaine was in kindergarten, his class put on a play about the Pilgrims. Mrs. Ferris went around the circle asking the kids what they wanted to play, and she wrote their names on the board under their respective choices. (Except for Billy Peters, who wanted to be a Ninja Turtle and who was given the role of the Nauset chief instead. He muttered something about carrying nunchucks anyway.)

Blaine’s best friend, Sonali Patel, was sitting next to him on the rug, and when it was her turn she announced, “I want to be a Pilgrim.”

“I think you should be a Native American,” Mrs. Ferris said.

“I want to be a Pilgrim. I like their dresses,” Sonali said, crossing her arms. Blaine edged back a few inches; when Sonali got mad, she got mad.

“Sonali,” Mrs. Ferris said with a shake of her head. “You’re Indian.”

“Not that kind of Indian. The other kind. I want to be a Pilgrim.”

“I know, but - You don’t look like a Pilgrim, honey.”

“But - “

“We’ll make you the chief’s wife, okay?” Mrs. Ferris wrote Sonali’s name down under Billy’s.

Sonali lowered her eyes, and Mrs. Ferris moved onto Blaine.

“What do you want to be?” she asked.

Blaine had thought he wanted to be a Nauset, but with the way Sonali looked so disappointed, maybe it wasn’t as cool as he’d thought it was. She was smart; she knew things like how to read big words and where the aide in the cafeteria kept the extra cartons of chocolate milk. And she wanted to be a Pilgrim. The Pilgrims seemed kind of boring in comparison to Native Americans who got to run through the woods and dance and stuff, but they did get to wear shiny shoe buckles, so...

“I’d like to be a Pilgrim, please,” he said.

“Lucky,” Sonali muttered to him as Mrs. Ferris wrote his name down in that column.

Blaine didn’t really understand why she didn’t want to be a Nauset, but at least he got to make his own choice. And maybe it was better to be a Pilgrim, and he just hadn’t realized why yet. Beyond the buckles, anyway.

*

When Blaine was in first grade, he asked his mother if he could have some hair gel.

“These are head shots,” Cooper had said to him the night before, showing him the proofs of the photo shoot he’d just done, paid for by the profits from his paper route (even if Blaine delivered most of the papers for him). He’d let Blaine sit next to him at the kitchen as he pored over the pictures.

“Wow. You look nice.” Blaine had been careful only to touch the edges of the prints. Cooper looked so grown up and glamorous, like a famous actor. His hair was swept back off of his face, his eyes sparkled, and his teeth gleamed straight and white.

“Of course I do. They had a hair stylist right there in the store in the mall. She said I had perfect movie star hair.” Cooper had brushed his bangs back off of his face with pride.

Blaine had tried to sweep back his own bangs and only made more of a tangle of them. He had frowned down at Cooper’s pictures; Blaine’s hair never looked that straight and neat, no matter how much he combed it when he got out of the bath.

“She said it was the best head of hair she’d ever worked on,” Cooper had continued, his eyes bright with the memory. “She said I’ll take Hollywood by storm. Everyone will want me.”

Since Cooper was the coolest person in the world, Blaine wanted what he wanted. He wanted to be what Cooper wanted. He made a decision.

“Why do you want gel?” his mother asked when he went to her the next day.

“I just think it looks better when it’s not messy,” he replied.

So she bought him something from the drug store and showed him how to comb it through his hair. He bit the edge of his tongue and concentrated on styling his hair until every bit of his was as tamed and smooth as Cooper’s. He finally set the comb down, satisfied. His hair might not have had the bounce of Cooper’s, but at least it wasn’t curly anymore. He looked better.

“My baby is growing up,” his mother said sadly but proudly from behind him, squeezing his shoulder as she passed instead of ruffling his hair like she always had before.

*

When Blaine was in second grade, Debbie West asked him to be her boyfriend.

“Why?” Blaine asked, dangling upside-down from the monkey bars as she stood beside him.

“I think it’s time to start dating, and I like you. You’re cute. You dance really well. You can read fourth grade books. And your parents are rich,” she said.

Since Debbie lived at the other end of his own neighborhood, and her family had three cars instead of the normal two his parents owned, that didn’t make sense to Blaine. “They’re not rich,” he said, swinging back and forth from his knees. “They wouldn’t even take me to Disney World over the summer. Dad said he had to work. So they can’t be rich if he had to work.”

“Sure they are. You have a housekeeper.”

Mrs. Renirez did come in once a week to vacuum and clean the kitchen and bathrooms, but she did that for a lot of the other families in the neighborhood.

“I wish we had one,” Debbie said as he was trying to puzzle out what she was talking about. “My mom makes me clean up my own toys.” She leaned down to pick a dandelion and twirled it between her fingers. “Do you get to tell your housekeeper to, like, drive slowly or take you for ice cream after school?

“She doesn’t do that kind of thing,” Blaine said slowly.

“Sure she does. I see her pick you up in the afternoons.”

Realization dawned for Blaine, though it made him even more confused. “That’s my mom. My mom picks me up.”

“Your mom?” Debbie said, her jaw dropping. It looked really funny upside-down. “You don’t look anything like her.”

When Blaine leaned against the bathroom counter in the morning and watched his mother get ready with her makeup and straightening iron, he always admired the curl in her dark hair and the warm tone of her skin, so close to his own. He liked it when she pulled him up to sit on the marble so that they could put their faces side by side and look into the mirror, at the shape of their eyes or the curve of their mouths. Cooper looked more like their dad, but Blaine saw so much of himself in his mother.

“I kind of do,” he said politely, because he’d been told it was rude to argue.

“Not really. But that’s a good thing.” She smiled at him. “You’re cute. And you have nice hair. Your dad must be really handsome.”

They dated for a few weeks until she decided Danny Brent had better cookies in his lunchbox, but Blaine never told his mother about Debbie. He also never told her why he stopped coming into her bathroom in the morning while she was getting ready. He still saw his face in hers; he just wasn’t sure he was supposed to like it.

*

When Blaine was in third grade, his father brought over an important prospective client for dinner, and he’d been told to stay out of the way for the evening with his sitter. Still, he convinced Jenny that it would be okay if he snuck down and watched from the kitchen for a few minutes. His mother was so pretty in her dark red dress, her hair in a twist and diamond studs in her ears. His father looked so tall and handsome in his grey suit. Blaine couldn’t hear what they were talking about over the classical music being played on the house’s sound system, but they looked so elegant, like they were in a movie.

When his mother and Mrs. Harris went to look at the moon in the back garden, Blaine dared to creep around the corner a little more; his father never noticed him the way his mother did.

“Your wife speaks very good English,” Mr. Harris said, accepting the drink Blaine’s father was offering him. “No accent at all. That’s great.”

“I should hope so,” Blaine’s father said with a laugh. “She was born in Columbus.”

“Really?” Mr. Harris laughed, too. “Even better. All the looks and none of the weird food, right?”

“Right,” Blaine’s father said, smiling his politest smile, the one that meant he was hiding behind his manners.

“You have a son from your first marriage, too?”

“Yes, I do. Cooper.”

“That’s good. That’s good. Carry on the family line and all that.”

“Here, Bill, have another drink,” Blaine’s father said, still smiling.

Blaine crept back upstairs and curled up against Jenny to watch a DVD while she was doing her homework. He didn’t know why, but something in his stomach hurt. It took him a long time to fall asleep that night; it wasn’t until he heard the front door shut behind his father’s guests that he could finally make his eyes stay closed.

*

When Blaine was in fourth grade he finally asked his parents why they didn’t speak Tagalog or eat more Filipino food at home.

“You know I make sinigang and lumpia when I’m missing my mother’s cooking,” his mother said from the other side of the dinner table. “And I bet there aren’t many of your friends who even know what a plantain is. But we’re American, Blaine.”

“You don’t see us speaking Irish Gaelic and eating corned beef and cabbage, either,” his father added around a mouthful of ravioli.

“But your parents aren’t Irish, Dad,” Blaine said. “Mom’s are Filipino.”

“They came to America to be American,” she replied. “They’re proud to be Filipino, and I am, too, but they wanted us to speak English and blend into the culture. It was very important to them.”

“That’s the great thing about this country,” his father said. “We come from lots of places, but when we get here we’re the same.”

Blaine nodded, but he didn’t really understand. He knew people were people and all equal, but they looked different. They ate different food. They came from different cultures. But maybe they were supposed to forget that?

He picked at his dinner, mulling that over, not even having his usual second serving of garlic bread.

“Do you want me to see if Grandma Diwata will give you a little cooking lesson when we go see them next month, honey?” his mother asked Blaine when they were cleaning up the kitchen afterwards. “Give you a bigger taste of that side of your family?”

That wasn’t really what he was asking for at all, having his mother’s Filipino side added in like a hobby, but it was better than nothing. Maybe it would help him figure things out. “Thank you,” he said, and the way she smiled back made him feel warm inside.

*

When Blaine was in fifth grade, he was cast as the king in his elementary school production of The King and I. He was extremely proud of the honor and determined to do his absolute best with the trust his teachers had put in him to step into such an important role. He - with Annabelle Hatch-Martin as Anna - had to carry the whole play. It was a big responsibility. It was also going to be so much fun.

It was only after he saw a few of his classmates laughing and pulling their eyes to the side one Saturday afternoon when his mother dropped him off at rehearsal that he had the horrible realization that his casting could have less to do with his talent than his heritage. Maybe the teachers thought he looked the part, even if he wasn’t Thai. Maybe they thought he was the closest they had. He had seen Mr. Kay talking with his mother the day before the cast list went up.

He couldn’t ask anyone. He couldn’t say anything. He didn’t want to lose the part, no matter how he’d gotten it. But that afternoon he gave twice as much of himself as he strutted around the stage and ignored the titters as best he could. When he got home he was so tired he took a nap and slept right through dinner.

Blaine didn’t want to stop performing, but he didn’t want to see those boys do that again. He didn’t want them talking about him that way. He wanted them to like him and respect him, not laugh at him.

He started riding his bike to school and told his mother he was trying to give her a break from everything she did from him instead of just not wanting to be seen with her every day. He loved her, that was why he was doing it. And he did love her. After a while he let himself forget that wasn’t the only reason he’d offered.

He also practiced as hard as he possibly could to be the best king that audience had ever seen. He got a standing ovation every night.

*

When Blaine was in sixth grade, he was pushed around in the school hallway for being Asian for the first time.

Ironically, it was because he brought some leftover Chinese dumplings in his X-Men lunchbox from their take out dinner the night before. He’d been so excited to show off his skill with chopsticks to his friend Seth.

The slurs thrown at him later that afternoon were inaccurate, because he wasn’t Chinese or Vietnamese, but that hardly mattered when the bruises from the locker handle were real enough.

Blaine decided the next morning that he wanted to buy his lunch from then on. Lunchboxes were for little kids, anyway, and all the cool boys hung out in the cafeteria line together as they waited for their french bread pizzas or hot dogs. He’d do that, too.

*

When Blaine was in seventh grade, he began to verbalize in the darkest depths of his own mind that there might be a far bigger difference between him and the other boys than his heritage. It was terrifying. It was true.

It was even more of a reason for him not to talk too much about himself if he could avoid it. It was so much simpler for him to smile politely and let people to see in him what they wanted to see. And unless he said something they could easily see him as white and straight, just like everyone else.

*

When Blaine was in eighth grade, he was given permission to have Charlie sleep over in his room. He spent two hours making sure everything in his room was perfect and that he knew exactly where Charlie should put his sleeping bag on the floor so that they could talk more easily after they went to bed... and so that he could see Charlie’s face in the light from the hallway coming in under the door. Just to make talking easier. No other reason.

After a fun night of pizza, movies, and video games, Blaine curled around his pillow and looked down at Charlie, who was lying on his back with his eyes closed.

“I’m glad you could come over,” Blaine said, his heart fluttering a little in his chest. He had a boy in his room. A really nice boy. A really cute boy. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do about it, even in a fantasy, but it was still amazing that Charlie was there.

“Me, too,” Charlie replied. “Your parents are cool.”

“I guess,” Blaine said with a wince. No parents were cool. He still couldn’t believe his mother had kept coming into the TV room to check up on them, even if she’d brought snacks with her.

“I didn’t know you were half... what’s your mom?”

Blaine stifled the urge to answer ‘a person’ and said, “Filipino.”

“Yeah, you’ve never talked about it.”

“I guess it hasn’t come up.” Blaine’s heart fluttered a little more; Charlie paid attention to what he talked about.

“It’s cool.” A minute or two later, Charlie added, “Too bad you don’t have a sister, though.”

“Why?” Having a brother was hard enough, though at least now that Cooper was out of the house Blaine didn’t have to compare himself to him every day.

Charlie stretched in his sleeping bag. “Biracial girls are hot.”

“What?”

Really hot,” Charlie said with a low rumble of a laugh. “You’ve never noticed?”

“No,” Blaine said quietly. The bottom silently fell out of his world, and he turned onto his back to look up at his ceiling. Charlie was looking at girls.

“Maybe you’re too close to it to see. They’re hot. Exotic. Like Halle Berry.”

Blaine released a long, slow breath, his hopes going with it. “They’re just girls,” he muttered. He really didn’t see what the big deal was.

“Your mom is pretty, but man, if you had a sister... I mean, she’d look like you, she’d look white unless you knew, and then there’d be that extra something there, you know? That extra bit of spice.”

“If I had a sister,” Blaine snapped, feeling his temper rising, “I’d probably have to punch you in the nose for talking about her that way.”

“I’m just saying she’d be - “

“And I’m just saying it’s kind of offensive to lump people together based on their ethnic backgrounds and what they look like.”

“Okay,” Charlie said. “Sorry.”

The next day, Blaine and Charlie stopped eating lunch together.

*

When Blaine was in ninth grade, he came out, took a boy to a dance, got seriously beaten up for it, and transferred to Dalton.

As he sat on one of the leather couches, unconsciously nursing his sore wrist as he waited to hear about his mid-semester audition, he thought that this was not going to be a banner year for Blaine Anderson. Sure, he was theoretically somewhere where his orientation wasn’t allowed to draw a target on his back, but running away from all of the hatred at his old school didn’t make him feel any better about it. He wanted to be safe, he needed to be safe, but he was just so tired. He’d been hiding part of himself for too long, and he’d finally done the right thing, the honest thing, in coming out. He wanted to be himself.

He just wished he could be accepted as himself anywhere and everywhere.

One of the Warblers came out of the room and sat down next to him. Wes, that was his name. Blaine sat up straight and braced himself for the news.

Wes smiled and said, “The Warblers would officially like to you offer you a spot in our ranks, Blaine.”

“Really?” Blaine asked, his breath catching in his throat with his excitement. He’d sung his heart out, but they’d all been so stone-faced behind their big shiny desk.

“Absolutely. Our first rehearsal is tomorrow at two.” Wes patted Blaine’s knee encouragingly, like he was an uncle or something. It was kind of nice. “You have all of the makings of a great front man, Blaine. You’re very charismatic, you have a good look, and we think with your training in the Warblers your voice will strengthen into something special. You’re going to go far with us.”

Blaine rocked back in his seat and laughed a little, too shocked to keep it in. “Wow. Thank you.” Then his wrist twinged, reminding him of the choices he was making in his life. If he was going to do this honestly, he wanted to warn Wes from the start, so that the Warblers knew what they were getting into. “I have two things to tell you, then,” he said, taking a deep breath and looking Wes straight in the eye like a man was supposed to. “I’m gay.”

Wes nodded. “Okay. You know that doesn’t matter here. What’s the other?”

“I’m not white. Or all white, anyway; I’m half-Filipino. I mean - “ He waved at Wes. “ - I know you won’t care personally, but in case the Warblers don’t want a front man who...” He trailed off, not even sure how to express himself. He’d never said anything like that before. It seemed so stupid saying it to Wes, who was obviously not white, but Blaine didn’t want to hide anything.

“Blaine, we want the best of the best in the Warblers,” Wes said with even more avuncular sympathy. “I don’t know what happened at your old school, but here at Dalton everyone is welcome without judgment. Everyone is equal.”

“Okay,” Blaine said, nodding, even though a part of him was still frozen with how he’d expressed two parts of himself that he didn’t mention to strangers and hadn’t been beaten up or struck by lightning.

“In fact,” Wes said, standing up, “there’s a meeting of the Dalton Asian Club this afternoon. I’m the secretary. It’s in conference room B in the library at four. You should stop by.”

“Okay.”

But when Blaine got there a few minutes before four, his heart in his throat with excitement when he peeked inside because he’d never really hung around a group of Asian people besides his family - and they didn’t count because they were family, and they mostly talked about football, anyway - one of the boys moving chairs around by the door looked up and said, “Can we help you?”

It was as polite and friendly as everyone had been at Dalton so far, but there was a distance there, an automatic assumption that Blaine must be lost or looking for someone, that he didn’t belong there.

“Are you new?” the boy asked, and Blaine nodded. “Are you looking for the chess club? It’s in room A.”

After how horrible his week had been, his whole school year, really, Blaine found himself brought up short and mute in the doorway. He’d thought he’d be welcome. He didn’t want to have to prove why he wanted to be there. He didn’t want to have to explain that their first assumptions when they looked at him were wrong. He didn’t want them to let him in by default, even though it didn’t seem like he belonged because of what he looked like.

He really had thought he’d simply be welcomed. He hadn’t expected the perfectly kind and unconscious rejection, and he just didn’t have it in him to fix it.

So he smiled, thanked him, and walked away as quickly as he thought wouldn’t draw suspicion.

He didn’t need the Asian Club, anyway. From the uniforms to the zero tolerance bullying policy, Dalton was about not caring about differences. He was done with hiding, but what his ethnicity was didn’t matter. Wasn’t that what Wes had said?

Besides, Blaine would be busy with the Warblers.

*

When Blaine was in tenth grade, he met Kurt Hummel. Kurt was not only gay but funny, brave, smart, and at times incredibly thoughtful. He swiftly became the best friend Blaine had ever had. Becoming Kurt’s friend was kind of scary and wonderful all at once, like bungee jumping or performing a new song in front of an audience for the first time.

One afternoon in the Lima Bean soon after they met, Kurt was flipping through the pictures on Blaine’s phone to keep himself occupied while Blaine fought his way through the end of a horrific problem set for his math class.

“Who’s this?” Kurt asked, tilting the phone back toward Blaine.

Blaine looked up to see an image of himself sitting next to his mother at a family wedding from over the summer. Her arm was around his shoulders, their smiles wide and so similar.

“That’s my mother,” he said, steeling himself for... well, he had no idea what comment Kurt might make, but that was part of the reason he had to steel himself. Kurt, as Blaine well knew, could say anything.

“She’s pretty,” Kurt said. “That’s a good color on her.”

Blaine’s idea of ‘anything’ hadn’t included that. He stared across the table, the tip of his pencil hovering a half-inch above his page.

“Although...” Kurt made a thoughtful sound as he expanded the picture on the screen. “Has she considered wearing her hair wavy? It would frame her face better. It’s too severe this way.”

Blaine shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“You should pass along the tip. It would make her look at least five years younger. Maybe more if she freshened her makeup to slightly warmer tones.”

“I’ll let her know,” Blaine said numbly. He dropped his eyes down to the gibberish of his homework for a moment, but then it had been gibberish to him before he’d been blown away by Kurt blithely not seeming to treat his mother differently from any other woman he might see on the street. “She’s Filipino.” He didn’t know why he said it, but he wanted Kurt to know. He knew it was way too much too soon, and he was going to have to be smart and hold back where he could, but a part of him deep inside wanted Kurt to know everything about him.

“Really?” Kurt looked up at him with interest, setting the phone down on the table in front of him. “I don’t know much about Filipino culture. You’ll have to tell me about it.”

“I don’t know much, either,” Blaine admitted, and for the first time he could remember it bothered him that he didn’t have more to share than a few favorite dishes and some stories his grandfather told about growing up there.

He mentioned Kurt’s grooming suggestions to his mother; she taught Blaine a few words in Tagalog in return for him to teach Kurt. One of the phrases was from her to Kurt directly, she told him: maraming salamat. It meant thank you.

*

When Blaine was in eleventh grade, he had sex for the first time. It was emotional, awkward, surprisingly sticky, even more surprisingly laughter-filled, intense, loving, and utterly perfect.

Over the next months, he and Kurt had sex again. And again. And again, but not so often or so thoughtlessly that it ever became anything but special. But maybe it would have been special, anyway, because it was the two of them.

“You have the best hair,” Kurt said muzzily as they lay together on Blaine’s bed afterward one time in the spring, Blaine’s head on Kurt’s shoulder and their bodies as close as they could get them despite the sweat still cooling on their overheated skin. His fingers dragged through Blaine’s hair without their usual finesse; there was something about that, like he didn’t have complete control of his body, that made Blaine feel flush with pride. He’d done that. He’d made Kurt feel that good.

“It’s all curly,” Blaine said, nuzzling his nose against Kurt’s jaw. God, there was all of this skin for him to touch. Even now that the fever to come had passed (at least for the moment), he was mesmerized by Kurt’s skin. “It gets that way when I sweat. Sorry.”

“I like it.” Kurt rubbed this tips of his fingers in circles against Blaine’s scalp, sending tingles down Blaine’s body all the way to his toes. “I like it neat, too, but this is nice. It feels good.”

Blaine slid his palm over Kurt’s bare shoulder and down to the muscle of his bicep. “You feel good.”

“Blaine,” Kurt laughed, his voice going low in a way Blaine knew now meant he really liked something. So Blaine kissed Kurt’s jaw and squeezed Kurt’s arm again; he loved how strong Kurt was, how he could feel it so easily when they were touching like this.

Kurt laughed again and tugged Blaine’s hair a little. “I’m serious. You should wear it loose more often. Just for me, maybe, if you’re that worried about your image.”

Blaine would have done anything for Kurt, and he was about to tell him that when what Kurt was saying really sunk in. He leaned up on his elbow so that he could look Kurt directly in his handsome, handsome face. “Really?”

“Yes,” Kurt said. “Why does that surprise you?”

Blaine shook his head. He’d worn his hair this way for so long that he couldn’t really remember why he started. “I always thought it looked better straight.”

“It looks very nice straight,” Kurt assured him and stroked his fingers through it again above Blaine’s ear. “But you have the gift of curl. Why not enjoy it? Or at least let me enjoy it?”

“If you want,” Blaine said, leaning in for a kiss; he could taste Kurt’s smile on his lips.

But the next week, Blaine’s brother came home to visit, and Kurt could barely stop staring at him long enough to blink. Blaine knew Cooper was attractive, but even though he couldn’t blame Kurt for noticing he didn’t like it. He didn’t like Kurt fawning over Cooper, with his strong jaw line and light eyes and perfect, straight, wind-swept hair.

Cooper, who Blaine knew was what men were supposed to look like. They weren’t supposed to be short and dark and curly-headed. No wonder Kurt’s own neatly coifed head was so easily turned.

Blaine wondered how on earth he was going to manage to survive when Kurt was in New York - because he surely was going to get into NYADA - and had so many handsome and gay men right there all around him.

It only helped a little that Kurt included Blaine in his list of attractive Anderson brothers.

On Friday night when Blaine got himself ready for their date, he, as promised, used the product Kurt had bought him for curly hair, but when he looked at himself in the mirror all he saw was Cooper Anderson’s weird-looking kid brother, all eyebrows and crazy hair and five o’clock shadow that made him look unkempt instead of rugged, no matter what Kurt said about it.

So he stripped off his tie, cardigan, and shirt, dunked his head under the cold water in the shower, and shaved again before styling his hair his usual way. He was ten minutes late to pick up Kurt, but he’d texted ahead, so he couldn’t feel too guilty about it.

Kurt smiled at him as soon as he opened the door, as welcoming as he always was, and he slipped his hand into the crook of Blaine’s elbow as they walked down the front steps toward Blaine’s car.

It wasn’t until they were back in Blaine’s front seat with their dinner from the hole-in-the-wall burger stand Kurt called a treasure for their amazing sweet potato fries that Kurt said anything at all about Blaine’s appearance.

“You look very handsome tonight,” he said, leaning back against the passenger side door, “but was the hair cream not good? I’d read exceptional reviews, but you can’t always trust the internet.”

“No, it was fine,” Blaine assured him. “I just thought you might like it better this way.”

Kurt frowned, lowering the fry he was about to eat. “Why?”

Blaine shook his head, looking through the windshield into the dark parking lot beyond. “I don’t know. This week you seem kind of taken with straight hair.”

“What are you talking about?” Kurt asked. He sounded honestly confused.

A part of Blaine wished he hadn’t brought anything up, but most of him was happy to be able to get some of his thoughts off of his chest. “Cooper.”

It took a moment, during which time Blaine wondered if he should be happy Kurt didn’t know he’d been fluttering around his brother or annoyed that Kurt was oblivious to how he was acting when he had a boyfriend who had been right there. Then Kurt’s face lit with understanding, and he laughed. He laughed. “Your hair doesn’t look like Cooper’s,” he said.

“I know,” Blaine bit out, because that was exactly the wrong answer.

“No, Blaine. I mean that your hair doesn’t do that. It won’t ever do that. It’s a different texture.”

“I know.” Blaine looked out of the windshield again, his left hand flexing low on the steering wheel, the press-release press-release just enough to keep him from blowing up entirely. “You called him attractive.”

“Because he... is?”

Something snapped in Blaine’s chest. “This is what I look like, Kurt. I’m never going to look like him. I’m never going to be a Disney Prince. I’m always going to look like this.” He gestured to himself before slapping his hand hard back onto the wheel. He wanted to hit it again to release more of the pain building up in his chest, but he didn’t let himself. “My hair is going to be curly unless I make it behave. My eyebrows are going to be bushy unless I wax them to within an inch of their lives. I’m going to be tan even in the winter. My nose is going to be too big. My eyes are going to be this color, this shape. This is me. This is it..” He didn’t even hate all of that about himself, but he sure didn’t look like Cooper.

It was Kurt’s turn to say, “I know.” He sounded tentative, his voice going soft and breathy. “Have I ever made you think I didn’t like how you looked?” When Blaine glanced over, the deep, horrified concern on Kurt’s face was as plain as the perfect nose on his face.

“No,” Blaine admitted, reaching over to touch Kurt’s knee, because he just couldn’t handle how stricken he looked.

“Are you sure?” Kurt asked. “Because if I did, I’m so - ”

“You didn’t, Kurt.”

“Okay...” Kurt trailed off and waited.

Blaine wrestled with himself for a minute before he gave up the struggle to stay quiet and said, “You did have a lot to say about Cooper.”

“I have a lot to say about any handsome man. Well, I have a lot to say about everything, but - “ Kurt wrapped Blaine’s hand up in his own and held it tightly, like he was afraid Blaine might try to get away. He took a slow breath, some of the anxiety draining from his expression. “I’ve always thought, from the first minute I saw you, that you were undeniably dreamy, Blaine Anderson,” he said with a wry, self-mocking smile. “And you only get dreamier. Not because you’re changing, but because I keep finding myself falling more in love with you.”

“Kurt - “ Blaine ducked his head, almost ashamed about his insecurities in the face of Kurt’s words. He tried to memorize every single phrase.

“And I wouldn’t change a thing about you. Not your eyes or your skin or your nose or even your eyebrows. I like every little thing that makes you you. The only thing I might tweak,” Kurt said, leaning closer and lowering his voice, “is your hair, and that’s only because I also like it just the way it grows. I don’t want you to look like anyone else. I love you.”

“Thank you,” Blaine said. He brought Kurt’s hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss to his palm, nuzzling there for a second or two longer than the gesture required.

“It’s true,” Kurt replied with a simple surety in his eyes that took Blaine’s breath away. He touched the side of Blaine’s face with the tips of his fingers before pulling back.

Blaine nodded, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “I, um... I may have some issues around my brother.”

Kurt snorted and said, “I would never have guessed.”

Picking up the cardboard container that contained their shared order of sweet potato fries, Blaine offered it to him as an apology. Kurt smiled his own apology in return and took a fry.

They ate for a few minutes before Kurt said softly, “We all have insecurities, Blaine. I do, too. But I hope you can remember, at least most of the time, that I love you because of who you are, not in spite of it.”

“Thank you,” Blaine said with a wobbling smile, his heart doing funny flips and twists in his chest. “I feel the same way about you.”

Maraming salamat,” Kurt told him and leaned in for a swift, salty, sweet potato-flavored kiss.

Sometimes what he felt for Kurt and what Kurt said he felt right back was almost too much for Blaine to handle. And yet it was also perfectly, wonderfully right.

*

When Blaine was in twelfth grade, he applied to college. Well, colleges, but he knew there was only one he wanted to go to, the one where he got to be with Kurt.

Still, he had to apply to more than one school, because it didn’t make sense to put all of his eggs in one basket, as his father kept telling him. Blaine thought the Kurt Hummel basket was the only one worth worrying about, but it was a sad fact that Kurt wasn’t actually on the admissions committee. So multiple it was.

“My mom said she had to use a typewriter to fill out her apps when she was our age,” Tina said, sitting at the next computer over from him in the McKinley library as they worked on their applications after school.

“My dad said he had to hand-write his,” Blaine replied.

“Wow.”

“I know. I think there were dinosaurs roaming around outside. His dad probably had to carve his in stone.”

Tina giggled, clicking through to another window. “It’s so much easier on the computer. Even if I get so tired of filling in the little boxes. My name is still Tina Cohen-Chang.”

“I know.” Blaine scrolled up through his essay to give it a fresh read-through from the beginning.

“And how many times do they really need my social security number?”

“A thousand, apparently.”

“Thank goodness for copy-paste. And then there are the stupid race boxes,” Tina said, her mouse clicking rapidly.

“Mmm.”

“I hate them. I mean, do you tick off ‘Asian’ to be honest and hope you don’t get caught in a reverse quota where they have too many Asians to let in? Do you leave it blank out of protest and give up affirmative action? And how Asian is Asian? I mean, what if you’re seventh generation American? Or adopted from China? Is Mike more Asian than I am because his parents were born there? If you’re caucasian from South Africa and live here now, do you count as African or African-American? Or are you just white?”

“Or what if you’re biracial? How many boxes should you fill in?” Blaine asked, a little taken aback by the vehemence of her tone. He looked around warily to see if any of the librarians were getting antsy.

“Exactly.” Then she laughed again, turned away from her screen, and patted his arm. “Sorry. I guess I got a little carried away. I get more annoyed every time I think about it. I don’t know why there have to be boxes.”

“I don’t, either," he said.

“And I always forget about you. I’m sorry. That's rude of me."

“That I’m not white?” he said, disappointment settling over him at that thought. They’d just been talking about their grandmothers’ strangest soup recipes the other week.

But he looked like what he looked like. It was easy to assume, just like people assumed so often about his sexuality when he wasn’t with Kurt. Passing didn’t have to be a bad thing, really, he told himself. It just meant he didn’t have to show all of his cards to people at once. He could fit in anywhere, make a first impression without the negative stereotypes, then change their minds about what it meant to be Asian or gay. It was a good thing. Even if it made ticking that box for Asian that much weirder if he was only part-Asian and didn’t really do much Filipino stuff at home. Maybe he shouldn’t check it.

“No, I forget that you’re not totally Asian,” Tina replied.

Blaine blinked himself out of his thoughts. “What?”

“I mean, if I think about it I remember you’re half white, but there just aren’t that many kids in Lima who know how to use chopsticks.”

“That’s not a Filipino thing. My mom’s parents don’t use chopsticks; I learned from my dad.”

“I didn’t say it made sense,” Tina said. “I just forget. We’re friends, you know?” She smiled a little self-consciously. “I guess I think more about the things we have in common than the stuff we don’t. Music. Amazingly talented boyfriends away at college. Crazy Asian grandmothers who put weird things in soup.”

Such weird things,” Blaine replied, feeling kind of shell-shocked by the turn of the conversation. It wasn’t bad, the way she thought of him; it just wasn’t something he’d considered.

“Have I told you that my grandma loves Mike? He gobbles up all of her cooking. And I love him because he takes me out for a hamburger after.”

“My grandparents haven’t met Kurt, so I don’t know what they’d think of him.” Blaine kicked his heel against the base of his chair. “They know I’m gay, but... my mother thinks it’s better if we don’t push them about it.”

Tina put her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it with sympathy. “Oh. I’m sorry, Blaine.”

Blaine shrugged, although an ever-growing part of him wanted to pull out his phone and share all of his pictures of Kurt with his relatives every time they got together. But his mom asked him not to, so he didn’t. “It’s how families are. Nobody’s perfect.”

“Except us,” Tina said, grinning.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Blaine replied, toying with his keyboard. He realized that could sound less than kind. “At least about myself.”

“I would!”

He laughed a little. “I just hope the admissions committee agrees with you.”

“Right. Them.” Tina turned back to her computer and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Let’s hope."

"But first I have to finish this essay." He tried not to sound as frustrated as he felt about it. It wasn’t that it was hard to write it, but it just took so much effort to make it all sound polished and yet not too polished. Mostly he thought it sounded boring.

"Do you want me to read it when you’re done with it?”

“That would be great. Thank you.” Blaine scrolled through his essay again, not really reading but letting the words wash over him. He knew he needed to concentrate, but...

Everybody kept telling him that this was it. This was his future. This was what these colleges were going to base their decisions on.

He didn’t know what they were going to think about him. He knew he had an excellent transcript, even with his transfer to McKinley, and he had a strong extracurricular profile as a soloist with a nationally ranked show choir. He knew he could put forward the most perfect and polished application if he tried hard enough.

But it might not be enough. They might still say no... and if he was going to be rejected, a part of him wanted it to be for him and not because his essay was too boring.

Blaine tapped out a rhythm with his fingertips on the veneer top of the desk and tried to think about what he wanted to say about himself. They were going to see a lot of singers, a lot of good students. Only one of them was Blaine Anderson.

Squaring his jaw, Blaine opened a new window in the word processor. As much as his parents wanted him to emphasize his leadership abilities within New Directions in his essay, maybe he needed a different focus. He was a leader, but that was already in his application. He wanted to talk about something more fundamentally him. He wanted to talk about what it meant to be Blaine.

He was gay. He was biracial. He’d been bullied. He’d been accepted. He’d left a safe environment in which he’d flourished and gone back to public school to follow his heart but also to prove that he was strong enough to be there and be himself. He’d been hated and loved and everything in between simply because of the basic facts of his genetics, of how he was born. He still was, every single day.

It wasn’t the only important thing about him, but it was a part of him. He wasn’t going to hide. He could have chosen not to talk about it and let them judge him from his academics alone. He could have passed and looked like everyone else in their pile and hoped he’d rise above the rest.

But this was who he was. All of those things. They were all part of him, they’d all shaped him, whether he wanted them to or not.

If he was going to talk about himself, he wanted to tick off all the boxes.

Blaine started typing.